South America is a continent of remarkable natural wonders that are sure to blow the mind of any traveler. From the world’s tallest waterfall to the largest salt flat; one of the deepest canyons on the planet, to a river that flows red, here are 15 of the most stunning natural wonders in South America.
The world’s highest uninterrupted waterfall, Angel Falls – at a staggering 979 meters – is a magnificent sight to behold. Falling from the edge of the Auyán-tepui mountain in Venezuela’s Canaima National Park, the falls are also known as Kerepakupai Vená by the local Indigenous Pemon people. Located in the depths of an isolated jungle, visiting the falls is possible by boat or light aircraft.
Also known as “the river that escaped from heaven,” Colombia’s Caño Cristales – located in La Macarena National Park – is surely the world’s most beautiful river. Every year, between June and November, the bright red algae living in the water begin to bloom, making the river appear bright red! It’s a truly unique spectacle, and one of Colombia’s most wonderful natural wonders.
The mighty Amazon rainforest – which spans many of South America’s countries, although Brazil, Peru and Colombia contain the highest percentage – simply defies description. The largest rainforest on the planet, intersected by the mightiest river: exploring the Amazon is an unparalleled South American adventure.
The largest lake in South America – by volume of water and surface area combined, at least – lies on the border of Bolivia and Peru in the heart of the Andes mountains. Also called the “highest navigable lake in the world,” Lake Titicaca is an absolutely stunning place, dotted with lovely islands and surrounded by snow-capped peaks.
A breathtaking national park in the extreme south of Patagonian Chile, Torres del Paine is famous for its jagged mountains – the three of which pictured below give it its name – icy-blue mountain lakes and glaciers. “Paine” in fact comes from an old Indigenous word meaning “blue.” The best time to go trekking in this majestic scenery is between November and April, which corresponds with spring and summer in the southern hemisphere.
Located in Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina, the Perito Moreno Glacier is the world’s third-largest reserve of fresh water and, unusually among glaciers worldwide, is actually advancing. For adventurous visitors, it is even possible to enjoy a trekking tour on the ice of the glacier with treks of up to five hours available.
The largest waterfalls system in the world, Iguazu Falls lies on the border of Argentina and Brazil (although around 80% of the falls are on Argentine territory). Created by the Iguazu River, almost half of the flow occurs in the so-called Devil’s Throat, a majestic torrent of water measuring 82 by 150 by 700 meters. Iguazu Falls is surely the most overwhelming sensory experience there is in South America with its cacophony of noise and wall of spray.
Bolivia is home to the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flats at 10,582 square kilometers. Its exceptional natural beauty and unique panoramas have turned it into arguably the most popular natural tourism destination in South America. In the wet season – around January and February – the salt flats are covered in a thin layer of water, which makes for some truly surreal reflections against the vast Andean sky.
Primarily located in Brazil, the Pantanal is a natural region encompassing the world’s largest tropical wetlands and houses a truly astonishing level of biodiversity within its 170,000 square kilometres. The Pantanal is the South American equivalent of a safari, and is home to over 1,000 bird species, 300 types of mammal and nearly 500 reptiles. It’s also the best spot in South America to catch a glimpse of the elusive jaguar.
Mount Roraima, located in Venezuela’s Canaima National Park, lies on the triple border of Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana, although it is accessed from Venezuela. A giant tepui rock formation, part of the Guiana Shield, Roraima is a truly surreal and unique spectacle, offering breathtaking panoramic views over the jungles of all three countries surrounding it. It is possible to climb Roraima via one non-technical route, and the total trek takes around five days.
As the driest non-polar desert in the world, Chile’s Atacama Desert is a truly unique ecosystem, and one of the most surreal landscapes in the whole of South America. It has often been compared to Mars or the surface of the Moon and, as such, has featured prominently as a stand-in for those planets in films and TV series. It is also one of the best places for stargazing on our planet!
The world’s largest single drop waterfall – by volume of water flowing over it – is Guyana’s spectacular Kaieteur Falls. At around 226 meters high, it is located in Kaieteur National Park and is around four times higher than Niagara Falls, and approximately twice the height of Victoria Falls. This mighty waterfall is among the most powerful on the planet.
Located close to the aforementioned Salar de Uyuni – it is often included as part of tours to the Salt Flats – Laguna Colorada is a shallow salt lake in the Bolivian altiplano. Red sediments and algal pigmentation cause the waters of the lake to be red, and up to three species of flamingo are present at this beautiful lake.
A beautiful national park located in Maranhão state, in northeastern Brazil, Lençóis Maranhenses is composed of a series of large, white, undulating sand dunes. Although it appears to be a desert, it actually isn’t, and is subjected to a regular rainy season, as it lies just outside the Amazon basin. The beautiful lagoons are at their fullest between June and September.
Peru’s Colca Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the world (the second deepest in Peru, and twice as deep as the Grand Canyon) with a depth of 3,270 meters (10,730 ft). It is also home to one of the strongest populations of the majestic Andean Condor left on earth: there’s no more stirring sight in South America than watching one of these giant birds soaring over one of the planet’s deepest chasms.