A guide to South American Landscapes

A guide to South American Landscapes

South American Landscapes Coroico
Coroico (Bolivia). PHOTO: M. Parra

South America is a land of diversity and contrast. From the snowy peaks and volcanoes of the Andes to the lush Amazon rainforest, each of the 12 countries of this region brims with landscapes of breathtaking beauty.

No other place on Earth unfolds in such a variety of natural features. Given the lengthy options, crafting an itinerary to approach this vast continent can be an overwhelming task, especially when traveling on a tight schedule. So here’s a guide to South America’s most alluring landscapes. Ready for your next adventure in South America? Take a look at our tours and start planning your trip!

[MOUNTAINS] Best treks in the Andes

Approaching Lake 69 inside Huascaran National Park, in the Peruvian Andes
Approaching Lake 69 inside Huascaran National Park, in the Peruvian Andes. PHOTO: M. Parra

The Andes are the longest mountain system in the world, stretching for roughly 4,500 miles (7,240 km) from the Caribbean Sea to the southernmost tip of South America. They’re also home to the majestic Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere, rising to 22,841feet (6,962 m).

The Andes are hypnotic from tip to tip. Here’s a roundup of our favorite three top destinations to venture for a mountain trek with awe-inspiring views:

Avenue of Volcanoes (Ecuador). Ecuador boasts a large number of active and dormant volcanoes. Chimborazo, at 20,564 feet (6268 m), tops the list as the highest of them, while the most popular is Cotopaxi (19,347 ft / 5,897 m), a perfect conical peak covered in snow that can be seen from Quito –the Nation’s capital city— on clear days. The more adventurous may want to hit Quilotoa Crater Lake, a stunning emerald lake inside a volcano crater at 12,467 ft (3,800 m).

Peruvian Andes. A heart-stopping eight-hour bus ride from Lima will lead you to Huaraz, a small town at the doorsteps of the Peruvian ‘Cordillera Blanca.’ Next head to Huascaran National Park for a high altitude trek amongst impressive snowy peaks (many of them over 20,000 feet / 6000 m) and turquoise glacial lakes.

Torres del Paine (Chile). Towering granite pillars and astonishing views of glaciers, volcanoes and lakes make this national park in Southern Chile a major Patagonian attraction. A multi-day trek on the iconic ‘W Trail’ should be on every hiker’s bucket list!

[JUNGLE] The wild and exotic Amazon

Sepahua, a village in the Peruvian Amazon
Sepahua, a village in the Peruvian Amazon. PHOTO: L. Claps

The Amazon jungle is a place of superlatives on a global scale: it contains the longest river in the world and the largest tropical forest, which produces nearly 20% of the planet’s oxygen. It’s also the biggest biodiversity reserve on Earth.

There are several hubs to approach the Amazon rainforest, which spans eight South American countries. The best of them are Manaus (Brazil), Iquitos (Peru), Amacayacu National Park (Colombia), Rurrenabaque (Bolivia) and Yasuni National Park (Ecuador).

A typical experience in the Amazon jungle includes taking a riverboat or a canoe, staying at a jungle lodge, tree climbing, hiking and –of course— spotting unique wildlife.

[WATERFALLS] The top 3 waterfalls

Iguazu Falls, Argentinean side
Iguazu Falls, Argentinean side. PHOTO: M. Parra.

                    

Waterfalls compose incredibly scenic and dramatic landscapes, showcase the force of nature and never fail to dazzle travelers. South America is home to some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world. Take a glance at this top three.

Iguazu Falls (Argentina-Brazil). This cluster of 275 waterfalls is nestled at the heart of a tropical jungle in the Argentine-Brazilian border. You can walk through meandering hiking trails or take a speedboat for an adrenaline-charged adventure at the bottom of the falls. But the ultimate spectacle in Iguazu is to stand (and get completely soaked) at the edge of the powerful 262 ft (80 m) fall known as Devil’s Throat.

Angel Falls (Venezuela). This is the highest uninterrupted waterfall in the world, with a breathtaking 2,647 ft (807 m) drop. Tucked in the remote jungle of Canaima National Park, there are no overland routes to reach it. The only way to get there is via plane to Canaima, followed by a four-hour boat trip on the river and a one hour hike.

Kaieteur Falls (Guyana). Maybe the name doesn’t ring you any bells, but this is one of the most celebrated attractions in Guyana, the only English speaking country in South America. A 45 min flight from Georgetown, the capital city, leaves you fairly close to this stunning waterfall in the middle of an unspoiled jungle reserve. This is an under-the-radar destination, so be sure to get here before the crowds start rolling in!

[ALTIPLANO] Surreal landscapes in the Bolivian high plateau

Red Lagoon at Eduardo Avaroa Natural Reserve, Bolivia
Red Lagoon at Eduardo Avaroa Natural Reserve, Bolivia. PHOTO: M. Parra

Imagine a land of isolation, lakes of unique colors, large salt flats, deserts, volcanoes, steaming geysers and relaxing hot springs. You can find all that in the southern Bolivian altiplano, a high plateau that stretches from the south of La Paz to the Argentinean and Chilean borders, at an average height of 12,467 ft (3800 m).

The small town of Uyuni is the starting point for 4×4 adventures that traverse otherworldly landscapes. All the tours head to the Uyuni salt flats (the largest in the world). But make sure to include other sites like the colorful Green and Red Lagoons.

[DESERT] Extreme adventures in Atacama

Lunar landscape at the Atacama Desert
Lunar landscape at the Atacama Desert. PHOTO: D. Jimenez

Lying on a high plateau between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes, in the north of Chile, Atacama is regarded as the driest desert in the world beyond the Poles. Its extreme arid scenes lure travelers seeking adventures off the grid.

From the town of San Pedro de Atacama –a two-hour flight from Santiago, the Chilean capital city–, the main attractions include Tatio geysers (a field of around 80 geysers), Moon Valley, Atacama Salt flat (packed with flamingos) and some interesting archaeological sites. During the night, stargazing becomes a magical experience!

[GLACIERS] Ice kingdom in Patagonia

Perito Moreno Glacier, El Calafate
Perito Moreno Glacier, El Calafate. PHOTO: M. Parra.

If you travel to Argentina, a visit to Los Glaciares National Park –a paradise with 47 major glaciers in the south-west of the country— is a must-do!

Jumping off at the picturesque town of El Calafate, you can venture to one of Argentina’s top nature wonders: Perito Moreno Glacier. Take your time to contemplate this colossal mass of ice and enjoy a unique spectacle, often enhanced by unpredictable ice-breaking off the glacier.

[BEACH] Sun & waves with Latin vibes

Sunset on the beach in Rio de Janeiro
Sunset on the beach in Rio de Janeiro. PHOTO: M. Parra.

Brazil is the first place that springs to mind when thinking of South American beaches. From the iconic Ipanema beach in the vibrant city of Rio de Janeiro to the wild and isolated Praia do Sancho in Fernando de Noronha archipelago, this tropical country seems to have it all!

However, most South American countries offer exciting –but yet diverse— opportunities for beach lovers. Tayrona National Park (Colombia) is the perfect choice for an immersion in exuberant nature; Los Roques (Venezuela), for a taste of Caribbean Sea; and Punta del Este (Uruguay), for those who fancy an intense nightlife and exclusive parties.

 

Marina Parra

Marina is a journalist, content writer, mountain lover and amateur photographer living in Buenos Aires. She’s traveled in Argentina and South America enjoying great conversations, local cuisine and breathtaking natural wonders.

5 Comments
  1. Marina, I know South America is gorgeous but your photos take my previous knowledge of the continent to another level. Makes me realize how little I have explored in there. Feel compelled to visit!

  2. I have to agree, South America is really diverse and with such variety of different terrains, lush green forests, waterfalls, and beaches, one can’t complain either!! Love the detailed post, I hope to see the continent soon.

  3. Angel Falls has been on my list of places to visit for so long! And I”m from Ecuador so very glad you featured my country too. Great recommendations for people who aren’t sure which country to visit in SA!

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