South America is a vast and diverse continent full of cultural richness, historic wonders, and every kind of terrain imaginable. From Venezuela in the north to the Tierra del Fuego, Argentina in the south and everything in between, there’s enough fun and adventure here to keep you busy for a lifetime.
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While we certainly can’t choose the best country in South America or even the best city, we’ve narrowed down all our adventures on the continent to our absolute favourites.
In this post, you’ll find all the best places to travel in South America, from metropolitan cities to incredible natural parks to historic landmarks across the continent.
Best Places to Visit in South America
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The city of Rio de Janeiro is one of our all-time favourite destinations in South America. Famous for its landmarks like Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer, the city is full of excitement and adventure at every turn.
The world-class beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana are perfect for swimming all year round and the many parks and gardens engulfed in the city are perfect for nature lovers.
Visiting the famous favelas is also a worthwhile experience to understand some of the socio-economic issues that challenge the country.
Iguazu Falls, Brazil
A visit to Iguazu Falls should be on every list of best places in South America. The red-brown water flows at mind-boggling volume over the distance of nearly 3 kilometres (1.85 miles).
Visitors love to hike around the area or take a boat ride to the foot of the falls to get up close and personal (and soaked to the skin!) Give yourself enough time to visit both the Brazilian and the Argentinian side of the falls.
If you’re traveling in Northeast Brazil, you can’t miss the city of Salvador, the capital of the Brazilian state of Bahia. Spotted with baroque churches, welcoming plazas, and cobblestone streets, Salvador is one charming town.
The best thing to do while visiting is to enjoy the beaches of Porto da Barra and beyond. Salvador also hosts a Carnaval to rival that of Rio’s.
READ NEXT: 7 Destinations You Have to Visit in Northeast Brazil
Tayrona National Park, Colombia,
If you want awe-inspiring national parks, head to Tayrona National Park in Colombia. Home to the indigenous Tairo people, this massive national park is one of the best places to visit in South America for nature lovers.
You’ll find scores of monkeys, insects, and birds on your nature walks through the park. Located in the north of the country right on the Caribbean sea, it’s also an awesome place to go scuba diving.
Lost City, Colombia
This 14th-century city is one of Colombia’s ancient treasures. What was once a thriving center of the Tayrona people was swallowed up by the jungle only to reemerge years later after being discovered by graverobbers.
Today, the archaeological site is a popular tourist attraction where visitors can learn all about the mysterious history of the city. The Lost City of Colombia can only be reached by hiking through the jungle for four days.
If you’re traveling in Colombia, you’ll want to spend some time in the cities as well. Bogotá should be at the top of your list for its lively spirit and charm.
There’s so much to do here, from the Gold Museum to Monserrate, the city’s lookout point, to La Candelaria, the historic city center. You can even take a tour with ex-gang members as guides, providing proof that the city is overcoming some of the stigmas of its recent past.
The seaside port of Cartagena is one of South America’s most vibrant cities. From pristine, palm-lined beaches to glamourous skyscrapers, Cartagena really has the best of both urban and natural spaces.
You’ll visit the Old Town with its trademark clocktower, and visit a bayside castle overlooking the water. Cartagena is also one of the best places in South America for nightlife so if you love to dance, put this city on your bucket list!
San Gil, Colombia
Located in Northern Colombia, San Gil is a small town that’s quickly becoming one of the best places to travel in South America for adventure lovers.
It is best known for its awesome outdoor activity spots such as the Gallineral Park, a perfect place to go whitewater rafting. Visitors love to swim in the rock pools at the Balneario Pozo Azul and explore the cave systems of Cueva del Indio. Waterfalls are practically everywhere in this town and it’s also an awesome place to go paragliding!
As the epicentre of biodiversity on earth, the Galápagos Islands are truly a once in a lifetime experience. You’ll follow in the footsteps of Darwin as you explore the incredible islands of Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, Floreana, Isabela, and many more.
You’ll visit with some marine iguanas, age-old giant tortoises, and cormorants. It’s an amazing place to explore nature, both above and below the water.
If you’re daunted by the idea of planning a trip to the Galápagos on your own, consider booking an adventure tour like we did! Without a doubt, the Galápagos Islands are a true wonderland and easily one of the best places to visit in South America.
No trip to South America would be complete without a stop in Quito, Ecuador’s capital. Take a cable car up to the Pichincha Volcano for some amazing views of the city, or spend the afternoons at some of the best art museums on the continent.
The land that was once an Incan metropolis now serves as the foundation of modern-day Quito. Evidence of the Incan history can be found throughout the city. Today, the city is a diverse melting pot where you can find European, indigenous, and Moorish influences.
As the previous capital of the Incan Empire, Cusco, Peru deserves a spot on every South American bucket list. In the city, you’ll find Spanish landmarks carved out of stone such as the Santo Domingo Convent.
Not far outside the city, you can visit the famous Rainbow Mountain and the ruins of Sacsayhuamán. Cusco is also the jumping off point for travelers bound for Machu Picchu.
Overlooking Rainbow Mountain, Cusco, Peru
Machu Picchu, Peru
Everyone’s heard of Machu Picchu, the fabled lost city of the Incas. Today it’s one of the continent’s top tourist attractions, bringing in visitors from across the globe wanting to hike around the archaeological site and discover the fascinating city the Inca left behind.
You can visit Machu Picchu by train or by hiking in on either the Inca Trail. In addition, consider taking one of the many alternative treks such as the Moonstone Trail and Choquequirao.
The beauty of the Chilean Patagonia is undeniable. From Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine National Park and beyond, you’ll find colossal glaciers and mountains in every direction.
This is one of the best places in South America for outdoors enthusiasts, and you can find countless awesome hikes and day trips in the area.
La Paz, Bolivia
La Paz, Bolivia is the highest capital city on earth, and one of the best places to go in South America. Perched on top of the Altiplano Plateau, the city of La Paz has everything from funky markets to timeless architecture to fascinating nature.
Visit the Witches Market, take a cable car ride, and gawk at Mt. Illimani, poised magnificently as the city’s snowy backdrop.
Also, don’t miss the Valley of the Moon, an otherworldly landscape of rock and clay towers, located right on the outskirts of the city.
Salt Flats, Bolivia
Settled below the Andes Mountains in southwest Bolivia, the Salar de Uyuni is one of the best places to visit in South America. These salt flats are the world’s largest and are the remains of several combined ancient lakes.
While on the flats, you might see flocks of resident flamingos or if you’re visiting during the rainy season, you might bear witness to the flats transforming into a massive mirror. Don’t miss this magnificent natural phenomenon, as it is one of the best places to go in South America.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
The capital city of Buenos Aires is Argentina’s cosmopolitan jewel. You’ll visit the up and coming neighbourhood of Palmero, take a walk along the waterways, and soak up the sun in the Plaza de Mayo.
You’ll see heavy European influences on every corner, expertly infused with the traditions of Argentina to create a big melting pot of culinary, cultural, and artistic marvels.
If you’re a wine lover, put Mendoza high on your list of where to go in South America. With expansive vineyards and farms dotting the region, you’ll have the chance to visit beautiful wineries, go on tasting tours, and enjoy delicious farm-to-table meals.
Mendoza is the name of both the city and the province in Argentina and we’d highly recommend exploring both as much as you can. Don’t leave without tasting a Malbec, the most famous of the red wines produced in the area.
Amazon River, Peru
One of the best places to visit in South America is without a doubt the Amazon River in Peru. The Amazon Rainforest is positively massive and although one could not possibly explore it all in a lifetime, the Peruvian Amazon is a fantastic place to start.
You’ll slip through the waterways on a local boat, spotting river dolphins, otters, monkeys, and more.
Montevideo is a much-overlooked destination in South America. It’s home to the grandiose Plaza de la Independencia, many classic theatres and churches, and a historic old town.
Montevideo has some awesome beaches and a long promenade right on the water where you can walk or run while enjoying the sea and cityscape.
Eco Reserva Mbatoví, Paraguay
To the southeast of the capital city of Asunción, the Eco Reserva Mbatoví is one of the best places to visit in South America if you are an eco-conscious traveler. This unique nature park is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, some of which are endangered and under the protection of the Environmental Service of Paraguay. The park is also a hotspot for adventures like zip lining and rappelling down waterfalls.
Although it might be hard to visit all of these destinations in one trip, we personally recommend each one of these places as the best places to go in South America.
The continent is wild and vast, with more natural beauty, bustling cities, and smiling faces than you can count. It has been a treat for us to explore so much of South America and we will always be looking forward to going back.