Top 15 Destinations
Machu Picchu - Peru
Unsurprisingly, South America's only entry on the list of the New Seven Wonders of the World tops our list. The legendary Lost City of Machu Picchu is without a doubt the continent's most famous attraction. Lost to the world until its rediscovery in 1911, the Inca citadel avoided detection by the conquering Spanish and remained hidden in the clouds for hundreds of years. The archaeological site itself is pretty special too with fine Inca stonework of temples, terraces and astronomical tools. And you can also hike the Inca Trail to reach the site - walking for several days through some of Peru's most spectacular territory is quite the entrance to Machu Picchu.
Iguazu Falls - Brazil and Argentina
South America is home to numerous natural wonders (as you'll soon discover from this list) but as far as waterfalls are concerned, Iguazu Falls is a clear cut above the rest. It may not be the world's biggest but with over 250 separate cascades, it's certainly one of the most impressive. The falls straddle the border between Argentina and Brazil, which means you can easily visit both sides for a different view. It's worth doing as each side has its own unique selling point with the U-shaped Devil’s Throat largely contained within Argentina's borders while Brazil claims better panoramic views from platforms located further back from the cascading sheets of water.
The Galapagos Islands - Ecuador
Located more than 1,300km off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands are about as remote as you can get. This helps to explain the plethora of endemic wildlife, which has evolved in isolation from the rest of the world over millions of years. Giant tortoises, marine iguanas and of course, Darwin's famous finches are just some of the creatures to be found on the archipelago. It is here that Charles Darwin put together his ground-breaking theory of evolution. Each island has its own charm, with unique wildlife, lava beaches and more. An island hopping cruise is the perfect way to explore.
The Amazon Rainforest - Peru, Ecuador, Brazil and Colombia
There's no doubt about it - the Amazon Rainforest is the best known rainforest in the world and one of the most important. Not only does it account for half of the planet's tropical remaining forest, the Amazon is also home to unparalleled biodiversity, ranging from from the tiniest insects to mighty jaguars and stunning pink river dolphins. Forests are often described as the 'lungs of the Earth', which makes the Amazon our biggest pair. Superlatives aside, the Amazon tempts travellers with nature walks, canoe rides and jungle lodges for a chance to get up close and personal with the local wildlife in Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia and a number of other South American countries.
Patagonia - Chile and Argentina
Vast and sparsely populated, wild and rugged, Patagonia is a region of immense possibilities as far as your two feet are concerned. It's one of the continent's premier hiking destinations thanks to the winning combination of jaw-dropping landscapes, its enormous scale, world-class national parks and varied trekking routes. You'll find Patagonia in the far south of the continent, sprawling across Chile and Argentina. And within this region highlights include the distinctive twisted peaks and smooth towers of Torres del Paine and the spectacular glacier of Perito Moreno.
Easter Island - Chile
Pop several tonnes of archaeological mystery on an isolated, volcanic spit of land and the result is Easter Island. This enigmatic island is located off the coast of Chile and is world-famous thanks to its monumental statues of human figures. They are known as moai and date back to between 1250 and 1500 AD. There's over 900 moai on Easter Island, measuring up to 10 metres in height and weighing up to 82 tonnes with large heads and deep eye slits. It is still unclear exactly who built these statues and how they transported them across the island but that just adds to the appeal. The island itself has plenty to offer too with activities ranging from mountain biking and hiking to diving and surfing.
Lake Titicaca - Peru and Bolivia
Traditional Andean beliefs credit Lake Titicaca with being the place where the world was first born. Unsurprisingly, this makes the lake one of the most revered places for indigenous people living in Peru and Bolivia. And its these people and their age-old traditions that draw travellers to Lake Titicaca. Here you can visit floating islands made of totora reeds and meet the families that call them home. If that wasn't good enough reason to visit, perhaps the fact that Lake Titicaca is the world's highest navigable body of water might be. Thanks to its location on the border between Peru and Bolivia, it's also one of the most scenic with deep blue waters and the rolling mountains of the Andes as a backdrop.
Uyuni Salt Flats - Bolivia
Picture a sea of white stretching as far as the eye can see to meet a brilliant blue sky at the horizon. Except it isn't a sea, it's a salt pan, and specifically the Uyuni Salt Flat in southwest Bolivia. Known in Spanish as the Salar de Uyuni, it's the world's largest salt flat and is all that remains of a prehistoric lake that evaporated out of existence. What was left is a staggering amount of salt that now serves as the setting for perspective-warping photos taken with small dinosaur toys. There's also the odd island covered with cacti and viewpoints offering expansive views over the salt flats.
Rio de Janeiro - Brazil
If any city is going to get on this list of best places to visit in South America, it's Rio de Janeiro. Brazil's most popular metropolis boasts natural beauty and steamy culture galore. Its stunning harbour won a place on the Natural Seven Wonders of the World while the 30-metre-tall Christ the Redeemer statue that stands solemnly above the city earned a spot on the New Seven World Wonders list. That's two world wonders in one city. And as if that wasn't enough, Rio is also home to one of the greatest street parties the world has ever seen. Every February the Rio Carnival delivers an explosion of colour and sound as elaborate floats and sexy dance troupes shimmer and shake their way through the streets.
We know, we know. Antarctica is its own continent. But to visit, you must set off on an expedition cruise from Ushuaia, Argentina - so we're including it in our list. The term "bucket list" was made for Antarctica. An inhospitable environment home to a myriad of wildlife and just a handful of human scientists at any given time. A land of glaciers, ice bergs, mountains and more. A trip to Antarctica isn't for the faint-hearted, but it's guaranteed to be an adventure.
Buenos Aires - Argentina
The sensational capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires is the second largest city in South America after Rio de Janeiro. It’s also a hotspot for people who love food, music and, of course, dance. You’ll find parrillas, or steakhouses, on almost every corner, alongside a host of elegant restaurants and a booming café culture. The city’s vibrant nightlife never truly sleeps, with a diverse range of bars, clubs and venues to suit everyone’s music tastes. And no visit is complete without experiencing Buenos Aires’ tango scene. Originating in the city in the 18th century, this seductive dance can be viewed as a dinnertime performance or on the colourful streets, with the opportunity to learn some moves for yourself at one of the countless dance schools.
Colca Valley - Peru
Referred to as ‘The Valley of Wonders’, the stunning Colca Valley is known for its endless trekking and charming villages, where you can see locals wearing the traditional colourful clothing of the region. However, the undisputed highlight of the valley is the epic Colca Canyon. Carving through the High Andes for over 100 kilometres, it is the world’s second deepest canyon. Measuring around 3,400 metres at its deepest point, Colca Canyon is twice as deep as the world-famous Grand Canyon in the USA. It’s also home to magnificent condors, so when you’re not soaking up the views keep your eyes peeled for these giant creatures. With wingspans of over 3 metres, they're one of the largest flying birds on the planet.
The Pantanal - Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay
Located in the heart of South America, the Pantanal is the world’s largest tropical wetland in the world. Covering some 210,000 square kilometres, this vast wetland sprawls across Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. It’s also one of the most pristine in the world, making it prime wildlife habitat. The Pantanal boasts the world’s largest concentration of crocodiles and is home to the world’s largest parrot, the hyacinth macaw. It’s also famous for its jaguars, the largest big cat of the Americas, which hunt caiman with jaws stronger than those of tigers. With few people and no towns, the Pantanel is relatively untouched and an incredible place to experience some of the continent’s best wilderness.
San Pedro de Atacama - Chile
Set on a high plateau in northeastern Chile, the age-old town of San Pedro de Atacama attracts visitors from around the world as a base for exploring the region’s dramatic scenery. And the lunar-like landscape of the Atacama Desert certainly is breathtaking. Amongst the snow-capped volcanoes and desolate plains, highlights include the stunning Valley of the Moon and Salar de Atcamama, an epic salt flat spanning some 3,000-square-kilometres. In Los Flamencos National Reserve, pink flamingos take the center stage and congregate around azure lagoons. And to the north of the town you’ll find the Tatio Geysers, a field full of active blowholes that shoot steaming waters high into the air.
Quito - Ecuador
Founded in the 16th century, Quito was built on the ruins of an Inca city and is the second highest capital in the world. Set at an altitude of 2,850 metres in the Andes, the city is cloud-high and surrounded by the snow-capped peaks of two active volcanoes. But alongside the breathtaking setting, this city has much to offer its visitors. Its 16th century Old Town was the first UNESCO World Heritage city and is the best-preserved colonial center in South America. Discover a maze of cobblestone streets, baroque churches and pretty squares, as well as several fantastic museums and an abundance of great restaurants and cafes.