If you are heading to South America for the first time, you have come to the right place. When I first visited South America a few years ago, I had no idea where to go or what to do. I didn’t want to miss anything, but I had no idea where to go! But fear not. We’ve put together a list of the best places to see and visit in South America. If you love this post, follow along on Instagram to stay updated with my adventures!
Updated March 2021
The Places you must visit in South America
1. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Located in the Southwest of Bolivia, Salar de Uyuni is without a doubt the most popular destination in Bolivia to visit. It is the world’s largest salt flat and spans nearly 11,000 square kilometres. The salt flats look different year-round, arguably the most photographic in the wet season (January to April). The adventure to Salar de Uyuni is of course half the fun. As they say in this part of the world, “the only consistency is inconsistency”, so be prepared for cancellations and delays! The most authentic way to reach the salt flats is by public transport. There are buses departing daily to Salar de Uyuni, but these are often delayed. So come prepared to spend some downtime with a good book or podcast pre-loaded.
2. Santuario de las Lajas, Colombia
This famous basilica church in southern Colombian is located in the Department of Nariño. The Gothic Revival style church has become synonymous with the south of Colombia thanks to its unique location and was built between 1916 and 1949. Now it is one of the most photographed locations in Colombia due to its dramatic positioning and impressive structure.
3. See the Milkyway over Lake Titicaca, Peru
Lake Titicaca straddles the border between Bolivia and Peru in the Andes Mountains. Said to be the birthplace of the Incas, Lake Titicaca is one of the most magical places in South America to experience the Milky Way. This is because you will find yourself under one of the darkest sky reserves here in this remote part of Peru. So be sure to venture out from the town and photograph the Milky Way in pure darkness. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity!
4. Cartagena, Colombia
The historic colonial city of Cartagena is one of the most beautiful places to explore in South America. The city is protected by UNESCO World Heritage status which allows a great deal of insight into colonisation in South America. Located on the Caribbean coast, the old town was founded back in the 16th century. To this day you can wander around the cobblestone streets, colourful house facades and colonial buildings. If you want to feel as if you stepped back in time, this is the place to do so.
5. Mount Fitz Roy, Argentina
Mount Fitz Roy is located in Patagonia and is one of the favourite choices for mountaineers and hiking enthusiasts when visiting South America. It is located on the border between Chile and Argentina, near El Chalten. It was first summited in 1952 by French alpinists Lionel Terray and Guido Magnone. To this day it is a popular hike in this Southern part of Argentina. It is said to be the second most popular hiking trail after Torres del Paine, which straddles the border of both Argentina and Chile.
6. The Amazon River
The Amazon river is one of the world’s longest rivers (by some definitions it is) and certainly the longest river in South America. There are many ways to experience the Amazon, but a great way to really get to know the Amazon is to join a small cruise that will take you to remote villages. This way you can meet local people and learn more about the way of life in the Amazon.
7. The World’s Most Dangerous Road, Bolivia
There were many times riding down death road in Bolivia that I questioned my sanity. Although this is one crazy ride to the bottom, it is a really fun, exhilarating one.
Read more: Bike riding Death Road in Bolivia
8. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
The Galapagos Islands is an archipelago of volcanic islands in Ecuador. They are famous for being home to a huge variety of marine wildlife and thus one of the most sought after destinations for snorkelling and diving in the world. This is one of those destinations you will need to stay a while and certainly one of the best places you must visit in South America if you have the time.
9. Machu Picchu, Peru
It was a pinch-me moment the day I stood atop Machu Picchu in Peru. This incredible citadel set high in the Andes mountains has quickly become one of the world’s top bucket list destinations.
10. La Paz, Bolivia
When I made a last minute decision to travel to La Paz, Bolivia, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. What came next was a world of colour, vibrant street culture and often chaos. This incredible city feels like a step back in time.
Read more: This one time I went to La Paz, Bolivia
11. Swing at the End of the World in Banos, Ecuador
Chances are you’ve seen the swing at the end of the world before, but have you ever visited!? The swing is located in Banos, Ecuador. You can reach the swing (which is now in fact three swings) relatively easily, especially if you are travelling throughout Ecuador.
12. Torres del Paine, Chile
Torres del Paine became my favourite hiking destination when I first visited some five years ago. Chile is one of the most diverse countries to visit and you can really see why when you visit the South of the country.
13. Moai Statues on Easter Island, Chile
Speaking of diversity, Easter Island is Chile’s hidden gem. This mystical island is famous for the Moai statues that dot the island in various formations. There are many myths and legends as to why they are there but essentially, it remains a mystery.
14. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro is easily one of the most photogenic cities in the world. Be sure to venture to the top of Sugar Loaf mountain for an epic view of Rio from above, including the cities’ famous Christ the Redeemer statue.
Read more: Touring a Favela in Rio de Janeiro
15. Canopy Walk, The Amazon, Peru
The Amazon is full of epic experiences and the canopy walk is no exception. You could easily spend an entire month exploring the depths of the Amazon, which stretches through Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil.
16. Valparaiso, Chile
Chances are you didn’t imagine yourself skiing in South America but the good news for ski enthusiasts is that you can! Valparaiso is located a short drive from Chile’s capital Santiago and offers some great slopes for all experience levels.
Read more: The top 10 cities to visit in South America
17. Angel Falls, Venezuela
The epic Angel Falls in Venezuela stands at a whopping 979 metres, making it the world’s largest uninterrupted waterfall. The entire area is protected by UNESCO World Heritage status.
18. Geysers el de Tatio, Chile
Located in Northern Chile, the Geysers el de Tatio is the third-largest geysier field in the world. This natural phenomenon is best enjoyed in the morning when the mist fills the air and the morning sun hits the surrounding mountains. This is one of the lesser known places you must visit in South America, so be sure to include it on your travels.
19. Atacama Desert, Chile
The Atacama Desert is one of the driest places in the world, but this does not mean it is lacking in liveliness. There are cactus valleys to explore, local cultures a plenty and this is one of the best places to take advantage of no light pollution and see the Milky Way.
20. The Sacred Valley, Peru
The Sacred Valley is the heart and soul of Peru. It is here where you can learn about ancient traditions, customs and cultures. Begin your journey in Cusco and after a few days in the hustle and bustle, make your way in to the Sacred Valley on a journey towards Machu Picchu.
21. Iguassu Falls, bordering Argentina and Brazil
I will never forget the time I visited Iguassu Falls on the border of Argentina and Brazil. This is mostly because I didn’t have the appropriate visa to do so and quickly learned of the trials and tribulations to obtaining one at short notice. Regardless of the lessons learned, Iguassu Falls was easily one of my favourite places in South America.
22. Cusco, Peru
There is no other city in the world quite like Cusco. This was once the capital of the Inca Empire and to this day you can still feel remnants of that.
23. Buenos Aires, Argentina
Buenos Aires feels more like a European city than anywhere else in South America. The capital of Argentina is thriving with nightlife, great food and vibrant culture that will leave you feeling carefree in no time.
Read more: 9 things not to miss in Buenos Aires
24. Santiago, Chile
The capital of Chile is often overlooked or given just one day to explore as a stopover city. There is so much to see and do in Chile that it isn’t hard to see why you might skip over Santiago. If you do have time, this is a great city to get a feel for South America before you venture off in to the more adventurous parts of the continent.
25. Sail to Antarctica
Rounding out our list of the places you must visit in South America is a special finale. If you’re feeling very adventurous or looking to check off the last continent on your travel list, then a cruise through Antarctica is one of the world’s most sought after bucket list experiences.