Perhaps you want to travel to the most beautiful places in South America, but have no idea which country or destination to choose. Perhaps you’ve seen the beautiful photos of Patagonia, Machu Picchu, or the Amazon, and simply can’t decide. Does any of this sound like you?
South America is rich in beautiful landscapes of all sorts, from beaches and deserts, to islands, archaeological sites, nature parks, and mountains. The list of amazing things to see and do in South America is endless, but how do you narrow down the list?
To truly set your travel experiences apart, try something new. Go off the beaten path, and try some of these lesser-known sites, all among the most underrated South American tourist attractions.
Las Lajas Shrine, Colombia
In southern Colombia, at the border with Ecuador, there is a pilgrimage site which is an unspoken jewel among things to do in South America. Las Lajas Shrine is a place of exceptional beauty, both because of the unique details of the construction and the stunningly beautiful natural surroundings.
The sanctuary is located at the Gulf of Guáitara River, in the village of Las Lajas, the municipality of Ipiales. It is surrounded by majestic waterfalls, and the beautiful Gothic Basilica onsite reaches high with its beautiful details of arches, mosaics, towers and stone walls. The image of Our Lady of the Rosary is carved in one of the walls, making the Las Lajas Shrine one of the most photographic-friendly locations in all of Colombia.
You would be crazy to prepare an itinerary for a vacation in South America without having a visit to the Inca’s Holy Valley in the Peruvian Andes. So close to Cuzco and Machu Picchu, the Urubamba Valley pairs with these more popular locations to provide a long and beautiful journey through mystical country of Peru.
The Urubamba Valley was of great importance for the Incas for geographical and climatological reasons, and it is one of the most important points where the wealth of their country came from. Here you will find famous archaeological monuments and indigenous villages, crossed by several rivers that glide down in smaller valleys and thus form unique landscapes.
Ride alongside the main river in the region, also called the Urubamba, the town of the same name. Here you’ll find beautiful markets, wonderful people, and a true venture back to the roots of Peruvian civilization.
Pucon, Chile is next to the Villarrica volcano, which in itself is a fantastic local attraction where enthusiasts of extreme sports are all in place. Villarrica isn’t a dormant volcano, yet draws rampant attention from thrill-seeking adventurers who don’t mind getting a little close to the heat.
Many tourist agencies offer guide services in the summer, and you can hire equipment for mountain climbing (“Andinismo,” as mentioned in the countries surrounding the Andes). However, we strongly advise you to go to sea with an official Villaricca tour group and go on a qualified local guide.
Tayrona National Park, Colombia
This is the view of the Tayrona National Natural Park, with ease one of the most charming spots in Colombia, which received a protected status in 1969. Here, the native Tairona people lived until the middle of the 15th century, and today you can still see the fascinating archaeological sites such as Pueblito Chairama. This area is considered a sacred site by the indigenous people of the region, where many still live in cabins.
Among the many routes you can take to park, all bring you along beautiful scenery whether on foot or horseback. Once arrived, prepare yourself to see the beautiful beaches, such as Cabo San Juan, La Piscina and Playa Brava (the latter is primarily intended for nudists, so consider yourself advised!).
Isla del Sol, Bolivia
Most travelers who dream to penetrate deep in South America will probably want to do the Bolivia-Peru-Chile route. Isla del Sol is a must-see location within the region, and is easily accessible from Copacabana City and with 14.3 square kilometers.
Around the island, there are also interesting archaeological sites, such as the Challapampa Museum, which houses many historical discoveries of the island. The scenery, where the routes cross from north to south, engross you with deep blue waters, green mountains, and the inimitable Andes.
Los Roques, Venezuela
The 42 islands and about 250 coral reefs spread nearly 16 square miles, and you can spend days exploring and discovering every corner of it.
The area is vast in possible activities, as you can choose the comfortable route in opting for a casual kayak or sailboat ride, before juicing the adrenaline while windsurfing or diving. Such a unique place in the world is Los Roques, with the combination of coral reefs that protect the archipelago from strong currents, the abandoned beaches with warm white sand and the crystal clear water with an incredible variety of marine creatures.
Every year, the locals have two festive festivities around which you should place your trip. In September there is the Festival of the Virgin of the Valley and in November the Lobster Festival, each making for wonderful scenery and an opportunity to immerse one’s self in the local culture.
Route of the Seven Lakes, Argentina
Although the name indicates the number seven, there are in fact 10 lakes through the area. The most famous are numbered seven – Correntoso, Escondido, Espejo, Falkner, Machónico, Villarino, and Lácar – all of exceptional beauty, with water varying in color from clear green to deep blue.
When you travel this area, we provide a word for the wise – don’t rent a bus. The stops can be infrequent, long, and very much out of the way. The best option for this route is to rent a car and share the costs with friends or fellow travelers.
Cabo Polonio, Uruguay
How would it be if your next travel destination was a small village, without electricity, the internet or even paved roads? Hard to imagine? Well, in a place as attractive as Cabo Polonio in Uruguay, you will hardly miss these modern facilities.
This peninsula is located 260 km from the capital city of Montevideo, and is regarded as a magical place by visitors. The beaches are almost abandoned, the city is surrounded by high white sand dunes, sea lions are always lazy around the islands on the coast, and a beautiful starry sky follows a fantastic sunset.
Access to this hamlet is somewhat limited – the nearest road is 7 km far away, and you can only access it by horse or by a terrain car.
Her fame is growing because of the beach and the carnival celebrations and therefore this second-largest city of Paraguay is called the “new Rio de Janeiro” by her residents.
Encarnación is an important commercial and industrial center and is linked to Posadas in Argentina by the San Roque González de Santa Cruz Bridge, which runs over the Paraná River. This is a view sure to ignite the passion of any photographer, travel writer, or nature-lover.
The city has a massive selection of great restaurants and resorts, much in response to Encarnacion’s growing fame. The reputation of “Carnival Capital” is demonstrated annually in February during the exciting celebrations of “Carnival Encarnacion”, and you simply can’t miss the opportunity to visit the nearby ruins of Jesuit mission posts: La Santísima Trinidad de Paraná, Jesús de Tavarangue and the Santuario de la Virgen de Itacuá.
This country and its capital are almost never mentioned on a list of places to visit while traveling in South America, yet are deserving of much more attention. Located in the northeast of the continent and somewhat isolated, but with a unique cosmopolitan atmosphere, Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname, has a beautiful colonial architecture and an incredibly fascinating ethnic diversity.
The population of the city counts just over 250,000 souls but is a mix of descendants of, among others, Indian, Indonesian, African, Dutch and Chinese ancestors.
Beyond the usual suspects of South America lie many hidden gems that are waiting to be seen. Travel off the beaten path, and find these underrated destinations that are sure to define your journey through South America.