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15 Epic Reasons Why You Should Visit South America At least Once in Your Lifetime

Picture of Chris Bell
Updated: 3 May 2018
South America is an incredible continent to travel around, and its amazing combination of unique landscapes, diverse cultures and delicious food are sure to leave any visitor wanting more. From some of the most hardcore treks in the world to ancient jungle cities, here are 16 epic reasons why you have to visit South America at least once in your lifetime.

Trek to ancient cities

One of the most iconic South American travel experiences is the Inca Trail trek to the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu, perched high on a mountain ridge in the heart of the Peruvian Andes. Many people would say that visiting Machu Picchu is an unmissable experience in South America, but you could also think about the four-day trek to the Lost City in the coastal jungles of northern Colombia. One thing is for sure, trekking to an ancient city is a pretty epic South American tick!

Walk on the surface of the moon

The Valle de La Luna, or Valley of the Moon, is also known as Ischigualasto Provincial Park, and is located in northwestern Argentina. So-called because its remarkable geological formations strongly resemble the surface of the moon (and have indeed been used as a stand-in for outer space in several films), exploring the Valley of the Moon really makes you feel as if you’re on another planet.

Visit the Salar de Uyuni

These incredible salt flats in Bolivia are easily one of the most talked about and popular traveller destinations in South America, and when you see the remarkable photos people have taken there, it’s easy to see why! In the wet season, the flats are covered with a layer of water and reflect the sky, while during the dry season you can take some amazing perspective photos.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia | © Jonathan Hood / Flickr

Take a swing at the end of the world

The death-defying ‘swing at the end of the world’ is located at the Casa del Arbol near Banos in Ecuador and has been attracting thrill-seeking backpackers for years now. The swing arcs out over a steep canyon – falling would probably mean the end! – and offers superlative views of the Tungurahua Volcano as well. This is easily the world’s most epic swing.

Explore the Amazon rainforest

The largest rainforest on earth, with the world’s mightiest river flowing through it: welcome to the Amazon rainforest. One of South America’s most mysterious landscapes spans nine countries, but most travellers experience the Amazon in Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador or Colombia. Canoeing down the giant river and exploring the dense jungles is a quintessentially South American experience.

The mighty Amazon rainforest as seen from space
The mighty Amazon rainforest as seen from space | © NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / Flickr

Experience a growing glacier

Argentina’s Perito Moreno glacier is one of the few glaciers in the world that is actually advancing, and visiting it is an otherworldly experience, as you can actually hear it creak and crack as it slowly grows. If you are lucky enough to be watching when the glacier calves an iceberg, you will witness something truly once-in-a-lifetime. You can even strap on crampons and take a trek on the glacier itself.

Petit Moreno glacier
Petit Moreno glacier | © David Wood / Flickr

Experience the most beautiful river in the world

Also known as ‘the river that escaped from paradise,’ the small river of Cano Cristales in La Macarena National Park in central Colombia easily lives up to its reputation as the most beautiful river on earth. Between June and November, the river runs red as a rare species of algae blooms, and the bright colours seem to shine in the intense sunlight.

Bike the world’s most dangerous road

The ‘Death Road’ of Bolivia has become a legend among backpackers due to its hair-raising twists and turns and the fact that you can actually mountain bike down it, risking death for a truly remarkable adrenaline rush. So-called due to the huge number of traffic accidents that took place there when the road was public, biking the Death Road is not for the fainthearted, but is truly epic!

The best parties on earth

If you want to experience the ultimate party, look no further than Rio Carnival, perhaps the most famous street party in the world. But there’s more to the South American party experience than Rio: Colombia is home to some of the greatest festivals you can imagine (including the second-biggest carnival celebration), and the nightlife in cities such as Buenos Aires, La Paz, and Medellín is rightly famous.

See the world’s tallest palm trees

If you travel to Colombia, you will experience one of the most biodiverse countries on earth, and one of the undoubted highlights of visiting South America’s most northerly country is the chance to hike through the famous Cocora Valley and wander among the mighty wax palms, the world’s tallest palm trees.

Cocora Valley, Colombia
Cocora Valley, Colombia | © Chris Bell

You can climb an actual volcano

What self-respecting climber wouldn’t want the experience of scaling the peak of an actual volcano? There are some awesome volcano treks available in South America, and whether you choose to scale El Misti, Nevado del Tolima, Villarrica, Tunupa or Cotopaxi, you will be in for a treat, and will always be able to regale your friends with the epic tale.

See the biggest waterfalls on earth

Both the tallest waterfall and the largest waterfall system on earth are located in South America: the mighty Angel Falls in Venezuela tumbles from an isolated jungle plateau for almost 1,000 metres (3,281 feet), while Iguazu Falls (which straddles the border of Argentine and Brazil) is made of some 275 separate drops.

Iguazu Falls
Iguazu Falls | © Michael / Flickr

You can straddle the hemispheres

During your time in Ecuador, there aren’t many cooler experiences to have than visiting the actual Equator (just a couple of hours from the capital city of Quito). While the monument to the Equator is actually a couple of hundred metres from the true division of the hemispheres, you can still stand with one leg in the Northern Hemisphere and one in the Southern Hemisphere.

These mindblowing beaches!

From the wild desert coastlines of northern Colombia and Peru to the lush jungle beaches of Venezuela and Brazil, South America has some of the most beautiful stretches of sand of any coastlines on earth. If you’re sun-worshipping beach-bum, then you will be in heaven while travelling through this continent.

Tayrona National Park, Colombia
Tayrona National Park, Colombia | © Chris Bell

Go on safari

People might associate going on safari with a trip to Africa, but South America has its own version of the wildlife safari in Brazil’s Pantanal, and the Llanos of Colombia and Venezuela. Head out on a jeep and try to spot wild jaguars, giant anteaters, anacondas, capybaras and hundreds of species of birds.

Find out which South American country to visit, based on your personality.