South America travel guide

Forget South America's mass market tourist clichés: sipping caipirinhas on a beach; pan-piping Peruvians; Carnival hedonism in Rio. Even if you think you know this vast continent of contrasts, you probably don't know the half of it. Our South America travel guide will pick out justly renowned highlights – the Inca Trail, Patagonia, Galapagos, Iguazu, the Amazon – each a global draw precisely because they're fantastically unlike anywhere else on earth. But we'll also shine a light on more off-the-beaten track places that will remain with you forever if you go.
meet a continent cradling the world's driest desert and largest jungle, alongside some of its most awesome volcanoes and iceberg-filled fjords.
Chile's Atacama, the world's oldest and driest desert – yet dotted with snow-capped peaks and jetting geysers. In Bolivia, marvel at the high-altitude Andean setting of the vast Lake Titicaca. Discover Colombia's history-soaked Caribbean coast, the vibrant hill villages of mainland Ecuador, or Guyana's 'Lost World' wildernesses. South America's secret half and famous half make a breathtaking whole.
South America is/isn't...

South America is...

a stunningly diverse mix of unforgettable nature and culture.

South America isn't...

a group of similar countries.

What we rate & what we don't

UNDERRATED

Atacama

The world's driest and oldest desert is a 1,000km-long plateau …

Mainland Ecuador

Picture an area the size of the UK, with steamy …

Patagonia

Patagonia would be a unique and wonderful …

Pantanal

The world’s largest seasonal wetland – and Brazil’s wildlife spotting …
RATED

Inca Trail

The Inca Trail is a journey and a …

Galapagos Islands

Ecuador's island offshoot was a pirate hideaway until its uniquely …

Amazon Rainforest

Manaus is the base for the northern forest, including the …

Iguazu/ Iguaçu Falls

Straddling the Argentina-Brazil border, Iguazu, the world's …
OVERRATED

Drug tourism

Coca leaves are an important traditional crop in countries like …

All-inclusive Brazilian resorts

Brazil's vast coastline is fringed with spectacular beaches, but for …

Orphanage volunteering

It sounds like a wonderful and worthy cause – but …

Fake culture

Handmade crafts are brilliant mementoes – but they're also a …

Food, shopping & people

Eating & drinking in South America
Forget the hipster hype; quinoa is a tasty, protein packed Andean grain, sacred to the Incas.
Giant king crab is a treat from Patagonia's cold southern oceans.
Carnivores will love herb grazing, flame grilled, Patagonian lamb as well as barbecued Argentine/Brazilian beef.
Compare superb Chilean wine from Colchaqua, Maipo, Aconcagua and Elqui with Argentinian gems from Mendoza, Salta and Jujuy, San Juan and La Rioja.
Spirit lovers can compare Brazilian cachaca with pisco from Peru or Chile.
People & language
South America mainly speaks Spanish, complemented by Portuguese-speaking Brazil and the English/Dutch/French speaking Guyanas! But shared language doesn't mean shared character. Chileans are, unsurprisingly, quite different to Argentinians, Bolivians from Peruvians, and Ecuadorians from Colombians. Add hundreds of indigenous peoples, each with their own rich traditions, from Inca-descended Quechua to African-influenced Bahia, and Amazon tribes barely touched by the modern world, and South America starts to look less like one big Latino mass, and far more complex and colourful.
Despite the name, Panama hats come from Ecuador. Strong and flexible, they can hold water – and be rolled up to pass through a ring.

Our top South America Vacation

Galapagos adventure vacation

Galapagos adventure vacation

An active island adventure

From US $4599 10 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2018: 29 Jun, 13 Jul, 20 Jul, 27 Jul, 10 Aug, 24 Aug, 7 Sep, 21 Sep, 5 Oct, 19 Oct, 2 Nov, 16 Nov, 30 Nov, 14 Dec, 23 Dec, 29 Dec
Helpdesk
Hello. If you'd like to chat about South America or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help. Rosy & team.
Gifts & shopping
Authentic Panama hats from Ecuador are easily-packed and very useful.
Shawls/ponchos/jumpers made from alpaca are soft and very warm.
Watch out for shoddy fake 'native crafts'. Buy from local makers in the actual native regions or ask about bona fide specialist shops, such as Amoa Konoya in Sao Paulo, which sells work by 60 Brazilian tribes.
Beautiful jewellery is widespread and distinctive, such as Chile's lapis lazuli pieces.
Contrary to appearances, Chile is not the longest country in the world - Brazil is! It stretches 4,395km north-south, borders ten nations and spans three time zones.
How much does it cost?
Plate of curanto in Chiloé (Chile): £6
Authentic Panama hat (Ecuador): £15 - £35
Entrance to Iguaçu Falls (Brazil/Argentina): £13
Torres del Paine Refugio with breakfast (Patagonia): £60
Budget train journey from Machu Picchu to Cuzco (Peru): £34

Wandering among South America's Scribes

South America inspired two of the most acclaimed travel journals of recent decades, with the 1970s publication of Paul Theroux's Old Patagonian Express and Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia. More recently, Hugh Thomson has written with gusto about ancient and modern Peru in books like The White Rock and Cochineal Red. Read more
Written by Norman Miller
Photo credits: [Page banner: McKay Savage] [Top box - Amazon: mark goble] [Top box - Ecuadorian Amazon & river: Dallas Krentzel] [Atacama: Justin Jensen] [Drug tourism: Jimmy Harris] [All-inclusive Brazilian resorts: Rodrigo Soldon] [Orphanage volunteering: Taylor Stakes] [Fake culture: Emmanuel DYAN] [Eating & drinking: guilherme jofili] [People & language: Thomas Quine] [Quote 1 - Panama hats: Lucas dos Santos] [Gifts & shopping: Bill Damon] [How much: John Seb Barber]
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