5 Countries To Visit in South America – Adventure Awaits
South America. Are you thinking of Rio Carnival and Christ the Redeemer and beaches galore? I know I am. But South America is huge, it’s wild, it has culture and history and food to discover at every turn, and it’s very easy to get off the beaten path. With so many world-famous cities and sights, would you go in search of the highlights or the hidden gems of this lively continent?
The highlights of South America
If you’re a backpacker, you can travel on a small budget around South America for a very long time. But if you’re travelling with a group, and your goal is to get the most out of a shorter trip, having it arranged for you might be the best option for an unforgettable experience. It’s always good to have expert local knowledge, especially if you want to do things like Jaguar spotting in the Brazilian Pantanal, the world’s largest wetlands – chock-full of wildlife, or including a trek to Machu Picchu in your itinerary before setting off to find the best steak you’ve ever tasted.
Whether your dream adventure includes meeting a Shaman from the Andes or a Gaucho in Argentina, here are the highlights of 5 countries to visit in South America to whet your appetite for exploring this incredible continent.
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The highlight of most travellers trips to Uruguay is taking in the picturesque capital of Montevideo, rich in culture and neoclassical buildings. Get into the local vibe by drinking mate, enjoying an asado (barbecue), and checking out the beautiful waterfront.
When you’re feeling adventurous, head out to coastal fishing towns for surfing and hiking, and checkout Punta del Este, the ‘Hamptons of South America’, for the international party scene. You can try the simple life as a gaucho, horse-riding and living on an estancia, or head to the remote Parc Nacional de Cabo Polonia to spot sea lions, whales, penguins and more.
Peru, home to Machu Picchu, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, high up in the Andes. This is one jewel of the Incas that the Spanish conquistadors didn’t discover as they took their part in the empire’s downfall, but you most definitely can. It’s possible to visit on a one day tour from Cusco, or on 4-6 day hikes along the Inca trail if you want to arrive the way the people who built it did. Cusco itself is one of the highest altitude cities in the world and has plenty to explore. Let your stomach be adventurous by trying local delicacies like Cuy (roast guinea pig) and don’t forget that this is the country where ceviche originated.
A visit to Peru is not complete without a stay in coastal Lima, founded nearly five centuries ago and capital to this day. For a less travelled destination, head to historic Arequipa and absorb traditional Peruvian culture there, with the option to go hiking in Colca Canyon, the second deepest in the world.
Argentina is famous for it’s wines and steaks, for being the home of the Tango and for its surprisingly European vibes in the capital, Buenos Aires. Dancing the warm nights away outdoors and exploring the nightlife in the capital is enough for many visitors, but for anyone who craves spectacular sights, Argentina also has you covered.
If you want mountains, high deserts, lakes and the continent’s highest peak, Cerro Aconcagua, The Andes are waiting for you. If a Glacier is on your bucket list, watch Glaciar Perito Moreno as it sheds ice blocks as big as buildings. Iguaza falls is one of the world’s most spectacular waterfalls, straddling Argentina and Brazil in over 2250km of parkland. And as if that wasn’t enough, how about visiting Tierro del Fuego, or ‘the end of the world’. A popular stop before Antarctica, the city of Ushuaia is considered the southernmost city in the world and a jumping off point for all kinds of walking, biking and wildlife spotting tours. Or for some serious R&R, head to the wine region of Mendoza to discover your favourite grapes from the many Argentine classics.
Chile stretches over 4,300km between The Andes mountain range and the Pacific coast. It is home to the Atacama desert, with mountain lagoons, hot springs and salt flats, and the jaw-dropping Torres del Paines national park that sits 2000m above the Patagonian steppe, perfect for trekking and nature.
People love exploring the colourful seaside town of Valparaiso, and the capital of Santiago is famous for views of The Andes and sushi, served Chilean style, with the chance to hit the ski slopes only an hour from the city. A little further out (read: a few thousand kilometres off the coast in the South Pacific Ocean), many visitors come to Chile to visit Easter Island, one of the most isolated places on earth and populated with over 800 of the infamous ancient statues.
And then there’s Brazil. Covering almost half of South America, this is the world’s fifth largest country by head count and by size. You might want to tick off the most iconic sites starting in Rio de Janeiro with Ipanema beach, views from Christ the Redeemer and Sugar Loaf, and by soaking up the culture of the cariocas, the name given to Brazilians from Rio, with some samba dancing.
Fans of architecture have to visit modernistic Brasilia, or Belo Horizonte, the city that gave Oscar Niemeyer his first breaks. Sao Paulo, home of the Paulistanos, is famous for it’s art and culture, the 24-hour party scene and being a haven for foodies. But Brazil’s biggest treasures are the Amazon and the Pantanal wetlands. Filled with monkeys and macaws, dolphins and turtles, jaguars and puma, you can enjoy the spectacular biodiversity by kayaking, boat trips and many other means.
After reading about just a few of the amazing things to do in South America, what would be on the top of your to-do list? Or have you been already and are yearning to go back for more?