Thirteen countries strong, South America is home to astounding natural and cultural wonders. The challenge is deciding where to begin. Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia offer affordable adventures: climbing Andean peaks, trekking through cloud forests and visiting remote indigenous villages. Brazil is the land of magnificent beaches, outstanding nightlife and unforgettable journeys, from slow-boating down the Amazon to dune buggy rides across the northeast. Chile and Argentina harbor fantastic alpine adventures, picturesque coastlines and the rugged wilderness of Patagonia. For off-the-beaten-path travel, explore the jungle-lined interior of the Guianas. All over the continent you'll find colonial towns and laid-back seaside villages – just the antidote after a few days (or weeks) of taking in South America's jaw-dropping sights.
Buenos Aires is a scintillating metropolis of steamy tango halls, old-world cafes and hip boutiques. Córdoba boasts a flourishing arts scene, while Mendoza draws adventure seekers.
The Moreno glacier is awe-inspiring. The Península Valdes is home to whales, penguins and other wildlife. Witness spectacular rock formations in Quebrada de Humahuaca and nature's raw power at Iguazú Falls.
You'll find magnificent hiking in Patagonia, the Mendoza area and the Lakes District, white-water rafting near Bariloche and Mendoza, and skiing at Las Leñas and Cerro Catedral.
As you travel across this remarkable remote wilderness, you’ll marvel at the world’s largest salt flat, whimsical rock formations, cacti-encrusted valleys straight out of the Old West, volcanic peaks, Technicolor lakes and a sky that seems to stretch forever.
For long hauls and shorter day trips along ancient Inca paving, down cloud-encased valleys and through vast swaths of wilderness, you can’t beat Bolivia’s treks.
Nature is everywhere, making Bolivia a hands-down favorite for nature lovers. A series of large national parks and nature preserves protect (to a certain degree) the country’s endemic and at-risk species.
Synonymous with paradise, Brazil boasts nearly 7500km of perfect-palmed coastline to prove it. For idyllic sands, start with Fernando de Noronha, Bahia and Ceará.
The world's most biodiverse country is home to a lifetime's worth of wildlife, most famously found in the Amazon and the Pantanal, but from Bonito to Belém, you'll be floored.
The Melting Pot
Portuguese colonists; Japanese, African, Arab and European immigrants; and a healthy indigenous population shaped the Brazil melting pot. From food to film, isso é Brasil (this is Brazil)!
Wine & Pisco
Strong winds, sudden rain, rustic refugios (shelters) and striking landscapes – hiking the classic 'W' is an unforgettable adventure in Torres del Paine.
The driest desert in the world, the Atacama is an otherworldly place of salt caves, eerie moon-like surfaces and powerful geysers circled by snow-tipped volcanoes.
Wine (and Spirits)
Chile is still battling Peru over the ownership of pisco; here, the potent grape brandy is produced in the Elqui Valley. But no one can contest Chile’s mastery of Carmenere, a full-bodied red wine – it’s the toast of the nation.
From the towering sand dunes near Punta Gallinas to the glaciers of Parque Nacional El Cocuy and flooded forests of the Amazonas, Colombia's phenomenal landscapes make for your very own nature documentary.
The small city of San Gil is a one-stop adventure playground with rafting, climbing, paragliding and more – just a fraction of the adventures on offer around the country to keep your adrenaline pumping.
Learn to pick and grade coffee beans (and sample the final product) at award-winning plantations around Manizales and Armenia in the Zona Cafetera.
Art & Architecture
The picturesque colonial centers of Quito and Cuenca are packed with architectural treasures. Quito and Guayaquil have outstanding collections of pre-Columbian art and modern works by Oswaldo Guayasamín.
Get a taste of the Amazon in jungle lodges, and stunning Andean scenery in Quilotoa. If money allows, take a cruise around the other-worldly Galápagos.
The Great Outdoors
Top ways to experience the great outdoors include climbing Andean peaks (Cotopaxi is popular), mountain biking down them (try Chimborazo), ecotourism in the cloud-forests of Mindo and white-water rafting near Tena.
Between 1852 and 1938 around 70,000 prisoners were sent to French Guiana from France. Today, the old structures are eerily crumbling into the jungles; the most interesting are offshore on the relaxing Îles du Salut.
African, Hmong, French, Javanese and Brazilian culinary traditions plus local spices and fresh jungle produce equals the most interesting food in the region.
Turtles, Birds & Caimans
Look for caimans and the brilliant scarlet ibis on a wildlife-watching tour in the Kaw Nature Reserve. Or take a trip to the coast in turtle season to watch crowds of turtles laying eggs in the sand.
You want big? Track the world's largest scaled freshwater fish (arapaima), anteaters, caimans and more. The best part: they're all relatively easy to find.
Hop from one indigenous village–run lodge to the next through the Rupununi Savannahs. Birdwatch and learn to shoot a bow and arrow while supporting sustainable businesses.
Nothing is shined up in colonial Georgetown, but that's part of its charm. Marvel at the ingenious natural cooling system even as the paint seems to chip off before your eyes.
The Jesuit revolution began and ended in the jungles of eastern Paraguay, and though the social experiment is long gone, the wonderful churches the Jesuits left behind stand in silent testament.
Paraguayan culture has been shaped by a history of corrupt dictatorships and a strong indigenous influence, a cultural cocktail that makes it a strange and fascinating country to explore.
Biodiversity in the Chaco
Paraguay's arid Chaco positively teems with wildlife, and though the dusty surroundings look inhospitable, it's arguably the best place to see big animals like tapir, puma and the endangered Chaco peccary.
In Peru, culture isn’t something you enter a dusty museum to find. It’s all around you. The strong traditions of indigenous cultures are easily witnessed in many religious or seasonal festivals.
Civilization of the Incas
From the heights of Machu Picchu to the cloud forest of Kuélap, Peru’s ruins garner due fame, but that doesn’t always mean crowds. Many are reached by gorgeous hikes, attractions in their own right.
Hiking & Trekking
From the ample sands of the coast to verdant Amazonian rainforest, lost-canyon villages and the majestic peaks of the Cordillera Blanca, Peru offers some of the best trekking and hiking on earth.
Boat down the Upper Suriname River to find myriad lodges run by Maroon tribes who have retained a distinctive African-Amazonian culture. Lodging ranges from luxurious bungalows to simple hammock shelters.
Deep in the Central Suriname Nature Reserve you'll see troupes of monkeys, tons of birds, caimans and maybe even a jaguar or harpy eagle.
Paramaribo's heritage district is unlike anywhere else in the world. Imagine colonial Dutch lines in a Wild West setting doused in all the colors and culture of the Caribbean.
Sun, Sand & Surf
With over 300km of quality coastline, Uruguay pretty much guarantees you’ll find a spot to lay your towel.
Colonia del Sacramento’s the superstar, of course, and Montevideo’s Old Town has its fans, too. But visit pretty much any plaza in the country for gorgeous Spanish-influenced streetscapes.
While everyone’s chuckling it up beachside, those in the know head for Uruguay’s interior – a beautiful rolling hillscape that’s the epitome of getting off the gringo trail.
Venezuela has some mighty enticing beaches. A few seaside getaways include the pristine island of Los Roques, colonial Puerto Colombia and the lush Península de Paria.
Take your pick from surfing the sand dunes near Coro, kitesurfing along the Caribbean or paragliding in Mérida. Or grab your pack and summit the mysterious Roraima tepui.
From bird-watching in Parque Nacional Henri Pittier, the anacondas, anteaters and capybaras around Los Llanos, and howler monkeys, caimans and piranhas in the Orinoco Delta, the landscape invites discovery.