South America is a large continent spanning 12 different countries and a handful of territories, including French Guiana and the Falkland Islands.
So while no short round up could ever do the natural wonders, UNESCO World Heritage sites, and rich cultural tapestry justice, there are a few landmark attractions which might help you narrow down your choice of country.
From Argentina and Bolivia, to Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Peru, here are just come of our favorite must see landmarks if you’re considering country hopping, or expanding your bucketlist for the future.
Our Favorite Must-See Landmarks in South America
Machu Picchu 📌 Peru
We’ve written a lot about Machu Picchu, from 5 interesting things you need to know, to highlights of the Inca Trail if you’ve chosen to take the 4-5 day hike through the Andes to get there (don’t worry, you can also take the train!).
Machu Picchu is one of those places you have to see once in your lifetime; an ancient Inca settlement built in the 15th century, considered a masterwork of engineering. Now you can walk around its ruins.
It was constructed on a steep slope with little access to natural resources and it made up of over 150 buildings, which included baths, sanctuaries, houses and temples, as well as over 100 separate flights of stairs.
It was intended to be the estate of the Inca emperor Pachacuti, but it was abandoned shortly after his death, lost to time, and then residcovered again in 1911.
Today, Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most popular destinations in South America. Most people get the train from Cusco (4 hours) or Ollantaytambo (2 hours) to the town of Machu Picchu Pueblo which is also known as Aguas Calientes.
Iguazu Falls 📌 Argentina & Brazil
It’s pretty easy to see from the photo above why Iguazu Falls is a must-see natural landmark. The majestic falls, located on the border of Argentina and Brazil, is one of the most visited waterfalls in the world.
Several operators offer guided tours of the falls. Most of them include some combination of hikes, train rides, and boat trips, with the latter allowing visitors to get up close and personal with the falls themselves.
One of the most popular ways to visit Iguazu Falls is via a helicopter tour. This allows you to see the falls and get a bird’s eye view of some of the nearby rainforests and other natural wonders that make this such a sought-after destination.
For those who want more excitement than just seeing waterfalls from above ground level, several operators offer rafting trips down rapids formed by the Iguaza River directly beneath them.
There are plenty of places to stay within the National Park itself, with The Belmond Hotel das Cataratas being a luxury and family friendly option right in the park, next to the falls.
This is the only hotel within the Brazilian side of the national park, and there’s great dining options as well as a spa; there’s no casino attached to the hotel, but you can always switch on a VPN while relaxing in your room with the live blackjack games at Casumo.
Uyuni Salt Flat 📌 Bolivia
Millions of visitors flock to the Uyuni Salt Flat in Bolivia every year. They’re greeted with a vast expanse of glittering white salt when they arrive, which stretches as far as the eye can see.
This is one of those places that seems so otherworldly that it almost feels like an alien landscape. We were booked to go in 2014, got to the airport and had our flights cancelled due to a power outage in Uyuni. So this one is still on the list!
The Uyuni Salt Flat is a dried lake bed. The ancient lake Minchin disappeared thousands of years ago. Since then, the land has been drying up and cracking. These cracks are called polygonal patterns, and they’re mesmerizing to look at.
The best way to get to Uyuni is from La Paz. It’s a ten-hour bus ride, or BoA has daily flights to Uyuni and connections from other Bolivian cities via La Paz. Salt flat tours start around 10 am, so you can catch a morning flight from La Paz and start the trip the same day.
Christ the Redeemer 📌 Brazil
Christ the Redeemer is one of the most famous landmarks in South America, and it’s an absolute must-see. It’s a statue of Jesus Christ, standing 98 feet high on top of Corcovado Mountain in Brazil.
The landmark’s location provides stunning views of the surrounding city of Rio de Janeiro, including Sugarloaf Mountain, Guanabara Bay, and Copacabana Beach.
The statue was constructed by a group called the Catholic Circle of Rio de Janeiro between 1926 and 1931. Its creators intended it to represent peace and harmony between citizens of different faiths and ethnicities.
Christ the Redeemer was named one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World” in 2007. Since Brazil’s climate is so humid, a lightning rod was installed on top of the statue to protect it from thunderstorms.
Torres del Paine National Park 📌 Chilean Patagonia
If you’re visiting Chile, one of the most beautiful regions is Torres del Paine National Park. This park is found in the southern Patagonia region and is home to many glaciers, mountains, lakes, and rivers.
It also has a wide variety of wildlife, including birds, pumas, and guanacos. The most popular way to experience this breathtaking landscape is by trekking with a guide from one of the many tour companies.
The best time for trekking is from October through March because there may be snow on trails during the winter months. For those who want to explore Torres del Paine without hiking all day long, it’s possible to camp or stay at one of the hotels near the park’s entrance.
Whether you’re looking for something fun to do on vacation or add an educational activity to your itinerary while travelling, these sites will charm you as much as they delight the seasoned traveller.
The next time you’re in South America, keep this list handy.