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South America Travel Guide: Travel Tips for Visiting

South America Travel Guide: Travel Tips for Visiting

Popular UNESCO World Heritage Sites

  • Iguazú National Park
  • Machu Picchu
  • Rio de Janeiro: Carioca Landscapes between the Mountain and the Sea
  • Historic Center of Salvador de Bahia
  • Galápagos Islands
  • Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System
  • City of Quito
  • Cartagena
  • Los Glaciares National Park
  • Brasilia

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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

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

Aerial View of Cloudy Amazon Rainforest
Richard Whitcombe / Shutterstock

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

Panoramic view of Machu Picchu on sunny day with clouds
Leo McGilly / Shutterstock

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

Float at Rio de Janeiro 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

Iguazu Falls in Iguazu Falls National Park in Brazil
Seungki / Adobe Stock

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

Colorful Buildings in Cartagena, Colombia 

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

Aerial view of Machu Picchu, Peru
VarnaK / Shutterstock

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:

How to Get Around in South America

Author Stuart Jameson Machu Picchu Travel
Stuart Jameson / ViaTravelers

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

Author Stuart Jameson Machu Picchu Trip
Stuart Jameson / ViaTravelers

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

Hand holding smart phone with online learn Spanish on screen
maicasaa / Shutterstock

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

Author Stuart Jameson Hiking in Machu Picchu
Stuart Jameson / ViaTravelers

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.

Additionally, consider purchasing travel insurance to protect yourself from unforeseen events. VisitorsCoverage.com offers a variety of plans to suit your needs.

Respect the Environment

Cabo San Juan at Tayrona Park, Santa Marta, Colombia
Janeth Warrick / Shutterstock

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

A woman is seated on the bed, organizing her suitcase.
KittiPhan / Adobe Stock

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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