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.
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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
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