South America has long been on my travel lust-list, and I know I’m not the only one as the region just continues to get more and more popular among travellers.
With a handful of countries to pick from and a plethora of natural beauty unique to the continent, these 12 places are why South America stays at the number one spot on my bucket list.
1. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
In the recent social media age, Salar De Uyuni has become a popular spot for tourists due its bright white salt rock formations that create the perfect photo op.
Although getting there isn’t easy, its arguably worth it. The flats are often visited as part of a 3-4 day tour, and the best way to get there is to take a bus from Uyuni.
You can hardly blame tourists and photographers for flocking to the Salar de Uyuni, its unique and peaceful landscape is what makes it so breathtaking.
2. Iguazu Falls, border of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay
This stunning waterfall is one of the world’s natural wonders and can be seen from either the Brazil or Argentina side. Brazil’s view is more recommended thanks to its perfect view of the Devil’s Throat and other spectacular angles of the falls.
If you’re wanting to get there from Argentina, the best bet is to take a flight from Beunos Aires to the town of Puerto Iguazú.
From Brazil, probably the easiest way to get there is a flight from Sao Paulo to Foz de Iguassu.
With plenty of observation platforms and foot trails allowing you to take it all in, there’s no excuse not to visit the Iguazu falls.
3. Caño Cristales, Colombia
Caño Cristales, aka the River of Five Colours, is located in the Serrania de la Macarena in the province of Meta. Like a rainbow on water, this is a top example of how naturally beautiful this earth we live on really is.
The red colour of the river is due to the Macarenia Clavijera plant that extends on to the river bed in the rainy season.
There are two ways to reach the river, either from Villavicencio in a DC-3 cargo aircraft that travels there daily, or direct flights from Bogota every Monday, Thursday and Saturday.
The most popular time to visit is from July to December, when the colours are most striking.
4. Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are a chain of islands spread on each side of the equator west of Ecuador.
The islands are known for its wildlife, popular with historians and inspiration for Charles Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection. Examples of these animals are sea lions, penguins and giant tortoises.
The islands are quite precious – all visitors therefore must be strictly accompanied by a National Park tour guide.
Getting to the island from the main land is possible by taking flights from Guayaquil or Quito airports. Quite pricey – but worth the adventure.
5. Salvador de Bahia, Brazil
If you’re keen to get the ultimate fix of Brazil’s history and culture, Salvador is the city for you.
From The Old Town with vibrant, colourful buildings to the Carnival celebrations and thriving music scene, this city has a lot to offer.
The most popular beaches in the Salvador region are Flemengo and Stella Maris.
While popular tourist attractions Rio De Janeiro and Sao Paolo are equally as beautiful, Salvador brings something new to the table.
6. Machu Picchu, Peru
What’s a South America Bucket List without a Machu Picchu honourable mention?
Yes, this popular destination is usually on the top of every South American traveller’s tourist list.
Standing high in the Andes mountains in Peru, 2340m above sea level, the Machu Picchu is one of the most familiar symbols of the Incan Empire.
The best view of the ruins is from the mountain of Huayna Picchu that overlooks the ruins of the site.
There are several walking trails you can take to reach the Machu Picchu, from the popular Inca trail to to the Salkantay trek, the alternative with a stunning view of snowy mountains.
Highlights of the ruins are the Temple of The Sun and the Temple of The Condor.
7. Lake Titicata, border of northern Bolivia and southern Peru
Coveting the title as the largest lake in South America, there are a few sites within the region that are worth a visit.
These include the Isla Da Luna with archaeological ruins from an Inca nunnery, the Isla Da Sol with its beautiful blue-green waters, the underrated Isla Amantani and Isla Taquile and the floating Uro islands.
Getting to the Lake is quite a lengthy process, a 10-hour train from Cusco to Puno, but if you’re up for the adventure then it’s all worth it.
8. Huacachina, Peru
The most bizarre but equally interesting destination on the list goes to Huacachina, a village in the Ica region in Southwestern Peru.
Located in a barren desert, this little town is home to 96 residents and an unusual but fascinating tourist spot.
Though small and remote, Huacachina has plenty of activities to make your stay exciting, including sand boarding and buggy riding on the incredible sand dunes and paddle boating on the lagoon.
photo: Gerardo Leon
By night, the town is lit up and comes alive. Popular bars to visit are Casa De Arena and Da Silva’s House.
9. Casa Del Arbol, Banos, Ecuador
Like Machu Picchu, this is another spot we’d be crazy to leave out on our bucket list.
Let’s face it, the main attraction of this site is the Swing at The End of The World.
After hiking up the path to Bellavista you reach Casa Del Arbol, a treehouse with a swing attached that hangs off the edge of a cliff.
The next step is up to you. Relax, breathe in and take in the glorious view, or, for the thrill seekers, take a ride on a swing that casually hangs off a metal beam with no safety support.
Although some have claimed it’s not as petrifying as it looks in pictures, the only way to find out is going!
10. El Tatio Geysers, Chile
photo: Owen Perry
Located in the Andes mountains of Northern Chile, El Tatio is among the highest elevation geyser fields in the world.
Upon sunrise, each geyser releases a column of steam that condenses in cold air. El Tatio has over 80 geysers, erupting to an average height of 75 cm.
As well as the geysers, the site has a 35°C (95°F) hot spring, and natural mud pots that can be used for face masks. Talk about natural beauty!
11. Santuario de las Lajas, Colombia
This is the spot for architecture buffs. The Las Lajas Sanctuary is a mesmerising basilica church located in Narino, Colombia, built inside the canyon of the Guáitara River.
The church is a historical icon, built 1916 and 1944 to commemorate the appearance of the Virgin.
The easiest way to get here is by a shared taxi that picks you up from the bus station in Ipiales.
12. Mount Fitz Roy, Argentina
This incredible mountain is located in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field in Patagonia, on the border between Argentina and Chile.
The Fitz Roy area is quite popular for treks with various hikes offering tourists spectacular views. Not to miss is the Laguna de los Tres, Laguna Torre and the ascent up to the Piedras Blancas Glacier.
The site is reached by bus from the tourist center El Calafate.
13. Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina
photo: Ivan Dupont
The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of 48 glaciers fed by the Southern Patagonian Ice Field located in the Andes system shared with Chile. This ice field is the world’s third largest reserve of fresh water.
The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of only three Patagonian glaciers that is actually growing.
It’s less than two hours by bus from El Calafate, and it’s easy to book a tour to the glacier. For the more adventurous, book a tour for a glacier walk. Visit the glacier in the summer to watch chunks fall off into the ocean as it melts.
14. Mount Roraima, Venezuela
photo: Klaus Fengler
Mount Roraima is actually the triple border point of Venezuela, Guyana and Brazil.
It’s the highest of the Pakaraima mountain chain in South America and one of the world’s most extraordinary natural geological formations. The 31 square kilometer summit area of Mount Roraima is defined by 400 meter tall cliffs on all sides and includes the borders of Brazil, Venezuela, and Guyana.
The tabletop mountains of the Pakaraima’s are considered some of the oldest geological formations on Earth, dating back to over two billion years ago.
These structures are also known as tepuis, which in Native American Pemón language means “house of the Gods”. The indigenous Pemón people honour the tepuis, believing them to be inhabited by deities.
The easiest way to get to Mount Roraima is by Santa Elena in Venezuela, a small town lying along the Brazilian border. The easiest way to get here is from Boa Vista in Brazil’s northern state of Roraima.
Do you have any places on your South America bucket list that we missed? Please leave a comment for us below!