Nestled between the Caribbean, the South Pacific, and the South Atlantic Oceans, South America is the wilder of the Americas and a continent of superlatives.
The world's biggest rainforest and the largest river (Amazon), the highest mountain range outside Asia (the Andes), remote islands (Galapagos Islands, Easter Island and Fernando de Noronha), heavenly beaches (such as in Brazil's Northeastern region), wide deserts (Atacama), icy landscapes (Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego), the world's tallest waterfall (the 979m Angel Falls, in Venezuela) and one of the largest (Iguaçu Falls, Argentina and Brazil), as well as several other breathtaking natural attractions.
Besides, the work of man has also left rare gems on the continent: ruins of ancient civilizations (Machu Picchu and other Inca cities; the Moais in Easter Island) share the continent with world-class metropolises (São Paulo, Buenos Aires, Bogotá, Caracas, Santiago, Lima and Rio de Janeiro), outstanding modern architecture (Brasilia), European architecture (Buenos Aires), the oldest rock paintings in the Americas (at the Serra da Capivara), strong African heritage (in Salvador, Rio and Montevideo), genuine indigenous (Belém, Manaus, Cuzco, Lima, La Paz), charming cities built in the Andes (Caracas, Medellín, Quito, Santiago de Chile) and Eastern culture (São Paulo's enormous Japanese community), mingled with the fingerprints of Iberian colonizers. Ushuaia, the world's southernmost city and some of its biggest festivities, such as Rio's Carnival and Belem's Cirio de Nazaré, the Tango World Championship, and the Vendimia festival in Argentina, are also part of this incredibly diverse and attractive continent.
Countries and territories
- Bogotá — a city of contrasts with a hectic balance between the new and the old; the most cultural-minded of South American capitals
- Buenos Aires — the city of tango, the most cosmopolitan city of Argentina
- Caracas — one of the most cosmopolitan and modern cities in South America, there are lots of theaters, malls, museums, art galleries, parks, well-conserved colonial architecture and even gastronomic restaurants
- La Paz — the highest seat of national government of the world that is built in a canyon
- Lima — a curious mix of modernity, large but orderly slum areas, and colonial architecture
- Montevideo — the pleasant capital city of Uruguay, situated on the east bank of the Rio de la Plata
- Rio de Janeiro — famous for its breathtaking landscape, its laidback beach culture and its annual carnival
- Santiago de Chile — capital of Chile with many museums, events, theaters, restaurants, bars and other entertainment and cultural opportunities
- São Paulo — a beehive of activity that offers a jovial nightlife and a diverse cultural experience
- The Andes
- Canaima National Park — its main attraction are the Angel Falls, with 978 m the highest waterfall on Earth
- Easter Island
- Iguaçu Falls
- Machu Picchu
- Galapagos Islands
- The Pantanal
- Salar de Uyuni
- Tierra del Fuego
See also the sections on South America in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Topics in South America
Getting to South America has gotten much easier in recent years due to massive increases in flights to the continent by major global airlines. Although some particular places are still quite hard to reach (i.e. Paraguay, Suriname, northern Brazil), the places that you most likely want to go, such as Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, are more accessible than ever before.
- From Africa: the only (reliable) options worth considering would be the South African Airways service linking Johannesburg with São Paulo and Buenos Aires; or the Ethiopian Airlines service from Addis Ababa to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. There are also connections between Luanda and Rio de Janeiro, Salvador de Bahia and Recife with Taag Angola Airlines. Do realize that demand between Africa and South America is very limited, so even the aforementioned services are infrequent and fares may be quite high.
- From Asia: Be prepared for a very long journey, especially if your itinerary includes connecting flights to travel to/beyond the major Asian and South American hubs. São Paulo is the only destination with flights from the Far East. The Korean Air route between Seoul-Incheon and São Paulo involves a stop in the United States (LAX) therefore it will require all passengers, including those in transit, to pass through U.S. customs. Air China flies to São Paulo from Beijing via Madrid and Singapore Airlines from Singapore via Barcelona. From the Middle East there are some more alternatives; Emirates (Dubai), Ethiad (Abu Dhabi) and Qatar Airways (Doha) all fly nonstop to São Paulo. Of these Qatar Airways continues down to Buenos Aires and Emirates has another line to South America — via Rio de Janeiro to Buenos Aires.
- From Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific: A somewhat surprising number of options exist. Both Aerolineas Argentinas and LAN Airlines serve Auckland and Sydney from their respective hubs at Buenos Aires and Santiago, while Qantas introduced a non-stop service between Sydney and Santiago on March 2012. LAN also operates one of the world's most obscure flights of all - a service linking Santiago-Easter Island-Tahiti. From Perth Emirates provides affordable flights to Buenos Aires with a stopover in Dubai, around 30 hours total flying time.
- From Europe: The entire South American continent once lived under European colonial rule, and the resultant political, social, and economic ties between former colonies and colonizers remain quite strong even today. Portuguese flag carrier TAP Airlines is by far the leading foreign carrier to Brazil, serving a slew of destinations in North and East Brazil as well as the Brazilian capital Brasilia which otherwise have only limited or absolutely no other international connections. Spanish flag carrier Iberia flies to most of the former Spanish colonies, although neither Bolivia nor Paraguay are served. KLM flies between Amsterdam and Suriname and Air France links Paris with French Guiana. Of course, such services are not exclusive - KLM also flies to Lima, TAP to Caracas, Air France to Rio de Janeiro and Lima, etc. Other leading European airlines such as British Airways, Lufthansa, Swiss Airlines, and Alitalia also serve key South American gateways from their respective hubs, while South American airlines also operate into several major European cities as well.
- From North America: Until very recently, it was virtually inconceivable to reach South America from anywhere other than Miami. Today, however, rapidly developing hubs at Atlanta, Dallas/Fort Worth, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Mexico City, New York, Newark, Orlando, Toronto, and Washington-Dulles offer viable alternatives. Indeed, airlines such as Air Canada, United and Delta Airlines have successfully begun to challenge the virtual monopoly once enjoyed by American Airlines to several key markets. American discount carriers such as Spirit Airlines and JetBlue (Azul in Brazil) have recently fought hard for and won several route authorities to serve the likes of Colombia, Brazil and Peru, bringing low fares to these markets for the first time. Given the U.S. airlines' cutbacks in service, frequency, and cities served over the years, consider high quality Latin American carriers such as Avianca (to Colombia with daily non-stop flights to Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and Cartagena), and the fastest growing and probably best Hub to South America is by Copa Airlines (Panama's national airline thru its hub in Panamá City), also LAN Airlines (Chilean carrier serving Chile direct and via several other countries), or TAM (to Brazil).
Beware there are no roads connecting Panama with Colombia, hence it is not possible to drive from Central America. People overcome this problem shipping their cars from Colon (Atlantic side in Panama) to Cartagena or Barranquilla (Colombia), or from Panama City (Pacific side of the Panama canal) to Buenaventura (Colombia) or Guayaquil (Ecuador).
Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil have good roads. The only thing you have to avoid to travel by night in Brazil; is quite dangerous.
The Pan-American Highway is a series of routes starting in Central America and running to the tip of South America. It does not cross through Colombia, but is otherwise an interesting option for those with a good vehicle, plenty of spare parts, and a desire to explore the western edge of the continent.
There isn´t any railway infrastructure in South America to connect all the countries. Only a few trains in specific places for travelling around in short terms. And also is not so dependable.
Yes, you can consider it for sightseeing like The Machu Pichu train or The train of the clouds.
There are no railroads between Panama and Colombia.
You can go from Montevideo to Valparaiso by cruise, touching Falkland Islands, Ushuaia and Puerto Montt. Or with an extension to the Antarctica.
Also along the South American coast from Buenos Aires up to Brazil. You can do all the Amazon River by boat, starting in Peru, through all Brazil.
Between Argentina and Uruguay you can cross Rio de la Plata by ferry.
The Union of South American Nations gives visa-free access and a customs union between all countries in South America. With the exception of Suriname, visitors from industrialized countries generally do not need visas anywhere in South America, aside from U.S., Canadian and Australian citizens, who are subject to visa restrictions or entry fees.
For longer distances, consider flying. In South America international flights are usually from capital to capital with domestic flights from the capital (the exceptions to this are Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro with flights to all over the continent). Some airlines, like Aerolineas Argentinas have remarkable discounts on domestic connections if arriving on their intercontinental flights. The oneworld alliance offers an flight pass which might be a smart choice if you plan a longer South American tour.
There are no cross-country train services in South America, and with the exception of Argentina and Chile, domestic networks are quite limited. There are a number of very scenic "tourist trains" though, including the 445-km Quito-Guayaquil route in Ecuador. Also you have a nice trip by train in Salta (Argentina) it´s called "The Train of the Clowds", is the highest train in South America.
Buses are the main form of land transportation for much of the continent, they represent an economical but slower alternative to flying.
Beyond very cheap chicken buses, long distance buses fall under 3 general comfort levels: Semicama, Cama, Cama Suite. These names tend to shift from country to country.
|Country||Semicama (Half bed)||Cama (Bed)||Cama Suite (Bed Suite)|
|Argentina||Semicama 40°||Cama-Ejecutivo 55°||Cama Suite 85°|
|Chile||Semi Cama 60°||Cama 65°||Cama Premium 90°|
|Peru||Semicama/Imperial/Especial 40-50°||Cama/VIP 70-75°||Super Cama/Super VIP/Sofá Cama 90°|
|Brazil||Executivo 40°||Semi-Leito 55°||Leito 80°|
Spanish is the official language in all countries except Brazil, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana, and is widely spoken even in the countries that are not historically Spanish speaking. Portuguese is the official language in Brazil, which comprises about half the population and land area of the continent. Anyway, Spanish and Portuguese are such close languages that fluency in any of these will allow you to travel within the entire continent. There are also many indigenous tribes living in South America who speak their own languages, and if you are really going off the beaten track, you might have to learn them too. In Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana, the official languages are English, Dutch and French respectively.
- Colombia to Patagonia overland
- Inca Trail
- El Choro Trek
- Estrada Real
- Caminhos do Imigrante
- Jesuit Missions of the Chiquitos
- Tango in Buenos Aires
- See the end of the world in Patagonia
- Witness the Devils Throat at Iguazu Falls
- See one of the supposed birthplace of the Incas at Lake Titicaca, South Americas Largest Lake
- Travel the wilderness in a Jeep on the Bolivian Salt Plains near Uyuni
- Cycle down the Death Road outside La Paz
- Sail up the Amazon to Três Fronteiras on an old cargo boat near the tripoint where the borders of Brazil, Peru, and Colombia meet.
- Visit the Rio Carnival and its Favelas
- Soak up the sun on its famous beaches.
- Take a break from civility visiting the Chilean Patagonia
- Go skiing in the Andes, or go surfing in the Pacific Ocean
- Look at the Universe through the World's clearest sky in the Atacama Desert
- Visit the lost city of Tayrona
- Visit the old city of Cartagena
- Visit El Cocuy National Park
- Visit Gorgona Island
- Visit the Galapagos Islands
- Ride the roof of the Devils Nose Train from Riobamba
- Visit the cloud forests in the valley of youth in Vilcabamba
- See a rocket launch at the European Space Agency's launch site in Kourou
- Visit the former French penal colony islands, Îles du Salut.
- Buy gold jewelry and other locally made beautiful crafts.
- Travel along the rivers by speedboat.
- Enjoy the diverse cuisine with Native American influences
- Buy electronics and whatnot in Ciudad del Este
- Experience Mennonite culture in the town of Filadelfia.
- See the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu at sunrise
- Witness the glory of the Andes Mountains
- See the mysterious Nazca lines from air
- Explore the pristine jungle in the country's many nature reserves
- Bike through former plantations in this old Dutch colony
- Punta del Este
- Colonia del Sacramento
- La Pedrera
- Punta del Diablo
- Cabo Polonio
- Quebrada de los Cuervos
- Visit Cumaná, the oldest city in America
- Visit Canaima, a natural UNESCO heritage park, with beautiful scenarios and the Angel falls, the longest waterfall in the world
- Go to Los Roques archipelago
- Visit Mérida, and hop on in the longest and highest cable car in the world; the Mérida's cable car
South American cuisine is as diverse and colourful as its people. The continent's wide range of terrains brings forward a broad selection of food products and its many people all have their own ways of cultivating and preparing the land's goods. After the discovery of the Americas, European settlers and their workers from other parts of the world all brought their own food traditions with them, adapting them to include local ingredients and cooking techniques. They also introduced a new set of meats, crops and spices to the culinary blend. The result is a most interesting mix of flavours. World famous dishes include tortilla's and taco's, guacamole and salsas, empanadas and of course Argentina's barbecued steaks. Widely used ingredients include corn, potatoes, chile peppers and lima beans. Less well-known in the rest of the world but much used by the indiginous people of South America are grains like quinoa and kiwicha, queso fresco (a fresh cow’s milk cheese) and yuca (also known as cassava). For a taste of traditional Alpean meats, try alpaca or guinea pig. To top it all off, enjoy one of the many very sweet desserts, often combined with delicious tropical fruits that grow here.
For the backpackers the best option is hostel or camping. Go to www.hostelworld.com or Hihostelling International.
Wearing or carrying items which may identify you as an affluent tourist can be a mistake. You shouldn't pack anything that you would be upset to lose. Leave expensive jewelry, watches and other items of value at home and only carry what you need. That goes for credit cards and other documents as well; if you have no need for them leave them behind in the hotel safe, only take what money you are likely to spend with you.
Tap water in many countries is not drinkable, it's wise to purify your own or buy bottled water.
Malaria and Yellow fever can be a risk as well on the continent, check with a travel clinic or your doctor before heading out to see if you'll be in a high-risk area, and receive any vaccinations and medication required.