The Most Beautiful National Parks in South America
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The Most Beautiful National Parks in South America

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Jul 24, 2015

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By Conrad McGarvey

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Last updated on October 16th, 2020 at 01:50 pm

The Most Beautiful National Parks in South America

South America is home to some of the most beautiful, must-see national parks in South America. It is a continent where one can explore destinations that ooze with natural wonders and vast landscapes. From the northern coast of Colombia to the southern borders of Tierra del Fuego in Patagonia, the biodiversity is so expansive that certainly, a trip to South America‘s national parks is needed.  There are currently over 300 national parks in South America, many of which are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It’s not easy choosing only a few, but I always recommend these 5 must-see national parks in South America to anyone who is looking for a South American adventure and appreciates mother nature.

1. Tayrona National Park

tayrnoa -national-parks-in-south-america

National Parks in Colombia

First up on our list of the must-see national parks in South America is Tayrona National Park. Tayrona National Natural Park is in Colombia and is approximately 20 miles from the coastal city of Santa Marta. The park is huge, covering over 58 square miles, with the sea portion adding another 12 square miles.

Tayrona’s pristine beaches are some of the best beaches in Colombia. They are perfect for relaxing and enjoying water activities like snorkeling or surfing.  Also, there are over 300 species of birds in Tayrona National Park, making it an ideal destination for bird watching. For those on a Colombia honeymoon, the park also offers a romantic and idyllic setting.

There are a couple of nice hotels within close proximity to the park. I recommend staying at the Ecohabs Tayrona, an exclusive lodge with wooden bungalows sitting in the natural environment of the Cañaveral beach. Don’t forget to ask your travel agent to include the Tayrona Park entrance fee with your tour package.

2. Torres del Paine National Park

torres-del-paine-national-parks-in-south-america

National Parks in Chile

Arguably the quintessential must-see national park in South America is Torres del Paine. Torres del Paine National Park is the perfect destination for travelers keen on hiking, trekking, climbing, horseback riding, sailing, and kayaking. The 935 square mile park is full of trails, wildlife, and animals. The most picturesque places to visit include Grey Lake, Pehoe Lake, Sarmiento Lake, and the French Valley.  The three towers in the Paine mountain range are the most characteristic elements of the park. Spot the three towers throughout the park, weather permitting.

If you want to fully experience Torres del Paine, I recommend spending at least 3 nights here. The best time to visit Patagonia is from late December to late February during the Patagonian summertime. On a Patagonia tour, you can experience the severe and dramatic nature of Patagonia but keep in mind that this magnificent piece of earth is not easy to reach.

How to Get to Torres del Paine: 

  • Fly to Punta Arenas: From the Santiago de Chile International Airport take a 4-hour flight to Punta Arenas Airport.  Then take a 4 and a half hour bus ride from Punta Arenas to Torres del Paine.
  • Fly to El Calafate: From the Buenos Aires Airport, take a 4-5 hour connecting flight to El Calafate.  From El Calafate, take a 4-hour bus to Cerro Castillo and cross the border into Torres del Paine National Park.

3. Galapagos National Park

Galapagos Island National Park

National Parks in Ecuador

Next up on our list of the must-see national parks in South America is the Galapagos National Park in Ecuador. The Galapagos Islands are without a doubt the best place to visit for those that are interested in observing unique wildlife. The fauna you can find in the park is extensive. Spot fur seals, sea lions, Galapagos tortoises, green sea turtles, iguanas, lava lizards, flamingos, blue-footed boobies, brown pelicans, hammerhead sharks, Galapagos frigate birds, and more. Although the Galapagos Islands are located more than 620 miles from the mainland of Ecuador, it is well worth the time, effort, and money to get there.

You can explore the islands on a Galapagos cruise ship or by staying in a hotel. Both options offer 3-7 night packages with daily excursions to visit the different islands. I recommend taking the Galapagos Legend boat cruise. While planning a trip to the Galapagos you need to keep in mind that it’s a specially protected area. All visitors must be accompanied by a licensed Galapagos National Park Guide and travel with authorized tour operators. You cannot tour the islands on your own and all excursions must be prearranged by a travel agency.

4. Glaciers National Park

perito-moreno--national-parks-in-south-america

National Parks in Argentina

No list titled the must-see national parks in South America would be complete without Glaciers National Park in Argentina. Glaciers National Park (Parque Nacional de Los Glaciares) is another splendid National Park in Patagonia and is locally known as Austral Andes. It’s located in the Argentine province of Santa Cruz, around 50 miles from the city of El Calafate. If you are starting your trip in Chile it is a 5-hour bus ride from Puerto Natales. If you are coming from Buenos Aires it is a 3-hour 20 min plane ride to El Calafate.

The most popular place to visit in the park is Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the three Patagonian growing glaciers. This immense glacier is over 97 square miles, including 19 miles in length. Perito Moreno Glacier can be observed from numerous hiking pathways and/or also by boat. If you want to get up close and personal with the glacier consider signing up for a Perito Moreno trekking tour. Other popular excursions in Glaciers National Park include boat trips through icebergs to see the Upsala Glacier and Onelli Glacier. Spend a few days in the park so that you have time to do all the different excursions including trekking and kayaking.

5. Iguazu National Park

iguazu-falls-national-parks-in-south-america

National Parks in Argentina and Brazil

Last up on our list of the must-see national parks in South America is a trip to Iguazu Falls National Park. Instead of glaciers and mountains take a trip to a subtropical jungle filled with colorful birds and immense waterfalls. Iguazu National Park is a must-see destination if you are touring Argentina. If you have time, visit the Brazilian counterpart, Iguacu National Park. The Brazilian side is only a 30-minute drive from the Argentine side and offers more panoramic views of the famous falls.

From Buenos Aires take a 1 ½-hour flight to Iguazu National Park. The very heart of the park is home to a massive group of waterfalls (80 meters high) and it’s numerous cascades. Surrounding the waterfalls is lush vegetation, and many creatures including tapirs, howler monkeys, ocelots, jaguars, anteaters, and more. The most common animals to spot include coati, toucans, and butterflies.

With over 300 National Parks in South America to choose from, you really can’t go wrong.  From the coastal beaches of Tayrona to the glaciers in Patagonia, South America has something for every outdoor enthusiast.

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Last updated on October 16th, 2020 at 01:50 pm

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