Introducing South America
Andean peaks, Amazonian rainforest, Patagonian glaciers, Incan ruins, colonial towns, white-sand beaches and vertiginous nightlife: the wonders of South America set the stage for incredible adventures.
Setting for Big Adventures
From the snow-capped peaks of the Andes to the undulating waterways of the Amazon, South America spreads a dazzling array of natural wonders. This is a continent of lush rainforests, towering volcanoes, misty cloud forests, bone-dry deserts, red-rock canyons, ice-blue glaciers and sun-kissed beaches. As landscapes go, there aren't many other places on earth that offer so much range – or so many opportunities for adventure.
You can hike past ancient temples first laid down by the Incas, contemplate the awe-inspiring power of Iguazú Falls or spend the day watching wildlife from a dugout canoe on one of the Amazon's countless igarapés (narrow waterways). You can barrel down Andean roads by mountain bike, go white-water rafting on class-five rivers and surf amazing breaks off both coasts. And once you think you've experienced it all, head to the dramatic landscapes in Tierra del Fuego, go eye-to-eye with extraordinary creatures in the Galápagos, and scramble up tableland mountains in the Gran Sabana for a panorama that seems straight out of the Mesozoic era.
South America's great diversity doesn't end with geography. Across the continent you'll find magnificent colonial towns where cobblestone streets lead past gilded churches and stately plazas – a scene little changed since the 18th century. Elsewhere, you can haggle over colorful textiles at indigenous markets, share meals with traditional dwellers of the rainforest and follow the pounding rhythms laid down by Afro-Brazilian drums corps. South America is home to an astounding variety of living and ancient cultures, and experiencing it all first-hand is as easy as showing up.
La Vida Musical
Welcome to one of the world's great music destinations. Colombian salsa, Brazilian samba, Argentine tango and Andean folk music all receive airtime across the globe, but nothing quite compares to hearing those rhythms in the place where they were born. Sultry milongas (tango clubs) in Buenos Aires, simmering garrafeiras (dance halls) in Rio, salsotecas (salsa clubs) in Quito – all great places to chase the heart of Saturday night. Yet this is only the beginning of a great musical odyssey that encompasses poetic Peruvian trovas, soulful Ecuadorian passillos, fast-stepping Brazilian forró, whirling Venezuelan merengue, steel-pan Guyanese drumming, Paraguayan harp music and scores of other regional styles. The best way to experience it is to simply plunge in – though you might want to take a dance class along the way!
Best places to stay in South America
Off the beaten piste: winter sports in weird locations
Alpine huts, chocolate crêpes, outdoor hot tubs and gallons of glühwein. These things probably spring to mind when you conjure up images of ski or snowboarding resorts.
Ancient ruins of South America
South America's best festivals
Need to know
South America destination guides
Come for Carnaval. Stay for passion, pristine rainforests and caipirinhas.
Most action-packed jungles
Make like Tarzan and take on one of these truly original rainforest adventures. This article is adapted from Lonely Planet's 1000 Ultimate Adventures. Battlefield crossing, Kokoda Track, Papua New Guinea Hiker on the Kokoda Track. Image by Andrew Peacock / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images.
South America's best beaches
Classic Inca Trail
Trek the legendary Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and explore Cusco
Inca Trail Adventure
Explore the fabulous Sacred Valley of the Incas before trekking along the legendary Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Totally...like... bogus: the world's worst travel advice
"Don't waste your money on bottled water! I just drank the tap water and I feel fine," brags a fellow hostel guest in Kathmandu. This person won't be seen again for three days, looking about 8lbs lighter. "I never book a room before I get to a destination.
Sights in South America
Activities in South America
Tours in South America
Restaurants in South America
Budget hotels & hostels
Guesthouses and B&Bs
Start free associating on the word ‘Argentina,’ and it’s quickly apparent why the country has long held travelers in awe: tango, beef, gauchos, fútbol, Patagonia, the Andes.