Free spirit that you are, you know every corner of the globe has something unique to offer. But when it comes to finding a continent that has it all – art and culture, glorious beaches, fantastic history, the great outdoors, vibrant 24/7 cities – wrapped into one tight little package, you’ll find it hard to beat South America as a destination.
Whether you are trekking the Inca Trail towards Machu Picchu in Peru or learning to salsa in Buenos Aires, the sights and sounds of South America are as intoxicating as you’d imagine. But before you plan your trip, make sure you take notes on the best things to see and do while travelling. Because, as Aerosmith sang so neatly, you “don’t want to miss a thing.”
Ahead, check out our countdown of the ten must-visit South American destinations.
1. Lake Titicaca
Located smack bang on the border of Peru and Bolivia, Lake Titicaca sits 12,500 feet above sea level and is the largest lake in South America by volume of water. While there are various points of interest on both sides of the lake, Copacabana in Bolivia is the most frequented by tourists.
2. Salto Ángel (Angel Falls), Venezuela
Salto Ángel (Angel Falls) in Venezuela is the world’s highest uninterrupted waterfall, so to call it a “sight to see” would be an understatement. (For reference, it’s about 16 times the height of Niagara Falls.) The falls are located on the Gauja River, deep within Canaima National Park. To get there is quite the affair – you’ll be guided by Pemon guides – but well worth the effort.
3. Valparaíso, Chile
Nicknamed “The Jewel of the Pacific,” Valparaíso in Chile is a UNESCO world heritage site thanks to its urban design and unique architecture. Walking the streets will provide you with plenty of eye-catching moments, but a journey on one of the cities funicular railways will give unbeatable views.
4. Easter Island, Chile
Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui, is a Chilean island known for its 887 extant monumental statues, called moai. Created by the early Rapa Nui people, the figures are scattered across the island, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site – for a good reason, clearly – in 1995.
5. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Located in southwest Bolivia, Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat – and quite the sight. On a perfect day, it is hard to see where the flats end and the sky begins, as the long stretches of white salt blend seamlessly with the blue skies on the horizon. (Interestingly, hotels in the area are built almost entirely with salt blocks.) If you’ve always wanted to visit one of those places where everything feels as if it’s a dream, this is it.
6. Cartagena, Colombia
Cartagena is a beautiful port city located on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. By the seaside, you’ll find Cartagena’s Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to its squares, cobblestone streets, bougainvillea-covered balconies, towering churches, and colourful colonial buildings. A lunch spent in Plaza Santo Domingo is a must.
7. Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu, located on a mountain ridge above the Sacred Valley, just northwest of Cusco in Peru, hardly needs an introduction. The 15th-century Inca site is one of the most familiar icons of Inca civilisation, but with that accolade comes a curse: the potential for tourists to physically overburden the ruins. More than 2,000 tourists arrive at the site daily during high season, so plan accordingly.
8. Corcovado, Brazil
While the name Corcovado might not ring a bell, you’ll know it when you see it. Corcovado is a mountain in central Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, known worldwide for “Christ the Redeemer,” the 38-metre statue of Jesus atop its peak. (It’ll take you just 220 steps from the base.) Whether you’re religious or not, it’s hard not to be amazed by the sight of the figure, let alone the views beyond. Add Corcovado to your must-see list, stat.
9. Iguazu Falls
Iguazu Falls is a series of 275 waterfalls or cataracts located on the border of Argentina and Brazil. Walkways have been built in both countries to allow visitors an uninterrupted view of these amazing falls, which divide the river into the upper and lower Iguazu. For an aerial view, Brazil currently offers helicopter rides.
10. Shell Beach, Guyana
Situated on the Atlantic Coast of Guyana, near the Venezuelan border, Shell Beach is a nesting site for four species of turtles: the Green, the Hawksbill, the Leatherback and the Olive Ridley. The beach, which is almost 145km long, isn’t easy to access; you’ll take numerous boats and cars to get there. But every minute will be worth it when, under the light of the moon, you see a turtle haul her way up the beach and lay her eggs.
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