South America is home to epic landscapes, lush jungles, lost civilisations, vibrant cuisine and some of the most welcoming people on the planet. If you’re struggling to decide where to go, here’s our list of must-visits…
Machu Picchu, Peru
An UNESCO World Heritage site, Machu Picchu is a historical ruin that is located within the Machu Picchu Historic Sanctuary. The sanctuary spreads across over 32,000 hectares in the basin of the river Vilcanota-Urubamba, with records dating it back to around 1450 and the reign of the Inca King Pachacutec, known as the founder of the Inca Empire. The exact purpose of Machu Picchu’s construction is still currently unknown, but the most popular theory is that it was designed and built to provide accommodation for up to a thousand people from the Inca Empire who were of higher class and religious significance.
The site features more than 150 buildings, ranging from houses, to public baths and temples. Many of the staircases are carved from single slabs of stone. Incas were considered some of the best masons in the world, highly skilled in their craft. The site of Machu Picchu was constructed using a technique called ashlar, where stones are specifically cut to fit closely together without mortar. Although many of the stones used to construct Machu Picchu were heavy and weighed more than 22kg, it is said that that no wheels were used to transport these rocks up the steep mountain.
The site of Machu Picchu is open all year round. When planning your visit, bear in mind that the rainy season runs from October through to April. Expect the most crowds in the peak season (between July-August), and on Sundays, when people who live in the Cusco province can access the site for free.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The vibrant and buzzing city of Rio de Janeiro has been a favourite with tourists for decades. Discover the culture, heritage and history of one of the most lively cities in South America. Colloquially known as ‘Rio’, Rio de Janeiro is the second largest city in Brazil, and the third largest metropolitan centre in South America. It is the most-visited city in South America, which means that there’s lots for visitors to do and see.
Temperatures in Rio de Janeiro are generally hot for most of the year, reaching between 21-27°C. Coastal areas can be cooler due to the breeze from the Atlantic ocean. Rio de Janeiro is a popular location for surfing and beach-goers due to its lively beach scene. Other notable activities in Rio de Janeiro include Tijuca’s rainforest hiking trails, taking a day trip to visit the statue of Christ the Redeemer, and taking the cable car to visit Sugarload mountain for stunning views across the city. The city’s Jardim Botânico is also worth a visit, with more than 5,000 species of plants and trees and 900 different species of palm tree.
Cotopaxi National Park, Ecuador
If you’re visiting the Quito part of Ecuador, Cotopaxi National Park is just a short distance away, making it ideal for a day trip. Many visitors come to this national park for amazing views of the Cotopaxi volcano. If you’re a morning person and would love to see early morning views of the volcano, it may be worth staying in an overnight lodge in the area, as camping restrictions are currently in place (due to the volcano erupting in 2015). The best time of year to visit the park for the best views of the volcano is between July and October, during the dry season. Lodges for visiting the park are located outside the North Gate. If you plan to take a hike up the trail to the Jose Ribas Refuge at an altitude of 4500 metres, you will require good fitness and strength to do so. The reward comes with spectacular views on a clear day.
Iguazu Falls, Argentina and Brazil
Sprawling across the borders of Brazil and Argentina, the epic display of Iguazu Falls is an experience that will stay with you for a lifetime. One of the most awe-inspiring and famous waterfalls in the world, Iguazu Falls was created by a volcanic eruption that caused a massive crack in the ground. The Paraná River tumbles over the edge, creating this wonderful spectacle courtesy of Mother Nature. Iguazu Falls is 31 metres taller than Niagara Falls, and is almost twice as wide.
When you visit, you certainly feel its magnitude, as 62,000 cubic feet of water gush over the edge every second. Our advice is to pack waterproofs as you’ll certainly need them! The falls have been featured in many famous films, including Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Summer makes the humidity very uncomfortable for visitors, so many plan their trips in spring or autumn to get the best weather and conditions.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
A lively city with tons of energy and character, Buenos Aires is about chilled days and staying out all night. Visit the Bosques de Palermo, a beautiful park with plenty of native plants and trees, including purple Jacaranda trees, or see a live tango performance in the La Boca neighbourhood. You may even get pulled in by a street performer who will teach you a few steps.
Take some time to check out Teatro Colón, one of the most famous opera houses on the planet, before taking an afternoon nap and getting ready to party all night long. Weekends in Buenos Aires involve a late dinner, before heading to a bar at midnight and then a local dance club at 2 or 3am. Locals in fact stay out all night, until sunrise. Spring months in Buenos Aires (September-October), are warm and pleasant, and are ideal for walking around. Summer months can be too hot and humid, and especially uncomfortable for touring the city during the day.