From the northern tip of Punta Gallinas to the most southern point of Cape Horn, South America offers endless opportunities to explore some of the most fantastic natural wonders of the world.
The lush rainforests, majestic mountain ranges, and vast waterways cover the continent to create unique landscapes, ecosystems, and features that are guaranteed to take anybody’s breath away.
If you’re making a journey through the continent, these monumental spots can’t be missed. Here are the eight most incredible natural sights to see in South America.
1. Iguazu Falls
Acting as a natural border between Argentina and Brazil, Iguazu Falls is the largest waterfall system in the world and marks the point where the Iguazu River divides into its upper and lower sections.
The falls’ name comes from the Guarani, or Tupi, words “Y,” which means water, and “Uasu,” which means big. While the river mostly runs through Brazil, the majority of the 275 falls are on the Argentinian side. You can access the falls from either country, but the most common route is from Puerto Iguazu in Argentina.
Legend has it that the falls were created after an ancient deity cut the river up to condemn Naipi, the woman he was to marry, and Taroba, her lover, to a punishment of an eternal fall.
2. The Amazon River
The Amazon River winds across the majority of South America and extends into four countries: Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Brazil. As the largest river in the world by discharge volume, and the longest by some definitions, the river’s influence on the natural landscape of the continent is unparalleled.
Whether you’re witnessing its discharge power into the Atlantic Ocean at its basin or exploring the rainforest by Manaus, the natural beauty stretches along each bend of the river.
Keep your eyes peeled for unique plant and wildlife at each turn of the river, as the Amazon is home to one of every 10 species that exists on the planet.
3. Torres del Paine
A glorious reward for those who journey to the continent’s southern tip, Torres Del Paine is regularly recognized as one of the most beautiful places on earth. Mountains, glaciers, lakes, and rivers cover this Patagonian wonder, making the national park one of Chile’s most visited destinations.
While every corner of the park could easily take your breath away, the Cordillera Paine is the centerpiece. The small mountain group’s three distinct peaks give the park its name, which translates to “towers of blue.”
The closest Chilean city to the park is Puerto Natales, which plays host to many of the 252,000 people who visit Torres del Paine each year. Many visitors exploring other parts of Patagonia take day trips from cities in Argentina like El Calafate.
4. Colca Canyon
Located about 100 miles northwest of Arequipa, Colca Canyon is one of the best known natural attractions in Peru, and for good reason. As a part of the Colca Valley, the canyon is one of the deepest in the world at 10,730 feet deep (3,270 meters).
As a part of the Andes Mountains, the valley is full of history and culture with pre-Inca roots and Spanish colonial influence. These days, many of the people living in the valley continue to practice their ancestral traditions.
Most people try to visit the canyon between March and June, but visitors come to see it throughout the year. Trekking through the canyon from Chivay to Arequipa is one of the best ways to see llamas and alpacas in their natural habitat.
5. Lake Titicaca, Peru
The continent’s largest lake by both volume of water and surface area rests on the border of Bolivia and Peru. At 12,507 feet high (3,812 meters), Lake Titicaca is also widely recognized as the highest navigable lake in the world.
With its vast size and depth, the lake has played home to civilizations predating the arrival of the Incas. While its sheer size is guaranteed to impress, most people travel to Lake Titicaca to explore its various islands.
From the Isla del Sol and Isla del la Luna to Uros and Taquile, these islands are marked by diverse cultures of both the past and present. To experience the most of the lake, aim to visit between November and February.
6. Perito Moreno Glacier
Located in Los Glaciares National Park, the Perito Moreno glacier is the biggest reasons people visit Patagonia. In addition to being one of Argentina’s most prominent tourist attractions, the glacier is also the world’s third-largest reserve of fresh water.
At 97 square miles (250 square kilometers), the glacier is less a block of ice than a small frozen town. Due to its size, you’ll commonly see tourists trekking across the ice on expeditions that last anywhere from 2 to 10 hours.
Since the weather can get pretty chilly, the high season to view the glacier is in the southern summer, between November and March. For those not interested in walking on ice, you can always take a trip to see the glacier from the comfort of a boat.
7. Uyuni Salt Flats
The Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia may be salty, but visiting the world’s largest salt flat is totally sweet. Formed after several transformations of prehistoric lakes, the salt flat is a massive 4,086 square miles (10,582 square kilometers).
With a crust of salt a few meters thick, the elevation of the sodium-rich flat only varies within a meter over its entirety. Additionally, the flat contains anywhere from 50 to 70 percent of the world’s known lithium reserves, making it the perfect spot to unwind in nature and recharge your batteries.
Most visitors contend it’s best to visit the salt flats between July and October. With so much ground to cover, we recommend reserving at least a couple days to explore and to get a full, briny experience.
8. The Andes Mountains
From north to south, the Andes Mountains extend almost entirely throughout South America and help define the landscape of the entire continent. The entire mountain range boasts majestic features, whether exploring in Colombia or Argentina.
With its peak of 22,837 feet (6,960 meters), the mountain Aconcagua marks the highest point in South America. For those looking to truly elevate their hiking experience, the mountain is most accessible from the city of Mendoza in Argentina.
If you don’t feel like making your way up one of the world’s Seven Summits, you can find endless opportunities for adventure throughout the mountain range. At the very least, wherever you go in South America, you’ll know the Andes are responsible for creating the ground you stand on.