From ancient ruins and iconic beaches to marvelous natural wonders, every corner of South America is ripe for exploration. Step back in time at the famed Machu Picchu, get splashed by a waterfall that spans two countries, and enjoy all the history, culture, and cuisine that goes along with an incredible South American vacation.
These are some of the best natural and manmade landmarks in South America to visit on your next journey to the Southern Hemisphere.
Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Perhaps South America’s most well-known statue, the famous Christ the Redeemer has overlooked the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro since 1931. The massive monument stretches 98 feet into the sky atop a mountain summit and boasts an arm span of 92 feet, making it one of the best places to visit in South America.
You can visit this modern world wonder on Mount Corcovado via tram, traveling through the serene forested areas until you’re rewarded with incredible views of the bay, city, and Sugarloaf Mountain from the top. When you reach Christ the Redeemer, you’ll be staring in awe at the largest Art Deco statue in the world. A small chapel at the base of the structure pays homage to the Holy Protector of Brazil, Our Lady of Aparecida.
Machu Picchu, Peru
One of the most famous landmarks in South America is the ancient site of Machu Picchu in Cusco, Peru. This World Heritage Site is an impressive Incan citadel nestled at the high altitude of 2,430 meters and set amongst the postcard-perfect Andes Mountains.
Wander through stone architecture ruins built in the 15th century, and watch as clouds roll in and out of the stunning scenery, giving it a mystical quality. On a clear day, gaze as far as you can see into the surrounding lush mountains. Exploring the cultural heart of the Incan civilization and learning about its agricultural, religious, and political significance in an unbelievable setting is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
El Morro, Arica, Chile
A rock-like hill on the coast of Chile, El Morro carries deep history as a landmark of the city of Arica. Taken by the Chilean Army in 1880 during a short battle during The War of the Pacific, this site is now an iconic spot in the city.
Resting 139 meters above sea level, the Chilean flag is perched atop this massive rock hill. Climb to the top with a short, semi-steep trek, and you’ll be rewarded with sprawling views of the city and coast. On a clear day, you may even be able to see Chile’s northern neighbor, Peru.
Casapueblo, Punta del Este, Uruguay
Originally serving as the residence and workshop of the well-known artist Carlos Páez Vilaró, this Greek Island-inspired structure is now host to a museum, gallery, restaurant, and hotel. Watching the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean from one of the terraces is an amazing experience.
The museum exhibitions feature works by Carlos Vilaró, including murals, pottery, paintings, sculptures, and other forms of his original artwork. This cliffside dwelling is a lesson in artistry, architecture, and scenery worth a visit near Punta del Este, Uruguay.
Iguazú Falls, Argentina
Iguazú Falls is one of the best places to see in the world and is sure to impress by its massive size alone. The 269-foot-tall Iguazú Falls borders both Argentina and Brazil and is composed of approximately 275 thundering cascades.
On the Argentinian side, explore Iguazú Falls National Park’s inland rainforest along the Iguazú River to take in this spectacular setting. Walk the trails lined with native flora and fauna, spot wildlife, and stop at various observation points of the falls.
The biggest portion of this stunning South American waterfall is a curtain of water called ‘Devil’s Throat.’ This area can be viewed up close and personal via the park’s boardwalks. Make sure to bring a raincoat!
Ponta da Lagoinha, Buzios, Brazil
Beachside bliss is easily achieved while wandering the gorgeous natural setting of Ponta da Lagoinha, just three hours north of Rio de Janeiro. Also known as the “Brazilian Himalayas,” this stretch of seaside paradise is a work of art by Mother Nature.
Set on the southeast portion of the well-known oceanside resort peninsula of Buzios, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill beach. This unique destination features awe-inspiring rock formations that are over 500 million years old.
Explore tide pools, gaze upon interesting rock shapes, and take in the coastal flora and fauna against the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean. Visiting during low tide is a great choice as you’ll be granted access to some of the tidal pools and secluded sandy coves. You may even have a bit of luck and spot turtles just offshore.
Huaca Pucllana, Lima, Peru
In Lima’s city center, you’ll find an incredible historical structure dating back to approximately 500 AD. The pyramid-shaped ruins of Huaca Pucllana are an icon of this Peruvian capital city, holding significant cultural and historical meaning. Previously serving as an administrative center for the pre-Incan community’s irrigation zone as well as ceremonial purposes, the adobe-and-clay structure is now host to museum exhibits, a gift shop, and a restaurant.
Appreciate the archeological excellence as you step back in time at Huaca Pucllana with the modern amenities of the city of Lima surrounding the site. Visiting at night will add to the atmosphere, with lights illuminating the ruins in a mystical fashion. This is one of the top landmarks in South America to see for yourself.
Caminito, Buenos Aires, Argentina
A lively and vibrant neighborhood in Argentina’s capital city of Buenos Aires, La Boca is host to an art-filled street and open-air museum called Caminito, which means “little path.” Deep-dive into Argentinian culture by strolling an alley full of live music, artists, and even skilled tango dancers.
The brightly colored buildings add a touch of Italian flair to this portside region of the city. Original crafts such as paintings and folk performances help give Caminito the character it has become famous for.
Petrohué Waterfalls, Puerto Montt, Chile
Uncover Chile’s natural splendor at the country’s oldest national park, Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park, in Puerto Montt. The Petrohue Waterfalls are a photographer’s dream, comprised of water in blue-green hues cascading over basaltic lava and volcanic rock, all while backed by the imposing Osorno Volcano.
Hiking the park’s trails to reach the waterfall will leave you breathless as you admire one of the best places to visit in Chile. You’ll have the chance to see myrtle and cinnamon trees, as well as ducks, deer, or even local pumas while exploring this natural treasure. Picnic near the falls, go kayaking in the river, and soak up the beautiful vistas of Todos los Santos Lake.
La Mano, Punta del Este, Uruguay
Playa Brava is where unique artistry meets beachside bliss on the coast of Uruguay. In Punta del Este, you’ll find the famous hand sculpture created by local artist Mario Irarrázabal. Meaning “The Hand,” the piece features five giant fingers soaring from the sand towards the sky.
Created in 1982 as part of an open-air sculpture exhibition, it quickly became a symbol of the city. It’s meant to represent the relationship between man and nature, and this is one hand in the series of a few others around the world. Playa Brava is one of the best beaches in South America, especially for sun-seekers and surfing enthusiasts, with plenty of refreshments and souvenirs available in the area.
Tierra del Fuego National Park, Ushuaia, Argentina
Just outside the Argentinian city of Ushuaia, you’ll find a spectacular outdoor playground known for its diverse environment, hiking trails, and extremely pure air. Unearth a wide variety of spectacular scenery, from waterfalls and dramatic mountains to forested areas and stunning glaciers in Argentina’s southernmost national park.
Many hiking trails offer the chance to get up close and personal with some of the best landscapes the park offers. Journey through the ruggedly beautiful lands between the Beagle Channel to Lago Kami and Lapataia Bay.
Octávio Frias de Oliveira Bridge, Sao Paulo, Brazil
The X-shaped bridge over the Pinheiros River is an iconic structure located in the city of Sao Paulo. Stretching 453 feet tall, it’s constructed of cable-stays and connects Marginal Pinheiros to Jornalista Roberto Marinho Avenue.
The bridge, which is also referred to as ‘Ponte Estaiada,’ is unique in that it’s the only one of its kind with two curved tracks linked with just one concrete pole. At night, the bridge becomes quite the spectacle with a series of LED lights that illuminate it. Around the holidays, the display is themed by colors to celebrate special dates and events.
Tutelar Figures, Arica, Chile
In the midst of the driest desert in the world lies the impressive sculptures created by Chilean artist Juan Diaz Fleming. The Presencias Tutelares are at home in the Atacama Desert, less than an hour outside of the city of Arica.
The ‘Guardian Spirits’ are a set of three concrete sculptures that are said to have protected the Aymara people long ago. Combined with a visit to see the artifacts in the San Miguel Archaeological Museum in Azapa, as well as the property’s petroglyphs, it’s one of the best landmarks in South America to discover Chile’s ancient history and culture.
La Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Argentina
A world-famous cemetery, La Recoleta in Buenos Aires is the resting place for many distinguished people such as Napoleon’s granddaughter, the President of Argentina, and actress Eva Peron. With its intricate monuments and sheer number of elaborate Art Deco marble mausoleums, this is considered one of the most stunning cemeteries on the planet.
There are many stories and mysteries to be uncovered here, adding to the intrigue of this eccentric burial place. If it’s ghost stories you’re after, there are plenty here to find.
Read: Haunted Places to Visit
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