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Top 10 Best Places to Visit in South America

While traveling in South America for 8 months, I was constantly amazed by the natural beauty, history, and deep-rooted culture. The diversity of the continent is incredible and you can visit the jungle, desert, beach, and mountains within a matter of weeks. Here are my 10 best places to visit in South America!

Related: The 10 Best Small Towns in South America

1. Cusco, Peru

The former capital of the Inca Empire is a hiker’s paradise. The diversity of landscapes in the region surrounding Cusco is incredible. Even though Cusco is a tourism hotspot, there are plenty of off-the-beaten-path hikes that lead to villages where the indigenous culture is ever-present. The city itself has beautiful architecture and cobblestone streets, and is full of history. Just like any Peruvian city, there are plenty of fantastic restaurants as well. Read more about visiting Cusco!

best visit South America
Laguna Humantay, Cusco

2. Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia

This 12,000 square kilometer spectacle is said to be where heaven meets earth and there’s no arguing with that statement. Sunrise and sunset at the Uyuni Salt Flats is the most spectacular thing I’ve seen in my life. The mirror effect that occurs during the wet season will make you feel like you’re on another planet. This tour is about a whole lot more than the salt flats and you will see the incredible high-altitude desert landscapes of the region. Read more about visiting the Uyuni Salt Flats!

Uyuni Salt Flats
Sunset at Uyuni Salt Flats

3. Lima, Peru

Lima is a foodie paradise for all budgets. There are delicious cheap eats at the central market and sophisticated tasting menus at some of the world’s best restaurants. You can feel the heartbeat of Peru in Plaza San Martín where political activists rouse the crowds with their passionate speeches.

Lima is the most chaotic city in South America and its grandiose plazas and historical neighborhoods offer the perfect break from the action. The city is full of history, past and present. There are ruins dating back to the 3rd-century and an impactful museum on the conflict with the Shining Path that killed tens of thousands. Read more about visiting Lima!

Cathedral of Lima
Cathedral of Lima

4. Ushuaia, Argentina

Walking with penguins is reason enough to board a flight to Ushuaia. The southernmost city in the world is beautifully situated between the snow-capped Fuegian mountains and the sea. After coming down from the penguin high, take on the fantastic hikes that lead to turquoise lagoons and glacier lakes. And yes, the shirts at Ushuaia’s souvenir shops are accurate. It is colder than a penguin’s ass. Read more about visiting Ushuaia!

best visit South America
Isla Martillo, Ushuaia

5. Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

The Galápagos Islands are on everyone’s bucket list and are one of the world’s most unique places. You’ll fall in love with baby sea lions and snorkel with sharks. You can spot endemic Galápagos penguins and see the famous mating dance of the blue-footed booby. Don’t rule out this once-in-a-lifetime experience because of the perceived costs. You can visit the islands without a cruise and island-hop while staying in hostels. Read more about visiting the Galápagos!

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Bartolomé, Island, Galápagos

6. Quilotoa Loop, Ecuador

This incredible 3-day hike through the highlands offers so much more than just the beautiful landscapes. The amazing hostels along the way feel like a home away from home and have fantastic views. You’ll meet plenty of locals as you pass through the tiny villages and be on the receiving end of the biggest looks of disappointment when the kids find out you don’t have any chocolate. Read more about hiking the Quilotoa Loop!

Quilotoa Loop
Quilotoa Loop

7. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

One of the world’s most iconic cities offers the perfect mix of hiking, beaches, and party. Watching the sunset behind Christ the Redeemer from Sugarloaf Mountain is an unforgettable experience. You can laze the days away drinking caipirinhas at Copacabana or see the other side of Rio on a favela tour. There’s no better way to end a night in Rio than at one of the famous samba bars. Read more about visiting Rio!

best visit South America
View from Christ the Redeemer

8. Jujuy, Argentina

The high-altitude desert landscapes of Jujuy have to be one of the most underrated places in South America. The region has a 14-colored mountain, salt flats, Inca ruins, and some incredibly picturesque towns. At some of these sights, you can spend hours marveling at the beauty. To top it off, it’s the cheapest region I’ve ever traveled in. Read more about visiting Jujuy!

Jujuy Argentina
Purmamarca, Jujuy

9. Salento, Colombia

Salento is a charming town in Colombia’s coffee axis with the best hike in the country. It’s the perfect place to relax after spending time in the hectic cities of Colombia. You can tour one of the scenic coffee farms and spend your nights playing Colombia’s coolest drinking sport. Read more about visiting Salento!

best visit South America
Wax palms of Cocora Valley, Salento

10. La Paz, Bolivia

La Paz may be South America’s most unique city and it’s one of the last big cities on the continent with strong indigenous culture. You can do just about everything in this strange, chaotic city. Its city center is home to a prison run by the inmates and there are dead llamas for sale at the Witches’ Market. You can visit the largest market in South America and take in the views from the nine cable car lines. Spend a day biking the death road or escape the city to climb a 6,000-meter mountain. La Paz is a mix of old and new and like much of Bolivia it has retained its authenticity. Read more about visiting La Paz!

best visit South America
Mirador Killi Killi, La Paz

That wraps it up. Now that you know the best places to visit, read about the best hostels in South America!

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