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Embark on an unforgettable journey with this South America travel guide as we explore the continent’s diverse landscapes, lively cultures, and top attractions. From bustling cities to awe-inspiring natural wonders, South America offers a wealth of experiences for every traveler. Read on for our recommendations on the best things to do, places to stay, and essential travel tips for visiting South America.
- Countries Covered in South America
- Best Things to Do in South America
- 1. Explore the Amazon Rainforest
- 2. Discover the Ancient City of Machu Picchu
- 3. Experience Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival
- 4. Witness the Majestic Iguazu Falls
- 5. Delve into the History of Cartagena
- Where to stay in South America
- How to Get Around in South America
- Travel Tips South America
- Embrace the Local Culture
- Learn Basic Phrases in the Local Language
- Stay Safe and Be Aware of Your Surroundings
- Respect the Environment
- Prepare for Diverse Weather Conditions
Countries Covered in South America
Given the size of South America, you’ll want to drill down on a particular country or destination. Before getting into our travel guide, here are the countries we’ve covered within South America, each as a standalone travel guide.
Best Things to Do in South America
1. Explore the Amazon Rainforest
One of the most iconic places to visit in South America, the Amazon Rainforest is a vast, biodiverse region spanning nine countries. This lush, green paradise is home to an estimated 390 billion individual trees, representing over 16,000 species.
Adventure-seekers can embark on guided tours, where you’ll witness vibrant flora and fauna, including jaguars, sloths, and the elusive pink river dolphin. For a unique experience, consider a multi-day river cruise or stay in an eco-lodge deep within the forest, immersing yourself in this extraordinary ecosystem.
2. Discover the Ancient City of Machu Picchu
No South American travel guide would be complete without mentioning Machu Picchu, the famed Inca citadel nestled in the Andean mountains of Peru. This UNESCO World Heritage site is an architectural marvel with intricate stonework and terraced agricultural fields.
To visit Machu Picchu, travelers can take a scenic train ride or embark on a challenging multi-day hike along the Inca Trail. The best time to visit is during the dry season, from May to October, when the weather is more favorable for exploring this ancient wonder.
See Related: Most Beautiful Places in the World to Visit
3. Experience Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival
If you’re planning to visit South America, do not miss Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival, the world’s largest and most famous party. This vibrant celebration takes place annually in the lead-up to Lent, featuring colorful parades, samba dancers, and lively street parties.
To fully experience the festivities, secure tickets to the Sambadrome, where samba schools showcase their elaborate floats and costumes in a dazzling spectacle. Be sure to book accommodations well in advance, as hotels fill up quickly during this popular event.
4. Witness the Majestic Iguazu Falls
Straddling the border between Argentina and Brazil, Iguazu Falls is one of the most breathtaking natural wonders in South America. This massive waterfall system comprises 275 individual falls, with the largest, the Devil’s Throat, reaching a height of 80 meters (262 feet).
Explore the surrounding national parks on both sides of the border for incredible panoramic views and opportunities to spot wildlife such as toucans, monkeys, and even jaguars. To enhance your experience, consider taking a thrilling boat ride to the base of the falls or a scenic helicopter tour for a bird’s-eye view.
See Related: Best States To Live In
5. Delve into the History of Cartagena
Cartagena, a picturesque colonial city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, is steeped in history and charm. Wander the colorful streets of the walled Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, admiring the well-preserved architecture and vibrant plazas. Be sure to visit the impressive Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, a 16th-century fortress offering panoramic city views. For a relaxing beach escape, head to the nearby Rosario Islands, known for their crystal-clear waters and pristine coral reefs.
Where to stay in South America
South America offers diverse accommodations to suit every traveler’s needs and budget. From luxury hotels to charming guesthouses, you’ll find a comfortable place to rest after a day of exploration. Here are ten highly recommended accommodations across the continent:
- Belmond Sanctuary Lodge – Machu Picchu, Peru
- Llao Llao Hotel & Resort – Bariloche, Argentina
- Sofitel Legend Santa Clara – Cartagena, Colombia
- Belmond Copacabana Palace – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
- Estancia Vik José Ignacio – José Ignacio, Uruguay
- The Singular Patagonia – Puerto Natales, Chile
- Mashpi Lodge – Quito, Ecuador
- Paracas Hotel, a Luxury Collection Resort – Paracas, Peru
- Palacio de Sal – Uyuni, Bolivia
- Luxury Villa in Galapagos – Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos, Ecuador
How to Get Around in South America
Getting around South America can be an adventure, with various transportation options available. Flights are popular for covering long distances, with numerous regional airlines servicing major cities.
For shorter trips or greater flexibility, renting a car is an excellent option, allowing you to explore the continent at your own pace. RentalCars.com is a convenient platform for comparing car rental options from various providers, ensuring you find the best deal for your needs.
See Related: Best Car Rental Sites to Find Great Deals
Travel Tips South America
South America is a diverse and dynamic destination with unique experiences awaiting every visitor. To make the most of your trip, consider the following travel tips:
Embrace the Local Culture
One of the best ways to experience South America is by immersing yourself in the local culture. From vibrant festivals to delicious cuisine, each country offers its distinct customs and traditions. Be open to new experiences and engage with locals to better understand the region’s rich heritage.
Learn Basic Phrases in the Local Language
While English is spoken in many tourist areas, learning a few basic phrases in the local language can greatly enhance your experience. This small effort will help you navigate daily interactions and show respect for the local culture. Spanish is widely spoken across the continent, with Portuguese being the primary language in Brazil.
Stay Safe and Be Aware of Your Surroundings
As with any travel destination, it’s essential to be aware of your surroundings and take necessary precautions to ensure your safety. Research the areas you plan to visit, and always follow the advice of local authorities and tour operators.
Respect the Environment
South America is home to diverse ecosystems and incredible natural wonders. To preserve these treasures for future generations, practice responsible tourism by following local guidelines and minimizing environmental impact. This includes proper waste disposal, avoiding single-use plastics, and respecting wildlife.
Prepare for Diverse Weather Conditions
South America’s diverse geography means that weather conditions can vary greatly depending on your location and the time of year. Be sure to research the climate for each destination on your itinerary and pack accordingly, with layers and waterproof gear to accommodate changing conditions.
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- About the Author
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Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He’s a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he’d heard.
Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he’s learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.
He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time.