A visit to South America for me has been a dream since I can remember, and I have no idea why. I don’t speak Spanish, I have no family connections to the place and yet I always wanted to come. It took two trips, a robbery, lots of money and plenty of hassle and yet I am delighted I got to see and do everything I really wanted. My problem now is, there is more I want to see and do in this continent but that will have to wait awhile. But here I have put together a list best things to do in South America by country.
In total I have been in South America for eight months, spread across two trips and I have loved 90% of my time here give or take a few mistakes and hiccups along the way. It is a continent of amazing nature, stunning landscapes, friendly people and a huge array of cultures and differences. I have learned about the dispute of Pisco, the love of football, the continents troubled past and uncertain future and among all this the great people who make up these countries and come along to visit as well.
The Best things to do in South America by country
Colombia- Visiting Guatape and paintballing in Pablo Escobar’s home:
My favourite country in South America and one that is growing on many peoples list. Colombia is simply incredible with so much to see and do. It has one of the most diverse eco-systems in the world containing deserts, the Amazon, coasts which touch the Atlantic and the Pacific. Then nestled around the centre are three incredible cities comprising Medellin, Cali and Bogota.
Ok, some of the cities are not without their sketchiness especially at night, but this is part of the experience. I spent six weeks in Colombia and I will go back some time. The number one things I did here though, and which is only possible in this South American country is a visit to Guatape and paintballing in Pablo Escobar’s home.
Not glorifying the man and what he did to his own country but his infamousness and the unique ability to visit one of his homes and paintball there is not something many people pass up. The people who run the facility don’t attempt to glorify the man but give out facts about his life and his impact upon the county. Then you strap up and play some paintball in a few of the buildings on the property. It’s a fun way to spend an afternoon and learn a little about Colombia.
Then there is the town in which you can do the paintballing, this is Guatape. An incredibly beautiful location Guatape is a perfect escape from the big cities for a few days. It is about two hours from Medellin and can be reached but public bus, taxi or a shuttle. Many people just come for a day, but I think is worth a few days to explore. You can check out the small town, the manmade lake and waters which surround the area and take a bike ride high into the mountains. You will have seen pictures of this place before on my Instagram and many others and this enough should inspire you to visit.
Ecuador- Exploring the Galapagos:
I have a love-hate relationship with this country but mainly hate (or a strong dislike). This though is mainly down to circumstance and bad timing for me. Having been robbed in Mexico and finally getting on the road again I had to hold up here to wait for a bank card. Three weeks waiting in Quito finally broke me and I decided to stop my first trip to South America. But before I went home there was one place I had to visit, the Galapagos islands.
Visiting the Galapagos islands is probably the best thing I did in South America. It really is as amazing as I thought it would be. I spent six days on two of the three inhabited islands. In this time, I went scuba diving, snorkelling, hiking and discovered among other animals, hammer-head sharks, seals, turtles and tortoises, blue-footed boobies and giant Manta rays. Plenty of the animals and plants are native only to this part of the world and it was incredible to see the conservation work and the care that is taken to preserve the islands. I would love to say I would visit again but it really isn’t the most budget-friendly place in the world.
Peru-Volunteering in Wild Rover, Arequipa:
Where I have spent the most time and feel like I have seen the least, Peru will be another country that I will return to. Due to finances and spending too much time in different places, there are quite a few hikes and little towns I haven’t got the opportunity to visit. I thought Machu Picchu would be the best thing I did here, it is the number one reason for my return, but it was actually volunteering in a hostel, the Wild Rover in Arequipa.
The Wil Rover hostels have a reputation for being the best party hostels in South America and I find it hard to disagree. I planned on staying two weeks and that turned into six. Having only a small bit of willpower meant I partied more than planned, did less work on my blog and even with a discount managed to go well over budget. But the most important thing is a had an incredible time.
I made friends with the locals which can be hard when you’re in a hostel and on the move all the time, I had some crazy and unique party experiences in the hostel and especially the staff room and I made a ton of memories. Without getting all nostalgic staying put in one place and making some good connections made my time in Peru some of the best in South America.
Bolivia-Discovering the Amazon:
My second favourite country in South America was one that surprised me with how much I liked it. OK the altitude is a killer and the roads are awful, but that’s about it. Everyone said the food would be horrible, it was great. The weather would be awful, it was fine and then that the tours weren’t that good. Each one was brilliant, eye-opening, insightful and entertaining but the best was a visit to the Amazonian Pampas.
This was a place I was supposed to visit in both Peru and Brazil, but it simply didn’t happen. I am glad though that I waited until Bolivia.
I took a one-hour flight from Lima to Rurrenabaque and then a 2/3-hour drive to our pick-up point along the river. This was a Pampas tour where we got to see the wetlands of the Amazon and all the animal life that lives there. There is a jungle tour you can do but that just seemed like too much hassle for me.
On the tour, our guide showed us how the locals live and survive along the river detailing life during the wet and dry season. He showed us birds, monkeys, caimans, baby anacondas, pink dolphins and a host of other wildlife that is in the area. Of course, you cannot see everything, but three days was enough time to see quite a lot. I plan on seeing more of the Amazon on another trip. Probably in a different country as each place has its own unique characteristics animals and peoples approach to wildlife.
Argentina/Chile-Hiking in Patagonia:
I have grouped these two together as my favourite part of both was the same region, Patagonia.
This is an incredible part of the world you have probably heard of before. There is enough rugged landscape, harsh weather, huge mountains, scenery and photographic opportunities to keep even a professional satisfied for weeks on end. I had six days.
Going so far into South America and only spending a few days does seem a little pointless, but I am not the world’s most avid hiker. Also, I hadn’t planned far enough in advance for this trip but I am still happy with what I got to see and do.
Hiking in Patagonia is incredible even for someone like me. There are two main areas to visit, although there are far more trails and paths you can take. One is Mount Fitzroy on the Argentina side. This is a one day hike up to an incredible Laguna which of course sits at the side of Mount Fitzroy. The trail is crowded and quite difficult near the top, but the rewards are stunning, you can see a picture below.
On the Chilean side is the Torres del Paine trek which can be spread over a few days. In my case, I took several day hikes from where I and my friend decided to camp. You are supposed to pre-book your camping sites something which is generally not enforced, depending on who you talk to. As we had no pre-planning or insight into the logistics of the hike we camped for one night and done two-day hikes. For me, I saw quite a variety of landscapes in the region and can understand why people spend weeks here. I will aim to fit more hiking into my life, but for now, this was enough.
Brazil-Partying at Carnival:
My first stop on my second trip to South America. I’m Glad I waited to come back here and at the right time of year. Carnival in Rio is something, unlike anything I have been to before. I had people describe the great parties and the craziness of the places, but it was far more than I expected.
Again, the people you are with make the experience and I had a great group. We planned parties together, took care of each other and simply had a great time.
The Brazilian style of partying requires the entire city to shut down. You can find a party for any mood or taste. I went to electro parties for twelve hours, sang along to the Beatles with thousands of others and tried to dance like a local. At the same time, I saw most of the amazing sights of Rio de Janeiro. Brazil is a gigantic country and I got to see very little but the time I did spend there won’t be forgotten very easily.
This list is simply my pick of the best things to do in South America by country. You will find longer lists in some cities but I hope this has given you an idea of the things you can do.
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