South America Tours and Travel Guide
South America Attractions & Landmarks Guide
While much of South America may speak Spanish or Portuguese, the continent is remarkably diverse – possessing world-class cities, vast areas of rainforest, beach-laden coastlines, fascinating indigenous cultures, rich stores of wildlife, archaeological and historical treasures, and some of the world’s most intriguing islands.
All this is in a continent just two-thirds the size of North America, with 12 independent countries. Travel providers focus primarily on Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, and, more recently, Colombia, though Bolivia, Venezuela, Uruguay and Paraguay are also home to considerable natural and cultural attractions.
Top South America Destinations
Brazil alone is nearly half the size of the entire continent, so between visits to the Amazon region, including the city of Manaus – where you’ll find a 19th century-era opera house that rivaled the finest in Italy – as well as Rio de Janeiro, the Spanish-African fusion city of Salvador de Bahia, and Iguazu Falls, it can easily fill a two-week or more tour by itself. A river cruise on the Amazon and a visit to the cosmopolitan city of Rio make for an almost perfect combination -- and contrast – of isolation and urbanity.
Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina can also easily be destinations unto themselves, or can be combined with each other on longer tours. Ecuador, about the size of Colorado, features not just the Andes Mountains, but exotic jungle lodges in Amazon headwaters, the Pacific coast, the splendid Spanish colonial cities of Quito and Cuenca, the market town of Otavalo, and – far out into the ocean – the Galapagos Islands.
Peru, just south of Ecuador, is best known for Machu Picchu, the ancient Incan city, and Cusco, the Incan capital, but also is the source of the Amazon and shares Lake Titicaca, known for its artificial islands, with Bolivia. Both Ecuador and Peru have rich indigenous cultures, and combined Galapagos and Machu Picchu tours allow you to experience both a natural and man-made world wonder in the same bucketlist-filling trip.
Chile proves one of South America’s greatest surprises. While it receives less publicity than some of its neighbors, it also offers some of the most remarkable landscapes on earth. The world’s driest desert, the Atacama, is here, as is a lovely lake country and remote, mountainous Patagonia, where you can trace Charles Darwin’s voyages aboard a small expedition-style ship and perhaps even land on Cape Horn.
Argentina is best known for trendy Buenos Aires, one of the great South American capitals, but also shares Patagonia with Chile and has its own wine regions. Ushaia, at the southern tip of the country, is a key embarkation point for expeditions to Antarctica, and the Falkland Islands, off the Argentine coast, are frequent stops on small-ship expeditions.
Still not sure where to go or how to get there? Let Stride help you sort it all out. You’ll find travel operators who offer all degrees of luxury (or roughing it), price level, group size, itinerary and more. And soon you’ll be saying hola! or ola! to your next South American adventure.
Things to Know Before You Go
South America has some of the most diverse landscapes and wildlife in the entire world. Laying claim to both the Galapagos and the Amazon, tours in South America often have a heavy focus on nature hikes, conservation, local living, and wildlife photography.
The diverse cultures of South America’s countries and regions are a highlight of many guided tours to South America. You’ll enjoy regional cuisine, perhaps even stay with a local family for a few nights. Learn to tango in Argentina, experience the unique floating villages on Lake Titicaca in Peru, and visit coffee plantations in Colombia.
South America tours often have a heavy focus on eco and sustainable travel. Costa Rica is world renowned for its eco lodges. Many tours highlight the many ways tourism can help with conservation rather than hinder the survival of South America’s stunning natural beauty.
South America also attracts history and archaeology buffs looking for tours that visit the many fascinating ancient settlements. Home to countless ruins, including of course the enigmatic Lost City of the Incas, Machu Picchu, travelers have been flocking to South America for centuries seeking to experience these amazing historical sites for themselves.
There are many ways to plan a tour to Machu Picchu, including hiking the Inca Trail. Many travelers may not be aware, however, that if you are planning to walk this ancient byway, you do need to take a tour. Private Inca Trail tours are available, and a popular option, but you cannot simply hike on your own. Only 500 people are allowed on the Inca Trail every day - this rule has been implemented by the local government in effort to preserve the trail and protect the area. The 500 includes porters and guides, so that leaves room for roughly around 300 travelers.
Plan well in advance if you’d like to see Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail. If you want to see Machu Picchu, but don’t feel like the Inca Trail’s for you, many South America tours still include the famous site. Many visit via the PeruRail route from Cusco.
There’s even a tour in South America for that person who is both a nature and a history lover in South America. The Galapagos Islands - a classic destination, often combined with trips to Machu Picchu or the Amazon.
Off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands are where legendary Charles Darwin did a majority of his research leading to the groundbreaking Origin of Species and scientific theories of Natural Selection. When you visit, you’ll get to see and get up close to the many species that led him to his conclusions about evolution including Galapagos Finches, Giant Tortoise, and Marine Iguanas.
Small ship cruises to the Galapagos are becoming increasingly popular. Because the Galapagos can be an entire trip in theselves, consider if you want to invest in a longer trip - one that also includes Machu Picchu or more of Ecuador.
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