South America is a continent of epic proportions, and if you’re planning to make 2021 your most travel-filled year ever, make sure you read this list of where to go, and what to do. This is your ultimate South American bucket list.
Travel to: South America
1. Party on the beach in Punta Del Este
Punta Del Este in Uruguay is a Mykonos-inspired beach town filled with beautiful architecture, massive waves, blue-hued beaches and world-class summer parties. Uruguay has flown under the radar for some time now, but it’s definitely a destination you need to add to your bucket list for 2021.
Just imagine the likes of Mykonos, Ibiza, or Croatia; but with fewer tourists, better food, and way better music being blasted by local and international DJs. Plus, there’s also a giant hand sculpture emerging out of the middle of the beach that’s worth a visit.
2. Embark on a street art tour in Valparaiso
The street art capital of South America can be found in Valparaiso; a picturesque, beach-side port town where famous artworks have been recreated on the sides of buildings and houses, transforming the town into a giant museum. From Vincent Van Gogh to modern street art, don’t forget your camera because this is one colourful, vibrant place!
Declared a World Heritage Site in 2003, built upon dozens of steep hillsides overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Valparaíso boasts a labyrinth of streets and cobblestone alleyways. The funicular ascensores (inclines) are of practical use as they help many local people get to the higher parts of town, saving them from having to walk otherwise long and steep pedestrian routes. – Joe, Joe Journeys
3. Go sandboarding in the Atacama Desert
Sandboarding is the desert’s answer to snowboarding and a seriously fun, physical activity that takes you skirting down steep sand dunes. It’s one thing to be carving up the fine, golden sands as you gather speed, but it’s another thing entirely to do this in one of the world’s most famous deserts, with enormous mountains and blue skies surrounding you. The Chilean edition of this sport is an experience not to be missed!
4. Trek Mount Fitzroy
Regarded by many hikers as a more difficult and dangerous ascent than Mount Everest, Mount Fitzroy is best reserved for only the most experienced hiker. Located in Argentina’s legendary Patagonia region, the iconic mountain is epic in every sense of the word, especially when you begin the Laguna de Los Tres trek a couple of hours before sunrise. Not only will Mount Fitzroy be a spectacular sight that’s impossible to withdraw your gaze from, but the 13-hour hike will take you through desolated, open plains, where wild bulls roam and freshwater flows off the glaciers and right into your water bottle.
If you’re physically capable and dedicated enough to push through the steep, rough terrain, an otherworldly lake awaits you at the summit, and not far beyond this point is where world-famous mountaineers begin their ascent.
5. Sip Malbec in Mendoza
Mendoza, Argentina, is one of the world’s most famous and beautiful wine regions, and it also happens to be home to the equally-famous Malbec wine; a type of wine created from red grapes endemic to this region. Take a tour through several of the local vineyards and sample some of the world’s best wines, while learning the proper way to appreciate their aromas, textures and taste, surrounded by rugged farmland and the snow-capped Andes mountains. There isn’t a wine region in the world like this one!
6. Explore Salta
Little-known Salta will see you travelling off the beaten path towards the Bolivian border. One of Argentina’s most quaint towns, Salta is home to traditional taverns, modern cafes and sun-kissed streets awash with Spanish architecture with an Andalusian feel. Beyond the town are red, desert hills that await any outdoor adventures.
7. Eat the world’s best steak (La Cabrera)
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, there are a few truths in life that are universally accepted. Russians make the best vodka. Italians the best pasta. And Argentinians – the best steak. From the cuts to the long cooking times on the parrillas, Argentina does things differently when it comes to the carnivore’s meat of choice.
Check out the very best steak around at Palermo’s La Cabrera, where you’ll need to book several months in advance in order to secure a seat. There’s always an off chance you can book a few weeks out if you’re really lucky, but this is one place worth organising your itinerary around so that you don’t miss out on one of the best dining experiences of your life, and for an absolute steal compared to typical Aussie or British prices! Find out more here.
8. Indulge in Dulce de Leche
Your taste buds will be forever grateful for this experience. Dulce de Leche is a delicious caramel spread similar to Nutella and is also available warmed up in crepes or flavoured in ice creams, cakes or just about anything else you can imagine. It can be found throughout most of Latin America but it is especially prominent in Uruguay and Argentina. This is a delicacy that you can enjoy for breakfast, lunch and in the evening.
9. March to the sound of the drums in Salvador
Forget what you’ve heard about Brazil’s most notorious city, Salvador has another side to it. Inherently colourful, vibrant, and rich in African-Caribbean culture, it was once upon a time the epicentre of the slave trade. Today, visitors are advised to move with caution once night falls, but with common sense prevailing, a visit to one of the continent’s most historically interesting and musical cities is worthwhile, with Olodum drummers dancing through the streets and all-night festivities a daily occurrence.
Music and colours aside, Salvador’s beaches are world-class and from here, you can catch a boat to Morro de Sao Paulo, an unknown island off the tourist trail that is a hit with locals!
10. Hit the beach in Rio
Sounds simple enough, right? In Brazil, catching some waves and getting a tan has never looked better. Head to Copacabana beach and arm yourself with as many Caipirinhas as you can carry. Join a game of beach football and marvel at the majestic mountains behind you.
Rio de Janeiro’s most famous beach is famous for a reason, but be warned, after swimming and chilling out here, every beach experience worldwide might just be ruined for you in the future. Nothing compares to the favelas, nature, mountains, and impressive waves all rolling into one at this super long stretch of beach. Just sayin’.
What I loved the most about Rio is the waterfront. You can walk it for miles passing restaurants, live musicians, and scenic spots, such as the famous fort.
One small piece of advice: be flexible with your eating schedule and dinner arrangements. The locals in Rio eat lunch later, take a siesta, and dinner is very late into the night, similar to Spain. – Angelica, The Paradise Blogger
11. Go 4WD dune bashing at Salar de Uyuni
Bolivia is South America’s beating heart – a country home to an enormous indigenous population and a remarkable culture filled with its own unique quirks and atmosphere. Salar de Uyuni is a breathtaking desert with stark-white salt plains that stretch as far as the eye can see. During the wetter months, an optical illusion occurs whereby the sky is reflected onto the ground, making it appear as though you’re floating in the sky.
Hop into a 4WD and hit the open road for a few days to experience the magic of Salar de Uyuni, as well as sulphur lakes with pink flamingos, llamas grazing about cactuses, and other mind-boggling natural phenomena. At night, make sure you gaze up at the perfectly clear sky, blanketed with a billion stars.
12. Immerse yourself in Sucre
Have you heard about Bolivia’s Sucre? The White City is known for its delectable chocolate artistry, hip cafes and gorgeous bars; a far cry from the more rugged and hilly capital of La Paz. You’ll find it hard to believe that both cities could actually be in the same country! There are museums to check out, streets to wander about in, and plenty of sweets to get stuck into as you venture well and truly off the beaten path.
13. Explore the Witches’ Markets in La Paz
The Witches’ Market is, as you have probably guessed is run by Bolivian witch doctors who sell everything from potions to dried animal parts. Traditionally, these parts are buried under the foundations of Bolivian houses as a sacred offering to the goddess Pachamama. You’ll also find coca leaves which are chewed by locals and hikers to improve endurance and reduce the effects of altitude sickness. The Witches’ Market provides the curious with a real insight into traditional, indigenous Bolivian culture.
14. Trek Machu Picchu
The Crown Jewel of South America is Machu Picchu, and if you miss this then you’ve truly missed out on something special. Earn the right to view this spectacular archaeological Inca ruin by embarking on a four-day trek through mountains, jungles, and river crossings before arriving at sunrise to witness it in all its glory.
Hot tip: The classic Inca Trail is one of the most popular, but is by no means the most authentic. In reality, there are many trails you can take with fewer people to truly take in the experience without hundreds of hikers around you.
15. Go deep into the Amazon Jungle
Is there a place more mysterious, exhilarating, beautiful, or unique as the Amazon? Definitely not! Any nature enthusiast, animal lover, outdoor adventurer, or keen explorer knows that the Amazon jungle is the apex of earth’s greatest mysteries. From anacondas and large caimans to jaguars, tapirs, and native tribes, there is so much to experience here.
Accessible from Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana, harness your best adventurer’s spirit and get ready for a journey of a lifetime.
16. Party all night in Cusco
Cusco is a dynamic backpacker hub with amazing restaurants and killer nightlife. From party hostels to quaint hotels, raucous bars to relaxed pubs, Peru’s Cusco is a transient place where people party, and plan their trips to Machu Picchu, the Amazon jungle, Nazca lines and beyond. It’s also one of the prettiest cities in all of South America.
We went up to a coffee shop, bought a coffee and then we just sat on their balcony and watched all the people coming and going on the square. The anticipation since we were about to embark on a journey and walk the Inca Trail, added even more charm to this experience.
Make sure to have a couple of “slow” days to acclimate to the height. You will get tired and out of breath easily so make sure that you can spend a day or two in pure relaxation. And after that you are ready to explore the city that is beautiful and has so much to offer! – Annika & Daniel, Finally Lost
See Also: Should You Travel to Peru?
17. Sail through the Galapagos Islands
In case you needed another reason as to why South America is the world’s ultimate playground, Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands will transport you to the land before time, where you will find blue-footed birds, exotic fish, giant turtles, dragon-like marine iguanas, and a host of other animal life that looks like they came straight from a fantasy novel.
It will possibly be the most expensive element of your itinerary, however, if you’re looking for a last minute deal you can hit the streets of Quito where the captains will negotiate an absolute bargain with you!
The best part of visiting Galapagos Islands is the rare and unique animal life. Sea lions are accepted citizens and can most likely be lying on the bench you were planning to sit on. The animals are everywhere on the Galapagos Islands, blue-footed boobies in the Malecon, turtles and marine iguana swimming next to you at some of the many beaches. An average day in animal paradise and the best day experience for an animal lover that is fascinated by this paradise that Galapagos Islands is.
My recommendation for the first-time traveler to Galapagos Islands is not to rush it. If you are finally doing your dream, enjoy it! Make sure you saved up enough money to do what you want to do, don’t regret anything. My highest recommendation is to interact with the animal life.
I personally love scuba diving and Galapagos is truly amazing, entering the Kicker Rock and going in for a deep dive and then be surrounded by a significant amount of sharks, turtels, sea lions, eagle rays in tough conditions and cold water. Was a great dive experience, and as my Dive Master, Jimbo from San Cristobal Island said: People don’t come to Galapagos to watch corals, this is tough conditions and big animals – Hammerhead shark, Galapagos Shark, Whale Sharks. The Galapagos Islands is an amazing experience and a true adventure, these remote Islands in the Pacific are one of the most pristine areas left on the planet. If you are going, please take good care of these beautiful islands, be a responsible traveler. Furthermore, if you don’t dive you can still go swimming with sea lions, marine iguana, and turtles. Galapagos has something for everyone. – Pauline, Pauline Travels
See Also: Galapagos Cruises
18. Trek the Perito Moreno Glacier
The Perito Moreno Glacier simply has to be seen to be believed. The enormity of this electric blue glacier which prods at the sky with its daggered ice can be trekked if you’re game enough to throw on a pair of ice clamps. The ice-cold water is drinkable, refreshing, and if you’re lucky, your guide will hack chunks of ice right off the glacier and serve you up a fine glass of scotch.
What really struck me when I visited Perito Moreno is how small, tiny! you feel standing in front of it. The endless white rising out of the water framed by quiet mountains is a view out of this world. If there is any “therapy” offered to us over-stressed modern life dwellers, then this really is it. To stand in front of this wonder of nature, to breath in the cool and crisp atmosphere and realize that there are things in this world that have been around for centuries and will continue to be there, while our problems and stresses are absolutely NOT WORTH IT! What we consider the “end of the world” really is not. Yes these are all things we have heard many times, but standing in the presence of Perito Moreno you will get it. This truth will become absolutely real. Don’t be surprised if this trip will be life changing for you. In fact be prepared that it will be.
I would recommend to simply give yourself time to stand in front of it watching as huge chunks of ice, the size of buildings, crack of and gracefully slide into the waters below. Give yourself at least an hour to simply stand and watch. It is a sight that you will carry with you and will remain very vivid for years to come. Make sure you’re not hungry when you’re there, and that you have a sweater in case you are cold so that nothing distracts you from just taking in the awesome sight. Just stand and watch. – Alla, Live Like Your’re Travelling
Are you ready for your next vacation?