While South America has plenty of big-name tourist destinations—the Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, Angel Falls—there are still some hidden gems that many travelers don’t hear about before they arrive on the continent. By spending just a few days in one of these lesser-known destinations, you can truly immerse yourself in local culture and get away from the crowds of tourists and other travelers that frequent some more-popular locations. Read on to learn about the 10 best places to check out in South America!
1) Buenos Aires
The largest city in Argentina, Buenos Aires is full of Latin American culture and is bursting with art, architecture, and history. Located on the coast of the Rio de la Plata, Buenos Aires is a vibrant metropolis that embraces its European roots while embracing Latin America as well. A quintessential tourist destination in South America, Buenos Aires has something for everyone.
Strolling through the vast green parks at Palermo will remind you of Paris or Vienna during their heyday.
2) Rio de Janeiro
Famed for its postcard-perfect views of the Sugarloaf Mountain and its magnificent beaches, this city has a lot going on besides the breathtaking scenery. For art lovers, head over to Museu de Arte Contemporânea (MAC) where you can view Brazil’s modern and contemporary art collections. If architecture is your passion, you can’t miss The Cidade Olímpica or Olympic City, which showcases four stunning modern architecture projects that were built for the Rio 2016 Olympics.
3) Cusco, Peru
Despite being the second-largest city in Peru, Cusco feels like a sleepy town. Surrounded by ruins and ancient monuments, Cusco is one of the best places for history buffs as well as travelers who love exploring off the beaten path. It’s also an excellent base from which to explore the Inca Trail. This ancient footpath meanders over mountain passes and down into secluded valleys before leading all the way up to Machu Picchu.
4) Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Torres del Paine National Park is the crown jewel of Patagonia and is worth every penny. It’s rich biodiversity includes amazing flora and fauna, for example foxes, condors, pumas, guanacos, Andean deer. The entire park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its unique topography made up of about 2 dozen blue-tinted granite peaks (known as ‘towers’), many of which tower over 3,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean.
5) Cartagena, Colombia
Cartagena, Colombia is a colonial town situated on the Caribbean coast of Colombia and is known for its rich culture, stunning coastline and vibrant colors. The best part? Cartagena still retains that romantic old-world feel without being too touristy. Highlights of this city include visiting the 16th century Santa Catalina Fort, strolling down the walls that protect it from invaders as well as checking out one of the many day-long water sports excursions offered.
6) Valparaiso, Chile
Valparaiso is an awesome city that sits on the Pacific coast of Chile. It has a reputation for being one of the most naturally beautiful cities on earth, and you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world as you walk through it because the colorful hillsides surround it, and if there’s ever fog or mist on the ground they look like floating islands. Besides being incredibly photogenic, Valparaiso has some world-class dining options that are a perfect fit for your next visit.
7) Quito, Ecuador
Quito, Ecuador is a little piece of paradise that has been overlooked for far too long. It is more developed than the other countries in this region, but still quite affordable when compared to other parts of the world. Quito sits on a high plateau at an elevation of 9,350 feet above sea level so keep this altitude sickness into consideration before you visit. I recommend hiring a driver because driving within Quito can be nerve-wracking.
8) Iguazu Falls
The world’s most breath-taking falls: Iguazu Falls. Once you’ve seen it, you’ll never want to live a day without that memory. And because of its national and global stature, they are a must-see when visiting Brazil or Argentina.
9) La Paz, Bolivia
Bolivia’s capital is a thriving city that has the feel of a frontier town. The city was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its colonial architecture, including Spanish-style homes with terracotta roofs and wide verandas, stone churches and monasteries, and tree-lined plazas where you can watch locals playing chess and teasing llamas at every turn. These are just some of the reasons why La Paz should be on your list for top destinations in Bolivia.
10) Galapagos Islands
Galapagos Islands, a chain of beautiful islands off the coast of Ecuador, is home to some of the world’s most unique animals. The lack of large predators on the islands has given rise to extremely diverse animal populations, many found nowhere else on Earth. With hiking trails and different landscapes there is plenty to see and do.