From the glamourous coastline resorts of Cartagena in Colombia to the tips of Tierra del Fuego and Ushuaia at the bottom end of Argentina, South American tours have a lot to offer. However, as a massive continent containing 12 countries and nearly-endless shifts in geography, climate, and culture, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the continent. Knowing the specific highlights of its individual countries can be a big help when planning your next trip south.
Luckily for you, we’ve put together a list of 10 concrete, easy-to-comprehend reasons to head to South America. Instead of treating the continent as this exotic monolith to the south of Canada and the United States, we’ve given you plenty of individual reasons to pick a country in South America as your next globetrotting destination.
1. Explore the world’s most iconic jungle
There are rainforests and then there is the Amazon Rainforest. Accept no substitutes. The Amazon Rainforest is the largest rainforest in the world and contains half of the world’s rainforest trees within its borders. You can find the Amazon within Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana, but Brazil and Peru are your best bets to explore the jungle on South America tours, as they have the largest portion of the forest within their borders.
When you head to the Amazon, you ideally want to head on nature walks to see the staggering number of critters that call the jungle home. To simply list all the animals that live in the Amazon Jungle would take hundreds of thousands of words, so for brevity’s sake, suffice to say that the Amazon has everything from jaguars and sloths to piranhas and giant pythons. If you’ve ever wanted to see jungle life up close, boy oh boy, are you in for a grand display of wildlife in the Amazon.
Staying in an eco-lodge within the jungle or taking a cruise down the Amazon River is a great way to explore the rainforest and see the sort of wildlife that most people only dream of encountering on their travels. They also provide sleek accommodations, so you can enjoy the comfort and style of world-class hotels while also being in the heart of the jungle.
2. Survey the most biodiverse islands on the planet
If you’re a true nature junkie, you’ll want to experience the diverse array of wildlife found on the Galapagos Islands, in Ecuador. As the world’s most biodiverse island chain and indispensable scientific assets, the Galapagos Islands are marvels to both travellers and scientists. The Galapagos Islands have fascinated people for centuries and the rare micro-climates of the islands have helped move along scientific breakthroughs, such as Charles Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection.
If you’ve ever wanted to see giant tortoises roaming a volcanic island landscape or to spot blue-footed boobies landing on the beach next to you, you should head to the Galapagos Islands. You’ll find so much to occupy yourself on a cruise throughout the archipelago. At the Green Beach, you can see how the olivine crystals in the sand make the beach seem green. From sea lions lounging on the beach to iguanas sun-tanning on rocks to the hammerhead sharks and golden rays in the waters off the islands, you’ll see so many incredible animals on a trip to the Galapagos. And the landscape itself is no second fiddle to the animals. The lava fields, dried-up calderas, and bizarrely contrasting environments, with prickly-pear cactus groves on one island and lava tunnels on another, are endlessly fascinating. To say that there are no islands like the Galapagos on the planet is an understatement. They’re some of those places that only South America can boast of having.
3. Visit the most popular landmark in the world
Machu Picchu is popular for a reason. As the crown jewel of the Sacred Valley of the Incas in Peru, Machu Picchu is an incredible citadel pitched on the top of a mountain that was unknown to broader civilization until 1911.
There’s no point in denying its evocative nature. Everyone wants to feel like a jungle explorer at some point in their life, traversing through ancient ruins in a tropical climate, like they’re Indiana Jones. Machu Picchu is one of the only places on the planet where you can achieve that incredible sense of wonder. It’s impossible to oversell just how awe-inspiring the place is. You’re seemingly walking among the clouds as you explore the stone walls and medieval terraces of the abandoned ruins. Machu Picchu lets you turn the stuff of fantasy into reality.
4. Be a trendsetter by heading to the world’s new hotspot
Every few years, a new country charges to the fore and suddenly becomes the newest, hottest destination on the planet. It happened to Iceland back around 2010 and now it’s happening to Colombia, as it jumps ahead of other destinations to become the trendy spot to head to in 2017. A big part of this is the recent peace deal between the communist FARC rebels and the government, which put to rest over 50 years of unrest.
Today, Colombia continues to open up to the world and you can beat the inevitable oncoming tourist rush by heading on a Colombia vacation as soon as possible. The country has a lot to offer, and it won’t take you long to see why it’s becoming so popular. You’ll find Cartagena along the Caribbean; it combines colonial-style buildings in the city centre with lavish beaches and resorts along the coast. In Medellin, you can see a city transforming itself with outdoor escalators and a renewed focus on green spaces and community spaces, turning a chapter on the Pablo Escobar-dominated past. In the capital, Bogota, you can see a resurgence of the arts scene, with the decriminalization of graffiti leading to a boom in fascinating street art and incredible murals across the city. Colombia is on the cusp of being the world’s go-to hotspot, so beat the crowds and join the trendsetters on South America tours by heading there first.
Consider a Colombia Vacation – South America’s Emerging Hotspot
5. Walk the best hiking trails in the world
There are plenty of spots the world over that cater to outdoors enthusiasts, but few places can match Patagonia. Pitched at the southern end of the continent and branching across the border between Chile and Argentina, Patagonia is a stunning landscape of towering rock spires, unpopulated stretches of terrain, and massive glaciers. It’s a hiker’s paradise.
If you want to don your best hiking boots and hit trails taking you beneath towering steeples of rock, alongside calving icebergs, and across stretches of landscape where the horizon seems endless and there’s not a soul as far as the eye can see, then Patagonia is for you. In Chile, Torres del Paine National Park is the place to be, with the rock monoliths, the Towers, being the most celebrated natural landmark in the park. In Argentina, explore Los Glaciers National Park and cross Lago Argentino to get up close to Perito Moreno Glacier to stand in awe of its massive ice wall. Beyond the natural landmarks, you’ll also be able to spot plenty of the local residents, including Patagonian foxes, caracaras, South Andean deer, and the llama-like guanacos. They’ll likely be your most constant travel companions in this expansive, empty landscape.
6. Indulge in the world’s new culinary capital
When you think of the world’s leading food cities, you probably think of Paris, New York, and Tokyo. All of these are correct answers, but if you want to visit the newest culinary capital of the world, one that outstrips even these hallowed destinations in the eyes of the gastronomic literati, you should head to Lima, Peru. The Peruvian capital is second-to-none when it comes to culinary innovation.
Lima has seen an explosion in its food scene, with several world-famous chefs heading to the city to open up cutting-edge restaurants, showcasing the country’s mouthwatering flavours. When you head on South American tours, you can sample the city’s flavours for yourself, dining at some of the world’s leading restaurants, like Astrid y Gaston, Maido, or Central. All three of these restaurants are listed among the Top 50 Restaurants in the World, so if that’s not a resounding recommendation to head to Lima, I don’t know what is.
7. Relax on the world’s most iconic beach
There’s no bad reason to head to Rio, on South American tours, but the city’s famous beaches might be the best reason. Rio is a robust city in Brazil, featuring bright colours, bright flavours, lots of heat, and a culture that’ll keep you feeling almost dizzy with excitement. Everything you love about this place comes out on Copacabana Beach, where you’ll be basking in the tropical heat and picturesque sightlines of Rio alongside thousands of other admirers.
When you’re not relaxing on the pristine four-kilometre stretch of Copacabana Beach, you can head up Corcovado Mountain to see where Christ the Redeemer watches over the city. You can take some time to visit the Favelas to gain some insight into how over 150,000 Brazilians live their lives on the margins of society. Or you could simply stalk the restaurants located on the edges of the beach strip, dining on the incredible flavours of churrascaria BBQ or savouring a caipirinha cocktail. If you want to tap into the very essence of good living and excitement, Rio offers you endless opportunities to do so.
8. Feast on incomparable wine and meat
Food is a big part of why everyone travels. There’s no need to wonder why so many people flock to France and Italy each year. Putting aside the endless lineup of landmarks these countries contain, the food is enough to pack the seats. So if you’re looking to indulge yourself on food and drink when travelling, but aren’t looking to only sample the cutting edge like you would in Lima, you should head to Buenos Aires, where steak is king and red wine flows like a fountain.
The Argentines are famous for their appreciation of steak, so if you love red meat on the bone, you might be in paradise here. Nothing pairs with the famous Argentine bife de chorizo like a nice Malbec, which is abundant in the city. Dinner happens late in Argentina and can last long into the night, so by the time you’ve gotten through all the courses of picada and mate and have finished off the bottle (or two), you’ll have essentially spent the day feasting. It sounds like a good life, and one that should appeal to all hungry (and meat-eating) Globetrotters.
9. Admire the largest waterfall system in the world
Argentina and Brazil might not share a common tongue (Argentines speak Spanish, while Brazilians speak Portuguese), but they do share the world’s largest waterfall system – Iguassu Falls. Perched on the border between Brazil and Argentina, Iguassu Falls comprises around 275 different waterfalls within its awe-inspiring water system. If you’ve ever been to Niagara Falls and were wowed by its size, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Iguassu Falls are massive and churn through incomprehensibly-large volumes of waters every second. The Argentine side offers panoramic views of the falls and the water flowing in the area atop the falls, while the Brazilian side offers a more comprehensive view of the falls. You’ll need a visa for both countries to cross the border between the two and admire the totality of this incredible waterfall system. If you’re especially adventurous, you can ride a helicopter high above the falls and admire them from the sky, or take a boat out onto the water and dip beneath the falls themselves, where you’re sure to be enveloped in mist. You’ll get soaked, but it’ll be an incredible experience to enjoy on South American tours.
10. Experience the gateway to the edge of the world
South America also contains the edge of the civilized world. In Tierra del Fuego (literally “the End of the World” in Spanish), you’ll find the adventure town of Ushuaia, which is known as the gateway town to Antarctica. Most every voyage that travels to Antarctica begins in Ushuaia, where cruise vessels either cross the Drake Passage or head to the South Pole via the Falkland Islands. If you have any ambitions to conquer the seventh continent, this is your starting point.
Of course, it’s also a fascinating corner of the earth in its own right. As it caters to adventurers, it’s a place where you can swap stories with fellow Globetrotters or enjoy a pint at the world’s southernmost microbrewery. You can also head to the museum or explore the nearby landmarks to learn about its history in the pre-Columbian era and its past use as a penal colony. If you’ve explored most of the world and only have one continent left to cross off your bucket list, set your sights on Ushuaia and the edge of the world.
These highlights are only 10 of innumerable reasons to head on South American tours. This is a continent that provides endless adventure and the opportunity to see some of the greatest sites on earth. From the world’s largest rainforest to the most popular archaeological site on the planet, to the world-class cities that continue to enchant visitors, South America is full of wonders. It’s time to get globetrotting and see it for yourself.
Get the latest travel trends & hear about the best deals on vacations around the world.
If you’re a Globetrotter, these are the newsletters for you!