If world heritage listed Machu Picchu isn’t enough of a drawcard, South America has an abundance of stunning scenery, vibrant nightlife and award-winning cuisine to round out an amazing itinerary. It’s also a jumping off point for trips to the Antarctic. Brazil’s capital, Rio de Janeiro, is a popular destination, home to possibly the most famous festival in the world, Carnivale. Put on your dancing shoes or head to one of the city’s popular beaches, Copacabana and Ipanema, and chill out. On the Brazilian border with Argentina, the Iguazu Falls are an awe-inspiring series of 275 waterfalls across a length of 2.7 kilometres. Argentina is a country with something for everyone, art galleries, stunning mountainous backdrops and great wine – and that’s just for starters. Peru isn’t just about the Inca Trail, Lima flexes serious culinary muscle with its world-renowned restaurants. And Chile is a natural gem, with landscapes spanning deserts to glaciers.
Brazil is home to many bucket list travel experiences. Think Carnivale, Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, and The Amazon rainforest. Carnivale is a festival of music and dance, specifically Samba. It’s loud. It’s intense. And it’s a whole load of fun. The northern part of Brazil is a good way to access The Amazon. A cruise is a popular way to experience this natural phenomenon, but a forest walk for some sloth spotting is a must. Brazilian barbecue or charrasco, is probably the food most synonymous with this country, but it’s also home to the popular Amazonian Acai berry and the lime, rum and sugar infused cocktail caipirinha.
Best for: Fun in the sun
CITY: Rio de Janeiro
Welcoming arrivals to Brazil’s capital city is the 38m Christ the Redeemer statue, which overlooks the city from the top of Corcovado mountain. If there for Carnivale, join a street party, pick up a ticket for the parade or sign up with a Samba school and dance your way into the Sambadrome. Other highlights include its famous beaches, watching a soccer match in Maracana Football Stadium and catching the two cable cars up the summit of Pao de Acucar for amazing views of the city below.
Best for: a big party
CITY: Sao Paulo
Shopping, museums and a vibrant food scene make Sao Paulo a great destination to get immersed in Brazilian culture. A visit to Avenida Paulista will tick a lot of boxes. Head there for a day shopping or to check out the art at Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo. Sample some local fare at the Municipal Market, or head to one of the award-winning restaurants that call this city home.
Best for: Foodies and art lovers
The landscape of this diverse nation spans glaciers, mountain ranges, beaches and desert. It is also a great place to experience South American culture and cuisine. Be wowed by nature at Iguazu Falls and the wilds of Patagonia. The latter is often used as a starting point for trips to Antarctica, with many ships leaving from the town of Ushuaia. Wine lovers should head to Mendoza or San Juan, for a malbec or syrah. Or pack the skis for one of the resorts high up in the Andes. Argentinian cuisine is famous for its barbecue, known as asado. Beef and other meats such as morcilla, or blood sausage, are cooked on a parrilla grill over wood and charcoal. Then served with salads, grilled vegetables, bread and condiments like the Argentinian classic chimichurri.
Best for: Everyone
City: Buenos Aeries
The home of tango is a great place to soak up Argentinian culture. This bustling port city is the country’s capital, with pumping nightlife, great restaurants and a passion for soccer. Exploring the different neighbourhoods is an essential part of a visit to this city, each with its own local character. Grab the camera and visit the colourful El Caminito in the La Boca neighbourhood, known for its street museum. Or head to San Telmo to grab a bargain at its massive market or feria.
Best for: Night owls
Located in Argentina’s Lake District in the north of Patagonia, this city is a great base for adventure seekers keen to hit the slopes or strap on the hiking boots. It’s also in stunning surrounds, set on a beautiful lake and encircled by mountains in a national park.
Best for: Adrenalin junkies
The ancient Inca ruins of Machu Pichu are undoubtedly the biggest drawcard for travellers
visiting Peru. But other highlights include the white stone buildings of Arequipa, the
rainbow-hued peaks of Ausangate Mountain, condor-spotting on a trek in Colca Canyon and
the pre-Incan ruins at Kuelap. It also houses the second largest part of the Amazon
rainforest after Brazil. Peru’s capital Lima is a gastronomic delight. Its restaurant Central
is currently ranked No. 6 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Peruvian cuisine includes
ceviche, a dish of diced raw fish cured in lime, and the cocktail pisco sour.
Best for: Foodies, history buffs and bush walkers
With multiple restaurants on the World’s 50 Best list, Lima has some serious culinary credentials. It’s also Peru’s capital city. Visit Plaza Mayor to explore historic buildings such as the Cathedral of Lima and Government Palace. Or hire a bike and ride along the coast in Miraflores.
Best for: Foodies
Cusco is a transit-city for travellers. Located high in the Andes, it is often used as a stopover to acclimatise before trekking (or taking the train) to Machu Picchu. Walk around Plaza de Armas and spot the colonial and Incan architecture. Or explore the ruins of the ancient Inca temple Qorikancha.
Best for: Learning about the Inca
Nature lovers will be blown away by the extremes of Chile. Find glaciers, lakes and stunning rock formations in wild, rugged Torres Del Paine National Park, located in southern Patagonia. At Valle de la Luna in the Atacama Desert explore the windswept salt flats and mountain peaks, reminiscent of the moon’s surface. And be mesmerised by the mysterious moai stone figures carved by an ancient Polynesian society on the remote Rapa Nui or Easter Island. It’s a Chilean territory, despite being nearly 3700k away.
Best for: Nature lovers and adventure seekers
Chile’s cosmopolitan capital sits on the Mapocho River with views of the Andes. Talk a walk or cable car up San Cristobel Hill for stunning city views, and visits to the National Zoo, swimming pools and gardens. Head to a market for some shopping. Visit a museum or the National Library. Or take a day trip to Maipo Valley for wine tasting.
Best for: everyone
This vibrant port city is known for its nightlife and art, as well as its brightly coloured houses perched on the surrounding hills. A walk to discover the amazing street art murals is a must.
Best for: Fans of contemporary art
Despite being home to the world’s largest known oil reserves, Venezuela is in economic crisis, a result of years of political turmoil. Crime rates are high and food shortages have been reported. Consequently, it is often subject to travel warnings. Yet it is a country filled with natural wonders. The stunning Angel Falls is the world’s highest waterfall, cascading 979m down the side of Auyantepui Mountain in Canaima National Park. Los Llanos is a popular for bird watching and animal spotting, with jaguars, capybaras and crocodiles visiting its watering holes. Los Roques Archipelago National Park is a large marine park in the Caribbean Sea, known for its white sandy beaches and coral reefs. It is a popular site for divers.
Good for: ecotourism for seasoned travellers (but check government travel warnings)
The historic city of Coro in the north of Venezuela, was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its preservation of earthen buildings dating back to Spanish colonisation.
Best for: architecture lovers
Venezuela’s capital sits in a valley of the Venezuelan coastal range on the Guaire River. Highlights include El Calvario Park for a panaromic view of the city. Plaza Bolívar is named for Simon Bolivar, a leader in the revolution against the Spanish empire. The plaza is the site of many historic buildings from these colonial times. Bolivar’s tomb, as well as those of other notable figures, reside in the National Pantheon.
Best for: Seasoned travellers