Planning a trip to South America but not sure where to go? This is a massively large subcontinent and while many of the countries are Spanish-speaking, they have very different qualities. Determining what you want in a holiday is the first step in determining the right country to visit.
South America is an adventure traveler's paradise. You can go paragliding in Medellin, surfing in Mancora and Ecuador alone offers ten mountains all over 5000 feet. With the Andes traversing through several countries there is plenty of opportunity for climbing and trekking. But for the ultimate in adventure travel head down to the Chilean Patagonia with the Torres del Paine Circuit. Read more about the best hiking in South America.
While all of the major cities have great bars and restaurants there are just a few places that everyone agrees are the best for dancing until dawn. Brazil is often the first country that comes to mind with legendary nightclubs in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. A close second, and close in geography is Colombia with the heart of salsa dancing coming out of Cali, a city that is known throughout the world for its salsa dancers. And while Bogota has its fair share of bars, Medellin is better known for more salsa dancing and all night parties. If you're not into clubs but would like to drink great wine and learn to tango, head to Buenos Aires and visit its milongas (where people dance).
With the Amazon rainforest touching many countries in South America, the subcontinent is one of the most diverse in the world. Nature lovers flock to the Galapagos in Ecuador to see animals who have no fear of humans, the incredibly biodiverse Manu National Park in the Peruvian Amazon and in search of the jaguar in the Pantanal in Brazil. But have no fear if you are not seeking a wildlife specific holiday, there are plenty of unusual animals to see and eat.
South America has a long history of colonization by European countries and subsequent revolution. Each region has its own story and for that reason the indigenous culture is stronger in some regions than others. Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia are great countries with a strong indigenous heritage. However, you may not find the same experience in Argentina or Chile where the European culture is stronger.
Off the Beaten Track
South America is becoming a popular destination, particularly with thousands of visitors with bucket lists including Machu Picchu and Galapagos, but there are a few countries that many travelers do not list. Paraguay is considered a challenging country for people who do not speak Spanish as there is very little English spoken or on signs in museums and other cultural areas. French Guiana, Guyana and Suriname are also often forgotten as it is difficult to travel to them overland. However, it is possible to fly in and more opportunity to learn cultures completely different from the rest of South America as these countries have a much different history. For example Suriname was once colonized by the Dutch and celebrates a variety of religious traditions including Hindu and Islamic national holidays.
History buffs delight in well preserved artifacts from civilizations dating back thousands of years. While many head directly to Machu Picchu, the real gems are found in Northern Peru. Here you can find evidence of empires that existed long before the Inca existed. These regions are very popular with Peruvian and South American tourists but few international travelers make their way North. Here you can visit the ruins for just a few dollars.
For those a bit more adventurous who would like to include some athletic activity into a holiday there is the Ciudad Perdida or Lost City of Colombia. Deep within the Sierra Nevada, just outside Santa Marta, it is possible to hike for 5 or 6 days deep into a remote area only accessible by foot to visit what was once a fully functioning city that existed 650 years before Machu Picchu was constructed. While locals knew of this sacred area, it was not until 1976 that it was "discovered" when an airplane flew over top.
Without a doubt the buzz in the culinary world is all about Peruvian food. The only country which truly embraces a bit of heat, Peruvian cooking was once only considered to be ceviche but slowly the world is beginning to understand how the Andes and Pacific Ocean has impacted the cuisine, making it one of the most diverse and delicious.
Argentina also continues to be a destination for meat lovers who want to spend their evenings with steak and red wine. Read more about the best food and wine festivals in South America.