South America is a vibrant and diverse continent, but for lots of Australians, their only image of it is as a mass of jungles or favelas. It has so much more to offer than this though, and it is filled bursting to the brim with amazing historical sites, stunning natural wonders and fascinating people and cultures. There is no possible way to succinctly summarise the best of South America in one blog, so instead, I’ll focus on recommending a few of the absolute must-see destinations on this fascinating continent.
The tallest waterfall in the world really needs to be seen to be believed. Flowing from the top of the Auyán-tepui mountain of Canaima National Park, Angel Falls is an impressive 979 meters tall. To put that in perspective Niagara Falls are 51 metres tall and Victoria Falls are 108 meters tall, making Angel Falls about nine times the height! Jutting out above the surrounding jungle, Angels Falls is a truly impressive natural monument, and as one of Venezuela’s most popular tourist attractions, there is no surprise that it has held the fascination of visitors for centuries.
Dating back to the 15th Century, Machu Picchu is a lasting monument to the Incan civilisation of Peru and is one of the greatest remaining testaments to their culture. Abandoned not long after the Spanish conquest of the Americas, Machu Picchu languished in obscurity until suddenly shooting back into prominence in 1911. As an imperial estate of the Incan emperor, Machu Picchu is an impressive city which demonstrates the unique architectural style of the Incans. Much of the city has since been reconstructed and it can be reached by train or by climbing the mountain track.
I wouldn’t recommend spending more than a short period of time in this expansive desert, it is the driest desert on Earth after all. Stradling the Chilean coast between the Pacific and the Andes, the Atacama Desert is actually a giant plateau which receives barely any rainfall throughout the year.
Despite the hostile environment, the Atacama Desert is a barren but beautiful place to visit. It offers some of the best sights of the Milky Way and stargazing in the world, as well as peculiar flocks of pink flamingos. In fact, the Atacama Desert is often considered so alien that it is compared to the surface of Mars – where else on Earth can you feel like you’re on another planet?
Salar de Uyuni
On the other side of the Andes is an area of South America that is almost as hostile as the Atacama Desert – Salar de Uyuni. Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat and, believe me when I say, that it is really salty and really, really flat. The super flat nature of Salar de Uyuni makes it the perfect place for driving or staying in the unique hotels constructed out of giant blocks of salt. To complete the desolate atmosphere of the place, there is even an abandoned train graveyard for you to explore.
Bolivia & Peru
To round off a list that has been full of things like “biggest” and “largest”, we’ve got the biggest lake in South America, Lake Titicaca. Lake Titicaca is the biggest lake in the world that can be sailed across and it is filled with some really unique elements of the local culture, including floating islands made out of reeds and reed boats. These islands come complete with buildings and watchtowers that have also been constructed out of reeds.