From the soaring fortress cities of the Incas to the gushing Iguazu Falls, the instantly-recognizable statue of Christ the Redeemer to the mysterious Nazca Lines of Peru, this list of South America's greatest landmarks and attractions is sure to tickle the wanderlust!
Machu Picchu, Peru
Few bucket lists go without the great citadel of Machu Picchu, and it's easy to see why! This mountaintop fortress city was once the home of the pre-Columbian Incas; a place lost between the clouds and cloud forests of the Andes for centuries, until it was finally rediscovered in the early 20th century by the intrepid American explorer Hiram Bingham. The journey to the spot is a dramatic one on its own, with hikes taking travellers through the wet Yungas woods and past the remnants of countless other Incan towns and granaries above the Sacred Valley. Once there, visitors can see the mystical Altar of the Condo (where human sacrifices were once made to the Incan gods), the great astronomical clock of Inti Watana, terraced homes and the crumbling remains of the old Sun Temple.
Amazon River, Brazil
Okay so the Amazon ain't just in Brazil, we know. Instead, this one encompasses countries from Ecuador to Venezuela and is not only one of the longest rivers in the world, but also home to the largest tract of rainforest on the planet. Surely one of the most impressive territories in all of South America, its great biodiversity is one of the top draws. Surrounded by jaguars and peppered with big manatees, populated by ocelots and rare simian monkeys, the whole region is alive! We head to the Amazon in Peru, when we fly out to the far-flung jungle town of Iquitos on our Wonders of Peru itinerary…
Iguazu Falls, Brazil
Although we've officially listed the crashing cataracts of the Iguazu Falls as being in Brazil, they actually straddle the point where the Argentine province of Misiones meets the Brazilian and Paraguayan borders, right in the heart of east South America. That means they can be viewed from any of the above countries. You can also take to the skies on a bucket-list-busting helicopter tour from the Brazilian side, or join Life Before Work's Beautiful Brazil tour to see it with an amazing group of adventureres, and there are even opportunities to sail below the waterfalls – which represent the single largest waterfall system on the planet - themselves!
Las Lajas Sanctuary, Colombia
Something like South America's answer to Germany's Neuschwanstein Castle, this uber-romantic basilica makes its home in a steep-sided canyon on the border between Colombia and Ecuador. Sat atop a plinth of grey stone, the whole sanctuary is built in the distinct Neo-Gothic style, making it look more like a church of medieval England than of the New World. But the landmark is only around 100 years old, and marks a sacred spot where locals believe there are unique Christian healing powers.
Christ the Redeemer, Brazil
Standing tall and high on the jungle-clad mountains above Brazil's lovely beachside strips of Ipanema and Copacabana, Christ the Redeemer is now something of a symbol of this carnival-mad city as a whole. Built in the 1920s, it's famed for its distinct Art Deco look and for being the fifth-largest effigy of Jesus on the planet. Today, trips to the statue are amongst the top things to do in Rio, with a winding narrow-gauge railway taking visitors through the pretty Floresta da Tijuca and up to the panoramic lookout points that encircle the figure. Oh, and in case you're wondering – you will have a chance to visit this one on our Beautiful Brazil itinerary!
Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina
Set deep between the great fells and snow-mantled peaks of Argentinian Patagonia, the breath-taking sight of the Perito Moreno Glacier is a real chart-topper to say the least. It's encompassed by the alpine mountains of the Los Glaciares National Park, just across the border from Chile's famous Torres del Paine (another range of spiked summits that's worthy of this list!). Folk flock in from the nearby trekking town of El Calafate, to watch as huge chunks of ice crash into the water from the end of the glacier. Others will strap on the crampons and take to the ice field themselves, with guided walking excursions of up to five hours available over the crevasses and crevices of the wonder itself.
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
The Galapagos are just a small speckling of lands and rocks that poke out of the Pacific Ocean some 900 kilometers west from mainland Ecuador. First discovered by Spanish adventurers back in the 1500s, the archipelago rose to greater fame in the 19th century, when they attracted one Charles Darwin on his ship, The Beagle. He came to study the unique array of flora and fauna that can still be seen roaming the volcanic valleys and windswept bays. Yep, you too can expect giant tortoises and colossal iguanas, pelicans and dolphins and penguins and more!
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
If you've ever seen those photos of travellers balancing on Bolivian beer cans, or being stamped on by their fellow backpackers in front of a background that's all white, then the likelihood is you've seen the Salar de Uyuni of Bolivia. This sprawling salt flat in the highlands of the Andes is much-loved as one of the best places to play with perspective on those holiday snaps. But of course that's not the reason we'd recommend it (well, maybe not the only reason!). It's also worth seeing for the sheer size and scope of the place; for the shimmering surface of the brilliant white salt against the Latin sun; for the occasional mountain peaking above the horizon like a mirage – truly beautiful!
Angel Falls, Venezuela
The Angel Falls of Venezuela are perhaps one of the lesser-known landmarks on this list. They are also perhaps the hardest to get to of all. Why? Well for one they exist in the tropical depths of Parque Nacional Canaima, deep in the southern recesses of Venezuela. What's more, they are protected by rows of dramatic table top mountains, known here as tepui. However, if you do decide to go and see this one, you surely won't be disappointed! The falls are the highest in the world, clocking up a height of nearly 1,000 meters in total. And then there's the way they roll over the flat-topped escarpment where they originate; like a light wisp of steam and smoke.
Nazca Lines, Peru
A landmark in the most literal sense, the Nazca Lines can be found carved into the dusty, arid swathes on the edge of the Atacama Desert in the southern reaches of Peru. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, they are amongst the most mysterious relics from the days of pre-Columbian South America. Some archaeologists theorize they were intended as pictures for the gods above, and others think they were celebrations of water deities. Whatever the reason for the lines, they remain a real wonder – best viewed on flyovers to reveal the full majesty of sections like the Spider, the Owlman, the Whale and more!
If that's whetted your appetite for a trip to South America, then be sure to head over to our itinerary page and take a look for the adventure to suit you!
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