Whether you keep a running travel bucket list or you're thinking about planning that vacation you've been saving up for, it can help the selection process if you narrow down the options to a specific region—or, if that's too hard, at least honing in on one continent. Today, we're spotlighting the most bucket list–worthy destinations in South America.
With some of the most beautiful beyond beautiful national parks, charming towns, and exciting cities in the world, we made sure to include the best places to visit in South America for every type of traveler, from city slickers and foodies to adventure enthusiasts and thrill-seekers. In fact, once you get a glimpse of these beautiful places, it might end up making your travel bucket list even longer than it was when you started. Read on to learn about these incredible destinations and start drafting those out of office emails.
Shockingly, you are look looking at a real-life photo, not an abstract close-up or a surreal Dalí masterpiece. Lençóis Maranhenses is a national park in northern the northern Brazilian region of Maranhao, Brazil. Here you'll find sweeping white sand dunes punctuated by vivid blue rainwater lagoons that seem to extend for miles in every direction. It's of those places you can't imagine until you see it for yourself.
Santiago, Chile, is known for its world-renowned restaurants, cosmopolitan feel, vibrant architecture, exciting energy, and bustling nightlife. One of its most charming qualities is its many hilly parks. The one pictured above is Santa Lucia Hill, where you'll find many elaborate staircases, plazas, and fountains. It's the highest viewpoint in the city and also has a rich cultural history, which you'll learn about if you visit Santiago's many museums.
When in Ecuador, you absolutely have to hike to Pailón del Diablo, which translates to "Devil's Cauldron" in English. It's easily one of the most impressive waterfall views you'll ever see, though you should dress as if you're about to walk through a very wet carwash. It's located in the western foothills of the Ecuadorian Andes in a city called Baños de Agua Santa near the Amazon Basin. Another popular tourist destination here is the swing that looks down into a canyon abyss usually shrouded in heavy fog, which is why it's nicknamed "The Swing at the End of the World."
The Las Lajas Sanctuary was built in the middle of the canyon of the Colombian Guáitara River between 1916 and 1948. Though it's still a popular destination for Catholics, it's also become a popular place to visit for any kind of tourist simply because of its beautiful backdrop and ornate basilica style architecture.
If you're wondering how on earth this magnificently varied ombré of colors exists in the wild, it's because it straddles two different ecosystems: a desert and a marine coast. Specifically, Playa Roja gets its vivid red hue from the erosion of a pink granodiorite rock, which contains solidified magma. It's located in Paracas, Peru, which is about a 40-minute drive from Pisco and a three-hour drive from Lima.
Caño Cristales is a breathtaking river that runs through Colombia. It hosts almost every color in the rainbow and then some, plus you can actually swim here and hang out in the hot springs. Locally, it's aptly called "the river that ran away from paradise" because as you can see, it's like an explosion of glorious colors so heavenly it's almost too good to be true.
If you want to see pastel-hued lakes, otherworldly, sci-fi looking slat planes, and flamingos all set against the backdrop of the Andes, come to Laguna Colorada. The Andean Plateau defies borders, with parts of it falling within Bolivian territory and other others in Peru, Chile, and Argentina. It sits on a cluster of active volcanoes, a stretch of desert, and the Amazon rainforest. Given this rich symphony of climates and geo-activity, there are many gorgeous, saturated lakes and salt flats. Unsurprisingly, Dalí came here for inspiration.
A bucket list of the most beautiful places to visit in South America simply isn't complete without a mention of Machu Picchu. Given the natural beauty of the cloud-piercing peaks, lush vegetation, and the fact that it's one of the most precious and awe-inspiring sites in the world, visiting Macchu Picchu is truly life-altering. You'll feel like you've been transported to another time as you wander around the remains of one of the most ancient cities in the world.
And now, for a South American beach vacation, you can't beat Punta del Este, Uruguay. Aside from surfing, sun worshiping, and other beachside shenanigans, this coastal city is well known for its art. You might recognize the famous Mano de Punta del Este. You should also go to the 18th-century lighthouse, which is almost as beautiful itself as the view it looks onto.