Welcoming locals, a wide selection of hostels and plenty of group tours on offer make South America a great place to go solo. Whether you fancy discovering ancient civilizations in Peru, learning to salsa in Colombia or diving with sharks in the Galápagos Islands, there’s something on this continent for everyone.
Nicknamed the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous City), the jungle-backed, ocean-fronted Rio de Janeiro is one of the world’s most inspiring urban landscapes. Known for its golden beaches, wild samba parties and spectacular rainforest scenery, Rio has drawn adventurous travelers and Hollywood stars in droves for years. To make sure you don’t miss the world’s greatest party, time your trip during Rio Carnival, a week-long fiesta of samba drummers, feathered dancers, and food and drink – the perfect set-up for making new friends on the road.
Salar de Uyuni is a striking white desert spanning 4,000 square miles (10,500 square kilometers) across Bolivia’s southwest. In the right conditions, the thousands of salt pools act like a giant reflective mirror that, along with the flat and barren landscape, makes for a cool (and pretty hilarious) perspective shot – just search the hashtag on Instagram and you’ll see what we mean. As this is a popular backpacker tour, you’ll likely bump into fellow solo travelers en route to Peru or Chile. Bring your favorite prop (maybe a toy dinosaur or a saucepan) and you’re sure to make some pals out here.
Considered one of the world’s greatest archeological sites, the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu is a rite of passage for anyone traveling through South America. Choose from hiking the Inca Trail on a group tour or take the train to a neighboring town. Either way, trust us: with its steep terraced hills, huge stone structures and cloud-shrouded rainforest backdrop, Machu Picchu is everything you’ve seen in photos – and more.
Colombia may be the gem of South American coffee on the international market, but it’s not as easy as you might think to find a good cup of joe in the country itself. For that, you’ll have to head into Colombia’s rural Paisa region, home to the country’s – and the continent’s – best coffee fincas. While a trip out here is worth it for the caffeine fix alone, it’s not the only draw: verdant landscapes ideal for hiking and biking, colorful buildings and laid-back hostels and cafés are just some of the things encouraging many solo travelers to stick around longer than planned.
Home to some of the rarest species in the world, the Galápagos – a cluster of volcanic islands off the coast of Ecuador – are widely considered the most biodiverse place on Earth. In fact, it was here that Charles Darwin, after studying flora and fauna found nowhere else on the planet, developed his theory of evolution. But you don’t have to be a scientist to get up close with wildlife here: daily encounters with giant 200-year-old tortoises, hammerhead sharks and marine and land iguanas are all part of the package when visiting the Galápagos.
Split between Brazil and Argentina, Iguazú Falls – a mesmerizing chain of over 250 cascades covering two miles (three kilometers) – is the largest system of waterfalls in the world. With 63,500 cubic feet (1,800 cubic meters) of water tumbling down into the Rio Iguazú every second, it’s hard to comprehend its sheer size and power. The backdrop isn’t too shabby either: the falls are set in the lush jungle of Parque Nacional Iguazú, so you’ll find plenty of hiking and wildlife-spotting opportunities here. The best bit? The falls are easily accessible from either side of the Argentina-Brazil border as well as Paraguay.
Located in the Pacific Ocean, around 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers) west of mainland Chile, Easter Island – or Rapa Nui as it’s known to its Polynesian inhabitants – is among the most remote places on Earth. Travelers make the long journey here primarily to see the Moai, the mysterious stone figures thought to have been carved by the island’s ancestors between 1250 and 1500. But Easter Island isn’t just special for its archeology: with world-class diving, snorkeling, surfing, hiking and horse riding on offer, it’s also somewhere you can unwind and recharge before continuing your adventure farther south.
Where do we begin? Spanning over 400,000 square miles (1 million square kilometers) across southern Chile and Argentina, Patagonia is a gargantuan stretch of land lined with snowy peaks, petrified forests, lush grassland and a desert steppe. Perhaps its most impressive quality, however, is that, being so sparsely populated, it’s one of the few places in the world where much of the landscape has been left completely untouched by development. For solo travelers, the best place to go is Torres del Paine National Park, where well-marked trails, good hostel options and plenty of hiking companions await.
Covering a large part of Brazil and then spreading across Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, the steamy Amazon Basin is the largest and most biodiverse tropical rainforest in the world. In fact, it’s the beating heart of our planet: the source of the water we drink, the weather patterns we experience and the air we breathe. Join a solo-friendly group tour and spend your days spotting pink dolphins, canoeing through flooded forests or listening to the cries of howler monkeys from your hammock.
With its orange-brown tiled roofs, colorful church spires and cobbled alleys, Cartagena is a sight to behold. An important Spanish stronghold during the 16th century, Cartagena is one of South America’s best-preserved colonial cities. But beautiful architecture isn’t the only draw here: hip boutiques, party hostels, world-class restaurants and a buzzing nightlife make this a must-stop for solo travelers. With easy access to Tayrona National Park and Islas del Rosario, the city is also the perfect springboard for exploring the rest of northern Colombia.
Tucan Travel opens up a world of possibilities with its curated tours to some of the world’s most exciting destinations. Search the website for bucket-list trips and experiences for groups, couples or solo travelers.