After South East Asia, South America seems to be the next big ‘backpacking’ destination.
It’s a vast continent that has every climate and terrain imaginable, the culture varies from Country to Country, it’s (in some places) cheap to travel, it’s full of Bucket List adventures and a few Wonders of the World so it’s no surprise that it’s a backpackers dream.
I spent 3 months in South America at the start of 2015 and these are the places i’d recommend you add to your South America itinerary! (And if you don’t have a trip there planned then get planning!)
Uyuni Salt Flats – Bolivia
First up is Salar de Uyuni or the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia. You’ve seen the photos with people messing around, pretending to stand on each other, sit in a spoon etc, and you may well have seen the photos of the incredible reflections where its hard to tell where the sky ends and the salt begins.. Well the Uyuni Salt Flats really are that incredible!
They’re so vast, yet they seem to appear out of nowhere and once in the centre it’s literally salt as far as the eye can see.
Uyuni is the nearest town to the flats and you can take day trips there as well as sunrise and sunset trips from the town, however I would suggest combining the trip with a 3 day 4×4 tour through Southern Bolivia. I started the trip in the Atacama Desert in Chile and by the last day we had reached the flats and ended later on in Uyuni and it was an incredible 3 days! Alternatively you can start in Uyuni and finish in Chile!
Amazon Rainforest – Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador & Colombia.
The Amazon Rainforest is one of those places you learn about in school and hope to one day visit and when travelling around South America it’s so easy to actually visit for a few days. The Amazon rainforest spans over 8 Countries but the most popular Countries you can visit from are Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador & Colombia.
I did a 4 day, 3 night tour in Ecuador and loved it. I spent my days out on the boat looking for wildlife- Monkeys, Sloths, Birds, Dolphins, Caiman, and even Anaconda’s! And come evening we slept in an eco lodge in the middle of the rainforest. Being such a distance from the outside world is not only an incredible experience but it’s also a great way to switch off.
Machu Picchu – Peru
You cannot go to South America and not visit Machu Picchu! Machu Picchu is one of the new 7 Wonders of the World a long side Petra, the Taj Mahal, and the Great Wall of China and once you visit you’ll see why!
It was ‘discovered’ by an American Archaeologist in 1911 but it’s history including when it was first built and what it was used for is very much unknown but I think that adds to the charm. Modern-day archaeologists believe it was used as a royal estate for Inca emperors, some think it was a religious site but either way you have to visit for yourself to see it, climb that hill and get that iconic shot!
Cusco is the nearest town to Machu Picchu (although not that close) and from there you can either hike there via the Inca Trail or one of the many other walks on offer or you can get a bus or the train.
Iguazu Falls – Brazil & Argentina
Iguazu Falls is a waterfall that falls between not 1, not 2 but 3 different Countries!! Brazil, Argentina & Paraguay (although they are a lot harder to visit from Paraguay I believe) and it is so incredible that it has been named one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World.
It is a bit out of the way but it’s totally worth going to. I spent a day of the Brazilian side and a day on the Argentinian side and both sides are worth a visit (although I would’t suggest trying to see both sides in one day!) and its sheer size will blow you away!
Patagonia – Argentina & Chile
If you have seen photos of incredible Glaciers and Mountains in South America then it’s likely to be from the Patagonia region in Southern Argentina & Chile. If you visit here then you generally visit to Hike so be prepared with all the correct equipment and look into the best time of year to visit. Admittedly I didn’t get to visit but it’s on my bucket list for next time!
Death Road – Bolivia
Now you don’t just visit Death Road, you bike down it! Mountain biking down one of the most dangerous roads in the world has pretty much become a backpackers right of way in Bolivia. You cannot visit La Paz, Bolivia’s capital city without doing this adrenaline activity and if you do then well.. you’re pretty boring!
Basically there’s a road- North Yungus Road aka Death Road aka a stone track that runs a long a cliff face and it used to be the only road connecting La Paz and a town 56km away called Coroico. Now there is a new and much safer road so someone came up with the idea to let tourists mountain bike down the old road that the general traffic doesn’t use anymore. You’ll start the ride at 4700m above sea level surrounded by snowy mountains and end a few hours later at 2700m and in a pretty tropical climate.
Is is scary, there is a chance you’ll fall but as long as you’re careful and not reckless then you will survive.. and quite literally get the t-shirt to prove it!
La Paz is full of companies that offer the trip. It is worth doing some research to ensure you go with a good company with good bikes and safety equipment. I went with ‘Altitude Biking’ which i’d recommend and the trip cost £80.00 (you may be able to get it cheaper in other places but you can’t put a price on safety!).
Floating Islands – Peru
The floating islands aren’t an adrenaline activity or a Wonder of the World but i’d put them on your must visit list whilst in South America because they are an incredible way to see how some people live.
The people of the Uros tribe live on tiny little islands made from reed and all of the ‘buildings’ on the island are also made from the reed. They have boats (also made from the reed) so they can visit each other and go to an island which holds the school etc however their lives are predominately based on their one small island and most have never visited the mainland despite it being 2 hours away via boat. It’s an extremely interesting trip and helps put your own life into perspective.
The Uros Floating Islands are on Lake Titicaca and can be visited via Puno in Peru and you’ll need to take an organised trip to see them.
Huacachina – Peru
Another must visit in Peru (Peru is full of incredible places) is Huacachina! It’s a complete mouth full to say and it’s likely you’ll get a mouth full of sand after visiting as this tiny town is literally in the middle of rolling sand dunes! It’s an incredible little oasis worth at least 1 nights stay. There’s not too much to do in the town apart from chill around the lake but you go to Huacachina to go out on the dunes! Dune buggy trips are offered everywhere which are really great fun and then they’ll take you to the top of the dunes so you can board down them, whether you want to stand up and act like you’re skiing or just lie down and board down head first, it’s up to you!
Visiting Huacachina is also a great way to break up the very long journey between Cusco and Lima!
Rio – Brazil
Last but not least is Rio! Rio de Janeiro is such an iconic city that you have to visit it whilst in South America. From Christ the Redeemer, to seeing the city from Sugar Loaf Mountain, to Copacabana beach to the Selaron steps, you have to visit this city!
As well as seeing these iconic places i also did a Favela Tour with ‘Be a local’ which I’d highly recommend as it’s a great way of seeing the infamous favela’s in Rio, learning about people’s lives and situations but also helping out as the money this company earns goes straight back into the Favela’s.
And there you have it, the must see places in South America! Of course there’s so much more to see and do there but these are the things and places I recommend you visit on your trip even if they are out of the way as you certainly won’t regret it! (Also I didn’t go to Columbia hence why no-where in Columbia is mentioned but it’s on my to-go to list!)
**I have blog posts on all the places I visited in South America which detail costs, where I stayed, how I got there, what I did etc so check them out!**
This post on How to Survive Bus Travel in South America might be quite helpful as a lot of bus travel is required when travelling around!
** There’s also a little video of my time in South America on my YouTube Channel which you can watch here!**
*Are there any other places you would say are must visits in South America??*