From Columbia to Cape Horn, South American vacations have a cultural reach that extends beyond two oceans and that includes varied landscapes. Travellers flock to South America to experience a storied history where longstanding indigenous traditions had to adapt to foreign colonial powers and cultures. Explore the history of ancient civilizations, sample amazing cuisine, take in geographic wonders and trek through bustling city hubs as you make your way across this diverse continent which is sure to have something in store for every type of traveller.
Our best South American travel destinations vary in location and stretch from coast to coast, covering highlands, lowlands, islands, and everything in between. From UNESCO World Heritage sites to quaint city streets, South American vacations don’t disappoint the adventurous traveller. Read on to explore Cabeau’s most recommended travel destinations in South America.
1. Machu Picchu, Peru
You’ll have to work for it, but Machu Picchu is an absolute must. One of South America’s best-known archaeological sites, Machu Picchu remained a hidden secret for ages, a relic lost in time. Just over 100 years ago, American explorer Hiram Bingham stumbled upon the ruins, following the guidance of a local farmer who told him of the “Old Mountain” city hidden in the hills.
Set near the hub of Cuzco, the former capital of the Inca Empire, Machu Picchu offers dramatic mountain scenes that take your breath away. With endless steps and precarious perches, each part of Machu Picchu is thrilling to see.
Many ambitious tourists enjoy the image of reaching Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail –– but make no mistake, reaching the ruins on foot is not for the faint of heart. Trekking to the Inca kingdom requires a high level of stamina and endurance. As you gain elevation, the air thins, and hiking the steep, narrow inclines can become treacherous. As of 2017, all tourists are required by law to have a guide on their first visit to Machu Picchu.
Of course, many of the best South American travel destinations have become more accessible in order to accommodate the influx of tourists. For an alternative and more leisurely way to see the ruins of Machu Picchu, you could conserve your energy and take the train. A ride from Cusco to the ruins takes just under two hours. This is a great time to strap on your favorite travel pillow and rest up as you rise above the clouds via rail.
2. Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
If you thought getting to Machu Picchu sounded a bit challenging, the Galápagos Islands are even more so, but the best South American travel destinations are not always the most accessible to visitors. Seeing the Galápagos Islands is on many travellers’ bucket lists, but only a few make this trip as visits to the islands are strictly limited in order to protect the local habitats.
This archipelago of volcanic islands is described by geologists as being “born of fire,” and paying homage to their volcanic past and present. Visitors to the islands can expect to see some of the most unique species of animals including sea turtles, penguins, iguanas and sea lions. This is a holiday for animal lovers, historians and geology enthusiasts alike. With a four million year old history, the Galápagos Islands are truly a wonder.
Planning South American vacations means working out the logistics of getting to hard-to-reach locales. Set in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, the closest landmass to the Galápagos Islands is mainland Ecuador. Most visitors begin their journey on the mainland and reach the islands with boat charters. Visits to the islands are often limited to only a few days, but sighting a rare species found nowhere else on the planet makes this one of the best South American travel destinations on our list.
3. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
For travellers looking for South American vacations that are a little more accessible, Rio de Janeiro––also known as the “marvelous city” by locals––may be just what you are looking for. With great culture, food, music and dance, it’s no wonder Rio was chosen as the location of the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Surrounded by pristine white beaches, you could spend days soaking up the sun on the shores of Copacabana and Ipanema and not spend a dime. These world-famous beaches are perfect for grabbing a book and napping luxuriously on the sand. Don’t forget to pack your Midnight Magic sleep mask in your bag to block out the rays as you snooze under a cabana!
If you crave photogenic city scenes, venture atop Corcovado Mountain to admire the wonder of Christ the Redeemer. You don’t need any professional photography skills to capture the most romantic views of the city. The best South American travel destinations tend to be extremely photogenic. With lush mountains, rainforest trails and endless city views, Rio has it all.
4. Buenos Aires, Argentina
Buenos Aires is also famous for being the home of Eva Perón, First Lady of Argentina from 1946 until her passing in 1952, when she died of cancer at the age of 33. Her dedication the poor and working classes secured her prominent role in the cultural identity of Argentina. As you take in the sights of Buenos Aires, don’t forget to tour some of the historical sights honoring Perón, such as the Evita Museum and the Monumento a Eva Perón.
Buenos Aires also takes the award for the most dramatic of our best South American travel destinations, so it’s fitting that one of the top tourist sights in the city is a theatre. Take a tour of the Teatro Colon, widely known as one of the best theatres in the world. Admire the intricate design on a walking tour, or better yet, admire the sound of the acoustics as you take in a live show.
The culinary scene in Buenos Aires makes it a destination for foodies, too. Savor local specialties including empanadas, tamales, steak or Patagonian trout––all enjoyed with a glass of Argentinian malbec, of course.
5. Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Many breathtaking paintings and photographs hung on walls across the world have depicted the wonder of the Patagonia region, which stretches from Chile to Argentina. Hikers seeking the best South American travel destinations celebrate the Patagonia region for sites such as the granite peaks of Torres del Paine National Park.
Travellers can rough it in one of the park’s many campsites, or stay in a hotel with mountain views. Primarily known for its endless hiking trails, Torres del Paine can be seen in a day, or toured over the course of several weeks. The two main hiking circuits known as “W” and “Q” are well worth completing for ambitious hikers looking for the true Patagonia experience.
Most visitors to the park seek the most spectacular view of Mirador Las Torres during their tour. With three intimidating peaks and picturesque glaciers, Mirador is renowned as the ultimate site for outdoor enthusiasts. Surrounded by mountains, cascading falls and lush forests, Torres del Paine National Park offers a little slice of heaven in South America.
6. Easter Island, Chile
Some of the best South American travel destinations require little introduction. Popularized in movies, cartoons and books over the ages, Easter Island’s allure lies in its mysterious relics of the past––more than 800 monumental statues, called moai, created by the Rapa Nui people. Travellers looking for truly off-the-beaten-path South American vacations need to look no further than Easter Island.
Visiting Easter Island is about more than observing the moai heads. Pristine beaches, solitude, views of wild horses and a slower pace of life await. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, Easter Island is one of the most remote and uninhabited islands in the world, situated more than 2000 miles off the Chilean coast.
Much like reaching the Galápagos Islands, visiting this far-fetched region in Chile requires a lot of advanced planning. The easiest access to the islands is through Santiago, Chile, which has the only airline that flies to the remote location. Prepare yourself for a slower pace of life upon arrival. You’ll want to wrap yourself up in a travel blanket on the white coral shores of Anakena as you ponder the adventures of the island’s early settlers while looking out into the vast expanse of ocean.
7. Angel Falls, Venezuela
Many of the best South American travel destinations are worth the extra travel effort, and Angel Falls is among them. Known as the “highest uninterrupted waterfall in the world,” Angel Falls measures at an impressive 3,212 feet in height. Rivaling other waterfall wonders like Niagara Falls, Victoria Falls, and Yosemite Falls, geography enthusiasts will marvel at Venezuela’s most spectacular natural gem.
Another UNESCO site, Angel Falls draws visitors from around the world who come to experience the site firsthand. Angel Falls is the highlight of the landscape, but there is even more to see in surrounding Canaima National Park. Visitors can expect to spot rare birds, orchids, pumas and ocelots all within park borders…all great reasons why this is on our list of the most amazing South American vacations.
Requiring multiple flights, a river trip and a hike, getting to Angel Falls isn’t easy, but the trouble of getting there is worth it for travellers seeking a bit of an extra challenge.
8. La Paz, Bolivia
As far as South American vacations go, La Paz surprises tourists who are looking for something a bit more authentic and that aren’t at the top of all the other tourists’ lists. And, another pleasant surprise––it’s a great destination for families and kids.
Grab a daypack and visit the quaint Museum of the Whale before embarking on a real whale-watching tour. The best South American travel destinations are often known for their ecotourism opportunities. Several eco-tours depart daily from La Paz, many with the hope of observing the elusive and popular whale shark. The best time to spot these gentle beasts ranges from October to late-spring when whale sharks feed on plankton in the Bay of La Paz. If you’re lucky, you will spot dolphins and gray whales on the tour as well.
Other notable sites in La Paz include amazing beaches, breathtaking architecture and the slightly strange La Paz Witches Market. Indigenous traditions thrive in this highland city, set near the Andes.
Planning South American vacations can seem like a daunting task with endless options and such varied landscapes and regions, but we hope this list has provided the information you need to narrow down your list. Who knew that so many travel options existed within the amazing continent of South America? Before you depart, don’t forget to make sure your passport and other travel documents are in order.
Now that you’ve had a chance to peruse Cabeau’s best South American travel destinations, book your tickets and start planning your itinerary. Before you leave, don’t forget to shop Cabeau online and pick up an Evolution® travel pillow and a few of our comfort items for the trip. Get ready for the experience of a lifetime!