Updated: Apr 25, 2022
So now that you know when is the best time to travel in South America and that you already learned that you could actually travel all year around, let´s just move to the next step in the planning of your South American journey: The Best destinations in South America.
And as challenging as explaining the seasons in South America at once is, it’s also puzzling to choose the best and most overlooked destinations.
Surely this is just one suggested list of best destinations in South America, since it has lots of amazing attractions that are unique in the world!
How to succesffully choose your destinations
If you are a first-time visitor to South America, deciding which place to visit can be overwhelming. At worst, one ends up attempting to “do” as many as possible within a few weeks— which usually results in everything confusing in your head.
Believe me, this is not an exciting way to remember your holiday.
So then, where should you go? We’ve put together a short list of 5 Best destinations in South America we love. All are worth going and can be visited in a minimum of a 2-week itinerary.
1. Best Destinations in South America: Iguassu Falls, Argentina
They are unique in the world; they are powerful, energetic and breathtaking. I haven’t met a soul that after seeing and feeling the Iguassu falls does not agree with me. For sure one of the best destinations in South America!
Exploring the Iguazu Falls:
There are many ways to live the Falls. Teeming with pure nature, it’s possible to discover the waterfalls from different viewpoints.
There are 2 ways of seeing them, from the superior and inferior circuits both equally attractive. You will either enjoy unforgettable panoramic views of the Falls and from the inferior trail you can reach the base of the waterfalls, and appreciate up close the force of the water. And not only the amazing falls are the attraction, but the possibility of exploring the jungle and having an intimate contact with nature.
If you have time a more adventurous way to see the park is by visiting the San Martin Island. You need to take a motorboat in the wharf, included in the park’s entrance ticket. Cross the inferior Iguassu river and get to the island. There, the circuit is challenging and allows to access to breathtaking views. In addition if you just want to travel by boat Across the Iguassu River, you can feel up close the amazing power of the Iguassu Falls and have an experience of a lifetime.
The Devil’s Throat:
Finally, the most amazing attraction in the park, the Devil’s Throat. It is just the most remarkable waterfall of the Iguassu National Park. Just get on board the Ecological train through the jungle. Walk through to the lookout from which you can see, hear and feel the roaring sound of the falls in full force. Along with the thundering noise of the water, nature here vibrates in every traveller.
How Long to stay in Iguazu:
I suggest at least 2 nights in Iguassu to explore the Iguassu Falls. You need to consider that the Iguassu National Park is also extended in Brazilian territory, which means that there are 2 visits in the park, the Argentine and the Brazilian side.
Where to Stay in Iguazu:
We recommend travellers staying at the two hotels located inside of the park:
There are other options of lodging that we recommend located in Puerto Iguassu, overlooking the river or in the jungle. Although the park can be visited on your own, we suggest to include with your trip one of the tours we offer with a specialized Guide with knowledge in birds, the local fauna and flora and who will make sure that your visit is not affected by the crowds of visitors that go to the park every year.
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2. Best Destinations in South America: Buenos Aires, Argentina
It is the country’s Capital city, the “queen” of Rio de la Plata, main economic, and political and social hub in Argentina. It is the one that looks at the Rio de la Plata and connects the whole country.
Known as “the great porteña city that “doesn’t sleep””, where there are always options to do at any time. In my opinion the most attractive in Latin America in terms of its architecture in emblematic European-style historical buildings, monuments, museums and theaters, magnificent modern buildings, parks and green areas, and narrow streets with their own charm. The cultural aspect of Buenos Aires it’s really unique, the mixture of the chaotic Latin city, this European feeling and its nostalgic way of being, results in a city that captivates everyone.
La Boca & San Telmo:
Visiting La Boca, located at the Arts District, is like going to one of the most historical and legendary porteño neighborhoods. This is a place with authentic popular expression such as its “Caminito” street, identified with tango. In turn, it means going to the roots of their passion for sports, identified with football, where you can find the famous “La Bombonera”, Boca Juniors stadium, which is one of the most important football clubs in Argentina. Even if you are not into soccer, the Bombonera experience is something you will not find anywhere else in the world.
San Telmo, is one of my favorites spots in Buenos Aires. It’s an old neighborhood of narrow cobblestone streets that invites you to walk along it to enter a little in the porteño identity.
And if you are after antiques and street artists don’t miss the emblematic Dorrego Square, of great historical value, surrounded of cafes, bars and restaurants.
But for me what´s really fascinating of San Telmo is that it has also so many other outstanding corners to visit: the “tanguerias” (tango clubs) and the exquisite building of the San Telmo Market, which keeps most of the spirit of the first markets in the city.
Foodies in Buenos Aires:
Definitely a visit to Buenos Aires will guarantee that you will enjoy the best of the foods! For foodies, Buenos Aires is glorious. New trends, styles and fusion of flavors come hand in hand with the new generation of chefs to make us get lost on the “author cuisine” delicacies.
The diversity offered is endless although the “parrillas criollas” (local grills) are always the first on the list. While you decide to book your trip to South America with us we will go further and suggest those hidden restaurants that are not always so handy, some of them even offering a “closed door” restaurant experience in Buenos Aires, just private for few guests or special occasions.
I recommend checking for the Buenos Aires Local tourism site to check “what´s on every week”
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3. Best Destinations in South America: Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay
Just a short 1-hour boat trip from Buenos Aires, you can reach the lovely town of Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay. It’s undeniably worth a visit and not just for a day, I definitely recommend to stay here at least 1 or 2 nights.
Colonia ´s historic neighborhood was declared a World Heritage Site in 1995, illustrating the successful fusion of Portuguese, Spanish and post-colonial styles. It is characterized by its narrow stone streets, which highlight its military tradition. The main attractions of Colonia are strolling around this quite and peaceful streets, visiting the lighthouse, the “Calle de los suspiros” (street of sighs), the old portal and wall of Colonia del Sacramento.
Where to Stay in Colonia:
As far as lodging options, Colonia has really nice boutique properties and farms. In our last visit to Colonia we had a really nice experience staying at Charco hotel; with a great location in the city of Colonia and next to the river, we stayed at the Rancho room, which offers a private small house outside of the hotel building but with all the hotel services.
Wineries we Recommend:
A plus! Not far away from Colonia, you can visit Carmelo, which is a small village one hour from Colonia. We encourage giving the Uruguayan wines a try; these are the boutique wineries we recommend:
– IRURTIA: wine tasting and visit the wineries. – NARBONA WINE LODGE you can visit the winery and enjoy lunch. You can also choose to stay here since there is a very nice lodge. – CAMPOTINTO wine taste and lunch and a nice Posada to stay in Carmelo one extra day.
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4. Best Destinations in South America: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
What to say about Rio de Janeiro? If Buenos Aires is my favorite place because of the Latin – European and cultural mixture, I assure you that Rio mixes its natural beauty with its Latin flavor in a magical way. Rio has been blessed with a landscape that almost no other city in the world has. And the “Cariocas” (that´s how the people born in Rio are called) they know it and they are proud of that. This is for sure one of the best destinations in South America.
Must Do Visits:
One of the must do visits is certainly the famous “Statue of Christ the Redeemer” which can be acceded by train. It has the most beautiful views of the town. Here you realize why Rio is known to be so naturally blessed, because its location over the ocean, the bays and different mountains with its beaches, it hypnotizes anyone. I also suggest if you have the time to try the “Sugar loaf”. The Pan de Azucar is also famous because of its location on top of the mountain that also outstands from the Atlantic Ocean.
Strolling Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, especially on weekends, will allow you to see and enjoy the famous Brazilian beach style, the beach volley, the tiny bikinis of the Brazilian girls, and the samba. On the other hand, Santa Teresa and Lapa are the places we recommend to go for the cultural side of the Cariocas. Famous local artists used to perform here and it’s unquestionably a side of Rio that you want to see.
How Long to Stay:
If you are already thinking of going to Rio, we recommend at least 3 nights in the city, although a longer stay will also mean that you will be able to explore a little further and seeing places like “Buzios beach”, “Angra Dos Reis Beach” and “Paraty”. An extension to any of those beaches is great to add as a beach escape to your South American Journey. We love to suggest this option to honeymooner travellers or families with kids (let us know about this at the starting of you trip planning when you contact us!).
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5. Best Destinations in South America: Machu Picchu, Peru
You might be wondering why didn’t we start the list by naming Machu Picchu, right? Machu Picchu Ruins are located in Peru, and whenever we start with the planning of a south American itinerary we recommend that you finalize the trip here mostly because of the altitude, so your body is fully acclimatized.
Visiting The Ruins:
For me, a trip to Machu Picchu begins firstly by exploring the isolated villages and archaeological sites such as Ollantaytambo, Moray, Chinchero and Pisac. The architectural magnificence of the Incas in Machu Picchu is really one of a kind. The usual way to explore the ruins is by taking the train (from Cusco or Sacred Valley). The archeological site can be reached by the Hiram Bingham train, which ends in Aguas Calientes a small town next to the ruins. The absence of a direct access to Machu Picchu is intentional and it allows controlling the quantity of people that access the site.
The advisable thing is to organize transportation and the entrance fees and guides previously. If you are staying in the city of Cuzco you would first travel from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo, which can be done by train, bus or taxi, and this is a 2 hours duration trip (approximately). Then from Ollantaytambo you will need to ride the train again to get to Aguas Calientes, riding for about 1 hour and a half.
Finally from there you will need to take a bus to the entrance of the Machu Picchu Sanctuary, which takes about 15 minutes. In order to avoid queues we recommend purchasing the ticket for the bus in advance. Also its also important to say that there is a limited number of visitors allowed per day so you need to separate your spaces with a lot of anticipation. (We advise if possible more than 3 months). For more information about the trains, you can visit the Inca Rail website.
All that said, we recommend that you make the tour reservations including the best options of transportations, guides and accommodation when you buy the whole package of your South American trip. This will not only give you peace of mind and the best options available, but you will notice that the cost will not vary that much if you decided to book all items separately. If you want to learn more about when to organize a trip to Machu Picchu, read our Blog post When is the best time to visit Machu Picchu”
Where to Stay in Machu Picchu:
And finally if you are looking for the best lodges next to Machu Picchu, the 2 great places that we suggest for an incredible stay in the area are: – The Belmond Sanctuary Lodge – And the Explora Sacred Valley
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Finally, how do you make the most of your South American visit?
A few suggestions: Wake up early and visit before the crowds set in or if the places stay open until late, just wait for the crowds to leave and visit during the sunset. Take it slow, allow time for each city or national park, you can be overwhelmed by the weather conditions, the altitude, and the cultural differences (the language, the food…). Don’t try to cover all the places in just one short trip.
Subscribe to our Blog or start planning your trip with us if you are ready! We’re here to help you get the most out of your precious time in South America, without compromising on comfort and feeling like you’re rushing around.
Maria Barciela Founder at Across South America
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