Man standing in front of Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile

Your Ultimate Bucket List for South American Tours

Looking for items to add to your bucket list, that ever-expanding list of life-changing experiences to have before kicking the proverbial bucket? We’ve got you covered. To find some essential bucket list items, all you need do is look to experiencing South American tours, where you’ll find plenty of destinations that everyone should visit at least once.

South America is full of the sort of world landmarks and life-changing experiences that fill bucket lists. If want to traverse mountain ruins, explore massive rainforests, or visit some of the world’s cultural capitals, South America has you covered. The following are some ideas to add to your own bucket list. We’ve stuck to one bucket item list per country (with one large exception) and have attempted to highlight the broad and endless appeal of South American tours.

The Amazon Rainforest

If there’s one majestic landmark that much of the continent shares, it’s the Amazon Rainforest. Stretching across nine nations and seven million square kilometres, this jungle comprises half of the world’s remaining rainforests. If you have any affinity for nature, you’ve probably dreamed of exploring the Amazon for yourself, traversing its dense jungle floors in search of colourful macaws, or hoping that an adorable sloth will photobomb your selfie.

The Amazon should be near the top of everyone’s bucket list, as there’s simply no place like it anywhere else. It is as vibrant an ecosystem as you can find on our humble planet. There are several ways you can cross this entry off your list. You can head to Peru or Ecuador for a luxury lodge stay in the middle of the jungle, which gives you creature comforts as well as incredible access to hiking trails and wildlife excursions. You can also take an Amazon River cruise, which gives you the opportunity to see long stretches of the rainforest from the incredible vantage point of the water. Either way, prioritize seeing this natural landmark. You won’t be sorry.

Mighty Amazon River and Jungle, South America
Amazon River and jungle

Buenos Aires in Argentina

Tango dancers in La Boca, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Tango dancers in La Boca

If you’re looking to include some city stays on your South American tours, you’d be foolish to leave out Buenos Aires in Argentina. You’re not likely to find a city as suave, gorgeous, or downright sexy elsewhere on the continent (let alone planet). Buenos Aires is the city of tango and Malbec, of Argentine steak and Art Deco architecture. It’s a world capital for culture. If you have an eye for architecture or a passion for food and drink, place this city high on your bucket list.

The city’s architecture draws from European styles like Art Nouveau as well as more modern styles like Art Deco, so you’ll have plenty to captivate your eye as you explore its streets and parks. Be sure not to let first impressions fool you. Yes, the city is somewhat sprawling, but if you focus in on the distinct neighbourhoods or barrios, you’ll find some absolute gems like the balconied presidential palace of Casa Rosada or the massive opera house, Teatro Colon. Head into the heart of the city in Centro to see the most famous sights, or get a taste of the city’s trendsetting styles in Recoleta.

As for food and wine, you’ll find that everywhere you go in Buenos Aires. Argentines are famous for their love of steak, so if you like a good cut of red meat and a hearty glass of Malbec with your meals, you’ll have a ball in Buenos Aires.

Aerial view of Buenos Aires, Argentina
Aerial view of Buenos Aires

The Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia

What a sight of natural splendour! Bolivia might not get as much attention as Brazil or Peru, on South American tours, but boy does it have them beat in terms of stark landscape. The Uyuni Salt Flats are the largest salt flats in the world, stretching over 12,000 square kilometres across the country’s southwest. If you’ve ever wanted to stand alone in a pure white environment with nothing but the sky for company, you should plan a Bolivia vacation.

In many ways, the Uyuni Salt Flats are just what they’re advertised as: impossibly-long stretches of perfectly-flat land that are stark white due to the salt in the soil. In fact, the landscape of the Uyuni Salt Flats is so flat, satellites use them to calibrate their altitude. To add to the appeal, when the salt flats collect water, they reflect the sky, making it seem like the clouds or stars encompass the whole world. If you want to stand in the middle of a flat stretch of land and have the surface of the earth mirror the sky, surrounding you in a blanket of stars, add the Uyuni Salt Flats to your bucket list immediately.

Couple Enjoying Milky Way at Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia
Couple enjoying the Milky Way at Uyuni Salt Flats

Rio de Janeiro in Brazil

There’s likely no more colourful city on the planet than Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. If you want to experience the quintessential colours, flavours, and heat of South American tours, prioritize Rio on your bucket list.

Whether you choose to follow the typical tourist itineraries in Rio or would rather go off the beaten path to sink into the local atmosphere of the city, you’ll find plenty to captivate your attention here. If you’re a sightseer, you will delight in a trip up Sugar Loaf and Corcovado Mountain, where you can ride the famous cable car and find the Christ the Redeemer statue looking out over the city. If you want to revel in the excitement of the city, head to world famous Copacabana Beach and experience one of the best party atmospheres in the Southern Hemisphere. If you want to relax, stick to the beachside neighbourhoods and indulge in churrascaria BBQ chicken or take a samba class to work off some calories.

There’s no end to colourful experiences in Rio. People like to throw around the word “vibrant” when describing cities, but Rio truly earns the description. You really need to experience this city for yourself. You haven’t truly lived until you have.

Aerial view over Rio de Janeiro at Night as viewed from Corcovado, Brazil
Aerial view over Rio de Janeiro at night

Patagonia in Chile

South America boasts such an incredible balance between world-class cities and imposing natural landscapes. Patagonia, which stretches across the southern reaches of Argentina and Chile, is one of the latter. This dry, empty, breathtakingly-gorgeous region is a backpacker’s paradise. If you like to head on hikes during your vacations, or merely enjoy the sight of gorgeous landscape devoid of any human presence, you’ll love Patagonia.

Patagonia varies between deserts, grasslands, and the peaks of the South Andes. The Chilean side is the most popular, so if you want to experience quintessential Patagonia, connect to Punta Arenas and continue into Torres del Paine National Park. Torres del Paine is full of great hiking trails that take you alongside crystal-clear lakes and imposing glaciers, but its best known for the eponymous Towers that dominate the area. These three rock monoliths stand almost 3,000 metres tall and adorn most photographs of the region. A hike up to their base to admire their stark beauty is a stunning experience.

While Patagonia is some of the emptiest landscape in the world, you’ll still find some animal residents to share the area with you, including Patagonian foxes, caracaras, South Andean deer, and guanacos, which you might mistake for llamas. Sharing a quiet walk with a Patagonian fox in the shadow of a mountain is the sort of calming, poetic experience that you might fantasize about having when you’re in the midst of a particularly bad day at the office. Luckily, in Patagonia, you can make that fantasy come true.

Guanaco crossing the river in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Guanaco crossing the river in Torres del Paine National Park

Cartagena, the Jewel of Colombia

Since the government reached a peace deal with the FARC rebels in late 2016, Colombia has opened up its doors to the world and Globetrotters have been more than happy to accept the invitation to explore this incredible country that they were hesitant to visit in the past. While Colombia has many treasures, the coastal jewel of Cartagena, on the Caribbean, will probably jockey to the top of your bucket list.

For Colombians, Cartagena is home to seaside resorts that attract the rich and powerful. You can easily relax alongside these local vacationers on the lavish beaches just outside the city, but the historical centre in town should command your attention. The city centre is full of colonial-style buildings from the 16th century. You can walk along the old city walls that used to serve as defensive fortifications and visit the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, which was the region’s chief fortress. Simply walking the old town streets should serve you for endless Instagram posts and vacation snapshots. You can also take advantage of the city’s culinary scene to enjoy empanadas as you stroll or stop to have a refreshing serving of ceviche.

Colombia has more treasures than Cartagena to explore on South American tours, but in terms of gorgeous sights, accessible landmarks, and a great climate, it’s hard to beat this coastal city.

Colonial and Modern Cartagena, Colombia
Colonial and modern skylines in Cartagena

Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands

There’s a good chance the Galapagos Islands are already on your bucket list. These volcanic islands in Ecuador are simply mind-blowing in their diversity. On one island you’ll stroll through cactus groves and on another island your traverse a beach that seemingly glows green like an alien planet. You wouldn’t think the natural world could be so bizarre, and yet, the Galapagos Islands are here to endlessly surprise us.

The best way to explore the Galapagos Islands is to join an island cruise aboard the many outstanding catamaran vessels that traverse the islands. These cruises take you to an assortment of islands and provide comfortable accommodations when you’re not out exploring. As well, the cruises are staffed by reliable nature experts, so you’ll have all your budding questions about the bizarre natural world of the Galapagos Islands answered by your guides.

If you’ve ever wanted to follow in the footsteps of scientific icons like Charles Darwin, spot giant land tortoises traversing a volcanic island, or see blue-footed boobies or albatrosses following you from high in the sky, you need to finally cross this destination off your bucket list.

View of two beaches on Bartolome Island in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
View of two beaches on Bartolome Island in the Galapagos Islands

Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley of the Incas in Peru

You didn’t think we’d forget the continent’s pride and glory, did you? If you dream of traversing ancient worlds, summiting mountains, or having experiences that take you outside yourself – where you can truly comprehend the majesty of the planet you inhabit and the incredible treasures human beings have created – you’ve probably already put Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley of the Incas in your sights. We’re here to give you that extra push to finally take the plunge and visit the world’s most-cherished historical monument.

This mountain citadel sits among the clouds, remnants of a civilization that was at its height prior to European contact, but that disappeared from history soon afterwards, not to reemerge until 1911 when Hiram Bingham investigated long years of local rumours and brought the citadel back into the public consciousness. Machu Picchu is as majestic a landmark as you can visit on South American tours. When you explore its ruins and walk among the stone-walled terraces that pepper the mountainside, you’ll be overcome by the serenity of the world and the breathtaking beauty that human beings are capable of. Think about it… modern skyscrapers that sit amongst the clouds in cities like Dubai are impressive enough, and they were only built less than a decade ago. Machu Picchu, which is draped in clouds and demonstrates some of the most ingenious high-altitude architecture you could ever imagine, dates back over 500 years, meaning that people were able to create such impossible beauty hundreds of years before you were born.

Machu PIcchu, Peru
Machu Picchu

The whole idea of a bucket list is to have experiences that ratify the beauty of life, adventures that make you appreciate what a gift it is to be alive and live in this wide world of ours. Any of these South American highlights would be capable of doing just that, expanding your horizon and making you appreciate the world that much more.

Don’t let the world pass you by. Head on South American tours and grab life by the horns.

Related Article:
Five Exciting Adventures on South American Tours

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Aren Bergstrom
Aren Bergstrom

Globetrotting Editor - You might say that Aren was destined to become a Globetrotter after his family took him to Germany two times before he was four. If that wasn’t enough, a term spent in Sweden as a young teenager and a trek across Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand confirmed that destiny. An independent writer, director, and film critic, Aren has travelled across Asia, Europe, and South America. His favourite travel experience was visiting the major cities of Japan’s largest island, Honshu, but his love for food, drink, and film will take him anywhere that boasts great art and culture.

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