A reader recently asked me what I thought were some of the best places to travel in South America. Now I have lived in South America and travelled considerably across this part of the world, but I haven’t been everywhere, so today I’m tag teaming with fellow travel blogger and boyfriend to answer the question, because it seems that Sam has been almost everywhere…
Here are our top picks in no particular order:
Buenos Aires – What’s there not to love? First of all, the food is amazing; this is the land of asado (steak), red wine, and alfajores. The architecture will leave you dreaming of Europe, but the city has a distinct Latin American attitude and flair. You can explore the upscale neighbourhoods on a bike tour, visit the most extravagant cemetery in the country (La Recoleta), stroll the colourful streets of Boca, watch a tango performance, eat like a king, do the epic Buenos Aires Pub Crawl, and so much more.
Salta – When you tire of the capital (although, how could you?) head up north to Salta. The city is located in the province by the same name, and is affectionately nicknamed ‘the beautiful’. Salta offers some of the most exotic scenery in the country. You will see rugged mountains in shades of burnt orange, pale pink, and lavender. It is a great place for day excursions and wine tours, or if you simply want to relax, you can settle into a guesthouse in the outskirts of town.
Jujuy – Located just north of Salta, on the border with Bolivia, this province is even more rugged and unexplored. The sleepy town of Purmamarca is an important stop since it is home to the ‘Cerro de Siete Colores’, which translates to the ‘Hill of Seven Colours’ – and it looks exactly like what it sounds. If you can’t make it all the way up to Bolivia’s famed salt flats to see Salar de Uyuni, Jujuy offers a great alternative with the Salinas Grandes, which are equally as impressive.
Iguazu Falls – If you don’t mind a bit of a detour, the famed falls that straddle the border between Brazil and Argentina are definitely worth a visit. You can visit the falls from the Brazilian side, but most would argue that the Argentinean side has the best view.
*I know I’m really trying to sell Argentina, but I’m half Argentinean so I can’t help it.
Salar de Uyuni – This happens to be the world’s largest salt flat, and it makes a great setting for snapping some optical illusion photos (especially if it has just rained because that’s when the sky and the ground become indistinguishable). Random fact: Salar the Uyuni serves as a breeding ground for several species of pink flamingos. Who knew?!
Sucre – This city is known for being pretty. Sucre has beautiful colonial architecture, scenic parks, and it is very easy to negotiate on foot. This isn’t necessarily a place where you come for any specific attractions; it’s more of a laid back city where you come to soak in the beauty and relax.
La Paz – Not only is Bolivia’s capital a thriving city, but it also happens to be the highest capital in the world! This a place where there is no shortage of things to do: the Witches’ Market, the colonial buildings on Calle Jaen, folk music and beers at a peña (bar), or perhaps a cheesy evening of Lucha Libre…
Rio de Janeiro – Believe the hype when you hear it because Rio de Janeiro is amazing! Sure it’s a little rough around the edges, and it is quickly becoming one of the priciest destinations in the continent, but there is so much to love. The beaches, the seaside restaurants serving up the catch of the day with a glass of caipirinha, the samba music that pulls you out of your seat to dance, the booming nightlife of Lapa… I could go on.
Cusco – Most people who come to Cusco are en route to the famed Lost City of the Incas, but there is plenty to do in this quaint little town, so give yourself at least a few days (you’ll likely need it to become acclimated to the altitude anyway). Aside from the markets, museums, and churches to visit, there are plenty of day trips to be done around the Sacred Valley.
Machu Picchu – Who hasn’t heard of Machu Picchu?! The Lost City of the Incas, and also one of the Seven Wonders of the World! It’s not easy to reach, but when you finally come around that last bend and see the ancient city below for the first time, it takes your breath away. You can either take the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes and do the remainder of the journey by bus, or if you are fit enough, you can opt to do the Inca Trail on foot (and there are various lengths to choose from).
Puno – Most people who come all the way to Puno, a city which stands at a dizzying 3,800+ meters above sea level, do so because of Lake Titicaca. You can visit the Uros floating reed islands where people live, and on some islands you can opt to do a home stay with a local family. Go for a dip in the freezing lake waters if you’re brave enough!
Huacachina – This teeny tiny village is considered a little oasis in the desert. People usually come here for one thing only – the sand dunes! Whether you want to try your hand at sandboarding, go on a dune buggy ride, or hire an all terrain vehicle to have some fun, this is the place to do it.
San Pedro de Atacama – Why San Pedro de Atacama? Because it is home to some of the most spectacular landscapes on earth! Do you want geysers? If so head to El Tatio – a field with over 80 active geysers. Do you want to see terrain that looks like it’s from another planet? If so, go to Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon). Salt flats? They have those too. The landscape is as varied as can be, just remember that it is bitterly cold at this altitude even during the day, so dress accordingly.
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This is brief sampling of some of the places we have been to in South America and really enjoyed. Again, we have not been everywhere so not every country/city is covered in this little guide. If you think we missed that people really need to know about, feel free to share it with us in the comments below. 🙂
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