Regardless of whether you plan to travel through South America for a month or half a year, there are some places that you must see. This beautiful continent offers outstanding landscapes, exotic jungle, desserts, snow-capped mountains, incredible beaches and much, much more. In this article you will find out the 10 obligatory places to see in South America based on my experience. Please note this list is a personal observation, you are free to add or change anything you want.
1. Machu Picchu, Peru
One of the seven wonders of the world, Machu Picchu is a number one on the list of almost every traveler visiting South America. This dream destination of millions of people from all over the word is located in Cusco Region and represents magnificence of Incan empire. According to archeologists, the city was built around 1450 and remained unknown for ages thanks to hidden and hard to get location. It was finally discovered by American explorer Hiram Bingham in 1912. I was truly amazed by the spirit of this place and it definitely deserves to be among the most outstanding destinations in South America.
2. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Three days on a salt desert spent without electricity and hot water made me realize that one of the happiest moments of your life may happen when you don’t share them with the rest of the world. My experience with Salar de Uyuni last 72 hours and included many different activities, but there are many shorter or longer options so everyone can choose the best one for himself. The sunset I was a witness of is still one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in my whole life. You definitely have to include this world’s biggest salt desert on your list!
3. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Someone once told me that there are only two options for Rio to be perceived by its visitors: to be loved or to be hated. I had ambiguous feelings about this city long time after visiting it and although my experience wasn’t the best, I think you should give it a chance and experience it yourself. All my friends who’ve been there came back falling in love with Rio, so as you can see the city causes polemical feelings. As I don’t like to keep resentment, I decided to give Rio another opportunity and come back in some future to see the carnival.
4. Amazonas, Brasil/Ecuador
Without a doubt Amazonas it’s a must during your backpacking in South America. It doesn’t matter if you are planning to visit Brazilian or Ecuadorian part, you will be completely amazed by the indigenous nature of this place. I strongly recommend you to stay in Amazonas for at least 2 days, sleep in the jungle and get to know the local community. I had a chance to visit Amazonas of Ecuador and until know it was one of the best experiences in my life. If I came back, I would surely stay longer next time.
5. Iguazu Falls, Argentina/Brazil
One of the places that marked me the most during my trip was Iguazu Falls. Located on the Brazilian and Argentinian border, the Iguazu Falls National Parks allows you to experience the beauty of the waterfalls from both sides. I recommend you to start from Brazil and then to visit the Argentinian part because for me personally this second one was more impressing. The most important point of this largest waterfall system in the world is called ‘The Devil’s Throat’ and you can see it closely from Argentine Province. It is a U-shaped chasm where 14 falls plunge more than 350 feet.
6. Rainbow Mountain, Peru
The second place on my list located in Peru, not that far away from Machu Picchu. As a result of a composition consisting of many minerals, the mountain is a real spectacle of colors for its visitors. The hiking takes around 2 hours and it’s about one hour to get down. I could barely breath and I had to stop every 10-15 minutes before I got to the final point because the mountain’s height took its toll, but my friend encouraged me a lot and I really wanted to make it till the end. Once we reached the highest point, the view was so amazing that I completely forgot about the pain and any difficulties.
7. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
If I had to choose one place that impressed me the most during my whole stay in South America, it would be definitely Galapagos. The biodiversity and the quantity of indigenous species inhabiting these islands makes Galapagos a one of the kind destination. If you’re like me and you’ve always dreamed about meeting giant turtles or swimming surrounded by sea lions, you have to visit at least one of many Galapagos Islands. It’s not a cheap election but in my opinion it’s worth every dollar because you won’t experience something similar in any other place in the world.
8. Atacama Desert, Chile
It’s been said that the most beautiful stars in the world are seen from Atacama Desert. If you are planning to stay for few days, find time in your calendar for astronomical observations, you won’t regret it. The Atacama desert is also considered one of the driest places in the world and being there you have a feeling of traveling to Mars or to the Moon because of the extraordinary rock formations. The lack of humidity and pollution in Atacama produces an unique and dusty landscape and thanks to that you can witness one of the most beautiful sunsets ever.
9. Buenos Aires, Argentina
The capital of Argentina is one of the most emblematic cities in the whole South America and I have a special feeling for this city because it reminds me a lot Barcelona. I’d never been in a place that similar to Barcelona before. The architecture, the art, the character of its citizens… I was positively surprised by the European spirit of Buenos Aires. It’s a great destination after weeks spent in Andes when you want to charge your batteries and feel a bit of home. If you like to dance, you cannot miss a visit in La Boca – the heart of tango and the most representative part of the city.
10. Patagonian Andes and Glacier, Argentina
The only place from the list that I didn’t visit during my trip and I decided to include is Patagonia. Due to limited time and bad weather conditions I couldn’t continue my route to the Cono Sur but it definitely deserves to be a must on your map. Make sure you are planning to go during summer (European winter) and prepare yourself for the most scenic hikes in South America. Turquoise lakes surrounded by Andes’s incredible wildlife and the Glaciar Perito Moreno are true standouts of Patagonia that I am planning to visit next time.
I didn’t include on my list countries that I haven’t visited yet, such as Colombia and Venezuela. I am sure there are many beautiful places there waiting to be explored!
If this list didn’t inspire you to plan your trip to South America, it means you have a serious problem! Ok jokes apart, I hope this article helped you to pack your stuff and prepare one of the most exciting adventures of your life.