South America is a massive continent, but it doesn’t get as many tourists as Europe, North America or Asia. If you decide to go to this part of the world, you are in for a great adventure. To give you some inspiration, check out this list of the best places to visit in South America!
We are trying to include as much variety and as many different countries as possible. Argentina, Peru and Venezuela are represented with three places on this list, while Brazil, Chile and Colombia are represented with two, and Paraguay, Uruguay and Ecuador are each represented with one place. If you have any further suggestions – let us know in the comment section on the bottom of the page.
Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro is Brazil’s most famous city. Despite losing the status as capital to Brasilia in the mid 20th-century, it is still a center for culture, trade and entertainment.
It is the perfect destination if you want to experience everything Brazil is famous for – the beach life, the nightlife, the carnival, the new year’s celebration, and much more. And you get to see world-class attractions such as the Cristo Redentor statue and the Copacabana.
Visiting Rio is more than enough by itself, but if you have a lot of time, consider visiting Ilha Grande, a nearby island with awesome nature. A trip to São Paulo can also be considered.
Some of the world’s most beautiful waterfalls are located in the border area between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. In Portuguese they are called the Iguaçu Falls and it is arguably the top natural attraction in South America.
Most visitors stay in the city Foz do Iguaçu in the state of Paraná when they come to visit the falls. It is an established tourist area and one of the safest places in Brazil. Many local myths and legends are related to the falls, so the place has a rich history, but simply seeing the falls and feeling the energy of nature is enough to create a unique memory.
Paraguay is the most underrated countries in South America. The culture is unique and what most people don’t know is that the Paraguayans speak another language fluently alongside Spanish. The Guaraní language is just as common in Paraguay, and the culture in Paraguay has been influenced by indigenous people as well as Spanish settlers plus later waves of Italian/German immigrants.
The capital Asunción is the natural place to start since you likely find the most connections to this city. Asunción is rich in culture and offers a lot of decent attractions. It has almost merged with neighboring city Luque, home to the South American football authorities CONMEBOL, so these two cities form a large urban area where you can do just about anything.
Uruguay is one of the safest and wealthiest countries in Latin America. The standard of living in Uruguay is similar to that of most European countries, so you can absolutely have an amazing trip there, and you don’t need to take the same safety precautions as you do in Brazil.
Montevideo is by far the largest city so it should serve as a good base while you explore the Uruguayan culture. The Salvo Palace, the port market, and the independence square are some top class attractions. Montevideo is industrial – the city has a massive port where 80% of the entire country’s trade is being handled – but it is also growing culturally, so as a tourist you can certainly have a good time. Located on the northeastern shore of Río de la Plata, you can find multiple ferry connections to Argentina.
Buenos Aires is located on the shore of Río de la Plata as well. It is Argentina’s largest city and home to great culture. The city is known to be very European in its style – some consider it a larger version of Madrid – and the architecture is incredibly beautiful.
The city centre of Buenos Aires is very safe, so you can go there without any concerns, although some suburbs can be dodgy. It is the most visited city in South America, likely because of the popularity of Argentine culture, and because you can do just about anything there.
Home to several inspired musical artists such as Luis Alberto Spinetta and Andrés Calamaro, Buenos Aires has always been famous for its musical and artistic scene. If you want to go to concerts, museums, watch football matches, go dancing, or anything else, Buenos Aires is the perfect place. We highly recommend visiting.
Most people visit Buenos Aires when they go to Argentina. If you want to take a different path, consider a city like Mendoza. Located on the eastern side of the Andes, this city isn’t too far from Chile, and there are roads to Buenos Aires as well as to Santiago.
For several years, Mendoza has been popular among adventurous travelers. This is due to the great opportunities for climbing, hiking, rafting and for playing various sports. You can even go skiing at some points of the year thanks to the proximity to the Andes mountains!
Aside from the many activities in nature, Mendoza is also a somewhat large city with over a million inhabitants. So you won’t be bored from a cultural viewpoint either. If you have already been to Buenos Aires, consider making Mendoza the main destination for your next trip to Argentina.
Patagonia is not a city, nor a specific state in any country, but rather a geographic region that covers the southern parts of both Argentina and Chile.
It is the coldest region of Latin America and it is much less populated than other areas of the continent. Yet, it is full of natural attractions, so despite the absence of prominent cities, Patagonia is a top class tourist destination. It’s the kind of place you visit for a long trip and where you go from place to place. You might run into some gauchos and hear cool stories. Speaking Spanish is particularly useful in this region.
The city Santiago is extremely fascinating. It is Chile’s largest city and it also functions as the capital. It is a center for culture, finance and politics, and it is one of the most developed cities in Latin America.
Named after St. James in Spanish, the city was founded by Spanish conquistadors in 1541. It boomed during the 19th century and a lot of the best architecture dates back to this era.
One reason for visiting Santiago is that you can do pretty much everything there. It is the ideal city to visit if you want to get into Chilean culture. But you also get awesome views when you stay in Santiago. Both the Andes mountains and the Pacific Ocean are within reach, so it is truly a perfect base for a stay in Chile.
Another important Chilean city is Valparaiso. Serving as the principal port of the country, Valparaiso was an important city for stopovers when ships crossed the oceans in the 1800s. It attracted a huge amount of European immigrants and the city became very developed in regards to culture and finance. Some visitors say that Valparaiso has a vibe similar to the vibe San Francisco had a few decades ago.
Unfortunately, when the Panama Canal opened, international ships no longer took the Magellan Strait and this reduced the traffic to Valparaiso. Many inhabitants left to seek out other opportunities, but in recent years Valparaiso has attracted lots of modern entrepreneurs and artists, giving the city somewhat of a Renaissance. It has also become an educational center, so if you want to visit one of the prettiest and most lively South American cities, Valparaiso should be on top of your list!
Peru has several destinations worth mentioning. The first one has to be Cuzco. Not the largest city by any means, but certainly one of the most historic on the continent.
Cuzco was the capital of the Inca Empire for about three centuries. It has significant architectural heritage. The majority is from colonial times as the conquistadors ambitiously constructed buildings and churches in Cuzco. But there are also attractions dating back to the Incas, and they are some of the top sights in Cuzco.
The city is very popular among tourists. Prior to 2020, it received about 2 million tourists per year. Cuzco is a cultural highlight so if you crave for a historic South American destination, there is no doubt that Cuzco is an excellent choice.
Peru’s capital Lima is also worth a mention. Situated in a valley near the coast, Lima was founded by Francisco Pizarro in 1535. It has since grown to be the largest metropolis in Peru. One of the things that makes Lima special is that it has neighborhoods that are completely traditional with the old colonial charm, while other areas of the city are highly modern and with great infrastructure.
The gorgeous nature around the city shouldn’t be underestimated either. The Pacific Ocean is very close to the city as it now extends all the way to the coast. Mountains aren’t far away either, so you can do some great day trips from Lima if you are interested in that.
The culinary scene is off the charts. Lima has amazing restaurants. Peruvian cuisine has become famous all over the world, so it absolutely makes sense to visit the city where the majority of it comes from.
Situated in the mountains of Peru, Machu Picchu is arguably the most famous landmark in the country. This 15th century Inca citadel was discovered somewhat late – Hiram Bingham III announced the discovery in 1911 as archeologists were looking for the Lost City of the Incas. Machu Picchu was purposely hidden by the Incas, with its remote location, so the conquistadors never found it. It is believed that it was abandoned by the Incas who lived there.
By the time westeners discovered Machu Picchu, it wasn’t in great condition, but a lot of it has now been restored. Machu Picchu is such a unique destination because the citadel has the traditional Inca style, it has the great history, and it has a fantastic location in the mountains. It isn’t only the ruins that are interesting – the landscape is just as breathtaking.
Machu Picchu is located near Cuzco, so you should visit both of those places on the same trip.
Ecuador does not get as many tourists as the larger South American countries, but don’t get fooled – the nation has several interesting destinations and one of them is Quito.
Quito is Ecuador’s capital. It is situated 2,850 meters / 9,350 feet above sea level. If you love cities that are in the middle of mountainous terrains, this is an optimal choice. There won’t be any mosquitoes, so this is a major plus.
The central part of Quito is incredibly charming. It is one of the best preserved old cities in Latin America with some great attractions like the Church of San Francisco.
Colombia is a very popular country among tourists, and Medellín is one of the top destinations in Colombia.
Although mostly famous for its cartel in the 1990s, Medellín is now fairly safe. It’s a modern and innovative city with a youthful vibe. Many people go to Medellín to party and be social, so the city is great for extroverted travelers who like to meet new people. The city has nice temperatures all year round, although it can rain a lot – so be prepared for that. If you are looking for a modern travel destination in South America, Medellín is probably the top option.
Bogotá is severely undervalued: It is a large cultural city with many great attractions, and Bogotá offers a surprisingly high quality of living. There are many beautiful and safe neighborhoods in this capital city where you can truly enjoy life.
The city is relatively old – founded by the Spanish in 1538 – and it is located on a plateau in the mountains, over two and a half kilometers above sea level. Just like Quito in Ecuador, that means you don’t have to worry about mosquitoes.
Bogotá has a nice cultural scene with many museums and historic landmarks. There is a fun nightlife, many events, shopping facilities, and great nature in the vicinity of the city. Bogotá has a large airport with many international connections, so it is generally easy to get in.
Most people aren’t interested in visiting Venezuela because of the stories in the news. And while Venezuela has been in trouble for a number of years, it is still possible to get in, and some brave tourists decide to try it. If you want to get inspired, take a look at the travel vloggers on YouTube that have visited Venezuela over the last few years.
You need to take some precautions if you go, but it could end up being the experience of a lifetime.
Caracas is the main city of Venezuela, the country’s capital, and there are plenty of things to do here. You can interact with locals, learn more about the fascinating Venezuelan culture, get some arepas and other traditional foods, while also exploring the history of the city. Caracas has a large airport with connections to Europe and the United States.
Isla de Margarita
Margarita Island, known as Isla de Margarita in Spanish, is a Caribbean island that belongs to Venezuela. The island is an extremely popular destination among Venezuelans, and foreigners also like to visit.
Columbus arrived on the island in 1498. At this point, there were natives living there, and it took about 30 years before the island was colonized by the Spanish. For the last few centuries it has belonged to Venezuela, but it has status as a duty free port.
It’s mostly a destination people visit when they want a nice beach vacation. Isla de Margarita has multiple resorts. Prior to 2010, it was one of the most visited islands in the Caribbean, but tourism has declined due to the problems the country has faced. This has led to more crime, so again, you need to take some precautions if you visit. A good idea is to visit with Venezuelan friends since this will give some security and comfort. Once you get to Margarita Island, you can expect top-class beaches and amazing nature – the island also has mountains.
If Venezuela gets a regime change at some point, Margarita Island will certainly surge in tourism again, so it is a place to keep an eye on!
San Felipe is one of the wealthiest and calmest cities in Venezuela. It’s an important commercial city since it is the largest one in the agricultural region Yaracuy. The temperature is comfortable for the entire year, although some months are rainy. December to March is the best time to go – it will be warm, but not too hot, and it won’t rain too much in that period.
In San Felipe you can see a different part of Venezuela than the parts we see in the news. It is much different than Caracas – it is a mid-sized city with about a quarter million inhabitants, so it has attractions and activities to offer, but it isn’t as overwhelming. Consider going there if you are planning a trip to Venezuela at some point in the future!
To conclude, there are many great places to visit in South America. The destinations described in this article are just a few of them. Nevertheless, they are among the most popular destinations in South America, so if you are going for the first time, you would be wise to include one or more of these places in your itinerary. Have a great adventure if you decide to go to this marvelous continent!