South America tends to conjure up images of Machu Picchu in Peru, Sugar Loaf Mountain in Brazil, colonial buildings of Buenos Aires, but there is an array of natural wonders throughout the continent that attract millions of visitors each year.
Apart from the Amazon River, the largest river in the world to Lake Titicaca, the highest navigational lake in the world, a list wouldn’t be complete without these top 7 natural wonders in South America:
1. Iguazu Falls
You can’t go to Argentina and Brazil without visiting Iguazu Falls. For serious nature lovers and nature photographers, our recommendation is to visit both sides of the fall – one day in Argentina and the other in Brazil.
Iguazu Falls on the Brazil side is only a two-hour flight from Rio de Janeiro. The closest airport, Foz do Iguaçu/Cataratas International Airport in Foz do Iguacu (IGU) is only seven miles from Foz do Iguaçu town center and 19 miles from Puerto Iguazu in Argentina.
To get close to the force of the Falls, join a boat tour on the Argentinian side. For a bird’s eye view, join a helicopter tour on the Brazil side. Both sides of the Falls have plenty of viewing platforms for visitors to experience and see the Falls from different angles.
2. Salar de Uyuni (Salt Flats)
Located in southwest Bolivia is the world’s largest salt flat – Salar de Uyuni. It’s a lake in prehistoric times that dried up, and today this 4,000 square miles of salt flats, geysers, and rock formations is a natural wonder that sits at 11,995 feet above sea level.
To get there, you must go with an experienced driver and guide who can navigate through miles and miles of unmarked salt flats, without any trees or shrubs.
You may see pink flamingos in November. The highlight of the tour is a stop at Isla Incahuasi also known as Isla Pescado. It is an island in the middle of Salar de Uyuni that serves as a rest stop for tourists. The island is a cluster of rocks with thousands of cacti of all heights and sizes.
3. Colca Canyon
Colca Canyon is lesser known compared to America’s Grand Canyon, but it is said to be the world’s deepest canyon. What sets this canyon apart is the Andean condor. The Andean condor is one of the largest birds in the world – with a wingspan of up to 10-foot and weigh as much as 33 pounds.
Colca Canyon’s Cruz del Condor is one of the few places that tourists can view Andean condors flying in its natural habitat. Besides the spectacular views and sightings of the Andean condors, a trip to Colca Canyon will include passing by a series of volcanoes in southwest Peru, seeing vicunas, alpacas, and llamas in the field and the ancient terraced fields in Colca Valley.
Arequipa, Peru’s second-largest city, is the gateway to Colca Canyon. You can fly into Rodriguez Ballon International Airport (AQP) from Lima.
4. Galapagos Islands
Galapagos Islands are distinctively different from the mainland of Ecuador. No place in the world can compare to this archipelago, located 620 miles off the coast of Ecuador, home to the giant Galapagos tortoises, sea lions, land iguanas, marine turtles, penguins, albatrosses, cormorants, masked boobies and more.
You can fly to Galapagos via Quito or Guayaquil. There are two airports in Galapagos – one on San Cristobal Island (SCY), and the other is on Baltra Island (GPS). The best way to visit the islands is by cruise ship – with a minimum of four days.
5. Torres del Paine National Park
Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, Chile is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Within the park you’ll find glaciers, glacial lakes, waterfalls, mountains, vertical granite needles, Andean desert, jagged peaks, forests, indigenous animals (like the guanacos) and more. It is truly a nature wonderland.
You can either go for a day tour or join a short 5-day W Trek or a 7-day W Trek.
Puerto Natales is the gateway to Torres del Paine National Park. The closest airports to Puerto Natales is Piloto Civil Norberto Fernandez International Airport (RGL) in Rio Gallegos, Argentina and Presidente Carlos Ibanez del Campo International Airport (PUQ) in Punta Arenas. Both are around 140 miles from Puerto Natales. We recommend RGL if you are flying from Buenos Aires (BUE) and PUQ if you are flying from Santiago (Chile).
6. Perito Moreno Glacier
Located in southwest Argentina, Perito Moreno Glacier is the most accessible glacier in the world. Full day tours are available from El Calafate (Argentina) and Puerto Natales (Chile). For some who will not be satisfied by just admiring the glacier from a distance, there are full day tours that include an hour hike on the glacier.
El Calafate is the gateway to Perito Moreno Glacier and Los Glaciares National Park.
7. Ballestas Islands
Often referred to as “poor man’s Galapagos”, Ballestas Islands is home to sea lions, Humboldt penguins, millions of Peruvian boobies and Guanay cormorants. Located on the southwest coast of Peru, Pisco is the meeting point for tourists visiting Ballestas Islands. It is 148 miles south of Lima.
22 islands, islets, and groups of dung islands make up of the Ballestas Islands. To get there, you must join a boat tour, and you can’t leave the boat to walk on the islands.