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When you hear someone say Rio de Janeiro, do you also run out and grab your tassels and glitzy headdress, ready to go? No? Just me?

Well, fear not because South America has so much more to offer than just Carnival fever! 

From the lush Amazon rainforest to the majestic Andes mountains, this continent is a treasure trove of natural wonders and cultural riches. So, put away those tassels for now and join us as we embark on a journey to discover the 9 Best Places to Visit in South America, where an exotic treat is waiting for you around every corner.

Whether you are looking for an adventure in the Amazon rainforest or a relaxing beach vacation, South America has something to offer everyone. 

And now, in order of the top 9 safest countries according to the 2023 Global Peace Index (except for Brazil. Brazil actually slips in before Colombia), let’s jump in and take a look at where your next trip could be…

Read on to learn more about this amazing continent and how you can start to kick-start your next adventure! 

9 Best Places to Visit in South America

I’ve already knocked Peru off my list and this country was stunning and amazing beyond words. Ecuador and Colombia are also on my list. Let’s see where I head to next year!

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Uruguay

Uruguay tops the list of the best places to visit in South America for many reasons. Uruguay is a safe and relaxed country with a rich history and culture. They love football, but it’s quite an untouched country, as not many travelers have it on their radar to visit.

It is home to some of the best beaches in South America and is a great place to relax and enjoy the sun. During October, the annual festival of Viva el Tango, the Tango Festival, takes place, and here, ladies, is where you can sling on your dancing shoes and strut your stuff!

Top 3 experiences:

  • City tour of Montevideo, the capital city, with its charming European-style architecture and lively cultural scene. If you need a little pick-me-up, pop into Candy Bar, a delightful Corner eatery for your caffeine fix and a crunchy, traditional taco.
  • Wine tour of the Carmelo region, known for its excellent wines, especially the fruitful varieties made from the Tannat grape of the region.
  • A day trip to Colonia del Sacramento, one of the oldest towns in Uruguay and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its cobblestone plazas and sun-dried buildings. From its location, Buenos Aires can be seen across the water, and it’s an easy hour-long ferry trip to hop over into another country.

Argentina

You can’t have a list of the best places to visit in South America without including Argentina. If you are a meat eater, you need to ditch the calorie counter for this one! Argentina is one of the most visited countries on this continent as it bursts with sports, incredible nature, of course, more celebrations and festivals!

From the bustling streets of Buenos Aires to the glaciers of Patagonia, when you do eventually head back home, trust me, you will be spellbound.


Top 3 experiences:

  • Explore the exciting lifestyle of Buenos Aires with a city tour. Watch its tango dancers, perhaps book a lesson yourself, splurge on the steakhouses, and why not end your day sipping sundowners from the rooftop bars while listening to the streets coming alive below you?
  • Hiking in Patagonia, with its stunning scenery and diverse wildlife. If you enjoy meeting new people, then join a group who you can explore this challenging terrain with. Or, if you are looking for a little bit of ‘me’ time, then experienced hikers who are well-prepared can set off on their own hike of discovery.
  • Enjoy a boat trip to the Iguazu Falls, the most impressive waterfalls in the world. The absolute beauty of them from a boat is incomparable to observing from land.


Chile

Chile is a diverse country with stunning scenery, from the snow-capped peaks of the Andes to the deserts of the Atacama. It is home to some of the world’s most active volcanoes, and is a great place for adventure tourism. Here are a few reasons why Chile makes the list of the best places to visit in South America.

Top 3 experiences:

  • Hiking in Patagonia, the southern region of the Andes is exciting and exhilarating. The region is dotted with lakes, volcanoes, and even glaciers to navigate. Longer hiking tours include visiting the Torres del Paine National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with its towering granite peaks and glaciers.
  • Take some time to master your skiing in the Chilean Andes with some of the best skiing in South America.
  • Book a day trip to explore the mysterious megalithic statues of Easter Island. Lace up your walking shoes because you’re in for an invigorating hike along the rim of the dormant volcanic crater, Rano Mau!

Paraguay

Paraguay is a landlocked country and known as “The Heart of South America.” And with that heart comes the beautiful indigenous Guarani heritage that traces back to the intermarriage between Spanish men and indigenous Guarani women.

Explore the beauty of the Chaco wilderness or meander along the Paraguay River’s tranquil shores. Paraguay is home to the world’s largest freshwater wetland, the Pantanal, making it an excellent destination for bird watching and fishing too.

The amazing experiences below are just a few reasons why Paraguay is on this list of the best places to visit in South America.


Top 3 experiences:

  • Visit the Pantanal, the world’s largest freshwater wetland that actually spans three countries and then hosts an incredible variety of wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled and have your cameras ready to snap your pic of caimans, elusive jaguars, and capybaras mellowing out in the sun.
  • Explore the Jesuit Mission Ruins, which date back to the 17th century, when Jesuit missionaries traveled to Paraguay to try and convert the Guarani people to Christianity.
  • If you are interested in experiencing local culture, visit a Real Guarani village where the locals will welcome you with the widest open arms. When interacting with the locals, you will eat their traditional foods and beverages, and if Lady Luck is on your side, you will be able to participate in a ritual or religious ceremony. Learn about the Guarani culture of the indigenous people of Paraguay.

Bolivia

Bolivia offers us groovy solo female travelers, a chance to discover the touristy and more authentic South America. There are ample opportunities to escape to a traditional Bolivian village and experience the warmth of the locals while dipping your toes into their lifestyles, even if only for a day.

Top 4 experiences:

  • Looking for something a little unique? Visit La Paz; it is Bolivia’s capital and is the highest capital city in the world!
  • Visit the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat. During the rainy season, photographers can snap the most incredible pics as the sky and clouds reflect off the shallow level of crystal-clear water. 
  • Hike to the top of Mount Illimani, a snow-capped mountain.
  • Hop on a boat and navigate the waters of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. While you’re there, slow down a little and spend a few nights in Copacabana, an important pilgrimage site where the cultural experiences will take your worldly experiences to the next level!

Ecuador

Ecuador is a small country with a big reputation for adventure tourism. It is home to the Galapagos Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a great place to go hiking, snorkeling, and whale watching. We couldn’t make this list of best places to visit in South America without adding Ecuador.

Top 3 experiences:

  • Some call the Galapagos Islands a ‘living laboratory of evolution;’ it is where wildlife such as marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, and flightless cormorants have evolved into these unique species not found anywhere else on the planet..
  • Spend time in jungle lodges as you explore the incredible biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest.
  • For the experienced climbers, a hike up the Cotopaxi Volcano, an active volcano, is definitely impressive.

Peru

Peru is another land of ancient ruins, stunning scenery, and diverse cultures. The landscape alone is so diverse, with arid plains in the east which ascend into the cold-topped mountains of the Andes.

Lima, the capital city, is known as a ‘delicious destination’ as some of the top chefs in the world cook live here and continue to create masterpieces that will simply titillate your taste buds! The Barranco District has a distinct Bohemian vibe and is a magnet for artists and creative souls, with its vibrant street art, art galleries, and eclectic music scene.

Side note on the Incas, in case you are wondering who they were…

The Inca Empire was a vast and sophisticated civilization that left behind an absolute legacy of incredible engineering, architecture, and agriculture. They were literally the superstars of ancient South America. From the towering peaks of Machu Picchu to the intricate irrigation systems in the Andean Mountains that remain sustaining communities, high-tech companies today are inspired by their feats.


Top 3 experiences:

  • Make your way to Machu Picchu, a once-lost city of the Incas, rediscovered in 1911 and now one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Do your research before you go because if it’s raining, you might need to wait many hours for that idyllic shot, but it will be worth it!
  • Visit the Nazca Lines in the Nazca Desert in southern Peru, a series of mysterious geoglyphs that can only be seen from the air or a tower. Many of them are simply just straight lines, but others are incredible outlines of plants and animals. 
  • Escape to Paracas for a few days, regionally referred to as the “Hamptons of Peru.” This seaside resort offers ocean wildlife and amazing geological formations. And if the mood grabs you, book yourself in for a kitesurfing lesson.

Colombia

Ladies, if you are looking for stories to tell your gal pals around the barbeque, then you simply have to include Colombia in your travels.

In addition to the stunning scenery, diverse cultures, and delicious food, it is another great country to go hiking, coffee tasting, and salsa dancing.

But what makes Colombia one of the best places to visit in South America and slightly different to the other countries, a touch more on the wild side, is that it was home to the infamous Pablo Escobar, the notorious Colombian drug lord which has captured the public’s attention over the recent years with movies, docuseries, and books around his criminal activities.

Top 4 experiences:

  • Take a tour of a coffee plantation and see what happens from bean to brew, and enjoy a coffee tasting to find out why Colombia’s coffee is the ultimate pick-me-up!
  • Explore the charming cobblestone streets and dance to the rhythms of the salsa in the historical, yet vibrant, colonial city of Cartagena, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Go hiking in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a mountain range with stunning views.- It is less crowded than other regions, making it the perfect place to stop for a moment and take in the glorious beauty around you.
  • The fascinating history of the drug cartels and the trafficking of weapons, drugs, and cash is about the saga of power and the pursuit of wealth at any cost. Exploring Comuna 13 in Medellin on a guided tour will give you an insight into how this once cartel-ruled area of violence has been transformed into a vibrant and artistic community. 


And last but not least, the largest country and hands down one of the absolute best places to visit in South America, Brazil!

Brazil


Brazil beckons with the promise of adventure, excitement, and endless sunshine on its gorgeous golden beaches. It is home to the world-famous Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, as well as the Amazon rainforest, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth.

If you are looking to explore further, some popular experiences in Brazil include:

  • The Rio Carnival is a wild and unforgettable celebration that takes place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, every year before Lent. It is a time for letting loose and having fun, and features elaborate samba parades, lively street parties, and colorful costume contests. Travelers can expect a non-stop party atmosphere, with people dancing and singing until the early hours of the morning. They will also see amazing costumes, from traditional Brazilian outfits to elaborate fantasy designs. And of course, they will experience the warm hospitality of the Brazilian people.
  • Take a cruise on the Amazon River and spot the amazing wildlife. The Amazon River is home to over 2,000 species of fish, 400 species of mammals, and 1,300 species of birds. Keep your eyes open for pink dolphins, giant river otters, and maybe even a jaguar or anaconda! You will of course see a variety of plants, including towering trees, vines, and orchids. So sit back, and enjoy the peace and tranquility of the rainforest. Oh yes, and always check with the captain if it’s safe to dangle your toes in the water – you’ll never know when you’re in piranha territory.
  • If you want to see Rio from above, then head to the top of Corcovado Mountain to see the Christ the Redeemer statue. Towering at 30-meters tall, this Art Deco statue of Jesus Christ with his arms outstretched is one of the most iconic landmarks in Brazil. You can reach it by cogwheel train, van, or by hiking up the mountain. Once you reach the top, you will be rewarded with stunning views of the city. You can see the beaches, the city skyline, and even Sugarloaf Mountain which is another natural attraction to visit in Rio. This is an unforgettable experience!
  • Exploring the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, such as Copacabana and Ipanema.
  • The Iguazu Falls are one of the most popular tourist destinations in South America. They are located on the border between Brazil and Argentina, and are made up of over 275 individual waterfalls, with that number fluctuating as the water levels rise and fall. The falls are divided into two main sections: the Brazilian side and the Argentine side. The Brazilian side offers stunning panoramic views that lead into the Devil’s Throat, while the Argentine side allows you to get up close and personal with the falls. There are a number of different ways to experience the Iguazu Falls, including hiking, boat tours, and even helicopter tours.
  • Whitewater rafting on the Macaé River just north-east of Rio de Janeiro is a thrilling activity that takes you through rapids of varying difficulty. It is a great way to get adrenaline pumping and experience the power of nature. The rapids on this river are perfect for rafting and offer a thrill, especially for first timers. 


Best Safety Tips for Solo Female Travelers to South America

It doesn’t really need to be said, but it never hurts to hear it again, if you are going off into the world alone, do your best preparation in advance so you can have an absolute blast!

  • Do your research. Before you even book your flight, learn as much as you can about the places you want to visit. This includes reading travel blogs and articles, talking to other travelers, jumping on some Facebook groups or Reddit forums, and checking out government travel advisories.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. This is especially important when you are traveling in big cities or crowded places. Keep your belongings close to you and be mindful of your surroundings.
  • Trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to walk away. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
  • Another option if you want to meet others, is to stay in hostels or guesthouses. This is a great way to meet other travelers and make friends. It’s also a good way to stay in safe and affordable accommodations.
  • Learn some basic Spanish. This will help you communicate with locals and get around. Or have an app on your phone, or carry a dictionary with you.
  • Be aware of the risks. South America is, in general, a safe continent, but there are still some risks as there are anywhere in the world. Just be vigilant, especially for opportunists involved in petty theft, sexual harassment, and assault.
  • Take precautions. To minimize your risk, take some common-sense precautions such as:
    • Don’t flash your valuables in public.
    • Be careful about drinking too much alcohol, especially if you’re alone.
    • Don’t walk alone at night.
    • Trust your gut.
  • If you are lost, ask for help from a local woman. Women are often more likely to be helpful and understanding than men.

Best Places to Visit in South America Final Thoughts

So whether you are drawn to the awe-inspiring natural wonders, the colorful, warm welcomes of the local people, or the dark tourism that does thread into the history of some of the countries, South America promises to give you experiences that you might never have dreamed of.

The moments you take away from these travels could well be some of the best highlights you include in your travel story.

If you hadn’t added any of these best places to visit in South America on your bucket list, I hope after reading this, you’ll reconsider!

Happy travels!

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