I’ve spent almost eight months backpacking through the vast majority of South America, visiting every country on the continent, most of them two or three times. It’s been one hell of a trip, countless twenty hour ‘night buses’, a few sketchy moments, and a lifetime of memories.
I wanted to share with you guys the TEN best things to see in South America, so if you’re keen hit the continent, you’ll have an idea of what not to miss. Check it out”
Ok, I know not strictly speaking in South America BUT the leaving point is from Ushuaia, Argentina so you have to be in SA to go, therefore this bad boy is No. 1. Ships leave from the Argentina’s southern tip during the Antarctic Summer (Nov to March) and generally run from 11 days to 22 days. Booking in advance can cost anything from $8k to $18k USD but last minute tickets can be found for less than $5k if you’re prepared to hang around Ushuaia for a week or two.
Antarctica is stunning, it’s difficult to articulate just how beautiful it is, but the epic, snow covered mountain ranges, the icebergs, the seals, penguins and whales – everything about the place puts Antarctica number one on my sexy list.
Easter Island, Chile
The only time I got goose bumps during my whole trip this year was watching the sunset behind the Moai heads, sitting in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on the most isolated island in the world, a truly beautiful, wonderful place.
It’s pricey to get to Easter Island as LAN airlines run a bit of a monopoly from Santiago, Chile. I paid around $700USD for my return flights and it was worth every last cent. Three or four days is enough, but the atmosphere on Isla De Pascua is like no other in the world. An absolute must see.
Machu Picchu, Peru
Famous for a reason, that’s for sure. You’ll have to share Machu Picchu with a lot of other travelers, but don’t let it deter you – Machu Picchu is one of the world’s sites that actually lives up to its expectations.
The surrounding landscape is beautiful and both the train to Aguas Calientes and the Inca Trek are awesome experiences to get you to the iconic point at the top of the ruins. Don’t miss it, and remember to book in advance – this place sells out.
Rio De Janiero, Brazil
I was going to add simply ‘Christ the Redeemer’, as it was the thing I wanted to see most on the whole continent, but once you’re in Rio, there’s so much more to see and experience. It’s an amazing city, with an unreal landscape, huge cliffs, like SugerLoaf Mountain, shooting out of the ground and overlooking Copacabana and Ipaneama beach, nightlife in Lapa, and of course for me this year, home to the World Cup Final which I was lucky enough to score a ticket for. Rio is the heartbeat of South America, make it your first or last stop if possible, preferably for Carinival in February.
The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
If you like wildlife, you shouldn’t miss a cruise around the Galapagos Islands. Flying there and joining a boat is the best option, that way you can access some of the islands further afield, jam-packed full of animals. Snorkeling around baby seals while they were teasing a white tip shark was one of the highlights of my year, too cute. You can do it solo, backpacking style, but you miss out on a lot of the top islands, and it doesn’t save that much money, so throw a little more at it and take a short cruise.
Patagonia, Chile and Argentina
El Chalten, El Calafate, Bariloche, Ushuaia and Torres Del Paine, which I sadly missed, are all huge highlights on the continent. The trekking is world class, there are excursions to see penguins and seals, the bus system between all the towns is top notch – try to allocate at least ten days, preferably a chunk more, to explore Patagonia. I loved it, your instagram likes will go through the roof.
Iguaçu Falls, Argentina/Brazil
The continent’s most famous falls spill over the border between Argentina and Brazil, be sure to see both sides when you visit though, even though it’s a pricey visa should you be American, Canadian or Australian (free for EU passports amongst others). The Brazil side lets you see the true size and power of the falls in all their glory, whereas the Argentinian side gives you some up-close-and-personal access, including a boat ride UNDER the falls – make sure you buy the ticket for that experience, so much fun.
Angel Falls, Venezuela
The tallest waterfall in the world at almost 1km vertically, and it’s a mission to access. First of all you have to go to Venezuela, not enjoying the best of reputations right now, then bus to the centre of the country. From there a flight into the Amazon Basin, then a boat ride in a canoe for a few hours, sleep in a hammock in the jungle and a morning hike finally gives you access to the amazing falls. You have to earn this one, and it’s worth the effort. A huge bonus with this one is that you won’t be sharing it with thousands of other travelers, a handful at most – which makes it all the more magical.
Salt Flats, Bolivia
A true mainstay on the travelers’ ‘gringo trail’, the salt flats are an obvious inclusion. I visited this place with my girlfriend, and we stayed in an original, boutique salt hotel perched on the side of the salt flats, this added to the experience so much and although it’s not cheap, it was well worth the $150 or so per night, for one night.
Taking cool pics with distorted perspective was something I had been looking forward to for years, and we nailed it….
Amazon Safari, multiple countries
I managed to hit the Amazonian Basin in Ecuador, but you can do it in numerous countries across the continent, with Brazil being the most famous. Ecuador, for me, was a great option – gorgeous country, and great value. For a couple of hundred bucks you can bus into the basin, get a three night rustic lodge with full board, and wildlife excursions all included – amazing price. So I’d certainly recommend going from Quito, Ecuador. I went here with my mum and she absolutely loved it as well, so it’s senior friendly too.
The continent blew my mind so I had to cheat and squeeze in a couple of other experiences I loved during my time in South America too:
A) Taking Spanish lesssons in Medellin, Colombia: I spent almost a month in Medellin after burning out from traveling too fast. Great city, fun language, epic night life and short term rentals available – hugely recommended folks.
B) Buenos Airies: Tough call between Rio and BA for a spot in the top ten. Rio won out with Christ the Redeemer and the World Cup, but BA was a narrow second. AMAZING city, and the city I’d most like to live in on the continent. Schedule AT LEAST four nights here on your trip, there’s so much to see and do, it’s crazy.
NOTE: I used some AMAZING companies to access all these places, so any questions, just email me or msg me on my facebook fan page and I’ll put you guys in contact with all the superstars I recommend.