The Best of South America Part 1: Travellers Share Their Tips

This week we launched our free ebook South America Highlights where we share 28 of our favourite places from our year on the continent. We thought it’d be interesting to find out how our highlights compared to other travellers, so we asked a number of travel bloggers to share their best experiences and destinations in South America.

We were pleasantly overwhelmed by the response and have compiled the 31 submissions in this epic, wanderlust-inducing two part post. In combination with South America Highlights you should have plenty of ideas to plan your own trip to South America including the best places to spot wildlife, witness awe-inspiring natural attractions, trek amongst snowy peaks, try extreme sports, or relax on a quiet beach.

There were so many amazing ideas to share that we’ve divided the post into two. Part 1 focuses on Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Brazil, and Part 2 feature tips on Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.

ARGENTINA

Salta Region in Northwest Argentina

Salta Region, Northwest Argentina

Outside Cafayate in northwest Argentina. Photo by Uncornered Market.

Chosen by Audrey and Dan, Uncornered Market

Red rock deserts, blinding white salt flats, wineries, gaucho culture, friendly people, bustling markets and the best empanadas in all of Argentina. It’s all this and more that made the Salta region one of our favorite areas in all of South America.

During the first day of our road trip we followed a handwritten sign and stumbled upon a Gaucho festival in the hills where asado (barbecue) was plentiful and people danced the day away. We knew we were going to like this area; we quickly called the rental car company and explained we’d need to extend. Each day of our road trip provided a new adventure, new landscapes, variations in culture and people. Although we covered a lot of ground in a week, we’d love to return to explore further.

Interacting With Animals in Argentina

Marcello with a penguin in Argentina

Marcello with a penguin in Argentina. Photo by Wandering Trader.

Chosen by Marcello, Wandering Trader

Interacting with animals in Argentina (specifically dancing with a penguin and scuba diving with sea lions) was my favourite experience.  I think it’s very unique that you can actually get inches away from almost a million penguins at one of the largest Magellanic Penguin colonies in the world.  They don’t even budge when you walk next to them and it’s amazing to see the babies a few months after being born.  Scuba diving with sea lions was another amazing thing.  Who doesn’t like to play with an animal that’s as playful and curious as a puppy?

Biking Around Bariloche

Cycling, Bariloche

Earl biking around Bariloche. Photo by Wandering Earl.

Chosen by Earl, Wandering Earl

By no means am I a bicyclist and in fact, I generally do not enjoy riding a bicycle for more than 10 minutes. However, when I began pedaling out of Bariloche and along the windy roads that twist through the foothills of the Andes Mountains, I instantly felt as if I could cycle through this region for days on end.

Without a map and without a plan I simply chose random roads, soon finding myself cycling around the most impressive blue mountain lakes, under an endless stretch of snow-covered peaks and right into small forest villages that dotted the region.

The views were perfect every time I hopped off my bike and it was difficult concentrating on the road when surrounded by such a perfect display of nature. Incredibly, my biking excursion lasted for eight hours and when I finally rolled back into Bariloche, I extended my bike rental for another 24 hours and repeated the adventure the very next day.

The Palacio Barolo, Buenos Aires

Palacio Barolo, Buenos Aires

Palacio Barolo, Buenos Aires. Photo by For 91 Days.

Chosen by Juergen and Mike, For 91 Days

The Palacio Barolo was probably our favorite building in Buenos Aires, and we chose it because we’re somewhat surprised that it’s not more well-known.

Found just in front of the Palacio de Congreso, you can get one of the best views of the city from its balcony. And the palace itself is gorgeous. It was built as a kind of architectural tribute to Dante’s Divine Comedy. 100 meters tall (one meter for each of the poem’s cantos), 22 floors (one for each stanza), nine entryways (one for each of the doors to hell), and so on.

Take one of the fascinating nighttime tours, which ends with wine and snacks.

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls. Photo by Nomadic Samuel.

Chosen by Samuel, Nomadic Samuel

The most spectacular feat of nature I’ve ever witnessed was north of the capital city of Argentina.  I can still remember the sheer sense of ‘awe’ I felt when I first laid eyes on Iguazu Falls.  Iguazú comes from the Guarani words y (meaning water) and ûazú (meaning big).  I had never seen anything so ‘big’ in my life.  I ended up spending several days taking it all in.  One can visit from both Argentina and Brazil.  From Argentina one can get up close and intimate and feel the mighty sense of the thunderous cascading falls.  From Brazil, it’s a more distant view that allows one to appreciate the sheer sense of scope of the 275 falls.  I highly recommend both.

Hanging Out With Elephant Seals, Puerto Madryn

Elephant Seals in Puerto Madryn

Elephant Seals in Puerto Madryn. Photo by The Travel Chica.

Chosen by Stephanie, The Travel Chica

I have had so many great experiences in South America, but this one really stood out for me because it was so different and exciting. I did not even know what an elephant seal was, so I was completely surprised to discover these giant, blob-like, yet adorable, creatures sunbathing on the beach. My tour took us there on a weekday, so we had the entire beach to ourselves. We were able to get within 1 1/2 meters of these incredible animals. The photos I took that day are some of my favorites, and I smile every time I look at them.

URUGUAY

Cabo Polonio

Cabo Polonio Beach, Uruguay

Cabo Polonio Beach, Uruguay. Photo by Michael Hodson.

Chosen by Mike, Go See Write

Cabo Polonio, Uruguay is one of the spots in South America I look most forward to getting back to, especially when I am needing to get ‘off the grid’ for a a while. Why there? Because there is no electricity in this little beach town, so it mandates you unplug from the world a bit. Frankly, I think in these days, that is a goal that we should all have a little more often. I certainly need it.

CHILE

Driving Through Patagonia

Jeff driving the Carretera Austral, Patagonia

Jeff driving the Carretera Austral, Patagonia. Photo by Jeff Jung.

Chosen by Jeff, Career Break Secrets

Patagonia is one of my favorite destinations in the world, not just South America: mountains, forests, glaciers, lakes, hiking and glacial rivers you can drink from. Then there’s the wildlife: penguins, birds, whales, dolphins, guanacos (cousins of the llama), deer and even puma.

Parts of it can be difficult to access, but this also has the effect of keeping the land pristine. If you really want to get off the beaten track in Patagonia, then I recommend heading to the southern town of Coyhaique in Chile. From there, you can access La Carretera Austral, or the Southern Highway. The road is still unpaved in some parts. It is a paradise for campers, hikers, kayakers and general nature lovers. And if you want a bit of luxury, you can find a few hot springs and spas sprinkled throughout. I’ve driven most of it twice and would go back again in a heartbeat.

Sailing in Patagonia

Perito Moreno Glacier

Perito Moreno Glacier. Photo by Lisa Lubin.

Chosen by Lisa, LL World Tour

I could live in Buenos Aires in a heartbeat. I could snorkel forever with the sea lions off the Galapagos Islands, but if I had to pick my favorite experience, it would be seeing the amazing landscape of Patagonia in Southern Chile and Argentina.  I was truly in awe of the huge glaciers, especially Perito Moreno, just across the border from Chile.  It was like nothing I had ever seen.  They were huge, ominous, even. I had a very cool (literally) experience aboard the Navimag Boat as we cruised south through fjords for three days. Here’s the video:

For those with longer attention spans…the “long” version is here.

Easter Island

Moai at sunset on Easter Island

Moai at sunset on Easter Island. Photo by the Traveling Canucks.

Chosen by Cam and Nicole, Traveling Canucks

The remote island seems almost fictional, like something out of a childhood bedtime story. At times, it feels as if the island was never meant to be re-discovered by modern man, as if it has a dark history that it doesn’t want to reveal to the world. We knew very little about Easter Island prior to arriving, aside from the iconic images of giant stone heads popping out of the earth. It’s a surreal feeling to be in the presence of the towering Moai statues, alone and deserted on a volcanic island in the middle of the South Pacific.

But what surprised us most was how much more there was to this tropical island. World class scuba diving, hiking to giant volcanic craters, horseback riding and ATVing through rugged terrain, surfing, mountain biking and lazing on the white sandy beaches. For those considering a trip to this island of mystery, give yourself at least 5-6 days to fully experience all that it has to offer.

BRAZIL

Buzios

Buzios, Brazil

Buzios, Brazil. Photo by Andi Perullo.

Chosen by Andi, My Beautiful Adventures

In all of my travels around the world, I had never experienced the feeling of “being home” until I stepped foot in Buzios, Brasil.  It is the kind of place that touches your soul so deeply with its beauty that you do not think twice about leaving your old life behind for a new life there.  It is the perfect escape from the craziness of Rio de Janeiro, as it is just a two-hour car ride away.  Buzios is a peninsula with over a dozen world-class beaches begging to be explored.  It became famous thanks to Brigitte Bardot’s visit, which helped turn the small fishing village into one of the most sought after spots on the Brazilian coast.

Two Mays ago, I traveled to Buzios with my then boyfriend.  On a starlit night, with bossa nova bands playing in the distance and caipirinhas in our hands, he proposed and now we are married.  We are determined to one day move there and open up our own pousada.

South America Highlights coverWe want to give a big thank you to all the travel bloggers who took the time to share their favourite places and experiences in South America. It’s an amazing collection and has us itching to get back to South America and explore some more.

Don’t miss Part 2 of The Best of South America where more travel bloggers share their top tips for places to visit in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.

For even more ideas of places to visit in South America get your free copy of our new ebook South America Highlights.

Trail Wallet

Have you been to South America? Leave a comment and share your highlights.

32 thoughts on The Best of South America Part 1: Travellers Share Their Tips

    • Thanks for your contribution Mike. I remember an Argentine friend of ours in Buenos Aires raving about Cabo Polonio, but as it was winter when we were there (and I don’t do beaches in the cold) we didn’t make it. Next time!

    • Haha! I did think that the book and posts should come with a warning: danger of severe wanderlust! I love that so many of the places picked are different from where we went so we have many many excuses to go back.

    • I am so pleased you are going to Cafayate! It’s one of the highlights in our ebook for the amazing surrounding scenery, wine, laid-back atmosphere and great empanadas! There’s even wine ice cream :)

  1. Although we spent quite a chunk of time in South America, I realize now from reading through this list how much more there is to see and do on that continent! Some great suggestions here and personal, first hand stories. Thanks so much for including us!

    • I know! We were there for a year but the 28 highlights we picked in our book are almost completely different to the 31 places chosen by bloggers in these two posts – although you know we love northwest Argentina too! There is so much to see on the continent.

  2. Great selection of must sees. As we (finally) get closer to the end of the Central American leg of our Journey through the Americas we’ll be trying to hit up all these destination. Easter Island may be the only one we can’t swing since we can’t drive there and I believe flights are quite expensive.

    • I love how long you guys have been in Central America – travelling slowly is the way to go. There is so much to see in South America that I’m sure you’ll be there quite a while too.

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  4. Even though I have been to Brazil tons of times, I have not traveled to the rest of S. America. These stories really make me realize what I have missed! And Andi’s story about Buzios is great– I love the idea of moving somewhere to open up a pousada.

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  6. I feel the same! this makes me want to return so badly! there is really so much to do in SA!

    I recommend viewing the Couchsurfing websites for where you will be travelling. Even if you aren’t going to surf, there are plenty of events where you can meet some wonderful people that turn into lifelong friends!

  7. This is am amazing list of not only places but bloggers too. What a great idea and concept! I can’t wait for the day I return to South America to explore more of it’s greatness … You’ve definitely re-ignited my love for the continent.

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