South America is a continent full of contrast. It reaches from the Caribbean North to the glaciers in the South. In between, the most stunning landscapes and scenery is waiting for you!
This vast area of land holds the most beautiful nature and thriving metropoles. For travelers, this continent is, without a doubt, a playground of diversity. There’s really something for everything.
If you’re just trying to get a grasp of this immense area and looking for interesting places to discover, this list is made for you. And if you already visited some countries and you’re searching for more exciting destinations, this list is also for you!
Because in this article we gathered the very best places to visit in South America, the pearls, the wonders of nature… The most stunning of the continent!
Most of these highlights are not just highlights of South America, but they belong to the top destinations in the world.
Here we go!
15 - Easter Island
Technically, Easter Island belongs to the country of Chile, even though it’s located pretty far from the Chilean coast and some even consider it part of Oceania. But in theory, it’s Chile. So it does belong in this list!
This volcanic island is commonly known for its archeological artefacts, which are the Moai statues. Originally sculpted by early inhabitants of this island, the Moai statues are super iconic and they’re specific to this island and culture.
The peculiar stone heads spread over the entire island have long been a mystery to archeologist and researchers as to why they were there. And until today, many questions about the history of the island still remain unanswered.
One thing is sure! Visiting Easter Island is more than worth the flight and exploring the different statues and learning about them is a memorable experience.
14 - Perito Moreno Glacier
In the South of Argentina, not too far from the Torres del Paine National Park, Perito Moreno is just one of the hundreds glaciers that make their way into Lake Argentina and the other lakes in the area.
We selected this specific glacier, because it’s relatively easy to travel to. If you’re in the area, you definitely should.
Perito Moreno Glacier consists of a massive tongue of compressed snow and ice, making its way through the mountains and hills. In the end, the glacier reaches Lake Argentina, where it dissembles piece by piece.
Every few minutes, large chunks of the glacier succumb to the pressure and drop into the lake below. It’s a true spectacle to watch from the designated viewpoints right in from of the glacier.
You can also walk this massive field of ice with a guided tour!
13 - Chapada Diamantina - The Lost World of Brazil
We reached Brazil!
Chapada Diamantina is a beautiful National Park in the East of Brazil. This park itself is massive, and it’s safe to say you could get lost if you wander off on your own. This National Park is much larger than the country of Belgium, so you shouldn’t consider this excursion as a walk in the park.
The list of possible things to do and sights to visit in this vast area of nature, is endless. To explore this park, you definitely need to plan ahead and check out all the different marvels of nature there are, before making a list of which ones you want to visit.
There are underground caves, where crystal clear lakes and blue rivers flow through, waterfalls which drop into these caves, … But also, steep mountain cliffs, leading up to plateau mountains, called ‘morros’.
The park has even been called: The Lost World of Brazil. If you want to visit it, make sure to do loads of research before heading out there!
12 - Kaieteur Falls
Kaieteur Falls are one of these lesser known sights and they’re as frequently visited by travelers, as some other falls on the continent. But they are very spectacular and powerful to see.
These falls are the largest single drop falls in the world, for the amount of water that drops down per second. And that amount if pretty high, especially during rainy season.
Kaieteur Falls in rainy season offer a jaw dropping sight and spectators can only hope to never fall into this stream. The falls drop 250 meters in one single drop and over 660 cubic meters of water flow over the edge every second, making this the most powerful waterfall in the entire world.
Wondering where to find this amazing sight? They’re located in the Kaieteur National Park in Guyana.
11 - Cano Cristales
The River of Five Colors or the Liquid Rainbow are just a few alternative names for Cano Cristales in Colombia.
This specific part of the Guayabero River is very rich in a particular species of algae, which contribute to the different colors of the river.
A few months every year, this river transforms into an outer-worldly sight and splendour of colors. Unfortunately, Cano Cristales has become extremely popular over the last few years and measurements had to be taken in order to protect the river.
Today, Cano Cristales can only be visited with a certified guide and bathing in the river is discouraged.
But you can still go and see the amazing colors!
Between July and October, this river turns into many colors. If the weather is good, Cano Cristales is on its best!
10 - Angels Fall
Angels Fall in Roraima National Park in Venezuela is the highest, uninterrupted waterfall in the world. It falls down for 979 meters before hitting the rocks below. These falls are an amazing sight, especially during rainy season.
Not only the falls are impressive, but the entire mountain range surrounding the falls is one of these amazing places on earth. Mount Roraima is a 30 thousand square kilometer table mountain with steep vertical cliff sides.
The mountain range has been a challenge for many mountaineers who tried to climb the vertical cliff faces of Roraima.
The most iconic part of Mount Roraima, is without a doubt, the valley in which Angels fall make their way down from the plateau.
Angels Fall is a place of dreams and the waterfall has been featured in many movies and animated movies in the past.
9 - Atacama Desert
The desert of Atacama in the North of Chile is a vast area covering more than 1500km. It’s one of the driest places on earth and it’s a harsh environment to survive.
Due to its coastal location and constant influence of the Humboldt ocean current, this area of land has a few specific characteristics. It has often been compared to Mars, as it actually looks like that. Many film scenes that are set in Mars, have been filmed right here!
In Atacama, you can find valleys names Valle de la Luna or Valle de la Muerte, both of which serve their name well, if you translate it correctly! The Valle de la Luna resembles a moon landscape. Valle de la Muerte doesn’t originally means Valley of the Death, but has been a linguistic error and should actually be: Valle de la Marte, because it looks like Mars.
With all the circumstances mentioned above, the Atacama Desert appears to be an excellent location for star gazing and two major observatories are stationed here.
8 - Galapagos Islands
On to the next island or rather, set of islands.
Galapagos Islands lie in the Pacific Ocean, 1000 km away from the coast of Ecuador. They’re a popular destination for travelers and scuba divers, because there is a lot of extraordinary wildlife to be spotted here.
A lot of the animals and species which live on the Galapagos islands, can’t be found anywhere else in the world. They thrive in this location and Darwin used his observations on these islands to conceive his evolution theory.
The Galapagos Islands consist of 21 different islands, but only some of them can actually be visited and only a handful are inhabited. Preservation of the habitat of the animals is important and most excursions and trips can only be done with a certified guide.
7 - Monday Falls
The Saltos del Monday are the largest and most impressive falls in Paraguay.
They’re located very close by Iguazu Falls, just past the Paraguayan border with Argentina. But these falls only attract a fraction of the numbers of visitors that Iguazu does. They are, however, very impressive!
Paraguay is a beautiful country to visit and there’s a lot more to see than only these falls. But if you don’t plan on visiting the country, you can still easily visit Monday Falls on a day trip from Puerto Iguazu in Argentina or Foz do Iguacu in Brazil.
The water drop in the Monday river is about 45 meter and the falls are over a 100 meters wide, with an enormous amount of water flowing through each second. Especially during the rainy season, Monday Falls are a jaw dropping sight!
6 - Colonia del Sacramento
Colonia del Sacramento is an iconic city in the South of Uruguay, only a few hours away from Buenos Aires by boat.
This beautiful city is located on an important trade route and has been conquered and switched colonial ownership countless times between the Portugese and the Spanish.
The city is so beautiful and memorable because of its ancient vibe and cobblestone streets. The historic city center or Barrio Historico is Unesco World Heritage and it looks pretty much unchanged over the years.
Don’t visit it just for the beautiful historic city center, but walk up to the historic lighthouse to get some amazing views over the Rio de la Plata.
Colonia del Sacramento is a perfect day trip from Buenos Aires and it feels as if you travel back in time when visiting the city.
5 - Torres del Paine
This amazing place in South America is a mecca for hikers and adventurers. On top of that, Torres del Pain offers some of the most amazing and jaw dropping landscapes in the world.
These steep, dangerous looking peaks can be found in the South of Chile. Maybe it’s a little detour for most travelers, but these majestic tower-like mountains are definitely worth the extra travel days!
Even tough the tower mountains are the highlight of the National Park for most travelers, Torres del Paine has a lot more beautiful nature to show for.
The National Park can keep its visitors busy for weeks with its icebergs, glaciers, grasslands, and peaks.
4 - Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel
Almost on the Southernmost tip of the continent, Ushuaia is the last city before you reach the end of the world… or Antarctica!
It’s located in the Land of Fire, Tierra del Fuego, and surrounded by a snow capped mountain range and glaciers on one side. On the other side, the Beagle channel offers a passage, which has been an intriguing sailing route since … forever!
Some interesting features to visit in this area are the glaciers, of which Martial Glacier is the most accessible. But there’s also the iconic lighthouse at the end of the world (which isn’t really the one at the end of the world, but hey, we’re not quibbling).
This dramatic and barren land used to be a prison town for outcasts and the most dangerous prisoners you could find. Escape meant the same as dying in this harsh and dangerous environment.
Learn more about this interesting region in Argentina while reading this complete guide to Ushuaia.
3 - Salar de Uyuni
It appears to be a list of extremes and greatest, because the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia are the largest salt flats in the world! They measure over 10 thousand square kilometer and they’re almost completely flat!
Uyuni seems like an image from another world with its crunchy iced look. This is one of the only places on earth where you can see a mountain that is 10.000 km away.
This dried up lake in Bolivia is a true traveler highlights and it’s quite easy to visit the immense flats, as long as you hire a guide or take a jeep tour over the salted desert.
You can read a few interesting facts about the Salt Flats or check out how it would be to explore the Uyuni Flats during a 3-day jeep tour.
2 - Iguazu Falls
As the largest waterfall system in the world, Iguazu Falls could not be missing in this list.
This massive wonder of nature is located on the border between Brazil and Argentina, so both countries have a share in its popularity. The entire waterfall system measures over 2,5km and there are more than 250 different waterfall drops!
It’s recommended to visit the falls from both countries, as they both have their own charm and the experience on both side is very different, but equally impressive.
The Brazilian side of Iguazu offers you scenic views of waterfalls of waterfall until you reach the actual star of the show. At some places, the curtains of water are idyllic and pretty, but in other places, you can surely call them powerful.
The Argentinian side shows you a completely different side of the falls. On this side of the border, you can actually walk all the way over a wooden bridge, until you stand right on top of this phenomenon: El Gargante de Diablo or Devil’s Throat.
If you plan on visiting Iguazu, you might need to catch up on some facts with this complete guide to Iguazu Falls.
I promise you this place will leave you speechless!
1 - Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley
Machu Picchu is a man-made, ancient structure which is known all over the world. It’s a childhood dream, a promise of mystery, intrigue and legends.
These Inca ruins can be found high up in the Andes mountains in a valley in Peru, which is also called: the Sacred Valley.
Machu Picchu was built in the 15th century as an imperial palace and important city for the Incas. Today, only the ruins remain and they’re super impressive to visit.
They were only discovered in 1909 by an archeologic expedition, but locals had been exploring the site long before that.
Visiting Machu Picchu means you have to do some planning beforehand. You need to get tickets in advance, as only a limited number of visitors are allowed to enter the sacred site each day.
The best places to visit in South America - Conclusion
This was our list of the very best places to visit in South America.
It’s undeniable that there are so many more beautiful and extraordinary places in the continent of South America. And it’s unfortunate that we could not list them all. The list is actually endless, as there is just so much natural beauty to see and explore.
In this round up, we tried to capture the very best and the most important highlights to give you an idea of the options.
Each of the countries in South America has their own natural beauty and tons of touristic highlights. That’s why we’re trying to sum up the different highlights per country as well!
We really hope you found inspiration in this list. Maybe even the thrive to book yourself a flight out there!