South America is a continent filled with breathtaking scenery and endless adventures. South America, that vast territory of huge peaks, impenetrable jungles and old civilizations, is the perfect destination for any adventure traveler. An eclectic mix of activities and attractions are featured throughout, from natural wonders like powerful Iguazu Falls and the Galapagos Islands to cultural and historic sites like indigenous markets and colonial towns with cobblestone streets.
With some of the most beautiful beyond beautiful national parks, charming towns and exciting cities in the world, we made sure to include the best places to visit in South America for every type of traveler, from city slickers and foodies to adventure enthusiasts and thrill-seekers.
1. Machu Picchu (Peru)
The iconic hilltop city in Peru is the destination of the Inca Trail, and has amazing architecture in such a remote place, with the spectacular Andean peaks around the area making this a very special place. Well known for its breathtaking hilltop views and its archeological significance, this ancient citadel lies more than 8,000 feet above sea level. Its location was kept hidden for many years until its “discovery” in 1911. Though its exact purposes are unknown to this day, the ruins are a tribute to the relationship the Incans had with their environment.
2. Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)
Rio de Janeiro\’s setting between the mountains and the sea is so spectacular that UNESCO cited \"the staggeringly beautiful location for one of the world\’s biggest cities\" in naming Rio a World Heritage Site. UNESCO\’s accolades weren\’t just for the natural setting but also for the urban cultural landscape and the mix of architecture and planned green space that characterized the city\’s growth. Fortunately, this bustling city is packed into a relatively small space, making it easy to see a lot in a short amount of time.
3. Iguazu Falls (Brazil & Argentina)
The name Iguazú means “big water” in the indigenous Guarani language, and no doubt they are right. One of the new seven wonders of nature and one of the most famous South America landmarks, these imposing waterfalls can be visited from either Brazil or Argentina. It’s no wonder people make a point of visiting when traveling to Brazil or Argentina.The Argentine side has several well-maintained walkways that offer unbeatable views of the falls from various angles, not to mention an action-packed speedboat ride that zooms right through their powerful spray. People often pop in for a quick day trip to catch a glimpse of the massive waterfalls spanning 2.5 km with a total of 250 different cascades.
4. Galapagos Islands (Ecuador)
The Galapagos Islands are an isolated collection of volcanic islands located 620 miles off the South American country of Ecuador. The island itself and its surrounding waters, the point in which three ocean currents meet, are the foundation for the diverse and fascinating variety of animal species that can be found nowhere else on Earth. These include giant tortoises, marine iguanas, and flightless cormorants as well as varied species of finches. A living laboratory, the Galapagos Islands offer visitors a comprehensive and interactive look into its unique biodiversity.
5. Easter Island (Chile)
Easter Island is famous for its mysterious background and the Moai statues that accompany it. A mere dot in the vast Pacific Ocean, Rapa Nui (Easter Island) is a one-of-a-kind destination whose very remoteness lends it unmistakable authenticity and an aura of mystery. While the moai statues are the most popular sights on Easter Island, the truth is that there is much more to do in this tiny remote island in the middle of the Pacific. There’s no inhabited spot in the world quite so isolated as Chilean Polynesia.
6. Los Glaciares National Park (Argentina)
They don’t do things in a small way in Los Glaciares National Park. Not only is the park the largest national park in Argentina, it is home to the largest ice cap outside of Greenland and Antarctica – an ice cap that feeds 47 large glaciers. The most famous of these is the Perito Moreno glacier; unique among glaciers because it is advancing while others are receding. The park also is home to Lake Argentino, the largest in the country. The park also is known for its ecology and biodiversity with the well-conserved Magellan Subpolar forest and Patagonian Steppe.
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