When you rouse before the rays and forage through the dark, dragging yourself from your cradle of a hotel room out into the natural elements, you’re taking a risk. You’re betting on good weather; perhaps bypassing a complimentary breakfast and bottomless coffee. You’re valiantly forgoing hours of slumber. All to witness an event that happens everyday, everywhere.
And yet there is something innately satisfying about watching the sunrise. Maybe it’s the inevitable battle between dark and light, a foregone conclusion, but one you still watch with baited breath. Or maybe it’s the intimate moment when trees turn from ominous shadows to living habitats, bursting with chirping birds ready to swirl through the translucent air. It may be the odd mix of self-satisfaction—you worked for this moment!—mingled with utter selflessness as you ponder your small role within the immensity and majesty of our planet.
Whatever it is, the rise is remarkable, and some places make it even more so. Here are the best places to watch the sunrise in South America, curated by our team of experts:
Few places combine natural and man-made elements quite as majestically as Machu Picchu. Even fewer are as mystical as this historic Inca citadel is at dawn. Early risers shouldn’t expect a single burst of radiance as some internet forums are eager to claim, but rather a gradual dissipation of mountain mists and the alluring appearance of ancient stones strewn among lush peaks. Other benefits of a sunrise at Machu Picchu: beat both the crowds and the full strength of the searing Andean sun.
The Amazon River and its surrounding basin is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. Here an odd assortment of avian species and shy mammals swing amongst the trees and creep quietly through the underbrush. During the day these tropical creatures tend to snooze in the shade, so you want to rise when they do: early. Sunrise on the Amazon River is one of the best times for wildlife watching, so set your alarm.
Backpackers and hikers descend upon Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia for its sweeping scenery and numerous trekking options. Though a sunrise anywhere in Patagonia is likely to be memorable, a particularly pretty highlight is watching the sun slide up the iconic three towers from which "Torres del Paine" derives its name.
While our other sunrise selections primarily feature natural landscapes, we’d be amiss if we left the cities out altogether. Anyone who has slipped out the door before the morning rush and strolled the silent streets knows the serenity of an urban sunrise. City sunrise in South America doesn’t get better than Rio de Janeiro. A metropolis interspersed with subtropical mountains and miles of sandy shore, Rio de Janeiro is a slice of surprising serenity. Watch the magic unfold from high above, perched on one of the city’s many hillsides, or better yet, from the iconic Sugarloaf Mountain.
Roughly 100 miles northwest of Cuzco, the remote lookout point Tres Cruces (Three Crosses) offers one of the most isolated but surreal sunrises in South America. There the vertiginous Andes abruptly meet the flat expanse of the Amazon basin and a veritable cliff overlooks the jungle reaching far below. During the months of May, June, and July optical effects create crazy colors and images, bouncing off an otherworldly blanket of fluffy clouds.
Have we convinced you? Speak to a Destination Expert about curating a tailor made South America itinerary with as many sunrise excursions as you want. Not ready to start planning just yet? Sign up for our newsletter instead, for inspiration to keep handy in your back pocket.
Thanks to Christopher Michel for the title image of this blog. Original version published 11/2013.