Things to do in South America
South America is a continent of great contrast, it has the right type of adventure for everyone. From sipping caipirinhas on the Copacabana to trekking glaciers in Patagonia. You can dive with Hammerhead Sharks in the Galapagos or hike to Incan ruins nestled among the Andes mountains. You can powerboat under the Iguazu Falls or stargaze from the driest place on earth, the Atacama Desert. Or why not taste the finest wines among pristine vineyards or share mate with friends on a charming cobblestone street. There are so many fantastic things to do in South America.
Best Things to Do in South America:
Hike the W Trail in Torres del Paine, Chile
The granite towers of Torres del Paine are considered one of the best views in all of Patagonia. The journey, known as the W Trek, leads hikers through dense forests, unique glaciers, and pristine rivers and includes the park’s most famous stretch of trails. The 4-5 day journey can be divided into different day hikes or completed in comfort thanks to a surplus of lodges, campsites, and hostels. At the end of the journey, nothing is more rewarding than enjoying the unbeatable view of the famous towers.
Trek the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Peru
One of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu is perhaps South America’s most famous and must-see site. While trekking the Peruvian Andes in 1911, archeologists rediscovered the abandoned ancient site of the Incan empire. Though not as culturally significant as other Incan cities, the citadel of Machu Picchu has unmatched views of the Andes and incredibly well-preserved buildings. While the old citadel is accessible by train, the long journey via the Inca Trail is a rewarding trek. The four-day trip is a tour through some of Peru’s most impressive natural wonders. Hikers will enjoy sleepy ancient ruins, Rainbow Mountain, Dead Woman’s Pass, and the eerie Cloud Forest, to name a few. If physically capable, this is a highly recommended trek when visiting Machu Picchu.
Ride a train through the Atlantic Rainforest
For locomotive enthusiasts, a train ride through the Atlantic Rainforest is an absolute must. Combining breathtaking views of Brazil’s natural beauty and vintage steam engines, travelers can travel in luxury. The cozy interior, complete with table service and bar carts, is an ideal traverse through the wild terrain of the Atlantic Rainforest. Enjoy views over cliff sides, lush valleys, and dramatic riverfronts on this locomotive adventure.
Take a cable car to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain
The cable car and towering viewpoints from Sugarloaf Mountain are quintessential to any vacation in Rio de Janeiro. Ideally visited during sunset, Sugarloaf Mountain provides visitors with a 360-degree view over Rio de Janeiro and the surrounding Atlantic ocean. From Corcovado Mountain and the Tijuca Rainforest to the pedestrian-friendly Ipanema and historic center of downtown, all is viewable from Sugar Loaf. The scenic and the comfortable cable car ride is a quick journey to the top. Once arrived, enjoy the various views, taking your time to stroll around the developed mountain top. Amenities include restaurants, bars, seating areas, and even wild monkeys playing in the canopies.
Horseback ride with gauchos in Patagonia, Argentina
Gauchos are the beloved traditional cowboys from Uruguay and Argentina, now regarded as a national symbol. As essential elements to the culture of Patagonian country life, a tour of their homes, and farm stays are a close-up look into the daily lives of some of South America’s most celebrated folk peoples. From old legends to mesmerizing equestrian skills, enjoy watching as these impressive gauchos go about their routine and sharing the intricacies of their life.
Dance the Tango in Buenos Aires, Argentina
See the seductive Tango in its origin city, Buenos Aires. The sultry dance has livened up neighborhoods along the Rio de La Plata since the 1880s after its creation by enslaved and impoverished African populations. Today, Tango is one of the most influential partner dances in the world. Be sure to check out a show, weather along with the street corners of La Boca, or a more up-scale dancing hall. Then, hit the floor yourself on a guided lesson of this romantic dance.
Sample coffee in the Colombia Coffee Region
Sample coffee at its best in Colombia. The Colombian coffee region is world-famous for producing a massive 875,000 hectares worth of coffee beans, approximately six percent of the world’s coffee supply. Additionally, the region’s incredible natural beauty cannot be ignored, from lush mountain valleys to the world’s tallest palm trees. Visitors can learn and taste their way through the 14 various coffee regions within Colombia, gaining an understanding of the complex cultivation process and coming closer to a vital industry within South America.
Spot wildlife in the Pantanal Wetlands
The Pantanal Wetlands is the largest tropical wetland area in the world, bordering Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay. The region is abundant in wildlife, serving as a habitat for caimans, capybaras, jaguars, and maned wolves. Additionally, with its flat terrain and endless views, wildlife viewing opportunities here are unmatched in South America.
Snowboard in Bariloche, Argentina
Along the shores of the scenic Lake Nahuel Huapi is one of South America’s top destinations for winter sports, Bariloche. The quaint town of San Carlos de Bariloche is famous for its abundance in natural beauty and architecture, with its unique alpine-style designs. Surrounded by glacial lakes and the impressive Andes Mountains, this region has gained international attention for skiing and snowboarding opportunities. With three ski resorts to choose from, and over 40 lifts taking visitors across the mountainous terrain, you will have endless chances to explore the best of South America’s slopes.
Wine taste in the Chilean Countryside
Chile is known as one of the world’s top wine producers and you don’t have to travel far to get to these wineries! The top wines produced here include Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blend and Chardonnay. Some of the top wine regions in the area are Elqui Valley, Aconcagua Valley, Casablanca Valley, Maipo Valley, and Colchagua Valley. Many of these regions can be visited just for the day from Santiago but we always highly encourage wine lovers to stay in special wine lodges if they want to get the full experience.
Horseback ride in Uruguay
Uruguay is a wonderful place to horseback ride along the sandy beaches and grasslands. Visitors can stay at traditional estancias or farms and do horseback riding from there. It is an intimate experience because you’ll be able to speak with the Gauchos, or cowboys, who are in charge of the horses and learn more about the farm from the owners. Rocha is often a place people choose to horseback ride because you can do so at the beach along the Brazilian border.
Trek in a cloud forest in Ecuador
Near Mindo, Ecuador is the Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve. This rainforest is filled with beautiful orchids, hummingbirds, waterfalls, spectacled bears, and epiphytes (air plants that grow on other plants). There are many different lodge options, from simple to high end, but it is recommended to stay at least 2 nights due to the distance from Quito (about 2 hours though windy roads each way). At the lodges, they can provide you with trails to explore on your own or other activities.
Climb a table mountain in Venezuela
Mount Roraima is a national treasure of Venezuela and one of the most common requests to visit. This table mountain contains unique plants and animals and is one of the oldest formations known. While not the tallest mountain in Venezuela, it is no small feat to the summit at 2810m above sea level. Taking the Paratepui Route with a guide it will take you about 6-8 days to do the entire trek. However, a few of these days are left for you to explore the tabletop mountain.
Take a flight over Kaieteur Falls in Guyana
Have you ever flown over a waterfall from a charter plane? For those who have experienced this in Guyana, they will tell you it is an absolute highlight. Through a travel agency, you can charter a flight with others to fly over Kaieteur Falls and then explore different viewpoints with a guide. Kaieteur Falls is only accessible via these small flights or a days-long trek so it is not uncommon to have the viewpoints to yourself.
Visit a red lagoon in Bolivia
Laguna Colorada in the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve is one of the more unique sights you’ll see while doing a 4×4 tour through Bolivia. While this lagoon is not a destination in itself, it is a middle point between the Uyuni Salt Flats and San Pedro de Atacama, Chile or Salta, Argentina. The lagoon is less than 3 feet deep and is a deep red due to the algae growing within it. Bring pink flamingos are attracted to the plankton in the lagoon which make it a photographer’s dream. You’ll only be able to get here with a guide as it is a very remote location within the park.
Visit the Jesuit Missions in Paraguay
Paraguay hosts quite a few UNESCO World Heritage sites with Jesuit Missions but there are 5 major sites that prove to be an extremely interesting view of history of Paraguay. The major sites are La Santisima Trinidad, Our Lady of Saint Ana, Our Lady of Loreto, and San Ignacio Mini. In just a few days you can visit these ruins while combining it with incredible landscapes such as Iguazu Falls or the Chaco.
Things to see in South America
The Mysterious Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is a 15th century Inca citadel near the city of Cuzco, Peru. It can be reached via various hikes or trains from Cuzco or the city of Ollantaytambo. It is arguably the most popular site to visit in South America. Machu Picchu was believed to be the home of Incan rulers and their staff. Today, thousands of tourists and llamas explore the grounds and learn of it’s mysterious history.
The giants of Guyana
Many people visit Guyana to see the wildlife in the savannahs and rainforest. Within these places you can find the giants of Guyana. These are the Giant Anteater, the Giant River Otter, the South American Goliath Birdeater spider, Harpy Eagles, and the Giant Victoria Amazonica LIly. All of these are the largest among their species and can be seen while exploring the beautiful landscapes of Guyana.
The mirrored Salt Flats of Uyuni
During the rainy season in Bolivia, the Uyuni Salt Flats become a giant mirror due to the water that pools on the ground. Going during the rainy season can limit some of the normal sights that you would see on a Uyuni Salt tour, like Incahuasi, the cacti island in the middle of the salt flats.
The worlds largest navigable lake
Lake Titicaca, which is within the countries of Peru and Bolivia is the world’s highest navigable lake. Sitting at 12,000 feet in the Andes Mountains, this lake is home to several islands and native tribes who still live on the islands today. Some of the most popular tours to do on Lake Titicaca would be kayaking, meeting the families of the famous reed islands “Uros Islands” and visiting Taquile Island and Sun Island (Isla del Sol). There are some opportunities to stay on the islands with families or in simple lodges.
The Nazca Lines
Flying from Ica or Pisco, Peru, you can fly high above the Nazca Lines. These mysterious lines are geoglyphs etched into ground in shapes of people and animals. While no one knows the true meaning of the lines, they believe that the people of the Nazca desert created as a gift for the Gods. Today, you can fly in a small plane to see the different lines. While this can be done as a day tour from Lima, we recommend that visitors stay in Ica, Huacachina, or Paracas to see some of the nearby highlights: Huacachina Oasis, Ballestas Islands of Paracas National Reserve.
The Marble Caves
Deep in the heart of the Chilean Patagonia region, you can see incredible marble caves with swirls of blues and greys. Only accessible by boat, you must have a guide to do these tours. The colors can change throughout the year on the rocks based on the reflection of the colors of the waters of General Carrera lake. The waters are especially green-blue during February – September and can give you the brightest reflections. While this destination is quite remote, there are other things near that can make it worthwhile, like the Cueva de las Manos in Argentina.
The world’s tallest palm trees
While the Coffee Triangle Region in Colombia is obviously known for its famous export, Coffee, it is also known for being the home of the world’s tallest Palm trees. The Wax Palm can grow up to 200 feet tall and many liken the appearance to the trees in Dr. Seuss’s books. Cocora Valley is also great for horseback riding, trekking, 4×4 and other activities.
The Giant Tortoise
There are only two places in the world that one can see the Giant Tortoise, and of them is on the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. These gentle giants can live to 100 years old and weigh up to 900 lbs. You can find them roaming on several Galapagos Islands, but many people will see them on Santa Cruz island either by visiting the Charles Darwin Research Station or staying at a a lodge like the Galapagos Safari Camp.
The roaring Iguazu Falls
Iguazu Falls is made up of nearly 300 individual falls that, when combined, make for the largest flow of any waterfall in the world. Bordering Argentina and Brazil, with parts of its National Park and river ebbing from Paraguay, the region is abundant in wildlife and natural splendor. Depending on a traveler’s allotted time, we recommend exploring the falls’ multiple sides, Brazil and Argentina. Each side of the falls has unique activities, treks, and viewpoints that make the extended time worthwhile. From Argentina, visitors can explore trails through the park’s rainforest, enjoying wildlife viewing and experiencing the power of the rushing water. In contrast, the Brazilian side is ideal for panoramic views of the falls themselves.
Moais on Easter Island
While the natural beauty and unique volcanic features of Easter Island are stunning, it’s the island’s many dramatic megalithic statues that have given the region its fame. For many years these Moai statues were considered South America’s greatest mystery. Where did they come from? Thanks to advances in archaeology, we know today that these old statues were built by the local Rapa Nui people from quarries and moved to their current locations by road networks. Built approximately from 1400 – 1650, these massive stone structures were created to honor chieftains and heroic individuals. Today, nearly 1,000 of these sculptures remain on Easter Island, providing visitors with an incomparable view of the island’s history and culture.
Festivals in South America
Carnival: Rio Carnival parade consists of 6 samba schools performing each night, parading through the Sambadrome in elaborate, bright, and colorful costumes. Each school puts on its best show and does their best dancing in order to win the title and perform in Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival Winner’s Parade. Rio Carnival is a huge hit locally and internationally with more than 85,000 people attending.
Mendoza Wine Festival: Mendoza, Argentina is one of the best places in South America to sip wine. It’s particularly great to visit during the Mendoza Harvest Festival. Each year, at the height of wine production, a trip to Mendoza is the perfect excuse for celebrating delicious wine. During the festival, you can learn how Argentine wine is produced, learn more about the history of the vineyards, and of course, sample plenty of wine!
Inti Raymi: Inti Raymi, known as the Festival of the Sun, is a traditional ceremony that happens every year in Peru to celebrate and honor the god Int (Sun God). During the festival, there are festivities praising the Sun God, and people dressed in full costume. There is also traditional Peruvian music.
Food & Drink in South America:
South America’s food varies by region, as the continent is very large. Some native food includes corn, tropical fruits, quinoa, meat/seafood, and fabulous traditional cocktails like the Pisco Sour.
Is South America Safe?
Yes, South America is safe to visit. The continent is full of welcoming and safe countries. While visiting popular cities and destinations, use your common sense and you shouldn’t have a problem. Depending on the country you visit, there might be specific recommendations for your safety. However, in general, you will be safe visiting South America.
Best Time to Visit South America
South America can be visited year-round. Though, in general, the best time to visit South America is in October and November as the springtime weather conditions make it comfortable in all areas, including the cities, beaches, and mountains. It is also the perfect time to enjoy South America’s nature. Flowers are blooming and wildlife is much more active.
What is South America Known for?
South America is known for many things – food and drink, culture, its people, natural world wonders, ancient ruins, and more! Your best bet is to plan a trip to South America and experience all of the wonderful destinations it beholds. That way you’ll get an up-close glance at what makes South America so special.
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