South America is home to some of the most beautiful places in the world.
From unique rock formations to colorful desert landscapes and turquoise blue glacier lakes, there are so many incredible bucket list spots to visit in South America.
We traveled down the entire South America continent in search of unique attractions and adventures. But South America is HUGE so it can be quite difficult to choose which places to see on a vacation or a long-term trip.
If you are planning a trip to South America, we have compiled a list of our favorite locations – in the order that we visited them.
Most of the places that we cover in this article are natural attractions. If you’re looking for a city guide, make sure to check out our post covering 15 Of The Best Cities To Visit In South America.
Here are 20 of the most beautiful places to visit in South America:
- Piedra Del Peñol
- Termales Santa Rosa de Cabal
- Valle De Cocora
- Tatacoa Desert
- Quito Swing
- Quilotoa Lake
- Pailon Del Diablo Waterfall
- Swing At The End Of The World
- Gocta Waterfall
- Laguna Paron
- Laguna 69
- Huacachina Oasis
- Aguas de Huancaraylla
- Machu Picchu Ruins
- Hand Of The Desert
- Queulat National Park
- Cerro Castillo
- Marble Caves
- Torres Del Paine National Park
- Perito Moreno Glacier
Piedra Del Peñol
Piedra Del Peñol is a giant rock formation in Colombia just an hour and a half outside of Medellin. This place is very unique and unlike anything we’ve ever seen so during our South America journey, we made a special trip to visit this incredible rock formation and the nearby Guatapé town.
Located next to a lake, Piedra Del Peñol offers spectacular panoramic views, especially for those who choose to hike the 600+ stairs that lead to the top of this rock.
Although the steps look a bit intimidating, in reality, they’re not as challenging as they seem. Plus there are plenty of areas along the way for visitors to stop and rest.
If you choose to hike the Piedra Del Peñol rock, make sure to bring along plenty of water, snacks, and sunscreen – especially on a sunny day.
If you have extra time, its well worth it to make a stop in the nearby Guatapé city, one of the most charming and colorful colonial towns that we visited in South America.
Location: Guatapé, Antioquia, Colombia
Hours: 8 am to 5 pm
Cost: 18,000 Colombian Pesos ($5 USD)
Termales Santa Rosa de Cabal
Termales Santa Rosa de Cabal is one of those South America gems that we unexpectedly stumbled upon while traveling through Colombia. Although this hot spring resort is quite popular for locals, it’s still very much under the radar for international visitors.
Located in the midst of lush tropical jungle surrounded by waterfalls and beautiful meandering rivers, this spa is such a treat especially for those that enjoy soaking in mineral hot springs.
But unlike some natural hot springs, Termales Santa Rosa de Cabal is quite developed. Here visitors can enjoy a few different hot pools, scenic bridges and trails, waterfalls, showers, restaurants, and hotels.
As one of the nicest hot springs in South America, Termales Santa Rosa de Cabal gets quite crowded. We came here right after opening in the morning to avoid the crowds but within an hour this spa was packed. But even with the big crowds, overall Termales Santa Rosa de Cabal was super clean and well maintained.
Hours: 9:00 am to 11:30 pm
Cost: 25,000 Colombian Pesos ($7 USD)
Valle De Cocora
Valle De Cocora, or Cocora Valley, is a beautiful natural area in Colombia with some of the tallest palm trees in the world.
These skinny towering wax palms are located on top of rolling green hills and can even grow up to 150 feet tall. If you are planning a trip to South America, Valle De Cocora is one of those bucket list spots that you simply can’t miss.
At Valle De Cocora visitors can pay a small fee and go up to multiple viewpoints to see these palm trees up close or even go on longer half-day trails that loop through the valley.
Due to the tropical weather, this Palm Tree Valley is often partially covered in white clouds giving this area quite the picturesque moody look.
The trails at Valle De Cocora are pretty steep and slippery so if you plan to visit this region, make sure to wear sturdy hiking shoes and bring a rain jacket in case it starts raining mid-hike.
Valle De Cocora is located about a 30-minute drive from Salento town where most visitors stay at. Often the most expensive part of visiting this palm tree valley is just arranging transportation there from Salento.
Hours: 8 am to 6 pm
Cost: 3000 Colombian Pesos ($1 USD) to enter the Cocora Valley
Tatacoa Desert might be one of the most underrated places in South America.
With colorful red rock canyons next to moody grey desert landscapes, Tatacoa Desert is a must for those who enjoy something a bit different. But Tatacoa Desert is extremely hot so most people either really enjoy it or can’t wait to leave it.
Tatacoa Desert is quite unique because here travelers can see two types of desert landscapes right next to each other – and both are equally stunning in their own way.
The orange terrain of the Tatacoa Desert is very popular for its viewpoints and hiking trails that lead through deeply carved canyons and hills. But before you head out on any of the trails at the Tatacoa Desert make sure to bring lots of water and download a hiking map like Maps.me app so you don’t get lost in the desert.
In the grey part of the Tatacoa Desert, my favorite spot was Piscina Mineral, a set of turquoise blue outdoor pools located in the midst of the grey desert canyons.
This is an especially refreshing place to cool off from the desert heat and sun. It costs around 8000 Colombian Pesos ($2 USD) to dip in for a swim in these beautiful desert pools.
The closest big city to the Tatacoa Desert is Neiva where we stayed during our time in this region. If you don’t have a personal car, you can also arrange day tours to the Tatacoa Desert from Nieva at one of the local hostels.
Hours: Open all day & night
Cost: Tatacoa Desert is free to visit
I’m not a person that usually likes big metropolitan cities, but the cities in South America really exceeded my expectations.
One of my favorite cities that we visited during our time in South America was Quito.
In Quito, tourists can roam around narrow cobblestone streets in Old Town, admire the colonial-style architecture and visit a ton of good restaurants and bars.
But the highlight of Quito is the thrilling TeleferiQo cable car that takes visitors up to the top of a mountain overlooking Quito city offering some jaw-dropping views along the way. Quito is one of the highest cities in the world and from the viewpoints at the top visitors can see a few different volcanoes in the distance.
From here you can also head on some day hikes into the mountains or hop on the Columpio Del Teleferico that is a giant swing overlooking Quito city below.
Hours: 9 am to 8 pm
Cost: TeleferiQo cable car ride costs $8.50 USD
If you’re planning a trip to South America, Quilotoa Lake should be near the top of your bucket list. Although Quilotoa Lake is quite far from major cities, most people traveling to Ecuador make a special trip to visit this magnificent lake.
Shaped like a round crater, Quilotoa Lake is famous for its turquoise blue color and breathtaking mountain scenery that surrounds it.
Most people that visit Quilotoa Lake end up spending one or two days in this region. There is a wonderful hike that loops around the lake but depending on the weather conditions it can be quite difficult to complete. We started this hike in the afternoon and an hour in it was so windy and rainy that we had to turn around and head back.
There is also a trail that leads down to the waterfront but coming back up can be a challenge especially for those that are not used to the altitude.
If you’re not up for hiking, there are a few designated viewing platforms overlooking Quilotoa lake along with some restaurants and souvenir shops.
Location: Laguna de Quilotoa, Ecuador
Hours: You can visit the lake at any time
Cost: Free to visit and hike the lake
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Pailon Del Diablo Waterfall
Pailon Del Diablo waterfall is hands down one of the best waterfalls that I have ever visited. And that’s a lot coming from me, someone who spent a year living in Oregon, a place that’s known to have some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world.
Pailon Del Diablo is a lush waterfall located near Baños town in Ecuador. What makes the Pailon Del Diablo waterfall so special are the scenic viewing platforms that visitors can use to get a closer look at the waterfall soaring down a clifftop.
There are two entrances at the Pailon Del Diablo waterfall and each of these entrances leads to separate viewpoints. One of these viewpoints offers especially good views overlooking picturesque stairs that connect two different platforms.
It took us about 30 minutes to hike down to the Pailon Del Diablo waterfall through a trail that passes lush jungle scenery and suspension bridges. Although the hike isn’t too long, it does get super slippery from the powerful waterfall mist that covers this entire area.
Location: Baños, Ecuador
Hours: 8 am to 7 pm
Cost: $2 USD
Read More: 10 Fun Things To Do In Baños, Ecuador
Swing At The End Of The World
La Casa Del Arbol, also known as The Swing At The End Of The World is one of the most picturesque places in South America. Located on top of a mountain with jaw-dropping landscape and volcanos in its background, this swing is a MUST for anyone traveling to Ecuador.
Ecuador is home to quite a few scenic swings but The Swing At The End Of The World is by far the most iconic of them all.
La Casa del Arbol swing was originally set up by a local for himself to enjoy but this swing quickly became very popular for its beautiful location.
Now The Swing At The End Of The World is one of the biggest attractions in South America drawing tourists from all over the world. With an entrance fee of just $1, this swing is also one of the cheapest attractions around so you can expect major crowds unless you come super early in the morning.
Location: Baños, Ecuador
Hours: 6:30 am to 7:00 pm
Cost: $1 USD
Gocta waterfall is a beautiful hidden gem in Peru’s Chachapoyas region. As one of the biggest waterfalls in the world, you would expect the Gocta waterfall to be quite popular, but it’s remote location and difficulty in accessing it deters most visitors from traveling here.
With an estimated height of around 2500 feet, the Gocta waterfall ranks as one of the tallest waterfalls in the world. The nearby Yumbilla waterfall is even higher measuring to around 3000 feet in height. In comparison, that’s even higher than the towering Yosemite Falls in Califonia!
If you like waterfalls, it’s well worth a trip to visit these two beauties in the Amazonas rainforest jungle.
In general, the Chachapoyas region in Peru lacks good infrastructure and the roads can be pretty rough getting there. If you plan a trip here, expect some rugged car rides, lots of beautiful off-the-beaten-path jungle hikes and stunning multi-tiered waterfalls.
Location: Cocachimba, Peru
Cost: 10 Peruvian Soles ($3 USD)
Without a doubt, Peru has some of the most stunning alpine hikes in South America. With pristine blue glacier lakes and rugged mountain scenery, Peru attracts hikers from all over the world.
During our time in Peru, we visited a few glacier lakes and Laguna Paron was one of our favorites. With a flat trail that loops next to it, Laguna Paron was also one of the easiest lakes to hike in Peru, especially for those who are still getting used to the altitude.
If you’re up for a challenge, you can also go on a hike to a viewpoint overlooking the turquoise blue Laguna Paron. But this hike is a lot steeper and requires a bit of scrambling over giant boulders in order to get to the best views.
While most people spend a few hours enjoying the scenery at Laguna Paron, we liked it so much that we ended up camping here for a few days. Besides hiking, at Laguna Paron, you can also rent charming little canoes to explore the lake itself.
Location: Huascarán National Park, Peru
Cost: 5 Peruvian Soles ($1.50 USD)
Laguna 69 is another stunning alpine lake in Peru that is located in the same mountain region as Laguna Paron. If you’re looking for a beautiful day hike to do in South America, Laguna 69 is one of the best ones to do.
But Laguna 69 is located quite deep in the Peruvian mountains and depending on weather visiting this lake can be quite challenging. Plus Laguna 69 is located almost 15,000 feet high up in elevation so make sure to give yourself plenty of time to adjust to the altitude gain before attempting this hike.
It took us half a day to hike to Laguna 69 in a rainstorm and a few times I almost turned around and gave up. But I kept pushing and the views once we reached Laguna 69 were totally worth it.
While we visited Laguna 69 on our own, due to lack of public transportation and its remote location most people opt to sign up with a tour company from Huaraz city.
Location: Huascarán National Park, Peru
Cost: 30 Peruvian Soles ($10 USD)
Huacachina is a beautiful oasis city in South America that is surrounded by rolling sand dunes in all directions.
Huacachina Oasis is a popular stop for people traveling in-between Cusco and Lima cities in Peru. Huacachina itself is pretty small so most people end up spending 1-2 days here before moving on to their next destination.
This little oasis city is a favorite for those that enjoy fun desert adventures. At Huacachina Oasis visitors can hop on a thrilling dune buggy ride across giant sand dunes or go sandboarding in the desert.
For sunset, I recommend climbing one of the tall sand dunes that offer panoramic views overlooking Huacachina Oasis and its picturesque laguna from the top.
As one of the most beautiful places in South America, Huacachina Oasis is quite touristy. The whole city here caters to travelers and within Huacachina Oasis visitors can find a ton of different hotels, hostels, restaurants, and bars.
Location: Huacachina Oasis, Peru
Hours: Huacachina City can be accessed all day & night
Cost: It’s free to visit
Aguas de Huancaraylla
Aguas de Huancaraylla is one of the most beautiful off the beaten path places in South America. Due to its remote location Aguas de Huancaraylla is rarely visited by international travelers although lately, this location is gaining more popularity.
We visited Aguas de Huancaraylla while traveling in between Lima and Cusco but getting there was no easy feat. We drove through mountains for two days in search of this hidden location before we arrived there.
We had our own personal car with us which made things a bit easier but visitors can also arrange a day tour to Aguas de Huancaraylla from Ayacucho city in Peru.
What makes Aguas de Huancaraylla so special is the turquoise blue water that flows through the narrow canyon here.
Depending on the season and weather conditions the water in this river can change color. We came to Aguas de Huancaraylla in the rainy winter season when the water here looked more green-ish than blue but it still looked very beautiful.
At the Aguas de Huancaraylla attraction visitors can either hike around the clifftop overlooking the river or climb down into the river itself. When we came the water was super cold so we mostly just hiked around the top to different viewpoints and waterfalls.
Location: Huancaraylla District, Peru
Hours: 7 am to 8 pm
Cost: 2 Peruvian Soles (60 cents)
Machu Picchu Ruins
Machu Picchu Ruins is hands down THE most popular place to visit in South America. As one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu is on top of everyone’s bucket list.
But because Machu Picchu Ruins are so popular, if you plan to visit them, you will need to research and book everything well in advance.
Now daily Machu Picchu entrance tickets are sold in limited numbers to help with crowd control. Plus you’ll need to arrange a train to get there, a bus and possibly a tour guide to take you around so make sure not to wait until the last minute in case things start getting booked up.
Located on top of a mountain with deeply carved valleys below it, the entire Machu Picchu ancient city is surrounded by jaw-dropping landscapes that feel quite surreal.
Although Machu Picchu was abandoned soon after it was built, this location was never discovered by Spanish invaders which means it’s very well preserved compared to other Inca archeological sites.
Visiting Machu Picchu Ruins is one of the most amazing experiences that we’ve ever done, but it is quite expensive especially for South America. Our visit cost around $250 USD per person and that was on the cheaper end since we arranged everything on our own.
Location: Aguas Calientes, Peru
Hours: Entrance is open from 6 am to 2 pm
Cost: We paid around $250 USD for entrance tickets, train and bus rides
Hand Of The Desert
Hand Of The Desert is an impressive outdoor sculpture located in Chile’s Atacama Desert.
This sculpture is very unique and recognizable because it’s shaped to look like a giant hand coming out of the desert landscape.
Hand Of The Desert is located in the middle of nowhere – literally. We visited this attraction while traveling down the PanAmerican Highway across South America and ended up camping here overnight.
For camping, it was actually quite peaceful as there are no cities nearby so we were able to do some stargazing at night. But besides visiting The Hand Of The Desert sculpture, there isn’t anything else to do around for miles in either direction.
Most people just come here to take a few pictures of this iconic sculpture before heading on to their next destination.
Location: Antofagasta, Chile
Hours: Visitors can come at any time
Cost: It’s free to visit
Queulat National Park
Queulat National Park is a hidden gem that we found while driving down the Carretera Austral Highway in southern Chile.
The whole Carretera Austral region is very little known to international visitors but it’s highly popular for local travelers. Backpacking down the Carretera Austral Highway is kind of like a rite of passage for recent college graduates in Chile so this area can get quite crowded especially in the summertime.
The main attraction of Queulat National Park is the Ventisquero Colgante “hanging glacier”. This glacier is unique because it hangs down a steep cliff, unlike most other glaciers that are more low and flat. When the Ventisquero Colgante glacier melts, it creates a powerful waterfall rushing down the mountain.
To see the Ventisquero Colgante glacier visitors have to hike a couple of hours through a forest trail that leads to a viewing platform. Unfortunately, this platform is still pretty far from the glacier but it offers the closest view available.
As an option, Queulat National Park also offers boat tours and kayaking rentals.
Location: Cisnes, Aysén, Chile
Cost: 5000 Chilean Pesos ($6 USD)
Cerro Castillo is one of the most beautiful places for hiking in Chile and this region is speculated to be the next “Torres Del Paine” of South America.
At the Cerro Castillo Natural Reserve visitors have the option to do a multi-day trek or a shorter day hike to the Cerro Castillo Laguna.
Due to weather, we opted to do the shorter Laguna Cerro Castillo hike that takes half a day to complete and takes hikers up to a gorgeous glacier lake.
Whether you choose to do the multi-day trek or just the day hike, the downside is that these hikes go through private lands so you end up paying quite a bit of money to the local landowners to pass through their properties.
Due to strong winds and hail like rain, it’s also best to do these hikes when the weather is nice and sunny. We spent half a day hiking up to the Cerro Castillo Laguna but we only stayed 15 minutes at the top before we got too cold and hiked back.
Location: Coyhaique, Río Ibáñez, Aysén, Chile
Cost: 10,000 Chilean Pesos ($13 USD)
Marble Caves, is without a doubt, one of the most beautiful places in South America. When people ask me what are some of my favorite spots that we visited during our South America journey, usually I find it pretty hard to answer – because there are just SO many. But the stunning Marble Caves definitely tops that list!
Located on the baby blue General Carrera Lake, the Marble Caves are natural rock formations that are popular for their unique shape and color.
To experience these unique caves visitors can take a boat or kayaking tour from Puerto Rio Tranquillo town in southern Chile. During our hour and a half long boat tour, our captain took us to see these unique rock formations up close, inside a few of the caves and told us a bit more about how they were formed.
Although these Marble Caves are quite remote and difficult to access, this is a one-of-a-kind bucket list place that is well worth a visit.
Location: Puerto Río Tranquilo, Chile
Hours: Boat tours start from 8 am to 8 pm
Cost: 10,000 Chilean Pesos ($13 USD)
Torres Del Paine National Park
Torres Del Paine National Park is an impressive park in southern Patagonia. Despite the fact that it’s located at the tip of South America and is incredibly expensive to visit, Torres Del Paine National Park attracts hikers from all over the world.
Torres Del Paine National Park was one of the last places that we visited during our 6-month long Pan-American journey across South America and our entire trip was building up to visiting this park. Unfortunately, when we arrived at Torres Del Paine, we found out that all of the hikes and camping permits get booked up months in advance so our hiking options were pretty limited.
We ended up spending a few days driving through Torres Del Paine National Park and doing a few of the shorter day hikes available. But if you plan to do one of the famous multi-day treks like the O or the W circuit, make sure to plan this well in advance especially if you want to do them on your own instead of going through an expensive tour agency.
Cost: 21,000 Chilean Pesos ($27 USD) for a 3 day park visitors pass
Perito Moreno Glacier
The last but definitely not-the-least spot on our South America bucket list was the Perito Moreno Glacier.
The impressive Perito Moreno Glacier is famous because it’s one of the few glaciers in the world that’s not receding.
The Los Glaciares National Park where the Perito Moreno glacier is located has set up a few designated walkways and platforms that visitors can use to view the glacier from the shoreline. If you’re lucky, you can even witness giant parts of the glacier crack and crash into the water while making a thunder-like noise.
Besides the viewing platforms, visitors can also arrange a boat tour to go closer up to the glacier or take a hiking tour on top of the glacier.
During our visit, we did the Mini Trekking tour on the Perito Moreno Glacier – something that we had never done before. This tour was really awesome, super safe and provided us with all of the required gear. Our experienced guides led us on a few hour-long trek across the glacier and even gave us a glass of whiskey with glacier ice at the end.
Hours: 8 am to 6 pm
Cost: 700 Argentinian Pesos to enter the park ($12 USD)
Looking for other cool things to see & do in South America for travel? Here are a few of our other popular South America blog posts that you may like:
- 15 Of The Best Cities To Visit In South America
- 10 Incredible Things To Do In Peru That You Shouldn’t Miss
- 10 Unreal Places To Visit Along Carretera Austral Highway In Chile
- The Ultimate Guide To Patagonia National Park In Chile
- 15 Incredible Things To See And Do In Colombia
Interested in how I capture photos on my trips? Here is my suggested camera gear that I use to create my images:
- Main camera: Sony a7II Camera With 28-70 mm Standard Lens
- Polarizer Filter for the standard lens (helps eliminate reflection and enhance color especially on super bright days): Amazon Basics 55 mm
- Wide Lens (great for nature shots): Sony 16-35 mm F4
- Polarizer Filter for the wide lens: Amazon Basics 72 mm
- Small Tripod (to stabilize photos and eliminate blur): JOBY Gorrilapod
- Memory Cards: SanDisk 32 GB
- Batteries: Wasabi Power battery charger and extra battery pack
- Camera Bag: Lowepro weather-resistant bag
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