South America is an astoundingly diverse continent, so here's some of our top reasons to visit, whatever your interest is - whether you're a beach bunny, an adrenaline junkie, a history buff, a nature lover, or a culture vulture.
Great for Beach bunnies and snorkellers alike
Rio’s Copacabana and Ipanema beaches may be perhaps the most famous and the most stylish, but you’ll find some other amazing gems along the South American coast. If you’re looking for an unspoiled beach town set in a remote location with stunning coastal scenery, head to Jericoacoara, or affectionately known as ‘Jeri’, in Brazil, where you’ll be mesmerised by a memorable and rare phenomenon, the ‘Emerald Sunset’, as the setting sun turns bright green for a dazzling moment before sinking below the horizon. For a thriving beach party culture - akin to Ibiza and St Tropez without the attitude and high prices - then Brazil’s Florianopolis (pictured below) is for you, complete with idyllic beaches, sublime seafood and excellent surfing. Snorkellers and divers looking for a rich variety of marine life will be amazed at the 280 species of fish found in the clear, azure waters of Los Roques, a stunning archipelago national park in Venezuela, consisting of around 350 islands, cays and islets about 80 miles from Caracas in the Caribbean.
World-class wine regions
Whether it’s the big two (Argentina’s Mendoza region or Chile and a wine train in Santa Cruz), or perhaps one of the more surprising regions - such as Uruaguay’s Canelones region, Colombia’s Ain Karim vineyard, or various Brazilian states, where you can find some acclaimed whites and sparkling wines, wine tourism is experiencing a renaissance in South America, although its seasons may differ from those in the long-time stomping grounds of wine tourists in France, Italy and Spain, with summer reaching its peak in the southern hemisphere in January and February, and wine harvests taking place in March and April.
South America boasts a rich and varied history, from ancient and primitive civilisations, the mighty Inca Empire, to European colonialism and the influences of the ‘Old World’, and - more recently - independence and a number of military dictatorships which rose and fell during the twentieth century. The colourful tapestry of history each country has woven makes for a fantastic quilt, with threads of Jesuits and colonialism, Incas and before (and the descendants of Incas and other indigenous peoples still continue to live in various communities in South America). Perhaps the most famous historic monument which leaps to the mind when thinking of South America is the famous ‘Lost City of the Incas’ in the heart of the Peruvian jungle-clad mountains, the intriguing and iconic Machu Picchu. The city of Cuzco acts as its gateway, with many people starting out on the ‘Inca Trail’ from there, from where you can also visit the Incan citadel of Sacsayhuaman, and the Incan fortress at Ollantaytambo. In Bolivia, you can discover traces of the ancient Tiwanaku people, who inhabited the region from 1600BC to 1200AD - not as well known, but the Tiwanaku archaeological site (2 hours from La Paz) is a significant one, where you can find the stone-carved Sun Gate (pictured below), used to gauge the position of the sun, a technologically advanced irrigation system, and enormous and elaborate stone-carved monoliths. Whilst not much is known about the Tiwanaku, their artistic talents and agricultural know-how can still clearly be seen.
The famous stone statues on Chile’s Easter Island are still a mystery, continuing to intrigue scientists, historians and travellers alike. They can be admired in the Rapa Nui National Park. Meanwhile, on mainland Chile, the Atacama Desert - renowned as the world’s driest - is the perfect environment for preserving history, as everything deteriorates incredibly slowly. As a result, villages such as San Pedro, Chiu Chiu and Caspana feature exquisite examples of both 17th century colonial adobe buildings and the ruins of the ancient Atacama Indian culture, with some dating as far back as 800BC!
The legacy left behind by the Spanish and Portuguese can be seen in many South American cities, although Colombia’s UNESCO-listed Cartagena is perhaps the best preserved example; its old walled city is often described as the greatest living outdoor museum to Spanish colonialism. While the restored historical centre of Pelourinho in Brazil has some excellent examples of baroque churches, colourful colonial architecture lining steep cobblestoned streets and large, airy squares. Quito, the capital of Ecuador, lays claim to one of the most impressive baroque structures in all of South America, with the wonderful La Compañia de Jesús. These are but a few of the fascinating examples of historic landmarks to be discovered, explored and admired in South America.
Outstanding wildlife and natural wonders
If you were to think of South America, perhaps the first thing which might come to mind would be the Amazon - whether that referred to the mighty river, one of the largest in the world (there’s still a debate as to whether the Amazon or the Nile is the longest), or the remarkable rainforest, commonly referred to as the world’s lungs, and through which the river partly flows. The Amazon rainforest covers nine countries in South America, such as Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Colombia, and Venezuela, with the majority (60%) found in Brazil. The Amazon, home to some 2,000 species of birds and mammals, is the world’s most biodiverse rainforest tract, as well as its largest.
However, you may also think of the Andes, which spreads across north to south, through Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. The world’s longest continental mountain range (another world title for South America), the Andes is home to 600 mammals and bird species, perhaps most iconically llamas and alpaca, and their close relatives the vicuña and guanaco, as well as the yellow-tailed woolly monkeys and spectacled bears, whilst the mighty condor soars above the Andean peaks.
West of the Andes, covering a 600mile strip on the Pacific coast, the Atacama Desert features stony terrain, salt lakes, sand and felsic lava flowing towards the Andes. Parts of Argentina, Bolivia, Peru and Chile are covered by the Atacama, renowned as the world’s driest non-polar desert. Although its aridity means that few animals, and even plants, can survive in some parts, the Atacama Desert is still one of the three most popular attractions in Chile.
In stark contrast, Ecuador’s famous Galapagos Islands are rich with wildlife, and Darwin described them as ‘A little world within itself’. Comprising of fifteen main islands, three smaller islands, and 107 rocks and islets, the Galapagos are a beautiful and isolated archipelago, home to some of the most unique wildlife, such as the blue footed booby, the giant tortoise and the sea iguana, and inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution. Today, the Galapagos are an UNESCO World Heritage Site, popular for swimming with dolphins, snorkelling among sharks, diving with manta-rays, or just simply admiring the astounding flora and fauna to be found.
As well as mountain ranges, rainforest, and desert, on South America you can explore the vast wilderness of the Patagonian region, which is spread between Chile and Argentina. Much of Argentinian Patagonia is steppelike, although Argentina’s Los Glaciares is about 30% covered in ice, and best known for the Perito Moreno Glacier, Upsala Glacier, and Spegazzini Glacier, which flow into Lake Argentino. However, Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park, which borders Los Glaciares in the Patagonian Region, ranges from grassland to southern beach forests, and is home to Andean condors, Chilean flamingos, pumas, and Guanacos (camels)!
Of course, the southernmost tip of Chile is the gateway to Antarctica; from the Beagle Channel, the Straits of Magellan (home to Magellanic Penguins), and the open-ocean Drake Passage, ships make their way to the last frontier, the final wilderness, Antarctica.
South America is also well known for its waterfalls - perhaps the most famous being the spectacular Iguazu Falls, which straddle the border between Argentina and Brazil, featuring 275 thundering waterfalls set amidst spectacular natural beauty in the dense rainforest, teeming with wildlife. However, the world’s highest waterfall (the Angel Falls) can be found in Venezuela’s Canaima National Park, an astounding UNESCO World Heritage Site which is also home to mysterious table-top shaped mountains, and the indigenous Pemon Indians. The famous Tepuis in Canaima are so isolated, they’ve developed their own ecosystems, so you’ll discover flora and fauna here that you simply can’t find anywhere else. The Angel Falls (pictured below) drops a staggering 3,212ft - 19 times higher than Niagara Falls, making it truly breathtaking.
Great for adrenaline junkies and thrill seekers
Whether it’s a trek (or even zip wiring) through the dense jungle, white water rafting, hiking through the desert or up mountain ranges, skiing in the Andes, South America’s astounding geological diversity makes it an absolute-must for adrenaline junkies and thrill seekers!
Colourful Carnivals and Fun Festivals
Culture vultures and party animals alike will head to South America to soak up the atmosphere of its many carnivals and festivals. From the world’s biggest street party at Rio’s famous Carnival, to festivals such as Inti Raymi, which harks back to ancient indigenous beliefs or fuses pre-Columbian traditions and customs with Catholicism, such as Qoyllur Rit’i, or perhaps even puts their own colourful, South American spin on Christian festivals, such as Venezuela’s Diablos Danzantes, South America is always ready for a party somewhere!
If you're interested in visiting any of the wonderful South American countries, why not contact one of our dedicated travel specialists today?
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Machu Picchu, Peru
Easter Islands, Chile
Indigenous people in the Brazilian Amazon
Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia
Angel Falls, Venezuela
White Water Rafting in Ecuador
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