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- Luke Abrahams
South America is many things: it’s where towering peaks meet soaring rivers, where immense forests meet rainbow-colored colonial towns, and most importantly, it’s just pretty as hell. Here are 15 of the continent’s out-of-this-world destinations you have to see to believe.
Lake Atitlan | Guatemala
OK, this one may be a little bit too north but it’s just too pretty to leave out. Atitlan means ‘at the water’ in Nahuatl, one of Guatemala’s indigenous languages. The beautiful lake is surrounded by three mammoth volcanoes – don’t worry though, they haven’t erupted in years.
Ica Desert | Peru
Amazingly, this place is known more for its famous Pisco brandy than its epic desert. Aside from the beautiful desolate sandy wasteland and a few hidden villages here and there, Ica has some of the finest examples of Spanish colonial architecture in the world.
Machu Picchu | Peru
People come here to be reborn again. As soon as you cast your eyes on that famous ruin, you’ll feel your legs start to wobble. Built around 1450, Machu Picchu is the most iconic symbol of the ancient Incan Empire. If you’re planning a trip though, make sure you’re in good shape – the hike will rip you and your shorts to shreds.
Cartagena | Colombia
If you’re a culture junkie, then this is definitely the place for you. Fabulous colonial churches, colorful markets and awesome street food are everywhere in sight. Its claim to fame? A lot of Pirates of the Caribbean was shot here.
Punta del Este | Uruguay
Go here for sexy beaches, smoking cocktails, trippy nightlife and luxurious food. Don’t miss out on the city’s gigantic beach sculpture, ‘The Hand’.
Iguazu Falls | Brazil and Argentina
This is one of the most epic waterfalls in the world. On the Brazilian side you can go on an adrenaline-filled helicopter ride. If you’re on the Argentine side, there’s this cute little train that takes you to the falls. You are really spoilt for choice here, so create your own adventure!
Island of Capurganá | Colombia
Until the 1970s, nobody knew about this place. After experiencing a massive tourist boom, it’s become the go-to destination for Colombians and American expats seeking a quick escape from city life. Another bonus is that not a single car is allowed here. Heaven.
Torres del Paine | Chile
If you’re a hiker, this one’s definitely for you. Criss-cross mammoth peaks, marvel at vast lakes and walk through some of the most spectacular wildlife on the continent. Just make sure you stick to the paths.
Uyuni Salt Flats | Bolivia
The largest salt flat on the planet, this place is every Instagrammer’s dream. A must-visit destination for anyone traveling South America, this dreamy spot is one of the few places in the world where the sky and land blend together in a single photograph!
Ushuaia | Argentina
This is the southernmost city in the world. To avoid the chill, go in January where temperatures peak at around 20° celsius. It’s a great spot for whale watching, and a gorgeous place to explore before hopping on an Antarctic voyage.
The Green Lagoon | Bolivia
The lake’s color depends on the disturbance caused to its sediments by high winds. It can change from turquoise to dark emerald in a matter of seconds. The pigments are so powerful, you can see its beautiful spectrums from the sky.
Los Roques | Venezuela
This one is for island hoppers. You’ll find about 350 islands, cays and islets here. You can chill on white sandy beaches, dive and explore some pretty coral reefs or simply relax poolside in a luxury hotel – choice is yours.
Banos | Ecuador
Most skip the town for the nearby adrenaline-filled adventures. The place has everything, from relaxing hot springs to epic zip lining. Oh, and there’s a giant swing too!
Atacama Desert | Chile
Many say this place is more like Mars than Earth – in fact, it’s actually the driest place on the planet. Aside from being home to some of the tallest mountains in the world, most come here at night to stargaze. As you can see, space looks pretty damn fabulous from here.
Perito Moreno Glacier | Argentina
This is one of the largest ice sheets in the world. If you go during peak summer months, you can see huge chunks of it break off into the ocean – don’t worry, it’s one of only three glaciers in the world that is actually growing. If you’re feeling adventurous, risk it all and hike across it.
For more South American travel inspiration, check out 19 awesome animals you must see in South America.