South America and its patchwork of legendary landscapes do not disappoint. The continent delights travelers and its spirit is infectious. No matter where you go, the awe-inspiring views of snow-capped mountains, treacherous jungles, surreal deserts, and spectacular mountain ranges will sweep you away. Here are the top 10 most spectacular places of South America that should be on your bucket list.
10. PANTANAL WETLANDS, BRAZIL
Created by seasonal flooding of the river Paraguay, the Pantanal is the world’s largest freshwater wetland. With a total area of almost 195 000 square km (or 75 000 square mi), it is 20 times the size of the famed Everglades in Florida, the majority of it being located in eastern Brazil, with the rest in Bolivia and Paraguay. This pristine and immense area is home to a staggering variety of plants and wildlife. And while many flocks to the Pantanal on a photographic safari to see the majestic jaguar, a number of colorful birds, hummingbirds, macaws, and parrots inhabit this area.
9. ATACAMA DESERT, CHILE
Stretching 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) in northern Chile, the Atacama Desert rises from a thin coastal shelf to the pampas, virtually lifeless plains that dip down to river gorges layered with mineral sediments from the Andes. At its center, the Atacama is known as the driest place on Earth. There are sterile, intimidating stretches where rain has never been recorded, at least as long as humans have measured it. Fiery red canyons, grassy gorges, turquoise thermal lakes, cerulean lagoons, and geysers give this arid lunar landscape an otherworldly appearance. The crystal-clear skies, high altitudes, and zero light pollution also make it an unparalleled stargazing haven.
8. LAKE TITICACA, BOLIVIA
In Andean belief, Titicaca is the birthplace of the sun. With a surface elevation of 3,812 meters (12,507 ft), South America’s largest lake is also known as the highest navigable body of water in the world. Enthralling and in many ways singular, the shimmering deep blue Lake Titicaca is the longtime home of highland cultures steeped in the old ways. Copacabana is the heart and largest town on the shore, but the experience doesn’t end at the shore. There are trips to the many islands that speckle the shoreline (such as Isla del Sol, the sacred Inca island), hikes to lost coves and floating islands, and chance encounters with locals.
7. PERITO MORENO GLACIER, ARGENTINA
The Perito Moreno Glacier is a glacier located in the Los Glaciares National Park in southwest Santa Cruz Province in the Argentinian Patagonia. The 250 square km (97 square mi) ice formation, which has a length of 30 km (19 mi), 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. Perito Moreno Glacier is probably the world’s most famous glacier because of its dynamic changes, which produces a cyclic phenomenon of forwarding and backward movement, with large pieces of ice falling from its front walls in dramatic collapses.
6. IGUAZU FALLS, BRAZIL & ARGENTINA
One of the planet’s most awe-inspiring sights, the Iguazu Falls are simply astounding. A visit is a jaw-dropping, visceral experience, and the power and noise of the cascades live forever in the memory. There are more than 270 falls, reaching heights of 200 feet (60 meters), in an area where cliffs and islets are scattered in a half-moon. An added benefit is the setting: the falls lie split between Brazil and Argentina in a large expanse of the national park, much of it rainforest teeming with unique flora and fauna. The falls are easily reached from either side of the Argentine–Brazilian border, as well as from nearby Paraguay.
5. AMAZON, ECUADOR
The world-famous Amazon is an enormous region covering about 40% of the South American continent and it touches many countries. It is world’s most diverse biological area, with the highest concentration of plant and animal life of any region on the planet (although animals such as monkeys, birds, caimans, and tarantulas are sometimes difficult to spot because of the dense foliage). And while Ecuador’s borders contain a mere slice of the Amazon, the country is one of the more popular entryways, because the rainforest here is diverse, with quiet blackwater lagoons, raging chocolately rivers, dense tree canopies, and flooded forests.
4. SALAR DE UYUNI, BOLIVIA
The savage beauty of this vast salt desert, the world’s largest salt flat, makes it one of South America’s most awe-inspiring spectacles. Photographers flock here to capture the unique landscape, from strange islands in a sea of blindingly bright salt to delicately colored mineral lakes in the Andean mountains. Although the dry season is recommended for its limitless horizon perspective; the rainy season also provides Dali-inspired reflective photos that make amateur photographers look like pros. The salt flats are often part of a 3-4 day tour in Bolivia that promises to defy expectations and include such unusual stops as the Salt Hotel.
3. ANGEL FALLS, VENEZUELA
Angel Falls is located in the Canaima National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, in Venezuela. The world’s highest waterfall, it spills from the Auyantepui into what is known as the Devil’s canyon 979 m (3211 ft) below. The indigenous people call it Kerepakupai-mer but is was named Angel Falls after Jimmy Angel, an American bush pilot and gold-hunting adventurer, who discovered it in 1937. The height of the falls is so great that before getting anywhere near the ground, the water is atomized by the strong winds and turned into mist.
2. MACHU PICCHU, PERU
Without a doubt, Peru’s greatest attraction is the mist-shrouded Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, which was only discovered in 1911 and seems to have been utilized by the Incas as a secret ceremonial city. However many times you have seen a photograph, nothing prepares you for the physical reality and scale of Machu Picchu in its mountain setting in the Andes, clinging as it does to rock and jungle. And there’s nothing like the satisfaction of approaching Machu Picchu on one’s own two feet, which is why the incredibly scenic Inca Trail should be on everyone’s to-do list.
1. TORRES DEL PAINE NATIONAL PARK, CHILE
Declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1978, the Torres del Paine national park (situated in the Magallanes 12th region in Chile) is internationally recognized as one of the planet’s most uncontaminated. It’s spectacular, beauty includes vertical granite peaks, immense rivers of ice, wind-swept plains and native beech forest that is home to guanacos, foxes, and pumas. While the most spectacular views will require a bit of effort, anyone can enjoy the park’s main landmarks by driving around, although multiday trekkings are the real thing here. Don’t miss the sunrise, when the horns of the Torres del Paine Massif turn purple and then red.