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33 BEST Places to Visit in South America (Must-Visit Destinations in 2024!)

33 BEST Places to Visit in South America (Must-Visit Destinations in 2024!)

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Well, do we have a whopper of a task ahead of us: narrowing down the best places to visit in South America to just 33! This magical continent, the 4th largest in the world, is one of the most diverse regions on the planet – I mean, where else will you find such a unique mix of climates, landscapes, and cultures?

There are 12 gorgeous countries on this continent, but we’ve focused on the very best ones to visit in this blog post – so expect to find the top destinations in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, and, Peru below!

South America is also home to some of the world’s most awe-inspiring natural attractions, such as the mighty Andes Mountains, the wildlife-filled Amazon Rainforest, the spectacular Iguazu Falls, and the Perito Moreno Glacier, the biggest glacier in the world (would you believe it’s bigger than the city of Buenos Aires?!).

Not forgetting that South America’s cities are some of the most vibrant and unforgettable metropolises we’ve ever visited! I mean, Rio de Janeiro, Cusco, Santiago, and Lima are all part of this great continent!

We say the more time you spend in South America, the happier you’ll become (well, it worked for us!). South America exudes a positive energy, unlike any other continent we’ve visited, and we ended up living here for a while so that we could fully immerse ourselves in South American culture! But we understand that not everyone can do that, so we’ve narrowed it down to a select 33 unmissable South American gems that we feel everyone should visit at least once in their lives!

Don’t have time to read the full article? Our absolute favorite places to visit in South America are:

  1. Iguazu Falls – to see HUNDREDS of waterfalls. We recommend visiting from Argentina (you can get closer to the falls here than on the Brazil side) and this day trip tour from Buenos Aires is particularly popular and a hassle-free way to take in this natural wonder.
  2. Rio de Janeiro – experience the vibrant and colorful city of Rio with iconic sights like the Christ de Redeemer statue. This top-rated tour visits Rio’s highlights including a cable car ride up the spectacular Sugarloaf Mountain!
  3. Machu Picchu – visiting the famous ruins of Machu Picchu is a must! Entrance tickets must be pre-booked and often sell out. There are day trips available including traveling by train through the mountains or you can really have a trip to remember by hiking the Salkantay Trek!
  4. Torres del Paine National Park – awe-inspiring views of mountains, lakes, and glaciers just waiting to be discovered! It’s a huge area, so the best way to visit is on a tour. While there are multi-day hiking tours, you can also visit Torres del Paine on a day tour where you don’t need any hiking experience.
  5. Cartagena – deserving of the title of the most beautiful city in Colombia! The historic center is a walled city originally built to protect from pirates and there’s a treasure trove of beautiful beaches here! This private walking tour is the best way to get your bearings and explore.

Where are the best places to visit in South America?

South America is made up of no less than 12 countries. However, we haven’t included every South American country on this list as we wanted to put together a truly bucket-list-worthy collection of the absolute best places to visit in South America. Hence, we’ve only included the most unforgettable destinations here!

Of course, we’ve included Argentina, home to our favorite city in all of South America – Buenos Aires as well as the mighty Iguazu Falls (although 20% of the falls are situated over the border in Brazil!). Speaking of Brazil, it was a no-brainer for us to include Brazilian highlights like the fun, vibrant Rio de Janeiro and coastal gems like Salvador and the island paradise of Ilha Grande. You’ll also find our travel tips for Bolivia’s top destinations, i.e., the Bolivian Salt Flats and La Paz, in this blog post!

Colombia got the most mentions in this blog post as it’s home to some of the best cities in the world – Cartagena and Medellin as well as some lesser-known gems like the scenic, coffee-growing small towns of Minca and Salento!

Not forgetting Chile, which is a nature lover’s idea of heaven – home to Torres del Paine National Park, the otherworldly Atacama Desert, and Punta Arenas (the best place in the world to see penguins!). 

Ecuador is in here, too, as we just had to include the Galapagos Islands, whose unique creatures were the inspiration behind Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.” And finally, the unforgettable Peru got several mentions – ahem, why wouldn’t it as it’s here you’ll get the chance to discover Machu Picchu (one of the Seven Wonders of the World) and Huacachina, an Instagram-famous desert oasis. 

Best Places to Visit in Argentina

1. Buenos Aires

Crowds of people in the Boca neighborhood in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Crowds in Buenos Aires’ Boca neighborhood!
The Puente de la Mujer in Buenos Aires
The Puente de la Mujer in Buenos Aires!

I just had to kick off this list of the best places to visit in South America, with the best city in South America – Buenos Aires. Now, that’s some statement considering its competition is the dazzling Rio de Janeiro and the vibrant Lima, Peru, but Buenos Aires has that “je ne sais quoi” or, in Spanish, “no se qué”!

Buenos Aires is Argentina’s biggest and capital city, with a whopping 15.5 million people calling the city home and no less than 48 “barrios” or neighborhoods here – it’s fair to say that you’ll never get bored in this sprawling city. Not only are there stunning iconic buildings here like the famed balconied presidential palace, Casa Rosada, Teatro Colón, a majestic opera house, and the super-modern MALBA museum, but there are plenty of fantastic restaurants and highly rated hotels in Buenos Aires, too.

Honestly, you’ll need at least 3 days in Buenos Aires to truly experience its magic. But, if you have less time, luckily, there are lots of Buenos Aires sightseeing tours that will tick off most of the city’s main attractions in one day. 

Soccer is a religion in Argentina, and if you can, try to catch a soccer game at Maradona’s beloved Boca Juniors stadium – La Bombonera. If there are no matches, then this soccer-themed tour is the next best thing. It’s a private tour that costs just $32 USD per person. It lasts for two hours and visits the museum in the stadium, where you’ll learn the history of this important stadium. If you’re a big soccer fan, you could dedicate a whole day to soccer and visit the River Plate Museum, one of the largest sports museums in the world. It focuses on River Plate soccer club, Argentina’s most successful soccer club!

Tango is engrained in Argentine culture, and the best place to watch the professionals perform this passionate dance is at Teatro Piazzolla. Alternatively, there’s a tango show each weeknight in the basement of Café Tortoni. It’s definitely one of the best tango shows in Buenos Aires. The show begins at 8 pm, and tickets cost around $13 USD. 

My favorite place to wander in Buenos Aires is La Boca, a former working-class Italian neighborhood that still holds on tight to its “Italian-ness.” It’s so colorful here, especially Caminito Street, whose cobbled street is lined with brightly painted cafes and stores. It’s also one of the most famous tango spots in the city, so you’ll often see tango dancers performing on the cobbles here. 

If you’re on a tight schedule in Buenos Aires, consider joining this tour of La Boca, which is offered by Buenos Aires Free Walks and costs just $10 USD! It visits Caminito Street, La Bombonera Stadium, and stops by some lesser-known gems like the statue of Benito Quinquela Martín, a popular Argentine artist. 

As you can imagine, in a city of this size and one with such a mix of cultures, the restaurant scene in Buenos Aires is world-class. And, if you’re a foodie like me, I strongly urge you to book this interactive dining experience! On this Argentine experience tour, not only do you learn how to make local specialties like alfajores (shortbread-like cookies) and empanadas, but you’ll also get to taste some excellent local wines and discover how to pair them with your dishes. It starts from $98 USD, or you can upgrade to the mixology option and learn how to make wine-based cocktails for an additional $32 USD. I think it’s one of the best tours in Buenos Aires!

2. Iguazu Falls

Two tour boats at Iguazu Falls
Two boats at Iguazu Falls!
Just one of the hundreds of individual waterfalls at Iguazu Falls
Just one of the hundreds of falls here!

Next up is one of the most famous natural attractions in the whole world – the mighty Iguazu Falls. These spectacular waterfalls straddle both Argentina and Brazil.

In fact, there’s a lot of conflict about which side is the best, but, having visited both, I will say that the Brazilian side offers the best viewpoint of Iguazu Falls, but on the Argentinian side, you can get much closer to the falls, and there are lots of boardwalks surrounding the falls here. So, to me, the Argentina side has the edge! And I bet you didn’t know that 80% of the falls are on the Argentinian side, and 20% are on the Brazilian side – so there’s a lot more “waterfall” to see and explore on the Argentinian side!  

Impressively, the falls span 1.7 miles (2.7 km) in length, and the tallest drop on the falls (called the Devil’s Throat) measures a whopping 82 meters (269 feet!) The falls have also appeared in several well-known Hollywood movies such as Indiana Jones and, the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and Miami Vice

Puerto Iguazú is the main town on the Argentine side, and it takes around 20 minutes to get to the falls from Puerto Iguazú in a taxi, or you can hop on a bus from the main bus terminal, which takes around 35 minutes and costs approximately $8 USD.

While Foz do Iguaçu is the name of the town on the Brazilian side. From the Argentinian side, you can cross the border into Brazil if you wish, but you’ll need your passport. The easiest way to cross the border is on an organized tour like this one, as the local buses don’t automatically stop at checkpoints, which could land you in trouble! 

As I said, the Devil’s Throat is the tallest section of the falls, and there’s an open-air train that takes you to the start of a short walking trail into the Devil’s Throat. The train operates every 15-20 minutes. 

But if you’re keen to get as close as possible to the massive falls, then this jet boat and jungle safari combo tour is your best bet. It involves a heart-pumping boat ride through the rapids and directly under the cascading water of the falls! Then, the safari portion takes you off-roading in the jungle. It costs from $95 USD. Top tip: pack a change of clothes for this one, as you’ll likely get wet and muddy! 

Or if you’d prefer to wander the falls at your own pace, then this private full-day tour is a great option. This highly-rated tour can be adapted to suit your travel style, and you can add a boat ride to go under the waterfalls if you wish! It will set you back around $82 USD per person plus an additional $38 USD to add on the one-hour boat ride!

Finally, many tourists choose to visit Iguazu Falls on a tour from Buenos Aires, and this day trip tour is particularly popular. For around $720 USD a person, it includes return airfare to Buenos Aires, all transfers, and even admission to the falls. So, it’s a hassle-free way to get to the falls from Argentina’s largest city! 

3. Mendoza

Grape vines with a mountain backdrop in Mendoza, Argentina
Grape vines with a mountain backdrop in Mendoza!

Argentinian wine is known across the world for its crowd-pleasing reds, especially Malbec, a fruity, spicy variety that’s one of my favorites. And, so wine lovers, pay attention as my next entry on this list of the best places in South America is Mendoza, a stunning area on the eastern side of the Andes that produces about 70% of the country’s wine! 

Considering this fact, a wine tour in Mendoza is likely the first thing you’ll be doing. But there’s lots more non-wine-themed fun to be had in Mendoza. The breathtakingly beautiful Cacheuta Hot Springs, or Termas de Cacheuta, is one of my top picks here. As well as relaxing hot springs, there’s also a lazy river, wave pool, kids’ water park, and tons of indoor and outdoor pools to enjoy. When I visited, I did this tranquil spa day experience for $200 USD, which included transportation from Mendoza, and it truly allowed me to relax! 

And now, let’s get back to the wine – some of the top wineries in Mendoza include El EnemigoTrapiche, and Casa Vigil! But, your best option if you don’t have a designated driver is a wine tour, such as this all-day luxury wine tour, which costs $160 USD. The tour is 8 hours long and includes stops at a few different local wineries together with a delicious gourmet lunch. In addition, it’s a small group tour, limited to only 8 people, allowing for a more personalized experience.

Seeing as Mendoza is one of the top wine regions in South America, it should come as no surprise to learn that this small city has a National Museum of Wine. And depending on the day of the week, you can take a guided tour or even participate in a tasting. 

If you’re more of a beer-lover, then don’t rule Mendoza out, as it’s home to a great craft beer brewery – Chachingo Craft Beer, near the Universidad de Mendoza. They run budget-friendly happy hours, and while here, you must try the calamari paired with their honey beer!

4. Bariloche

Daniel and Bailey pose for a photo at the Cerro Tronador hut near Bariloche, Argentina
Posing for a photo at Cerro Tronador near Bariloche!

If you’re a hiker or just love the great outdoors, then Bariloche or San Carlos de Bariloche, to use its full name, will be paradise to you. Situated in one of the most beautiful regions in the world – Patagonia, this outdoorsy town is surrounded by the Andes and is home to breathtaking hiking trails, stunning lakes, and world-class ski hills like Cerro Otto, one of the most popular ski resorts in the country. 

In Bariloche city, I highly recommend spending an hour or two wandering the quaint Mitre Street, an old stone street that’s lined with shops (including the best chocolate shops!), hotels, and restaurants. Also, try to schedule a time to have a meal at Punto Panorámico. This restaurant is a 30-minute drive from downtown, but it boasts stunning lake and mountain views and is reasonably priced, so it’s well worth the journey. 

Of course, in the winter, snow lovers can try out skiing, snowboarding, and sledding. While, in the summer, hiking is undoubtedly the top activity in Bariloche, one of the most famous hikes in the region is the Cerro Tronador hike, which is 8.7 miles (14 km) long and will take most people about 4.5 hours to complete. It’s located in Nahuel Huapi National Park and passes by rivers, lakes, lush forests, and glaciers, but it’s quite a difficult climb as there are a lot of steep sections. 

The hike starts 56 miles (90 km) outside Bariloche, and the best way to get there is in your Argentina rental car (if you have one), on a 2-hour shuttle bus ride that leaves Bariloche in the early morning, or take a guided tour

Another must-do in Bariloche in the summer, or in any season really, is to hop on the cable car to the top of Cerro Otto. It’s a 12-minute ride to the top as it climbs up a whopping 2,100 meters (6,890 feet)! Be sure to have your camera on hand for this experience, as the views are outrageous! 

Next, if you have the time and have a rental car, I highly recommend driving the Road of the Seven Lakes – one of the most beautiful road trips in Argentina. The route starts from Bariloche and ends in San Martín de Los Andes, and it will take you about 3.5 hours each way. But, you’ll realistically want to allow longer as you’ll be making so many stops along the way. The road passes by seven absolutely stunning lakes: Espejo, Correntoso, Escondido, Villarino, Falkner, Hermoso, and Machonico – hence its name.

If you’d rather leave the driving to someone else, this guided tour from Bariloche is a great option so you can focus on the scenery and not the driving! It’s 9 hours long and stops for a time in the cute mountain town of San Martín de los Andes. Prices start from $107 USD per person for an English guide, but it’s cheaper if you opt for a Spanish-speaking guide. 

5. Perito Moreno Glacier

View from the window of the Perito Moreno Navigation boat tour of the glacier
See the entire face of the glacier on a boat tour!
Ice wall of the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina
Ice wall of the Perito Moreno Glacier!

Argentina is home to one of the biggest and most impressive glaciers in the world; the Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park takes up a whopping area of 96 square miles (250 square km) – which makes it bigger than Buenos Aires! In fact, this massive glacier is still growing at a rate of around 2 meters (6.5 feet) per day. 

The Perito Moreno Glacier is definitely one of the best places to visit in Argentina, and it’s conveniently just an hour’s drive from the tourist town of El Calafate. It’s one of the best day trips from El Calafate if this is where you’re staying!

If you don’t have a rental car to reach this natural wonder, don’t worry as many tours from El Calafate offer roundtrip transportation.

You can view the glacier from one of the many viewpoints (aka balconies), which are accessible via a 4-km (2.5-mile) network of walkways, or you can opt to get closer to the glacier on a kayaking tour like this one or if you’re an adventurous spirit (like me) you can book a tour that takes you trekking on the glacier I did this Minitrekking Excursion Tour and absolutely loved it! This full-day adventure allows you to see the glacier from multiple angles.  

On the tour, we took a scenic boat ride to the starting point of the glacier hike. Before we were allowed on the glacier, we were given a safety briefing and instructed on how to use our crampons. All in, we had about 1.5 hours of trekking on the glacier’s surface – which is more than enough time. This bucket-list-worthy experience costs $390 USD per person, and it includes roundtrip transportation, knowledgeable guides, and all equipment. 

Alternatively, this full-day tour is a great option if trekking on the glacier is out of your comfort zone. It includes a 1-hour scenic navigation cruise to the south face of the glacier and a walk along the walkways with a local guide! It costs from $139 USD per person.

The entrance fee for Los Glaciares National Park (where Perito Moreno Glacier is located) is approximately $20 USD per adult or $3 USD for kids aged 6-16. 

6. El Chalten

View of El Chalten from the start of the Mount Fitz Roy Hike to Laguna de los Tres
El Chalten as seen from the start of the Laguna de Los Tres hike!

Another hiker’s paradise in Argentina is El Chalten, which I touched on earlier as the gateway to the mighty Perito Moreno Glacier. But besides hiking to the famed but challenging Laguna de Los Tres or the slightly easier Laguna Torre hike, visitors can test their nerves with whitewater rafting down the Rio de Las Vueltas.

And after all that adrenaline-pumping fun, you can relax in the town with some delicious locally brewed craft beer and a plate of some of the best Italian food I’ve eaten in Argentina! 

We did this whitewater rafting tour for $125 USD a person when we visited, and it’s a fun (not too scary!) experience that offers the chance to take in some spectacular scenery while riding the rapids. Because the water in the Rio de Las Vueltas is so cold (41-45°F/5-7°C), you’ll be given a special cold water wetsuit. This 3-hour rafting tour includes all rafting equipment, snacks, and return transport to/from El Chalten.

Hiking is king in El Chalten, and as I said earlier, two of the best hikes in the area are Laguna de Los Tres and Laguna Torre. First up, the Laguna de Los Tres is a 24-km (15-mile) round-trip trek into a Gatorade-blue lake that sits beneath three peaks – Fitz Roy, Poincenot, and Saint-Exupery, which explains its name, Laguna de Los Tres (or Lake of the Three)! This challenging hike will take around 8-10 hours to complete, and because the lake is situated at 170 meters (3,838 feet) above sea level, there are some steep sections along the way. 

If you don’t fancy doing it on your own, this full-day guided tour is your best bet. It departs from El Chalten at 8 am, and there’s a maximum group size of 8, so you won’t have to worry about sharing the trail with too many people. It’s $200 USD each for two people, but the price drops a bit if you book with friends.

An easier hiking option from El Chalten is the Laguna Torre hike, which, at 11 miles (18 km) round trip, is shorter than the more famous Laguna de Los Tres hike above. Along the hike, you’ll be treated to unbeatable views of Laguna Torre, Cerro Torre, and Glacier Grande. Besides a few short steep sections, much of the trail here is flat. And it should take most people between 5-7 hours to complete. But, if you don’t want to hike the entire trail, you can choose to hike as far as the Torre Viewpoint, which is just 3 km (1.9 mi) from the beginning of the trail.

I hinted at epic El Chalten beer at the beginning, and if you’re a craft beer fan (like me), then you’re in luck because the microbreweries here make their beer with some of the cleanest water in the world. We loved La CerveceriaLa Birre de Rancho, and La Zorra Taproom

And finally, if Italian cuisine is your favorite, you MUST have a meal at Maffia Trattoria! It’s one of the top-rated restaurants in El Chalten, and its authentic homemade pasta and sauces will make your mouth water! 

7. Ushuaia

Boats in the ocean with Ushuaia and the mountains in the background in the Patagonia region of Argentina
Ushuaia is stunning!

Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world, and it’s one of our Argentina highlights. And as you can imagine, it’s very remote. In fact, it’s often called “The End of the World” as it’s the starting point to get to Antarctica! 

Most tourists use Ushuaia as a brief stopover before continuing onto Antarctica, which I think is a real shame as there’s lots to do here! In Ushuaia, you can ride the historic Tren del Fin del Mundo (Train of the End of the World) to Tierra del Fuego National Park and cruise down the scenic Beagle Channel in search of wildlife, like seals, whales, and penguins!

This cruise is a great choice if you want to get as close as possible to the Drake Passage (which leads to Antarctica). It gets you up close to the inaccessible islands here and a famous lighthouse. You will even have the chance to get off and explore Bridges Island. Tea and coffee are included on board, and at a $91 USD per person price point, we reckon booking this tour is a no-brainer!

I touched on it briefly earlier, but the “Train of the End of the World’ or Tren del Fin del Mundo, is definitely one of the best tours in Ushuaia. This journey is only 4.3 miles (7 km). Once upon a time, it transported prisoners from the old Patagonian prison to Ushuaia, but since 1994, it’s been used as a tourist attraction only. You can return on the same day or opt to stay in Tierra del Fuego National Park for a night or two, which we highly recommend doing!

Along the way, you’ll learn all about the train’s fascinating history and see incredible scenery, such as the Macarena waterfall. Tickets for just the train range from $50-$70 USD depending on the time of year, but a combo tour like this one that includes the train ride, a tour of the national park, and transportation from Ushuaia costs $120 USD throughout the year. 

Related Read: Another wildlife haven in Argentina is Puerto Madryn, a gorgeous seaside town whose surrounding waters are home to hundreds of whales!

Best Places to Visit in Bolivia

8. Salt Flats

Bailey runs from a dinasaur while taking a silly photo using the salt flats
You can take so many fun photos at Bolivia’s Salt Flats!

Easily, the biggest tourist attraction in Bolivia is the Bolivia Salt Flats, the biggest salt flats in the world. Would you believe they take up a whopping 3,900 square miles/10,000 square kilometers? The most popular place to visit the salt flats from is the town of Uyuni, which is right on the edge of the flats. However, there are also some great Salt Flats tours out of La Paz, if you don’t mind a longer trip.

As you can probably guess from the name, the salt flats are completely flat and are, in fact, believed to be the flattest place on earth, and that’s how you can get those funny salt flat photos you’ve seen on your Instagram feed. 

The easiest way to visit the Salt Flats in Bolivia is on a multi-day guided tour from Uyuni. We did this Salt Flats tour from Uyuni, which lasted 3 days and 2 nights. It stops at over a dozen different places, including the hot springs of Laguna Polques and Isla Incahuasi – a small rocky island that’s covered in Trichocereus cacti. Honestly, every stop was even more beautiful than the last, and I definitely took way too many awesome photos on this tour! But, the best part is that it costs just $250 USD and that includes your accommodation and a bilingual guide.

If you’re short on time, you can do a day trip to the Salt Flats, but I say try to do a multi-day tour if possible, as with limited time in just one full day, you’ll miss out on so much! This particular 4WD salt flats day trip from Uyuni is highly rated, and it’s quite an intimate tour as it only allows a maximum of 4 people. As well as the salt flats, you’ll visit Incahausi Island – home to giant cacti, some of which are an impressive 10 meters/33 feet high, the little town of Colcachi, where you can purchase some unique “salt-themed” souvenirs, and your tour ends on a high with a sunset toast. Pick-up from most hotels in Uyuni is included, as well as lunch, all for $195 USD each for 2 people or $95 USD each for a group of four.

Tupiza, near the border with Argentina, is another popular entry point into the Salt Flats, and it’s known as the “back door” to the Salt Flats. The tours from Tupiza receive rave reviews since the areas of the Salt Flats they explore are quieter. This specific tour from Tupiza is 4 days long and is nice if you’re traveling in a group as the price is cheaper the more people you book (it’s about $352 USD each for four people). The tour includes your accommodation for three nights and all meals. It’s important to note that the guide is Spanish-speaking!

9. La Paz

Scenic view of La Paz, Bolivia with mountains in the background
La Paz is such a scenic city!

Next up is a city on most tourists’ Bolivia bucket list, and to me, it’s a no-brainer addition! Introducing the bustling city of La Paz, aka the second biggest city in the country and one of its capitals (together with the city of Sucre).

Interestingly, La Paz earns the title of the highest city in the world as it sits at an impressive 3,640 meters (11,940 feet) above sea level! And because it’s a high-altitude city, I urge you to spend at least 4 days here as for the first 24-48 hours, you’ll need to take it easy as you adapt to the high-altitude conditions. 

As I said, La Paz is a super busy city. Walking through the crowded streets can feel like a major mission, and don’t get me started on driving here (the traffic can be insane!), but if you can look past the hustle and bustle, you’ll find a city filled with unique markets (the Witches’ Market which sells magical potions, herbal remedies, and trinkets is a must), a vibrant party scene and a cable car system that provides awe-inspiring views!

Mi Teleférico is the longest and highest cable car system in the world! It’s an essential form of transport for locals in the city as most of them live on the surrounding hills and in the valleys. The ride to the summit will set you back just 3 BOB (around $0.50 USD). All in, the journey will take 15 minutes, and as you can guess, along the way, you’ll be treated to unbelievable views of La Paz! 

When I visit a new city, I always try to book a guided tour of the city for my first full day as it helps me get my bearings. This guided tour of La Paz is the one we did, and I highly recommend it. It took us to the city’s top sights, such as the historic center, the Witches Market, and the Valle de la Luna. All with a knowledgeable guide who’ll tell you all about the city’s history and culture. It’s a private tour, so you’ll have the guide to yourself as you see La Paz’s highlights over 6 hours for $97 USD.

And our last suggestion for La Paz is a little bit of an unusual one but so fascinating! Head to San Pedro Square at 1 pm to meet Crazy Dave. He’s given himself that nickname because, well, he’s a very interesting character who spent 14 years locked up in San Pedro Prison in La Paz, which is located nearby. His crime was drug trafficking, and as you can imagine, he really has some insane and interesting stories to tell about his time in San Pedro Prison.

One of the most popular day trips from La Paz is riding a mountain bike down one of the most dangerous roads in the world – the aptly named Death Road, aka Yungas Road. This narrow, steep, and winding road connects La Paz with the Yungas region. This road used to be a commonly driven route, and sadly, pre-2003, hundreds of people died trying to navigate its sharp twists and turns. Thankfully, nowadays, a new driving route has been developed between La Paz and the Yungas region, meaning Death Road is more or less just a tourist attraction for “adventure-driven” tourists! 

If you’re brave enough to take on this adrenalin-pumping activity, it’s super important you book with a reputable company. We highly recommend this exact Death Road tour we took. They offer high-quality and safe bikes and all safety equipment. The guides are also really experienced and will help ease your fears. I was a little nervous, but took it slow and in the end, am glad I braved Death Road!

It’s a full-day tour and departs La Paz at 6 am, meaning you will get to the start of the trail before most of the other tours. Prices for this range from $114-$153 USD per person, depending on the type of bike you choose and can be booked online in advance here.

Related Read: Another awesome city in Bolivia is the sunny city of Santa Cruz, a bit of an off-the-beaten-path gem that’s well worth a visit!

Best Places to Visit in Brazil

10. Rio de Janeiro

Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro from the air
The iconic Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio!
The Selaron Steps in Rio de janeiro, Brazil
The Selaron Steps in Rio de Janeiro!

You didn’t think I’d put together a list of the best places to visit in South America and not include Rio de Janeiro, did you?! When most people think of the best cities in South America, they immediately think of the vibrant, breathtakingly beautiful city of “Rio,” as locals affectionately call it! 

As Brazil’s tourism poster child, there are way too many awesome things to do in Rio. In fact, we recommend allowing a minimum of a week here to truly experience its fabulousness! Although, if you don’t have that long, we’ve put together guides on spending two or three days in Rio!

The most iconic attraction in the city is undoubtedly the towering Christ the Redeemer statue, which stands a whopping 98 feet (30 meters) tall atop Mount Corcovado. But most amazingly, its outstretched arms are 92 feet (28 meters) wide! 

To get to this New Wonder of the World, you can take a bus or train to the top or join a guided tour like this onewhich also visits other big-hitter Rio attractions like Maracana Stadium, Sugarloaf Mountain, and the Selaron Steps. It’s the most booked tour in Rio and starts at $62 USD! Or, if you’re a hiker, you can hike up through the forest. We have done this hike in the past, but have heard more reports of robberies along this trail recently, so we don’t really recommend this route.  

Another thing Rio is world famous for is its epic beaches, particularly the party haven that is Copacabana Beach. This glorious 2.5-mile (4 km) white sand beach is where Rio’s most beautiful come to hang out! As I said, the party scene here is second to none, and it’s unlikely you’ll get much sunbathing done here, so we say join in the fun and grab a cocktail or beer from one of the local sellers and spend a day dancing and drinking with the locals! 

Sugarloaf Mountain is another essential addition to your Rio itinerary. Conveniently, you can ride to the top of this stunning mountain on a sightseeing gondola, which costs $33 USD per person. At the top, you can walk around and savor the awe-inspiring views or treat yourself to a drink or a meal with a view at one of the restaurants here. 

As for when to visit Rio – if possible and your budget will allow (this period can be super pricey!), we recommend visiting Rio for Carnival (February to early March). Now, I’m sure you’re familiar with Carnival in Brazil, the world-famous event incorporating live music, giant parades with over-the-top costumes, and samba music! It truly is a bucket-list-worthy experience. 

11. The Amazon Jungle

Two scarlet macaws in the amazon rainforest in Manu National Park, Peru
Two scarlet macaws in the Amazon Rainforest!

If you’re a wildlife lover, no vacation to Brazil can be considered complete (in my opinion, anyway) without a visit to the Amazon. As the world’s largest rainforest, it covers an impressive 2.6 square miles (6.7 square kilometers). Although 60% of the rainforest is located in Brazil, the rest is split between Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Guayana, Venezuela, Suriname and French Guiana. 

This amazingly diverse region is said to be home to 10% of the known species on the planet. Many of the plants and animals found here cannot be found anywhere else in the world! This world-famous region is also nicknamed the “lungs of the world” because of the fact it’s the largest expanse of forest on the planet. 

The best place in Brazil to enter the Amazon is via the city of Manaus in the state of Amazonas. From Peru, you can access the world’s biggest rainforest from Iquitos and Puerto Maldonado, and from Colombia, you can get in via the city of Leticia. 

The best and easiest way to get around this dense rainforest is on the water, so river cruises tend to be the most popular among visitors. These bucket-list-worthy tours will have you floating down the Amazon River and Rio Negro in search of rare and beautiful plants and animals like sloths and monkeys. We joined this 8-hour Amazon Jungle Trek Tour during our time in Manaus. It involves spending 3 hours exploring the Amazon jungle on foot and then visiting the freshwater Anavilhanas National Park by river boat. Transportation and a traditional Brazilian lunch are included for $150 USD, which we thought was a reasonable price! 

Another fantastic tour option is this Indian Village and Meeting of the Waters tourwhich takes you into one of the most famed parts of the Amazon – the “Meeting of the Waters”. It visits an Indigenous village and takes you via a motorized canoe into the Amazon’s smaller tributaries to see sloths, anacondas, and maybe even the infamous pink Amazon river dolphin. This 8-hour tour includes hotel pick up/drop off to Manaus, all national park fees, and a traditional Brazilian lunch, and costs $150 USD per person. 

Related Read: Want to visit the Amazon from Puerto Maldonado, Peru? Read our blog about the best Puerto Maldonado Amazon tours!

12. Salvador

view of the coastline along Salvador, Brazil
Salvador has some of the best beaches in Brazil!

If you want a beachy getaway in South America, look no further than Salvador in Northeast Brazil, known for its quirky neighborhoods, Afro-Brazilian culture, and, of course, stunning beaches. 

Before I get onto the beaches, let’s tell you about the city itself. It’s got a lovely, relaxed vibe despite being the 5th biggest city in the country. Make sure one of your first stops here is the Largo do Cruzeiro de São Francisco, a lovely town square lined with beautiful baroque buildings, like São Francisco Church and Convent, which is nicknamed the golden church thanks to its eye-catching golden interior.  

Make sure to visit Pelourinho, while here, it’s the city’s historic center and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Home to the Instagram-friendly pastel-colored buildings that you’ll probably recognize from your social media feed and pass by one of the squares here at pretty much any time of the day, you’ll likely see locals performing capoeira – an Afro-Brazilian martial art. 

A fantastic way to squeeze in many of the city’s top attractions in one day is on a city tour like this one! This private tour costs $95 USD and visits the Jesuit Basilica Cathedral, Bahia Lighthouse and Fortress, Pelourinho, and more! Plus, you’ll also learn the history behind each place from your guide. And because it’s only 4 hours long, it’s ideal if you’re short on time.

Now for the “good stuff,” as I said, there are heaps of stunning beaches close to Salvador’s city center, and there’s one for everyone in this coastal city. 

Our favorite beach in Salvador is Port da Barra, located 2.5 miles (4 km) from downtown. The Guardian newspaper recently awarded it the title of the world’s third most beautiful beach! Despite being super popular, it’s a very long beach, so it never feels too crowded! And this beach is also one of the most popular spots in Brazil to celebrate Carnival on a budget!

If you don’t have a rental car and want to fit in as many of Salvador’s beaches as possible, then I urge you to book this full-day beach tour. It drives past many different beaches but spends most of the 8.5 hours hanging out at Praia do Forte and Guarajuba to enjoy the warm and clear waters. It comes with a local bilingual guide and costs just $30 USD per person!

Related Read: Another fantastic coastal destination in Brazil is Recife and the nearby town of Olinda!

13. Ilha Grande

ilha grande was one of our brazil highlights
Ilha Grande is one of our Brazil highlights!

Keeping with the beachy theme, let me introduce you to Ilha Grande, an epic island destination that remains one of the most popular day trips from Rio de Janeiro.

Home to secluded beaches featuring crystal clear waters and soft sand and stunning waterfalls like Cachoeira de Feiticeira Waterfall, you’d think tourists would be flocking here in their droves, but thankfully, it remains off most Brazil backpackers’ radar. As such, we should mention that reaching this island alone (as in without a guided tour) can be a tad difficult. 

One of the most popular beaches on the island (and on the planet, in my opinion!) is Lopes Mendes Beach, a famed surf spot, but it’s also a great choice if you just fancy sunbathing and swimming too, as it’s so pretty. It has plenty of natural shade, too, which is handy. Plus, there are a few small vendors selling food and drinks, and you can rent surfboards from some of them, too. 

To get to Lopes Mendes, you must either hike or hop on a high-speed boat. The hiking trail to Lopes Mendes will take around two hours. Alternatively, you can catch a fast boat, which costs 30 BRL (~$5.50 USD) for a flexible return ticket and takes just a few minutes. Or, the easiest way is on a guided tour like this full-day Lopes Mendes Beach and Trekking Tour, which also visits Praia do Pouso by foot. It’s really affordable at just $25 USD. 

One of the best things we did while on Ilha Grande was this half-day beach tour via speedboat. We spent a few hours exploring breathtaking beaches like Lagoa Azul, Lagoa Verde, Saco do Ceu Beach, and Praia do Amor, where we swam and snorkeled to our heart’s content. Our boat tour cost $90 USD per person (we had four people on our tour) and, in my opinion, was so worth it! For a small extra fee, you can also rent snorkeling gear from your guide, which we were glad we did. 

Best Places to Visit in Chile

14. Torres del Paine National Park

Bailey walks across a suspension briedge near Glacier Grey in Torres del Paine National Park
Bailey walks across a suspension bridge here!
Sunrise at Mirador Las Torres in Torres del Paine NP
The view is hard to beat!

And now for one of the best places to visit in Chile, Torres del Paine National Park. This sub-arctic area is the closest place to Antarctica. Its giant bright blue glaciers, awe-inspiring mountain scenery, and rare and unique wildlife like guanacos (closely related to llamas), Huemul deer, and Magellanic penguins attract over 250,000 visitors every year. As such, Torres del Paine is one of South America’s most visited national parks. 

And did I mention it’s huge at 700 square miles (1,814 square km) – would you believe Central Park in New York would squeeze in here 540 times? 

Because of its huge size, the best way to see Torres del Paine is on a guided tour. And if you’re on a budget, this Torres del Paine day tour is one of the best wallet-friendly options! You’ll get to see Salto Grande, Grey Glacier, and Laguna Amarga if you choose this tour. And the hiking part of the tour is fairly easy, too, so most people can successfully complete it! This particular tour leaves from Puerto Natales and lasts for 10 hours – it costs just $93 USD per person. 

This 5-day W Trek tour fully immerses you in the iconic W-Trek hiking trail, one of the best hikes in South America. And because it’s an independent tour, you can hike at a pace that suits you. A few hours of hiking each day makes this strenuous hike manageable. Over the 5 days, you will explore epic sights like the French Valley, Nordenskjöld Lake, and Grey Glacier! What’s good about this tour is that you have different accommodation options (camping or a refugio), so you can pick what works best for you and your budget! The refugio option is a little more luxurious and will set you back $1,898 USD per person, whereas if you opt to camp, you will be paying $1,502 USD per person for a two-person tent.

If 5 days doesn’t seem long enough to fully immerse yourself in this epic national park, then consider this O Circuit Tour, which is 8 days long. It’s a similar length to the W Trek at approximately 79 miles (127 km) long, but it incorporates the W trek and other trails, hence why it takes 8 days as opposed to 5. Keep in mind that if you choose this particular option, you are your own guide. However, handily, when you arrive at camp, your space is prepared and your meals ready! Lodging on this tour is a mix of camping and refugios for $2,459 USD and you can reserve a spot here.

Thankfully, you can still enjoy the park if you’re not a fan of hiking! There are plenty of hotels and hostels here where you can enjoy breathtaking views, go on a few easy guided hikes, or even go horseback riding. It’s a great alternative to camping in Torres del Paine, but as you can imagine, hotels in Torres del Paine don’t come cheap! For a great hotel with mind-boggling views like Pampa Lodge, you’ll need to pay out the princely sum of $400 USD per night.

15. Punta Arenas

king penguins colony near punta arenas chile on Tierra del Fugo island
This king penguin colony on Tierra del Fuego Island is the only one in the world that’s not in Antarctica!

If you’ve come to Puntas Arenas to see penguins, then you’re in luck. Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego and Isla Magdalena are easily accessible from this small city, and both islands are home to an impressive penguin population.

Tierra del Fuego Island has king penguins, the second-biggest penguins in the world while Isla Magdalena contains one of the world’s smallest species of penguins, the Magellanic penguins! But more on the penguins later on. 

We recommend spending at least a full day in Punta Arenas before venturing off in search of penguins. And thankfully, there are tons of fun and exciting things to do here to keep you busy! Kickstart your time in Punta Arenas with a stroll along the scenic main oceanfront promenade. It’s lined with many great cafes and restaurants and is a great spot to get a feel for the city. Then, learn about the area’s history at the Nao Victoria Museum, where you’ll find large ship replicas and information about its trading past along the Strait of Magellan.

There’s a great craft beer scene in Punta Arenas, so if you love craft beer, like us, then you can’t go wrong with either Cerveceria Hernando de Magallanes or Bar Bulnes – both spots brew their own beer and have a range of craft beers on tap to offer.  

As I mentioned above, South America’s largest island, Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, is a short distance from Punta Arenas (a 2-hour ferry ride away), and this is where tourists flock to see the majestic king penguins, the second biggest penguin species in the world (after emperor). Fully grown king penguins may reach as tall as 85–95 cm (33–37 inches)!

The ferry from Punta Arenas docks at the isolated main town of Porvenir, and if you have a rental car, you can drive around 1.5 hours to Parque Pinguino Rey (where the king penguins are). Or you can do what I did and go on an organized tour. If you have more time, you can also stay at a hotel on the island!

As I said, we decided to do a full-day tour to Tierra del Fuego from Punta Arenas, and it turned out to be the perfect choice for us – despite it being a super-long day at over 14 hours! We got to see dozens of king penguins via binoculars, as you must keep a safe distance of 20 meters (65 feet). The tour also includes a stop in Porvenir, the fascinating Museo Provincial Tierra del Fuego, and the ferry journey over and back. It costs $157 USD when you book in advance

Another incredible island that sits just 22 miles (35 km) off the coast of Punta Arenas is Isla Magdalena, which, would you believe, is home to over 150,000 small Magellanic penguins!

To get here from Punta Arenas, you can hop on the public ferry operated by TABSA, which takes over 3 hours and is unreliable or join an organized tour. We strongly advise booking a guided tour because the ferry takes so long – you only have one hour on the island before you must hop on the return ferry. It’s also not something you can plan on (it wasn’t running at all during the 2022-2023 season).

Handily, an organized tour doesn’t work out that much more expensive than the ferry (expect to pay around $130 USD), and tour boats will get you to the island much faster (45 minutes to an hour). We did this particular tour and highly recommend it as it stops at not only Isla Magdelena but Isla Santa Marta, too, where you can spy sea lions and cormorants (a type of aquatic bird)! All this for $130 USD per person is a pretty great deal! I will add that the departure is an early one at 6:30 am, but that’s actually a good thing as you’ll beat the crowds! It’s easy to book online with Viator as well.

Why We Book Tours with Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:

  • Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
  • Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
  • Lowest price guarantee – If you happen to find the same tour at a lower price elsewhere, Viator will refund you the price difference.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

Check out the Viator website here! Or, for more info, read our detailed review about Viator here.

16. Santiago 

The view from Cerro San Cristóbal in Santiago, Chile
The view from Cerro San Cristobal of Santiago is priceless!

Chile’s capital and biggest city just HAD to make my list of the best places to visit in South America. This vibrant, modern city is a Chile highlight, and honestly, you’ll “get” its magic within a day of wandering Santiago! Besides its dramatic setting – backdropped by the Andes Mountains on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other, there are plenty of awesome activities to fill your cup, as they say, in Santiago. 

Santiago is home to one of the biggest shopping malls in South America (the Costanera Center), the scenic Parque Metropolitano (aka Cerro San Cristobal), which boasts the best view over the leafy city, great museums, and excellent hotels and restaurants! 

Cerro San Cristóbal is the largest green space in the city. You can hike up to the park, but it will take 45 minutes each way and is quite steep. Instead, you can hop on a funicular to take you up one side or a teleférico (cable car) to take up up the other side. At the top, you will be treated to awe-inspiring views of the metropolitan city below, as well as lots of walking trails, swimming pools, cafes, and shops! Other attractions on Cerro San Cristobal include the Zoológico Nacional, the Jardín Botánico Mapulemu, and the Jardín Japonés (Japanese Garden). 

Central Market (aka Mercado Central) on San Pablo is another must-visit in Santiago, a labyrinth-like market that sells fresh produce (most famously seafood!) and souvenirs. If you’re hungry, I recommend heading upstairs in the market to one of the small, cheap local restaurants and trying the Chilean favorite dish – Chorrilana (which consists of steak, french fries, sausage, onion, and egg). Be warned, the portions are huge and will serve two people easily!

Next, what better way to get a true sense of downtown Santiago than on a free walking tour? If you’ve been following our travels for a while, you’ll know we LOVE free walking tours and try to do one in every city we visit. The one in Santiago sets off daily from the Museo National de Bellas Artes (the National Museum of Fine Arts) at either 10 am or 3 pm. The tour lasts between 2.5-3 hours and visits most of Santiago’s top attractions, including Plaza de Armas, the cultural center, La Moneda (the seat of the Chilean President), and even the hipster neighborhood of Lastarria!

On that note, try to squeeze in a visit to the cool neighborhood of Bellavista, which is very close to Lastarria, during your time in Santiago. This is the city’s university area and is home to plenty of cute bars and restaurants and epic happy hours. 

If you want a completely stress-free way of seeing Santiago’s highlights, consider booking an organized full-day tour! This private Santiago city tour lasts 4 hours and includes a stop at almost all of the places I listed above, as well as Cerro Santa Lucia (a picturesque neighborhood with a gorgeous public park). This private tour costs $117 USD per person for a group of four.

There is also a hop-on-hop-off bus in Santiago, the perfect way to cover a lot of ground in Santiago in a short space of time! You can buy this bus pass online for $45 USD.

17. Valparaiso

View of Valparaiso from the hills behind the city in Chile
Valparaiso is such a pretty city!

Next up is the historic city of Valparaíso, the second-largest city in the country and often visited on a day trip from Santiago. It’s one of the best cities in the world for street art (there’s literally epic street art on every corner), it’s home to stunning beaches, and the historic quarter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So, I think it’s obvious why “Valpo,” as the locals call it, is one of the best places to visit in South America! 

As I’ve mentioned before, I love to join a free walking tour on my first day in a new city. And when I visited Valpo, I did just that, and I strongly urge you to do the same. The free walking tours are run by Tours 4 Tips, and yep, they are completely free (but a good tip at the end is appreciated).

Funiculars are a must-have in this steep city! Ascensor Reina Victoria and Ascensor El Peral are two of the most popular funiculars. It only takes about 90 seconds to ride up the hills in these funiculars, which cost around 300 CLP (roughly 35 cents in USD). And as you can guess, the views from the top are outstanding! 

Another fun spot to visit in Valparaíso is the piano staircase, which is located near the Reina Victoria funicular. Funnily, the street it’s on is called Beethoven St – what a coincidence! Anyway, this has become a bit of a social media famous spot, and it’s a great place to come and snap some interesting photos!

Lastly, if you’re a craft beer lover (I definitely am), there are plenty of cool breweries in downtown Valpo! One of our favorites is Cervecera del Puerto, a microbrewery with a relaxed vibe close to Plaza Sotomayor. A bit further from downtown is Cerveceria Liverpool, and it’s ideal if you want a relaxed evening! 

If you have more time, a fun day trip from Valparaíso is this surf and sandboard tour! The tour includes the chance to ride a sandboard down some pretty steep sand dunes and then go surfing in the Pacific Ocean. All your transport, equipment, and instructors are included, and you’ll even get to stop to see a colony of sea lions! All in all, it’s a great day away from Valpo for only $130 USD.

18. Atacama Desert

The Atacama Desert, Chile
The Atacama Desert is like something from another planet!

When you first visit the Atacama Desert, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve landed on Mars. The otherwordly landscape here makes it one of the most memorable places to visit in South America. Home to salt flats, geysers, and volcanoes – as well as some of the clearest night skies in the world, it’s no wonder the Atacama Desert tops many tourist’s South America bucket lists. 

The Valle de la Luna is easily one of Atacama’s most popular attractions. It’s one of the driest places on the planet and features otherworldly red and white rock formations. It’s best to get here for sunrise or sunset if you can because seeing these unique rocks bathed in hues of pale pink is truly a sight!

The best way to get to the Valle de la Luna is on a guided tour from the nearby town of San Pedro de Atacama. We did this half-day afternoon tour and loved it! Led by a local guide who will take you to a salt cave, the Tres Marias statues, and to top it off, you’ll get to watch the sunset from the top of the Great Dune. This romantic tour lasts for 4 hours and will set you back $52 USD a person. 

The El Tatio geyser field is another must-visit in the Atacama Desert. With 80 active geysers, it’s the third-largest geyser field in the world. It’s also the highest! Besides the spurting steam, there’s also abundant wildlife to be seen here, such as Andean foxes, Vicuñas (part of the camel family), and varied birdlife!

This 8-hour tour from San Pedro de Atacama is a fantastic option to see the geysers if you love guided tours (like us!). It costs just $62 USD and includes a light breakfast and round-trip transport from your hotel in San Pedro. After the geysers, you’ll stop by the tiny village of Machuca, where residents live in thatched-roof mud houses.

Finally, the Red Rocks, or Las Piedras Rojas, is a popular attraction in the Atacama Desert. As the name suggests, it’s a massive series of red-colored rocks that are surrounded by a ring of volcanoes. You can walk on top of these unique rock formations while taking in the views of the surrounding volcanoes and the Salar de Talar salt flat!

If you want to save yourself the hassle of trying to get to each amazing place in the Atacama Desert, why not book a multi-day tour like this 3-day option that takes you to the Atacama’s highlights like Valle de la Luna, Rainbow Valley, Cejar Lagoon, Tatio Geyser, and Escondida Lagoon. It’s an immersive experience and a great way to learn about the history of the area and the culture of the Atacameño people, as well as see some otherworldly attractions. Breakfast is included in the $340 USD price tag, but accommodation and some entrance fees are additional. You can secure your spot on this tour here!

Best Places to Visit in Colombia

19. Cartagena

Bailey sits on the fort wall in Cartagena, Colombia
Bailey sits on the fort wall of Old Town Cartagena!

It’s one of the most-visited cities in South America, so Cartagena’s addition to this list should come as no surprise! I’d go so far as to say that it’s the most beautiful city in Colombia with its historic walled city in stark contrast to the modern areas, stunning beaches made even better by the city’s balmy Caribbean climate, and cool neighborhoods like Getsemani. 

As I mentioned, Cartagena is located on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, and as a result, the African influence here is strong. In fact, there’s a distinct mix of three different cultures (Spanish, African, and Indigenous) in the city, and this mishmash means there’s plenty of new food to try! One of the country’s most famous eateries can be found here – La Cervicharia is a must if you love ceviche!

Old Town Cartagena is the first port of call for most tourists to the city. This part of Cartagena is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to preserved mansions, character-filled town squares, and colorful buildings. Interestingly, it’s surrounded by a large stone wall that was built hundreds of years ago to protect the city from pirates. It’s also where you’ll meet the city’s famed “Palenqueras” aka Afro-Colombian women who don brightly-colored dresses and sell fruit in the plazas here. 

The best way to get a feel for the “old town” and learn about its fascinating history is on a guided tour. We did this private walking tour during our time here. During the 2 hours it lasted, we were taken to the area’s most popular attractions, such as Torre del Reloj, Plaza Aduana, and Plaza Santo Domingo. The tour is offered in numerous languages and costs only $64 USD per person.

Even though there are great city beaches in Cartagena, such as those in the Bocagrande and La Boquilla neighborhoods, true sun-worshippers should take a day trip from Cartagena to the Rosario Islands to get their beachy fix. The Rosario Islands are 30 stunning Caribbean islands off the coast of Cartagena, all of which are home to idyllic white sand beaches. The most popular islands, though, are Isla Grande and Isla Baru.

What makes Isla Baru so popular is that it’s home to the famed Playa Blanca (one of the best beaches in Colombia, in my opinion!) and you can reach it by car, as there is a bridge connecting it to the mainland.

However, if you want a true island getaway, you must venture to Isla Grande. Despite its name, it’s not that big, and you can walk from place to place easily. The best beach on the island is Playa Bonita, which boasts warm turquoise water. It’s also a great snorkeling spot.

Get to Isla Grande in style aboard this catamaran tour (one of the best tours in Cartagena!) that takes you to two different spots to swim, snorkel, and enjoy this piece of paradise. First, your boat will anchor at Isla Grande so you can explore the Luis Guerra Reef. Then, you’ll head to Isla Bela, where you’ll anchor in front of Punta Gigante. While you won’t dock at any beaches during this trip, you will get to jump off the boat and swim and snorkel to your heart’s content. It costs just $90 USD when you book here!

20. Medellin

View over the tiny houses that make up Comuna 13 in Medellin
View over the tiny houses that make up Comuna 13 in Medellin!

Another incredible Colombian city is Medellin! Even though this vibrant city had a very bad reputation once upon a time, it’s now filled with trendy cafes and restaurants, beautiful parks, and memorable museums and is considered a safe, liveable city!

In fact, its sketchy past just shows how hard the locals have worked to transform their city which I find truly amazing. No matter if you have 1 or 5 days to spend in Medellin, you’ll have an awesome time!

Thankfully, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to see the best of El Centro (Medellin’s downtown area) – this free walking tour of El Centro was one of the best tours we did in South America. It lasts for around 4 hours and offers a glimpse into Medellin’s past and present from a local’s perspective. You’ll get to see Botero Plaza, stop outside the Museo de Antioquia, and much more! It’s important you book it on Real City’s website 24 hours in advance to nab your spot. 

Parque Arvi is arguably the top thing to see in Medellin. This huge park and nature reserve is home to more than a dozen hiking trails, waterfalls, an archeological site, and a small weekend farmers’ market! The best way to get here is via cable car – as you can imagine, the views of the city on the steep climb up are in itself worth the trip to Parque Arvi!  

You can also book this full-day guided tour of Medellin for $110 USD, which includes a visit to Parque Arvi and Plaza Botero. Plus, you’ll take the modern Metrocable to Santo Domingo Savio Library. It lasts between 3-5 hours, is limited to 14 people, and includes hotel pick-up-drop-off (from the El Poblado area only).

In my opinion, you can’t come to Medellin and not visit Comuna 13, once regarded as one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city. Today, it’s quite the opposite! And on a tour here, you’ll discover a friendly, welcoming community that’s filled with colorful graffiti and boasts lovely city views. 

The best way to enjoy Communa 13 is on a guided tour like this free one, as it includes a local guide who can show you the most interesting areas as well as share stories along the way. The well-rated tour is operated by Zippy Tours, and we really enjoyed it and learned a lot, but the only downside is that it attracts a large crowd.

So, if you want a more in-depth and personal experience, opt for this highly-rated paid guided tour, which is quite affordable and has amazing reviews! It’s 3 hours long, comes with an energetic and knowledgeable guide, and snacks and local coffee are included. All that for $18.50 USD – bargain! It’s one of the best tours in Medellin if you ask me!

Guatape is a small, colorful town that’s located just two hours from Medellin, so as you can guess, it’s one of the most popular day trip options from Medellin. It is famous for being the home to El Penol, a 10,000-ton monolithic rock that locals claim has the “best views in the world” – but you must first climb up over 700 steps to see the awe-inspiring view! 

This 8-hour day trip includes climbing up El Penol, wandering the town’s photogenic streets, and a boat ride on the lake. The tour also includes a traditional breakfast and lunch, so you get time to relax while tasting local cuisine. To finish the day, you’ll have a beautiful boat ride on the lake and see Pablo Escobar’s Hacienda. And for just $35 USD, it really is a great deal!

There are actually heaps of amazing things to do in Guatape that can’t be done in just one day, so if you have more time, we highly recommend spending a night or two here! Some of the best things we did during our time here were this ATV jungle tour, which involved navigating through different types of terrain (you will likely end up covered in mud), swimming at the La Cazuela waterfall, and drinking amazing local coffee (some of the best coffee beans in the world are grown just outside the city!).

Related Read: If you love Medellin you’ll fall in love with the vibrant Colombian city of Bogota too!

21. Tayrona National Park

Bailey sits on a rock at Cabo San Juan in Tayrona National Park looking over the beach
Cabo San Juan, Tayrona National Park!

Tayrona National Park is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Colombia. I mean, what’s not to love about it – white sand palm-fringed beaches, coastal lagoons, and a rainforest filled with jaguars, howler monkeys, and over 300 bird species! 

This gem is located on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, about an hour’s drive from the city of Santa Marta. Tourists flock here to get away from it all – so if you want to immerse yourself in pristine nature, relax on drop-dead gorgeous beaches, and hike scenic trails, then Parque Tayrona MUST make your South America bucket list!   

Cabo San Juan is one of the most popular beaches to visit here and it was one of our favorite beaches in the park – boasting crystal clear waters flanked by lush green rainforest. And you can even camp here or spend a night in a hammock under the stars. Another amazing beach in Parque Tayrona is Playa Cristal, which is often ranked as one of the best beaches in South America. You can get here only by boat from the town of Taganga (about 15 minutes from Santa Marta), and you can’t spend the night here. 

Tayrona is also a perfect place for snorkeling and scuba diving, as it’s home to a protected coral reef that features 110 species of corals and over 400 species of marine fish. There’s also abundant marine life waiting to be discovered in these Caribbean waters (think angelfish, pufferfish, and lionfish), particularly off Bahía Neguanje.  

Within the park, there’s one main hiking trail that can be accessed from two locations, with the most popular being the El Zaino entrance. This trail visits most of the stunning beaches in Tayrona National Park. However, the most popular section is the 12-km (7.5 mile) out-and-back trail from the entrance gate to Cabo San Juan, which will take most people just under 3 hours to complete. 

You can reach Tayrona National Park easily from Santa Marta. If you’re on a budget, simply hop on a public bus from the city center. This will set you back around 5,000 to 12,000 COP ($1 to $2.50 USD). Conveniently, the buses leave every 30 minutes starting at 6 am. Alternatively, and my recommended way of accessing Parque Tayrona is on a guided tour. My pick is this particular tour from Santa Marta since it’s one of the most highly-rated tours to the park, and it costs $164 USD!

The private tour involves a jungle hike to Arrecifes Beach (unfortunately, you can’t swim here due to strong currents), and then, you’ll spend the remainder of the day at San Juan Beach, where you’ll eat a traditional Caribbean lunch and choose whether to relax, swim, or walk on the beach.

It’s important to note that the way to purchase tickets to Tayrona has been changing over the years – sometimes you needed to purchase online in advance and other times, tickets were only available at the entrance gate. My best advice is to double-check with your hotel in the area what the current rules are or book a tour that includes an entrance ticket like this one. High-season tickets (December to February) cost 68,000 COP ($17 USD), and low-season tickets cost 57,500 COP ($14 USD). 

22. San Andres Island

San andres island colombia beach dock
San Andres is a gorgeous island paradise!

And now for a hidden gem in Colombia – San Andres Island! It’s actually located closer to Nicaragua than Colombia, but definitely needs to be in your South American travel plans.

Seeing as it’s in the middle of the Caribbean Ocean, the island has a distinctly Caribbean vibe, and many of the locals speak Creole, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’ve landed in Jamaica when you first arrive. The only way to get here from the mainland is by flying. FYI, our flights from Cartagena were just $35 USD each way!

San Andres Island is a world-class scuba diving destination with crystal clear waters, and the many reefs surrounding the island are colorful and filled with sea life. But what I also loved about the island is that it offers a unique culture as a mix of Colombian, Nicaraguan, and Jamaican people live here!

The scuba diving tour we did really was world-class. We went to La Rocosa and Los Recuerdos dive spots. Even though both spots are awesome, we favored La Rocosa as it features a cave with an opening at the top to let light in, which is so cool! It lasted for 4 hours and cost us just $66 USD each.

If you aren’t a certified scuba diver, you can join a “Discovery Dive.” This dive will have you accompanied by a PADI-certified diver, and it includes all equipment. Allow 3 hours for this tour, which costs just $60 USD.

As for unbelievable beaches on the island (there are plenty!), we adored Rocky Cay because not only is it a breathtakingly beautiful beach, but you can also access a tiny island from the beach by walking through chest-high water, 

Apart from the many amazing beaches on San Andres Island, you can also go on a memorable 5-hour boat tour out to Johnny Cay, which is renowned for its snorkeling, or try out “Helmet Diving” at West View, where the oxygenated helmet weighs you down enough to be able to walk on the bottom of the ocean!

23. Minca

Church in Minca, Colombia
A cute church in Minca, Colombia!

Up until recently, Minca could be classed as an off-the-beaten-path destination! However, today, thanks to its unique wildlife (you’ll see lots of hummingbirds here), picturesque waterfalls, and scenic hiking trails, it is now well and truly on the typical backpacker trail.

If you’re not a fan of hot weather, you’re in luck, as you will enjoy the cooler temperatures in Minca (on average, Minca is 10 degrees colder than Santa Marta!).

Minca is also the gateway to La Ciudad Perdida, or The Lost City. A bucket-list-worthy archaeological site that is believed to have been constructed 650 years before Machu Picchu! This ancient city was home to over 2,000 residents at its peak, most of whom were potters and farmers. However, it was abandoned in the 16th century and lost under the dense jungle until the 1970s when looters discovered the site, including many tombs with “treasure” such as gold jewelry.

The La Victoria Coffee Farm is one of the oldest and biggest coffee farms in northern Colombia – and its coffee is some of the best in the world. The farm was opened way back in 1892 and, to this day, still uses many of the same machines. You can do a tour here for as little as 10,000 COP (around $3 USD), where you’ll learn all about how coffee is grown and harvested. The price includes two coffees! 

In the evening, you’ll likely be searching for a different type of beverage – a cold craft beer, anyone? If this sounds like the perfect way to end a day in Minca, then head over to the Nevada Brewery. Handily, it’s right next to the La Victoria coffee farm. Here, you can try awesome locally brewed craft beers, which are produced by the coffee farm, and they use cacao and coffee in some of their beers too! Yummy!

For those keen to hike in Minca, the Los Pinos Viewpoint is the best trail in the area. It will take 3 hours return, and from the top, you’ll have a picture-perfect view of the Sierra Nevada region! Keeping with the hiking theme, on your way to La Victoria Coffee Farm, you should stop off at Pozo Azul, aka the most famous waterfall in Minca.

The amount of birds in Minca is astounding, and bird lovers will honestly be in heaven here – we saw hummingbirds feeding on flowers from our hostel window and in the town, as well as larger birds flying overhead.

So, it’s fair to say you don’t need to go far in Minca to see unique birds! However, if you’re a wildlife lover, a tour in Minca is a special experience. This 3-hour birdwatching tour for just $38 USD will take you (along with a knowledgeable guide) to find hummingbirds, toucans, and other unique birds! Your guide is a biologist specializing in bird tourism and if you don’t have your own binoculars, they will provide them.

24. Salento

a white and blue colorful colonial style house on a street in Salento
The town of Salento is so cute! Just wander around and you’ll see houses like this!

With a similar vibe to Minca above, Salento is a small, sleepy town nestled in the hills of Southern Colombia. It’s surrounded by natural beauty and is also a world-famous coffee-growing destination. The town itself is so photogenic, with its cobblestone streets and colorful colonial buildings backdropped against lush green hills!

For coffee lovers, our top tour pick is this Be a Farmer for the Day experience. It’s a hands-on tour where you’ll pick coffee cherries from the trees, plant some coffee seeds, and, of course, taste the delicious coffee! At the end of the tour, you’ll get to watch the production process. For $87 USD, this is without a doubt one of the best coffee tours in Salento. 

Coffee and chocolate go hand in hand, so why not add a chocolate-making tour to your Salento itinerary too? During the full-day tour (it should last between 6 and 9 hours), you’ll get to see the inner workings of a real cocoa farm. They will also show you how chocolate is made, and of course, you’ll be able to try the finished product!

Did you know that Colombia is home to the world’s tallest palm trees – the wax palms? These hard-to-miss trees can be found in the Valle de Cocora (a 45-minute drive from Salento), and they stand over 40 meters (131 feet) tall and have just one main stem.

The Valle de Cocora is easy to reach from Salento. You can jump in a collectivo (shared taxi) jeep from the main square for only 4,000 COP (~$1 USD) per person. When you reach the breathtaking valley, you can explore the area on foot or go horseback riding for $60 USD to ride the Mirador de la Esperanza, a lovely trail that passes by the Quindio River, traditional farms, Andean forests, and mountain viewpoints. You will have a guide to lead the way, but keep in mind he/she is Spanish-speaking with limited English.

If you prefer the hassle-free benefits of a guided tour, then this hiking tour lets you hike up the Valle de Cocora and even visit a hummingbird farm where you can watch these incredible tiny creatures up close! What’s great about this private tour is it allows you to explore the UNESCO-listed Cocora Valley at your own pace. It lasts for 5-6 hours and costs $65 USD.

Best Places to Visit in Ecuador

25. Galapagos

A Blue-footed Booby on Isla de la Plata aka Poor Mans Galapagos in Ecuador
A blue-footed booby, just one of the unique species found on the Galapagos Islands!

Some 600 miles (965 km) off the coast of Ecuador lies the unforgettable Galapagos Islands, famous for being home to unique animals like giant tortoises, land iguanas, and the blue-footed booby. While in the depths of the sea, dolphins, reef sharks, and seals play.

Galapagos was also the muse behind Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species,” which he wrote after visiting these special islands, a book that ultimately changed the way we view the living world! 

There are no less than 13 major islands that you can explore, as well as several other minor islands, and each island brings something unique to the table. Bartolomé Island is the most visited island in the Galapagos. It’s probably one of the Galapagos’ prettiest islands, and there’s an epic viewpoint that you can hike to that offers breathtaking views of the nearby islands. Bartolomé is also known for its fantastic dive sites, where you’ll likely be swimming next to sea turtles, sharks, penguins, stingrays, and shoals of colorful tropical fish.

As you can guess, for such a remote destination, the only way to get to Galapagos is by flying from mainland Ecuador. There are only two airports that service Galapagos, and they are Quito and Guayaquil. You can choose to land in one of two airports in the Galapagos – Seymour Airport (located on Baltra Island, which is connected to Santa Cruz Island via water taxi) and San Cristobal Airport (on San Cristobal Island).

And there are heaps of Galapagos tours available. If you’re short on time, you can book a day trip to one of the harder-to-reach islands, or if you have more time, book a multi-day tour (we highly recommend the latter as you’ll get to truly immerse yourself in this bucket-list-worthy destination!).

This full-day snorkeling and fishing tour to Santa Fe Island leaves from Santa Cruz Island at 8 am. You’ll get to snorkel in crystalline waters with eagle rays, sea turtles, and reef sharks, and afterward, take a wildlife tour of Santa Fe Island in search of big marine iguanas, pelicans, and mangroves. On the return journey, you’ll be given the opportunity to fish from the boat. What’s great, too, is this is a small personalized tour (maximum of 10 people) and also includes a delicious lunch served on board. Your snorkeling equipment, a wetsuit, and all non-alcoholic beverages are included in the price of $219 USD. 

Our top choice for a multi-day tour through the breathtaking Galapagos is this 4-day excursion, which includes accommodation and most meals. You will leave from Baltra Island (remember there’s an airport here), and during the 4 days, you’ll visit Isabela Island and Santa Cruz Island as well as top attractions like the Charles Darwin Station, Los Tuneles, and the Flamingo Lagoon. Of course, along the way, you’ll see the amazing animals the Galapagos is known for, like giant tortoises, the Galapagos penguin, and the incredibly unusual marine iguanas. This highly-rated tour will set you back $1,297 USD. 

Related Read: If you’re on a budget, consider visiting the now-famous Poor Man’s Galapagos instead!

26. Quito

A photo of cars driving down a road in the Historic Center of Quito
Quito’s Historic Center is stunning!

Ecuador’s biggest and capital city may seem a little daunting on first impression, but give it a chance, and it will surprise you! First off, the city is the gateway to stunning national parks like Los Algarrobos Parque Ecologico and Cotopaxi National Park.

Plus, the Quilotoa Crater, aka “the world’s most beautiful lake,” which is actually a huge volcanic crater, is close by. Fun fact: did you know Quito is one of the most volcanic regions in the world?!

Quito’s historic center is one of the most eye-catching in South America. It’s very safe and lined with colonial buildings that house lovely cafes and restaurants, and it’s also home to the magnificent presidential palace at Plaza Grande. In fact, the historic center is a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site. 

If you’re a guided tour fan, then this 2-hour walking tour around the historic center is a great choice for $25 USD. The highlights include Independence Square, the catacombs, San Agustin Church, and the change of the presidential guard (on Mondays only)!.

Another must-visit in Quito is Mitad del Mundo Monument, which marks the equator in Ecuador. Located around 18.5 miles (30 km) from the CBD, it remains the most visited monument in the country. Here, you can stand in the middle of the world (literally). You can also climb the trapezoid stone memorial for amazing views of the area. It costs $5 USD to enter the monument. 

Quito is situated at 2,850 meters above sea level, so it’s no surprise that the city boasts some gorgeous views. If you’re after the best views in the city, though, You CAN’T leave Quito without taking a trip up the Teleferiqo (a cable car) that climbs up the Pichincha Volcano to a whopping 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) above sea level. As you can guess, from this prime vantage point, you will be treated to stunning views of the city below and on a clear day – the Cotopaxi volcano. 

At the top, you can “swing in the clouds” on one of the swings, which gives the feeling that you’re launching yourself over the side of the volcano. There’s also a cafe here where you can sit with a hot coffee and enjoy the view.

Finally, one of the most popular day trips from Quito takes you well outside the city limits to the famous Quilotoa Crater, a 3 km wide crater lake that’s filled with emerald-colored water and is so photogenic! You can hike to it as part of the Quilotoa Loop trail. This trek will take 3 to 5 days, or join a guided tour that will drive you really close to it, and from there, it’s a short walk in. 

If, like us, you had your fill of awesome South American hikesthen consider this private day trip to the Quilotoa crater from Quito. The tour is 11 hours long and costs from $59 USD per person. It’s the tour we did! On the way to the crater, we took a short detour to a gorgeous viewpoint of Quito. We were then taken to a lookout of the crater rim, which had an awesome view of Cotopaxi in the distance. On the way back to Quito, we visited some time craft workshops in Tigua and La Victoria.

27. Baños

A lady repels down a waterfall while Canyoning in Banos, Ecuador
Canyoning in Baños is so thrilling!

With a nickname like the adventure capital of Ecuador, Baños is a must-visit addition to any South American itinerary. Of course, adventure sports are what attracts tourists to the area, and here you can enjoy canyoning, whitewater rafting, and paragliding, to name but a few! 

In Baños, you can abseil down a 30-meter (98 ft) waterfall, and although it was definitely a white-knuckle experience, we both really enjoyed it! This canyoning tour is the exact one that we did – it was 4 hours long and cost $40 USD per person. Our day started with a short drive to the start of waterfalls, where we put on our gear and practiced our descents. The tour itself involved 5 rappels right down the middle of the waterfalls, which left us soaking wet but certainly got our adrenaline pumping! The last rappel was the scariest but the most memorable. It was a 30-meter (98 ft) drop, and the slippery surface made for a tough descent – but would I do it again, DEFINITELY! 

As I mentioned, Baños is a renowned whitewater rafting destination in Ecuador. That’s because the rivers surrounding the town are typically fast-flowing and full of twists and turns! It’s also one of the cheapest places in South America to go whitewater rafting!

The rapids here range from Class 3 to 5, depending on the river you choose and the conditions. We chose this tour on the Pastaza River, which featured Class 3 and 4 rapids, so it’s not too crazy! It lasted about 5 hours and cost us just $40 USD including lunch at a fantastic local spot. Our guide was so engaging and helpful, too! 

Finally, another exhilarating activity on offer in Baños is paragliding. Considering its favorable winds, deep valleys, and stunning landscapes, I can’t think of a better place in Ecuador to try out this unique sport. 

Tandem paragliding tours in Baños, like this one that costs $80 USD, take you to a hill close to the town to take off. Once in the air, you will have 15 minutes of paragliding – which, believe me, is more than enough time. Try not to look down and instead around you where in the distance you’ll likely be able to see the Tungurahua volcano!

Best Places to Vist in Peru  

28. Cusco 

A llama in the Sacred Valley in Peru
A llama posing in the Sacred Valley near Cusco!
Bailey takes a photo with Rainbow Mountain in the background
Rainbow Mountain near Cusco!

Coming next to the historic city of Cusco, which also earns the title of one of the highest cities in the world (it’s situated at a whopping 3,200 meters/10,500 feet above sea level)!

In the past, Cusco served as the capital of the Inca empire. But today, Cusco is a vibrant city that, interestingly, takes the title of Peru’s most visited destination! That’s because not only can you enjoy lots of fun activities in Cusco, like wandering around the Qoricancha Temple, shopping at San Pedro Market, and climbing up to Sacsayhuamán Fortress, but it’s the gateway to the famed Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley, and the Instagram-famous Rainbow Mountain!

Cusco’s Plaza de Armas is the city’s beating heart and a popular local hangout spot. It’s home to the stunning Cusco Cathedral and many great cafes and restaurants. About a 10-15 minute walk from here is the Mirador de Plaza Sán Cristobal, which offers one of the city’s best views! You should also make time to pop over to the nearby San Pedro Market, a huge labyrinth of market stalls selling everything from unique souvenirs to fruit and veggies! 

Another interesting thing to do on a day in Cusco is to visit the Museo de La Coca, where you can learn all about the coca leaf. It’s been grown in Peru for over 5,000 years and is mostly used in rituals, celebrations, and for health benefits like treating altitude sickness. You’ll learn so much about this important plant at the museum. I even found out while here that it’s used as a flavoring in Coca-Cola. 

As I said earlier, Cusco is the gateway to the super-photogenic Rainbow Mountain. This rainbow-striped mountain gets its name from the colorful striations on the mountain’s surface. But keep in mind that the hike to Rainbow Mountain is a tough one and is best suited for those with a high level of fitness, as the altitude is challenging. FYI, the hike is about 2.5 miles (4 km) each way and has an elevation gain of about 3,937 feet (1,200 meters)!

There are heaps of tours from Cusco to Rainbow Mountainand the one I did cost just $49 USD, which is an awesome deal considering it included transport, a local guide, breakfast, and lunch! But note it’s a super-early departure of 3 am from your Cusco hotel, but that means you’ll beat the crowds (ideal!).

Alternatively, if you don’t think you’re up for the hike, you can do an ATV tour instead, which is so much fun and saves the hard work on your legs. This exhilarating tour also leaves Cusco early (at 3:30 am) and will set you back $85 USD. You can read more about Rainbow Mountain tours in my blog here.

Lastly, visiting the Sacred Valley from Cusco is another worthy day trip. Plus, conveniently, it’s just 21 miles (34 km) from downtown. This historically significant valley was once the heart of the Inca Empire, and it is believed people lived here as far back as 3,000 years ago. 

One of the most popular places to visit in the Sacred Valley (besides Machu Picchu – more on that later) is Pisac, a tiny village with tons to offer, but most notably, the famed Pisac Ruins and its fantastic market that takes over the Main Square every day from 9:30 am – 4:30 pm.

Pisac’s crowning glory is the Pisac Ruins. These Inca ruins are said to be the most preserved ruins in Peru, and they sit on top of a hill overlooking the valley. The ruins contain ceremonial buildings, homes, waterways, and agricultural terraces that are still used today. 

If you love a guided tour (like I do!), then this 1-day tour to the Sacred Valley from Cusco is my pick. This tour costs just $129 USD and not only stops at the Pisac Ruins but also at Maras with its spectacular salt ponds, Moray, and Ollantaytambo. It’s a small group tour and includes transportation from Cusco, lunch, and even the chance to meet a local for a weaving demo.

29. Machu Picchu

Stunning shot of Machu Picchu from a viewpoint above the Inca site
Machu Picchu is awe-inspiring!
Bailey climbs up Machu Picchu!

When most tourists think of Peru, they immediately think of Machu Picchu, so adding it to my list of the best places to visit in South America was an obvious choice! This world-famous ancient city is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and it is believed to have been built sometime in the mid-1400s.

But, it’s Machu Picchu’s spectacular location that’s the main selling point. Nestled at 2,430 meters (7,972 feet) above sea level and surrounded by the mighty Andes mountains, this ancient site truly is a sight to behold. 

Today, visitors will find more than 150 ruined buildings and over 3,000 stone steps that link all the different levels together. You have to see Machu Picchu for yourself to appreciate its size – it takes over an impressive 5 miles (8 km) of space!

Visiting Machu Picchu from Cusco can be done on an organized tour or on your own – FYI, we strongly recommend a guided tour. The three most popular hikes into Machu Pichu are the Inca Trail, the Salkantay Trek (which we did), and the Lares Route. 

If you want to do it on your own, the easiest option is to get a bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo and catch a train from there to Aguas Calientes (aka Machu Picchu town). From Aguas Calientes, you can either get a 30-minute bus to the Machu Picchu entrance gate or hike for around 2 hours along a pretty difficult trail.

Remember that whatever option you choose, you should pre-book your entrance ticket through Viator as soon as possible as these tickets sell out. It’s $89 USD for international visitors and when you book through Viator, you get flexible cancelation. While you can book tickets on the official website for a little less, no refunds are allowed on the official website!

As for guided tours to Machu Picchu, as you can imagine, as Peru’s top tourist attraction, there are plenty. 

If you’re short on time, believe it or not, you can do a day trip to Machu Picchu from Cusco. Yep, this one-day train tour involves a journey in a Vistadome car surrounded by glass – just think of the magical mountain views. When you arrive at Machu Picchu, your knowledgeable guide will show you around and tell you the fascinating history of the world-famous site. You’ll also have a few hours to explore on your own. This particular tour costs $369 USD or a bit cheaper if you choose a different train car option.

Alternatively, our top choice if you want to hike Machu Picchu, is this 5-day organized Salkantay hike. We did this tour, and honestly, we can’t fault it! It includes all transportation, three nights camping, and one night in a hotel in Aguas Calientes. As well as that, all meals, a Pachamanca Cooking demonstration, and a coffee plantation tour are included in the price. If this sounds right up your alley, be sure to book this tour in advance, as it can sell out up to 6 months in advance! It costs around $695 USD for this bucket-list-worthy experience.

30. Lake Titicaca

A floating village in Lake Titicaca, Peru
The floating villages are so cool to see!

Next up, we have Lake Titicaca, aka one of the largest lakes in South America. It’s also garnered the impressive title of the world’s highest navigable body of water, as it’s situated at a whopping 12,500 feet (3,810 meters) above sea level! Fascinatingly, it’s believed to be the birthplace of the Inca people, and there are numerous Incan ruins scattered around the lake. 

This super-photogenic lake is nestled in the Andes and borders Bolivia and is home to the Uros people who live on self-constructed floating islands on the lake – which feel a bit like walking on a water bed when you step on them! Their houses on these islands are made from the reeds along the lake’s edge. Their income comes from tourism and fishing, and they can travel far out into the lake to fish thanks to their boats, which are also made of reeds.

Puno is the closest Peruvian city to Lake Titicaca, and the best way to explore this unique destination is on a guided tour from Puno. This full-day tour is highly rated and will pick you up from your accommodation in Puno by bus and then transfer you by motor boat to the Uros Islands. You’ll also stop off at Taquile Island, which is where you will find the best weavers in the country. This particular tour costs $43 USD per person.

This slightly shorter tour is 9 hours long and also departs from Puno. It is shorter because your boat is a high-speed boat. It includes stops at Taquile Island and the Uros Islands. One of the highlights has to be getting a chance to sail on one of the traditional boats made of reeds. This tour will set you back $51 USD per person, and that price also includes a typical Peruvian lunch.

31. Lima

Views of the coastline while paragliding in Lima, Peru
Views of the coastline while paragliding in Lima!

Foodies, listen up – you MUST visit Lima, which is regarded by many as the culinary capital of South America, with no less than four of the top 50 restaurants in the world. It’s also the capital and biggest city in Peru and is filled with cool, trendy neighborhoods like Miraflores and Barranco and great surfing beaches! Even if you can only visit Lima for one day, it’s totally worth it!

There are three main tourist areas in Lima: Miraflores, Barranco, and the historic downtown (aka Centro Historico). The best way to see the Centro Historico is on a guided city tour in Lima because many tourists can be a little taken aback by how busy it is on first impression. This free walking tour visits the area’s top attractions like the Plaza de Armas and the changing of the guards at Government Palace. In short, it offers the perfect introduction to the historic center.

Miraflores has more of an upmarket vibe and is home to many great surfing beaches. It is also where most tourists to Lima tend to stay. And it’s here you’ll find popular attractions like Huaca Pucllana (aka the Pyramid of Lima) and the La Marina Lighthouse, as well as gorgeous parks like Parque Kennedy, which is home to many stray cats that are cared for by a group of volunteers. 

Of course, surfing is one of the most popular things to do here, so it’s worth taking a surf lesson in Lima. The lesson is 90 minutes, with most of that spent in the water trying to catch some waves! It’s only $32 USD and perfect for beginners or if you’re looking to brush up on your skills.

The final neighborhood worth visiting in Lima is Barranco, aka the trendiest part of the city. Here, you’ll find tons of bars, cute restaurants, street art, and musicians and artists lining the cobblestone streets. The best way to learn about Barranco is on this 2-hour free graffiti walking tourWe really enjoyed it as you get to see all the colorful murals and street art as well as visit the Bridge of Sighs and Bajada de Baños.

And finally, as I said, Lima is one of the top foodie destinations in the world! And the restaurants here are some of the best on the planet. We really wanted to understand Lima’s foodie culture better, so we booked this 5-hour evening food tour with Lima Gourmet Company during our time in the city!

We visited four special restaurants and sampled various dishes at each one. One of them was the prestigious Huaca Pucllana Restaurant, which is located inside the ruins. Would you believe the King of Spain has eaten at this particular spot? The tour finishes with a guided evening walk through Barranco. This tour costs $145 USD and can be booked online here

32. Huacachina

view of Huacachina, Peru Oasis
Huacachina is one of the best places to visit in Peru!

Second on most tourists Peru bucket lists (behind Machu Picchu) is likely Huacachina, aka “the Oasis” because, well, that’s what this tiny town is. Yep, Huacahina is built around a lake in the middle of the desert! And honestly, when you first set eyes on this magical destination, you’ll feel as though you’re dreaming! 

Because of its desert environment, two of the most popular things to do in Huacachina are dune buggying and sandboarding! We’ve done both, and they’re so much fun! 

There are heaps of dune buggy tours on offer here, and most tours, like this dune buggy one, include a sandboarding experience. On this tour, you will get to sandboard down some of the sand dunes on your belly after you drive to the very top of a huge sand dune on your buggy! It’s a pretty epic adventure for only $25 USD!

But, if you want to try sandboarding while standing up (think snowboarding but on the sand!), you’ll need to book a sandboarding tour like this one. It’s for anyone with experience on snow (me included having grown up in Canada!) and includes a proper board or skis so you can slide down the sand dune in style. It costs just $55 USD.

Huacachina is just 3 miles (5 km) from Ica or a 4-hour drive from Lima. Many tourists come here on a day trip from Lima, but I recommend either staying the night in Ica or Huacachina itself, as it’s a long day of travel from Lima.

Most tours from Lima are 10-12 hours long, and the majority, like this one, include a visit to Ballestas Island. Honestly, this tour is so good that it has hundreds of 5-star reviews! It’s a full-day tour for $139 USD, and that includes a boat tour to Ballestas Island, sandboarding, and a dune buggy ride around Huacachina. Plus, free time to explore Huacachina.

33. Huaraz

hiking in huaraz peru
Hiking in Huaraz is one for the bucket list!

Whew, and finally, we’ve come to the last entry on our list of the best places to visit in South America, and what a place it is – the city of Huaraz, nestled deep within the Andes Mountains and a paradise for hikers and rock climbers!

If you’ve looked into visiting Huaraz, you’ll probably recognize the name “Laguna 69,” a Gatorade-blue lake that’s surrounded by snow-topped mountains. The Laguna 69 hike is 7.5 mi (12 km) long and will take 5-6 hours to complete. Along the way, you’ll be treated to epic scenery like waterfalls, colorful flowers, and dramatic mountains. But keep in mind it’s a very steep and challenging hike, so you can’t do it alone. Instead, all hikers must book a tour from Huaraz, such as this full-day one. Even though the early wake-up call of 5 am sounds tiring, it means that you’ll start your trek crowd-free! It costs $40 USD, and on top of that, you’ll need to add on 30 soles ($8 USD) for the national park fee. 

Next up is the Santa Cruz Trek, the most popular hike in Huaraz, but it’s a long one at 31 mi (50 km) or 3 to 4 days in duration. Along the hike, you’ll spy on amazing lakes and very famous mountains (such as the one from the Paramount Pictures logo).

This awesome Santa Cruz tour is the one I did, and I highly recommend it! It cost us $380 USD plus a 30 soles ($8 USD) entry fee to the national park. Which I reckon is good value considering that it includes all your food, an English-speaking guide, and equipment, including mules to help carry all the gear. Also, unlike Laguna 69, you can do the Santa Cruz hike on your own (without a guide). 

The final hike I recommend in Huaraz is the iconic and challenging Huayhuash Trek, which is considered one of the most beautiful hikes in the whole world! It’s a lengthy one at 71.5 mi (115 km) and will take between 8 to 12 days to complete, depending on the route you take.

I recommend this Huayhuash hiking tour as this trek is not for beginners, but if you’re an experienced hiker and have the time, definitely do it! It was the best hike I’ve ever done, but it was also the most challenging one. It climbs over 9 mountain passes, all of which stand tall at around 16,400 feet (5,000 m) above sea level. You’ll sleep in tents set up adjacent to jaw-dropping mountains and bright blue lagoons, but come prepared with warm clothes because at night temperatures drop. This bucket list tour will set you back $990 USD per person.

Thanks for reading!

Daniel and Bailey pose for a photo on the boardwalk of Perito Moreno Glacier
Thanks for reading!

I hope you enjoyed reading about the best places to visit in South America as much as I enjoyed writing about them. It really was an awesome trip down memory lane, and I, for one, am itching to explore my favorite continent in the near future!

If you found this blog helpful, be sure to check out all our South American blogs! I’ve also included some other related guides below.

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