Alluring, adventurous and awe inspiring – South America in a nutshell! But what are the best South America adventure travel destinations?
Adventure travel in South America
Until relatively recently South America was a slightly scary proposition for many travelers. But these days much of the continent is safe and easy to visit. That said it is still an adventurous destination, it’s just a lot more accessible.
Of all the world’s continents, South America has been the source of the most mystery and intrigue. Perhaps because of the mighty and still unexplored Amazon. Or the other worldliness of some of the indigenous cultures.
Or maybe it is the residual fascination of Columbus discovering the New World back in 1492. For whatever reason, South America always had an allure but one that was tempered with caution.
Continent of contrasts
In recent years this view of South America has changed enormously. As more and more people visit and explore, they have discovered a continent of almost inconceivable contrasts.
A place dominated by some of the most extreme yet beautiful places on earth. Populated by some of the friendliest, most welcoming and generous people anywhere on the planet.
The wildlife is colourful and exotic as are the plants. And with everything from rainforests to deserts, mountains to coasts and wetlands to salt plains to explore there is incredible diversity.
Best South America adventure travel destinations
So where do you go? In such a vast and varied continent, where do you start your journey? Here are 15 suggestions for destinations you simply have to visit in South America.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Copacabana, Ipanema and the giant statue of Christ the Redeemer on Sugarloaf Mountain. Rio is a place that has its fair share of iconic imagery.
Add the football World Cup of 2014 and Olympics in 2016. And you have one of the most recognisable cities on Earth.
Of course the Rio Carnival – held each year in the lead up to Ash Wednesday, usually February or March – is a great time to visit. Known as the biggest party in the world there are around 2 million people partying in the Rio streets each day.
Of course there is a lot more to Rio than the carnival and the highlights above. Whatever time of year you visit there are many cultural delights and adventurous experiences that make it one of the best South America adventure travel destinations.
To really find out about Rio we recommend you join a tour by Rio Cultural Secrets. They run private, fully customised tours in Rio de Janeiro and private hiking tours in nearby Ilha Grande, Pedra do Telegrafo, Pedra Bonita and other popular destinations.
Tours by Rio Cultural Secrets include everything from history to hiking, city tours to sailing, favelas to beaches and nightlife to national parks. All the major sites can be included, but you’ll also get insider information from friendly and knowledgeable local guides.
Machu Picchu, Peru
We’ve all seen the photos of this extraordinary place. But seeing it for yourself is indescribable. Built in the Andes of Peru, this forgotten city was rediscovered in 1911 and quickly gained worldwide recognition.
Although it can be reached by train from Cusco many people choose to trek the Inca Trail instead. Walking into the mountains takes you over various high passes and can be very challenging.
The classic route takes three to five days although there is also a one day option. With many treks which lead to Machu Picchu, taking up to 13 days, you can choose one to suit you.
There are many other great inca sites in Peru that you could visit and which are less busy. So to get away from the crowds why not try something different.
Angel Falls, Venezuela
If Machu Picchu is one of the high points of human achievement on the continent, this is one of nature’s greatest feats. Falling 979m, with a single fall of 807m, it is the highest waterfall in the world.
Angel Falls is named after the American pilot whose plane crash-landed at the site. It is without doubt one of the best South America adventure travel destinations and should not be missed.
To reach it you trek through the jungle and navigate the grasslands until you come across this simply spectacular site. It’s easy to see why Arthur Conan Doyle used the area as the basis for Lost World.
With the highest quality of life in all of South America the cosmopolitan city of Montevideo should be visited. Unlike many other destinations in South America Montevideo does not pander to tourism so what you experience is the same as the locals.
Stunning beaches, great food and plenty of culture make for a fun destination that feels authentic and unforced.
The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Made famous for inspiring Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theories, the Galapagos Islands are found off the coast of Ecuador. The rich diversity of life both on the islands and beneath the waves is astounding.
The Galapagos are one of the last truly unspoiled natural habitats. Here man actually respects the boundaries of the natural world and everything is preserved.
Also the animals that live here are unburdened by the instinctive fear of man. There is some good hiking, great scuba diving and other water sports to try. All of which makes it a truly unique place to visit and one of the best South America adventure travel destinations.
The Pantanal, Brazil
This area of Brazil is perhaps the wildest anywhere on the planet. It certainly has the greatest density of animal life anywhere in South America. And in a continent as wild as this one that is really saying something.
The wetlands, created by seasonal flooding, are some of the largest and most diverse freshwater ecosystems in the world. There are many adventures to be had including kayaking and canoeing.
In addition to freshwater wildlife, you might also be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the beautiful but elusive jaguar or ocelot. Plus countless species of hummingbirds and parrots.
Paraguay in one of the least visited countries in South America. This is mainly because it lacks the mega attractions of other countries.
However, this lack of visitors makes Paraguay one of the best South America adventure travel destinations. So if you are looking for an authentic Latin American experience head to Paraguay.
Easter Island, Chile
Almost as iconic as Machu Picchu, the stone heads on Easter Island, Chile, create an image that resonates around the world. Who were these stone men and who put them here? It is a mystery that will perhaps never be solved.
The Polynesian culture that created them has long since vanished and left us no clues about the stone heads origins. All we are left is to enjoy their mystery and the stunning location in which they have out-endured their makers.
Los Nevados National Park, Colombia
Found in the Colombian Andes this is one of the best South America adventure travel destinations if you like national parks. The skyline is dominated by huge volcanic peaks like the Nevado Del Ruiz. And amongst the peaks are found pristine volcanic lakes, such as Lake Otún.
Home to many endangered bird species, you can see the Andean snipe and Colombian torrent duck. The waters are teaming with beautiful rainbow trout for the fishermen to enjoy. It’s a stunning place to visit.
Tierra del Fuego, Argentina
With the Amazon, Andean mountains and stunning Caribbean beaches, there is no shortage of beautiful landscapes in South America. But the most stunning is possibly at the southernmost tip.
Tierra del Fuego (literally meaning Land of Fire) is an archipelago of islands off Argentina. With snow capped mountains and a dramatic volcanic landscape, this is a place like no other. You can even ski and snowboard at Cerro Castor.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Located in the south-western corner of Bolivia, this place is truly unique in nature. It is the world’s largest salt flat, found at an altitude of 3,500 metres.
The influx of tourists to see the incredible landscape, has brought structures and buildings. But here in Salar de Uyuni, these are no ordinary buildings – they are all made of salt.
The whole place has a very unusual and surreal vibe that you have to experience first hand.
Torres Del Paine, Chile
Based in the Patagonia region of Chile this is a stunning part of the world. Huge granite spires rise above glaciers and lakes. It is home to very challenging mountaineering, world class rock climbing and some of the best trekking on the planet.
Puerto Chicama, Peru
Chicama has one major claim to fame, it has the longest surfable wave worldwide. Conditions are ideal for beginners and intermediates and are usually at their best May to September. If you want to break records then wait for a big southern swell.
Iguazu Falls, Argentina & Brazil
Located on the border between Brazil and Argentina you’ll find Iguazu Falls. Consisting of 275 falls it is the largest waterfall system in the world – bigger than either Niagra or Victoria Falls.
The Amazon, nine countries
Covering a simply vast area, the Amazon is the largest rainforest on the planet. Still largely unexplored (and often unexplorable) just being here is a magical feeling and makes it one of the best South America adventure travel destinations.
The facts about the Amazon are mind-boggling and too many to list here. But we’ll leave you with one: There are an estimated 2.5 million different species of insect in the forest. Incredible!
Different parts of the Amazon offer different experiences. You can visit in Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Suriname, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Guyana, and French Guiana.
Want to save money visiting these destinations? Then check out our South America adventure discounts. You could save a fortune!