South America Top 19 Highlights

My top 19 highlights – dip your toe in South America and discover an unbelievable adventure that will force you to stay longer!

Over 9 months of overland travel through 5 countries in South America and briefly touching Colombia and Brazil – including a quick side-trip for some sailing in the US – doesn’t even scratch the surface of what’s on offer, so here’s my…

South America Top 19 Highlights

…in no particular order.

Itinerary? What itinerary!

With only a flight from Morocco to Buenos Aires (Argentina) and the first few nights of accommodation booked, we followed no timeframe or itinerary.

Don’t be afraid, you can wing it!

What just under 9-months of overland travel looks like…

South America 9-month travel route

The maps for Argentina and Chile are the same as crisscrossing borders between these 2 countries is inevitable, so it’s easier to display this route on one map.


Argentina, Chile, South America travel route

1. Ushuaia – sail the Beagle Channel

Striking Ushuaia is my favourite rest-stop in Argentina and an excellent base for travel to the surrounding region. Once you arrive, you’ll definitely want to Wait-a-While in the ‘Southernmost city in the world’.

Take a relaxing sail on Darwin’s adventurous 1833 route through the Beagle Channel, whilst watching playful sea lions bask on a rocky shoreline.

Beagle Channel seal, Ushuaia, Argentina, South America

Climb Ushuaia’s Martial Glacier or just stop and absorb lovely scenery, while sipping on a heavenly rich thick hot chocolate and watching powdery snow cascading.

Ushuaia, Argentina, South America

Hike in the stunning 630-square-kilometre world-famous Tierra del Fuego National Park.

Tierra del Fuego National Park, Argentina, South America

Ushuaia is also a popular base to start your trip to the Antarctic. Missing the last boat by a few days due to heavy snow and the season cut short, need to return.

2. Walk on Perito Moreno Glacier

A little moon-walking on 2.6-million-year-old Perito Moreno Glacier will blow your mind. You won’t believe your eyes at the expanse of one of the ‘last advancing glaciers on earth’.

Perito Moreno, Argentina, South America

3. Salta – ride the ‘Train to the Clouds’

If you make it to Salta, then you must indulge in the Tren a las Nubes (Train to the Clouds) day trip its most dramatic panoramic scenery.

Tren a la Nubes, Salta, Argentina, South America

The incredible natural beauty whilst the train hugs mountainous terrain, climbing to a height of 4,200-metres is breath-taking.

Tren a la Nubes, Salta, Argentina, South America

In the very northern region of Argentina, Salta hosts a plethora of art exhibitions, music festivals, parades, shows, and cultural events throughout the year, and is a hive of activity.

The Gaucho parade is fantastic for people-watching.

Gaucho parade, Salta, Argentina, South America

4. Mendoza – wine-tasting

Not only does Mendoza offer a relaxed and pleasant atmosphere with wide tree-lined leafy roads and gorgeous colonial architecture, but you may also catch the popular Fiesta Nacional de la Vendimia (National Grape Harvest Festival).

As a great producer of Argentina’s wine and olive oil, pampering yourself with a little wine-tasting is obligatory.

Mendoza wine-tasting, Argentina, South America

More posts on Argentina.


Argentina, Chile, South America travel route

5. Southern Patagonian Fjords – 4-day ferry

Due to bad unpredictable weather in the deep south, you may spend days in the port town of Puerto Natales waiting for the 4-day ferry journey.

The rustic ferry glides through the spectacular rugged Southern Patagonian Fjords, whilst you traverse the icy untouched and mesmerising cloaked waterways.

Southern Patagonian Fjords, Chile, South America

Exiting into the Pacific Ocean for 12 hours, you enter the Fjords once more to snake through its hypnotic ambience.

6. Pucón – climb Vulcán Villarrica

Although a smallish town by Chile’s standards, Pucón offers many adventure activities such as trekking in the splendid Parque Nacional Huerquehue.

Pucón’s highlight is climbing active Vulcán Villarrica in the snow, which has been erupting since 1552.

Vulcán Villarrica, Pucón, Chile, South America

7. Santa Cruz – wine-tasting

Head to Santa Cruz in Chile’s beautiful Colchagua region, for the outstanding picturesque vineyards and a spot of delicious wine-tasting.

Viña Santa Cruz, Chile, South America

More posts on Chile.


Bolivia travel route, South America

8. Salar de Uyuni – Salt Flats

Imagine a place so surreal that you feel as if you are in a dreamlike trance once you arrive – Bolivia’s expansive salt flats Salar de Uyuni is such a place.

Accessible only by 4WD from Tupiza or the town of Uyuni, travel through 3 days of sublime and memorable panoramas that captivate your mind and heart.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia, South America

9. Rurrenabaque – jungle trekking

If your spine survives the 14-hour bone-shattering road from Trinidad to Rurrenabaque (Rurre) – one of the worse bus rides I’ve ever experienced – you’re rewarded by living inside a wildlife documentary.

Rurre is the jump point for jungle treks into the remote Amazon’s Madidi National Park, but also the Pampas to hunt for the elusive pink freshwater dolphin, infamous beast-swallowing Anaconda, or fish for the man-eating but tiny piranha fish.

Squirrel monkey, Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Rio Yacuma, Bolivia, South America

10. Lake Titicaca – relax

Chill the hours away relaxing whilst admiring the cold deep, crystal-clear Andean waters that gently ripple the shores of Lake Titicaca’s Copacabana.

At just over 3,800-metres above sea level when the sun dips, intensely saturated hues exude an impossibly rich palette. Traverse the lake whilst exploring alluring islands and Incan history.

Copacabana, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia, South America

11. Sucre – ‘White City’

Bolivia’s ancient capital Sucre is a delight. Surrounded by soaring mountains and nestled in a valley of just over 2,800 metres above sea level, this beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site city emanates charm and peacefulness.

Watch Shamans perform their mystical craft in a colourful market, whilst wandering the stunning white-washed architecture in the renown “white city”.

Shamans, Sucre, Bolivia, South America

More posts on Bolivia.


Peru travel route, South America

12. Machu Picchu – Salkantay 5-day trek

I’ve never met anyone that didn’t want to see magnificent Machu Picchu at least once in their lifetime – have you?

Acclimatise in bustling and touristy Cusco first before organising your trek to Machu Picchu. The demanding 75-kilometre 5-day Salkantay Trek takes you from 2,700-metres until you climb to over 4,600-metres. From hot steamy jungle and gorgeous valleys to freezing snowing conditions – but the scenery will leave you breathless.

Machu Picchu, Peru, South America

13. Arequipa – colonial architecture

Amazing Arequipa is aptly named the ‘White City’ because of its dazzling Spanish-influenced white architecture, but also hosts wonderful museums and indigenous craft markets.

One of those cities that you instantly fall in love with, Arequipa is my favourite city in Peru and from where you organise your intrepid trekking adventures.

Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru, South America

14. Colca Canyon trekking

Rated as a ‘moderate’ trek, I found the 3-day trek Colca Canyon challenging and rate the last day’s vertical 5-kilometre trek back up the canyon as ‘difficult’.

The dramatic vistas whilst spotting majestic Condors swooping down within metres of your head is definitely worth the pain and muscle burn.

Colca Canyon trek, Peru, South America

15. Tri-border, Amazon – 3-day barge

For those of you that crave a unique intrepid and non-touristy adventure, then take the 3-day rustic barge into the Amazon River to balmy Iquitos – followed by a crammed speedboat to the unsavoury Tri-border where Peru, Colombia, and Brazil converge.

Be blown away by isolated village life whilst gliding along the Amazon trying to spot the elusive pink dolphin.

Yurimaguas, Peru, South America

16. Puno – Sillustani burial tombs

You either love or hate Puno.

At over 3,800 metres high, situated between mountains and Lake Titicaca’s shores, Puno is more of a transit hub between Peru and Bolivia.

I’ve included Puno as it’s the base for exploring Islands in Lake Titicaca and the intriguing Sillustani burial tombs believed to be the “ancient Peruvian graveyard of wizards” – one theory anyway.

Sillustani Tombs, Peru, South America

More posts on Peru.


2 weeks in Ecuador, South America

17. Unwind in Baños de Agua Santa

Locals flock to Baños not only to relax with some soothing hydrotherapy in the famous Virgen Hot Springs, whilst gazing across to the calming cascading waterfall but also for exhilarating extreme sports and numerous colourful parades.

Baños de Agua Santa, Ecuador, South America

18. Cuenca – home of the Panama hat

Stunning colonial architecture and home of the Panama hat – be captivated by a tapestry of local Andean faces and Cuenca’s abundant history.

Panama Hats, Cuenca, Ecuador, South America

19. Loja – relax

Underrated laid-back Loja exudes a pleasantly relaxed feel and judging by the inquisitive stares from locals, the town doesn’t see too many gringos.

Nestled in the sweeping Cuxibamba valley at 2,100 metres high, Loja is graced with lovely colonial churches and beautiful squares.

Cuenca Ecuador, South America

More posts on Ecuador.

Why visit South America?

If the extensive Amazon, Patagonian glaciers, unique flora and fauna, Incan ruins, jungle treks, world’s driest desert, or surreal salt flats doesn’t call to your adventurous spirit, then maybe the second-highest mountain range and highest navigable lake in the world are enough to entice you to travel to this amazing continent.

Understand that even during 9 months, you’ll only see a fraction of this massive continent and a handful of countries.

Visiting only 5 countries during 9 months, you may travel overland faster than us or fly everywhere and see more, but for me, it’s not about marking things off a check-list – it’s about absorbing a country.

Each country offers unique cultural experiences with diverse and fascinating natural wonders.

Apart from backpacking and staying in mostly decent hostels offering a double room with private bathroom (lush), we only took tours to places too hard to organise independently.

Remember, overland travel through South America is slow and not for the light-hearted as it can also be dangerous. But, don’t let this inconvenience put you off. Instead, be street-wise and go with your gut feel – if it doesn’t feel right, it’s not.

Hope you enjoyed this wrap-up of my Top 19 highlights during the 2011 South American trip. Comment below if you need more travel information.

Have you been to South America? What was your favourite experience?

You may also enjoy reading my post on Venezuela from an earlier sailing trip. I’m yet to publish a couple more posts on this tumultuous country.

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more images. Check out around 50 posts with free travel tips on South America at Image Earth Travel.

36 responses to “South America Top 19 Highlights”

  1. equinoxio21 Avatar

    I am impressed, Nila. I thought I “knew” South America. After all my firs trip there was to Brazil in ’73. Colombia since ’78. And we’ve been living in Mexico for 30 years now. But I’m afraid my spine wouldn’t take the 1000’s of miles oyu have covered. A great post, thank you.
    Hope all is well with you?
    (Just came back from an almost 2 months long break from the blogosphere…)

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Brian, great to see you back and I’ll pop over to your blog and see what you’ve been up to…
      Appreciate your feedback as always and glad I can show you a few new places. Covered thousands of miles but still didn’t explore every country so need to return.
      All if going well in southern Italy. 😉

      1. equinoxio21 Avatar

        Need to return is a good sign that you enjoyed it. Glad all is well “dans le Sud”.

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        It’s been long enough since experiencing the yucky scams so ready to return but would love to go back to Venezuela as was there in 2008 on another (sailing) trip. Probably not the right time to visit this spectacular country. I’ll write a couple of posts on Venezuela in the coming weeks.
        Yes, until next visa renewal. 😉

      3. equinoxio21 Avatar

        Probably not the right time indeed.
        Yes. Visas. I always think of that as the perfect example of what one my Grad school teachers called “bureaupathology”, the inevitable final avatar of bureaucracy.

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Ha, ha, that made me laugh hard – what a great word – never heard of that one!
        You’re enlightening me Brian. 😉

  2. Gillian Morris Avatar
    Gillian Morris

    fab round up Nilla..I’ve enjoyed your travels around this stunning continent x

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thanks Gill for the great feedback!
      Hope that you get to visit South America one day as I know you’d love it there… x

  3. Mohamad Toutounji Avatar

    Very nice post
    Sorry Nilla if it took me some time to see your post
    But i was kind of busy
    By the way i just posted a new article so i hope you enjoy it

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Mohamad, many thanks for your comment – much appreciated.

  4. Cherryl Avatar

    Lol, that sea lion looks the way a lot of us feel after a busy week – lovely photographs – you have an amazing wealth of travel experiences!! My prayers still go out to all those people and wildlife that have been/are being devastated by this summer’s fires.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Cherryl, thanks loads for your feedback and love sea lions in their natural habitat, they have such personalities and I can watch them for hours.

      Yes, it’s tragic what’s happening in the Amazon right now. The fires are not because of summer, it’s mainly because of greed as many of the fires have been purposely lit to clear land – evil.

      1. Cherryl Avatar

        I know – it’s pure evil to cause this much devastation just for some more meat to sell in fast food chains (which don’t do anybody’s health any favours) – this is capitalism at it’s absolute finest!

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Sadly, it’s not only for meat and fast food chains, it’s also for mining companies as the Amazon is mineral-rich.
        Travelled so much of the spectacular Amazon but still so much to see yet. The scary part is that there are many remote villages along the Amazon River and in the Amazon. What happens to these indigenous peoples…

      3. Cherryl Avatar

        Yes – some of those people have never had any contact with life outside their tribes….their way of life, culture and history could be changed forever after this – so sad, and so unnecessary. Greed knows no bounds!!

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Totally agree Cherryl – seems as though society no longer respects or empathises but compromises too much for the mighty dollar.

  5. Dave Ply Avatar

    I’m not sure if I should call you a name dropper, an image dropper, or an experience dropper – but very impressive either way.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Ha, ha, funny as Dave – thanks for your comment.
      Just trying to live life to the full and have loads of fun… 😉

  6. Ntensibe Edgar Michael Avatar

    “Machu Pichu”….that’s a real one!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      They’re all ‘real ones’! 😉

  7. shelbyangle1 Avatar

    This trip looks so amazing! I hope that one day I’ll be able to visit South America…I’ve always wanted to travel. Thanks for sharing!!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      It really was and hope you get to South America one day, it’s definitely worth the effort.
      Just popped over to your blog but I can’t get past your mailchimp subscription form – seems to be jammed and won’t close down so I can explore your site.

  8. LuLu B - Calabrisella Mia Avatar

    Love the roundup! I’m definitely down for doing #4 and #5 🙂

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thanks for the feedback Lulu!
      This post is a bit longer than I initially wanted, but too many amazing experiences in South America.

  9. the eternal traveller Avatar

    You’ve listed so many amazing experiences and it would be difficult to select just one favourite. I would love to see an active volcano one day and snow would be an amazing bonus.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Carol,
      I wanted to list 5 only, the list grew to 10, but had to make myself stop at 19!
      The volcano was amazing even though I didn’t manage to climb the last few hundred meters to the crater.

  10. Lisa Dorenfest Avatar

    Oh how I would love to do this trip but right now the plan is to sail northward from Colombia via the Canal to Baja and then head back to work. But you’ve given me a lot of inspiration for my next go around. Nice roundup!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hey Lisa…what a shame, but I’m sure the sail from Colombia to Baja will be just as fantastic!
      Many thanks for the great feedback.

      1. Lisa Dorenfest Avatar

        …and the good news is I have your words and images to keep me dreaming until we return here!

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Awww…that’s such a lovely thing to say Lisa, thank you!

  11. Rachael Stray | Avatar

    Wow I’ve got serious wanderlust now. Amazing adventures.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thanks Rachael! So have I and need to return now. 😉

  12. Tharun Kumar. S Avatar

    Africa would be a great place for wildlife tourism as far as I’ve heard. 😀

    1. Tharun Kumar. S Avatar

      South America would be great to travel for an extended holiday.

      1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        It certainly is and hope you get to experience this spectacular continent.
        Many thanks for you thoughts.

    2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Tharun, yes Africa is wonderful for wildlife as is South America. You may want to check out the incredible wildlife in my jungle trek in Madidi National Park and experiencing the Pampas in Bolivia posts.

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