Steeped in history, scenically diverse, and culturally fascinating—these are just a few of the reasons South America is the perfect choice for your next vacation.
We’ve culled some of the best places to visit in South America, from Cartagena, Colombia in the north to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city on the continent.
Each destination boasts charm, character, and some of the most scenic coastlines and beaches on the planet.
These are some of the best places to travel in South America.
Surrounded by defensive walls and forts since its founding in the 16th century, and for long after known as a pirate paradise, Cartagena hasn’t let its defenses stand in the way of its progress into the modern era.
In addition to a historic fort, lovely colonial-inspired architecture, and a charming cobblestoned Old Town, you’ll find modern skyscrapers and upscale resorts lining the beachfront, making this city one of the best places to travel in South America.
Take a guided tour of the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas to hear the history of the fort and walk through some of the dark passageways within the walls.
Visit the Palace of the Inquisition to learn about a fascinating, albeit dark, time in history. See the infamous “rack” and other instruments of torture and the courtyard where executions took place.
Stroll the Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and admire the bougainvillea-lined balconies, brightly colored buildings, and dancers performing in the Plaza Bolivar. Visit the nearby Gold Museum and see the art treasures of the city’s churches and cathedral.
Shop Las Bovedas, once a dungeon, now a connected network of antique and handicraft stores.
Tour the street art in Getsemani, the revived arts neighborhood, and its galleries, restaurants, and clubs. Explore the modern art collection at the city’s Museo de Arte Moderno.
Get away for an indulgent day at an island oasis on Rosario Island to swim, snorkel, bask on the beach in the warm sun, and enjoy the ocean view.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Bliss-inducing white-sand beaches with famous pedigrees, mountains that scale directly into the sea, and a vibrant culture that lives to dance make Rio de Janeiro one of the best places to visit in South America.
Walk along Copacabana Beach, officially the most recognized beach in the world and one of the best beaches in South America. Lounge on the sun-drenched white sands of Ipanema Beach, gaze at the turquoise sea, and cool off with a romp in the surf.
Wander around Orla Conde, a waterfront promenade and legacy of the 2016 Olympic Games, marveling at the largest wall mural graffiti in the world. Pause for a snack after perusing the shops.
Visit the Pedra do Sal, a historic area originally built as a slave village and widely known as the birthplace of samba. Continue on to the Museum of Tomorrow, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, whose inspiration came from the bromeliads found in Rio’s botanical garden.
Stroll through those botanical gardens, an important ecological sanctuary that sits at the foot of the Corcovado Mountain, below the right arm of the famous Christ the Redeemer statue. The gardens house more than 6,000 tropical and subtropical plants and trees.
Climb into a waiting cable car at Flamengo Park and be dazzled on a 1,200-foot climb to the summit of Sugar Loaf Mountain. Reach the top and be treated to a stunning view of the city.
For more awe-inspiring views, take a tram through Tijuca National Park to the top of Corcovado Mountain. Once there, stand at the feet of the massive Christ the Redeemer statue—one of the best landmarks in South America and the largest art deco statue in the world—and take in the panoramic views of the city.
Samba like a local after taking a dance lesson from famous dancers in Brazilian Carnival costumes at Ginga Tropical, Rio’s famous samba show.
Often described as both magical and manageable, Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital, is easy to navigate. Here, you’ll find a calmer atmosphere than many other large cities, with less vehicle traffic and a more laid-back vibe.
Start a stroll through the city at the Plaza de Independencia. The monument serves as the central point where the Ciudad Vieja (Old City) and the new meet.
In the Old City, brightly painted buildings and vine-strewn balconies invite photos by visitors. Musicians often play spontaneously and tango dancers perform.
Stop at the Solis Theater, the Italian-designed building that’s been the heart and soul of Montevideo’s cultural events since 1856, hosting talent from Enrico Caruso to Vivien Leigh.
Pause for a coffee or the country’s preferred drink, yerba mate, a strong, slightly bitter herbal tea, before ambling toward Rambla de Montevideo, the waterfront promenade said to be the longest continuous sidewalk in the world at almost 14 miles.
The boardwalk connects neighborhoods from the Old City, curves outward, cuts through a portion of the city at one point, and ends at the upscale residential neighborhoods of Carrasco and Punta Gorda.
Riders on bikes, skateboards, and rollerblades weave among runners and walkers as the boardwalk curves around the area’s picturesque beaches.
Rent a bike for a portion of the day, get in some beach time on one of the lifeguarded beaches, shop at upscale boutiques in Carrasco, and take a selfie at the colorful, artsy Montevideo sign.
Plan on an evening of fine food cooked on a parrilla (open grill) featuring the beef that Uruguay is famous for and a glass or two of Tannat, wine made from the signature grape of Uruguay.
Top off the evening at a tango bar and watch mesmerizing performances by world-class dancers.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital, is a thriving metropolis as well known for music and dance as it is for steakhouses serving prime Argentinian beef and Malbec wine.
Among the city’s many charms is its old-world elegance reflected in its beautiful neoclassical and neo-Renaissance buildings, like Casa Rosado, the pink President’s Palace; the Colon Theatre, one of the best opera houses in the world; and the Recoleta Cemetery, where visitors flock to see the 6,400 mausoleums, including that of Eva Peron.
Delve into Argentinian culture and the city’s vibrant art scene by visiting its amazing art museums and galleries and getting to know local artists whose works are exhibited.
Explore neighborhoods like La Boca and the bohemian artist district of San Telmo that boasts antique shops, a handicraft market, restaurants, and tango parlors. In elegant and affluent La Recoleta, the magnificent bookshop El Ateneo, long ago a grand theater, is a must-see.
Combine two Buenos Aires passions in one fabulous evening with dinner at a parrilla (steakhouse) followed by a show at one of the city’s many clubs that will prove why tango is revered around the world as “the dance of love.”
Sophisticated and sublime is the perfect description of Peru’s capital city, one of the best places to visit in South America.
Peru’s deep historical and cultural roots are firmly planted in Lima. See the tomb of Franciso Pizzaro, the city’s founder; the pre-Colombian settlement of Huaco Pucllana; and Peru’s first university, founded in 1551.
Plaza de Armas de Lima, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the historic center of the city, is the best place to start a day of exploring. Spend time in San Isidro and Miraflores, Lima’s upscale residential, shopping, and financial neighborhoods.
Cross over the Bridge of Sighs, a charming landmark in Barranco, the bohemian district that houses some of the city’s best restaurants, art galleries, and museums. Explore Lima’s culinary scene and order ceviche, Peru’s national dish. For dessert, try picarones, a fried doughnut soaked in sweet syrup.
Bike down to the city beach at Miraflores for a quick, cool swim or a surfing lesson.
Giant Galapagos tortoises, blue-footed boobies, flightless cormorants, and the only penguins north of the equator are just some of the natural wonders that make the Galapagos Islands a magnificent setting for an eco-focused vacation and one of the best places to visit in South America.
A string of small volcanic islands far enough apart to have each developed land and marine animal life independent of each other, allowing for several endemic species, forms the archipelago known as the Galapagos Islands.
Each of the islands amazes visitors with breathtaking views of volcanic rock formations, spectacularly colored sand beaches of red, green and pristine white, and exceptional snorkeling opportunities in clear water coves around several islands.
Swim with seals, gaze at marine lizards, and be astounded by the size of the Galapagos tortoise. See Darwin’s finches, so named because they were a major part of the study that helped naturalist Charles Darwin develop his theory of evolution while studying them in the Galapagos.
The striking Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, is surrounded by massive glaciers and mountains.
The city capitalizes on its location with its End of the World Museum and End of the World train.
Officially the Southern Fuegian Railway, this steam train takes visitors on a scenic ride through Tierra del Fuego National Park, a stunning collection of deep lakes, verdant forests, and lush vegetation set in almost 200 acres that boasts some of the purest air on the planet.
Well-mapped hiking trails make for a spectacular eco-experience. Spotting the many species of land and seabird species that make their home here makes it that much more special.
Learn about Ushuaia’s past as a missionary base, penal colony, and naval base. See artifacts from the indigenous inhabitants who lived in the area thousands of years ago.
Relish the opportunity to take in breathtaking views of South America’s glaciers while exploring the waterways and islands of the Beagle Channel on a variety of wildlife-watching tours that get you up close to Magellanic penguins, sea lions, and birds.
Can’t choose the one South American destination you’d most like to visit? South America cruises on Celebrity make it easy to visit multiple destinations during one unforgettable vacation.
Browse cruise itineraries to South America and book online, or call one of our vacation specialists at 1-800-852-8086.