The Best Places to Travel in South America

Iguazu Falls

Once you start exploring South America you realise that this is the sort of vast continent that you could spend the rest of your life travelling around.

There are so many incredible spots here that it can be tough to know where to get started. To help you get going, here are what I consider to be the very best places to see in South America.

Machu Picchu, Peru

This was the main destination for me when I first went to South America, as I am sure that it is for many other people. When you take a trip here it is just one blooming marvel after another. For a start, you need to get used to the altitude by spending a few days in the magnificent city of Cusco. This may no longer be the capital of a thriving Inca empire but it is still a place where you will have a fantastic time. It is a mixture of incredible Inca foundations made up of massive stones, Spanish colonial buildings built on top of those Inca foundations and backpackers from all round the world milling around. After this, you start a multi-day hike to the sublime “lost” city of Machu Picchu. The sun rising over the ruins of the city is something you won’t forget for the rest of your life. Don’t even think about taking the train here instead of hiking. The hike isn’t as bad as you might think, as the distance walked each day is relatively short.Machu Picchu View

Potosi, Bolivia

Potosi is the kind of place that opens your eyes to a different world. It is a dusty, impoverished city high in the Bolivian highlands with an incredible history. This is one of the world’s highest cities and it is where the Spanish found enough precious metal to justify the deaths of millions of miners over the centuries. Potosi was once one of the planet’s biggest and most opulent cities but it is now a shadow of what it once was. The most astonishing thing about this place is that you can still visit the infamous Cerro Rico hill and see miners digging tin out of the mines that the Spanish started exploiting in the 16th century. This isn’t a traditional holiday destination but it is like nowhere else you will have ever seen, which makes it unmissable in my book.

Potosi Bolivia

Buenos Aires, Argentina

So, you want some culture, great food and, above all, a bit of sensual tango? You need to get yourself down to Buenos Aires then. This is simply one of the world’s finest and most exciting cities. At the time of writing, the disastrous state of the Argentine peso means that it is also one of the best value destinations around. Eat the best beef you have ever tasted, watch the best football you have ever seen and enjoy a unique city where life is lived to the full.


Buenos aires at night

La Paz, Bolivia

I love La Paz but it is the most chaotic place I have ever been to. Street vendors clog up the streets, the traffic zebras completely fail to control the wild drivers, street food is on sale everywhere and there are frequent public demonstrations, festivals and blocked roads. The high altitude and steep streets take their toll at first but you will love the cheap crafts, the range of restaurants and the chance to head out for some hair-raising adventures on the world’s most dangerous road.

Worlds most dangerous road la paz

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

I ended up in Rio by mistake, and it was the best mistake of my life. The list of things to do here is enough to make even an experienced traveller go weak at the knees. Copacabana, Ipanema, Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain, the Maracana Stadium and the Rio Carnival are some of the finest tourist attractions you can ever hope to see. Like me, your first day here is likely to involve pinching yourself as you try to take in the fact that you are really in this gorgeous, lively city. It is arguably the most beautiful city in the world but it mixes that beauty with a grittiness and a joy that has captivated tourists for decades.

Rio Brazil

Iguazu Falls, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay

This giant series of waterfalls on the triple border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay will leave you feeling very small. The majesty and power of nature is on show at Iguazu Falls and it will take your breath away. One of the best things about this place is that you get a different view and a different experience in Brazil from the one in Argentina. If both countries are in your travel plans then this is the ideal spot to cross the border and see a natural wonder at the same time.

Iguazu Falls

Quito, Ecuador

Quito was the first city I saw in South America and it made me fall hopelessly in love with the continent. This is a wonderful place to learn Spanish, to learn a few salsa steps and to visit the centre of the world. It is bizarrely and uniquely (as far as I know) split dramatically into a new town and an old town. You can enjoy a great time in the local bars, parks and markets here in a friendly setting. It isn’t packed with world famous sights but it is the kind of city where it is easy to feel at home. I still get a smile on my face when I think about the time I spent here and plan to go back soon.

Quito Ecuador

Lake Titicaca, Bolivia, Peru

Lake Titicaca is a very special place but it is more difficult to describe why it is so good than it is with some other places on this list. Sure, it is the highest navigable lake in the world and pretty stunning to look at. However, it is the unique feel of this area that made me put it onto this list. I don’t want to go all crazy here but there is some sort of mysterious energy or vibe here that I love. It is a sacred site for the indigenous people and legend has it that the world started here. Take a boat trip out to the Isla del Sol on the Bolivian side or the incredible floating Uros islands if you are in Peru.

Lake Titicaca

Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia

Bolivia might not be the most popular travel spot in South America but, as you can see, it has plenty of entries on my list of favourite places in the continent. These are the biggest and highest salt flats on Earth. If the thought of taking a tour over giant expanses of salt doesn’t rock your boat then I can’t blame you. I wasn’t exactly enthused about the idea of doing this trip at first. What I saw blew me away, though. As well as the salt turning into a massive mirror in the rainy season, you also get awesome coloured lakes, snow capped mountains, salt hotels and the most incredible starry nights imaginable. I started my tour in Uyuni, Bolivia but I believe you can do it in reverse by arranging it in San Pedro de Atacama in Chile.

Uyuni Salt Flats Bolivia

Nazca, Peru      

There is really only one reason for visiting Nazca but what a heck of a reason it is. This is where you will find the legendary Nazca lines etched into the desert floor. This small Peruvian town is located in one of the world’s driest regions, allowing the figures such as a monkey and a spider to remain visible centuries after being drawn. You can go up in a small plane and look down on these baffling shapes and geometric patterns from up high. There are also some mummified bodies to check out and a small gold workshop but the lines in the desert are the undoubted star of the show in Nazca.

Nazca Lines Peru

Otavalo, Ecuador           

To be fair, Ecuador probably deserves more on this list than just Quito and the market town of Otavalo. It is a charming country where the people are friendly and there are lots of things to do. The reason it doesn’t feature more is that it has few stand out, unmissable features but rather plenty of interesting places to explore. If you can afford a trip to the Galapagos Islands then you should do it but otherwise Otavalo is likely to be your most memorable spot. This place is famous for its quality market that takes place every Saturday. Virtually the whole town gets turned into a giant outdoor fair and people sell everything from stone statues to ponchos, necklaces and intricate chess sets.

Otavalo Market Ecuador

Angel Falls           

This is the only entry on the list for somewhere I haven’t yet been too. To be fair, I would also love to go to Ushuaia, Medellin, Sao Paulo, the south of Chile, Asunción and many other places in this vast, enticing continent. However, if I had to choose one spot to travel to it would be here, where the world’s tallest waterfall sits in an incredibly remote location in Venezuela. Just getting here sounds like a real challenge but one day I hope to fly over the waterfall in a helicopter and enjoy seeing another of South America’s vast range of treasures.

Angel Falls

So there we have my list of The Best Places to Travel in South America! Have you been to any of them or do you plan to soon?

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2 Responses to The Best Places to Travel in South America

  1. Looking forward to seeing more of South America soon!
    Becky Padmore recently posted…13 quirky jobs for the desperate travellerMy Profile

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