Top 10 (plus 1 more for luck) South American Destinations to Visit This Year

South America is a massive continent with more than 17,840,000 square kilometres to explore. There are 12 countries and it is home to many indigenous communities and diverse civilizations. Whether you’re planning a backpacking adventure or want to add some additional stops to your Peru tours, here is a list of 20 South American destinations you won’t want to miss. 

1. The Amazon Forest

Covering an area of 5,500,000 square kilometres, this is one location you have to include in your itinerary. It spans 9 countries but is easiest to visit in Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil as these three countries have the tourist infrastructure to support you. 

Experiences you can include in your Amazon Forest tour include sleeping in a treehouse lodge, night safaris, bushwhacking in search of Anacondas, or crossing the Amazon river in search of indigenous villages. 

2. Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu is one of the 7 Wonders of the World which is possibly why so many travellers don’t mind the 15-hour bus ride to Cusco to start their journey to get there.

You can choose a 4-day hike to get to Machu Picchu or there’s the lazier option of traveling by train.  

3. The Atacama Desert, Chile

Located in the northern part of Chile, this vast desert area is one of the best places to visit if you ever find yourself in Chile. It has an extremely dry desert climate and is surrounded by alien-like landscapes such as Lagunas Altiplanicas and Valle de la Lune. 

Most day trips and tours start from San Pedro de Atacama. Alternatively, you could stay in Antofagasta and visit the Hand of the Desert art installation or the Very Large Telescope (yes, that’s really its name).   

4. Cartagena, Colombia

This colonial city is located on the northern coast of Colombia. Visit this delightful city and you’ll have plenty of photo opportunities. The city is full of colourful streets, stunning architecture, and lots of delicious food to tickle your taste buds. 

Some of the more interesting architectural sites include the Cartagena Cathedral and the Walls of Cartagena. When you need to take a rest, sample some of the local cuisines in one of the outdoor restaurants that line the Plaza Santo Domingo. 

5. Medellin, Colombia

In this city, you’ll experience the fun side of Colombia. As well as lots of beautiful trails to hike, you can also brush up on your salsa dancing skills by attending a workshop or club, or spend your days visiting the many coffee shops that line the city streets.

The city also has a dark history that followers of Netflix’s serial Narcos will recognize. It was the stage of drug lord Pablo Escobar and remnants of that era can be found all over Medellin.  

6. The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Visit the Galapagos Islands and you’re likely to see more wildlife than a year of traveling anywhere else.  A trip to this unique set of islands is expensive but you won’t regret it.

Add this archipelago of volcanic islands to your itinerary and you’ll get the opportunity to swim with sharks, seals, and sea turtles. In addition, you can walk around the islands getting up close and personal with iguanas, various birds, and many more wonderful animals that don’t want to run away as soon as they see a human.  

7. Cusco, Peru

If you don’t mind a hell of a ride to get to your destination, include Cusco in your itinerary. It’s located up in the Andes Mountains, around 3,600 meters above sea level. The altitude can be a problem when you first arrive so take it slow, to begin with. 

8. Huaraz, Peru

Huaraz is a popular hiking place thanks to some of the most beautiful parts of the Andes Mountains that are right on the city’s doorstep. Laguna 69 is one of the best day hikes you can do in Peru, but there are plenty of others to choose from.

For the more adventurous among you, why not spend 10 days trekking the Huayhuash Trail or the 4-day Santa Cruz trail if you’re looking for an ice climbing tour?  

9. Huacachina, Peru

This is a photogenic oasis town in Ica. Opportunities include spending the day relaxing by a small oasis lake, watching the sunset over the Ica desert landscape, or hiking around the dunes. 

Nearby, there are the Nazca Lines that you can see in their true splendour if you take to the sky and fly over the area. 

10. Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia

Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat and is sure to leave you speechless when you first arrive. Make Uyuni your base and from there you can take a tour around the vast and magnificent natural wonder. 

As well as many colourful lakes and psychedelic landscapes there’s also a hotel made from salt where you can spend the night. 

11. Cuenca, Ecuador

This old Spanish settlement was founded in the 16th Century during South America’s colonial period. You’ll find plenty of photogenic European-style architecture thanks to the city’s rich history and strong European influence.

This is just a small selection of the wonderful places you can visit in the fabulous continent of South America.