South America is a continent of natural diversities and geographical variety. It’s rather hard to make the ultimate list of the best South American countries to visit because they all hide unparalleled beauty and rich cultural heritage.
The Most Beautiful Countries to Visit in South America
One thing is certain, wherever you choose to go, you will miss at least some of the beauty unless you’re planning on staying there forever. In either case, these beautiful countries should be on everyone’s bucket list and visited at least once in a lifetime. Skipping the usual highlights of this continent, such as Rio de Janeiro or Machu Picchu, you will be surprised to discover other magical places this remarkable land holds so dear.
Yes, it’s true. Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires is a city to remember. Bustling nightlife, exclusive shopping malls, exquisite cuisine in fine restaurants, unique architecture, and many other attractions make it unmistakenly appealing. But what if you’re not just an average tourist whose goal is to roam the streets of metropolitan cities and instead, just wants to get off the beaten track and explore the most instagrammable places in South America? In that case, there is a good reason why Argentina is this high on our list. This country is home to some of the most breath-taking landscapes and untarnished natural reserves in the world. Talampaya (La Rioja) is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites and it covers the area 830 square miles. Located right in the center of La Rioja Province, this outstanding reserve was once the land of dinosaurs whose fossils and footprints are still visible to visitors. The rich paleontological resources, archeological sites, and unique geological formations document the evolution of many extinct species and give them a new lease of life.
The best way to explore Argentina is to take the legendary Route 40 trip and visit some of the most fascinating attractions along the way. La Payunia Provincial Reserve with its 800 volcanoes and lava flows, Neuquén and Río Negro also known as “the seven lakes road”, The Perito Moreno glacier with its turquoise glacial water, and many other attractions along Ruta 40 are definitely worth visiting.
Peru probably owes its worldwide fame to Machu Picchu, an Incan citadel perched high in the Peruvian Andes. As otherworldly as this these ancient ruins are, Peru has a lot more secrets up its sleeve that are no less jaw-dropping. Peru’s multicultural background endowed this country with such plentitude of historic monuments, many of which are unjustifiably left out of the spotlight. The first of those unrightfully neglected sites is Chan Chan, a huge pre-Colombian mud-brick city, said to have been built in the early 15th century. This one-of-a-kind architectural masterpiece is splendidly decorated, telling a story of the oldest civilizations to have ever lived on the continent.
Peru still wouldn’t be complete if there wasn’t for its capital – Lima. You can start exploring this metropolis right from its center where you will be amazed to uncover the Plaza de Armas, surrounded by the Cathedral of Lima and Government Palace. There are other equally iconic palaces around the center and beyond, all of which share the style of the colonial architecture, characteristic of Latin America.
One of the best examples of colonial architecture is The Palacio de Torre Tagle which is now home to the Peruvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and it bears all the traits of Spanish baroque – carved columns and dark wooden balconies, massive stone doorway and plaster facades. This charming city is also a great place to start exploring the ancient ruins dating back to 200 AD and earlier. Huaca Huallamarca is a beautifully preserved archeological complex which stands in stark contrast against the highrise building of San Isidro district.
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There are no adequate words to describe the splendor of this South American colorful country. Narrowly stretched along the 2,672 miles of coastline, “the longest country” in the world hides an abundance of awe-inspiring mountain ranges, deserts, lakes, and even glaciers. So, among the first stops to take in Chile is Torres del Paine National Park – the southernmost part of the Patagonia region. Glacial ice once cleft these uniquely spiked mountains and left behind the most beautiful turquoise mountain lakes – Pehoé, Del Toro, and Sarmiento. Other equally beautiful Chilean natural parks include Lauca, Conguillío, Pan de Azúcar, Queulat, just to name a few. Still, Chile’s trademark has to be the magical Easter Island, famous for its gigantic stone statues cloaked under the veil of mystery.
Although scientists have finally unraveled the enigma surrounding these peculiar monuments, it makes them not less magnificent. Along with these Moai statues, Rapa Nui National park offers other picturesque attractions, such as Rano Kau crater lake, soft-sand beaches, and intricate cave systems.
Lastly, the story of Chile wouldn’t be complete without a few words on the Atacama desert, with the little village of San Pedro de Atacama right in its heart. You can spend days on end exploring this sensational piece of our planet embellished by miles of rugged valleys, cone-shaped volcanoes, and sparkling salt lakes.
Ecuador is the holy trinity of travel boasting mountains, beaches, and cities of unparalleled beauty. Urban areas of this diverse country take pride in some of the most outstanding pieces of colonial architecture. The biggest city in the Azuay Province – Cuenca is the most charming of all, making you fall in love with it instantly. Cobbled streets, remnants of the Old World, colonial parks and rivers are what makes this city so unique and this is why UNESCO put this city on the list of World Heritage Sites.
Discovered in the 16th century, the Galapagos islands are located more than 900 kilometers away from the coast of Ecuador and this remote position enabled the islands to keep their unique ecosystems perfectly intact. The oldest volcanic islands of this archipelago are said to have emerged millions of years ago and they still remain one of the most active volcanic areas in the world. Due to the large portion of their untamed wilderness, very few parts of the Galapagos islands can be visited without the guides. Underwater reefs make these islands a perfect diving location too, attracting over thousands of divers on a yearly basis.
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Encompassing just enough space to steal its portion of the Andes, the Atacama Desert, and the Amazon river, Bolivia has only recently made its claim to fame and rose to become one of the most popular tourist countries in South America. Once you see what this extraordinary country has to offer, it will all start to make sense. Assuming your first checkpoint will be La Paz, the highest city in the world, it makes no difference which way you will head from there.
At just an hour’s drive from La Paz, you can visit Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) whose name is pretty much self-explanatory once you realize that these extraordinary rock formations resemble the very surface of the Moon. Paying a visit to this unusual attraction is a perfect opportunity to kickstart your exploration of the stunning national parks in Bolivia.
Noel Kempff Mercado National Park is located on the border with Brazil and it is one of the world’s most remote and unspoiled national parks. It is here that the Amazon rainforests provided a home for lush vegetation, impressive waterfalls, and numerous animal species. Surreal Eduardo Avaroa National Park is no less impressive. High in the Andes, this large area of peculiar rock formations, geysers, and thermal springs leaves visitors breathless.
Interspersed with almost all the colors you can think of, this national park is home to some of the most outstanding lagoons in the world, the most notable being Laguna Banca, Laguna Colorada, and Laguna Capina. Of course, you will have to top the journey to Bolivia with a visit to the world’s biggest salt flat Salar de Uyuni. This infinite salt desert is an impressive sight to behold and it’s also the one that will stick around your thoughts long after you come back home.
Although small compared to Argentina or Brazil, this western South American country has no suitable match when it comes to its unbelievably diverse landscapes. It stretches over the Andes, Amazon rainforest, Carribean coastline, and green valleys, hiding an abundance awe-inspiring sceneries and wildlife. For the most intrepid and adventurous globetrotters, traveling to Venezuela and not exploring the Lost World of Roraima mountain is almost impossible. The plateau topping this mystical mountain is often called “the island in the sky” because it stands in complete isolation from the ground level and has its own ecosystem. The locals call this table-topped mountain “the house of Gods” and you will often see the pictures of thick white clouds and mist encircling it as if hiding the heavenly world.
Another must-see destination in Venezuela is Angel Falls. It is one of the rare attractions in Latin America that sees very tourists and has remained pretty much intact, making it all the more appealing. You do have to bear one thing in mind, though. Angel Falls are not accessible by car or bus. Instead, you will have to take a flight to the town of Canaima and get on the boat to take a ride to the Falls.
The Falls are more likely to show their grandeur during the late summer and autumn months when water is abundant due to heavy torrential rains so make sure you book your guide to Angel Falls anytime between late June to November. Equally captivating and not to be missed is the ride down the Orinoco delta. During this journey, you can visit Warao Indian communities hidden deep in palm forests and mangrove and get to know their centuries-long tradition. You will need at least three days to fully appreciate the Orinoco adventure and its stunning flora and fauna.
There is certainly more to Colombia than meets the eye which is exactly why thousands of visitors are enticed to visit it every month. Its secret is hidden deep in the Amazonian forests, Caribbean beaches, lively cities, and rich cultural heritage. The hustle and bustle of Bogota and Cartagena both treasure unique palaces, museums and churches, colorful facades, botanical gardens, and a vibrant nightlife.
Of all the fascinating attractions in Bogota, make sure not to miss a visit to the Museum of Gold, climb to the top of Monserrate, or go for a stroll around Bogota’s most important district – La Candelaria. Equally delightful are Cartagena’s attractions: Ciudad Amurallada, also called “the walled city” – a sturdy fortification once used as a shield against pirate attacks and storms and the unmissable Playa Blanca, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
For those of you who want to get off the beaten track, Colombia’s Serranía de la Macarena National Park hugs the surface of over 6 000 square kilometers and shelters some outstandingly captivating landscapes and locations.
One of the exceptional features of this park is “the river of five colors” Caño Cristales – a river no different than any other river in the world except for the fact that during the change between the wet and the dry season, this river explodes with color created by unique species of plant covering the river’s bottom. Just as beautiful and serene is Tayrona National Park whose pristine beaches, stunning sunsets, and breathtaking landscapes make it a must-stop destination in Colombia.
Hopefully, you have already decided what your next travel destination will be. No matter what country you choose to visit in South America, one thing is for sure – you will leave with your head full of memories and your camera loaded with some of the best photographs you will ever take. So, pick your destination, study the travel guides, and start packing your suitcases to embark on the most memorable of journeys.