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South America

Main attractions

Laguna Verde, Potosí
Laguna Verde, Bolivia / Pedro Szekely, / CC BY 2.0

There is little doubt - South America is one of the most spectacular... may be the most spectacular continent of the world.

Nature

Here is located the second highest mountain chain in the world, the largest rainforest, the tallest volcanoes, tallest and largest waterfalls. The highest biological diversity in the world is reached somewhere near the eastern ranges of Andes in Ecuador, Peru or Colombia.

Isluga church, Chile
Isluga church, Chile / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Archaeology

In the area of contemporary Peru and Bolivia (or... Brazil?... or Colombia?) developed independent civilization with numerous diverse cultures building highly original cities, shrines, necropolises, agricultural systems, having unique art and traditions. Much of this heritage is not discovered yet, much is not understood or misunderstood.

Architecture and art

European dominance here was brought by brutal force. But brutal force was not enough, sophisticated locals had to be impressed with rich, sumptuous buildings. Thus in South America were built beautiful cities with some of the most ornate churches in the world, often covered with pure gold inside.

Of much higher value is symbiosis of the best characteristics of European and South American civilization in arts. Unsurpassed world-class jewels of art and design are the Jesuit missions in Santa Cruz department, Bolivia, which united the exquisite taste for arts of locals and Europeans. Of similar value are the simple but elegant Andean churches in Chile and many other historical buildings in South America.

South American architects have been at the forefront of world architecture in 20th century. Amazing works were created in Brazil, also in Uruguay and other countries.

Natural landmarks

El Tatio geysers, Chile
El Tatio geysers, Chile / / CC BY 2.0

Geothermal features

  • El Tatio - Chile, Antofagasta. A large geyser field with more than 80 active geysers erupting up to 6 m high, especially impressive in early morning.
  • Puente Bello with geysers - Peru, Moquegua. Group of perpetual spouters and geysers in magnificent location, where the river is crossed by a large natural bridge with road over it. One geyser reaches up to 25 m high.
  • Puente del Inca – Argentina, Mendoza. One of natural wonders in Argentina – a natural arch over Vacas River with hot springs and large travertine formations next to it. The natural bridge is 48 m long, 28 m wide and 8 m thick, the river flows 27 m below it. Below it are many stalactites.
Itaimbezinho Canyon
Itaimbezinho Canyon, Brazil / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Rock formations

  • Autana tepui - Venezuela, Amazonas. Spectacular tepui with up to 1400 metre high walls, with a cave running from one side to the another. In Venezuela are located numerous similarly impressive tepuis.
  • French Valley - Chile, Magallanes. Impressive, forest covered circue surrounded by extreme cliffs more than 1,000 m high.
  • Itaimbezinho Canyon – Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul. Up to 720 m deep and 6 km long canyon with unbelievable, very impressive sights. Additional charm is added by exotic, tall araucarias.
  • Monte Fitz Roy (Cerro Chaltén) - Argentina, Santa Cruz and Chile, Magallanes. One of the most challenging mountains in the world for climbing. The height of granite cliff face is 1,200 m.
  • Torres del Paine - Chile, Magallanes. Three knife-formed cliffs rising with vertical walls more than 1,000 - 1,400 m high and offering one of the most impressive sights in Patagonian Andes.
Sima Humboldt and Sima Martel, Venezuela
Sarisariñama tepui, Venezuela. Sima Humboldt in the middle part of picture and Sima Martel in the far background / Luis Ruiz Berti, public domain.

Caves and sinkholes

  • Abismo Guy Collet – Brazil, Roraima. Deepest known quartzite cave in the world and by far the deepest in Brazil, explored up to 671 m depth.
  • Sarisariñama tepui - Venezuela, Bolivar. Unique forest covered tepui with two largest sandstone sinkholes in the world - up to 314 m deep Sima Humboldt and Sima Martel.
  • Sima Aonda - Venezuela, Bolivar. Giant 383 metre deep hole with a waterfall. This cave opens at one side of the steep wall of Auyantepui and here, in the open air, the waterfall makes its next plunge.
  • Sistema Roraima Sur (Cueva Ojos de Cristal) - Venezuela, Bolivar. The longest quartzite cave in the world, explored up to its length of 16,140 metres.
  • The Marble Caves (Las Cavernas de Marmol) - Chile, Aisén. Unique geological formation - peninsula consisting of pure marble in the beautiful Lago General Carrera has been eroded by the lake water, forming caves, mushroom formations and tunnels in the marble.

Waterfalls

  • Angel Falls - Venezuela, Bolivar. Tallest waterfall in the world, falling from the vertical wall of Auyantepui. The waterfall is 979 metres high, highest plunge - 807 metres.
  • Gocta Falls (Catarata Gocta) - Peru, Amazonas. A very high waterfall with a measured height of 771 metres, in two drops. Tallest drop is 540 m high.
  • Iguazu Falls - Argentina, Misiones and Paraná, Brazil. One of the most enormous and most impressive waterfalls of the world, they are "only" 82 metres tall, but 2 700 metres wide.
  • Kaieteur Falls – Guyana, Potaro-Siparuni. One of the most spectacular and powerful waterfalls in the world, combining very high volume of water and large height of fall. 226 m high free fall on Potaro River, total height – 251 m, volume up to 660 cubic metres per second.
  • Ventisquero Colgante Falls - Chile, Aisén. One of the highest waterfalls in Chile and possibly - one of the most beautiful waterfalls worldwide. Water originates from the base of Ventisquero Colgante glacier and falls more than 350 m high in a single plunge as approximately 30 m wide stream. This is rare sight, as above this giant waterfall is towering a wall of blue glacier. Several smaller falls around are even higher.
Espeletia pycnophylla in Páramo El Ángel, Ecuador
Frailejones - Espeletia pycnophylla and fog, Páramo El Ángel in Ecuador / Thomas van Hengstum, / CC BY-SA 3.0

Ecosystems

  • Caño Cristales - Colombia, Meta. Unique river with a bottom covered with the endemic Macarenia clavigera plants. These plants in the time period from late July to November turn bright red, thus making the river very colorful and providing one of most spectacular sights in Colombia.
  • Páramo El Ángel - Ecuador, Carchi, north from El Angel. Beautiful montane meadows with tall frailejón plants (mainly Espeletia pycnophylla), creating eerie landscape. One of the largest meadows with frailejónes.
  • Puerto Sagrario Alerce forest – Argentina, Chubut. Old growth alerce (Fitzroya cupressoides) forest at the northern end of Lago Menéndez. Contains more than 3,000 years old trees.
  • Sooretama Biological Reserve and Linhares Forest Reserve – Brazil, Espirito Santo. The largest remaining area of North Eastern Atlantic forests. This approximately 50 000 ha large forest is virgin to a large extent and belongs to most biodiverse rainforests in the world with very high degree of endemism.
  • South Plaza vegetation - Galápagos Islands, small island near Santa Cruz. This 0.13 km² large island is covered with unique vegetation. Ground is lined with succulents - Sesuvium, which changes the color of the island from intense green to orange and purple in the dry season. From this unusual plant carpet rise the endemic, tree-like Opuntia cacti. Here lives the unique Hybrid Iguana - a sterile hybrid of the endemic Marine Iguanas and Land Iguanas, able to feed on cacti and hunt in the sea.
  • Stands of Araucaria in Conguillío - Chile, Araucanía. Conguillío National Park contains some of most visually impressive and valuable araucaria (Araucaria araucana (Molina) K. Koch) stands.
  • Yasuni Forest - Ecuador, Pastaza, Orelana, Napo. Possibly the most biodiverse area in the world. In this rainforest the diversity of amphibians, birds, mammals and vascular plants (with 2,700 - 4,000 species of plants per hectare) reaches their maximum for Western Hemisphere. Uncontacted tribes live in the forest. Endangered and affected by oil extraction.
Laguna Colorada, Potosí
Laguna Colorada, Bolivia / Valdiney Pimenta, / CC BY 2.0

Other natural landmarks

  • Catatumbo lightning ("Lighthouse of Maracaibo")- Venezuela, Zulia. Here in the marshy delta of Catatumbo River, during 140 - 160 days and nights (10 hours mainly in the afternoons) a year there is almost continuous powerful lightning without the sound of thunder. World's most powerful generator of tropospheric ozone.
  • Glaciar Viedma, Glaciar Upsala, Glaciar Spegazzini, Glaciar Perito Moreno and smaller glaciers – Argentina, Santa Cruz. Glaciers ending in large lakes and forming impressive ice walls. As a result in Lake Viedma and Lake Argentino are floating unusual, blue icebergs. Impressive is Bahia Onelli – a lake with three glaciers ending in it – this lake is filled with countless icebergs.
  • Laguna Colorada - Bolivia, Potosí. Shallow salt lake with interesting geology. The water of the lake is colored by algae in red and orange colors. In the lake have formed borax islands in white color. Here live the rare James's flamingos (Phoenicoparrus jamesi) - this is the highest habitat of flamingos.
  • Rio Itoco emerald mines in Muzo - Colombia, Boyacá. The site where the best emeralds in the world are found. Other famous mines are in Chivor and Coscuez.

Man made landmarks

Petroglyphs and rock art

  • Cueva de las Manos - Argentina, Santa Cruz. Famous due to paintings of hands on its walls made 13,000 – 9,500 years ago, often stencilled. Numerous other drawings as well.
  • Serra da Capivara – Brazil, Piauí. More than 300 archaeological sites with numerous, up to 26 – 22 thousand years old (Pedra Furada shelter) rock paintings of Nordeste and Agresete cultures. Controversial carbon dating shows that people here lived even 35 – 48 thousand years ago what contradicts the theories of human arrival in Americas.
Nazca lines - drawing of spider, Peru
Nazca lines - drawing of spider, Peru / Corey Spruit, / CC BY 2.0

Geoglyphs

  • Gigante de Atacama on Cerro Unita - Chile, Tarapacá. Largest geoglyph in Chile - 86 m (115 m?) high antropomorphic figure, made circa 1000 - 1400 AD. Cerro Unita contains more geoglyphs.
  • Nazca Lines - Peru, Ica. The best known geoglyphs in the world, created circa 400 - 650 AD in the extremely dry Nazca Desert. Giant, up to 200 m long prehistoric drawings are spread over large area, the best among them are Family, Mandala, Tree, Spider, Condor, Astronaut, Whale. Numerous are the rectangular areas and lines.

Megaliths

  • Sacsayhuamán - Peru, Cusco. One of the most impressive complexes of megalithic walls with blocks up to 120 - 200 tons heavy: possibly built by Kilke culture between 900 - 1200 AD. Ruins of temples found.
  • San Agustín - Colombia, Huila. Impressive group of megaliths from AD 100 - 1200, some up to 4 metres tall. This is the largest group of megalithic sculptures in South America. The numerous large sized sculptures have a high art value. This 78 ha large site includes such sites as Las Mesitas with artificial mounds, terraces and tombs.
Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu, Peru / Pedro Szekely, / CC BY-SA 2.0

Ancient settlements

  • Caral - Peru, Lima. The oldest known city in Americas, inhabited somewhere between 2600 - 2000 BC. The pyramids in this city were built at the same time when pyramids were built in Egypt. The largest pyramid here though is 18 m tall. It is considered that this was a sacred city.
  • Chan Chan - Peru, La Libertad. The capital of Chimor, the largest known Pre-Columbian city in South America, with some 6 km² large urban core. City was built from adobe, it flourished in 850 - 1470 AD. Chan Chan consists of 10 walled citadels and has many interesting features, including intricate ornamentation of adobe walls.
  • Chavín de Huántar - Peru, Ancash. The former capital of Chavín culture, a place of high spiritual importance. Occupied since at least 3000 BC, sacred site since the end of 2nd millenium BC. Site contains numerous diverse temple structures and amazing artworks including the sculpture of the 4.53 m tall Lanzón, created some 3000 years ago. During the rain the channels under the temple create a sound which was similar to a roar of jaguar.
  • Gran Saposoa - Peru, Amazonas. Enormous, little researched site of Chachapoyas culture with hundreds of circular buildings.
  • Machu Picchu - Peru, Cusco. One of the most spectacular archaeological sites in the world, an Inca town. Machu Picchu is located on rugged cliff peak and consists of extensive ruins of stone structures. It is believed that the town was built circa 1450 as a shelter and centre for Inca rulers - and abandoned circa 1572. Especially interesting monument here is Intihuatana - a sculpted stone, possible astronomic clock or calendar. Another amazing monument is a cave - Temple of the Moon in the nearby Huayna Picchu.
  • Monte Verde - Chile, Los Lagos. Important and somewhat mysterious archaeological site: 14,800 - 13,800 years old human settlement, which predates the oldest culture of Americas - Clovis - by 1000 years. People living here were eating such extinct animals as mastodons, they built primitive houses, were using potatoes as a food. Layers below hint that people here may be lived even 33,000 years ago.
  • Tiwanaku - Bolivia, La Paz. A capital of the pre-cursor of Inca Empire, developed in 300 -­1000 AD. Ancient pilgrimage center of high spiritual importance. Remnants of monumental, megalithic stone architecture with carved sculptures. Near Tiwanaku is Puma Punku - a site which contains amazing stone "details" - giant stones carved in complex forms, up to 131 tons heavy.

Other archaeological monuments

  • Samaipata - Bolivia, Santa Cruz. Ceremonial centre of Mojocoya and Inca people, located on the top of mountain. Includes the largest known sculpted rock in the world - a 250 m long, 60 m wide, horizontal area covered with carvings in sandstone. Around the summit are located ruins of different buildings. Built in 3rd - 16th centuries.
  • Sillustani chullpas - Peru, Puno. Group of impressive burial towers - chullpas. Built by Aymara people before 15th century AD, the best preserved chullpas.
  • Pyramids of Sun and Moon (Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna) - Peru, La Libertad. One of the largest adobe structures in the world. Located in the former capital of Moche state. Built circa 450 AD. Pyramid of Sun initially was 50 m tall, now 41 m tall.
Pelourinho - historic centre of Salvador de Bahia
Pelourinho - historic centre of Salvador de Bahia, Brazil / José Luis Ruiz, / CC BY 2.0

Historical cities

  • Cartagena Old City with fortifications - Colombia, Bolivar. Cartagena was one of the most important cities in Caribbean area in 16th - early 19th century and huge number of ornate, beautiful structures were built in this time. The historical centre is located on scenic peninsula. The fortifications of Cartagena are the most extensive fortifications from 16th - 18th century in Americas. Especially impressive is Castillo San Felipe de Barajas (1639 - 1657) - the largest Spanish built fort in Americas.
  • Cusco - Peru, Cusco. The historical capital of Inca Empire, inhabited since 900 AD. During Inca time (13th century - 1532) the city was developed according to a strict plan. After the Spanish conquest the city has maintained much of its original planning and part of building stones, but there has been built a new, magnificent city, blending local and European traditions. Amazing is Hatun Rumiqoc - a street going along the wall of Inca palace, with the amazing stonework (including the famous 12-angled stone) preserved.
  • Historic Centre of Ouro Preto – Brazil, Minas Gerais. Former colonial mining town, founded in late 17th century and renovned due to beautiful Barocco architecture and well preserved historic centre.
  • Pelourinho (Historic centre of Salvador de Bahia) – Brazil, Bahia. Large historic centre of the first capital of Brazil in 1549 – 1763, built on the upper side of a high cliff overlooking the Bay of Todos de Santos. Old city has retained its 16th century planning, contains numerous valuable historical buildings – churches, palaces.
  • Potosí - Bolivia, Potosí. A historical mining city next to the largest silver mine in the world. Located at 4,090 m height. In 17th century was one of the largest and richest cities in the world, numerous very ornate and interesting structures were built in the city in this time.
  • Quito, historical centre - Ecuador, Pichincha. One of the best preserved and most interesting historical city centres in Americas. The city is founded in 1535 in its current location. Contains more than 130 monumental buildings, rich with art values and some 5,000 listed buildings.
Church of the Society of Jesus, Quito
Church of the Society of Jesus, Quito in Ecuador / Dr. Carlos Costales Terán, / CC BY-SA 3.0

Churches and missions

  • Cathedral of Brasília – Brazil, Distrito Federal. Unusual hyperboloid structure of 16 bent concrete columns with glass roof in between, built in 1970 according to the design of Oscar Niemeyer.
  • Church and Convent of San Francisco, Quito - Ecuador, Pichincha, Quito. The largest historical church building in Americas, built in 1550 - 1680. This beautiful structure represents a harmonious blend of Renaissance, Mannerism and Baroque styles. Interior is sumptuous, with much gold and other precious materials.
  • Church of the Society of Jesus, Cusco - Peru, Cusco. Magnificent Renaissance - Baroque style church, built in 1571 - 1668.
  • Church of the Society of Jesus, Quito - Ecuador, Pichincha, Quito. One of the pearls of Baroque architecture in Americas, built in 1605 - 1765. Very ornate building with gold coated interior.
  • Isluga church and village - Chile, Tarapacá. Unique Altiplano church located at 3,800 m above the sea level. Church is built in 17th century in a place which is sacred to Aymara people. It is located in uninhabited village, which is used only in a case of religious festivities.
  • La Merced Convent in Cusco - Peru, Cusco. Outstanding monument of Baroque architecture and art, this monastery was first established in 1536 and rebuilt after an earthquake in 1675. Valuable are the paintings and wood carvings in its cloisters.
  • Las Lajas Sanctuary - Colombia, Nariño. Beautiful Neo-Gothic cathedral, built in 1916 - 1949. Unusual due to its location over deep gorge where apparition of Virgin Mary happened.
  • San Ignacio Miní – Argentina, Misiones. Ruins of Jesuit mission founded in the current place in 1696. It flourished in 18th century but was abandoned in 1768. Rediscovered in 1897 when it was covered with dense jungle. These are the best preserved ruins of Jesuit missions in this region and reveal the architecture in the local "Guaraní Baroque" style.
  • San Rafael de Velasco Jesuit Mission - Bolivia, Santa Cruz. One of the beautiful Jesuit missions in Santa Cruz, established in 1721. One of the most beautiful wooden churches worldwide, meticulously restored and well maintained. The church decoration is unique fusion of European and indigenous arts, performed with sophisticated taste.
  • São Francisco Church and Convent in Salvador – Brazil, Bahia. Baroque style church with exuberant interior, built in 1708 – 1755.
Floralis Genérica, Argentina
Floralis Genérica in Buenos Aires / Beatrice Murch, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Monuments

  • Christ the Redeemer – Brazil, Rio De Janeiro. One of the most iconic statues in the world, the largest Art Deco style sculpture in the world, built in 1922 – 1931. Statue itself is 39.6 m high but it is located on the top of another landmark – the 710 metres high granite peak - Corcovado mountain. This is the highest granite dome in Brazil. Magnificent sights of the Rio de Janeiro city open from the top of mountain.
  • Floralis Genérica – Argentina, Buenos Aires. A robotic monument, built in 2002. It represents a 23 m high flower made of stainless steel. The flower moves – opens and closes its petals during the day and has a spectacular lighting.
Niterói Contemporary Art Museum
Niterói Contemporary Art Museum, Brazil / Piutus, / CC BY 2.0

Other man made landmarks

  • Barolo Tower (Palacio Barolo) – Argentina, Buenos Aires. Unique highrise building in Ecclectic and Art Noveau style, built in 1923. This building has 22 floors (110 m tall) and is built according to the cosmology of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Ornate facade and interiors.
  • Casapueblo – Uruguay, Maldonado. Enormous private house – sculpture of artist Carlos Páez Vilaró. The white colored house is built since 1960 and now resembles a phantastic fairytale palace.
  • Gold Museum - Colombia, Bogotá Capital District. The biggest collection of pre-Hispanic gold work in the world, one of the most spectacular archaeological museums in the world. Contains the unique Muisca raft - a golden raft showing the El Dorado ceremony.
  • Niterói Contemporary Art Museum – Brazil, Niterói in Rio De Janeiro. Museum building of unique architecture similar to UFO, achievement of structural design. Designed by Oscar Niemeyer, built in 1996.

List of described attractions by countries

South America is a continent with 12 countries and 2 overseas territories. Galápagos Islands - a distant province of Ecuador - also is reviewed separately.

Country, territoryNo. of landmarks
Argentina3
Bolivia3
Brazil3
Chile10
Colombia2
Ecuador1
Falkland Islands (United Kingdom)1
French Guiana (France)1
Galápagos Islands (Ecuador)1
Guyana10
Paraguay2
Peru4
Suriname1
Uruguay1
Venezuela4

Map of South America