17 Top Destinations to Visit in South America

Traveling to South America is an adventure you have to embark on at least once in your life (or forever in your life?), so in this blog post Giorgy aka G-Extreme put together a list of the top cities to visit in South America. 

South America is synonymous with epic nature and landscapes, diverse cultures, delicious food, awe-inspiring historical monuments, and completely captivating. It is an incredibly beautiful continent to visit!

Therefore this continent is helping ensure every traveler finds something to interest them – shoppers would have a choice between the colorful markets of Andean villages or boutiques in big cities like Rio de Janeiro or Lima; environmentalists are going to love the well-conserver Pnatanali in Brazil or the immense beauty of the Amazon Rainforest; adventurous are going to be able to explore the well known lost city or Inka Rail to Machu Picchu; food lover is going to feast their taste buds on the cuisine. In addition to all of this, the continent is known for its vibrant atmosphere and colors as well as its friendly people.

Have an inside look at all the best choices of places to visit in South America!

NOTICE: The information here is updated as best we can in light of COVID-19. Please check before you go anywhere what modifications have taken place to avoid any inconvenience!

#1. RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL

Where is it?
Confused from many as Brazil’s capital, Rio is truly a magical city; you can’t go to South America without visiting the marvelous Rio De Janeiro.

This city will leave you in awe of its dazzling beauty; known for its outstretching Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, its iconic monuments, and legendary Carnival festival, this seaside city is lively and it is a dream come true.

Why go?
The city’s wonderful location between mountains and sea has rendered part of it a World Heritage Site named “Rio de Janeiro: Carioca Landscapes between the Mountain and the Sea”. One of Rio De Janeiro’s most iconic and monumental attractions is Christ the Redeemer, a 98-feet-tall statue perched on Mount Corcovado’s summit. It’s recognized as the largest Art Deco statue in the world and it is also listed as on the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Don’t miss Tijuca National park and Sugarloaf mountain which are also some of the most remarkable things in the city. As mentioned above, the carnival in Rio De Janeiro is the biggest festival in the world and one you must witness, so make sure you catch that!

Hey Goofball! I know Rio de Janeiro is the highlight of Brazil, but you should NOT miss for any reason in this world Sao Paulo; it is another city in Brazil that simply has no shortage of things to do and see! Have a deep look into amazing things you can do in Rio de Janeiro followed by Brazil Travel Guide!

#2. AMAZON RAINFOREST

Where is it?
The Amazon Rainforest is a whole different beast. Indeed the Amazon Rainforest is the largest rainforest on earth, spanning a distance of around 5 million square kilometers, and this alone puts it on many people’s bucket lists. The majority of the forest is contained within Brazil, with 60% of the rainforest, followed by Peru with 13%, Colombia with 10%, and with minor amounts in other countries such as Bolivia, Venezuela, and Ecuador.

Why go?
There are plenty of other reasons why you should visit it. If you are considering doing this anytime soon, you should read up the following guide for the Amazon Rainforest.

Not only does the Amazon represent half of the Earth’s remaining rainforest, but it is also known for its unmatched biodiversity. The rainforest is home to at least 40,000 plant species as well as several thousand species of birds and fishes, hundreds of species of mammals and reptiles, and almost 2 million species of insects.

#3. CUSCO, PERU

Where is it?
Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO with the title “City of Cuzco”, Cusco has been getting increasingly popular among tourists. 
Cusco is located in the Peruvian Andes, and it was the capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th century until the 16th-century.

Why go?
There’s so much to see and do in the city, but it is especially famed for being the gateway to Machu Picchu, Peru’s biggest tourist attraction. 
The Rainbow Mountain is one of the things you must visit in Cusco! The walk to the top is relatively difficult (3 hours to 5.200 meters), but the good news is, the city has another Rainbow Mountain called Palyccoyo that is easier to climb and less crowded.

You should also visit the Coricancha temple which used to be a sacred place to worship Inti, the Inca Sun God. Most of the temple was destroyed during the Spanish war and the settlers took it apart and built a Christian monastery on top of it.

Now you can visit the Convent of Santo Domingo and learn about the impressive history that took place there! Other highlights include the Maras Salt Mines, the Inca Museum, and the San Pedro Market.

Hey Goofball! Machu Picchu is the unmissable destination while visiting Cusco, be sure to have a look at my adventure across the Andes to best prepare for your upcoming one!

#4. TORRES DEL PAINE NATIONAL PARK, CHILE

Where is it?
Located in the well-known Chilean Patagonia, Torres del Paine National Park is one, if not the most, of Chile’s largest visited parks.

Why go?
The scenery is naturally beautiful! Indeed the three peaks dominate the landscape in the Paine Mountains! More than this, the national park is full of glaciers, rivers, forests, and more activities for the outdoors enthusiasts!

Hey Goofball! Hereby I made a detailed Patagonia Travel Guide just for Extremes like us!


#5. CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA

Where is it?
Cartagena is a port city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast (founded by the Spanish in 1533) and it has the largest concentration of colonial architecture in the whole continent of South America. 

Why go?
Unlike Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires, Cartagena is not a city with a lot of activities to do or a lot of sights to visit, but it is one of those homely cities that make you fall in love at first sight and it is packed with history and culture.

Ciudad Amurallada, or the Walled City, should be the first on your list during your visit to Cartagena. This charming old city and fortress were used to protect Cartagena from pirates and storms, and it has been designated a World Heritage Site in 1984. Within the walls of the city, you will find lots of bars, restaurants, and important landmarks to visit. It’s a good idea to take a walking tour to be able to explore it and take in the beautiful architecture around you.

You can take a boat or a car to Playa Blanca, Colombia’s most beautiful and probably most popular white-sand beach. Getsemaní is another area worth exploring because it’s home to some of the city’s most beautiful graffiti and street art.

Hey Goofball! Discover the hidden gems of Cartagena or read an in-depth guide for traveling around Colombia!


#6. EASTER ISLAND, CHILE

Where is it?
Easter Island is the most remote inhabited island in the world located 1’300 miles away from the nearest inhabitants!

Why go?
Because of almost 900 primitive statues carved by early Polynesian inhabitants you are willing to go there! They named them after moai and have been carved (from solidified volcanic ash) about 1’000 years ago.

#7. BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA

Where is it?
The capital of Argentina never sleeps, it pulsates with life every minute of every day, so you better fasten your seat belt!

Why go?
Buenos Aires is one of the world’s most exciting cities because it has something for everyone; it’s the ideal destination for football fanatics, food enthusiasts, party animals, and history buffs. Visit the elegant Cementerio de la Recoleta and pay respects to Argentina’s most famous first lady, Eva Peron, whose tomb is usually covered with flowers from visitors. The cemetery is lined with beautiful stone monuments and mausoleums where you can wander for hours!

Feast your eyes on the wonder that is El Ateneo Grand Splendid, the world’s most beautiful bookshop. For a dose of delicious food, you dine at a Parilla where you’ll find the most mouthwatering meats! For an authentic experience of the city, you should visit El Caminito street in La Boca where you’ll find colorful buildings, street tango dancers, and inspiring artworks lining the street!

Hey Goofball! Here I put together Argentina Travel Guide!


#8. SALAR DE UYUNI, BOLIVIA

Where is it?
Located in southwest Peru and situated in the Andes nearly 3’700 meters (12’000 feet) above sea level, Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat.

Why go?
This is easily one of the most popular things to do in Bolivia and rightly so! These stunning salt flats stretch out for about 11000 sq-km and it’s an amazing sight!

Salar de Uyuni is actually the world’s largest salt flat, left behind by dried-up prehistoric lakes. These salt flats are also the perfect place to stargaze because of the lack of light pollution, and if you’re lucky to visit after some rain, they turn into the world’s largest mirror!

Hey Goofball! Here I put together Bolivia Travel Guide to discover more beautiful things around this little beautiful country. Besides its little size, it has a lot to offer!

#9. MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY

Where is it?
Often rated as the best South American city to live in, Montevideo is Uruguay’s capital and largest city. It’s a laid-back city that’s quite easy to visit in a couple of days, and its location is perfect if you decide to visit other cities, not only in Uruguay but also in South America as a whole, during your trip!

Why go?
If you’re visiting anytime from January to March then you can’t miss Uruguay’s Carnival in Montevideo. This carnival is a celebration of the abolition of slavery and it is the longest carnival in the world, lasting 40 days! It will give you a taste of the country’s authentic culture and you’ll get to enjoy tons of wonderful street performances.

The Plaza Independencia is the city’s most important square and it’s also where Palacio Salvo, a skyscraper that’s part gothic and part art-deco resides. Other highlights include Mercado del Puerto, Salvo Palace, and the Rambla.


#10. SALVADOR DA BAHIA, BRAZIL

Where is it?
Located on the northeastern coast of Brazil, Salvador is the oldest charming colonial city of the Americas and the capital of the Brazilian state of Bahia. It’s also the third-largest city in Brazil!

Why go?
Salvador is known for its amazing coastal views, its booming nightlife, as well as being home to a deep Afro-Brazilian heritage and culture. On top of this, it boasts gorgeous colonial architecture, delicious local food, and extremely kind people. While safety is a concern for many people, you can enjoy this remarkable city with the right preparation and proper caution.

You’ll see its rich past in Pelourinho, the historic center named for the whipping post where slaves were beaten.

Hey Goofball! Discover the unmissable things to do in Salvador da Bahia, or read an in-depth If you are interested in traveling to Brazil I put up together a travel guide!

#11. LAKE TITICACA, PERU & BOLIVIA

Where is it?
At an elevation of just over 3’800 meters (12’500 feet), Lake Titicaca is South America’s largest lake that straddles the border of Bolivia and Peru!

Why go?
It is the most navigable highest lake in the world fulfilled with its 41 inhabited islands, including the floating islands the natives make with heavy reeds. Surprise, surprise… about 500 species of aquatic life live in the lake, considering also having a large population of water birds! I understand why locals believe the sun was born there!

#12. QUITO, ECUADOR

Where is it?
Ecuador’s capital, Quito, built on the ruins of an Incan city is known as one of South Africa’s most picturesque cities and at an elevation of 2’850 meters is the highest capital in the world (because La Paz is not legal Bolivia’s capital), and also closest to the equator.

Why go?
Quito is a city that’s bustling with history and it’s full to the brim with monuments and historic landmarks. Quito’s Old Town is the best-preserved historical center in the Americas and it is the first city in the world to be declared a World Heritage Site. A great place to start exploring this beautiful city is Plaza Grande, the main central square, as it is surrounded by many landmarks like La Compañía de Jesus church, La Merced church, and the city museum where you can learn more about Quito’s impressive history.

The Basilica of the National Vow is an extraordinary architectural beauty and it’s the largest neo-Gothic church in the Americas. Visitors can climb the Basilica for exceptional views of the city.

Hey Goofball! Discover more of Quito‘s hidden gems or read an in-depth guide for the most beautiful things to do and see around Ecuador!

#13. COLCA CANYON, PERU

Where is it?
Located in the very south of Peru, Colca Canyon is the third most visited tourist destination in Peru and is considered to be the deepest in the world (twice as deep as the U.S. Grand Canyon).

Why go?
It just gives you stunning views by letting you leave speechless! Other than this it’s home to Andean condors and the biggest hummingbird you would ever see in your life!

#14. LA PAZ, BOLIVIA

Where is it?
Located in west-central Bolivia 68 km (42 miles) southeast of Lake Titicaca, La Paz is declared as one of the New Seven Wonder Cities of the World. It has some of the most breathtaking views owing to its location on Andes’ Altiplano at more than
3,650 meters above sea level.

Why go?
I recommend getting a guided walking tour of the city because it can be stressful to navigate on your own at first because it is quite crowded and chaotic. A guided walking tour, with an institution like The Red Caps Walking Tour, will give you a feel of the city and alleviate the stress of feeling lost or exploring everything by yourself.

La Paz’s Witches Market is perhaps one of the most interesting things in the city and it’s also the part where Aymaran beliefs are still practiced. There you can find potions, remedies, medicinal plants, spells, and spiritual advice.

If you want to enjoy the most incredible views of the city while having tons of fun, you should take Teleferico – taking your breath away (both literally and figuratively). Death road and El Alto market are two other places you should pay a visit to! If it wasn’t at the top of your travel wish list, it should now be!

Hey Goofball! If you just want to see more of Bolivia, take into account Bolivia Travel Guide!


#14. ATACAMA DESERT, CHILE

Where is it?
Situated between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean, the Atacama Desert has a stretch of 1’600 km (1’000 miles) along Chile’s coast.

Why go?
It’s just unique and it’s the driest non-polar desert in the world!!! Did you know the soil is even comparable to that found on Mars?  It is also homes to active geysers, intense blue lagoons, and other extraordinary features!

#15. USHUAIA, ARGENTINA

Where is it?
Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world, also known as the end of the world, and this fact alone makes it so intriguing to visit! 
However, this isn’t the only thing the city has to offer; from stunning wildlife and beautiful landscapes to captivating historic landmarks and monuments.

Why go?
Sailing the Beagle Channel is an unmissable experience during your Ushuaia trip. Here you can see splendid views of the city as well as Bird Island, Sea Lion Island, and Les Éclaireurs lighthouse. You will also be able to observe fantastic wildlife like sea lions, penguins, and birds.

Hiking in the Tierra Del Fuego National Park is another thing you shouldn’t miss out on. There you will find mesmerizing scenery like waterfalls, lakes, mountains, and glaciers.

Visit the Maritime Museum of Ushuaia located in the building of the former prison of Ushuaia where you will learn the fascinating history of maritime adventures and explorations as well as see what the prison used to be like for the inmates.

Hey Goofball! Argentina is huge, and there are plenty of things to do. If you want to know more read the following advice! 

#16. TAYRONA NATIONAL PARK, COLOMBIA

Where is it?
Tayrona National Park on the Caribbean coast of Colombia is the perfect place to relax and unwind.

Why go?
This protected area is where you will find some of Colombia’s best beaches as it is known for its crystal clear lagoons. La Piscina beach and Cabo San Juan are two great beaches for both swimming and snorkeling.

Tayrona is also a good place for hiking with hiking trails through tropical forests. During your hikes, you can get a glimpse of wildlife such as red howler monkeys, capuchins, and agoutis.

Hey Goofball! I am a firm believer that my love for the hammock started at Tayrona National Park

#17. GALAPAGOS ISLANDS, ECUADOR

Where is it?
The Galapagos Islands are an archipelago of 19 volcanic islands situated about 1000 kilometers from continental Ecuador it is probably the most iconic tourist destination in Ecuador and for lots of good reasons!

Why go?
The wildlife on the Galapagos is like no other place on earth, including giant tortoises, giant iguanas, and the underwater world? A M A Z I N G! The endemic species on the island have also played a huge role in the inception of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution after his visit in 1835. Your trip to the Galapagos is going to be unforgettable and life-changing!

Hey Goofball! Because of my unforgettable experience at the Galapagos, I put together the Galapagos Travel Guide in order to not miss anything at all! 

BONUS  ~ ANGEL FALLS, VENEZUELA

Where is it?
Named after American Jimmy Angel (the first pilot who flew over the falls), Angel Falls is located east of Venezuela in Canaima National Park.

Why NOT go?
It is the highest uninterrupted waterfall in the world – 15 times higher than Niagara Falls; water cascades more than 950 meters (3’200 feet) down Auyantepu Mountain into the Rio Kerepacupai Meru. Unfortunately, until Venezuela is closed down due to internal conflicts; this beauty is untouched by everyone!

Hey Goofball! Do not be desperate, you can still visit the Iguazu Falls, Brazil & Argentina, which is the world’s largest waterfalls system with 275 waterfalls of various sizes! Consider this is located in Brazil and Argentina, even though most of the falls are in Argentina.

As you can see, South America is a charming and vibrant continent with a lot of adventures to offer! I didn’t put the destination on a preference, I tried to give you equal feedback on each of them, so you can choose yourself where you want to start exploring next!

So Goofball, here you are well served with my top 17 destinations for you to visit to get a glimpse of the culture, landscape, and beauty of this continent! Where are heading next? Let us all know where are you heading to! 

 

Read More: Backpack Your Way Through South America