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Incan ruins, Andean peaks, and glaciers which will take your breath away. Colonial towns, white-sand beaches, and trails which lead directly under awe inspiring falls.  From the Galapagos to the Amazon, and trekking the Quilotoa Loop, South America is just full of incredible natural wonders and bucket list destinations which set the stage for incredible adventures.

Travelers who skip South America are truly missing out – there is more culture, passion and history here than any other place in the world, and a more diverse range of natural wonders and landscapes than found in any other continent on earth.

Think lush tropical rainforests, towering volcanoes, powerful waterfalls and misty cloud forests. Think glistening salt flats, bone-dry deserts, red-rock canyons and ice-blue glaciers. Throw in some exotic wildlife lazing across sun-kissed beaches and it’s not hard to wonder why we recently spent a full 4 months here.

Not hard to see why we spent a whole 4 months here!

The following epic bucket list destinations are all within South America, and all offer travelers the opportunity for the adventure of a lifetime.

#1 Easter Island

Located in Chile, Easter Island features on the bucket list of almost every traveler. Because of its isolation, direct flights only operate from Santiago, or once per week from Tahiti.

Travel here means traveling to one of the earth’s most remote islands and witnessing firsthand the famous monumental statues (called moai), created by the early Rapa Nui people.

View our postcards from Easter Island.

Easter Island.

#2 Machu Picchu

The mysterious ruins of an ancient civilization, Machu Picchu (Peru) is a 15th century Inca site which is 7,000 feet above sea level, nestled on a small hilltop between the Andean Mountain Range. The city soars above the Urabamba Valley, and was unknown until its discovery in 1911.

1 million hikers, tourists and explorers all make the journey here annually to see the majestic city for themselves. Many choose to hike the Inca Trail which is a 4 day journey which follows the same route the Inca’s and early explorers had to take to reach the city, though you can opt out of the 4 day hike and take the train.

Bookings to visit Machu Picchu are essential, and book ahead for the additional climb of Wayna Picchu – pictured below, the climb offers spectacular views over the ruins of the city itself.

Machu p

The view over Machu Picchu from Wayna Picchu.

#3 The Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands (Ecuador) is one of the most fascinating destinations in the world. Full of extraordinary nature, wildlife and awe inspiring views, it was a visit here, in 1835, when a young Charles Darwin began to formulate his evolutionary (and revolutionary) theory of natural selection.

As in Darwin’s day, the true attraction of the Galapagos is its wildlife. Marine Iguanas, Great Frigatebirds, Blue-footed boobies and of course, the massive Galapagos tortoise, are just some of the stars found here in what is arguably nature’s greatest showcase.

Though it’s true stars swim below the surface of the dazzling waters which teem with exotic marine life exclusive to the Galapagos shores. Click for more of our best underwater photos from the Galapagos.

Snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands.

#4 The Amazon

The Amazon rainforest stretches through 9 nations in South America, including Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana, and is one of the most remote places left on earth.

We traveled to Rurrenabaque in Bolivia and spent 4 days in the Pampas amongst several million species of insects, plants and birds, as well as major wildlife such as the jaguar, manatee, tapir, red deer, capybara, many other types of rodents, and several types of monkeys.

We fished for piranhas, swam with pink river dolphins, and trekked through the rainforest hunting anacondas. This was a true jungle experience and should be on the bucket list of any wildlife fanatic.

Read about the time Amazonian Squirrel monkeys stole our GoPro.

Squirrel

Squirrel Monkeys in the Bolivian Amazon. They took a liking to our GoPro.

#5 Salar de Uyuni

Bordering Chile and Bolivia, Salar de Uyuni (or Salar de Tunupa) is the world’s largest salt flat at 10,582 square kilometers, and one of the best attractions for South America travel.

One of the most photographed sites in the world, it’s natural beauty is astounding, and photographers flock here to capture the unique landscape.

In the dry season this will be a hallucinogenic white landscape, and during rain the whole area becomes submerged and will show a perfect reflection of the sky. Come November thousands of flamingos spend several months here, which is an even more spectacular sight to see.

Salar

Salar de Uyuni. Photo CC by Carlos Adampol Galindo

#6 Iguazu Falls

Undoubtedly one of the most naturally spectacular sights in the world, Iguazu Falls is an imposing collection of waterfalls which straddles Brazil and Argentina.

The falls at Iguazu are 1.7 miles long, and 30% taller than Niagara, made up of many cascades producing vast sprays of water flowing at up to 450,000 cubic feet (12,750 cubic m) per second.

Words cannot describe the experience of witnessing Iguazu Falls. Magnificent, spectacular, mesmerizing, immense; these all come close, though nothing will prepare you for the unbelievable experience itself.

Click to view 15 inspiring photos of Iguazu Falls.

Meg Jerrard is an Australian Journalist who has been travelling and blogging around the world for the last 7 years to inspire others to embark on their own worldwide adventure!  Her husband Mike is an American travel photographer, and together they have made the world their home.

Follow their journey on FacebookGoogle+ and Twitter.

This post was completed with the help of OneTravel

    22 Comments

  1. Nice selection of locations here Megan, I can’t see how any of them would not be on people’s want to see list.

    Certainly Easter Island would top my list from the above. Although I’m always in awe when I hear how long and fascinating the amazon is.

    • Easter island is actually one of the rare locations which actually lived up to it’s hype for us. Not many destinations do!

      I hope you can get to the Amazon as well – it truly was so fascinating and we loved our time there – so real and very noncommercial

  2. Aaah, there are too many incredible places to see in this world! I was recently chatting with a fellow backpacker who went diving in the Galapagos Islands and said it was one of the most incredible experiences of his life. Easter Island is definitely right up there on my wish list too!

    • The Galapagos Islands truly is one of the most incredible experiences you will ever have in your life. Totally agree with him there. Though then again so is Easter Island!!

      Not a bad problem to have when there are too many amazing places to choose from I guess :D!

  3. Definite bucket list destinations, Meg! My parents became missionaries to Latin America when I was in sixth grade, and I lived in in Mexico, Chile, and Paraguay up until I graduated from high school. The irony is that the only destination in your list I have visited is Iguazú Falls, and I have been there many times over the years. I want to head back to Latin America, and especially Chile. I would like to add on an Antarctica trip, too.

    • Im right there with you with wanting to tack Antarctica onto a South American trip. I hope to head through Chile and Argentina and then just hop on a cruise :D! We’ll see!

      So cool that you have a history in different places around South America – living in a new destination is the best way to truly appreciate it’s beauty!

  4. Great list! I am hoping to see some of this places when I finally get there :) Especially Easter Island – they stole my heart already :)

    • Thanks Monika! The funny thing is we weren’t originally planning on Easter Island when planning our trip, but Mike was playing around with flight routes on Orbitz and realized it was only an extra $100 to add a stop here on our way from Bolivia to the Galapagos.

      So once you’re actually in South America the flights between each destination can be relatively cheap!

  5. Great list – I can’t wait to do them all. I would add The Pantanal in Brazil – I saw even more wildlife there then in the Amazon.

    • Yes, definitely the Pantanal in Brazil as well. Our original itinerary actually included the Pantanal but then it was too difficult to get Visas to brazil within our circumstances unfortunately.

      But I would love to go back and head out to spot Jaguars!

  6. Too many places to visit, too many books to read… it’s daunting and beautiful at the same time. I really like your list (who wouldn’t!?), especially the inclusion of the Amazon. I think most travelers don’t make time to visit the Amazon when they visit Peru. Perhaps it is better this way… to keep it, as you say, non-commercial.

    I grew up in Lima and one of my first “expeditions” was to the Amazon. Been in love with her since then :)

    • How fantastic that the Amazon was one of your first trips! I can see how that would have easily sparked a lifelong sense of wanderlust!

      The Amazon was definitely one of our favorite stops in South America – one of the last untouched places left on earth!

    • Right there with you with the “what isn’t” frame of mind!!!

  7. Oh, so many places I want to visit! I was so tempted to turn my Central America adventure into a South and Central America adventure but I think I just need to plan a South America adventure for the future!

    • Definitely two separate trips – both are amazing destinations! That’s exactly what we did though – we had a trip to Costa Rica and Panama and then ended up turning those two weeks into 4 months from slapping South America onto the end of it :D It was great though!!

      Feel free to reach out if you ever need any pointers on where to start when planning :) Happy Travels!

  8. Great bucket list! These are all incredible places to check out, and it’s only scratching the surface1

    • It truly is only scratching the surface – you could spend a lifetime traveling throughout South America!!

  9. I couldn’t agree with you more, Megan. Although I’ve lost my heart to Asia, South Amerca is richer in history, nature and adventure. It (literally) takes your breath away!

    • Absolutely Miriam! I haven’t really even touched on Asia yet so it will be interesting to see on which continent my heart truly lies :D!

  10. This post has only inspired me further to take an extended trip to South America! I’ve been to the rainforest in Borneo but the Amazon sounds truly incredible… Thanks for sharing :)

    • I’m so glad to hear that Vickie! South America is so rich in culture, nature, history and adventure, it’s an absolutely incredible place to be. And I can highly recommend the Amazon, if you loved Borneo you’ll love the rain-forests in South America too.

      You can travel to Peru, Ecuador, Brazil or Bolivia for the Amazon, though I recommend Bolivia as it’s further off the beaten path so generally with less tourists and much cheaper for trips in. It offers exactly the same quality of experience as the other countries do, so you’re not sacrificing anything, It’s just lesser known :)

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