South America is rich with history and natural wonder. This Latin American continent offers dozens of must-see tourist attractions and adventures. Home to diverse cultures, remnants of ancient civilisations, and some of the largest waterfalls, South America is brimming with spectacles waiting to be explored.
From the architectural charms of Salvador to the dazzling carnivals of Rio de Janeiro, there are countless places to visit in South America for the aspiring adventurer.
In this article we have listed some of the best places to travel in South America. So pack your bags, grab your passport and let us help you plan the perfect vacation!
Best South American Countries to Visit
Table of Contents
South America is a gorgeous, diverse continent with wondrous sights for all sorts of tourism adventures.
From marvellous natural and man-made tourist attractions to a variety of intertwining cultures and heritage, here are the best countries in South America to visit on your travels. We’ve also broken down their tourism landmarks to help you plan the best South American vacation!
Peru is home to a large portion of the famed Amazon rainforest and dozens of archaeological sites. Tourists can explore the colonial city of Cusco as well as Lima – the capital of Peru – for a deep dive into pre-Columbian art.
This South American country is brimming with Incan ruins and carefully preserved ancient cities. Explore the Inca temple Qorikancha or the sunken Inca terraces of Moray. You could also pay a visit to the Machu Picchu Citadel in the mountains of Peru. Bare witness to the remnants of this Incan royal estate and cultural antiquity embedded in the crumbled walls.
Peru is also one of the best places to visit in South America for its multitude of natural phenomena. Tourists are welcomed to bear witness to staggering feats of nature such as the Gocta Waterfall and the snowy peaks surrounding Lake 69.
With so much to see, Peru makes the top of our list for best places to travel in South America.
One of the largest countries in South America, Brazil has a number of compelling tourist attractions.
Travellers looking for the customary beach vacation will appreciate the iconic white sands of Ipanema Beach. Enjoy a mesmerizing view of the rolling dunes of Lençóis Maranhenses National Park and the jewel-like, freshwater lagoons. Sports fans will appreciate a visit to the Maracana soccer arena, and the Sao Paulo Assis museum of art is a must-see for lovers of fine art.
Brazil is also home to the iconic city of Rio de Janeiro and the vividly green rainforests of the Tijuca National Park. All this and more secure a place for Brazil on the list of best places to see in South America.
Situated along the equator on the west coast of South America is the country of Ecuador. The country is famous for its Amazonian wildlife as well as its rich history and colonial influence in architecture.
Here, eager travellers can tour the Cotopaxi and Chimborazo volcanoes as well as the crater-turned-lake of Quilotoa. Explore the multiple small islands dotted along the coastline or hike the snowy peaks of Ecuador’s mountains and extinct volcanoes.
Tourists will also be treated to an extensive collection of architectural buildings and monuments, each with a rich history and ornate detail. If you want a relaxing experience, you can also tour the Galapagos Islands.
From frosty tipped mountains to quaint towns and tiny islands, this gorgeous landscape is one for the books. Ecuador is a dream destination for the weary traveller looking for a healthy dose of escapism, making this country one of the best places to vacation in South America.
The Argentine Republic is the second-largest country in South America behind Brazil and lies in the southern half of the continent. With both sweltering deserts and cold crystal glaciers lining its borders, Argentina is a country of stark contrasts.
Tourists are able to visit the Parque Nacional Talampaya, a vast desert landscape noted for its fossil records, or the hundreds of preserved cave paintings in the Cueva de las Manos. Marvel at the vividly coloured mountain valley, Quebrada de Humahuaca and the Grande River that flows through it.
Should the desert environment not suit you, why not visit the Iguazu National Park. Take in the rainforests, bizarre natural wildlife and the many fountains of Iguazu Falls. Or head to the massive downpour of rushing water known as the Devil’s Throat.
Pushing further towards the colder weather, tourists will be able to witness the highest mountain in South America – Aconcagua. Take your pick from a number of luxurious ski resorts and explore the icy glaciers of Argentina.
The overwhelmingly vast selection of desert, rainforest and frozen tundra make Argentina a top destination to visit in South America.
Best Cities to Visit in South America
South American countries have a multitude of beautiful cities, each with its own distinct culture and landmarks, for all your vacationing needs. Whether your interests lie in luxury resorts, natural landscapes or architectural history, this continent promises something for everyone.
Here are some of the best South American cities to visit as you make your way, backpacking or otherwise, through this magnificent continent.
The vast city of Lima is the capital of Peru, situated on the Pacific Coast. This seaside city is a fast-paced metropolis and a hot spot for avid surfers. The sprawling coastline can often be seen teeming with surfers and beach-goers drawn to the perfect year-round swells.
Lima is one of South America’s largest cities and home to a grand collection of pre-Columbian art. Here you can visit the sixteenth-century cathedral that sits at the heart of old Lima Central as well as the Museo de la Nacion.
Steeped in history, Lima’s preservation of ancient art and culture as well as the gorgeous coastline makes it one of the best South American countries to visit on your travels. Bring your surfboards and your sunscreen – and bring your camera too!
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
It wouldn’t be possible to talk about the top destinations in South America without mentioning the vibrant city of Rio de Janeiro. This bustling city located on the coast of Brazil is bursting with rich heritage and phenomenal sights.
Take a cable car up to Sugarloaf Mountain and witness the 38m Christ the Redeemer statue stretching his stone hands out from atop Mt Corcovado. Enjoy the bars along the Copacabana Beach promenade and recline on the white sands of Ipanema beach. The Rio de Janeiro coastline offers both a breathtaking view and a sultry beach experience to rival all seaside vacations.
Should you find yourself visiting this lavish city in the early months of the year, you can enjoy the famous Carnival festival. The extravagant floats and flamboyant costumes worn by a vast assortment of performers make this event impossible to overlook on your travels.
From the Tijuca National Park and its lush rainforests to the Niteroi Museum of contemporary arts, Rio has it all. Truly one of the best vacation spots in South America, this is a city worth visiting.
Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is a treasure trove of Neo-Gothic and Baroque architecture. This city boasts a wide array of well-preserved churches and cathedrals from 16th century Ecuador.
Quito remains one of the best South American cities for the history enthusiast. Tourists can stroll the cobbled streets of this picturesque city while visiting historical monuments and buildings.
Enjoy Quito’s central square – the Plaza Grande – before heading to TeleferiQo for hikes along the mountain range that towers over the city. Witness the ornate Basilica del Voto Nacional, and visit the Parque La Carolina for an assortment of recreational activities.
Wreathed in dark academia aesthetics, the city of Quito is every bit the romantic poet’s paradise. With all this and more, it’s safe to conclude this city is one of the wonderful places to see in South America.
El Calafate, Argentina
El Calafate in Argentina is one of the best vacation spots in South America for its enticing icy spectacles. Tourists can visit the massive Perito Moreno glacier at the Los Glaciares National Park and tread the snow of Mount Fitz Roy.
Anyone looking for a chilly adventure over the ice will find it here in El Calafate. Visitors can explore the national parks and gardens as well as the multiple famous Glaciers situated around this frosty city. Visit the Glaciarium Patagonian Ice Museum and learn everything there is to know about ice, glaciers and the southern Patagonian ice field. Don’t forget to visit the famous ice bar while you’re at it!
All of its ice-blue attractions make El Calafate one of the top places to visit in South America. Just make sure you’re dressed warmly enough for this one!
Final Thoughts on the Best South American Destinations
The number of superlative tourist attractions in South America is far greater than we could fit on a single list. From frozen glaciers forming shifting landscapes to sunlight over lush green mountains and grazing alpacas, South America is a continent of innumerable wonders.
Hundreds of years of history, preservation of heritage and lovingly protected architecture makes South America one of the most beautiful and diverse continents on earth.
In this article, we have presented you with a small glimpse of some of the best destinations in South America to help you plan the perfect Latin American vacation.
With so much to see and so many enticing attractions to explore, where will you start?