South America is a continent full of mysterious wonders that are worth trekking to and vibrant, colonial cities to visit, all worthy of the best backpacking South America routes.
South America tourist attractions offer something for every kind of traveler. History buffs can check out the ruins left by ancient civilizations. Nature lovers could spend years exploring the natural parks spread across the continent.
Here’s a rundown of ten South America tourist spots to visit.
#1: Mount Roraima in Brazil, Guyana, and Venezuela
This majestic landmark geographically framed by the countries of Brazil to the south and Venezuela to the west is still very much a part of the Guyana Highlands (also called the Guiana Shield) – of which it is also associated with the Guyana proper that is located to the east. As a matter of fact, successfully reaching the top of this mountain means that you’ll also be standing in three different countries at the same time. Its unique tabletop formation called a tepui makes this northeastern stopover on the continent a must-see tourist attraction and can be accessible via plane and helicopter – for those who aren’t fit enough to scale it. Backpackers usually approach the mountain from the Venezuelan side where they can utilize the services of a Pemon Indian guide that can be hired at the nearby Paraipetui village.
#2: Kaieteur Falls, Guyana
Another one of the best South America tourist spots is this high-volume waterfall situated in central Guyana that owes its origins to the Guyana Highlands. Kaieteur Falls has a 741 feet drop and ranks 26th of the most scenic waterfalls in the world. It is a major tourist attraction in Guyana of which it is also a part of the Kaieteur National Park and located at the heart of the country’s rainforest. The park provides easy access to backpackers who are better off flying and landing at the falls’ maintained airstrip from Ogle Airport or from nearby Cheddi Jagan International Airport in Georgetown. By land, the park provides relatively easy access for backpackers arriving from Kaieteur International Airport as well.
#3: Angel Falls, Venezuela
It is inevitable that most backpacking South America routes in the northeastern side of the continent will always lead you to the world’s highest falls in Venezuela after visiting the Guyana Highlands. The falls is 3,212 feet high and is best appreciated by an air trip since getting there is quite complicated, even for die-hard travelers. The falls are located in a secluded jungle area of Venezuela. Inbound flights are required to reach Canaima camp where river boat trips start off and take you to the base of the falls. Hiring Pemon Indian guides could help backpackers reach Angel Falls by foot, but the trip itself is arduous, even for a seasoned veteran.
#4: Iguazu Falls in Argentina and Brazil
Another of the South America tourist spots you’ll want to add to your backpacking route across the continent is the famed waterfalls of the Iguazu River. The falls is renowned for the U-shaped cataract amid the waterfall system called the Devil’s Throat which also marks the border between Argentina and Brazil. It is best to reach the falls from Argentina via Puerto Iguazú. The only downside with approaching it from that side is that Brazil and Paraguay have the policy of requiring some foreign citizens entering from Argentina to secure visas, which is quite time-consuming. Another route to take would be from Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil and Ciudad del Este in Paraguay. The falls are shared by two national parks, each found respectively in Argentina and Brazil, and have been both designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
#5: Cartagena, Colombia
The city of Cartagena was one of the first cities founded by Spaniards in the continent, who ruled the area for almost 275 years. Crisscrossing the city to snap photos of the many picturesque attractions is something that you’ll be doing a lot as a tourist. The remains of the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas stands as a testament to the formidable Spanish military architecture during those times. Colonial heritage is easily still recognizable due to the presence of fortress walls and cannons that are still standing and still surrounds most of the old city. To get to Cartagena, you can sail, fly, or travel overland via other parts of Colombia. The neighborhood in the northern area is a pleasant destination for backpackers.
#6: The Galápagos, Ecuador
Often dubbed as the world’s greatest living biological laboratory, the semi-barren islands are renowned for the diverse array of wildlife such as marine iguanas, flightless cormorants, huge tortoises and sea turtles, and even sea lions and a few species of penguins far from their usual habitats. The islands are under the protective jurisdiction of the Ecuadorian government and together, with its surrounding waters, not only form a collective province but also a national park, an elaborate biological marine reserve, and one of the most visited South America tourist spots. Since adopting a naturalist and reservation stance, Ecuadorians allow tourists to visit specific places on the islands via cruises and continuously remind them of the conservatory status imposed upon the islands by UNESCO. This is one of the few places in the world that can bring out the naturalist in you as well as provide the opportunity to improve on your non-invasive photography skills.
#7: Nazca Lines, Peru
Peru hosts a multitude of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and South America tourist spots which have had stringent preservation measures imposed upon some of them in the last two decades. One of the worthwhile trips you can take from an aerial point of view in Peru is to take in the awesome Nazca lines and geoglyphs strewn on a high plateau from a chartered aircraft. The civilization responsible for this antedates even the Incas. This is one of the top rated South America tourist attractions you can visit without having to actually set foot on the site, since you won’t be able to appreciate its significance and design from the ground.
#8: Mendoza, Argentina
Most film buffs would recognize Mendoza as the place where Jean-Jacques Annaud recreated the Tibetan city of Lhasa with the Andes providing the serene backdrop for his 1997 film “Seven Years In Tibet.” Mendoza’s picturesque location at the bottom of the majestic Andes has made it a viable center for commerce and tourism this side of Argentina. Mendoza offers a lot of recreational activities to adventurous backpackers like skiing, paragliding, climbing, and cross-country hiking. Getting there and acquiring transportation is not much of a hassle. The best backpacking South America routes to take in reaching Mendoza are a 13-hour trip from Buenos Aires or a 6 to 7-hour trip from Santiago. The region is also known for two things: wine and olive oil. Mendoza, as well as the rest of Argentina, is a hostel paradise for most backpackers, so accommodations are not a problem, and most of them are already accustomed to catering to a backpacker’s needs.
#9: Patagonia, Argentina and Chile
Patagonia is home to imposing glaciers, volcanoes, glacier-fed lakes, and rushing rivers. There are notable South America tourist spots to watch out for in this region, particularly the Vólcan Osorno, the Pepito Moreno Glacier, and the Chilean fjords that serve to remind you of how majestic nature is. Reaching Patagonia proper is somewhat problematic as there are no direct roads leading to it, and even the one from Argentina is already a long trip. Flying is the best solution, followed by boat trips. The sights in Patagonia are at times hampered by weather, so your experience will leave you with pictures of immense beauty or just a gray haze. The Patagonia on the Chilean side connects easily into Argentina, thereby causing little to no problems in reaching the Perito Moreno Glacier and Tierra del Fuego.
#10: Tierra del Fuego in the Strait of Magellan
While most backpackers find the prospect of visiting 28,470 square miles of semi-Antarctic frontier imposing and isolationist, the islands are exotic enough to land on this list of top rated South America tourist attractions. The cities of Ushuaia (Argentina) and Puerto Williams (Chile) each claim to be the southernmost city in the world, so it’s worth dropping in with a backpack in tow. The Argentinian side of the region offers the Tierra del Fuego National Park and the Lapataia Bay as prime tourist attractions easily accessible from Ushuaia. Puerto Williams is home to a distinguished anthropological museum. You’ll have to choose a flight or channel ferry to get to the main island. Both key sites on the main island are also known for being logistics points for Antarctic expeditions.
Flickr photo attributions: 1. gwegner.de 2. nicholaslaughlin 3. ronbrinkmann 4. bekbek75 6. alh1 7. Bluelemur 8. mewd 9. yuge 10. Sergio R. Nuñez C.