The Ultimate South America Travel Guide

Bursting with unique places to discover, South America will awaken your sense of wanderlust. The continent promises travelers a sprawling adventure featuring a grand topography of breathtaking landscapes, a sublime climate, and an otherworldly richness that applies to culture, ethnicity, and food. Just imagine Patagonian glinting glaciers between Argentina and Chile, sapphire blue remote beaches […] The post The Ultimate South America Travel Guide first appeared on CuddlyNest Travel Blog.

The Ultimate South America Travel Guide

Bursting with unique places to discover, South America will awaken your sense of wanderlust. The continent promises travelers a sprawling adventure featuring a grand topography of breathtaking landscapes, a sublime climate, and an otherworldly richness that applies to culture, ethnicity, and food. Just imagine Patagonian glinting glaciers between Argentina and Chile, sapphire blue remote beaches in Colombia, sky-high mountain ranges in Peru, a sparkling metropolis in Brazil, and spectral jungles spread within South America popping up in front of your eyes.

From uncovering the ancient ruins to experiencing some of the brightest festivals on the globe, in South America you’ll be rewarded with wonders and memories that last forever. 

To help you plan a life-changing South America adventure, we’ve got the low-down on the best places to visit, when to go, and the top reasons why you should visit the continent. Have a look below and enjoy your South American vacation!

Note: Make sure to double-check COVID 19 precautions, protocols, and operating hours before you visit any of these sites.

Quick Facts About South America

UNESCO Heritage SitesBrazilSmallest CountrySurinameLargest CitySão Paulo (Brazil)Smallest CityTumaco (Colombia)Number Of Countries12Highest PointCerro Aconcagua, in the Andes Mountains (Argentina)Population422.5 millionTotal Area6.888 million mi²UNESCO Heritage Sites72

Top Reasons To Travel To South America

The Continent Has Something For Everyone

Couple dressed in ponchos in Machu Picchu, Peru.

The variety of experiences that South America flaunts is mind-blowing and enough to fill a lifetime with adventures. Each country hides its unique line-up of treasures, which are guaranteed to please every type of traveler. If you’re a foodie, you’ll have a memorable time eating your way through the buzzing city of São Paulo, Brazil, or having a 17-course tasting menu at La Central  (Lima, Peru), the sixth-best restaurant in the world (The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy). Wine connoisseurs will love uncovering the sprawling vineyards of Mendoza, Argentina, while adrenaline seekers will get their heart racing when mountain biking in Ecuador. Are you a curious traveler who loves diving deep into different cultures? Then hit the Inca Trail and climb to the top of Machu Picchu, where you’ll learn everything and more about the Inca Empire. So, it doesn’t really matter what your deepest desires are: South America probably has a way of satisfying it.

It’s Affordable

Male Hiker in Cordillera Blanca, in Peru, South America

Rates and prices can vary according to the destination but, in general, South America is a very affordable place to visit. The most budget-friendly countries in the continent are Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela, while the most expensive are Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil, whose prices can often be the same as the ones in Europe and North America. 

A great tip is to get information about the prices in the cities you’re planning to visit. While Colombia is an affordable destination overall, the city of Cartagena can be quite costly, especially during the high season. The same goes for Cuenca, in Ecuador, and La Paz, in Bolívia. 

South America is usually a famous destination among backpackers, and many travelers who are on a shoestring budget usually visit the continent with an amount of $1000 for a month.

The Locals Are Friendly

Portrait of two native Brazilian girls smilling.

South America is a smile-inducing land, home to friendly, warm, and welcoming people. Colombians, for instance, are known for being extremely helpful and humble, while Brazilians have a reputation for being chatty and open-minded towards different cultures. Overall, across all South America, you’ll stumble across some of the nicest people in the world, which will definitely make your adventure more pleasant. 

It’s A Continent Of Superlatives

Aerial view of the Amazon Rainforest, in Brazil.

Many people might not know, but South America excels in a wide range of things. It’s home to the world’s largest waterfall, the Iguazu Falls, it has the world’s biggest carnival (Rio de Janeiro), the largest rainforest, the Amazon forest, the longest mountain range, the Andes, and the largest river by volume, the Amazon River. With so many eye-opening superlatives, it’s hard not to fall irrevocably in love with South America!

It’s Culturally Diverse

Diversity infuses daily life, food, music, and fashion in South America. Its cultural tapestry is made out of a colorful patchwork of ethnicities, traditions, languages, and religions, and this is what makes the continent such a fascinating destination for the most inquisitive travelers. From uncontacted tribes sprinkled through the depths of the Brazilian forests and ancient textile traditions brimming in Peru, to sacred Aymara fiestas in Bolivia and soulful Colombian dances, South America entices visitors and locals alike 

Best Time To Travel To South America

White sandy beach with palm trees and transparent blue-green water at San Andrés, in Colombia, South America.

South America boasts a wide variety of climates, which range from tropical to temperate and vary according to the location. So, when it comes to the best time to visit South America, it all depends on where you want to go. The great thing is that you’ll find year-round options, especially because winters and summers are milder than in North America, as most part of the continent is located above the Equator line. 

To marvel at the endless and bright-white salt desert at Salar de Uyuni, in Bolivia, go from September to November. To experience some of Brazil’s liveliest festivities, including Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival, go during the summer, from December to February. Is hiking the Inca Trail (Macchu Picchu) on top of your bucket list? A great time to go to is between April and September. Just beware that from November until March is the wet season, and June and July is the peak tourism season in Peru. Buenos Aires is perfect to visit in Spring and Autumn, while Argentinian and Chilean Patagonia can be wonderfully enjoyed in December, which is summer in the Southern Hemisphere.

South America Travel Guide: The Top Destinations

Brazil

Panoramic view of Cacimba do Padre and Two Brothers Peaks in Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

Charmingly natural and spontaneous, Brazil is an immense destination in every sense of the word. Spread within 3.288 million mi² there are sparkling rivers,  4,600 miles of an idyllic coastline, welcoming locals, dazzling cosmopolitan cities filled with endless opportunities, and a mighty rainforest regarded as the world’s greatest collection of plant and animal species. 

Summer-chasers will have a larger-than-life travel experience by uncovering Brazil’s internationally-praised beaches, which masterfully decorate the country from North to South. Bathed by the turquoise waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Baía do Sancho, on the Fernando de Noronha archipelago, is the closest that Earth can get to paradise. São Miguel dos Milagres is a hidden gem in the state of Alagoas, and it’s adorned with towering palm trees and natural crystalline pools. 

Not to mention the city of Rio de Janeiro — or just Rio, as the locals say —, which encompasses, at the very same time, gorgeous beaches surrounded by tropical forests and a pulsating cosmopolitan life with all the offerings one could want from a bustling metropolis. Thanks to its timeless allure and instantly recognizable landmarks like the Christ Redeemer, one of the New Seven Wonders of The World, Rio De Janeiro is truly a bucket-list destination in South America.

While beach-babes are guaranteed to have a memorable time in Brazil, the same goes for urbanites. For a deeply cosmopolitan experience, hop on a flight to São Paulo, a dazzling alpha global city — the largest in the Americas— that will electrify all of your senses with its ever-tall skyscrapers, and colossal avenues buzzing with millions of busy commuters. There, you’ll be spoilt for choice as soon as you arrive. São Paulo happens to be home to some of the best restaurants in the world, where you can try everything and more, from the best sushi outside of Japan, to a life-changing osso buco. Add to that a slew of architectural jewels by the master Oscar Niemeyer, a robust lineup of cutting-edge art galleries, and a legendary nightlife scene and you have an enviable metropolis that is worth spending more than a few days in!

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Argentina

A Vineyard framed by snow-capped mountains in Mendoza, Argentina.

There are endless reasons to hop on a flight to Argentina. Its capital, Buenos Aires, seduces visitors with an irresistible European flair, complemented by cobblestone streets and neoclassical, art nouveau, and art deco-style buildings. Home to fiercely proud porteños the city radiates surprising warmth, and every corner hints at unique possible discoveries. 

From the passionate streetside tango to bustling cafes and trendy neighborhoods, Buenos Aires has a delightful maze of attractions. Standing majestically in Plaza de Mayo, Casa Rosada is the Presidential Palace, from where Eva Perón would address jostling crowds of supporters. The Caminito, in La Boca, is a street museum lined with colorful houses, and Teatro Colón is a stunning opera house, regarded as one of the ten best in the world by National Geographic.

Beyond Buenos Aires’s distinct aura, there are unrivaled cultural and culinary attractions to be uncovered in Argentina. Mendoza is the heart of the country’s wine region, where you can spend days sipping on the world-class Malbec wine, relaxing at state-of-the-art spas, and feasting on succulent asados — the Argentinian barbecue. In Mendoza, make sure you book a table at Siete Fuegos, to sample some of Francis Mallmann’s specialties: a slow-cooked rib, baked for 9 hours; salmon encrusted with coarse salt, roasted over cast iron; grilled seasonal fruits and other dishes paired with award-winning boutique wines

Travelers can also venture out to the Argentinian Patagonia, a land of staggering beauty that harbors the southern section of the Andes Mountains, teal-colored lakes, steep fjords, and shimmering glaciers. Go to the UNESCO-listed Los Glaciares National Park to gaze at the Perito Moreno Glacier, trek in El Chaltén — the National Capital of Trekking in Argentina —  climb the 11171.26 ft tall Mount Fitz Roy, hit the slopes at the Ski Centenario Resort, in Bariloche.

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Peru

View of Machu Picchu during a sunny day, in Peru.

A variety of sweeping landscapes, fascinating ancient history, and a diversity that applies to culture, food, and nature have long enticed adventurers to Peru. Encompassing an alluring scenery, Peru’s perfect location at the crossroads of multiple civilizations has left its mark on the country. Its territory was inhabited by an array of ancestral cultures, from the Norte Chico civilization, the oldest civilization in the Americas that flourished in Peru about 5000 years ago, to the Inca Empire, the largest empire that ever existed in the continent.

In Peru, travelers shouldn’t pass up a chance to visit Lima, the capital city. With culinary offerings ranging from high-end eateries to street food, Lima is a wonderland for the most gluttonous travelers. Those who are looking for a fine dining experience must go to Astrid & Gastón, and La Mar (their ceviche is to die for), both by Gastón Acurio. For a more laid-back, but equally delicious experience, head to Huerta Chinén and try their famous Locro, a flavourful stew made with pumpkin, butternut squash, potatoes, and a range of delicious seasonings.

Next stop? Cusco, a historic city that was once the capital of the Inca Empire.  Nestled in the Peruvian Andes, Cusco boasts mystical archaeological jewels, including the sacred Koricancha temple, whose walls were once covered in gold in dedication to Inti, the Sun God. From there, make your move to the Sacred Valley,  a fertile land that was once inhabited by the Qotacalla, and Killke civilizations, until it became part of the Inca Empire. 

After taking in the unmistakable energy that permeates Cusco and the Sacred Valley, it’s time to hit the Inca Trail, which beautifully ends at Machu Picchu, a historic 15th-century Inca citadel that stands powerfully at 7972.441 ft. above sea-level. From up high, you’ll be able to gaze at the most dramatic setting starred by the archaeological monument of “La Ciudadela”, peaks, green valleys, and slopes.

To experience the whole breadth of Peru’s arts and culture, take a boat tour at Lake Titicaca, the “highest navigable lake” in the world. Placed in the Andes, on the border of Peru and Bolivia, Lake Titicaca is home to the Floating Islands of the Uros, a set of some 80 islands built from an aquatic plant that grows on the surface of the lake. The floating islands are inhabited by the indigenous Uros people, which have been living on the lake for hundreds of years!

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Galápagos Islands

Aerial Shot of Isabela Island, in the Galápagos Archipelago, Ecuador.

The Galápagos Islands are a rarity among all the jewels in South America’s crown. Introduced to the world by Charles Darwin in 1859 in the book “The Origin of Species”, the remote archipelago has grown into a beauty of a destination. While tourism in Galapágos Islands was essentially non-existent a few decades ago, the destination became to draw adventurous globetrotters who were itching to uncover this earthly paradise of bountiful wildlife. 

Made up of 21 islands, the volcanic Galápagos archipelago is part of the Republic of Ecuador and it’s located in the Pacific Ocean, 621.371 miles from the South American continent. Thanks to its immense marine reserve and awe-inspiring wildlife — the archipelago is home to 56 species, of which 27 are endemic —the Galápagos Islands was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s often referred to as a ‘living museum and showcase of evolution’. 

When it comes to natural assets, the Galápagos Islands are scandalously rich, so be prepared to get an up-close look at some fantastic creatures, including the Magnificent Frigate Bird, the Galápagos Penguin —the only one of their species to live in a tropical climate—, and the endangered Blue-footed Booby.

To witness Galápago’s wildlife spectacle, make sure to explore the local islands on a cruise, which will allow you to reach the most isolated and fascinating places on the archipelago. If you go to Isla Santa Cruz, for instance, you’ll be able to visit the Charles Darwin Research Station and catch a glimpse of the famous giant tortoises, another unusual creature that lives in Galápagos. 

Fernandina Island, located on the Western part of the Galápagos Islands, is a great spot for snorkeling, and you can get face to face with sea lions, marine iguanas, sea turtles, dolphins, and even orca whales. To spot a heavenly plethora of seahorses, white-tipped reef sharks, unicorn fishes, and hammerhead sharks, Isabela Island is the place to go. All that followed by a thrilling hike up the active Sierra Negra volcano, and a visit to the Sea Lion Colony on Española Island.

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Colombia

A street lined with colorful houses decorated with cascading bougainvilleas in Cartagena, Colombia.

Pulsating with exuberance and contradictions, Colombia is a megadiverse land that will have you sighing over its variety of cultures, natural sceneries, flavors, and people. The country fairly glitters with over 50 million inhabitants, including the hyper-friendly locals who radiate surprising warmth and positivity and offer outstanding cultural digressions. Here, sandy beaches are lapped by teal waters, and more than 50 National Parks are spiked by a large number of hiking routes, which will certainly seduce the adrenaline-seekers. 

Bogotá is Colombia’s buzzing capital and a gateway for some of South America’s most idyllic destinations. When exploring this sprawling city, visitors tend to snoop around big-name attractions, including the cobblestone streets and colonial houses of the La Candelaria neighborhood, the 17th-century Iglesia de San Francisco, and Teatro Colón, with its majestic Italian-style facade. To get your culture fix, visit Museu del Oro, which displays a precious collection of pre-Colombian gold pieces, and Museo Botero, with artworks by the painter and sculptor Fernando Botero. 

Dive deeper into Colombia’s chaotic tangle of complexities by visiting Medellin, a culturally-rich destination dotted with sculptures by Botero, before you take off to the dreamy Cartagena. Placed on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, this port city is an eye-popping destination richly decorated with colorful colonial houses ornate with cascading bougainvilleas, and a lovely 16th-century walled center that was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Aside from being one of the most Instagrammable destinations in the world, the multicolored Cartagena de Indias is also a prime pick for sampling the expressive flavors of Colombian food. There, you’ll find the most delicious tropical fruits, variations of sancocho de pescado, a rich coconut milk-based soup, and Cazuela de Mariscos,  a creamy seafood stew made with shrimps, clams, and whitefish.

You’ll also want to visit Cartagena for its proximity to some of the most heavenly beaches in Colombia. There is one destination that visitors tend to favor: the Island of San Andrés. Located in the Caribbean Sea, off the coast of Nicaragua, San Andrés is praised for its sapphire blue sea, and the famous Cocoplum beach, which is sheltered by a barrier reef. But in case you’re looking for a more offbeat adventure, go to Tayrona National Park, a protected area home to some of the most beautiful pristine beaches in the world.

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Bolivia

Salar de Uyuni in Altiplano, Bolivia, at dusk.

Bolivia flaunts a perfectly poised balance of thrilling experiences for travelers who are looking for a vacation filled with adventures. Here, wildlife comes in a spectacular variety, treating visitors with a world of possible activities, from adrenaline-fueled sports to birdwatching. 

Sited in the central part of South America, Bolivia extends from the Central Andes to the Amazon and encompasses an unlimited array of ecological environments, including rainforests, tropical savannas, and dry valleys. This diverse geographic area is starred by the massive Andean region, which was once part of the Inca Empire, and several national parks, including the Madidi National Park that harbors 14% of the world’s known bird species.

Bolivia’s dramatic setting can be appreciated from the moment you arrive in La Paz, which is the capital of the country. Situated on the Andes Altiplano plateau, at more than 2.174799 ft above sea level, the highest capital city in the world is framed by the snow-capped Illimani mountains, and it’s a great first stop for travelers who are embarking on a Bolivian adventure. 

From La Paz, there’s an immense list of adventure-friendly places one can go. Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat, is a true gem and a must-visit in Bolivia. Placed, near the crest of the Andes, this salt picturesque desert is adorned with giant cacti and welcomes three South American species of flamingo each November. One of the best travel tips for those who are going to Bolivia is to visit Salar de Uyuni during the wet season, from January to April, which is when the rain creates a stunning mirroring effect on the salt flat plains. You can also visit the quaint Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley), dotted with secular clay and sandstone figures, go hiking along the shores of Lake Titicaca and go for a sprawling wildlife safari in Rurrenabaque, known as the entrance to the rainforests and pampas of northern Bolivia.

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Chile

The pink hued rock formations at the Atacama Desert, in Chile.

A long and narrow country located on the west side of the Andes Mountains, Chile is as much about wide-open deserts and monumental snow-capped peaks, as it is about cosmopolitan cities pulsating with life 24/7. Santiago, for instance, is the country’s energetic capital that has plenty to offer anyone who makes the trek. You can enjoy views of Valle Nevado, ride the funicular at the Metropolitan Park, blissfully walk around Plaza de Armas, and try the famous picada at El Hoyo Restaurant. Valparaíso is a charming port city known for its colorful hilltop houses and for being the former residence of poet Pablo Neruda. A perfect place to see culture in action city-wide.

Most of Chile’s outdoor marvels, however, can be experienced in Torres del Paine National Park, in the Chilean Patagonia. There, you’ll get close and personal with a string of majestic features, such as the cerulean waters of Lake Pehoé, jagged granite towers, the Grey Glacier, and the Cordillera del Paine, which has several mountains suitable for hiking and trekking.

But there’s a lot more on offer in this spectacular country. Adventurous travelers who are uncovering the wonders of Chile can also go to the stunning town of  San Pedro de Atacama, which home several indigenous peoples, gorgeous salt flats, altiplano lagoons, and marvelous hot springs. About 8.07783 west of San Pedro de Atacama, in the heart of the Atacama desert, lies Valle de La Luna, known for its quaint rocky formations and dunes that resembles the surface of the moon.

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Uruguay

Top view of Punta Del Este, in Uruguay.

Uruguay does not get all the praise it deserves. While destinations like Brazil, Argentina and Peru remain in South America’s spotlight, the country became a prime pick for travelers seeking an offbeat journey. And it’s not hard to see why! Ranked first in Latin America in democracy, low perception of corruption, innovation, peace and infrastructure, Uruguay flaunts a distinct aura that doesn’t go unnoticed.

Sandwiched between Argentina and Brazil, with the Río de la Plata in the south and the Atlantic Ocean in the southeast, Uruguay is home to a handful of beachfront destinations, which are a playground for locals and out-of-towners alike. A fraction of the country’s beaches, by the way, are located in Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay. There, the easy-going lifestyle revolves around drinking a mate by the ocean, strolling around the local parks (Park Battle, Park Prado, and Park Rodo), and enjoying the city’s vibrating nightlife.

With an eye toward quality in all pursuits of life, Montevideo is also blessed with a sophisticated slew of cultural attractions. Travelers can visit Teatro Solís and marvel at its Neoclassical-style façade, snoop around the stunning Museo Blanes, which is surrounded by a Japanese garden, and go to the 19th-century Mercado del Puerto (don’t leave without trying an authentic parrilla).

Punta del Este is Uruguay’s most coveted summer destination, attracting glamorous jet setters from all corners of the world. Located on the Atlantic Coast, this resort city is home to a showcase of high-end spa resorts, whimsical beaches, like Playa Mansa and Playa Brava, trendy ocean-front eateries, and boutique stores. From “Punta”, travelers can head to the charming Jose Ignacio. Loved by wealthy travelers from Brazil and Argentina, this boho-chic and off-the-radar getaway comes alive in December, when the summer kicks off, and lively holiday celebrations bring an irresistible atmosphere to this gorgeous retreat!

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