Consisting of only twelve countries, the South American continent (or rather, sub-continent) may not seem to be very diverse. But this is far from the case. From Columbia to Argentina via Paraguay and Uruguay, a large variety of landscapes, atmospheres and tourist attractions await visitors. Huge jungles, giant metropolises, breathtakingly high mountains: there is no lack of superlatives to describe these extraordinary lands where every element might just break a record. Since its discovery in the 15th century, this continent heavily influenced by Iberian culture remains a land highly esteemed by adventurers seeking to encounter the forces of nature first-hand. And when it comes to this, there is no lack of challenges to be tackled when on a trip in South America.
The diversity of the South American climate is one of the first things to be noted. While those not bothered by the cold won't hesitate to head for Cape Horn, the southernmost point on the continent and the awesome meeting point of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, others will head into the dense Amazon rainforest. In terms of extreme temperatures, the Atacama Desert sets itself apart by the fact that it is the driest desert in the world, wedged between the ocean and the Andes mountain range. This veritable spine of South America spans 4,500 miles from the western coast of Venezuela to Tierra del Fuego. An endless succession of mountain ranges punctuated with many summits rising over 6,000m in altitude: an ideal playground for hikers and mountain climbers from around the world.
Aconcagua (the highest peak in the chain), Chacaltaya and Huascarán are part of these reliefs that, before attracting climbers, saw the birth of the great Inca civilisation. This civilization left its mark at the heart of the Altiplanos of Bolivia and in Peru, where visitors today can still admire the remains of this legendary and mysterious people, such as the ruins of Machu-Picchu, the Nazca Lines and the Sacred Valley. We also can't forget the shores of Lake Titicaca, on which the inhabitants proudly display their colourful loincloths among the herds of lamas, as if time hasn't had any effect here.
Travellers not keen on heights will most likely head to the great open spaces of the Pampas or Patagonia, held in high esteem by experienced horse riders. The Amazon rainforest is also an alternative to the altitude. Although it is true that parts of what we call the ?Lungs of our Planet' are impenetrable in places, it is still possible to see some of the rich fauna concealed within it, not to mention the abundant flora and a few feats of Mother Nature, such as Angel Falls in Venezuela, the highest waterfall in the world.
However, a trip to South America isn't just for nature lovers. A glance at the Brazilian coastline reveals some famous white sand beaches conducive to having a snooze in the sun, with Copacabana being the most popular one. Culture also plays a major role in the most Latin part of South America: Argentina will charm visitors with its tango, Bolivia will welcome them with its pan flute and Rio de Janeiro will lure them into the wild festivities of its not to be missed Carnival. As for city escapes, Sugarloaf Mountain isn't the only place worth visiting. A jaunt to Brasilia will delight architecture buffs, who will be able to admire the works of Oscar Niemeyer. And let's not forget Buenos Aires, with its 140m-wide Avenida 9 de Julio, the widest avenue in the world.
The South American continent also offers a host of islands with incredible heritage to be visited. They include the many islets at the end of the world around the Strait of Magellan. The Pacific side is home to the Galápagos Islands (Ecuador) and its extraordinary animals, as well as the Easter Islands (Chile), with its surprising Moai, monolithic statues marking out this ever so isolated small territory.
In short, a trip to South America is an adventure to a continent that covers all of the extremes, bringing together snow-capped mountains and sun-baked beaches, not to mention huge cities and inaccessible places, all while perfectly combining the Latin and Andean cultures to offer one of the most exotic trips you could go on.
All of our South America travel guides
- Costa Rica
- Ecuador and Galapagos Islands
- The Falkland Islands