Explore South America: Top Attactions

The wonders of South America set the stage for incredible adventures.


Dubbed the "Machu Picchu of the North.

Photo: © Matyas Rehak / Shutterstock

Travelers have their heads literally in the clouds when visiting the walled jungle fortress Kuélap in the northern highlands of Peru

Overlooking the lush Utcubamba Valley, situated at 3000m (9842ft) above sea level, this remote pre-Inca site is spread over 15 acres, making it one of the largest stone ruins in the Americas. Built by the indigenous Chachapoyas, Kuélap includes over 400 circular buildings (many well-preserved) that can be reached by foot or cable car.

Parque Nacional da Tijuca

All that's left of the Atlantic rainforest that once surrounded Rio de Janeiro.

This 39-sq-km tropical-jungle preserve is an exuberant green, with beautiful trees, creeks and waterfalls, mountainous terrain and high peaks.

It has an excellent, well-marked trail system.

Candomblistas (practitioners of the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé) leave offerings by the roadside; families have picnics; and serious hikers climb the 1012m to the summit of Pico da Tijuca.

Laguna Parón

A unique destination for hikers, rock climbers and nature enthusiasts.

The largest lake in the Cordillera Blanca — a snowcapped range of the Andes in west central Peru — and a gorgeous natural reservoir.

Listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1985, Laguna Parón can be reached by car or by foot.

From its shores visitors can take in precious views of formidable peaks blanketed in fresh snow (including Artesonraju, the pyramid peak many believe to have inspired the logo of Paramount Pictures).

Pão de Açúcar

A visit to Pão de Açúcar is a must, but be prepared for heavy crowds.

Seen from the peak of Pão de Açúcar, Rio is undoubtedly a Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous City). There are many good times to make the ascent, but sunset on a clear day is the most rewarding.

Two cable cars connect to the summit, 395m above Rio.

At the top, the city unfolds beneath you, with Corcovado mountain and Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) off to the west, and Copacabana Beach to the south.

Glaciar Perito Moreno

Among the Earth's most dynamic and accessible ice fields.

Photo: José Aréchaga

Glaciar Perito Moreno is the stunning centerpiece of the southern sector of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. Locally referred to as Glaciar Moreno, it measures 30km long, 5km wide and 60m high, but what makes it exceptional in the world of ice is its constant advance – up to 2m per day, causing building-sized icebergs to calve from its face.

In some ways, watching the glacier is a very sedentary park experience, but it manages to nonetheless be thrilling.

Los Seismiles

The transition from desert into the high country is mind-boggling.

Photo: Igor Alecsander / Getty Images

West of Fiambalá, the paved road winds through the high desert, past picturesque red rock escarpments known as the Quebrada Angosturas, and into some serious altitude, topping out at the Chilean border.

It's a stunning drive, with no services apart from a seasonal white-elephant hotel halfway between Fiambalá and the frontier.

Los Seismiles are the peaks above 6000m, and you'll see several of them, including Ojos del Salado (6879m), the world's highest volcano.

Copacabana Beach

A magnificent confluence of land and sea

Photo: Angelalourenco / Getty Images

A magnificent confluence of land and sea, the long, scalloped beach of Copacabana extends for some 4km, with a flurry of activity along its length: over-amped soccer players singing their team's anthem; cariocas (Rio residents) and tourists lining up for caipirinhas at kiosks; favela kids showing off their soccer skills; and beach vendors shouting out their wares among the tanned beach bodies.

Parque Nacional Lanín

Come here for some of the region's best hiking

Photo: fputruele / Getty Images

Dominating the view in all directions along the Chilean border, the snowcapped cone of 3776m Volcán Lanín is the centerpiece of this national park, which extends 150km from Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi in the south to Lago Ñorquinco in the north.

Come here for some of the region's best hiking, including the ascent of the star of the Lake District – the picture-perfect cone of Volcán Lanín.

Ipanema Beach

Subcultures as diverse as the city itself.

Photo: Marcia Rosa / Getty Images

The area is also known as Cemetério dos Elefantes because of the handful of old leftists, hippies and artists who sometimes hang out there. In front of Rua Farme de Amoedo is Praia Farme, the stomping ground for gay society.

Whatever spot you choose, you'll enjoy cleaner sands and sea than those in Copacabana. Keep in mind that if you go on a Saturday or Sunday, the sands get crowded. Go early to stake out a spot.

Museo del Oro

Bogotá's most famous museum and one of the most fascinating in South America

Photo: Ostill / Shutterstock

Bogotá's most famous museum and one of the most fascinating in South America, the Gold Museum contains more than 55,000 pieces of gold and other materials from all of Colombia's major pre-Hispanic cultures.

The collection is laid out in logical, thematic rooms over three floors; descriptions are in Spanish and English.

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