16 Best Places to Visit in South America

Despite being only the fourth largest continent of the world, South America offers plenty both in terms of historic and contemporary landmarks and richness of natural landscapes. One great country neighbors another, so passing through them all becomes not only a must, but also an extremely fulfilling experience.

1. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

View from Sugarloaf Mountain towards Christ the Redeemer atop the peak of Corcovado
From the top of Corcovado, the statue of Christ the Redeemer watches over Rio de Janeiro © Celso Diniz / Shutterstock.com

In Rio de Janeiro lies one of the most iconic statues in the entire world. Christ the Redeemer stands tall at 30 meters high, physically guarding over Rio de Janeiro and spiritually protecting the entire country. Another gorgeous hotspot is the lively and eclectic Copacabana Beach, or the Princess of the Sea, as Brazilians themselves call it. It's obvious that Rio de Janeiro's citizens know how to live life to the fullest when you take your first steps on Ipanema Beach, a place blessed with the joyous sounds of fearless surfers and people socializing with an unmatched zest for life. Once the sun sets, take the cable car up on the Sugarloaf Mountain for a spectacular all-around view.

2. Buenos Aires, Argentina

Night view of Bridge of the Women in the Puerto Madero barrio of Buenos Aires
While popular for its old European architecture, modern structures, such as the Bridge of the Women, are at home in Buenos Aires too © guillermo_celano / Shutterstock.com

Buenos Aires is quite renowned for its exquisite foods, European architecture, fantastic shopping and historic sites, so it's always buzzing with life. Let your steps guide you along the Puerto Madero district, where you can find the Bridge of the Women, a testament to both feminine energy and architectural brilliance. The beautiful crypts of Recoleta Cemetery and Museums make for an unusual, yet enticing stroll, while the La Boca neighborhood will delight you with its vivid colors and creative inspiration. When you need to recharge, pause for a glass of Malbec wine and a plate of steak.

3. Machu Picchu, Peru

Ruins of the residential section of the Machu Picchu citadel
Experience for yourself the ancestral energy of Machu Picchu, one of the greatest remnants of the Inca empire © Unai Huizi Photography / Shutterstock.com

Who hasn't once dreamt of reaching the heights of Machu Picchu, exploring the ruins of this former Inca citadel and absorbing its ancestral energy? This intricately-built citadel is thought to have taken shape in the 15th century, making the energy of the place absolutely magical. The 200 remaining stone structures, among which temples, a bathhouse and aqueducts, tell a fascinating story about an Empire long gone. Feast your eyes on the wonderful butterfly sanctuary that's less than a mile away and give yourself a full-body rest by immersing yourself in the hot springs available just outside of town. When you're all done, get a unique souvenir from the Mercado de Artesanias.

4. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Sunset over the Salar de Uyuni salt flat
Salar de Uyuni is a stunning sight any time of day; check it out at sunset and you've hit the jackpot © SL-Photography / Shutterstock.com

You never hear all that much about Bolivia, do you? Another one of South America's top countries, Bolivia may not be as well-known as its neighboring countries, but it sure is special for one thing: its spectacular salt flats. One in particular, stretching over 10,000 square kilometers at around 4,000 meters above sea level, is absolutely stunning and is called Salar de Uyuni. The edge of the salt flat tends to get flooded by water, which turns the entire area into a giant mirror reflecting everything that goes on above its surface, creating the setting for unbelievable photo sessions. Witness this effect at sunset and you've hit the jackpot.

5. Iguazu Falls, Argentina/Brazil

Birds flying over Iguazu Falls
If waterfalls are your thing, then the Iguazu Falls will leave you breathless © LUCIANA MELO / Shutterstock.com

If there's one impressive thing connecting Argentina and Brazil, it's the unmatched Iguazu Falls. These massive waterfalls sprinkled all across the common border are tied together by 275 different cascades, each with their own magnitude and beauty. Granted 80% of them lie on the Argentinian side, but you should still reserve around half a day to visit the Brazil side too. Get soaked by water in a jet boat safari and feel the mist on your skin by walking on the catwalk of Iguazu Falls. Paddle across the serene river or get your blood pumping by hiking or biking on the many forest trails, either on the Argentine or the Brazil side.

6. Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

Silhouettes of fishermen in boats on Lake Titicaca during a fiery sunset
From floating islands to colorful textiles and breathtaking sunsets, your visit to Lake Titicaca is bound to be a memorable one © Jens Otte / Shutterstock.com

Apart from the charming sunsets you get on Bolivia's largest salt flat, Lake Titicaca also offers an opportunity to end your day with a breathtaking view - the sunsets here are breathtaking. At an altitude of over 4,000 meters above sea level and spanning across 8,372 square kilometers, Lake Titicaca is the world's largest navigable high-altitude lake. Take a boat to Taquile Island to see the colorful textile items produced by islanders, a feat that earned the place a position on the UNESCO Cultural Heritage list. Visit the Sillustani Tombs or witness the daily customs of the Uros floating islands inhabitants - regardless of what you choose, your trip is bound to be memorable.

7. Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Torres del Paine National Park
One of the most uncontaminated places on Earth, Torres del Paine National Park will delight thrill seekers and wildlife lovers alike © Cristian E Rodriguez / Shutterstock.com

Apart from the terrific wines that put this country on the map, Chile also knows how to attract tourists from all over the world thanks to its gorgeous landscapes and impressive wildlife. The Torres del Paine National Park has already been recognized as one of the most uncontaminated places on Earth and declared by UNESCO as a biosphere reserve. Wildlife observers will be delighted to witness the park's gorgeous fauna, while sportsmen and adventurers will want to push their limits by engaging in whitewater kayaking, ice trekking and climbing.

8. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Sunset over the Bartolome and Santiago islands of the Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands will mesmerize all nature lovers with its thriving wildlife. Oh, and the sunsets are not too shabby either! © SL-Photography / Shutterstock.com

The 18 islands of Galapagos mesmerize and enchant all wildlife enthusiasts from all across the globe - and for good reason too. Hikers, for instance, can follow the intriguing lava formations left by the two overlapping volcanos on Santiago Island. Bring your binoculars to Bartolome Island and enjoy the sight of green turtles mating and nesting over there. Meanwhile, Santa Cruz Island will delight you with wonderful glimpses of marine iguanas, Sally Lightfoot crabs and black turtles. In Galapagos, wildlife also thrives underwater, so make sure you get to see it up close by booking a snorkeling or diving session in the stunning waters surrounding the islands.

9. Brasilia, Brazil

Gorgeous sunset over the National Congress Building in Brasilia
Modern architecture lovers will fall in love with Brasilia's unique and fascinating landscape © 061 Filmes / Shutterstock.com

Brazil has always been a diverse country and its capital city is definitely worth visiting for those interested in witnessing its evolution first-hand. Brasilia abounds in architectural jewels that stand as a homage to the country's development. One of them is the National Congress building, a unique architectural piece consisting of a flat base and two tall buildings, where parliament members' offices reside. Take a stroll to Santuario Dom Bosco and let yourself be mesmerized by the impressive mosaic and blue light shining in. When you're done touring the city's fascinating architectural landscapes, check out the wonderful sunset views from the piers of Pontao do Lago Sul.

10. Cartagena, Colombia

Colonial houses in the historic center of Cartagena with the Cathedral of Cartagena in the background
Those fascinated by the Spanish colonial era will owe it to themselves to pay Cartagena a visit © Dagaurien / Shutterstock.com

Historical architecture is at home in Cartagena, an important former Spanish colonial port city in Columbia. The city is filled with famous landmarks, but perhaps most noteworthy of all is the clock tower at the entrance of the Old City. The Cathedral of Saint Catherine of Alexandria offers another distinctive view of the city. Meanwhile, the Palace of the Inquisition, hosted by the city's finest colonial building, also offers precious insights to history lovers who are interested to learn more about this historical period. When your feet are sore from visiting, make a pitstop in the extraordinary Plaza de Santo Domingo, where you can relax and recharge at any of the restaurants or bars there.

11. Cusco, Peru

Statue of Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui and the Church of the Society of Jesus in Cusco
More than a gateway to Machu Picchu, Cusco has plenty in store to give you lifelong memories © Daniel Prudek / Shutterstock.com

This former capital of the Inca Empire was declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site and is now a powerful magnet to both brave adventurers and history lovers alike. If you want to catch a glimpse of the former Incan traditions and rituals, you can visit Sacsayhuaman, a previous major ceremonial centre. Additionally, you can take a stroll through the Cusco Cathedral or let your steps be guided towards the Plaza de Armas, hike the Inca trail into stunning heights or admire the colorful valleys bordering the Montana de Siete Colores. Whatever your choice, Cusco will help you create enough memories to last you a lifetime.

12. Florianopolis, Brazil

Man enjoying a sunset on the west coast of Florianopolis
Sometimes sunsets are more enjoyable in secluded places and Florianopolis has plenty to choose from © Marcelo F Junior / Shutterstock.com

Brazil is a vast and colorful country, making it a veritable magnet for every brand of tourist out there. However, when it comes to sunsets, Florianopolis takes the cake. Praia do Forte is a great beach to begin with, while Piscinas Naturais da Barra da Lagoa is a more secluded spot where you can easily cool off in one of its natural pools. On the western side of the island, the secluded beach of Praia do Cacupe will also gladly welcome you with its tranquil embrace. Serra Catarinense, on the other hand, is a rich land where you can sample many locally-produced wines. In the heart of the city, the museum of Santa Catarina, hosted inside Palace Cruz e Souza, is another place that's sure to satisfy history lovers.

13. Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

The southern part of Perito Moreno Glacier terminus
The collapse of the ice of the Perito Moreno Glacier is an absolutely impressive natural spectacle © GiannakisPhoto / Shutterstock.com

Argentina has made its name among tourists as a hip country with plenty to offer in terms of culture, architecture, dining and history. However, it's also home to Argentinian Patagonia, a wonderful stretch of land that's as wild and pristine as it gets. Within its heart, you'll find the Perito Moreno Glacier, an ice bridge that keeps falling to the ground with almost impeccable precision. It does so every two to four years and if you go mid-March, you might just catch a glimpse of this natural and impressive spectacle. Apart from its unique formation, this glacier is also one of only two around the world that keep growing instead of shrinking.

14. Angel Falls, Venezuela

Water of the Angel Falls dropping over the of the edge of Auyan Tepui
Say what you will, but 807 meters of uninterrupted falling water is an impressive image in our book © Girish-Gupta / Shutterstock.com

Venezuela is another important constituting part of South America, without which the integral feeling of the continent would not be the same. This country is incredibly rich in natural diversity, with landscapes ranging from snow capped-mountains to jungles and waterfalls. In fact, Angel Falls is the highest waterfall in the entire world, boasting 807 meters of uninterrupted waters, an impressive image for anyone visiting. The journey certainly makes it all worth it, since you'd need to get there by taking a small plane either from Caracas, the capital city, or from Ciudad Bolivar. With that in mind, guided sightseeing tours, hiking, trekking and mountain climbing are all on the menu when you decide to visit Angel Falls.

15. Santiago, Chile

Golden sunset over Gran Torre and Titanium La Portada in Santiago
Skyscrapers, aerial cable car rides, old wine and a Baha'i Temple are among the things that will welcome you in Santiago © Cristian E Rodriguez / Shutterstock.com

As the capital of Chile, Santiago is a beautiful metropolis whose sky is contoured by tall, stunning buildings and whose ground level is freckled with top eateries. Towering at 300 meters above the city, Gran Torre offers a 360 view of Santiago, closely followed by another poignant building, the Titanium La Portada, a 55 story-high skyscraper. Visit the Baha'i Temple, a religious site designed to look like a blooming flower. Explore the many alleyways of Parque Bicentenario and have a glass of very old, exquisite wine at the Vina Cousino Macul. Finally, enjoy the respite the Teleferico Santiago can bring you, while gently gliding above the city.

16. Pantanal, Brazil

Water lilies at sunset in Pantanal
With rural seclusion a given, Pantanal may not be for everyone, but experienced adventurers will certainly enjoy the world's largest wetland © Christophe SCHULTZ / Shutterstock.com

As previously stated, Brazil has been endowed with a richness and diversity of natural landscapes that's rare to witness. In fact, Pantanal is the world's largest wetland, covering around 187,000 damp square kilometers and hosting a wide variety of wildlife. Monkeys, capybaras, caimans, jaguars, marsh deer, parakeets and storks are only some of the many species of animals and birds you can catch a glimpse of while there. However it's not a destination for quite anyone, but more of a treat for experienced adventurers, since rural seclusion is a given, just as flooding during the rainy season is.

With its wide variety of natural landscapes, incredibly rich wildlife and historical sites to thrill even the most insatiable of historians, South America offers a bit of everything for every traveler out there. Whether your itinerary has room for only one destination or multiple ones, make sure you carve out enough time to truly enjoy everything South America has to offer.