South America has so much to offer travellers. From beautiful beaches, fantastic cuisine, stunning landscapes and fascinating cultures, there’s no shortage of things to see and do when travelling in this part of the world. But, the question is; where are the best places to visit in South America?
South America is huge, and it consists of 12 unique countries, each with its own diverse cultures and traditions. The fascinating history of these lands and civilizations will amaze you.
The tricky part is deciding on the best places to visit in South America because there are so many!
But don’t get overwhelmed. We’ve got you covered.
After travelling around South America for six months, (and having the time of our lives), we’ve got first-hand knowledge, advice and tips to share with you.
We’ve put together this list of the best places to visit in South America so you don’t miss any of the essential bucket-list items. As a bonus, we will share our thoughts on the best country to visit in South America too.
Let’s get to it! Here are 15 of the Best Places to Visit in South America
There’s no doubt about it, Cusco is a beautiful city. This destination must be on your list of the best places to visit in South America. Cusco is an impressive city that sits high up in the Andes Mountains, at about 3,600m above sea level.
The best places to visit in South America – Cusco in Peru
There are so many fantastic things to do in Cusco, and the surrounding area too. In addition to that, you will find many great places to eat and enjoy a drink, all while gazing over the epic mountain range that surrounds you.
Be sure to visit the Plaza de Armas (the main square, you can’t miss it).
Get lost as you zig-zag your way around the city, admiring woollen handicrafts made by local women and tasting tasty empanadas from the small street stalls along the way.
Try and stop by Jack’s Cafe for some nourishing food in Cusco. We’ve got many memories of eating some great meals here during our time in this awesome city, some years ago now.
Popular Day Trips and Tours from Cusco
The most popular day trip is the Sacred Valley Tour with Pisac and Ollantaytambo where you can spend a day in the Sacred Valley, one of the Incan empire’s most important centres. Visit Pisac market, Ollantaytambo and the village of Chinchero.
This Full-Day Tour to Rainbow Mountain is another highlight from Cusco. Explore the incredible Rainbow Mountain in the region of Vinincunca. You get the opportunity to hike along the Andes while viewing the stunning scenery of the mountains and surrounding glaciers.
Machu Picchu is one of the most popular tourist destinations in South America, and it certainly deserves its place on our list.
This magnificent site is one of the best places to visit in South America. It’s located in the Andes Mountains of Peru and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.
The best places to visit in South America – Machu Picchu in Peru
Machu Picchu was constructed at the height of the Inca Empire, and according to historians, it dominated western South America in the 15th and 16th centuries. The empire’s administrative, political and military centre was in the city of Cusco.
Every traveller has seen the extraordinary photos of Machu Picchu, it’s the postcard picture for adventure and travel dreams! It’s a dream for many to stand here and imagine how incredible this empire was at that time.
I can tell you from experience that the journey to get here is worth it.
The best places to visit in South America – Hike to Machu Picchu and camp with stunning views like this.
I’d agree that hiking to Machu Picchu is an exciting way to get there. But, if you’re not interested in hiking to Machu Picchu, you’re short on time, or you cannot do it for health reasons, then you have the option to take a train there.
Machu Picchu is huge, you can spend anywhere from 5 hours to the entire day exploring the many paths and trails. There are many amazing viewpoints to capture a few photos to show friends and family back home.
I’d recommend staying in the nearby town of Agua Calientes to maximise your time at Machu Picchu. (this is also the town from where the bus departs).
NOTE: Roundtrip bus tickets from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu cost about $30 per person/each way.
3) Salento, Colombia
Salento is the adventure capital of Colombia. The stunning Cocora Valley (Valle de Cocora) is a paradise for keen hikers or those wanting to get off the banana trail.
For context, the banana trail or gringo trail is a term to describe the popular route that tourists or ‘gringoes’ travel in South America. Gringo translates to a person who is not Hispanic or Latino.
The best places to visit in South America – Salento in Colombia
Let’s get back to Salento and why it’s on my list of best places to visit in South America.
There are many hiking trails available to explore the Cocora Valley. We recommend staying at Cabañas Valle del Cocora La Truchera, located in the heart of all that stunning nature. Stay in a cosy chalet and make this your base for doing some hiking, fishing or just relaxing with pretty views of the valley.
If you’re planning to stay a few days in Salento, then EcoLodge Kasaguadua will take very good care of you. It feels like you’re sleeping in the middle of the jungle and don’t miss the fantastic breakfast which is included in the room rate.
4) Cartagena, Colombia
Cartagena could be the most photographed colonial city in Colombia. Around every corner, you’ll discover beautiful architecture, vibrant and colourful streets, trendy bars and cafes, and an atmosphere that is hard to beat.
So it’s no surprise that Cartagena has become a popular hub for digital nomads and entrepreneurs drawn to this happening city’s high energy and vibes! This city had to be on our list of the best places to visit in South America, it’s awesome!
The best places to visit in South America is Cartagena in Colombia
Oh, and let’s not forget about the food! The food in Cartagena is why this is one of the best places to visit in South America. I recommend joining this Street Food Tour of Cartagena, so much fantastic food is included!
Colombia ticks all the boxes, so plan accordingly; you won’t want to leave.
5) Medellin, Colombia
Wherever you go in this gorgeous city, you can see mountains and stunning landscapes everywhere. Medellin sits in a bowl in the Andes mountains, and its popularity has boomed over the years with tourism.
Why is this one of the best places to visit in South America? Flawless weather, excellent coffee, world-class cuisine, exciting nightlife, friendly people, and there are always so many top-rated things to do in Medellin.
The best places to visit in South America – Medellin, Colombia
If you’re planning to visit for a few days, I can guarantee you will extend your stay. There’s something extraordinary about this city in Colombia that I can’t quite describe.
Either way, it has to be one of the best places to visit in South America, so put it on your ‘yes’ list!
6) Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
The Galapagos Islands are located off the coast of Ecuador. It’s one of the most famous destinations in the world because of its unique wildlife.
There are more than 1,000 species of birds alone.
The best places to visit in South America are – Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
The Galapagos Islands are like no other place on the continent. This is why we’ve chosen to include it in our round-up of the best places to visit in South America.
7) Quito, Ecuador
Ecuador’s capital, Quito, is one of the most unique cities in the world. It takes first place as the world’s highest capital city, 2850m above sea level. The Old Town of Quito is one of the best-preserved colonial cities and the largest in the Americas.
Located in Ecuador’s northern highlands, did you know that volcanoes surround the city? You can see them on a clear day, it’s quite spectacular.
The best places to visit in South America – Quito, Ecuador
Join a half-day Sightseeing tour of Quito or this full-day Quito City Tour which includes the Teleférico (cable car). This is one of the highest aerial lifts in the world, rising from 3,117m. And yes, you’ll feel the high altitude up there, so be prepared. The views are amazing so it’s totally worth it.
Find everything you need to know about planning your visit to Kaieteur Falls in the two posts I’ve linked above.
9) Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro is a city in Brazil with exceptional natural beauty. It’s no stranger to being voted one of the best places to visit in South America by some of the finest travel publications in the past.
With so many things to do in Rio de Janeiro, you need at least 2-3 days to just uncover highlights. Of course, you need to take some time to enjoy a day relaxing on spectacular Copacabana beach too.
These are the main attractions in this huge city, and they’re best explored with a guide and transportation. It’s nice to learn about the city from the guide as you visit the attractions too.
And, if you time your trip correctly, you could be rocking out at Rio Carnival, a world-renowned festival held annually. We visited Rio during this time and it was a surreal experience. Click here to check when the next Carnival in Rio is on.
The best places to visit in South America – Rio de Janeiro in Brazil
10) The Amazon Rainforest
Want a once-in-a-lifetime experience? The Amazon Rainforest is one of the best places to visit in South America to learn about the fascinating Amazon culture.
Many travellers will book a trip to explore a section of the Amazon Rainforest. Most Amazon tours include:
Visiting indigenous villages.
Jungle walks and night safaris.
Accommodation in a treehouse hotel/lodge.
Searching for Anaconda (giant semi-aquatic snakes).
The best places to visit in South America – The Amazon Rainforest
This vast region, about two-thirds the size of the USA, spans 8 countries, including Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana and Suriname. It also crosses into French Guiana (the overseas territory of France).
Tours available in the Amazon Rainforest
11) Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
In the Andes, nearly 3,700 m above sea level, Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world. It’s harsh terrain out here and provides a setting for some of the most fantastic photos you will ever take.
It’s undoubtedly one of the most unusual and best places to visit in South America. To get to Salar de Uyuni; you will first have to get to the town of Uyuni, which is the border town, sitting on the edge of the salt flat.
The best places to visit in South America – Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia
I recommend you book this popular 3-Day Tour to Salar de Uyuni to fully appreciate the vibrant lakes and extraordinary landscapes of the area. It’s the top choice for experiencing all the highlights of Salar de Uyuni.
12) Easter Island, Chile
The best places to visit in South America on this list are chosen for being incredible and memorable. Easter Island will be one of the stand-out highlights of a trip to South America.
Chile, as a nation is quite fascinating. For me, a contender for the best country in South America for its diversity.
It is one of the world’s most remote islands and is home to the famous Moai head statues of the Rapa Nui that spread across Easter Island.
The best places to visit in South America – Easter Island in Chile
Its fascinating culture, welcoming people and colourful landscapes are unique and quite different from other South American destinations.
TIP: If you can make it happen, schedule your trip to Easter Island at the beginning of February, during the annual Tapati Festival. This is the most important cultural and sporting event, which runs for about fifteen days.
During the festival, all the family groups with their friends and guests compete in different sports and artistic activities – it makes for an exciting time to be visiting Easter Island.
Even if you can’t visit during Tapati Festival, Easter Island is still one of the best places to visit in South America.
13) Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Torres del Paine National Park is one of Chile’s largest and most popular parks. This destination is spectacularly beautiful, and there are more reasons why it’s among the best places to visit in South America.
The landscape is utterly breathtaking, the three peaks conquering the view of the Paine Mountains. And if you can take your eyes off that view for a moment, you can see that the rest of the park has ice-blue glaciers, woodlands and steppes, and gushing rivers—an absolute paradise for outdoor adventure lovers for sure.
These mountains are just waiting for exploration!
The best places to visit in South America -Torres del Paine in Chile
A popular day hike is to the 3 Towers Viewpoint, which will take you to see the famous peaks of Torres del Paine. It’s about a 5-6 hour return trek.
If you want to spend longer exploring more trails, many travellers spend 1 – 5 days hiking inside the park. I recommend doing the popular W-Trek (4-5 days long, but you must arrange camping spots in advance, and they book out quite early, so be quick).
Buenos Aires is the capital of Argentina and the second-largest city in South America. It is located at the foot of the Andes Mountains and surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean.
It’s one of the world’s most vibrant and exciting cities, and that’s why it has earned a place among the best places to visit in South America.
The best country to visit in South America is Argentina. So much to see and do!
It’s also home to some of the best museums, restaurants, and nightlife in Latin America. So if you’re looking for culture, art, and history, then Buenos Aires is the place to go. It’s an amazing city to explore in arguably the best country in South America.
Don’t miss the photogenic La Boca district, a colourful area to explore and San Telmois worth at least a few hours. It’s a vibrant neighbourhood full of cool cafes, artsy restaurants, craft beer, flea markets, fantastic street art and hipster hangouts.
While you’re here, don’t miss doing a Gaucho Day & Wine Tasting with lunch, dining out on fabulous Argentinian steak and red wine at Don Julio restaurant and enjoying a perfect cortado (coffee) in any of the cute cafes in the many great neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires.
15) El Calafate, Argentina
Most people head to the funky, small resort town of El Calafate for one reason. That is, to go and see one of the largest glaciers in South America, the famous Perito Moreno Glacier.
For the latter, head to the main bus terminal in El Calafate to take the journey to Perito Moreno Glacier.
The bus tickets from El Calafate cost 800 ARS ($20) return. The journey time is approx 90 minutes.
Get ready for it because the Perito Moreno glacier stretches 30 km in length and over 5km wide. It is an incredible sight.
The best places to visit in South America – El Calafate, Argentina
The entrance fee to the park is 700 ARS ($17.50). Ensure you’ve got some cash to pay the park ranger for this, they don’t accept cards.
Once you’ve paid the entrance fee, you can hike or walk easily around the park on your own. It is one of the most popular parks in Argentina and well signposted. I recommend taking snacks or lunch with you.
Make sure you know the bus times so you can time your stay to catch the bus back to El Calafate after visiting the glacier.
TIP: We recommend accommodation at America Del Sur Hostel in Calafate. But remember that between Dec-Apr is high season, and it gets very busy here, so make sure to book ahead.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Make sure you get travel insurance before hitting the road. Trust us, it’s one of those things you don’t want to leave home without. We recommend either World Nomads or SafetyWing, depending on the type of traveller you are.
More Practical Information for Travelling South America
As you may be travelling to multiple countries in South America, I’d recommend you buy an eSIM to stay connected. Airalo has some awesome Global Data Plans for travel in South America, CLICK HERE to check them out.
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