Anyone with a passport and credit card can travel, but if you’re someone who wants to really experience the world, you’ll want to consider heading south. South America is a land of bucket list destinations, from those you know, like the Galapagos Islands, to those that should make your list, like the Atacama Desert. File this one away under lifetime goals. If you make it to every one of these destinations, you’ve crushed it in life.
If you have any interest at all in nature and evolution, this is the destination for you. The Galápagos Islands are an extraordinary archipelago located in the Pacific Ocean, approximately 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. Renowned for their unique and diverse ecosystems, the islands hold a special place in the natural world. The isolation of the archipelago has allowed for the evolution of species found nowhere else on Earth. Famous for inspiring Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, the islands are home to iconic species such as the giant tortoises, marine iguanas, and blue-footed boobies.
Many plant and animal species are also exclusive to the Galápagos, having evolved to adapt to the specific environmental conditions of each island. This makes the archipelago a living laboratory for the study of evolution and adaptation. It’s because of the unique conditions of each island that the Galápagos Islands was the foundation of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
What to do in the Galapagos Islands: Snorkeling, diving, hiking and exploring one of the most unspoiled natural parts of the world.
Where to Stay: Pikaia Lodge for a land-based excursion or a luxury cruise to explore the archipelago.
Salar de Uyuni
If you like stunning scenery and photos of a lifetime, then the Bolivian salt flats are for you. Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat, located in southwest Bolivia spanning about 4,086 square miles. These salt flats are at an elevation of approximately 11,995 feet above sea level. The Uyuni Salt Flat was formed as a result of prehistoric lakes that dried up, leaving behind an immense, flat surface composed mainly of salt. During the dry season, the landscape resembles a vast, blindingly white desert, creating a surreal atmosphere.
One of the most show-stopping parts about the Salar de Uyuni occurs during the rainy season (November to March). A thin layer of water covers the salt crust, and the flat becomes a giant natural mirror, reflecting the sky. This phenomenon creates the effect where the distinction between the sky and the ground disappears. It’s almost the entire reason to come to the Bolivia salt flats.
What to do in the Salt Flats: Hiking, leisurely walks, photography and taking in the stunning scenery.
Where to stay: Explora does land-based excursions into the Bolivian salt flats and is the only way to go.
Patagonia Mountains in Chile
You can’t have a list of the top destinations in South America without mentioning the Patagonias on the Chilean side. The Patagonian Mountains in Chile have some of the most dramatic scenery on the planet. The area is made up of snow-capped peaks, turquoise lakes, and dense forests and glaciers. Within the Patagonian Mountains is Torres del Paine National Park. This UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is home to the famous “Torres,” three granite peaks that rise from the landscape. The park also features glaciers, pristine lakes, and diverse ecosystems, making it one of the top destinations in South America for nature lovers and hikers. Patagonia makes you feel as if you have reached the “end of the world” with its remote location.
What to do in the Patagonias: Hiking, trekking, rock climbing, and ice climbing, to name a few activities. The unpredictability of the weather and the rugged terrain add an adrenaline rush.
Where to stay in the Patagonias: Explora is the only lodge right in the Park. Otherwise you have stunning luxury lodges which include Awasi and Tierra outside of the Park gates.
The Atacama Desert is a destination that most people will never hear of, much less think is one of the top destinations in South America. However, the Atacama is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and is actually often compared to the topography of Mars. One of the most iconic and visually stunning areas within the Atacama is the Valley of the Moon. This lunar-like landscape is characterized by salt flats, sand dunes, and unique rock formations, creating an otherworldly environment.
The skies are some of the most clear in the Atacama, where you can go up to an elevation of about 13,000 feet. On the way up you can stop at a salt flat that has purple mountains against clear blue skies, and a lake with water more turquoise than the Caribbean. There is virtually no pollution and provides for endless stargazing in the evenings.
What to do in the Atacama: Explore, hike, bike, surf down sand dunes and get as close to Mars as you can on earth.
Where to Stay in the Atacama Desert: A luxury lodge of course, where there are a number to choose from. Top hotels include Awasi, Nayara Alto Atacama, Habitat Atacama, Explora and Tierra.
Easter Island is one of the most remote inhabited islands on Earth, located over 2,000 miles from the nearest inhabited land, which is the coast of Chile. This isolation played a crucial role in shaping the unique culture and history of the Rapa Nui people. What makes Easter Island one of the top destinations in South America isits iconic statues, known as moai. Mooai are colossal stone statues carved by the Rapa Nui between the 13th and 16th centuries. These massive figures, often standing as tall as 33 feet (10 meters) and weighing several tons, were carved from compressed volcanic ash at the island’s quarries. Exactly how why and how the Rapa Nui transported these statues is stil a mystery today.
Besides the iconic moai, Easter Island has a stunning volcanic crater, Rano Kau, which is a significant geological attraction. The crater is home to a freshwater lake and provides panoramic views of the island.
What to do on Easter Island: Explore, hike, swim, dive and take in the culture and beauty of this remote destination.
Where to stay on Easter Island: Explora
The Amazon Rainforest in Brazil is a unique ecosystem that has global significance. It is known for its biodiversity with around 390 billion individual trees representing approximately 16,000 different species. As importantly, the Amazon is referred to as the “Lung of the Earth” because of its crucial role in producing oxygen and regulating the global climate. The dense vegetation of the rainforest absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen through the process of photosynthesis. This vital function helps to mitigate climate change by acting as a massive carbon sink.
Additionally, the Amazon is home to indigenous communities that have developed unique cultures, traditions, and knowledge systems that are deeply connected to the rainforest.
What to do in the Amazon: Take a boat down the Amazon, immerse yourself with a local tribe and explore one of the most wild and exotic places in the world.
Machu Picchu, often referred to as the “Lost City of the Incas,” is an archaeological site located high in the Andes Mountains of Peru. What makes Machu Picchu special extends beyond its mountain scenery and ancient ruins. The Machu Picchu experience is a combination of history, culture, and architecture. Machu Picchu is at an elevation of approximately 7,970 feet above sea level with a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains. It is a popular place to hike for those who can manage the altitude and the heights. Otherwise you can take a luxury train to the top which makes it a destination for almost anyone.
What to do in Machu Picchu: Hike, explore, learn about the Incan culture and enjoy the local cuisine.
Where to stay in Machu Picchu: Sanctuary Lodge, a Belmond Hotel
Punta del Este and Jose Ignacio
Uruguay is one of the most effortlessly beautiful countries in South America, and it’s where to go if you want to completely relax. The good life is the philosophy of Uruguay, which is often filled with its neighbors from Argentina during the holidays. It’s all about food, scenery, beach, relaxation and repeat. Uruguay is so beautiful that even if you aren’t into horses, you’ll want to buy a horse farm as part of your retirement end game. Green best describes Uruguay, where there are rolling hills and vineyards as far as the eye can see.
What to do in Uruguay: Enjoy life and take in the South American spirit and culture and their version of La Dolce Vita.
Where to Stay in Uruguay: Fasano and the Vik Hotels
Location: Brazil + Argentina
If you like to chase waterfalls, the Iguazu is one of the most impressive in South America. Iguazu Falls is a massive waterfall system consisting of approximately 275 individual falls and spanning nearly 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers) along the Iguazu River. The falls are situated within the Iguazu National Park in Argentina and the Iguaçu National Park in Brazil.
Where to stay at the Iguazu Falls: On the Argentina side, the new-ish Awasi hotel. On the Brazilian side, the Hotel Das Cataratas, part of the Belmond.
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Q: What are some of the top destinations in South America?
A: South America is filled with lifetime trips. Top destinations in South America include the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia, and Easter Island. Also not to be forgotten as some of the top destinations in South America are Machu Picchu, the Patagonia mountains, and the Iguazu Falls.
Q: Where are the Iguazu Falls located?
A: The Iguazu Falls is one of the top destinations in South America. It’s located in both Argentina and Brazil.
Q: What is the most remote destination in South America?
A: The most remote destination in South America is also one of the top destinations in South America. However it’s often overlooked, but it’s a lifetime destination. Easter Island is the most remote destination in South America, located over 1,200 miles off the coast of Chile.