Whether you keep a running travel bucket list or you're thinking about planning that vacation you've been saving up for, it can help the selection process if you narrow down the options to a specific region—or, if that's too hard, at least honing in on one continent. Today, we're spotlighting the most bucket list–worthy destinations in South America.
With some of the most beautiful national parks, charming towns, and exciting cities in the world, we made sure to include the best places to visit in South America for every type of traveler, from city slickers and foodies to adventure enthusiasts and thrill-seekers. In fact, once you get a glimpse of these beautiful places, it might end up making your travel bucket list even longer than it was when you started. Read on to learn about these incredible destinations and start drafting those out-of-office emails.
The Surreal Brazilian Park
Shockingly, you are look looking at a real-life photo, not an abstract close-up or a surreal Dalí masterpiece. Lençóis Maranhenses is a national park in northern the northern Brazilian region of Maranhao, Brazil. Here you'll find sweeping white sand dunes punctuated by vivid blue rainwater lagoons that seem to extend for miles in every direction. It's of those places you can't imagine until you see it for yourself.
The Hilly Parks in Santiago, Chilé
Santiago, Chile, is known for its world-famous restaurants, cosmopolitan feel, vibrant architecture, exciting energy, and bustling nightlife. One of its most charming qualities is its many hilly parks. The one pictured above is Santa Lucia Hill, where you'll find many elaborate staircases, plazas, and fountains. It's the highest viewpoint in the city and also has a rich cultural history, which you'll learn about if you visit Santiago's many museums.
The Haunting Ecaduarian Forrest
When in Ecuador, you absolutely have to hike to Pailón del Diablo, which translates to "Devil's Cauldron" in English. It's easily one of the most impressive waterfall views you'll ever see, though you should dress as if you're about to walk through a very wet carwash. It's located in the western foothills of the Ecuadorian Andes in a city called Baños de Agua Santa near the Amazon Basin. Another popular tourist destination here is the swing that looks down into a canyon abyss usually shrouded in heavy fog, which is why it's nicknamed "The Swing at the End of the World."
The Colombian Church Inside a Canyon
The Las Lajas Sanctuary was built in the middle of the canyon of the Colombian Guáitara River between 1916 and 1948. Though it's still a popular destination for Catholics, it's also become a popular place to visit for any kind of tourist simply because of its beautiful backdrop and ornate basilica-style architecture.
The Chilean Patagonia
Torres del Paine National Park in the Chilean Patagonia is truly breathtaking. Anyone who is drawn to ethereal water and rural, off-the-grid destinations will especially love making the trek here. If you'd like to treat yourself to some luxury while you're here, stay at Awasi. It's situated on a private nature reserve overlooking Torres del Paine National Park, making it the perfect retreat after a day of exploring this magical, otherworldly destination. Bonus: There's also a private reserve with foxes, sheep, and pumas.
The Ocean in the Desert in Peru
If you're wondering how on earth this magnificently varied ombré of colors exists in the wild, it's because it straddles two different ecosystems: a desert and a marine coast. Specifically, Playa Roja gets its vivid red hue from the erosion of a pink granodiorite rock, which contains solidified magma. It's located in Paracas, Peru, which is about a 40-minute drive from Pisco and a three-hour drive from Lima.
The Colorful Colombian Lakes
Caño Cristales is a breathtaking river that runs through Colombia. It hosts almost every color in the rainbow and then some, plus you can actually swim here and hang out in the hot springs. Locally, it's aptly called "the river that ran away from paradise" because as you can see, it's like an explosion of glorious colors so heavenly it's almost too good to be true.
The Pastel Bolivian Lakes and Salt Flats
If you want to see pastel-hued lakes, otherworldly, sci-fi looking slat planes, and flamingos all set against the backdrop of the Andes, come to Laguna Colorada. The Andean Plateau defies borders, with parts of it falling within Bolivian territory and other others in Peru, Chile, and Argentina. It sits on a cluster of active volcanoes, a stretch of desert, and the Amazon rainforest. Given this rich symphony of climates and geo-activity, there are many gorgeous, saturated lakes and salt flats. Unsurprisingly, Dalí came here for inspiration.
The Astounding Macchu Pichu in Peru
A bucket list of the most beautiful places to visit in South America simply isn't complete without a mention of Machu Picchu. Given the natural beauty of the cloud-piercing peaks, lush vegetation, and the fact that it's one of the most precious and awe-inspiring sites in the world, visiting Macchu Picchu is truly life-altering. You'll feel like you've been transported to another time as you wander around the remains of one of the most ancient cities in the world.
The Blissful Seaside of Uruguay
And now, for a South American beach vacation, you can't beat Punta del Este, Uruguay. Aside from surfing, sun worshipping, and other beachside shenanigans, this coastal city is well known for its art. You might recognize the famous Mano de Punta del Este. You should also go to the 18th-century lighthouse, which is almost as beautiful itself as the view it looks onto.
The Wine Country of Argentina
Go to Mendoza, Argentina, to visit wineries, unwind in the countryside, and soak in the beauty of the surrounding landscape. This gorgeous, small desert city is ideal for anyone who loves to hike and get adventures in the outdoors but also wants to get pampered in luxurious resorts, stroll through charming streets, and eat delicious gourmet food. It's dubbed the wine country of Argentina, if that gives you a sense of what you'll find here.
The Bustling Energy in Brazil
Rio de Janeiro has it all: a beautiful beach for lounging and soaking up the sun, endless cultural activities, a lush landscape, and mountaintop views. Walk around the historic city center for cutting-edge art galleries, bohemian cafes, antique stores, and more. Or enjoy the sunshine and pristine pink and white sands down by the ocean. While you're there, take a samba lesson.
The Rainbow Mountains in Peru
Appropriately named Montaña de Siete Colores, or Rainbow Mountain, this national landmark in Peru is a must-visit destination. It's located in Vinicunca in the Cusco region of Peru, just a few hours from the city. If you're someone who loves to see beautiful new sites and get active outdoors, this should definitely be on your adventure bucket list.