Top South America Tours & Vacations 2024/2025 [reviews &...

South America Tours & Travel Packages 2024/2025

774 South America trips. Compare tour itineraries from 41 tour companies. 4,467 reviews. 4.7/5 avg rating.

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Top South America Attractions & Experiences

Top South America Experiences

South America Tours & Travel Guide

South America Attractions & Landmarks Guide

While much of South America may speak Spanish or Portuguese, the continent is remarkably diverse – possessing world-class cities, vast areas of rainforest, beach-laden coastlines, fascinating indigenous cultures, rich stores of wildlife, archaeological and historical treasures, and some of the world’s most intriguing islands.

All this is in a continent just two-thirds the size of North America, with 12 independent countries. Travel providers in South America focus primarily on Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, and, more recently, Colombia, though Bolivia, Venezuela, Uruguay and Paraguay are also home to considerable natural and cultural attractions.

Top South America Destinations

1. Brazil alone is nearly half the size of the entire continent, so between visits to the Amazon region, including the city of Manaus – where you’ll find a 19th century-era opera house that rivaled the finest in Italy – as well as Rio de Janeiro, the Spanish-African fusion city of Salvador de Bahia, and Iguazu Falls, it can easily fill a two-week or more tour by itself.

river cruise on the Amazon and a visit to the cosmopolitan city of Rio make for an almost perfect combination -- and contrast – of isolation and urbanity.

2. Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and Argentina can also easily be destinations unto themselves, or can be combined with each other on longer South America tours. Ecuador, about the size of Colorado, features not just the Andes Mountains, but exotic jungle lodges in Amazon headwaters, the Pacific coast, the splendid Spanish colonial cities of Quito and Cuenca, the market town of Otavalo, and – far out into the ocean – the Galapagos Islands.

Argentina is best known for trendy Buenos Aires, one of the great South American capitals, but also shares Patagonia with Chile and has its own wine regions. Ushaia, at the southern tip of the country, is a key embarkation point for expeditions to Antarctica, and the Falkland Islands, off the Argentine coast, are frequent stops on small-ship expeditions.

3. Peru, just south of Ecuador, is best known for Machu Picchu, the ancient Incan city, and Cusco, the Incan capital, but also is the source of the Amazon and shares Lake Titicaca, known for its artificial islands, with Bolivia.

Both Ecuador and Peru have rich indigenous cultures, and combined Galapagos and Machu Picchu tours allow you to experience both a natural and man-made world wonder in the same bucketlist-filling trip.

4. Chile is one of South America’s greatest surprises. While it receives less publicity than some of its neighbors, it also offers some of the most remarkable landscapes on earth. The world’s driest desert, the Atacama, is here, as is a lovely lake country and remote, mountainous Patagonia, where you can trace Charles Darwin’s voyages aboard a small expedition-style ship and perhaps even land on Cape Horn.

Find more things to do in Chile >>

Unsure of where to visit? Read more about the safest countries to visit in South America >>

Amazon River Cruises

Largely unexplored and untamed, a cruise on the Amazon River is like no other. The Amazon, also called the Amazonia which refers to its entire basin, has an incalculable biological and ecological planetary significance. It is the largest drainage system in the world as measured by its volume of water and the size of its basin.

A nature lover’s mecca, there are millions of animal, insect and plant species that thrive in this wet tropical environment with many more yet to be discovered. No matter which tour you choose, it’s hard to go wrong in a place like the Amazon in South America. 

Amazon River Cruise tours make the basin’s immense expanse, including its rainforests, more accessible. Travelers might conjure up visions of insects, mud and rain along with 24 hour heat and humidity, but all of this can be better controlled on a comfortable vessel, many of which offer panoramic suite views and air conditioning.

Here are a few popular Amazon River Cruise destinations:

Peru Amazon River Cruise

The most popular part of the river for cruising is located about 100 miles from Iquitos, in northeastern Peru (a two hour flight from Peru’s capital, Lima). The Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve spans three different river basins. The rivers, creeks, lakes and canals that make up the basin will give you plenty of opportunity to take in the diverse array of flora and fauna.

The reserve is also known for its seasonally flooded “mirrored forest”, called an igapo in Spanish. In the black water you’ll see the reflection of the forest that surrounds you. 

Brazil Amazon River Cruise

Here you’ll cruise the Rio Negro, which translates to Black River, the largest in the world. Its name comes from a by-product of decaying plants and leaves but it’s a misnomer: there is very little sediment in the water and visibility can exceed 25 feet. While black waters are considered to be less nutrient dense than the other freshwater system in the Amazon called white water, or várzea, there are 90 endemic species which include one you may recognize.

The tetra is a highly sought after aquarium trade species because of its iridescence, likely an adaptive trait to the river’s black water. The Central Amazon Conservation Complex is a UNESCO World Heritage site and encompasses a large part of the Rio Negro. It protects a number of threatened species including the giant arapaima fish, the Amazonian manatee, the black caiman and two species of river dolphins.

Sample Combination Itineraries for Amazon River Cruises: These may include an Amazon River Cruise and Machu Picchu, an Amazon River Cruise and Rio, or an Amazon River Cruise and the Galapagos.

Geography of South America

There are three distinct geographies in South America: the river basins, mountains and highlands and coastal plains. These geographies showcase an extreme degree of diversity not to be found anywhere else on earth. 

River Basins - (Amazon, Orinoco, Paraguay/Parana, Pantanal)

1. The Amazon River, sourced from Andean streams, is the largest watershed in the world and the second longest river in the world (the Nile is the longest). A watershed is defined as an area of land that releases its water into a river. This entire area, over 2.7 million square miles, is referred to as the Amazon Basin.

It covers most of northern South America, flowing through Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana (sometimes classified as a Caribbean region) and Suriname (a civilian run state) before emptying into the Atlantic.

Find tours in Venezuela >>

The river is the life force of the Amazon rainforest and the 16,000 species that live there. Over half of the planet’s rainforest is in the Amazonia.

Tours to the Amazon Rainforest »

Amazon River Cruises »

Paraguay/Parana

The much smaller but still impressive 1 million square mile Paraguay/Parana basin includes areas of southeastern Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia and northern Argentina. The basin provides water to the plains, or pampas, of South America where rich, fertile soil make it an important area for grazing and crops.

The Parana river flows over a cataract that borders northeastern Argentina and southwestern Brazil, creating a series of275 waterfalls (depending on the season) that span across 1.5 miles, making it the largest waterfall system in the world.

Tours to Iguazu Falls and Iguazu National Park » 

The Pantanal

The world’s largest wetland area, the Pantanal, lies mostly in Brazil but also extends into Bolivia and Paraguay. The Amazon tends to get all the attention for the thousands of animal and plant species that live there but National Geographic calls the Pantanal Brazil’s best kept secret.

This 75,000 square mile pre-Andean depression receives run-off from the highland areas of Brazil and releases water into the Paraguay river.

Tours to the Pantanal »

Also originating in the Brazilian highlands is the Orinoco River. Like the Amazon, it discharges into the Atlantic after flowing 1,700 miles north of the Amazon, mostly through Venezuela but also Colombia. It’s basin covers 336,000 square miles encompassing an expansive grassland region called the Llanos. 

Mountains and Highlands

The world’s longest mountain system in the world, the Andes, sprawls 5,500 miles. It borders the entire western edge of the continent with an expanse through Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile.

Straddling the Argentina/Chile border stands its highest peak, Aconcagua (22,841 feet). The Andes also feature high plateaus like the 12,300 foot altiplano of Peru and Bolivia. Low plateaus and glaciers are found in the Chilean and Argentine Patagonia.

Tours to Patagonia »

Tours to the Andes Mountains »

Low mountains and plateaus make up the Brazilian Highlands, located south of its Amazon river. In southern Venezuela, French Guiana, Guyana, northern Brazil and a portion of southeastern Colombia, lie the Guiana Highlands. 

Coastal Plains

On the northeastern Atlantic coast of Brazil and on the western Pacific coast of Chile and Peru, lies low flat land. Both plains are very dry due to weather phenomena created by the interactions between land and sea.

The Atacama Desert located in southern Peru and Chile on the western coastal plain in the driest on earth with rainfall averaging just .04 inches per year. Tours to the Atacama Desert.

Active Adventures into South America 

If you are looking for an active get away with endless adventures to choose from in exceptional terrain that includes archaeological sites, deserts, glaciers, archipelagos, rainforests and high mountain peaks then South America is the place.

Make your trip planning easy by searching tours for active travelers to South America

Some popular South America adventures for thought: 

On an adventure tour in Peru, ATV through the Sacred Valley with a backdrop of steep forested mountain sides, circular terraces believed to be used for agriculture and archaeological sites. After hiking to your cliffside hotel, take a zipline back down and then saddle up! If you go horseback riding in Peru you’ll most likely be on the Peruvian Paso, a breed known for its smooth gait. 

Glamp in Chile on a Patagonia multi-sport ecocamp tour. You’ll be exploring Patagonia and Torres del Paine on foot as you hike across mountain ridges and by both sail and paddle as you make your way across glacial lakes, rivers and fjords. 

Rafting in South America is a unique experience. Expeditions on Ecuador’s Rio Upano take you through a remote region of dense tropical rain forests, wide valleys and narrow canyons. You’ll also float through the native villages on this Class III-V river, also called “River of the Sacred Waterfalls.” 

Rafting Argentina’s Alumine River in the Patagonia region another sought after destination - this one for the less faint of heart. Considered a more intermediate to advanced river, its heavy flow, huge holes and steady descent make for a wild ride.

Rafting Chile’s Futaleufu River, also in Patagonia, is even more adventurous. In this alpine setting, turquoise waters flow through  impressive canyons. There’s a “Terminator” section and in the narrow, steep canyon called “Inferno” is a long series of Class V rapids.   

Rafting, Canoeing, Kayaking Tours South America »

Unique Trekking & Hiking in South America

Salkantay, Machu Picchu

The Vilcabamba mountain range of the Peruvian Andes rises to over 20,000 feet at Mt. Salkantay (Salcantay or Salccantay). Prepare for thin air and culebras (literal translation: snakes, but fortunately in this case it refers to switchbacks) on the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu where you’ll be gaining 6,000 feet in elevation on your way to Salkantay’s 15,000 foot pass.

This is where most trekkers stop as summiting requires a high level of technical know how and acclimatization. After all, the word Salkantay comes from two words that mean “savage” and “avalanche producing”.

The 45 mile Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu is an ancient one where you’ll see extraordinary sites from lush tropical rainforests to high mountain peaks, avocados to orchids and parrots to condors. It’s named one of the top 25 treks by National Geographic. 

Ciudad Perdida, Colombia

In 800 AD, approximately 600 years before the Incas built Machu Picchu, the Tayrona built their capital, called The Lost City (Ciudad Perdida). Its existence was known only by the 4 indigenous groups who inhabit the area until tomb raiders discovered it in the early 1970s.

Colombia’s Lost City trek is 28 miles long and takes 4 or 5 days. While the highest point is at about 5,000 feet and the trail doesn’t require any special equipment other than plenty of bug repellent, expect only a few flat sections as you’ll be hiking either up hills, many of them steep, or down into valleys.

What a relief to come across rivers and natural swimming holes for you to cool off in after trekking in high humidity and heat. You’ll also be treated with expansive vistas of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, rural Kogi and Wiwa communities (descendants of the Tayrona), banana trees, cacao plants and intrigue as you learn what is known of the Lost City as shared by your indigenous guide. He will have learned it from the ancestral stories that were passed on to him. 

Read more about Ciudad Peridida, the lost city of Colombia »

All Trekking Tours in South America »

Luxury Travel in South America 

Luxury travel today is generally defined not by high thread counts, first class airfare or a private guide but instead by personal experiences that are deeply fulfilling and often transformative. South America is an up and coming destination for luxury travelers.

Many tour companies are now offering exclusive and private guided itineraries for people wanting to experience the continents often harsh weather and landscapes in a certain degree of comfort.

Here’s what you can expect when traveling in South America on a luxury tour:

  • Meaningful, Inspirational, Emotional - Authentic, transformative experiences brim with personal meaning and inspiration. They also touch us on an emotional level. 
  • Community/Culturally Based - Connection to the local community as well as the broader cultural heritage not only deepens the human experience but it can also stir the emotions and be a source for inspiration.
  • Value vs Expense - Luxury travel today tends to focus less on cost and more on the quality and personal value of the experience. 

Experience on Your Own Terms

Luxury tour companies cater mostly to the traveler who doesn’t wish to be shepherded along in a group but instead wants to experience private travel on their own terms. For example, a tour may include a private guided trip to Machu Picchu; as well, other wonders like the Sacred Valley, Cusco, Iguassu Falls and Rio de Janeiro.

Accordingly, these companies craft customized itineraries (also called bespoke or tailor-made) that offer some structure and planning while also giving the traveler the opportunity to choose the a-la-carte services and activities that resonate most deeply with them. 

Exclusivity

Luxury travel experiences are not easily acquired nor are they readily available. 

Exceeds Expectations

Luxury travel companies pride themselves on anticipating their guests’ needs and taking every opportunity to absolutely delight them through tailored experiences and personal touches.

Top Luxury Travel Activities in South America

You may not consider the activities themselves to be luxurious until you realize that you’ll be partaking of them in an extraordinary land. The astounding diversity of South America’s geography supports an equally diverse - and highly unique - plant and animal kingdom.

Discoveries await you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else on Earth. It is how you discover them is left totally up to you. Here’s just a sampling. 

1. Trekking 

Chile and Argentina: Patagonia’s “haunting soulfulness,” as described by American conservationist and former Patagonia CEO Kristine McDivvitt Tompkins, grabs and holds onto you like few other places do. It doesn’t have to be trekked but exploring by foot literally connects you to this most impressive part of our planet. 

Peru: follow in the footsteps of the Inca to Machu Picchu or the lost city of Choquequirao; the latter only accessible by foot so less trodden than Machu Picchu.

Guyana: trek through virgin forests, cross mountain streams and jungle bridges on your way to Kaieteur Falls, the world’s largest single drop waterfall. 

Ecuador: trek to the volcano’s snowline in Cotopaxi National Park, the highest active snow-capped volcano on earth. 

2. Horseback Riding 

The gauchos (horsemen) were a distinct social group of wild-cattle hunters in the Argentine, South Brazilian and Uruguayan grasslands (pampas) during the early eighteenth century.

While there are ample opportunities to ride in the pampas, horseback in the Torres del Paine, Chile, up the trails to Machu Picchu in Peru or around the family-owned and operated centuries-old estate hacienda you might find yourself staying in. 

3. Boating 

High powered zodiac boats transport you under the Iguassu Falls, the largest waterfall system in the world (Argentina and Bolivia) so prepare to get wet. To see the Galapagos (Ecuador), you might board a 200 foot ship specifically designed and outfitted for exploration of this unique environment.  

4. Bird Watching 

In Ecuador, be sure to look up when on tour at Napo Wildlife Center where over 560 species of birds have been recorded. You can also bird watch from a 125 foot canopy tower. Opportunities don’t stop there.

On the Galapagos Islands off Ecuador’s coast, Biologists estimate that 750,000 seabirds spend their time there, including blue - and red-footed - boobies.

In the diverse ecosystems of the Chilean and Argentine Patagonia, flamingos, penguins, condors and parakeets among other species make their home.

5. Kayaking & Canoeing 

The opportunities to explore the South American oceans, lakes and rivers abound. On a motorized canoe exploring the Peruvian Amazon, keep a look out for the giant otter, who can grow over 5 feet in length, a full 2 feet longer than the American marine otter. They are residents of the Amazon basin.   

6. Sailing & Snorkeling 

Experience both in the Galapagos, snorkel the northern beaches of Peru or the Rosario Islands off the coast of Colombia. Sail around Cape Horn, known as the “End of the Earth” and whose park of the same name is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.

Sail the Chiloe Archipelago off the coast of Chile, known for its remaining 16 churches out of hundreds that were constructed using wooden shingles by missionaries attempting to bring Christianity to this pagan land. All have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

7. Mountain Biking - Mountain Biking in the Atacama desert will most likely find you in Death Valley. This Chilean Death Valley is one of the driest places on earth and in fact 50 times more arid than California’s Death Valley. The Atacama by jeep is another option. 

8. Connect with the locals

Tour the ruins and archaeology of South America; visit a village in the Peruvian Amazon; get married by a Shaman in a traditional Peruvian wedding ceremony; walk through the open air markets of the Sacred Valley, Peru (Pisac), Ecuador (Otovalo) and Argentina (San Telmo, Buenos Aires); dance with locals at an authentic salsa club in Cali, Colombia; savor a traditional lunch with the owners of a coffee farm; revel on the beaches of Rio, Ipanema and Copacabana with luxury tours to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil or visit the largest cosmopolitan city in South America with luxury tours to Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

9. Wine Tasting

South America produces one bottle in seven of the world’s wine with Argentina being the 5th largest producer in the world. The Mendoza is the heart of the Argentine wine country most known for its Malbec.

In Chile, the Maipo Valley has been named one of the 10 best travel destinations of 2019 by Wine Enthusiast. Educate your palate wine tasting in Chile, then travel to the strikingly different regions of the Atacama Desert and Patagonia.

Festivals in South America  

1. Carnaval - Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay

Rooted in European pagan traditions, Carnaval (carnival in English) is a Catholic event, a food festival leading up to Lent. Many Catholic countries have Carnaval celebrations but if you’re looking for what’s considered to be the biggest in the world, head to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 

Rio’s first Carnaval was introduced by Portugese immigrants in the early 1700s. It’s taken many forms since then but over the last century the Carnaval has become a showcase for the unconventional, where social norms are turned upside down and revelers can escape into a fantasy world.

The backdrop is a lively, rhythmical music, song and dance called Samba that was brought by the Afro-Brazilians to the slums surrounding Rio after the abolishment of slavery in the late 1800s. 

There are more than 100 Samba schools that showcase their talent over four nights of parading competition at the Sambadrome. Less formal are the 300 blocos, or block parties, each with their own bands, themes and revelers. Some are so popular that they play year round. If you can hang with crowds that number up to 2 million per day, Rio is the place to be. Tours to Rio’s Carnaval 

The world’s second largest carnaval is in Barranquilla, Colombia. 

2. Inti Raymi - Peru

Inti, God of the Sun, was the most venerated God of the Incan Empire. Seven hundred performers reenact this ancient Incan festival with an elaborate spectacle of dancing and music performances. Inti Raymi is held in June with mass processions to three different locations in Cusco.

The final location is the hilltop fortress of Sacasaywaman, where the Inca would address his people from a golden tower. The performances are carried out in Quechua, the native tongue of the Incas. Tour to experience Inti Raymi

3. Fiesta de la Virgen de la Candelaria - Peru, Bolivia, Uruguay, Chile, Venezuela

Honoring the patron of the city of Puno, Peru, the colorful Festival of the Virgin Candelaria is an important cultural event in South America celebrated in February each year. A statue of the Virgin is paraded through the streets amidst music, dance and colorful costumes. Each country’s celebration is a distinct reflection of local folklore and traditions; in Chile the Virgin is considered the patron saint of the miners. 

4. Fiesta de la Tirana - Tierna, Chile 

The Festival of the Tyrant has been named one of Chile’s most beloved festivals. Held in July, the festival honors the Virgen del Carmen, one of the various incarnations of the Virgin Mary and patron saint of Chile. 

Its origins are part legend, part history and tell of an Incan princess who rebelled against European conquerors in the 1540s. She threatened to execute or enslave any Europeans or Christians who threatened her territory and was accordingly given the name La Tirana, or tyrant.

Apparently, she fell in love with one of her prisoners and converted to Christianity to marry him. Her subjects, betrayed and furious, killed her. The fiesta centers around Santuario de Nuestra Senora del Carmen, a church erected at their burial site in the 18th century.  

5. Feria de las Flores - Medellin, Colombia

2019 marked the 62nd annual Flower Festival, held over ten days during the month of August. The flower festival began as a tribute to the thriving flower business in Medellin. Today, flowers have become one of Colombia’s biggest exports, just behind gold and coffee.

The highlands outside of the city of Bogota are also another major growing area. The Feria blooms with over 400 events held during the ten day celebration. 

6. La Fiesta Nacional de la Vendimia - Argentina

The first National Grape Harvest Festival dates back to the 17th century with official celebrations beginning in 1936. Called the Carnaval of wine enthusiasts, the festival takes place the first weekend in March in the most prestigious wine making region of Argentina, the Mendoza.

There will be plenty of Malbec on hand to enjoy, an affordable and crowd pleasing red variety that has boomed in the US over the past decade. 

South America Festival Tours »

Top Archaeological Sites in South America

Traveling in South America is ideal for history and archaeology buffs. From the famous Machu Picchu to lesser known ruins from Mayan and Incan times, find a South America tour that will highlight these fascinating sites and cultures to satisfy your inner armchair archaeologist.

The ancient communities and civilizations of South America left behind traces of their lives and culture that will astonish the modern explorer. Experience great wonder as you learn how the ancients built their monuments and created their art. In many cases you’re left to ponder the question “but why?” 

  1. Las Misiones Jesuiticas Guaranies - Guarani Jesuit Missions, Argentina and Brazil - See an impressive testament to the evangelization of the Guarani indigenous communities during the 17th and 18th centuries. In various states of conservation, five of thirty missions built by the Jesuits still stand across Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.  

  1. Cueva de Los Manos - Cave of the Hands, Argentina - the name comes from the many outlines of human hands made on a rock wall that screens the entrance to the cave. Cueva de Los Manos is considered to be one of the most important sites of the earliest Patagonian hunter-gatherer communities. There are five main concentrations of wall art that include hunting scenes and animals with the earliest works dating to about 7300 BC. 

  1. Las Lineas y Geoglifos de Nazca (Nasca) - Lines and geoglyphs of Nazca, Peru - one of the most enigmatic archeological finds, the lines and geoglyphs of Nazca cover 173 square miles. They are said to have been scratched on the ground by ancient pre-hispanic people living between 500 BC and 500 AD. Depictions of living creatures, stylized plants, imaginary beings and geometric figures are are believed to be of ritual astronomical significance. 

Tours to Nazca 

Peru tours

  1. Cuzco (Cusco) - Peru - Cuzco was a pre-Incan city that became the capital of the Tawantinsuyu Inca empire through conquest. The empire covered much of the South American Andes during the 15th and 16th centuries AD. This urban center had distinct religious and administrative functions and while later built over by conquering Spaniards in the 16th century, many traces of the Incan city remain, including precision cut granite walls and the ruins of the Sun Temple, one of the most sacred Incan temples. 

Tours to Cusco

  1. Machu Picchu, Peru - is described by UNESCO as the “greatest artistic, architectural and land use achievements anywhere and the most significant tangible legacy of the Inca civilization”.  It is one of the few pre-Columbian ruins found nearly intact. At nearly 8,000 feet above sea level, the sanctuary sits in a dramatic landscape where the Amazon basin meets the Peruvian Andes. Scholars believe it was a palace complex that may have served as a royal retreat with reasons for its abandonment possibly due to lack of water. 

Tours to Machu Picchu 

  1. Chan Chan Archeological Zone, Peru - Chan Chan was the capital of the Chimu kingdom which reached its height shortly before falling to the Incas in the 15th century. Once a city of nearly 8 square miles, it is the largest pre-Columbian city in America with impressive remains that tell the story of a hierarchical society. Structures for industry such as weaving and metalworking surround nine independent citadels, or palaces, while to the north, east and west of the city lie the remains of an irrigation system and extensive agricultural areas. 

  1. Tierradentro, Colombia - constructed between 600 and 900 AD, Tierradentro is the largest concentration of monumental underground tombs with side chambers (hypogea) in America. Some of the chambers are nearly 40 feet in width with elaborate geometric, zoomorphic and anthropomorphic designs. Their lay-out is highly sophisticated and reflects the interior decor of the homes of the period. Inside the chambers also stand several human figures carved into volcanic rock with marvelous details: women wearing turbans, sleeveless shirts and skirts and men adorned with banded head dresses. 

  1. San Agustin Archeological Park, Colombia - San Agustin was a place of pilgrimage and ancestors’ worship.  Constructed during 1-900BC by people that made up one of the earliest complex societies in the Americas, large stone tombs of the elite were covered with earthen mounds up to 100 feet in diameter. The tombs themselves contain elaborate architecture of stone corridors, columns, sarcofagi and statues depicting gods or supernatural beings. The park also contains other monuments; for example, La Fuente de Lavapatas, a religious monument carved into the stone bed of a stream and the Bosque de Las Estatuas, a “forest” of stone statues. 

  1. Easter Island (Rapu Nui), Chile - it is estimated that there are 900 statues (moai), more than 300 ceremonial platforms (ahu) and thousands of other structures related to the activities of the Eastern Polynesian settlers who colonized the island between the 11th and 17th centuries. The moai, or carved statues, are perhaps the most recognized and range in height from six in a half feet to an astounding sixty feet.  

Tours to Easter Island

  1. Fuerte (Fort) de Samaipata, Bolivia - the archeological site of Samaipata is most well known for its huge monolithic rock, a structure believed to be ceremonial center of this residential site first occupied by pre-Incan people as early as 300 AD. The colossal feature dominates the town below at over 700 feet long and 200 feet wide with carvings of jaguars, “el cascabel” (the rattle), two astronomically oriented lines and at the highest point of the rock, the “coro de los sacerdotes” (choir of priest) which consists of niches that were possibly used as seats. 

All South America - Ruins and Archaeology tours 

Machu Picchu Travel Tips

What is thought to have been a sacred site for the Incan capital of Cusco or royal estate for King Pachacutec, Machu Picchu is, without a doubt, the top destination in Peru and in fact one of the most visited sites in the world.

There are a maximum of 5,940 tickets sold each day. Built at the height of the Incan empire in about 1450, it is one of the seven wonders of the world and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The citadel is located fifty miles from Cusco in the Peruvian Andes. 

Weather at Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is located in the Peruvian Andes at just under 8,000 feet, temperatures are moderate with ranges between 52F and 81F. Travel with rain gear as the region receives about 80 inches per year, especially between November and March. If you are not accustomed to altitude, particularly walking/hiking at elevation, take precautions for maximum safety and comfort. 

What Time of Year You Should You Visit Machu Picchu?

The busiest time of the year to visit is between June, July and August when it is drier. November through March is the rainy season and in February of each year the Inca Trail is closed for maintenance. So, consider September, October, April and May to avoid crowds and rain.

Getting There

Arrive in Machu Picchu by train or by well traveled feet led by an authorized guide. From the Sacred Valley (Ollantaytambo station), the train ride is about 2 hours and from Cusco (Poroy station) it will take about 4 hours. A Machu Picchu trek on the Inca Trail will take 2-4 days. There are many South America trekking tours to choose from that include Machu Picchu. Guides and entrance tickets are included which will save on planning time and if trekking, you generally won’t have to schlep your gear thanks to porters and pack animals. If you are traveling during the month of February, you can only travel by train as the trail is closed for maintenance.

Note that there are alternate hikes, including Salkantay trek tours, Lares Trek tours and Choquequirao trek tours

Types of Tickets

You won’t have to do all the research and planning for your visit to Machu Picchu when you book with a tour company but it’s good to know your options. There are four different ways to see Machu Picchu. 

  1. Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu has nine different entry “shifts” starting at 6:00am to better manage crowds. Visitors have a maximum stay of 4 hours although if you choose to enter during the last shift between 2:00pm and 3:00pm, your stay will be shorter as visitors must exit by 5:30pm. 

  1. Machu Picchu + Huayna (Wayna) Picchu. Climb the iconic peak that you see in the background of most Machu Picchu photographs or the small mountain in front of Huayna Picchu, called Huchuy Picchu. From Huchuy Picchu, you can hike to the Temple of the Moon in the Gran Caverna, or Great Cave complex. Average hiking hiking time for Huayna Picchu is 3 hours with descent required by 1:00pm. Should you choose to hike to the Temple of the Moon, hiking time is 4 hours with descent by 11:30am. There are specific morning entrance times with maximum stays of 3-5 hours depending on entrance time and which optional hike you choose.

  1. Machu Picchu + Machu Picchu Mountain. On the opposite side of the ruins sits Machu Picchu Mountain. It’s over 10,000 feet in elevation relative to Huchuy Picchu’s 8,835 feet so views from here are even more spectacular. The average hiking time is 4 hours with descent required by 1:00pm. There are specific morning entrance times with maximum stays of 3-5 hours depending on entrance time and which optional hike you choose.

  1. Machu Picchu + Museum. The museum, called Museo de Sitio Manuel Chavez Ballon, is located about a mile from the village of Machu Picchu (Aguas Calientes), at the base of Machu Picchu mountain. It houses 250 artifacts found during archaeological digs. 

What Time of Day You Should Visit 

The busiest time of day to visit is between 11:00am and 3:00pm. Many like to be there at 6am for a more peaceful visit and to see the sun rise although visibility can often be obscured by dawn clouds. So much of Machu Picchu’s beauty; however, comes from the way the constantly changing light and shadows fall over the citadel. 

Other Things to Consider

  • Wear comfortable shoes with a sturdy tread. Don’t risk breaking-in your shoes/boots at a place like Machu Picchu - or anywhere for that matter. That’s a distraction you just don’t want to take away from your experience. Expect stairs and hills, many of them steep depending on your itinerary. Also consider a hat for sun protection and sunscreen - the sun is stronger at 7,900 feet.  
  • There are three circuits to choose from that you can coordinate with your guide. Circuit one is more physically demanding, circuit two is more relaxed and circuit three is for visitors who have disabilities or need special attention. 
  • Not allowed: strollers; selfie-sticks, tripods or other camera extensions; heels; baby slings/carriers and backpacks larger than 15x13x7 must be stored in lockers located at the entrance
  • Walking aids/wheelchairs: no canes or walking sticks with the exception of those that are for the “elderly or incapacitated”. Use a rubber tip to avoid unnecessary trail damage. Visitors with wheelchairs may access the site - ask your tour operator for further details. 
  • The only toilets are at the entrance and they require a small fee
  • There are food options at the main gates but they are pricey and / or mediocre. Food is strictly prohibited beyond the gates.  
  • You are agreeing to a number of other prohibited activities when you purchase your ticket (through a tour company or not). These include painting/writing graffiti and stripping/streaking among other things your tour company will make you aware of. Expect stern vigilance by the staff and wardens and heavy penalties including incarceration for more severe actions of disrespect.

National Parks in South America

From the immense wild territory of Patagonia to the massive Amazon River basin and soaring peaks of the Andes Mountains, South America is a continent with some of the richest diversity on earth. The human inhabitants that walked these lands and what they left behind is also of great world significance. No wonder that South America’s national parks - of which there are 9 in Patagonia alone - offer travelers an incredible range of experiences. 

  1. Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile - the iconic tower-like rock formations give one of Chile’s largest national parks its name. The breathtaking landscape of granite peaks, pristine lakes, golden grasslands and bright blue glaciers should make your bucket list, along with the other parks listed here.  

Tours to Torres del Paine National Park 

Tours to Chile

  1. Galapagos, Ecuador - in the Galapagos you’ll find only non-human inhabitants; almost all of this isolated volcanic archipelago is designated a National Park. 53,000 additional square miles of ocean around the islands also make up the park. There are more than 2,000 endemic (found only in the Galapagos) species and its unique wildlife, like the marine iguana, inspired Darwin’s research on natural selection and evolution.  

Tours to Galapagos

  1. Iguazu, Argentina  - one of the most visited parks in South America is known for its iconic Iguazu Falls. This “big water” from the Parana River, nearly a mile wide, falls from a lava cliff creating a spectacular series of cascades over 260 feet high. The falls are surrounded by subtropical rainforests and are some of the most spectacular in the world. Upon seeing the falls, Eleanor Roosevelt said: “My poor Niagara!” 

Tours to Iguazu National Park

  1. Lencois Maranhenses, Brazil - the Portuguese name translates to “bedsheets of Maranhao,” the  Brazilian coastal state where the national park is located. The blindingly white sand dunes for which the park is famous are created by two rivers that push tons of sediment from the interior of the continent to the coast. In the Lencois Maranhenses the sand is whipped by powerful equatorial Atlantic winds that carry it back inland for as far as 30 miles creating vast, sculpted sand dunes. And yet, the park is not technically a desert. Torrential rain storms dump 47 inches of rain from January to June and thousands of crystal clear lagoons pool in the valleys between the dunes, some over 300 feet long and 10 feet deep. 

Tours to Lencois Maranhenses National Park

  1. Cotopaxi, Ecuador - wolves, mountain lions and bears are just some of the wildlife you might see on the slopes and valley floor of the majestic Cotopaxi volcano that the park is known for. The snow capped volcano dominates the landscape at over 19,000 feet, making the park a popular climbing destination.  

Tours to Cotopaxi

Wildlife in South America 

To see animals in their natural habitats, book a Nature and Wildlife tour to South America or a South America Birding Tour. Many of these animals can’t be found anywhere else. Here’s why: 

  • Isolation from the rest of the world during the Paleogene and Neogene times between 66 and 2.6 million years ago
  • The formation of new and distinct species in the course of evolution, called speciation, has occurred more in South American than in other parts of the world
  • The most diverse ecological communities in South America and in the world are in the Amazonian and Guianan forests because of the vast expanse of water and trees

1. Vulnerable Giants

Giant Anteater - the largest of the 4 species and growing up to 8 feet long. They only eat termites with their sticky, 2 foot long tongue and identify their favorite species by smell. Giant anteaters are listed as vulnerable in their native south and central american habitats. Interesting fact: they are also called ant bears.

Giant Tortoise - an icon of the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador), it is one of two remaining groups found in the entire world - the other is a resident of the Seychelles (Indian Ocean). The giant tortoises have become extinct in other parts of the world.

They can live for up to 150 years and it is this longevity that has helped conservation efforts made by the Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation conservation. Of the 15 species named, all but 1 is either critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable or extinct. Interesting fact: the birds you often see sitting atop the tortoise’s shells are snacking on ticks found in the folds of the tortoise’s necks. 

Giant Otter - another endangered animal, the giant otter is carnivorous and can grow up to 6 feet long and weigh up to 75 pounds. They are huge members of the weasel family and have adapted to their environment with powerful tails that propel them underwater, webbed feet, nostrils and ears that close for underwater swimming and water repellent fur. Fish make up the majority of their diet along with snakes, crustaceans and other water creatures. Interesting fact: they can consume six to nine pounds of food each day!

2. Guanaco - the guanaco is closely related to other South American natives: the vicuna, llama and alpaca. All are related to the camel, which is native to Asia and South Africa. Guanacos are still hunted for their pelts and fibers in the luxury textile market but they thrive in areas protected by law. 

Guanacos live in small bands of females, led by males in a range that extends from snowline to sea level throughout the Andes. Interesting fact: they are a wild animal like the vicuna whereas the llama and alpaca have been domesticated.

3. Amazonian ManateeLike the West Indian manatee that lives on the North American east coast and the African manatee that lives along the coast and rivers of Africa, the Amazonian manatee is at risk. While protected by law, they are slow moving and their habitats make them easy prey for hunters, boats and fishing nets. Interesting fact: manatees are related to elephants.  

4. SlothHigh up in the lowland tropical forest canopies of South and Central America you can spot sloths, likely hanging upside down to conserve energy rather than having to balance. Two-toed sloths are slightly larger than their three-toed relatives, growing up to 27” and weighing 17.5 pounds. Two-toed sloths are able to survive in captivity, unlike their relatives.

They also have longer fur and no tails. Interesting fact: sloths move so slowly - about 6-8 feet a minute - that algae can grow on their fur. The algae is what gives the sloth its greenish tint. 

5. Capybara - native to South America, the capybara is the largest rodent in the world. It is a semi aquatic animal related to the guinea pig and rock cavie (another South American rodent).

Their pig shaped bodies have adapted for swimming with partially webbed feet and hair that dries quickly once back on land. Their populations are relatively stable although in some areas they are hunted aggressively for their skin. Interesting fact: small invasive populations have been seen in Florida. 

6. Andean Condo -  its weight (up to 33 pounds) and wingspan (over 10 feet) makes it the largest flying bird in the world. They are a threatened species but not as severely as their California relatives.

As the name suggests, they populate mountainous regions of the Andes but also coastal and desert areas that have strong thermal air currents. Interesting fact: because of their large size, they prefer windier areas where they can glide more easily on air currents. 

7. Green Anaconda - at 20-30 feet in length and up to 550 pounds, the green anaconda is the largest snake in the world. Smaller South American relatives include the dark spotted, Bolivian and yellow anaconda.

They are non venomous snakes in the boa constrictor family that live in slow streams, marshes and swamps of the Amazon and Orinoco tropical rainforests. Anacondas reach their tremendous size on a diet of wild pigs, deer, birds, turtles, capybara, caimans, and even jaguars. Interesting fact: their eyes and ears are on top of their head.

This allows them to completely submerge while waiting for their prey which they can swallow whole no matter the size thanks to the stretchy ligaments in their jaws.  

8. Amazon River Dolphin - unlike their marine cousins, Amazon river dolphins have bulbous foreheads and long, skinny beaks. Males can be colored pink, which is believed to be scar tissue from rough play or fighting for mates (humans are the only threat to the Amazon river dolphin).

They can bend up to a 90 degree angle thanks to a unique adaptation in the vertebrae of their neck. This allows them to swim through tangles of branches and between trees. Interesting fact: to impress females, sometimes males hold live turtles up in the air or beat the water with branches held in their beaks.

South America Reviews & Ratings

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Anonymous

Oct 2018

Provided byExodus Travels

Brilliant Adventure

What a brilliant time we had on our recent visit to Peru. From the moment we met our guide Sebastian at Lima airport the fun started. The itinerary was full on but...

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Anonymous

Oct 2018

Provided byExodus Travels

Amazing itinery, varied and comphrehensive

Essential trip covers the highlights in 2 weeks covering Andes and Desert Peru comprehensively (Jungle would be an additional bolt on). The itinery was key fo...

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Anonymous

Oct 2018

Provided byExodus Travels

An amazing trip of a life-time!

This was my first experience of Exodus and I was very impressed. All of the communication prior to travelling was excellent and this continued with my arrival in ...

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Anonymous

Oct 2018

Provided byExodus Travels

Essential Peru

This was a fabulous adventure! Recounting it to friends at home, it seems incredible that we saw and experienced so much - or travelled so many miles in a relativ...

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Anonymous

Oct 2018

Provided byExodus Travels

Qué paja el Perú !

Before I went on this holiday, anyone I talked to about Peru seemed to equate it principally with Machu Picchu and Inka trails. Frankly, as beautiful and wondrous...

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