Best Countries To Visit In South America

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From hiking in Machu Picchu to horseriding in Patagonia, South America is a fantastic place for an adventure holiday. From the steamy rainforest of the Amazon to the snow-capped Andes, South America’s gallery of landscapes is truly inspiring. With a spread of landscapes and culture, choosing the best country to visit in South America is an impossible task. 

The continent has an impressive arsenal of natural and cultural wonders, including hundreds of national parks and colonial cities brimming with heritage architecture. Two of the most famous landmarks in South America are Peru’s Machu Picchu and the Christ the Redeemer landmark in Brazil, but there are so many more off-the-beaten-track delights to discover. 

Unless you’re planning on spending a year or more travelling around South America’s 12 countries Here are our top picks of the best countries to visit in South America

Best Countries To Visit In South America

Why Travel To South America?  

South America consists of 12 countries, and there’s a range of cultural and natural diversity, making it an exciting place to travel. Here are some reasons to go to South America:

  • South America is inexpensive – With favourable exchange rates – especially if you’re from the USA, Australia, UK or Canada – you don’t need to rob a bank to have a great time exploring South America.
  • South America is fun – Having fun is part of Latin American culture, and the Latinos know how to have a good time eating, drinking and dancing. Add some zing to your visit by planning your trip around a festival or local cultural celebration. 

What are the safest countries in South America?

You’ve holidayed as a family at Disneyland, New York or Hawaii, you’re ready for a family adventure and are looking for the safest countries in South America to visit. 

According to the Institute for Economics and Peace’s, Global Peace Index, which ranks the safest countries in the world, the safest countries in South America are Chile, Uruguay, Ecuador, Argentina, Peru and Bolivia. 

The Institute for Economics and Peace is an independent non-profit organisation that ranks 163 countries using 23 different indicators to determine how safe each nation is.

Countries That Speak Spanish In South America

Country in South AmericaCapitalPopulationLanguageFamous Places To Visit
BrazilRio de Janeiro212,559,417PortugueseChrist the Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain, Copacabana, Pantanal, Iguacu Falls
ColombiaBogota50,882,891SpanishMedellin, Cartagena, Tayrona National Park
ArgentinaBuenos Aires45,195,774SpanishAtacama Desert, Perito Moreno Glacier, Iguazu Falls
PeruLima32,971,854SpanishMachu Picchu, Cusco, Lake Titicaca
VenezuelaCaracas28,435,940SpanishAngel Falls, Isla Margarita
ChileSantiago19,116,201SpanishTorres del Paine National Park, Easter Island
EcuadorQuito17,643,054SpanishGalapagos Islands, Quito
BoliviaLa Paz11,673,021SpanishUyuni salt flats, Lake Titicaca
ParaguayNuestra Señora Santa María de la Asunción7,132,538SpanishItaipu Dam, San Rafael National Park
UruguayMontevideo3,473,730SpanishPunta del Este, Mercedes
GuyanaGeorgetown786,552EnglishKaieteur National Park, Iwokrama Rainforest
SurinameParamaribo586,632DutchBrownsberg Nature Park, Palumeu
French Guyana (region of France)Cayenne298,682FrenchÎles du Salut (Salvation Islands), Guiana Space Centre
South America428,986,820

Best Countries To Visit In South America

1- Chile

Patagonia is shared between two countries in South America
Two countries in South America share Patagonia – Argentina and Chile.
Santiago

Santiago is an excellent place to start your adventure, and although it may not be the most vibrant city, it’s the cleanest and safest city in South America.

Sandwiched between ski slopes and the Pacific Ocean, with wineries in every direction, there are plenty of places to visit around Chile’s capital.   

The city has many parks and outdoor areas including Parque Metropolitano, which is easy to reach by funicular to the top of Cerro San Cristobal. 

On the way, visit the Jardin Zoologico for sightings of Chilean animals such as puma, vicuna, deer, condor and tropical birds. 

Santiago has an efficient metro system (metrosantiago.cl) and reasonably priced boutique hotels in a trendy suburb like Providencia costs around $120 for a double.  

Patagonia

Beyond Santiago, Patagonia has spectacular scenery with soaring mountains, forests, lakes and glaciers perfect for trekking and horse riding. 

A Patagonia cruise aboard expedition-style ship Stella Australis is a fantastic way to explore.  

Passengers are transferred ashore in zodiacs for twice-daily excursions, and the landscape is a stunning outdoor classroom where the whole family can learn about the region’s flora, fauna and history. 

Atacama Desert

Another region to consider for its adventure appeal is the Atacama Desert in the north, with its lunar landscape, geysers and thermal springs. 

2- Ecuador

best countries to visit in south america for wildlife
Home to the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador is one of the best countries to visit in South America for wildlife

When it comes to nature, South America’s second smallest country is a tough competitor to beat. 

Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands is a fantastic place for nature lovers, and if you’re travelling with the family, it’s an excellent choice for a hands-on educational holiday for kids.  

They’ll learn about Charles Darwin’s voyage on the HMS Beagle and his discovery of a wildlife wonderland of Galapagos Islands animals such as lizards, iguanas, sea lions and crabs. 

The Galapagos Islands has 1300 species found nowhere else on earth, and the easiest way to see the Galapagos is to take a cruise. 

A self-guided Galapagos Islands itinerary is another way to explore. 

There’s no better way of learning about one of the world’s last wilderness frontiers than being on the spot with a local nature guide who is passionate.  

Quito

Ecuador is named after the equator, the line which divides the northern and southern hemispheres. 

There are two equator attractions in Quito – La Mitad del Mundo (middle of the world) and a quirky interactive outdoor museum near Quito called Museo de Sitio Intinan, where you can stand with one foot in each hemisphere.

The setup is entertaining and guided demonstrations involve audience participation, where you can have fun finding out whether water does go down the plughole the other way in the opposite hemisphere. 

There are over 70 volcanoes in Ecuador, including Cotopaxi, which is one of the highest active volcanos in the world. 

Amazon

The Amazon rainforest is a day trip from the colonial city of Quito, which has a treasure trove of UNESCO World Heritage-listed mansions and museums. 

3- Argentina

Two countries in south america share Iguazu Falls
Two countries in South America share Iguazu Falls – Argentina and Brazil. The Argentinean side is more impressive.

Gauchos, futbal and Iguazu Falls are three good reasons to take the family to Argentina. 

Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is the birthplace of the Argentine Tango and lessons are available in youth hostels, cafes, dance academies and milongas (dance halls). 

Stay in a tango themed hotel and enjoy daily tango lessons, shows, fashion parades and tango themed rooms.

There are tango events throughout the year, such Tango Festival y Mundial in August. 

For more contemporary partying, neo tango is a fusion of traditional tango and electronic music.

It’s played in nightclubs but you’ll have to become a night owl to get into the groove. 

Nightlife doesn’t get going until midnight, and some dance clubs open at 2 am! Most Argentineans have dinner after 9 pm. 

When visiting Argentina, it’s possible to stay in a charming boutique hotel in a hip area in Buenos Aires for under $100.   

If you’re visiting Buenos Aires with kids, a few blocks away from Palermo’s trendy shops and bars is the Buenos Aires Zoo where kids can marvel at the Andean condor and aguara guazu (a maned wolf from northern Argentina). 

The Museo de los Ninos Abasto is a children’s museum (for kids under 10), with interactive and educational exhibits designed for young travellers to learn about Buenos Aires.  

Boca Juniors fans will love the new soccer-themed hotel, Hotel Boca (hotelbocajuniors.com), which has memorabilia and life-sized paintings of players on room doors but if you’re planning on seeing a match, purchase your tickets well in advance. 

Horse riding with the gauchos is fun for all the family, and there are several estancias about an hour’s drive from the city. 

Beyond the capital, Argentina’s natural attractions range from the glaciers of Patagonia in the south to the deserts of Salta in the north. 

Iguazu Falls

The country’s shining star is Iguazu Falls, which is a gushing goliath among the pantheon of best waterfalls in the world. 

Iguazu National Park has plenty of adventure activities too, such as jet boating beneath the falls and zip-lining in the forest. 

4- Peru

Machu Picchu is one of the best places to visit in south america
Peru is possibly one of the best countries to visit in South America for spectacular Inca ruins.

Boat tours on Lake Titicaca, jungle adventures in the Amazon basin, climbing Machu Picchu and learning about Peru’s Inca civilisation are some of the attractions in Peru.  

Peru’s Inca history is a drawcard, and Machu Picchu is one of the top places in South America to cross off your list.

Climbing the Inca ruins (Pisac or Ollantaytambo) is fun and educational, and the train to Machu Picchu is an adventure, but exploring Machu Picchu can be tiring, so stay overnight in Aqua Calientes. 

When travelling to Machu Picchu, it’s a good idea to acclimatise at a lower altitude in the Sacred Valley (rather than Cuzco). 

The Incas are relatively new to Peruvian civilisation, and there are many more fascinating archaeological attractions to visit such as the Nazca Lines, etched into the desert floor, Chimu kingdom’s Chan Chan, Caral and Chavin de Huantar. 

With over 3,000 festivals in Peru, there’s no shortage of festivities including some obscure ones like the Marinera Festival (held at the end of January) in Trujillo, where people celebrate with flirtatious dancing for couples involving a handkerchief.  

March is Peru’s carnival time when there are colourful displays of dancing, elaborate costumes and masks.

The local custom is to throw buckets of water and powder at anyone around so wear old clothes.  

South America’s second-largest festival and the biggest festival in Peru is Inti Raymi – Festival of the Sun (24 June) in Cuzco.

It’s the best Inca festival to plan your trip around to experience Inca rituals and plenty of partying around town.  

More than 200,000 visitors flock to attend rituals, parties and celebrations in honour of the God of the Sun: Wiracocha. 

5- Bolivia

Vehicles reflected in Bolivia's salt flats
Bolivia is perhaps one of the cheapest countries in South America to visit.

Not only is Bolivia home to the highest capital in the world (La Paz), Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest lake and Salar de Uyuni the highest salt flats. 

South America’s poorest country is rich in culture, which is displayed with pride by the locals at festivals and markets.

If you’re on a budget, pick Bolivia as it’s one of the cheapest countries in South America to visit.

The mining town of Oruro is the venue of the Oruro Carnival when thousands of Bolivian folk dancers in colourful traditional costumes and masks dance up a storm. 

People party in the plazas and gather on rooftops to watch La Diablada (dance of the devils), which is a massive parade with up to 30,000 dancers and musicians dressed up as Inca gods, devils and spirit animals.

6- Brazil

Rio de Janeiro and sugarloaf mountain in Brazil
Brazil is the best country in South America to explore contemporary architecture.

With 7000km of beaches and 44 national parks, Brazil is a natural playground.

Rio de Janeiro

With a mountainous backdrop and natural harbour, Rio de Janeiro is a magnet for travellers. 

Visiting Rio during Carnaval time is one of the things to do in Brazil for your bucket list as the city is one big party. 

Rio puts on parties, parades and formal events, but there are plenty of free street and beach celebrations at Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. 

The Samba Parade is a spectacular thing to see in Rio as the elaborate floats are truly impressive. 

Hundreds of people samba down the street in glitzy costumes and hotels, bars, cafes and restaurants are all open for partying. 

In Rio de Janeiro, families should head for Leblon Beach, an upmarket area with organised beach sports for adults and children. 

There’s a free play zone with toys for toddlers, and there’s the opportunity of joining local school kids in a game of beach soccer.  

On weekends, the beaches are filled with entertainers, jugglers, magicians and musicians. 

At Museu do Indio, a museum for Brazil’s indigenous cultures, kids can get creative with body stamps and paints for kids and play in models of native Indian houses.  

In the Catete neighbourhood, Parque do Catete has a toy library where you can hire toys by the hour.

Carnival (February) is the most expensive time to visit Rio as room rates can quadruple. 

Still, you can save money by eating at no-frills “per kilo” restaurants where you pay for your meal according to the weight of the plate (usually between $8 and $30 a kilogram).  

Sao Paulo

Sao Paulo is Brazil’s largest city and its cultural capital. It has an array of museums, cafes and bars. 

There are plenty of attractions for the little ones, including a Wet n Wild water slide park, a science museum, zoo and a snake study centre. 

The Pantanal, the Amazon basin and Iguacu Falls are adventure destinations with plenty to offer. 

Safaris in the Pantanal, one of the world’s most extensive tropical wetlands, usually include visits to local schools and farms, wildlife quizzes and campfires.  

7- Colombia

best countries to visit in south america colombia
Colombia is one of the best places to visit in South America for its natural beauty and historic cities.

Colonial architecture, the Caribbean coastline and coffee triangle are some of the things to see in this country in South America. 

During the 1980s, Colombia’s third-largest city, Santiago de Cali, was the capital of drug barons. 

The drug cartels have been cleaned up, and Colombia is fast becoming a safe country in South America to visit. 

The Zumba craze that took the world by storm came from Colombia and has similarities to the Colombian salsa. 

Colombians salsa all year round in restaurants and public squares but a fun time to visit is during the Salsa Festival in Medellin (July) and the Cali Salsa Festival (December). 

South America

South America

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I'm a writer, photographer and video blogger based in Queensland, Australia, when I'm not on the road. I've lived in three continents and my career as a travel journalist has taken me to all seven continents. Since 2003, I have contributed travel stories to mainstream media in Australia and around the world such as the Sydney Morning Herald, CNN Traveller, The Australian and the South China Morning Post. I have won many travel writing awards and I'm a full member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers.

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