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The 8 best places in South America to visit on one trip

Feb 26, 2024 by The Go Ahead Tours Team

South America is a diverse and nourishing continent that caters to your appetite for adventure and fortifies your soul. Embark on a journey to discover the mysterious ruins of Machu Picchu, witness the natural power of Iguazú Falls, and immerse yourself in the timeless elegance of Buenos Aires. Don’t just dream about these bucket list sites—explore all of the best places in South America on our Grand Tour of South America: Brazil, Argentina & Peru.

You’ll walk in the footsteps of the Incas, explore the treetops of the Amazon rainforest, and sip pisco sours by the beach—you may even decide to take up tango. “I truly enjoyed the breadth and range of this tour,” said traveler Anthony. “From the sandy beaches at Copacabana Beach and the torrents of Iguazú Falls to the peaks of Machu Picchu and the depths of the Sacred Valley, to the bustling of cities like Buenos Aires and Lima, and finally to the winding streams of the Amazon, this was truly an amazing adventure.” Traveler Bethany, who joined us on the same tour and who saw some of the best places in South America, agreed: “You will have nonstop moments of shaking your head with gratitude and awe,” she said.

Jump ahead to...

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Iguazú Falls

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Lima, Peru

Cuzco, Peru

The Sacred Valley of the Incas, Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru

The Amazon

1. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio de Janeiro is a colorful, vibrant, seaside city that’s home to some of the world’s must-see beaches, an incredible culinary scene, striking landscapes, and an energetic, jovial culture. Rio’s hillside favelas are considered the birthplace of Brazil’s lively and rhythmic samba music. Plus, Rio is one of the best places in South America to visit if you’re looking for a party. The city is home to the largest Carnival celebration in the world, and if you visit Rio de Janeiro during Carnival in February, you’ll find the streets filled with colorful floats and millions of people dancing and celebrating. When you join us on our Grand Tour of South America: Brazil, Argentina & Peru, we’ll even take you to a local samba school where Carnival dance rehearsals take place and a workshop where local artisans craft parade floats and decorations.

Join us on our Grand Tour of South America: Brazil, Argentina & Peru to embark on one of the must-have experiences in Rio de Janeiro. Ride a cogwheel train to the top of Corcovado Mountain for stellar views and an up-close look at the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue. The towering statue is almost 100 feet tall and nearly 90 years old. Once you head back down to sea level, be sure to enjoy some time at one of the best places to visit in South America—Rio’s celebrated golden-sand beaches. “Watching the sunset on Copacabana Beach is one of the incredible moments that just makes a person feel at peace,” said traveler Julie of our Grand Tour of South America: Brazil, Argentina & Peru.

Explore Rio on tour

2. Iguazú Falls

A natural wonder straddling the border between Brazil and Argentina, Iguazú Falls isn’t just one of the best places to visit in South America—it’s one of the best places to visit in the world. The powerful cataract is made up of 275 individual waterfalls and is surrounded by lush, subtropical forest. The area is blanketed in mist from the powerful falls, creating the perfect habitat for flora and fauna to thrive. And if that’s not enough to convince you that Iguazú Falls is one of the top destinations in South America, on sunny days, light refracts off the mist, adorning the area with rainbows.

Explore Iguazú’s forest trails and wooden boardwalks on our Grand Tour of South America: Brazil, Argentina & Peru for spectacular overlooks and panoramic views of the falls. Then, cross from the Brazilian side into Argentina to visit the Devil’s Throat, a massive, U-shaped section of the falls that thunders into a narrow chasm. According to our Iguzú Falls guide, Devil’s Throat offers the most impressive vantage point in the area. “We flew to Iguazú Falls and viewed it from both the Brazilian and Argentinian sides,” said traveler Victoria Ann after joining our Grand Tour of South America: Brazil, Argentina & Peru. “They are spectacular and really deserve the title of a World Wonder. I think they are better than Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, which we saw last year. The boat ride under the falls will leave you soaked and awestruck.”

Visit Iguazú Falls with us

3. Buenos Aires, Argentina

The capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires is often referred to as “The Paris of South America” due to its European-style architecture, cosmopolitan culture and art scene, and charming cafes. From the elegant mansions of the Recoleta neighborhood and the colorful streets of the Italian-influenced La Boca neighborhood to Plaza de Mayo and 9 de Julio Avenue, Buenos Aires is one of the most culturally and architecturally diverse places in South America. Want to see the city in full bloom? Visit Buenos Aires in November to see the lavender jacaranda trees explode with ethereal blossoms. “Buenos Aires offered a variety of experiences,” said traveler Lee, who visited on our Grand Tour of South America: Brazil, Argentina & Peru. “However, one of my favorite experiences was strolling off Florida Street into the beautiful park with its flowering jacaranda and bottle trees, as well as views of the city.”

Join the Tango Show & Dinner excursion on our Grand Tour of South America: Brazil, Argentina & Peru to experience the heart and soul of Buenos Aires. You’ll enjoy a taste of the food scene in Buenos Aires and sip Argentina’s world-renowned wine as you watch tango dancers, known as tangueros, perform the country’s national dance accompanied by live music. Later, head to the countryside on our Estancia Visit: Argentine Barbecue & Gaucho Show excursion to visit an estancia, or ranch, and see gauchos—traditional ranch hands—demonstrate their horse-riding skills. You’ll also enjoy a lunch of traditional Argentine-style barbecue, known as asada. After taking the tour, traveler Eric remarked, “The steak in Buenos Aires was unforgettable.”

Discover Buenos Aires with us

4. Lima, Peru

Lima, Peru’s capital city, is a sparkling coastal paradise with gorgeous vistas around every turn. The trendy Miraflores district winds its way along seaside cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Here, you’ll find Parque del Amor, a romantic park featuring a large sculpture of a couple embracing, mosaic-tiled walls, and spectacular sunset views. In fact, no matter where you look in Lima, there’s beauty to behold. “I feel like I could have spent days just wandering around and taking it all in,” said staffer Jamie when listing the many reasons Lima should be on your bucket list. “I’ve never seen a place with such vibrant colors. Every photo I took of the attractions in Lima came out great. If you’re ever wondering what to do in Lima, Peru, I’d recommend just walking around with your eyes open and your camera on.”

One of the best parts about joining us on our South America tours is the phenomenal food you’ll get to taste. In fact, Lima is one of the best places to visit in South America if you’re looking for fresh seafood. Join the Traditional Peruvian Dinner excursion offered on our Grand Tour of South America: Brazil, Argentina & Peru to learn how to make ceviche, a classic dish made from fresh, raw fish “cooked” in citrus juice. It’s bright, refreshing, and one of the best things to eat in Peru, according to our Peru Travel Guide. Then, sip on a pisco sour, the national drink of Peru, and enjoy a meal of classic Peruvian dishes with your fellow travelers. “We got to see so many awesome things that we have waited a lifetime to see,” said traveler Jeri after visiting Lima on our Ancient Peru & Machu Picchu tour. “Go Ahead made it all so easy to take the tour of a lifetime! Our Tour Director was the very best, the food was always an absolute work of art, and the scenery was amazing!”

Learn more about Lima on tour

5. Cuzco, Peru

Cuzco, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, is a tapestry of colonial Spanish architecture and impressive Inca ruins. The massive vestiges of Sacsayhuaman (pronounced Sahk-sigh-wha-mahn), an ancient citadel, overlook the city, and in the city center, you’ll find the Convent of Santo Domingo, built by the Spaniards on top of the Inca temple of Koricancha. The colonial and Inca elements combine to form a uniquely beautiful marriage of cultures and architecture. “Cuzco was gorgeous!” said traveler Domenic, who joined us on our A Week in Peru: Lima, Cuzco & Machu Picchu tour. “Our Tour Director, David, is from Cuzco, and he kept telling us that Cuzco was the most beautiful city in South America. Now, I have not been to every city on the continent, but he might be right.”

When you join us on a trip to Cuzco, you’ll stroll through the Plaza de Armas, a lively colonial square in the heart of the city. Here, you’ll find Cuzco Cathedral, one of our bucket list attractions to see in Peru. The magnificent cathedral was built with blocks taken from Sacsayhuaman and took almost 100 years to complete. Although the cathedral was built by Spanish colonizers as a place to convert the indigenous population to Catholicism, the Inca laborers who built the cathedral incorporated symbols of their religion into its design. For example, mirrors reflecting the sun were set into the Catholic altar, allowing the Incas to secretly worship the sun.

Visit Cuzco on tour

6. The Sacred Valley of the Incas, Peru

The Sacred Valley of the Incas is one of our favorite lesser-known South America travel destinations. The valley is nestled into the Andes mountains, and while it offers a convenient gateway to Machu Picchu, it’s worth exploring in its own right. The Sacred Valley is strewn with ancient ruins, charming towns, and terraced fields set against a picturesque mountainous backdrop. Here, you’ll find the town of Ollantaytambo (pronounced Oh-yahn-tie-TOM-boe), an area continuously inhabited since the Incas, complete with ruins of the former royal estate of Inca Emperor Pachacuti. The archeological site’s location right on the outskirts of town, combined with its wide terraces and lower altitude, make it more accessible than Machu Picchu.

When you join us on our Grand Tour of South America: Brazil, Argentina & Peru, you’ll have ample time to peruse the stalls of Pisac Market. Here, you’ll find brightly colored textiles woven from alpaca wool, handmade artisan goods, and mouthwatering local fare—it’s the perfect place to score a bite to eat or the ultimate souvenir to bring home from your trip. “I enjoyed this trip so much, I am considering returning on my own to hike part of the Inca Trail and to live in the Sacred Valley or the charming village of Machu Picchu for as long as my passport permits,” said traveler Jennifer after joining our Ancient Peru & Machu Picchu tour.

Uncover The Sacred Valley of the Incas

7. Machu Picchu, Peru

When it comes to the best South America destinations, it doesn’t get more showstopping than Machu Picchu. The 600-year-old Lost City of the Incas is a place where the mysteries of historic wonders meet the unbridled beauty of nature. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most impressive archeological sites in the world. It sits atop a cliff surrounded by mountains and cloud forest. “I have been on many tours to several different countries and had many ‘pinch me’ moments,” said traveler Cara after joining our A Week in Peru: Lima, Cuzco & Machu Picchu tour. “I can honestly say that seeing Machu Picchu for the first time was not only breathtaking, but left us speechless. It truly was an experience that takes you back in time. You must travel to Peru.”

Machu Picchu is one of our favorite ancient ruins to visit where you can do more than just learn about history. When you join us on a trip to Machu Picchu, you’ll tour the ruins and see the Main Temple, Funeral Rock, and the mysterious Intihuatana Stone. The stone was used for sun-worshiping and in equinox ceremonies performed by Incan high priests. “One of our local guides at Machu Picchu said that the Intihuatana Stone gives off a certain energy when you hover your open hands near it,” said staffer Jamie. “One of my fellow travelers tried it and was amazed. He said he closed his eyes and felt the energy go right up his arms. Whether you believe it’s real or not, it’s a fun thing to try while you explore the sacred site!”

Experience Machu Picchu

8. The Amazon

If you want to see even more of the best places to visit in South America all on one tour, join the Amazon extension of our Grand Tour of South America: Brazil, Argentina & Peru. “This tour includes an optional extension to the Amazon, and this part was the most amazing of all,” said traveler Bernadette. “From tapirs to parrots, tarantulas to sloths, blue butterflies to pink dolphins, we saw it all. We learned about the flora and fauna that populate the rainforest, walked above the rainforest, and fished in the Amazon. Throughout the trip, we sampled the local foods, wines, and beers, including a cooking class where we learned to make ceviche and causa. For me, this was a once-in-a-lifetime trip.”

Visit the Amazon on tour with us to take a cruise to a Yagua indigenous village, embark on a piranha fishing adventure, and join our optional Amazon Canopy Walk excursion for a treetop stroll deep in the rainforest. “The best value for your buck is the Amazon canopy walk,” said traveler Tiffany, who joined us on the tour extension. “It was one of the most fun-filled days of our trip. From meeting the indigenous people and going on 14 walkways above the trees to getting to learn about the plants of the Amazon and their healing powers, this 13-hour day was well worth every penny. And I cannot forget about the food—delicious and plentiful.”

Explore The Amazon

Join us on our Grand tour of South America to visit the best places in South America all on one trip!

About the author | The Go Ahead Tours Team
We’re a team of passionate travel experts, dedicated to helping people explore the world. From inspiring stories to tips for an amazing trip, the topics we cover are all about getting you out there and making discoveries.

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Grand Tour of South America: Brazil, Argentina & Peru
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