Even just the phrase South America can give me the travel goosebumps!
Yup, it’s hard to get me more infused with a sense of wanderlust than mentioning this continent.
Perhaps it’s because it’s the place I first travelled solo, or perhaps it’s because of the incredible nature, or perhaps it’s just the vibrancy of the people and places.
Whatever it is, South America just does it for me.
And I know, after your trip there, it’s going to do it for you too!
So get ready and get fired up for your next amazing adventure with this ultimate list of the 55 best things to do in South America – oh yeah!
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#1 Marvel at Iguazu Falls – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay
I’ve decided to kick this list off with a biggie because, well, why not?!
And honestly, it doesn’t get much bigger than Iguazu Falls!
One of the largest and most impressive waterfalls in the world, this giant spans Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, promising a sublime encounter with the force of nature you won’t forget in a while.
#2 Scale Cotopaxi – Ecuador
I don’t know why I claimed to be starting off this list with a biggie because, quite frankly, pretty much everything on this list of the best things to do in South America is going to be a biggie.
Biggies are what they do best here.
And so we move to another of the continent’s giants, this time the towering volcano of Cotopaxi.
Peaking at over 5000m, which means it actually has snow on top for most of the year, scaling this mammoth mountain (albeit from the car park at 4000m) is absolutely one of South America’s best adventures and a surefire entry of the list of my fav things to do in Ecuador.
#3 Hike to Rainbow Mountain – Peru
And if it’s tall mountains you’re after, then Rainbow Mountain in Peru, also peaking at over 5000m tall, is another giant you can walk to – usually via a day trip from the city of Cusco.
Known for its spell-binding coloured layers, this insta-famous spot is a must during your time in this country because, despite the crowds, it’s pretty freaking amazing!
Hiking Rainbow Mountain was one of my 22 fav things to do in Peru – check out the other 21 here.
#4 Snap Fun Photos in Salar de Uyuni – Bolivia
Ok, so now it’s time to roll out some of the family favourites and there’s no question the Salt Flats, or Salar de Uyuni, in Bolivia are one of them.
Actually situated at altitude, but very very flat, these huge expanses of white nothingness – originally the bed of a dried-up lake it is thought – now make for one of the most photographic spots in South America.
Take a tour of Salar de Uyuni to learn the top spots to view this incredible, otherworldy landscape and to find the best and most fun photo spots!
#5 Salsa in Cali – Colombia
Another fun one on this list, there’s no question that a lot of hilarious photos can come out of you trying to learn one of South America’s most famous dances, and that is salsa.
Hailing from the city of Cali in Colombia, this is the place to learn some new moves and look hilarious if you’re, well y’know, new to salsa, and to brush up on your old moves and look fab if you’re a seasoned pro.
Either way, great times.
#6 Take Spanish Lessons
And sticking with the lesson theme, number 6 on this list of the best things to do in South America is to take Spanish lessons.
The language of the continent (except for Brazil, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana – soz guys), picking up a bit of Spanish is a great way to get more from your time in South America as you can converse easier with locals and learn more about what life is like.
Spanish lessons also tend to be cheaper here than back home (if you come from Europe, North America or Oz / NZ that is) so this can be a great motivator too.
If you’ve always wanted to learn another language now is your chance – and heading to Spanish schools in either Peru, Ecuador, Colombia or Bolivia is my budget tip!
#7 Witness Christ the Redeemer – Brazil
Towering over Rio de Janeiro and now listed as one of the 7 New Wonders of the World, this huge religious statue has become an icon and something that many of us, regardless of spiritual sentiments, want to tick off their bucket list.
#8 Hike in Huaraz – Peru
And once you’ve puffed your way up to Christ the Redeemer you’re likely to be in good stead (or maybe not!) for tackling Peru’s hiking capital – Huaraz,
Located north of Lima, high in the Andes, this place and its amazing Huascaran National Park isn’t on most tourists’ radar lists yet, which means it’s still wonderfully uncrowded and spectacularly beautiful.
From glaciers to mountain lakes, this is the best spot for some terrific trekking.
Learn more in my ultimate travel guide to Huaraz here.
#9 Tour the Atacama Desert – Chile
From snowy mountains to dry deserts, we now find ourselves in the north of Chile on this list of the best things to do in South America and in the brilliant Atacama desert.
With some of the most striking arid landscapes in South America, Atacama is an epic place to tour for a few days taking in the wild landscapes and those sensational starry, night skies.
#10 Get Away from the Crowds in Salta Province – Argentina
And another epic desert destination you should visit in South America is the Salta province in the north of Argentina.
Famous to a 14 coloured mountain – way less touristy than Rainbow Mountain in Peru FYI – the towns of Humahuaca, Tilcara and Purmamarca are bastions of traditional culture and the hilly desert landscape around them is something else!
Allow more time here than you expect too!
Discover my picks of the best things to do in Salta here, along with my top 7 tips for travel in this region.
#11 Straddle the Equator – Ecuador
Keep it crazy by having one foot in each hemisphere!
Just the sort of jokes you can enjoy in Ecuador, where the equator cuts the world in half.
So why not visit La Meter Del Mundo and get straddling?!
#12 Try Pisco Sour – Peru
And after all that fun, it’s time to celebrate with Peru’s most famous drink.
Trying a Pisco Sour or 2 is a must-do thing in Peru and, if you’re feeling extra jazzy, then why not head to a vineyard to see how they make it?!
The city of Ica is the epicentre of everything pisco in Peru, but it’s drunk with abundance the country over!
#13 Join the Football Crowds
Best advised before the pisco, experiencing the football-mad culture of South America is definitely one of the most atmospheric things to do in this continent.
Brazil and Argentina have the 2 most famous teams, but having seen a match of Ecuador vs Colombia during my time here, I can definitely testify to the fact this is an electric experience the continent over.
#14 Ride on La Paz’s Cable Cars – Bolivia
A city in the clouds, La Paz sits at over 3,600m above sea level.
As such, even just walking up a flight of stairs here can be quite the ordeal.
But that isn’t the half of it when you consider La Paz’s epic metro system – basically a cable car network that soars into the clouds above the city.
With several lines, incredible views and cheap as chips to ride in, hopping between stations, and soaring up into the air for an aerial perspective on Bolivia’s capital, is a must.
#15 Be Mesmerised by Patagonia – Argentina
Another spot in this country giving quite the perspective is Patagonia in Argentina.
Right at the bottom of the continent, this dramatic natural environment, complete with glaciers, wildlife, stunning views, amazing camping opps and off-the-scale hiking, takes some beating when it comes to South America’s bests!
Learn more about what to do with 10 days in Argentina care of this top travel itinerary.
#16 Relax in Hot Springs – Ecuador
And after all that hiking, you’ll want to soak your muscles and relax, so I’ve got just the place for you.
Baños in Ecuador has some amazing hot springs that you can enjoy for very little as you crowd in with locals under the starry night sky for an awesome experience!
And after chilling out in the hot springs, it’s time to grab something to eat!
From the steaks of Argentina to the fresh fruits of Colombia and perhaps best of all – the foodie delights of Peru, which is a rising star in this field – eating is absolutely one of the best things to do in South America… it’s as simple as that!
#18 Experience Carnival – Brazil
Get ready for one of the biggest parties in the world – it’s carnival in Rio!
Marking the beginning of Lent – so usually taking place some time in either February or March – this sensory spectacle is as alive as ever!
#19 Bike Down the Death Road – Bolivia
And if it’s a sensory experience you’re after, then it’s hard to beat the adrenaline rush you’ll get from cycling one of the world’s most treacherous roads.
Yup, the so-called Death Road in Bolivia makes for an epic cycling adventure, where specialised day tour leaders will take you along this infamous road on 2 wheels for one of the most thrilling experiences out there.
#20 Fly Over the Nazca Lines – Peru
And from bikes to planes, next up on this list is flying over the mysterious Nazca Lines in Peru, which really is something else.
After making sure you choose a safe flight provider, take to the air to see the enormous stone-made outlines that lie in the desert, believed to have been built by an ancient culture we still know very little about.
Not a cheap adventure, but somehow you need to fit this into your Peru travel costs.
#21 Paraglide in San Gil – Colombia
Also in the sky, but you have the wings!
Paragliding can be enjoyed in a number of spots in South America, but it’s hard to beat the views of the canyon trips around the lovely town of San Gil in Colombia.
A peaceful spot, that brims with adventure too if you fancy it, this is a destination often overlooked by travellers… more fool them!
#22 Chill Out in Montevideo – Uruguay
Although it’s the capital of Uruguay, Montevideo is a wonderfully chilled city and the Art-Deco architecture and relaxed lowkey vibes make it a great place to chill out.
But best of all are the beaches here.
City on the beach? Best of both worlds?
#23 Meet a Llama
The one friend you’ve got to make in South America is a furry one!
Yes, those loveable llamas can provide untold amounts of smiles with their funny faces and cute ears.
Watch out for the spitting ones, but otherwise grab a snap with these iconic Andean animals.
Cusco is a great place to do just that!
#24 Wine Taste in Mendoza – Argentina
Fancy a vino?
Then you’ve come to the right continent!
Argentina is the place to head to for wine and the main 2 towns for tastings are either Mendoza (a good stop between Buenos Aires and Bariloche) or Cafayate (near Salta).
Both offer wonderful vineyard vistas and bike-riding fun as you taste your way around their estates.
#25 Sail on Lake Titicaca – Peru & Bolivia
The highest navigable lake in the world, this lofty lake straddles the border between Peru and Bolivia.
You can visit the beautiful landscape and see the fascinating local culture of the communities here from both sides, but personally, I found the Bolivian side better.
Learn why in this article.
#26 Visit Colombia’s Coffee Region
You hardly need a pick-me-up in South America – the vivacity of travelling here should do that for you!
But just in case, it’s always good to know coffee is king in this continent and heading to explore where some of the stuff grows is definitely one of the best things to do in South America.
And it doesn’t get better than the Antioquia region of Colombia, where the traditional towns of this area lend an extra dimension to visiting a coffee farm… and drinking the stuff!
#27 Surf – Peru & Ecuador
And now you’re all fuelled up, it’s time to hit those waves!
Surfing is best along the northern Pacific coastline, so heading to either the northern Peruvian town of Mancora or the Ecuadorian town of Montañita are both good options if you’re looking to catch a wave… or two.
#28 Hit the Beach
And while we’re on the coastal subject, hitting the beach is a must in South America too.
Now whether that’s the coast in Peru or Ecuador to surf, the Colombian coast to party or the Brazil coastline to visit world-class beaches, the choice is yours!
#29 Party in Cartagena – Colombia
Did someone say party?
This whole country is pretty much a party, but if you want the best, then head to the colourful city of Cartagena on the Caribbean coast.
Not only is this city beautiful and vibrant, but it knows how to put on a show!
#30 Chill in Valparaíso – Chile
Another colourful, coastline city, this time with a distinctly bohemian flair Valparaiso, with its steep, painted streets and bright clifftop buildings, captures everyone’s’ imagination.
Instead of basing yourself in Santiago, why not head an hour or 2 to the coast and stay at Valparaiso instead.
#31 Sandboard in the Desert – Peru
And staying with the sandy theme, you can’t miss sandboarding in the desert as one of the best things to do in South America.
Huacachina, the tiny oasis in the Arequipa Desert, is the best place to slide down the huge dunes on a board, plus the sand buggy action here and the sunsets make it well worth a night of your itinerary.
Learn more about doing just this in my list of the top Lima day trips.
#32 Head to the Moon – Bolivia
And from the desert to the moon – heading to Valle De Lu Luna – a lunar-like landscape in Bolivia, is another of the day trips in South America you can’t miss.
One of the best things to do from La Paz, take a trip here and then enjoy a walk in this surreal environment.
#33 Bird Spot in a Cloud Forest – Ecuador
And on the other end of the spectrum, the lush green cloud forest environment of Mindo in Ecuador exemplifies exactly the diversity of this continent.
A hotspot for birdlife, get your spotting up to scratch with a trip to this biodiverse hotspot.
#34 Snorkel – Brazil
Also biodiverse is the world under the water in South America and Brazil, with its stunning coastline, is one of the places.
So what are you waiting for?
Strap on a snorkel and get out there!
Top spots to snorkel in Brazil include Fernando de Noronha, Maracajaú, Bonito and Abrolhos, but honestly, there’s more to choose from than I could possibly ever list here!
#35 Head to Cabo De La Vela – Colombia
Still on the coast, but more off the beaten track, the pinnacle of South America (as in its top tip) Cabo De La Vela is a bit like the land time forgot.
This remote, windswept sandy area provides an off the grid experience only accessible by 4×4.
Head here to soak up the dusty peacefulness and to spot flamingos!
#36 See Juanita in Arequipa – Peru
Start getting your head around the mighty strength of the Inca empire with a trip to see Juanita – a frozen Inca girl that was found buried under the snow on top of one of Peru’s highest volcanoes.
Thought to be a sacrificial offering, seeing the body of Juanita – frozen and preserved – and learning about her and the culture she came from, is one of the best things to do in the fabulous Peruvian city of Arequipa.
There’s loads of other reasons I could list to head to Arequipa too, but this article is getting too long anyway, so head to my post about the best things to do in Arequipa to learn more instead.
#37 Museum Hop in Bogota – Colombia
Arequipa in Peru is a key spot to head to if you’re into your museums and, in my opinion, the second-best option one is Bogota, the capital of Colombia.
The Gold Museum and the Botero Museum here were my favs and I highly recommend checking them out.
To learn more about the best things to do in Bogota, check out this article I wrote!
#38 Wander Historic Quito – Ecuador
And from one capital to another.
Now it’s the turn of the Ecuadorian capital to make this hit list, where the UNESCO-listed heritage centre of Quito is a feast for history buffs.
Wandering the churches and squares of this colonial centre is a delight on a clear sky, Andean day, but just watch your stuff – I was almost robbed here!
#39 Tango in Buenos Aires – Argentina
And onto another capital!
Buenos Aires gets all the hearts for me and is probably the city in South America I could most see myself living in – such is its diversity, history and vivacity.
Full of green spaces, street art and creative flair, it’s also the home of the famous tango and heading here to see a show, and maybe to try out some footwork, is a must in this most glorious of South American cities.
Check out my ideal 3 day itinerary for Buenos Aires here.
#40 Sample Some Samba – Brazil
And sticking with the dance theme – it’s time to samba!
We’ve covered the salsa in Colombia and the tango in Argentina, but now it’s time for the samba in Brazil.
A dance of cross-cultural influences, this is one of Brazil’s most famous exports!
#41 Dive the Galapagos – Ecuador
One of the most epic wildlife experience you can have globally, and therefore absolutely one of the best things to do in South America too, heading to the unique Galapagos Islands – where Darwin honed his now-famous theories on evolution – is a must!
From boat ride to snorkelling, diving to nature trails, the bizarre species found on these remote islands make visiting them a once in a lifetime excursion.
#42 Splash out on an Easter Island Trip – Chile
And another one of those once-in-a-lifetime trips in South America is the adventure you can have out to Easter Island.
Like the Galapagos, this is an expensive excursion, but one that’s absolutely worth it for the utterly unique experience you’ll get out these remote islands with their famous statues.
Flights depart a few times a week from Santiago but should be booked well in advance to help keep costs low.
#43 Tick Machu Picchu Off Your Bucket List – Peru
A super big bucket list tick – I can tell you were all waiting for this one to creep in among the 55 top things to do in South America!
You knew it’d be there somewhere right?
Will it is here.
And so it should be, for despite all the hype this place is mega, off-the-scale special.
There’s loads of ways experience and enjoy this iconic Inca destination, and you can learn more in my post about how to get to Machu Picchu.
The article also includes everything you need to know for your trip including how to buy tickets, when to visit and what to pack.
#44 Hike the Quilotoa Loop – Ecuador
And while Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail undoubtedly get a lot of press, it’s absolutely worth knowing there’s a ton of other amazing treks you can make in South America that are just as brilliant, but less famous.
One of those is the Quilotao Loop in Ecuador – a multi-day hike I made unguided by myself and loved!
Learn more about my experience here.
#45 Discover Choquequirao – Peru
Another top trek that I totally rate is the Choquequirao hike in Peru.
Billing it as the alternative to Machu Picchu, this multi-day trek takes you to some largely undiscovered Inca ruins that lie deep in the Andes and are currently only accessible via a walking trek.
As you can probably guess therefore, this means there are way less people there too!
I loved this hike and, again, you can learn more in the specific article I wrote about my experience.
#46 Enjoy Bariloche – Argentina
But it’s not just the Andean countries that are famous for their hiking, nope Argentina puts on a decent show in this department too!
And one of the top spots here is Bariloche – an area rich in natural beauty and a favourite with skiers in the winter and hikers in the summer.
If you’re into your walking, get this place on your must-do South America list ASAP – it’s def one of my top places to visit in Argentina.
#47 Adventure in the Amazon
Not a hiking spot (due to the insane humidity) but definitely up there on the unbelievable-natural-beauty scale, the Amazon is the jewel in South America’s crown.
You can access the world’s largest rainforest from Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Colombia, meaning there’s plenty of options when it comes to experiencing this geographical marvel.
The best ones include a boat ride, overnight stays in jungle lodges and wildlife-spotting galore!
#48 Discover Ciudad Perdida – Colombia
Also located in the jungle, although not the Amazon, Colombia’s Ciudad Perdida is another top hike to make in South America.
A 5 day trek through thick vegetation, this one leads you to hidden ruins, which remain shrouded in mystery to this day.
Joining a group is necessary to make this hike, but thanks to its growing popularity this is certainly easy to do.
#49 Explore Inca Ruins in the Sacred Valley – Peru
And while we’re on the subject of ruins, we can’t help but skip back to Peru – the kingpin of ruins in South America, thanks to the fact the Inca capital was based here at Cusco.
All around this city are tons of ruins, but my favourite place to spot them had to be in the lush Sacred Valley.
Here, small, traditional villages ooze genuine local culture, while the ruins at their edge are often only frequented by day-trippers.
Stay a night or longer and soak up the best of this delightful area – I bet you’ll be hard-pressed to leave!
My favourite spots were Ollantaytambo and Pisac.
For more details about the 13 things you should know before you travel Peru, check out this post I wrote.
#50 Take an Escobar Tour in Medellin – Colombia
Another place that many travellers find hard to leave is the Colombian city of Medellin.
Known as the city of Eternal Spring, this place has done a lot to clean up its image in recent years – it was the place where Pablo Escobar died in 1993 – and now buzzes with its great cultural and youthful finger firmly on the pulse.
#51 Learn the Secret of Long Life in Vilcabamba – Ecuador
Presumably, Escobar hadn’t been to Vilcabamba, because it’s here that the secrets of a long life live!
With so many residents aged over 100, it’s thought the relaxed pace of life here and clean air have a lot to answer.
So if you’re feeling the need to chill out for a few days on your travels in South America, this is a great place to head for.
#52 Ascend Sugarloaf Mountain – Brazil
And now we return to Rio and this time to tackle the beast of Sugarloaf Mountain.
Getting the cable-car to the top is really the way to go here – with the reward being some seriously stunning views!
If you needed extra proof, you’ll be reassured by the fact that this became a UNESCO spot in 2012.
#53 Go Underground at Potosi – Bolivia
And from the highs to the lows, we return to Bolivia for number 55 of these best things to do in South America.
Famous for its mining of silver, Potosi in the south of the country is one of the highest places in this country, but you can go deep underground here to see the conditions in which the miners work and chat to them about their lives.
#54 Spot Whales and Dolphins at Punta Arenas – Chile
Who doesn’t love a dolphin?
Or a whale for that matter?
If you’re a normal human and a fan of both, then heading to Punta Arenas in the south of Chile to take your chance of spotting both these incredible animals is a must.
#55 Watch Condors in the Colca Canyon – Peru
And finally, it’s another wildlife entry that completes this list of the 55 best things to do in South America.
Located just outside the city of Arequipa in southern Peru, the Colca Canyon is a gorgeous natural area known for its traditional villages, sweeping views and soaring condors.
Most people simply breeze in and out of here in a whistlestop tour, but stay a few days and you’ll be rewarded with an incredible time away from the tourist crowds.
Learn about my alternative Colca Canyon experience here.
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And there it is!
My mammoth list of the 55 best things to do in South America.
Have I included your favourite?
Let me know in the comments box below…