There are far more than 24 things to do in South America a few of which can’t be advertised to the world. This list is the things that had the biggest impact on my time there. They are things to do that I feel everyone should experience to get the most out of South America.
A diverse and interconnected history means each country has some familiarity and also huge contract, making travel here quite unique. From the places you visit, the people you meet and the crazy activities you get up to along the way South America has it all.
I hope this list provides a snapshot of what is on offer and inspires some of you to visit and try out a few things from this list.
24+1 Things to do in South America
Explore the dense jungles of the Amazon (Bolivia)
Visiting the Amazon has got to be the highlight of my trip to South America. This surprised me, I had dreamed of climbing Machu Picchu and exploring the Galapagos. But a chance visit to the wetlands of the Bolivian Amazon is my fondest memory.
We rode deep into the wetlands with our local guide and spent 3 days and two nights swimming with pink river dolphins, fishing for Piranha and seeking out the elusive Anaconda.
It was an extraordinary way to explore South America’s beautiful rainforest and something I will do again in another part of the continent.
The days were filled with the noise of insects and unseen animals, birds in flight and the ecstatic chatter of our group as we explored the Amazon basin. Something that every visitor to the continent should consider.
Slide down the Sand dunes of Huachachina (Peru)
You have probably all seen the pictures of Peru’s, stunning Oasis in the desert. I’ll be honest I didn’t find it all that stunning, but the fun and thrills of riding down the sand dunes of this little village make up for it.
With some of the world largest Dunes, enterprising locals started a major business in driving tourist to the highest points and letting them slide down on boards. There driving is intense and the journey down the mountains, both scary and exciting. One of the most thrilling things to do in South America.
Paintball in the former home of Pablo Escobar (Colombia)
One of the most notorious criminals in history left his mark on his home country. This included murders, bombings and drug dealing. As his shadow has faded enterprising locals have begun to make an industry from his notoriety. Paintballing in Pablo Escobar’s former mansion is a questionable activity but a whole lot of fun.
One of the most fun and ingenious is the paintballing in Guatape, a few hours outside of Medellin. Playing games such as the Cali vs. Medellin cartel may seem a little off, but it was great fun and a unique way to learn more about the history of this man and his crimes.
Experiencing a Bloco in Rio De Janiero (Brazil)
Arriving into the city I was under the impression a Bloco was a block party. I was most definitely mistaken, it’s a mobile street party encompassing, song, dance, alcohol and all the craziness that comes with Carnival in Rio.
Held throughout the year these parties take over entire streets and neighbourhoods and can number a few dozens to hundreds of thousands of people. They are one of the most fun/craziest experiences that I have had and I would recommend them to anyone, get ready to dress up, dance and explore Rio like a local.
Practice your Spanish (Everywhere except Brazil)
Even after my time on the continent my Spanish is definitely sub-par. Living in hostels and neglecting lessons hasn’t helped but I can hold a decent conversation and I am eager to learn more.
Besides the very large cities, English is not widely spoken. Now is your opportunity to learn and practice with the locals.
Even if you don’t sound perfect it shows a mark or respect and it will be appreciated by locals and who will hopefully become your friends. Some of the best countries to learn and practice include Bolivia, Colombia and Peru. Cheap and without a strong accent.
Take a trip to the Galapagos (Ecuador)
One of the most naturally unique and beautiful places in the world. A trip to the Galapagos should be on every list of things to do in South America.
It is expensive but with the right planning and enough drive, it can easily be done. I spent six wonderful days exploring these islands, swimming with sharks, seals, tortoises and water Iguanas.
I explored volcanic caves and relaxed in some of the most pristine beaches in the world. The place where the theory of evolution developed is only a short flight from Quito in Ecuador and will be a place that you will never forget.
Visit Perito Moreno (Argentina)
One of a very small number of glaciers that are continuing to grow, Perito Moreno will easily remind you of the great wall in A Game of Thrones. A huge wall of Ice, this beautiful place shows you the true strength of nature and how we are only a small spec in the grand scheme of things.
A day trip from El Calafate in Patagonia. Getting a bus here and walking around to the different viewpoints is one of the easiest excursions I was on in South America and one of the best.
We stayed for hours watching Ice break off and thunder into the freezing water below. The size and depth of the wall cant be understated and it is a wonderfully simply view of the white and blue water.
Learn to Scuba Dive (Colombia)
There are more than a few amazing locations to scuba dive in South America. This includes wreck dives, the Galapagos and my personal favourite Taganga. This is a small fishing village in northern Colombia where I got my advanced diving certificate.
With a small town vibe, excellent schools and amazing dive sites I was delighted to do my advanced lesson here. The village is a great break away from Colombia’s larger cities and the perfect opportunity to swim in the beautiful water.
I wrote more about my time in Taganga here. But needless to say, you should take the opportunity either here or in Peru. This is another country that was highly recommended to me and one which I hope to dive, in the near future.
Learning to dive is one of the most incredible things you can do and it allows you to see the world from an entirely new perspective.
Learn to Dance (Everywhere)
Ok, this is one I definitely failed at, but at least I tried. Dancing comes second nature to most people in Latin America. It comprises a huge part of their cultures, a lot more than in Europe at least.
Almost every country has a native or popular style such as Samba and Salsa. There are schools across each country in which you can learn basic steps and it is something I would highly recommend even if you are awful like me.
I tried to learn Salsa in Cali, Colombia and learned some very basic steps. It was fun and the locals get a great laugh out of the awful dancing form the foreign visitors.
It’s much easier to attempt to do something new when you are away from the eyes of friends and family. Although I did not come back an expert it was incredibly entertaining. Choose the style of dance you want to learn and give it a go.
Hike Morro Dois Irmaos (Brazil)
Morro Dois Irmaos in Rio de Janeiro is probably the best hike, I did in South America. As someone who isn’t an avid hiker, I still do enjoy getting out into nature a little and being able to do that in the heart of Rio De Janeiro was amazing.
The hike provided some of the most incredible views of the city, brought us through a favela and provided us with the opportunity to ride on a moto-taxi. An eventful day and worth the few hours it took.
Growing as one of the must do things in Rio, you most definitely put it on your list. I’d recommend going in the early morning to avoid the intense Rio heat and to get the best pictures before crowds show up.
Go clubbing (Everywhere)
You might have noticed from some of my posts that I am a fan of electronic music. When I’m travelling I take the opportunity to visit as many clubs and festivals as I can. I want to see how they differ and compete with each other in different countries.
Being in South America I wasn’t sure if there would be a big electronic scene, and although it was difficult to find in some countries, it is most definitely there. Especially in large cities. I went to a few raves and streets parties during Rio Carnival, danced in some of the biggest clubs in Buenos Aires and found some less than welcoming clubs in Medellin.
There is a load of Opportunites to find electronic clubs and parties throughout South America. Although it might not be for everyone some of these clubs would easily compete with anything found in Europe. I’d recommend Buenos Aires and Medellin for the club scene.
Hike to Mount Fitzroy (Argentina)
Mount Fitzroy in Patagonia is another hike that I was pleasantly surprised with, in South America. The one day hike took us about 10 hours in total going at a leisurely pace and it was one of the most satisfying things I have done in a long time.
The feeling of accomplishment when you have reached the peak and the views provided on the hike and the summit are absolutely incredible. The path is pretty easy to follow as there will be hundreds of people on the hike.
Other places I would put on your list include Machu Picchu and even El Pelon in Colombia
Volunteer in a hostel (Anywhere)
One of the most fun experiences every traveller has it making new friends in the accommodation that they stay in. What better way to extend this and save some money than by volunteering in a hostel.
There are plenty of benefits including free accommodations, reduced prices on food, drink and excursions. You get to stay in a place that you like for longer and meet a ton of interesting and fun people along the way.
I have written about how I volunteered in the Wild rover hostels one of the largest chains in South America. It is a party hostel but you can find one that takes your fancy. I have met people I volunteered in eco-lodges, Spanish immersion hostels and many others.
Volunteering even if not in a hostel is an experience that adds to the memories you have, the friend you will make and the impact that your trip will have. Some of my closest friends and relationships have been because of volunteering,
Oh, and you learn some new skills like bartending, reception work and you can brush up on your Spanish.
Practice surfing (Peru)
Just like dancing this is something I tried and was also terrible at. I will also admit I didn’t find it the most fun, mainly because I was so bad and the fact I am not an amazing swimmer. It doesn’t make for a good mix.
There are a few places notably Mancora and Huanchaco in northern peril that are particularly popular with surfers. Give it a go even for a few hours its another activity you might love and have a knack for, unfortunately for me that wasn’t the case.
Try Argentinan steak (Argentina)
Argentina is famous for quite a few things but steak is probably the most famous. At least from my experience and it did live up to its reputation Parilla (Steak hoses) are available on every corner of the country. Some are way out of a backpackers price range but others are very affordable.
The one problem you will is deciding if you have eaten enough. Argetinaingts are very proud of their cooking and you can have long conversations about the specifics of the cuts of meat and the best way to cook it.
Of course not suitable for any vegetarians reading this, trying some of the food is an st do. Buenos Aires had the best selection of restaurants but Cordoba was also a town I remember for having some great places to eat.
Eat at a Brazilian buffet (Brazil)
One thing that didn’t happen a whole lot during carnival was me eating. I tend to forget important aspects of survival when am I the midst of a party, but one thing did save me. Brazilan buffet restaurants.
Now some are your typical buffets with then sam bland food that you can find all over the world, but others like many in Lapa are incredible.
We were directed by our hostel owner to a number of quality restaurants that had amazing local meats, salads and dressings that were typical of Brazilain food.
The places were cheap, had quality food and even during carnival could be easily managed and enjoyed. A great invest, ent for those on the move and who still want to try decent Brazilain cooking.
I am sure locals or those who have been in Brazil for longer than me won’t agree but for a backpacker these restaurants were perfect.
Chew on Coca leaves (Peru and Bolivia)
For those of you who don’t know, the world most infamous drug grows naturally in the Andean mountain. Most commonly in Peru and Bolivian and for thousands of years but has been used by the locals to cure countless ailments from simple aches and pains to the most severe cases of altitude sickness among others.
It is used in ceremonies, by workers in the mines of Potosi and many other uses throughout the indigenous communities of these countries and I urge you to try it. Chew it like a local or put it into your tea.
You won’t get high, or sick but it will help you with altitude sickness, stomach aches among other issues you may have. Understand the properties of this plant and ignore the other issues and notoriety that has been brought along with it.
An incredible play with many properties. You will find the plant sole in market s across the continent but primarily in Peru and Bolivia.
See how real men work in the caves of Potosi (Bolivia)
One of the most eye-opening experiences I had in South America, the mines of Potosi highlight to you to real and continuing hardship of many people in South America.
Once one of the largest mines in South America, this mountain has claimed the lives of millions of men women and children and it is still used to this day, albeit not by companies, but by individuals who worked or 12 hours straight in extremely dangerous, dark and cold conditions.
They do this because they have no other option, jobs are scarce and it is all they know. They work for a few dollars a day in conditions many people cannot believe., Yet many of me I saw were happy o have a job and something to do, which highlights the strength of these man in the mount.
If you want to educate yourself on colonisation and how certain communities and countries have been treated then this is a tour that I would recommend as it is one of the most eye-opening experiences that I have ever been on.
Visit local markets (Everywhere)
Cheap food, clothes, souvenirs and just about everything else. Local markets like all over the world should be visited. South America is great for them as they have some of the freshest fruit and veg and the most colourful locals.
Many indigenous groups come to the markets to shop and sell items and it’s a great way to see the differences in some of the groups in how they act, their dress and what industries they are in.
Not much needs to be said about local, markets just ask your accommodation managers where and when they are on and lose a few hours wandering around while you also save yourself some money.
Some of my favourites were in Sucre, Bolivia and Chile.
Feed the dogs of Valparaiso (Chile)
You will find when you wander around South America that stray dogs are pretty common, a nuisance and dangerous in some cases. I try to avoid the big packs as much as possible because, well rabies will ruin your holiday.
However, in Valparaiso Chile, this isn’t the case. The dogs are so well fed they are kind of pets of the entire town. Fat, friendly and just looking for attention you will be followed by them all day. Not dogs to be scared off but one that you can freely give attention without the fear of being attacked.
You will see a lot of locals leaving out scraps or even fresh meals for the dozens and dozens of dogs that wander the streets do n’t worry and enjoy their company.
Trek Torres del Paine (Chile)
I know another mention of Patagonia is probably getting a little annoying on this page. But the beauty of this part of the world is astounding, even for someone who doesn’t like hiking such as myself.
Torres del Paine can be split into sections from one-day treks to 4 or 5 days. Because of weather and bad planning on my part I was in the region for two days. In this time my treks brought me to incredible mountain ranges, deep valleys, glaciers and mountaintops.
Novices can complete the trek, not will be difficult but oh so worth it. Out in nature, camping, prepping your own food and seeing the wonders of nature in a part of the world almost untouched by human interaction.
Check out my friends Instagram for some serious wanderlust and of course shots of Torres del Paine.
If going as far as South America you should go all the way, ok it doesn’t have to be all of it and you don’t have to complete every inch of the treks, a taste is enough and so much fun.
Don’t be so nervous (Everywhere)
One thing I have been asked constantly was how dangerous is South America. This has been from guys I would consider well travelled and of course, people who haven’t left home. One thing I can say for certainty is, of course, it is dangerous but hardly any more than another place around the world.
Be smart with how you pack, where you venture to and what belongings and people you hang around with, things you would do at home.
In my time there I saw a few incidents and events that were illegal or a little unsettling and I have seen the exact same things happen at home. There are no marauding gangs, warzones (except Venezuela) or dangers I would consider extreme.
Come with an open mind and you will have an unforgettable experience. Meet the warm and welcoming people, enjoy the incredible diversity and beauty of each of these countries.
Check out this post for others thought on the dangers of South America.
Take the short way to Machu Picchu (Peru)
Machu Picchu is one of the biggest draws for every tourist and visitor to South America. The location, history and uniqueness of this place have made allowedCusco one of the primary tourist centres in South America. It is a must visit the location, but save yourself, money and time.
For those, short on time take and budget take the shortcut to Machu Pichhu. I didn’t fancy hiking for four days so I cut it down to two. This saved me money and time and I still had an incredible experience.
Check out Twoscotsabroad for a far more detailed post on everything Machu Picchu.
Take part in an ayahuasca ceremony (Peru/Bolivia/Colombia)
Not something I have tried personally as stories of peeing and pooing yourself is not something I generally endorse. I have had many friends who have come out of the experience enlightened and happy.
I would suggest thinking long and hard about why you want to do this and don’t just go for the fun. Locals are very into these practices and some guy coming to get high is both an insult and very fucking stupid.
You can learn more about the ceremonies here.
Connect with a local (Everywhere)
I would be a liar if I said that enjoying the company of a local was not something to consider when visiting this continent. This can be true of most locations you decide to visit. Having a relationship and/or fun with a local while travelling is something that occurs and that is exciting, especially I found in Latin America.
Latinas are very passionate people you can see this in their songs, dance and culture in general. Pretty exciting for an Irish guy or anyone who comes from places with a little less spark going on. Flirt, try to speak the language, try to dance its all part of the fun and it will also be an experience that you won’t forget.
Don’t forget though there bark and bite can be just as equal and if you are an ass you will be put into your place very fast. Which is very funny when your not on the receiving end of.
Of course, I am speaking generally of a stereotype, but this is just my experience. I have many female friends who have reported the same experiences form Latino counterparts.