One of the most popular places in the world for backpackers to visit is South America. It’s a continent full of culture, incredible landmarks, and natural wonders that are on many travelers’ bucket lists.
The number of adventures and activities available can be overwhelming, and you might be finding it hard to plan your trip. Perhaps you’re short on time but don’t want to miss a thing. Or you might be planning to see as much as possible and have all the time in the world.
Whatever your situation, you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ve summed up the ultimate 27 destinations in South America that you really must-see. Let’s get going.
- Machu Picchu, Peru
This has to be one of the most popular spots in the whole of South America. This astounding Inca Citadel is a New Seven Wonder of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This year 2021 was awarded for 4th time as the “Best Tourist Attraction” in South America. You’ll get goosebumps as you walk in and look out over this mystical and magical creation and observe the incredible architectural talents of the Inca civilization. For the ultimate adventure, opt to trek along the Inca Trail or Salkantay route.
- Buenos Aires, Argentina
When you land in Buenos Aires, the first thought that comes to mind is that you’re in a European city. There’s buzzing nightlife, some delicious food, and vibrant culture that’ll really make you feel welcome.
- Cartagena, Colombia
The colonial city of Cartagena in Colombia is one of the most beautiful hubs to visit in South America. It’s full of rich culture and also holds UNESCO World Heritage status. You’ll also find lots of interesting spots to visit to learn more about the colonization of South America.
- Atacama Desert, Chile
As far as deserts go, this is one of the driest, if you can imagine that. However, that doesn’t mean it’s short on life. There are some intriguing cacti valleys and local cultures. The skies are also extremely clear at night for you to get an incredible view of the Milky Way above.
- Colca Canyon, Peru
Just a few hours from Arequipa in the south of Peru is this huge canyon, almost twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. It’s the perfect escape from the city to enjoy multi-day hiking, rock climbing, and watching the majestic condor in flight.
- The Amazon River
The Amazon is the second-longest river in the world and stretches through lots of Brazil and Peru. There are many points along the water where you can enjoy activities and explore the surrounding jungle. The best way to soak up the wonders of the huge river is on a cruise that you can also get off of and explore small rainforest communities.
- Easter Island, Chile
Easter Island in Chile is a real gem and a must-visit destination in South America. There’s no doubt that you likely know the island for the mystical Moai statues that spread all over the land in different formations. Although there are many theories as to why they exist, it’s still a big mystery.
- Jericoacoara, Brazil
This beautiful creation of Mother Nature is often called paradise on Earth. It’s no surprise with the yellow sand, towering sand dune, and crystal clear ocean. You can only get there by enjoying a buggy ride for 2 hours, but it’s well worth it.
- Canopy Walk, The Amazon, Peru
The Amazon is full of epic adventures and stunning sights. The Canopy walk is one of them for you to explore and see the versatile wildlife throughout the rainforest. Throughout the jungle, there’s so much to see in Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Brazil.
- Angel Falls, Venezuela
Angel Falls is the highest uninterrupted waterfall in the world. That alone is impressive enough to make most want to venture there. The scenery is out of this world, and it’s also another recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Salar De Uyuni, Bolivia
The Salar de Uyuni is most definitely the most visited place in Bolivia. In the Southwest of the country, these are the largest salt flats in the world, and they cover a whopping 11,000 square kilometers. The landscape changes throughout the year with the seasons, but the best time to visit for amazing photographs is between January and April in the wet season.
- Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
We’re sure you’ve heard of the Galapagos Islands, a small archipelago made up of volcanic islands in Ecuador. They are mostly known for boasting some of the most incredible marine life on the planet and are the perfect place to enjoy snorkeling and scuba diving to witness the variety of species for yourself.
- Geysers El De Tatio, Chile
In northern Chile, you’ll find the Geysers el de Tatio, which is actually the third-largest field of geysers in the entire world. Try to get there early to see mist filling the air while the sun hits the surrounding mountains.
- The Sacred Valley of the Incas, Peru
Just an hour or so from the city of Cusco is the incredibly beautiful Sacred Valley of the Incas. There are various small and pretty towns dotted about throughout the valley and plenty of archaeological sites to see. You can also enjoy some adventurous activities like ATV riding, mountain biking, and horse riding through the stunning landscape.
- Punta del Este, Uruguay
Uruguay doesn’t always feature on South America itineraries, but it really should. Punta del Este is one of the best places across the whole continent for great beaches, fun nightlife, culture, and exquisite cuisine.
- Santuario De Las Lajas, Colombia
This is a popular basilica church in the south of Colombia in the Department of Nariño. The church was built between 1916 and 1949 and boasts the classic Gothic Revival style that southern Colombia has become known for.
- Santiago, Chile
The capital of Chile, Santiago, is often missed on South American travels. Perhaps it’s because there’s so much to do in the rest of Chile. However, Santiago is a lively city with some impressive landmarks, and it’s well worth spending a few days here before setting off around the rest of the country.
- Mount Fitz Roy, Argentina
One of the most stunning parts of Argentina is Patagonia, which also covers part of Chile. Mount Fitz Roy is in the heart of the region and is a popular place for mountaineers and hiking lovers. The first person to summit the mountain was in 1952.
- Lake Titicaca, Peru
The highest navigable lake in the world sits in the middle of Peru and Bolivia. Lake Titicaca offers wonderful views and a trip out to the fascinating floating islands of Uros. You can spend a night with the small communities there and gaze up at the Milky Way above during the clear Andean nights.
- The World’s Most Dangerous Road, Bolivia
That’s right. The most dangerous road in the entire world. Experience this thrill by biking down what’s known as Death Road and feel the wind rush past as you pray for your life until the very last meter. This is an exhilarating adventure, to say the least.
- Torres Del Paine, Chile
Torres del Paine National Park is one of the top hiking spots on the continent and lies on the Chilean side of Patagonia. The glacier-filled landscapes are out of this world, and the turquoise lakes among them are breathtaking.
- La Paz, Bolivia
La Paz is the highest capital city in the world at 3.650 masl and should definitely be on your South America itinerary. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time in this intriguing city and will be fascinated by the colorful, vibrant streets.
- Cusco, Peru
For a step back in time, make sure you stop off in Cusco. It’s the closest city to Machu Picchu and was the capital of the Inca empire. You can enjoy walking down cobbled streets, relaxing in the Plaza de Armas, and learning all about the amazing innovative culture of the Incas.
- Island of Capurganá, Colombia
Despite the beautiful landscapes, the Island of Capurganá was very rarely visited until the 1970s. Since then, it’s grown into a hotspot for Colombian tourists and also a few international visitors. You can enjoy plenty of peace and quiet as no motor vehicles are permitted.
- Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
One of the most vibrant cities in the world is Rio de Janeiro. It lends itself perfectly to stunning photography, especially from above when you head to Sugar Loaf Mountain. Another essential landmark to visit is Christ the Redeemer, who looks over the city below.
- Valparaiso, Chile
When we picture South America, we often conjure up images of warm beaches and tropical cities. You probably didn’t imagine a skiing holiday in Chile. Well, it’s possible. Valparaiso is close to Santiago, the capital of Chile, and boasts slopes for everyone from novices to experts.
- Iguazu Falls, Argentina & Brazil
For one of the most impressive views, you’ll ever witness, you need to head to Iguazu Falls. The sheer size of them will astound you, and the sound is deafening. Don’t forget your camera here as it’s a truly spectacular sight.
- Rainbow Mountain and the Red Valley, Peru
For an exciting day trip from Cusco, Rainbow Mountain, aka Vinicunca, is a must. You’ve likely seen the beautiful rainbow pattern on the internet, and it’s even more impressive close-up. Another hour or so hike from there, and you get to see the Mars-like landscape of the Red Valley.
- Asuncion, Paraguay
Last but not least, we want to mention the capital of Paraguay, Asuncion. You won’t find many tourists here, which means you get to enjoy inexpensive days out and a real feel for what life in a South American city is like. Take a stroll by the pretty river or have a night out on the town.
Written by: Liv Palmer.