South America is home to some of the world’s most beautiful natural wonders. From the snow-capped mountains of the Andes to the vast deserts of Chile, you’ll find nature of all shapes and sizes on this incredible continent. I enlisted a couple of bloggers to help me out on this list of natural wonders in South America and I didn’t include countries that I didn’t personally visit (except for a tiny part of Brazil).
Peru’s Desert Coastline
Much of South America’s Pacific coast is bone-dry desert — it’s about as far away from lush tropical beaches that you’ll find on the Atlantic / Caribbean side. Peru has some nice desert beach towns and also the Paracas Natural Reserve, where you can see Playa Roja, AKA the Red Beach.
Machu Picchu, Peru
The mountains surrounding the ancient city of Machu Picchu are pretty special — people would still travel from around the world to see this place even if the ruins weren’t there.
Further reading: The Wonders of the World: Machu Picchu
Laguna 69 (Huascaran National Park), Peru
This bright blue glacial lake was a real highlight of my time in Peru. Natural wonders in South America don’t get much better than this, and it was also really quiet since it requires a gruelling 6 hour round trip hike to see it.
Further reading: Hiking to Laguna 69, One of the Best Day Walks in South America
Colca Canyon, Peru
Visitors to Colca Canyon have two basic options: an organised tour to see the canyon from above or a gruelling, two or three day trek which takes you down to a lush oasis village. We did the trek — the altitude (over 3000 metres above sea level) made it tough but it was worth it. This is one of the world’s deepest canyons and definitely one of the most dramatic natural wonders in South America.
Further reading: The 2 Day Colca Canyon Trek
Huacachina is a tiny desert oasis town surrounded by massive sand dunes. Sandboarding down some of the tallest dunes is really fun, as is the slightly scary dune buggy ride you’ll take to get outside of town.
Further reading: Huacachina: Adventures in the Peruvian Desert
Islas Ballestas, Peru
A tour to these wildlife rich islands off the coast of Peru is a great (and very cheap) way to spend a few hours. We saw sea lions, penguins, pelicans and lots of other birds — a couple of the islands were so full of birds that we could barely see the rocky, red ground.
Further reading: Islas Ballestas, Peru: A Budget Version of the Galapagos Islands
El Peñón de Guatapé, Colombia
This giant rock in Colombia holds some stunning views over the lake below. The surreal scenery was actually created when the area was flooded due to a dam, but it still qualifies as one of the most beautiful natural wonders in South America.
Valle de Cocora, Colombia
This exotic valley is home to one of the best nature day hikes in South America. The massive wax palms are the main attraction here — they can grow to over 60 metres!
Further reading: Salento and the Cocora Valley: Exploring Colombia’s Coffee Zone
Desierto Tatacoa, Colombia
This small desert (actually, it’s not technically a desert) in central Colombia sees a trickle of tourists, but head out into the fiery hills of “El Cusco” at the right time and you’re likely to be surrounded by nothing but red earth and maybe the occasional horse.
Further reading: A Night in the Tatacoa Desert, Colombia
Laguna Quilitoa, Ecuador
Laguna Quilitoa, the colourful crater lake in Ecuador, can be seen as part of the multi-day Quilitoa Loop trek. It’s also a great place to visit if you’re not up for long days of trekking. There is a small town just below the lake — make sure you bring warm clothes though as it gets freezing (its 4000 m.a.s.l!).
Further reading: The Quilitoa Loop, Ecuador: The Easy Version
Avenue of the Volcanoes, Ecuador
By Lance and Laura from Travel Addicts
In Ecuador, a region called the Avenue of the Volcanoes draws visitors to an area of towering peaks. While most people are drawn to the Cotopaxi volcano, one of the world’s tallest active volcanoes, there are many other peaks to enjoy. The views of the whole region are stunning! We woke up early and rode horses up the side of the jagged Rumiñahui volcano. The views back across the valley to the Pasochoa volcano and the rest of the Andes Mountains were some of the most beautiful vistas we’ve ever seen.
Further reading: Cool Ridings in the Avenue of the Volcanoes
The Amazon Jungle, Ecuador
The Amazon Rainforest covers a huge part of South America. Amazon tours and lodges in Ecuador are some of the cheapest and easiest to reach in the region. We did a three day tour and saw so much wildlife — I definitely recommend it!
Further reading: The Amazon in Ecuador: A Cheap Jungle Tour
The Devil’s Cauldron, Ecuador
This powerful waterfall is just outside of Baños, a cool little tourist town in central Ecuador. Baños is surrounded by lush jungle and plenty of waterfalls and is the base for activities such as white water rafting and zip lining.
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
By Lance and Laura from Travel Addicts
The Islands of the Galapagos in Ecuador are near the top of every traveler’s dream destination list. Being geologically unique and geographically remote led to the patterns of biological evolution that Charles Darwin observed on his voyage. The rocky volcanic peak islands play host to some of the most unusual animals on the planet. The Galapagos Islands were recognized as the world’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site for its pristine environment and undeniable contributions to our natural world. Both above and below the water, the Galapagos amazes travelers at every turn!
Further reading: The 14 Most Unique Galapagos Animals
Isla del Sol (Lake Titicaca), Bolivia
Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) is the spiritual home of the Inca civilization. This island is one of the most spectacular and surprising natural wonders in South America. Its ancient ruins, white sand beaches and inviting blue water look like they belong to an island in Greece. Isla del Sol is 4000 metres above sea level and on a clear day you can see Bolivia’s snow-capped Cordillera Blanca mountain range.
Further reading: Hiking Isla del Sol, Bolivia: Ruins, Beaches and Mountains
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world. This massive, 10,000 square kilometre expanse of white has become one of Bolivia’s top tourist destinations and is a highlight of any trip to South America.
Further reading: The Uyuni Salt Flat Tour: The Surreal South of Bolivia
Colourful lakes in Southern Bolivia
We visited this incredible region of Bolivia as part of the Salar de Uyuni tour and it was probably more amazing than the salt flat. There are several colourful lakes, including Laguna Verde (green), Laguna Colorada (red) and Laguna Blanca (white). Some of the lakes are home to hundreds of flamingos — such a beautiful sight!
Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile
The “towers” of Torres del Paine National Park take some effort to get to, but it’s a small price to pay to see one of the world’s most mind-blowing vistas. The three massive towers are surrounded by mountains and snow and are fronted by a small green lake. Natural wonders in South America don’t get much more dramatic than this — if you’re into hiking you need to visit this place one day
Further reading: The W Trek, Torres del Paine National Park: Trekking in Patagonia
Grey Glacier, Patagonia, Chile
Grey Glacier is also in Torres del Paine National Park. We saw it on day three of our gruelling trek, which took us past some of world’s best scenery.
Valle de la Luna (Atacama Desert), Chile
The Valley of the Moon, in Chile’s Atacama Desert, offers some of the best desert scenery in South America. Sand dunes, salt covered earth and distant, snow-capped volcanoes make for an unforgettable short tour from San Pedro de Atacama, a small desert tourist town in the north of Chile.
Further reading: A Journey to the Valley of the Moon
Mount Fitz Roy, Patagonia, Argentina
We went on a day hike to get as close as we possibly could to Mount Fitz Roy, a dramatic, snow-covered mountain in Patagonia. It’s a stunning sight which almost rivals the towers of Torres del Paine National Park.
Further reading: Laguna de los Tres: A Day Hike towards Mount Fitz Roy
Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia, Argentina
This still growing glacier (which is very rare) is one of the top natural wonders in South America. We got so close to its massive face that we could almost touch it, and every now and then a huge piece of it would fall off and crash into the lake.
Further reading: A Day Trip to Perito Moreno Glacier
Iguazu Falls (Brazil and Argentina)
By Claudia from My Adventures across the World
I could actually hear the waterfalls before I even saw them. The loud roar of the Cataratas de Iguazu is a clear warning of the show one gets to enjoy from the many view points, and of which one can become part by following the various trails around the park. When I eventually got to the first viewpoint, I had to stand still for a while, as I could hardly believe the mighty power of what laid in front of my eyes. Even at a distance, tiny drops of water splashed my skin, providing a welcome refreshment from the incredible heat of the day, which turned out to be memorable.
Further reading: Great Things to Do in Argentina
I haven’t been to Brazil yet (or the other countries not included on this list) so this isn’t a complete list of the best natural wonders in South America, it’s not a bad start though!
What are your favourite natural wonders in South America? Let me know in the comments below!