Best Places to Visit in South America: A Complete List
Thinking about visiting South America and don’t know exactly where to go? This is our ultimate guide to the best places to visit in South America. Keep reading and plan your perfect trip.
South America is the continent of nature. From the highest mountains outside the Himalayas to the driest desert in the world, from the largest tropical rainforest to pristine Patagonian glaciers.
For the outdoor inclined the continent has it all. There are also beautiful beaches, cities full of culture and some of the best skiing in the southern hemisphere.
While still fairly unpopular compared to the likes of North America, Europe and Asia, South America has so many gems just waiting to be explored and discovered.
If you’re just starting to look into planning a trip to Latin America but it isn’t completely on your radar then here is our list of the best places to visit in South America that you simply cannot miss off any upcoming itinerary.
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The Best Time to Visit South America
When to visit South America really does depend on which country or region you’re visiting. South America is a huge continent and climates vary dramatically.
You can pretty much draw an imaginary line horizontally at about Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Almost all places north of that line have a tropical climate characterised by dry and rainy seasons.
Any destinations south of that line, see all four seasons just like North America and Europe- just remember that seasons in the southern hemisphere are reversed. So, Chile and Argentina’s summer lands in December, January and February.
Generally speaking, if you are planning a huge bucket list trip across the continent the best time to visit is between November and March. Note that in a few areas, these months will coincide with the low season or wet season.
Best Places to Visit in South America
Machu Picchu, Peru
There are two World Wonders in South America and Machu Picchu is one of them. Machu Picchu is an ancient Incan citadel nestled high in the Andes Mountains.
Often shrouded in thick fog this city, often referred to as the “Lost City of the Incas,” dates back to the 15th Century, which, only a century later became abandoned after the invasion of the Spanish in Peru.
Machu Picchu’s precise purpose remains a subject of scholarly debate, with theories ranging from a royal estate to a religious retreat or even an astronomical observatory.
The site is renowned for its stunning architectural precision, with precisely cut stones that fit together without the use of mortar, and its breathtaking natural setting, surrounded by lush green mountains and steep cliffs.
Today, the UNESCO World Heritage Site can be accessed by train or travellers can opt to do the multi-day Incan trail which takes you high into the Andes mountains to the citadel itself. It’s well worth every one of the fifty miles you’ll cross to get to the Incan site.
After seeing the ancient ruins, which can all be done in one day, don’t miss 2 Days in Cusco, Peru to explore more Incan culture, beautiful colonial architecture and delicious food.
Cartagena, situated on the northern coast of Colombia along the Caribbean Sea, is a city steeped in history and charm.
Founded in 1533 by Spanish explorer Pedro de Heredia, Cartagena played a pivotal role in the Spanish colonial era as a major port for the shipment of gold, silver, and other valuable goods back to Europe.
Its well-preserved colonial architecture, fortified walls, and historic Old Town, known as the “walled city” or “Ciudad Amurallada,” are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and offer visitors a glimpse into its rich past.
Cartagena is renowned for its colorful facades, cobblestone streets, and elegant balconies adorned with vibrant bougainvillea.
The city’s cultural heritage is a fusion of indigenous, African, and European influences, which is evident in its music, dance, and cuisine.
Today, Cartagena is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful beaches, lively nightlife, and a thriving arts scene, making it a captivating blend of history and modernity in the heart of the Caribbean.
Easter Island, Chile
Easter Island, known locally as Rapa Nui, is a remote and enigmatic island located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, belonging to Chile.
This isolated volcanic island is most famous for its iconic stone statues called moai, which were carved by the indigenous Rapa Nui people between the 13th and 16th centuries.
The purpose and methods behind the construction and transportation of these massive statues, some of which weigh up to 80 tons, remain subjects of scholarly intrigue.
Easter Island is also known for its unique and rich Polynesian culture, including its ancient petroglyphs, distinct language, and traditional music and dance.
Today, the island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and attracts travelers from around the world who come to marvel at the moai, explore the island’s fascinating history, and soak in its natural beauty, including its stunning landscapes, volcanic craters, and pristine beaches.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The city of endless beaches, caipirinhas, samba, football and açai, Rio de Janeiro is one of South America’s most beautiful and fascinating cities.
With so many viewpoints in the city, one of the best things to do is get yourself up high to really realise the beauty of this coastline, pristine waters and golden beaches.
It’s also one of the only cities in the world with a national park inside the city itself, so why not walk up through it to the world-famous Christ the Redeemer?
During the day spend your time on the iconic Ipanema beach eating açai by the cup-full, exploring the historical centre, seeing landmarks like Sugarloaf Mountain and Lage Park and by night dancing away to Brazilian samba while sipping on caipirinhas.
If you love to party then you might also want to visit in February as the city shuts down and takes to the streets for the largest multi-day street party in the world, carnival.
Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina
If you love trekking and the outdoors then don’t miss the opportunity to visit Argentina’s answer to the Dolomites.
Los Glaciares National Park contains the Fitz Roy Range, one of the most famous and well-known places to trek in Argentine Patagonia and quite easily one of the best places to visit in South America.
Make the town of El Chalten your base and explore the area through a wide range of day treks or, if you have your own camping gear, organise a few multi-day treks through the valleys and up to the purest glacial lakes.
Trek to the base of ’the towers’ and through the untouched native forests in the area and prepare for the purest experience with nature possible.
For those that love hiking, you can easily just base yourself here for a week and still not hike all the spectacular trails.