I decided to write a post like this because when I started planning our big South America trip, I quickly became overwhelmed. I was finding lists that said “The top 27 places to see in South America…” and I felt like it was too much information to give to someone. I really wanted to simplify this list for first timers heading to South America and give places I loved and that I think are worthwhile. I want to see absolutely everything and I know there are a lot of people like me so here is a starting point for you all.
On our 8 week South America trip we started with Chile, and spent a lot of time there because Lyle served his mission in parts of Chile and heading there was the main purpose of our trip. I loved Chile and our itinerary but I wanted to put things in order of what I loved the most and where I think you should start.
This is the easiest decision I have ever made for a #1. No South America list is complete without it. Honestly it is one of our top destinations in the whole world. We did a Peru trip prior to our most recent South America trip and we loved every bit of it. I can also say it is the best world wonder we have been too and probably will ever go to (Petra is the only one I think will give it a run for it’s money. For reference, we’ve been to 4.). We spent two days there and I still would love to go back someday. It is the perfect mix of history and adventure and nature all rolled into one. I would see this sooner rather than later before all the travel restrictions. I blogged about our trip here if you’re headed there.
One of my top 5 cities in the whole world, and definitely my #1 in South America, is Rio. I will save you from the whole book I could write about this place and narrow it down a bit. It has the city and the beaches and the most amazing food (Lyle and I both agree it had the best food out of anywhere we’ve been) all wrapped into one. In some of the smaller towns I would get bored but in Rio I didn’t have enough time for all the things we wanted to do. We are already talking about trying to get out there for Carnival or New Years when they have a big celebration. My post about this is coming soon and I will link it here for those of you planning a trip to Brazil!
Banos was a little adventurous town that was an absolute dream. The list of things to do was endless and the views were beautiful. Even writing this now makes me miss it so much. We stayed in this town for a while even though some people just pop in and out and we quickly memorized our favorite breakfast place where we would have the same waiter and the same exact order (because it was BOMB) and it felt like our little home. This is where la casa del arboles is and la ruta de cascadas were and both were easily some of the highlights of the trip. Ecuador in general was the cheapest country we visited and so were all the activities which might help you make some decisions as well. We also went to Quito and Guayaquil but if you can only go to one place in Ecuador I highly recommend this place.
Easter Island is the only post I have finished from our trip because I was so excited to write about it…so hopefully that shows you how much I loved our time there. The only reason it isn’t number two on this list is because it is definitely out of the way and the only place to fly out of in South America is Santiago Chile. Even though getting there can be a bit of a hassle it was the biggest and best surprise of the trip. I had no idea just how much I would fall in love with it. Before we even left we were talking about bringing our future nuggets there and loving the perfect mix of relaxation and history and yummy food and adventure (do you see a pattern?! haha). It is like Hawaii but a million times smaller and way less crowded which is a huge appeal of mine. We had these amazing places all to ourselves at times. If you are sold and want to plan a trip right now, check out my post here.
5. Iguazu Falls, Brazil & Argentina Side
When we started planning our trip, we each picked a couple places that we really wanted to see and this place was one of mine. It is one of the natural wonders of the world and it is truly amazing! We took a flight from Buenos Aires up to the IGR airport and spent time on the Argentine side first before heading to the Brazil side. Both sides are completely different but really cool in their own way. The Brazil side definitely seems more crowded because it has less boardwalk but it has views that show more of the waterfall. The Argentine side you get closer and it’s less crowded and has tons of different angles. I liked the feel of the Argentine side best honestly and the Coatis were not to be missed! They helped to make the experience.
This is when the list started getting harder to put together. My top 5 are solid and I love these next ones but they could honestly go in any order. Torres Del Paine was beautiful and breathtaking and just as great as everything else but there are definitely some things that make it frustrating. I don’t put this as number one because it is really out of the way which means more money and more time allotted for this trip (to fly down and back) and there isn’t much to do in the small town outside of Torres. Also, I think you can pay to go into the park but I really would recommend this to people who love to hike and are in shape because the hikes aren’t easy. There are some pretty simple walks you can do, but to do some of the long hikes you really need to be in shape. For real though, people were taking the hikes very seriously and they would look at Lyle in his jeans and make comments and I would turn to them and say “we are from Utah!” haha which obviously meant we were experienced hikers of course and jeans or no jeans we were going to crush everyone going up the mountain. (I am a very fast and competitive hiker & I feel bad for Lyle.)
The top experience from this trip just might be the time we spent at these hot springs. They are a hidden gem! I haven’t seen this place on many lists and I think its just because it’s in the middle of Chile and not too many people know about them. We road tripped down the coast of Chile through volcanoes and beautiful lakes and little towns and I think the journey to get here is part of the magic. We drove up this mountain for what seemed like forever and it was evening and there was maybe 10 people? But there are so many hot pots that you can have one all to yourself and you feel like you are in the jungle. The whole mood of it is magical and romantic. The stars shine so bright and the pathways light up with little lights and I will never forget our time here. Ever. Oh and driving down we stopped to get out and look at the most amazing stars I have ever seen in my entire life. Okay thats it, I will never get over this place. I have more dreamy pictures of this place I will share when I post about it, if my 10 star review hasn’t sealed the deal for you already.
This glacier was SO COOL. I have never seen anything like it in my whole life. If you are down in the Chilean Patagonia you can get over to Argentina where the Perito Moreno glacier is pretty easily. I loved this little town a lot more than the one outside Torres Del Paine. We did this in a tour and it was perfect! I don’t typically vouch for tours but the lunch was amazing, you can KAYAK out to the glacier and the sound you hear when the ice is cracking and breaking is so cool. Also, you have to eat at Isabel’s that has the BEST BREAD IN THE WHOLE WORLD. I told our server that in spanish and she laughed, but it’s true. Go try it.
I don’t necessarily love a lot of the big towns in South America that everyone tells you to visit, but I am glad that I do visit them. Buenos Aires, Quito, Lima and Santiago are all just okay because they seem pretty similar to other cities that I have been. I really liked Cuzco though because of the amazing architecture, all the culture, and all the cool things there was to see and do. I love stopping and playing with all the alpacas and baby llamas and witnessing the women carry the babies on their back was so cool. (Yet another reason to head out to Peru.)
***10. Galapagos Islands
Okay okay, I know I haven’t been here yet but hear me out. We both wanted to go here so badly and every single person we ran into said skip everything else on your itinerary and go here instead. Ringing endorsements were coming at us from everyone. I know 100% that once we go here, it will make it in my top 3. I love animals and nature and I am dying to go here. We really want to do it right though and see all of it in the best way so we are saving for a trip here now. I’ve done lots of research and I know it will be worth the wait and some things you gotta do the best way.
I wanted to also add a couple other places that I think could make it on this list that we haven’t been too. Lake Titicaca, the salt flats and biking the death road in Bolivia, Colombia, taking a boat ride through the Amazon and Angel Falls in Venezuela are some places we want to go and see. I know myself pretty well and I am very excited about these places. Venezuela is very dangerous and I don’t know if that will ever happen. Also, when we were choosing between Ecuador and Bolivia, Bolivia did not get a ringing endorsement from any of the travelers that we met. I still plan on going there to make my own decision but I am so happy we chose Ecuador! When we head back to do the Galapagos Islands, we plan on knocking off the rest of our South America list. Hope this helps and gets you excited to head to South America. It really is so underrated and has so many amazing places.