South America is best described as a continent of eclecticism, a place which conjures a different story for all those who travel to any of its 12 countries and countless tucked-away isles. Equal in coastline as it is in dizzying peaks, the landscape alone is reason enough to visit, as a destination truly peerless in heritage sights, natural beauty and landmarks.
From river cruises and jungle treks to cultural expeditions and mountain climbing, it’s easy to see why South America attracts millions from across the world every year. Here are just some of the cultural wonders, highlights, and extraordinary landmarks that draw them in.
Iguazu Falls, Argentina
Located in Argentina’s north-eastern corner, Iguazu Falls offers arguably the most breath-taking aquatic vista in South America. Rivalling Niagara, this awe-inspiring display unites hundreds of waterfalls to create a cacophony of sounds from both wildlife and nature alike. What’s more, the rainforests around Iguazu contain a reported 2,000 plant species, making it an ideal stop for the budding marine biologists out there. Iguazu Falls is not the most complicated landmark to explore, but there are also numerous day tour options if you’d prefer to experience it in the company of an expert.
Machu Picchu, Peru
No visit to South America would be complete without dedicating a few days to this relic of Peruvian history. Machu Picchu may be among the country’s most-visited sites, but that detracts nothing from its mysterious presence. It first came to the world’s attention in the early 20th century, though the local people of Quechua have protected it for countless centuries. While the vegetation was cleared from its ruins by explorers, the citadel’s enigmatic spirit remains potent, as you take in sights that could well hide a thousand little secrets. If you’re a particularly competent hiker, a visit to the lost city, Choquequiaro, is, for many, the pinnacle of Machu Picchu. A complex four-day trek into rural the Andes, this lesser-known sister city is iconic for its sophisticated masonry, temple of worship and living quarters. Of course, no written description can do justice to this ancient marvel – you simply have to see it with your own eyes.
Praia de Ipanema, Brazil
Experience the Rio de Janeiro you hear about in songs and see in movies with a visit to Ipanema Beach. If you prefer to kick back and take it easy on vacation, this really is the destination for you, as long stretches of glittering white sand provide enough room to lounge freely for the thousands who visit its stretch. A walk along the shores reveal numerous sections broken up by postos (lifeguard towers), including family areas, space for volleyball, football and surfing, and gay-friendly zones so everyone can feel right at home. Drenched in sun all day long, it’s the perfect place to top up your tan and while away the hours. If it’s good enough for Frank Sinatra, it’s good enough for us.
Tierra del Fuego National Park, Argentina
Tierra del Fuego is one of South America’s most unique national parks, in that it offers the best of land and sea. Located in the famed city of Ushuaia, this expansive region comprises lagoons, waterfalls, dense jungle and coastal paths. We recommend taking the End of the World train, a railway laid by the prisoners of Ushuaia during its period as a penal colony. Of course, as there are over 40 kilometres of trails to explore, you may find yourself running out of time with this one! Take a guided tour if you’d feel more confident in expert hands.
Isla del Sol, Bolivia
The largest of the islands in Lake Titicaca, Isla del Sol is another destination where you can discover the ancient history and cultures of the Incas. More than 80 ancient wonders populate the Bolivian paradise, including the Chincana Ruins near the northern tip. Head there to check out Palacio del Inca, or El Laberinto – a structure made up of mysterious doorways and stone walls. If you would prefer to stay a little closer to the dock, don’t miss the Escalera del Inca. This painstakingly restored Incan stairway will lead you to the island’s many tucked away treasures, like lush gardens, small tiendas (shops) and the Yumani spring. A word of warning though, the trail is long and steep, so definitely not for the faint of heart.
Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina
With its tropical climate, you probably wouldn’t think of South America as a location where you’d find a giant, and still-growing, glacier. Azure in shade and formed of huge jagged walls, the Perito Moreno Glacier covers around 121 square miles, and is the third-largest water reserve on the planet. Aside from vast expanses of ice and water, this landmark is a source of fascinating sights and sounds. Thick forests and icy inclines provide a contrastive backdrop to a soundtrack of natural phenomena, as chunks of the ice fall from the glacier and crash thunderously into the water below. It’s both an exciting yet contemplative experience, as you see the most tangible example of global warming playing out before you.
Fortress of Santa Teresa, Uruguay
One of Uruguay’s prime defensive structures, the Fortress of Santa Teresa was built in 1762 to defend the area from Portuguese conquistadors. A towering landmark of thick, yellow-ochre granite walls, it encases an armoury, chapel, living quarters and comprehensive collection of artefacts gathered and restored for display. The setting is not to be sniffed at either, with miles of beaches, sand dunes and wetlands offering stunning vistas across the Atlantic Ocean.
It’s curious to think that a continent with such arresting history and beauty is still among the most affordable tourist destinations in the world. South America is a continent where crisp white beaches and hundred-year-old architecture stand should to shoulder, and where Incan civilisation shows that people lived fruitfully in mountain-side jungles considered dangerous today. It’s a destination resplendent with culture, nature and history, sure to leave an indelible mark on any traveller’s heart.
Long dreamt of stealing away on the adventure of a lifetime in South America? At Cruise1st, we offer a range of exclusive cruise deals to this enriching continent, so you can experience the thrill of Machu Picchu or the carnival culture of Brazil. To start planning your South American cruise getaway, call us now on 1300 612 334 or visit the homepage.