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.