South America is a destination that can please everyone. You can discover twelve countries in a continent that boasts the world’s longest mountain range, largest river basin, and driest region—not to mention one of its greatest concentrations of biodiversity.
Come for the ancient civilizations, wildlife, the eye-popping ice fields, and the incredible resort hotels you’ll find to relax and recharge in. No matter when you want to travel, there’s a must-see sight but also a whole lot more to explore. Here are a few of our favorite stops:
After wandering the ruins of Machu Picchu and taking in those valley views, stay a few extra days to see more of this stunning country. North of Cuzco, discover even more Inca ruins and shop the stunning artisanship found in the local markets of towns in the Sacred Valley. The area is rich in culture, and the time you spend in the valley allows your body to adjust to the higher altitude of Cuzco.
Visitors can also head to the deep blue waters of Lake Titicaca for a culture hit—the area is the mythological birthplace of the Incas. Before you fly home, the food scene of Lima is a must-try. There are more Michelin-starred chefs here than you would expect.
After you’ve used up your vocabulary of superlatives admiring the Andes spires and the mind-blowing sights of Torres del Paine National Park, make sure you don’t head home right away.
Pack your bathing suit—and find an online dictionary—to prepare yourself for the natural beauty of the Atacama Desert oasis pools—slipping into geothermal waters at the driest place on Earth is something you won’t soon forget. Then, take time to sample the inviting sauvignon blanc and Syrah of Casablanca Valley, about 45 minutes outside Santiago.
Once you’ve been blown away by the "cageless zoo"—the Galapágos Islands are renowned for wildlife that lives without fear of humans, there’s still so much more to see and do. Since you’ve come this far, make sure you spend time in the Amazon rainforest. One of the easiest ways to do this is to book a tour at the resort near the Mashpi Reserve, along the western slope of the Andes and a three-hour drive from the capital, Quito.
The floor-to-ceiling windows of Mashpi Lodge let you feel like you’re in the jungle even when you’re kicking back from a day of wildlife viewing in the cloud forests. And while you’re in the neighborhood—stand on the equatorial line for a fun photo, and make sure to explore Quito’s excellently preserved Historic Quarter.
South America works any time of the year, let’s figure out when you can start exploring.