South America has so much to offer curious world explorers, so I don't blame you if this continent is on the top of your bucket list. But with so many different countries, how do you decide on where to go and what to see?
No matter whether you want to party it up in a bustling city or spend time in the great outdoors in national parks, South American countries have it all! To help you figure out the best way to see South America based on your unique preferences, I've put together an in-depth guide.
You may want to backpack or spend a bit more for "affordable luxury". Alternatively, you may not want to do much planning at all... so, a tour may be the way to go.
I may not be able to cover everything, because trying to fit 12 countries, and a few territories, into a single blog is hard. But, I'll give you some of my favorites and push you in the right direction!
Hopefully, you'll get inspiration and crucial details to make your next South American trip the best.
Where to Travel in South America?
Since there are so many countries in South America, you have some choices to make about where to visit. There's something for every type of visitor in South America, and while I don't think I can rank which country is the best, I'll give you some of my favorite stops!
If you're looking to find a country that is a mix of vibrant culture, lush landscapes, and welcoming locals, head to Brazil! It's got so much to offer visitors who are looking to adventure a bit during their trip.
You'll be able to walk through the bustling streets of Rio de Janeiro, taking in the infectious Brazilian culture! It's also the place to go if you're looking to experience the world-renowned Carnival Rio de Janeiro, where the streets literally come alive with song, dance, and happiness.
Another thing you can't miss in Brazil is the site of the 2016 Olympics. It's always interesting to visit these historically significant places.
Aside from visiting Machu Picchu, Peru is the place to go if you're an adventurous foodie! I was in heaven sampling the local cuisine, from the traditional ceviche to the innovative fusion. dishes.
Before I went to Peru, I didn't realize that their cuisine was so influenced by Japanese tastes. When I visited I spent most of the day eating, and a lot of it was delicious and unique dishes that served up a mix of Latin and Japanese flavors.
I feel like I don't need to sell Machu Picchu much... after all, it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site and probably what Peru is best known for. But, if you're unsure, don't be! The ancient ruins are fantastic to walk through and the views can't be beat.
Another famous place that's worth the stop is the Sacred Valley of the Inca Empire, otherwise known as the Urubamba Valley. It's in the Andes of Peru, north of the Inca capital of Cusco.
Don't forget to bring home some Peruvian souvenirs. I recommend anything made from alpaca.
Ecuador has outdoor adventures galore. Remember to pack a camera or empty your phone storage, because you won't want to stop talking pics of the country's diverse landscape. In one country, you can spend time enjoying the Pacific ocean as well as climb through the Andes Mountains.
This is also the stop where you'll explore the Galápagos Islands, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This interesting location was a dream come true! You can get up close and personal with unique wildlife species found nowhere else on earth.
Also, Quito, the capital, stole my heart with its well-preserved colonial architecture and vibrant culture. Ecuador may be small, but it's a destination with a huge amount to offer.
I fell in love with Colombia in one day! If you visit even one of the popular cities for backpackers or tourists, you'll feel like the country never sleeps.
The bustling city of Bogota offers a fascinating blend of modernity and history, while the colorful streets of Cartagena are delightful to explore. Although less known, you should also put Medellín on your Colombian itinerary!
Got more time? The cities are great for partying, food, and experiencing the friendly Latin American lifestyle. But, you should also visit the lush coffee plantations in the rolling hills of the Zona Cafetera.
It provides a serene escape and the beaches of the Caribbean coast are the perfect place to unwind.
From the arid Atacama Desert in the north to the icy landscapes of Patagonia in the south, the country's breathtaking beauty always leaves me in awe.
The cosmopolitan city of Santiago provides a vibrant urban experience, while the charming coastal town of Valparaíso is filled with colorful streets and a bohemian atmosphere.
Wine lovers, like myself, will delight in exploring the renowned vineyards of the Central Valley, while outdoor enthusiasts can find endless adventures in the rugged wilderness of Torres del Paine National Park.
Other Places in South America
None of the places I mentioned above scratch your vacation destination itch? As I mentioned there are lots of countries and territories that are considered part of South America.
Here's a quick list of other places to visit...
- Buenos Aires or Mendoza, Argentina
- Salar de Uyuni (or the Salt Flats), Bolivia
- Asunción, Paraguay
- San Jose, Costa Rica
- Mexico City, Mexico
Best Way to Travel to South America
I've always found that backpacking is one of the most authentic and rewarding ways to explore South America.
The continent's diverse landscapes, from the Andes mountains to the Amazon rainforest, are a backpacker's paradise. In my experience, staying at budget-friendly hostels and meeting like-minded travelers makes for an unforgettable adventure.
Plus, the flexibility of creating my own itinerary allows me to fully immerse myself in the local culture and visit lesser-known hidden gems. And hey, who doesn't love the challenge of navigating through new terrains with just a map and a backpack?
For those who prefer a bit of comfort and indulgence without breaking the bank, South America offers plenty of options for affordable luxury.
I've found that boutique hotels and charming B&Bs provide excellent value for money while still delivering exceptional service and unique experiences. You can even find private rooms in high-rated hostels that give you more privacy and great amenities on an affordable budget.
From wine tastings in Argentina's Mendoza region to relaxing on the pristine beaches of Brazil, I can have it all without the hefty price tag. Best of all, the favorable exchange rate in many South American countries makes it even easier to enjoy a touch of luxury without blowing my budget.
Company-Led South American Tours
If you're like me and sometimes prefer a more organized approach to travel, company-led South American tours are a fantastic option. I'll talk about them in more depth below, but before that let me convince you why this is an excellent option for a specific type of traveler!
These tours offer a hassle-free way to experience the continent's highlights, with expert guides, comfortable transportation, and well-planned itineraries. Sounds more relaxing, but can still be exciting!
Personally, I appreciate how these tours cater to various interests, whether it's history, nature, or adventure. The tours often include unique cultural experiences, like learning to dance the tango in Buenos Aires or cooking traditional Peruvian cuisine in Lima.
With a company-led tour, I can sit back, relax, and fully immerse myself in the vibrant cultures and breathtaking landscapes of South America.
Best Group Travel Packages to South America
If you're looking for a tour of South America organized from start to finish, you can explore using tour companies that do this for you. These can either be tours for solo travelers or with a group of other travelers.
An organized tour is a great option if you're looking to sit back and relax when it comes to trip planning. These companies will put everything together for you, and then you can join in for the ride!
If this sounds like your kind of travel, here are some great tour options for South America!
3. G-Adventures Tours
Whether you're looking for short day trips or long excursions, G Adventures offers ample tours covering several destinations in South America.
G Adventures has different styles of tours and even includes vaccinated tours if you're looking to be extra safe during covid.
While they have a fair number of different tours, I'd recommend you start your search with the following tours:
- If you're looking to explore Inca history in Peru, G Adventures has a perfect 8-day trip that takes you from Lima to Cusco. It's a small group but given a level 4 in physical rating, so it is a more demanding walking tour.
- For a lighter physical level exploration of Peru, try the 5-day Peruvian Coast: Seafood, Sandboarding & Dune Buggies trip. Or even a 3-day Lima to Lima walking tour!
- What about the Galápagos? I hear you ask! Fear not, they have some budget-friendly Galápagos tours as well. For a 7-day tour, check out the Galápagos Express Adventure: Wilderness & Wildlife in Ecuador tour.
If you've never toured with G Adventures and want to know more before booking, you can read my fellow traveler's thoughts about this travel company in Flightdeck's review here!
2. Intrepid Peru Tours
If you're keen on traveling with a company that focuses on making a positive impact in the destinations they visit, Intrepid might just be for you!
Intrepid's shortest trips are seven days and tend to focus on one country, but you can also explore their tailormade options to personalize your itinerary a little more.
Here's our top pick Intrepid tour in South America:
- For a seven-day trek of Peru, check out Intrepid's Inca Trail Express from Lima. It's rated 4/5 for physical activity but will take you along the Inca Trail from Lima to Cusco, with a stop at Machu Picchu along the way.
Check out our review of Intrepid here.
1. EF Go Ahead Tours
If you're headed to Ecuador or Peru, EF Go Ahead Tours offers a handful of 8 to 16-day tours.
With EF Go Ahead Tours, you'll have a tour guide assigned to your group, and your accommodation and meals are included in the price of the tour. If this sounds good to you, we'd recommend you check out this tour:
- EF Go Ahead Tours only offers one under ten-day trip in Peru, and that's their week in Peru: Lima, Cuzco & Machu Picchu tour. The trip is eight days, but it will take you to all the must-see sights in those areas of Peru.
Before you book, read our comprehensive review of their services here.
Best Tours for Solo Travelers
Organized group tours tend to run a steeper price tag, so you'll want to pencil out what all is included if you've got a set budget. In some cases, they can be of better value than trying to do it all yourself.
But while guided group tours can be a great way to travel, sometimes you want to get around on your own and at your own pace. If you're thinking of traveling around South America this way, here are some recommendations for resources you can use to find tours wherever you travel!
3. GetYourGuide Tours
If you're headed to Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Colombia, or Uruguay, GetYourGuide is an excellent site to use to find activities and tours in your chosen destination.
GetYourGuide offers entry tickets to top sights but also half-day, full-day, and multi-day tours that you can join to explore more in-depth than you might've been able to do on your own.
Whether you want to do a four-day Inca Trail Trek, a sightseeing bus tour, a coffee tour in Medellin, or anything in between, you'll have ample choices.
If you want to know more, we've reviewed GetYourGuide here!
2. Viator Tours
We've talked about Viator on our blog before, and that's because they're a great resource for finding fun, unique experiences and tours during your travels. I've used them a few time myself and haven't been disappointed. A visit to South America is no exception.
You can find walking tours, full-day tours, paragliding adventures, and entry tickets to top attractions across the continent on Viator.
Several of their tours are likely to sell out, so if you're considering using Viator for your South American travels, be sure to book in advance!
I find that this is a great option when I want some help seeing places but I still want to have most of the control when it comes to my trip itinerary. The best of both worlds, in my opinion!
1. Local Hostel Tours!
If you're staying in a hostel, chances are they have a walking tour you can join, or know a good walking tour you can go on to familiarize yourself with the area.
These walking tours are often free or at a reduced cost, although you should always tip at the end of the free tour. The best part? A local guide will likely be leading these types of tours.
These tours are a great place to learn the best secret spots and meet fellow travelers.
What is the Best Month to Visit South America?
Depending on what you want to do while in South America, there are different months in which it is best to travel.
Overall, the general consensus is that the best time to travel to South America is between September and November. This is when the seasons are changing from spring to summer, so you're likely to find nicer weather. That being said, South America is a continent that's perfect for visiting year-round.
For cheaper options, consider visiting during spring or autumn but do remember that in the Southern hemisphere, the seasons are reversed from the Northern hemisphere! Also, keep in mind that the further you get from the equator, the more stark the differences between the four seasons will be!
Next Stop, South America!
Whether you join a group tour, go on your own individual adventure or a mix of the two, there are ample opportunities to explore South America. Either way, you'll need a plan to make the most of your trip. That's why