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6 Best Countries to Visit in South America

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Plaza de Armas at sunrise in Cusco, Peru

Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru

The best countries to visit in South America reflect the continent's diversity and capture the passion of local culture, the spirit of nature, and the wonders of disparate heritage that you can experience, whether in a single country or on a multi-destination trip.

From the remnants of the Inca to the natural opulence of the Galapagos Islands, the splendor of glaciers to the sumptuous flavors of world-renowned wines, South America offers incredible diversity across a landmass nearly twice the size of Europe.

With tropical escapes, open plains, gorgeous beaches, colorful high-altitude plateaus, and bustling cosmopolitan cities, you can experience the surprises and essential charms of South America as you immerse yourself in the diversity of these countries.

Overview
  1. 1. Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands
  2. 2. Peru
  3. 3. Chile
  4. 4. Argentina
  5. 5. Brazil
  6. 6. Colombia
  7. Why You Should Visit South America
  8. Best Time to Visit South America
  9. Is South America Safe?
  10. Explore the Best Countries to Visit in South America

1. Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands

Giant tortoises on Santa Cruz island in the Galapagos, Ecuador

Santa Cruz island in the Galapagos, Ecuador

Ecuador is a microcosm of South America, as it captures the splendor of the scenery, the charm of colonial architecture, the wonder of the rainforest, and the ecological intensity of the Galapagos Islands.

Andean villages open to the snowcapped peaks of soaring mountains, signs of Incan culture permeate historic cities, and the promise of viewing giant tortoises or large flightless birds on remote volcanic islands creates the feeling of adventure, within endless opportunities for luxury.

From dazzling white-sand beaches to the tropical wonderland of dense jungle, Ecuador defies a single definition and celebrates the marvels of its diversity.

Best Places to Visit: Quito • Galapagos Islands • Yasuni National Park and Biosphere Reserve

Top Things to Do: Wildlife viewing • Culinary tours • Snorkeling • Kayaking • Birding

Learn more: Galapagos Islands and Ecuador Travel Guide

2. Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru

Peru is a country of complexity, with layers that when peeled back reveal magnificent Incan ruins, colorful Andean culture, Spanish colonial architecture, and mysterious artworks etched into the desert.

Intricate and exquisite, delicious and thrilling, Peru can take you down exciting whitewater rapids or have you weave mountain trails to reach renowned Machu Picchu, uncover the stunning colors of a mountain market or sample the favored ceviche of the coast.

Whether visiting pre-Columbian ruins or delving into the Amazon in search of vibrant wildlife, Peru feels authentic, immersive, and compelling.

Best Places to Visit: Machu Picchu • Cusco • Sacred Valley • Puerto Maldonado • Nazca • Paracas

Top Things to Do: Hiking • Cultural tours • Food tours • Wildlife viewing • Birding

Learn more: Peru Travel Guide

3. Chile

Hiker in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonian Chile

Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Chile provides you with grand nature for a relaxed adventure with intimate panoramas. The landscape welcomes you to the extremes of the natural world as you face southern glacial fields or the driest desert on Earth, sip wine in a fertile valley or wander through an ancient forest.

The humble culture creates a welcoming ambiance among diverse scenery that can take you on a scenic journey to the edge of Cape Horn, have you cycling along the spine of the Andes Mountains, or horseback riding along the coast. The colossal scale of nature creates an integral connection to the spirit of local life.

Best Places to Visit: Atacama Desert • Torres del Paine National Park • Easter Island • Valparaiso

Top Things to Do: Nature walks • Stargazing • History tours • Wine tasting • Glacier hikes

Learn more: Chile Travel Guide

4. Argentina

Perito Moreno in Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

Perito Moreno in Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

Argentina is endlessly seductive and intense, from the tango to fiery grills, gaucho culture to sprawling vineyards, glacial fields to salt flats, urban wonders to thunderous jungle. Passion creates a connection to the land, food, and wine as it spreads across the country, demonstrated in the perspectives of local culture and tradition that are connected by a national identity.

With the colorful diversity of Buenos Aires’s barrios, the long stretch of golden beaches, the crashing curtain of water from renowned Iguazu Falls, and the wall of ice that demonstrates the raw power of Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina is a wonder of nature, culture, and international historical influence.

Best Places to Visit: Buenos Aires • Puerto Iguazú • Salta • Bariloche • Mendoza • El Calafate

Top Things to Do: Estancia tours • City tours • Food tours • Wildlife viewing • Musical performances

Learn more: Argentina Travel Guide

5. Brazil

An aerial view of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Brazil is an enormous combination of stunning beaches, exotic rainforests, and thrilling metropolises that occupies nearly half of the South American continent.

Portuguese colonial architecture decorates urban jungles, idyllic beaches shimmer, and the wilderness comes alive along the world’s largest wetlands or within the Amazon.

From the thrills of Carnival to the aromas of delectable cuisine, Brazil is an adventure of contemporary culture and remarkable biodiversity, where the local rhythm can take hold of you at any moment and reveal the joys of life.

Best Places to Visit: Rio de Janeiro • Foz do Iguaçu • Pantanal • Salvador da Bahia • Amazon Rainforest

Top Things to Do: Beach days • Wildlife viewing • City tours • Birding • Waterfall chasing

Learn more: Brazil Travel Guide

6. Colombia

Spanish colonial architecture in the Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia

Colombia breaks away from stigma and surpasses expectations to become one of the most fascinating destinations in South America. With the Amazon jungle, Caribbean coastline, Andean peaks, sunkissed deserts, and Spanish colonial architecture, each step you take can uncover a new experience.

The country in its entirety carries a sense of majesty that can immerse you in famous Colombian hospitality as you trek to forgotten temples, lounge on secluded tropical islands, or embrace the fascinating spread of heritage found in archeological sites.

Best Places to Visit: Medellin • Cartagena • Cali • Amazon Rainforest • Tayrona National Park • Barichara

Top Things to Do: Food tours • Beach days • Wildlife viewing • Horseback riding • Hiking

Learn more: Colombia Travel Guide

Why You Should Visit South America

Iguazu Falls on the border of Brazil and Argentina

Iguazu Falls on the border of Brazil and Argentina

If you are looking for a continent with it all, look no further than South America. This region is full of diversity and beauty, and it caters to every kind of traveler.

You can marvel at some of the world’s most amazing sights, such as Peru’s Machu Picchu, Brazil and Argentina’s Iguazu Falls, and Chile’s Easter Island. You can also discover the rich culture and history of cities like Colombia’s Cartagena, Argentina’s Buenos Aires, and Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro. You can admire the breathtaking nature and wildlife in places like Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands and the Amazon Basin. And you can savor the mouthwatering food and enjoy the lively music and dance of countries like Peru, Brazil, and Colombia.

Best Time to Visit South America

Beach in Tayrona National Park, Colombia

Tayrona National Park, Colombia

South America is a continent that has something to offer all year round, but some months are more suitable than others, depending on your destination and your interests.

If you want to enjoy a mix of mild weather, natural wonders, and cultural attractions, then October and November are the best months in which to visit South America. At this time, it is spring in the southern hemisphere, which means you can witness flowering plants, lively animals, and enjoy fewer crowds in places like Patagonia, Argentina, and Chile. You can also escape the rainy season in the Andean regions, such as Peru and Ecuador, and enjoy sunny skies and warmer temperatures while visiting ancient sites and immersing yourself in spectacular scenery.

If you want to have a beach vacation, then December to February is the best time. These months are summer in the southern hemisphere, which means you can relax in the seaside towns of Brazil and Colombia. You can also participate in some of the world’s biggest festivals, such as Carnival in Brazil. However, these months are also peak tourist season, so prepare for hot weather and large crowds.

Is South America Safe?

The city of Quito in the foothills with Cotopaxi in the distance

Quito, Ecuador

The vast majority of South America is safe. While certain countries may have experienced political unrest in the past, you can safely visit most parts of the continent without concern.

Tours in South America let you experience the best of the places you visit. That said, minor safety concerns are possible in all parts of the world. Petty crimes such as pickpocketing may occur in busy public areas. Although rarely affecting travelers on tours to South America with travel experts, you should remain vigilant when in crowded regions.

You can avoid any potential safety risks by keeping your personal belongings concealed and following the guidance of local experts, such as designated tour guides or local travel specialists.

Explore the Best Countries to Visit in South America

Atacama Desert in Chile

Atacama Desert in northern Chile

South America immerses you in dramatic landscapes, provides a different perspective of history, and allows you to explore distinctive cultures and diverse cuisine on South America tours and vacations.

From gauchos to rainforest adventures, impressive ruins to delicious wines, you have endless opportunities to enjoy where national cultures and the greater South American scenery meet. For more information, see our South America travel guide.

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