South America is a beautiful, varied and rugged continent which tugs at emotions and heartstrings like no other. Its landmass encompasses beaches, jungles, pampas and glaciers and its people live in everything from skyscrapers to adobe huts. There’s a Kodak moment around every corner in South America, so picking the 5 best views on the continent is sure to polarise opinion and elicit debate. We’re serious about South America and we know you are too, so here goes! Comments welcome…
We always knew at least one Rio de Janeiro view would make it onto this list, and we had a tricky time choosing between Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) and Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf). The Sugarloaf is one of several granite monoliths which sprouts from the coastline of this iconic city, but it is definitely the most instantly recognisable. Its name was coined in the 16th century due to the mountain’s resemblance to the conical moulds sugar was pressed into before being exported to Europe. The summit is easily reached by cable car (although its sheer cliffs are also popular among rock climbers) and offers great views morning, noon and night.
More than any other historical site in Latin America, Machu Picchu embodies the mysterious and incredible feats of the continent’s first inhabitants. Its mountainous location near Cusco is utterly spectacular and its enormous size defies logic – especially when you consider that the people who built it didn’t even have mules or donkeys at their disposal, let alone modern machinery. Machu Picchu remained undiscovered by Europeans for centuries and was only found by Hiram Bingham in the 20th century. It’s one of those places you simply have to see before you die. Period.
People don’t usually associate South America with glaciers, but Patagonia is actually littered with them. Perito Moreno is not only one of the largest glaciers in Patagonia, it is also one of only three that is still growing. Every few years, Perito Moreno reaches the opposite shore of Lago Argentino, cutting the lake in half and forming a dam of ice as it presses against the land. The dam causes a discrepancy in water level, and eventually the ice wall ruptures with a thunderous crash. These rupturas take place on average every three to five years, although there have been two in the last two years! Even if you’re not there for the rupture the glacier is still an amazing sight, and ice-climbing on its surface is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The moais of Easter Island, or Rapa Nui as it known locally, are one of the most instantly recognisable sights on the planet, but very few people actually know where they come from or which country Easter Island belongs to. Located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles off the coast of Chile, Rapa Nui was inhabited by sailors of Polynesian descent over a thousand years ago. The moais, some of which are enormous, are undoubtedly of religious significance but their exact meaning, and the secrets of their construction have been the subject of countless conspiracy theories. Aliens aside, Rapa Nui is one of the most atmospheric and memorable places you’ll ever have the chance to visit – it can easily be added onto our Chilean and Patagonian itineraries. Some might argue that it's not really in South America, but that would be nitpicking.
Everyone loves a good waterfall, and Iguazu is undoubtedly the fairest of them all. Nancy Reagan muttered ‘Poor Niagara’ when she first clapped eyes on it, and it’s easy to see why. Iguazu has it all; from savage power to intricate delicacy and everything in between. It looks as spectacular from up close as it does from far away, and viewing it from both the Brazilian and Argentine sides is highly recommended. Some of you may disagree with some of the inclusions on this list, but surely no-one can begrudge Iguazu its spot?
Have we convinced you yet? Speak to a Destination Expert about curating a tailor made South America itinerary just for you.