Are you looking for the best hidden gems in South America? Here’s your ultimate guide to the most underrated places in South America. Get ready to discover South America off the beaten path.
South America is a continent bursting with vibrant cultures, ancient mysteries, and dreamy landscapes. While iconic destinations like Machu Picchu and Christ the Redeemer often steal the limelight, there are lesser-known wonders waiting to be discovered.
Imagine wandering through a Bolivian town where time seems to stand still. Or, stumbling upon a secluded waterfall in the heart of the Amazon, known only to the local tribes. Picture yourself sipping wine in a hidden Argentinian vineyard, miles away from the tourist trail, or dancing the night away in a Colombian pueblo where every corner tells a story.
As a travel blogger, I’ve been fortunate to uncover some of South America’s best-kept secrets, and I’m here to share them with you. So, leave the guidebook behind and let’s embark on a journey to the hidden gems of South America. Trust me, it’s a ride you won’t want to miss.
Hidden Gems in South America
Eager to unearth the best hidden gems in South America? As highlighted before, this continent is teeming with destinations away from the usual tourist trails, catering to every type of traveler. Dive deeper to reveal some of the most underrated places in South America.
Are you in search of secluded paradises to find serenity? Or perhaps you’re drawn to the allure of untamed wilderness and ancient mysteries? Whatever your wanderlust desires, South America can accommodate your needs. Dive into this guide to discover the best hidden gems in South America.
Welcome to Lençóis Maranhenses, Brazil, where the desert landscape tells a different story. Imagine vast white sand dunes, not barren but dotted with crystal-clear lagoons, offering a refreshing oasis amidst the warm Brazilian sun. This is not just a destination. It’s one of the hidden gems in South America, where every visit turns into a unique adventure.
The best time to visit is between July and September. This is when the lagoons are at their fullest. It provides not just a spectacular view but also a cool, welcoming retreat from the heat of the dunes.
But the adventure doesn’t stop at the lagoons! Engage with the locals and explore the vibrant culture of the nearby communities. Savor the local cuisine, rich with flavors of fresh seafood and exotic fruits, making your journey a feast for all senses.
Lençóis Maranhenses is a canvas where nature paints its best work, and every visit brings a new, beautiful scene to life. It’s not just about what you see, but how it makes you feel. Discover a place where the beauty of South America shines in every grain of sand and every drop of water.
San Cipriano, a secluded gem hidden in the lush Colombian jungle, where adventure and tranquility coexist in a beautiful symphony. Imagine hopping on a “brujita,” a motorbike-powered wooden cart, and being whisked away through dense forests to a place where time seems to stand still. This is one of the unique places to visit in South America offering unparalleled adventure and serenity.
The crystal-clear waters of the San Cipriano River invite you to dive into an enchanting world of tranquility. Whether you’re floating down the river on a tube or simply soaking in the serene natural pools, every moment here is a gentle caress from nature. This makes it a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Don’t forget to explore the vibrant life of the village itself! Engage with the warm, welcoming locals, and immerse yourself in their rich Afro-Colombian culture. Savor the local flavors and dance to the rhythmic beats of their music. Let yourself be enveloped by the genuine smiles and heartfelt hospitality that San Cipriano generously offers.
San Cipriano is a place where you can connect with nature, engage with culture, and find a peaceful retreat that’s tucked away from the well-trodden paths. It’s not just a hidden gem. It’s a reminder of how beautiful and diverse our world truly is, especially off the beaten path in South America.
Pozo de las Animas is a mesmerizing natural wonder tucked away in the scenic landscapes of Argentina. Imagine standing on the edge of a sinkhole, gazing into the azure depths of two hauntingly beautiful lagoons, surrounded by the rugged beauty of the Argentine terrain. This isn’t just a pit stop. It’s one of the most beautiful places in South America – beckoning travelers to pause, reflect, and marvel at the wonders of nature.
Located in the province of Mendoza, Pozo de las Animas, or “Well of Souls,” offers a serene yet eerie beauty that captivates every visitor. The sheer cliffs that encircle the deep blue waters create a stark yet stunning contrast to the dry landscapes surrounding them. It’s a place where nature’s power and beauty converge, offering a visual wonder unlike any other.
As the sun dips below the horizon, the view of the lagoons becomes ethereal. This provides not just a visual treat but a moment of tranquil reflection. It’s a sight that’s both humbling and uplifting.
Pozo de las Animas showcases the enchanting surprises that lie in wait when you venture off the conventional trails and seek out the hidden gems that dot our incredible planet.
Embark on a journey to Sandoval Lake, a secluded haven nestled within the lush confines of Peru’s Tambopata National Reserve. Picture a tranquil lake, its waters mirroring the surrounding jungle and the azure sky above. This lake is one of the most underrated South American destinations that offers a peaceful retreat away from the bustling world.
Navigating through the meandering river paths to reach the lake is an adventure in itself. As your canoe glides through the calm waters, the sounds of the jungle envelop you. This offers a melody of chirping birds, rustling leaves, and distant animal calls. It’s a symphony of nature that invites you to relax, explore, and simply be.
A visit to Sandoval Lake isn’t complete without indulging in a nocturnal safari. As the night descends, the jungle comes alive with a different kind of vitality. The croaks of frogs, the soft flutter of wings, and the mysterious eyes that gleam in the dark create a mystical experience.
Remember to pack your camera! Whether it’s capturing the reflection of the dense forest in the lake or snapping a shot of the diverse wildlife, Sandoval Lake offers countless opportunities for budding photographers and nature enthusiasts alike.
Step into a world where rivers run in a spectrum of colors at Cano Cristales in Colombia. Often hailed as “the river that ran away from paradise,” this aquatic marvel is a vibrant tapestry of colors – red, yellow, green, and blue. This creates a visual vision that seems almost otherworldly. It’s not just a river; it’s a living, moving masterpiece and one of the best hidden gems in South America.
Located in the Serrania de la Macarena national park, Cano Cristales is most vibrant between June and November. This is when the aquatic plants, particularly the Macarenia clavigera, burst into a dazzling display of colors. The river transforms into a flowing rainbow. It weaves through the lush landscapes of the national park and offering a sight that is both surreal and breathtaking.
A journey to Cano Cristales is an adventure through the heart of Colombia’s natural beauty. As you traverse through the vibrant landscapes, you’ll be greeted by cascading waterfalls, serene pools, and a kaleidoscope of colors that dance with the flowing waters. It’s a place where every turn brings a new discovery, a new spectacle, and a new story to tell.
The river may be the star attraction but don’t forget to explore the surrounding landscapes. National Parkpark is a haven of biodiversity, home to a myriad of plant species, animals, and birds. This makes it a paradise for nature lovers and explorers seeking the most beautiful places in South America.
Welcome to the Atacama Desert in Chile, where a giant hand reaches towards the sky amidst the barren, sandy landscape. Hand in the Desert, or “Mano del Desierto,” is a sculpture that stands as a symbol of human vulnerability and helplessness. It provides a stark contrast against the vastness of the desert around it. This is an expressive landmark and one of the most unique places to visit in South America that sparks reflection and wonder.
Located about 75 kilometers south of the city of Antofagasta, the Hand in the Desert is a creation by the Chilean sculptor Mario Irarrázabal. This sculpture symbolizes despair and loneliness. Yet it has become a beacon of curiosity and introspection for travelers venturing through the Atacama. The stark, open desert provides a dramatic backdrop, making the hand a striking feature against the seemingly endless sands.
Visiting the Hand in the Desert offers more than just a photo opportunity. It’s a moment to pause, reflect, and marvel at the union of art and nature. The vast emptiness of the desert amplifies the impact of the sculpture, creating a surreal and thought-provoking experience that lingers in your memories.
Try to visit the Hand in the Dessert during sunrise or sunset. The soft light casts long shadows and bathes the sculpture in a warm glow. This creates a mystical aura that enhances its visual and emotional impact. It’s not just a beautiful place to visit in South America; it’s a moment captured in time, where art and nature converse in silent harmony, awaiting your interpretation and appreciation.
Venture off the coast of São Paulo, Brazil, and you’ll find Ilha da Queimada Grande, an island shrouded in mystery and allure. Known as Snake Island, this secluded spot is not your typical tourist destination. It’s an island teeming with golden lancehead vipers, one of the world’s most venomous snakes. While it might not be a typical choice for a leisurely visit, it’s undeniably one of the most unique places to visit in South America for the daring and curious.
The island, which is off-limits to the general public due to its dangerous inhabitants, has become a fascinating point of interest for biologists and wildlife enthusiasts. The snakes, isolated from the mainland, have adapted to their environment in unique ways. This offers invaluable insights into evolution and adaptation.
Visiting Ilha da Queimada Grande is not a typical tourist experience and requires special permission from the Brazilian government. However, for those who gain access, it’s a rare opportunity to witness nature in its raw, untamed form. It’s a place where life has carved out a niche in the most unexpected of locales. This reminds us of the tenacity and adaptability of the natural world.
Embark on a journey to the remote Patagonian Andes of Chile, where the Marble Caves await, casting reflections in the azure waters of General Carrera Lake. This network of caverns, columns, and tunnels formed in monoliths of marble is not merely a natural wonder; it’s a breathtaking sight. This hidden gem in South America will leave every adventurer mesmerized with its ethereal beauty.
Carved by the gentle waves over thousands of years, the Marble Caves present a surreal display of swirling blues and whites. It truly reflects the lake’s shifting colors. Accessible only by boat, the journey to the caves is an adventure. This offers stunning views of the surrounding landscapes as you navigate through the calm waters.
Once inside, you’ll find yourself enveloped in a world of dazzling patterns and reflections, where every curve and corner tells a story of time and tide. It’s a place where nature’s artistry is on full display, revealing the intricate and delicate beauty that emerges when water and stone dance in a slow, eternal waltz.
The caves are most enchanting between September and February when the water levels are stable. This is also when the colors are at their most vibrant. It’s during these months that the Marble Caves reveal their true splendor, offering a visual feast that is both captivating and serene. As such, this makes it one of the beautiful places in South America that speaks to the soul.
Let’s set sail to the northernmost point of South America, Punta Gallinas, Colombia, where the desert sands meet the Caribbean Sea in a stunning display of nature’s diversity. This isn’t just a geographical landmark. It’s a serene escape and one of the places to go in South America where you can witness the harmonious blend of stark desert landscapes and the soothing ebb of the ocean.
Punta Gallinas is a place of contrasts. Towering sand dunes roll into the vibrant blues of the sea, while the indigenous Wayuu people maintain a vibrant and colorful presence in this seemingly harsh environment. It’s a place where traditions hold strong, and visitors are welcomed with open arms into a world that feels both timeless and untouched.
Navigating through the desert, you’ll encounter lighthouses that stand tall amidst the dunes, guiding sailors through the Caribbean waters. The viewpoints offer panoramic vistas of where the golden sands kiss the azure sea. This creates a serene and picturesque setting that captivates every traveler.
Consider hiring a local Wayuu guide. Not only will you be supporting the local community, but you’ll also gain insights into the rich culture and traditions that continue to thrive in this remote and beautiful corner of the continent. Punta Gallinas is a journey into a world where nature and culture intertwine. It truly offers a unique and enriching experience that stays with you long after you’ve left its shores.
Journey to the world’s largest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni, and discover a place where the earth and sky merge into a dreamlike panorama during the rainy season. This isn’t merely a vast white expanse. It’s a mirror to the heavens and one of the best things to do in South America. This offers a surreal experience that will etch itself into your memory.
During Bolivia’s rainy season, Salar de Uyuni transforms into a gigantic mirror, reflecting the sky above in a perfect, mesmerizing symmetry. It’s a sight that defies belief, where the horizon disappears and you find yourself walking amidst the clouds. This envelopes in a serene, otherworldly beauty that takes your breath away.
Navigating across the salt flat, you’ll encounter islands of cacti that rise from the mirrored earth, providing a stark and beautiful contrast to the endless reflections that surround them. It’s a place where every glance, every step, offers a new perspective, a new wonder, and a new moment to cherish.
Ensure you choose an eco-conscious tour operator. Preserving the pristine beauty of Salar de Uyuni is crucial. By choosing responsible travel options, you contribute to the protection of this natural wonder for generations to come.
Venture into the heart of Guyana’s rainforest, and you’ll discover Kaieteur Falls, a powerful and awe-inspiring waterfall that cascades into the Potaro River below. This waterfall is a natural wonder and one of the most underrated destinations in South America. It invites you to witness the raw, unbridled power of nature in a lush, vibrant setting.
Kaieteur Falls is one of the world’s most powerful waterfalls, and with a height of 226 meters, it stands as one of the tallest single-drop waterfalls on the planet. The mist from the cascading waters nourishes a vibrant ecosystem. It’s where the tiny golden rocket frog makes its home amidst the giant tank bromeliads, and the Guiana cock-of-the-rock displays its vibrant plumage.
Navigating through the lush, vibrant rainforest to reach the falls, you’ll be surrounded by the sounds and sights of the thriving ecosystem that surrounds it. It’s a journey that takes you through the heart of Guyana’s natural beauty. This offers glimpses into the rich biodiversity that calls this rainforest home.
Don’t forget to bring a waterproof bag! The mist from the falls creates a magical, albeit wet, atmosphere that can play havoc with electronic devices. Capturing the majesty of Kaieteur Falls without worrying about damaging your camera will allow you to immerse yourself fully in the experience.
Go on a journey to Valdivia, a charming city nestled in southern Chile, where rivers, forests, and ocean converge to create a picturesque and vibrant locale. This city is a gateway to diverse ecosystems and is one of the coolest places to go in South America. It offers a blend of cultural richness and natural splendor.
Valdivia entices with its scenic riverfront, historic sites, and the nearby Valdivian Coastal Reserve, a haven for wildlife and nature enthusiasts. The city, with its German-influenced architecture and a plethora of breweries, offers a unique cultural experience. While the surrounding landscapes invite you to explore the wild, untouched beauty of southern Chile.
Navigating through the city, you’ll encounter historic forts, bustling markets, and serene river views. Venture further, and the Valdivian rainforest welcomes you with its lush canopies, diverse wildlife, and tranquil settings. It’s a destination that offers a heap of experiences, from exploring the rich history of the city to immersing yourself in the pristine nature that surrounds it.
Don’t miss out on exploring the rivers by boat. Whether it’s cruising through the city’s network of rivers or venturing into the coastal reserve, traveling by boat offers a unique perspective and allows you to explore the hidden nooks and crannies of Valdivia’s beautiful landscapes. Valdivia is not just a hidden gem in South America. It’s a place where culture and nature dance in harmonious rhythm, offering experiences that are both enriching and enchanting.
Frequently asked questions about the best hidden gems in South America
Are you searching for more content about where to go in South America? Here are some common questions (and answers) I get asked a lot about the most underrated places in South America.
What is the most underrated country in South America?
Guyana often emerges as one of the most underrated destinations in South America. With its stunning, untouched natural beauty, such as the awe-inspiring Kaieteur Falls and the vast, unexplored rainforests, it offers a secluded retreat for travelers seeking adventures away from the tourist-heavy spots. The rich tapestry of cultures and the warm, welcoming locals further enhance the allure of this hidden gem.
What is unique to South America?
South America is a continent that boasts a plethora of unique places to visit. From its diverse ecosystems, including the world’s largest rainforest, the Amazon, to its rich indigenous cultures and vibrant cities, there’s a unique blend of natural and cultural wonders. Moreover, the continent is home to unique wildlife species that cannot be found anywhere else on Earth. This includes the giant Galapagos tortoise and the capybara, enhancing its distinctiveness.
What is the coolest thing in South America?
One of the coolest places to go in South America might be the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia. During the rainy season, it transforms into a vast, stunning mirror. This reflects the sky so perfectly that it becomes almost impossible to discern where the sky ends and the earth begins. This natural phenomenon, coupled with the surreal, otherworldly landscapes, makes it a mesmerizing destination that captivates every traveler who ventures there.
How do I discover hidden gems in South America?
Discovering hidden gems in South America often involves venturing off the conventional tourist routes and exploring less-visited areas. Engaging with locals, exploring regional travel blogs, and considering eco-tour and community-based tour operators can unveil destinations that are not widely recognized but offer spectacular experiences and serene beauty away from the crowds.
What are some must-visit secret spots in South America for nature lovers?
Nature enthusiasts seeking secret spots in South America should explore the Chapada Diamantina National Park in Brazil, renowned for its stunning waterfalls, caverns, and unique flora and fauna. Another enchanting destination is the Tayrona National Park in Colombia, where lush jungles meet pristine beaches, offering a secluded paradise for those seeking tranquility amidst nature.
Where to go in South America for a rich cultural experience off the beaten path?
For travelers pondering where to go in South America for an immersive cultural experience, the Sacred Valley in Peru offers a rich tapestry of Inca history and vibrant local traditions. Alternatively, the secluded communities of the Guajira Peninsula in Colombia provide a glimpse into the Wayuu culture, offering a rich and authentic experience away from the typical tourist trails.
Are there any underrated destinations in South America that are suitable for family travel?
Yes, there are several underrated destinations in South America perfect for family adventures. For instance, the Atacama Desert in Chile, with its friendly locals, safe environment, and a plethora of activities like stargazing, exploring salt flats, and visiting geysers, is a fascinating destination that can be enjoyed by travelers of all ages.
What parts of South America are unexplored?
While much of South America has been explored, mapped, and inhabited, there are still areas that remain relatively untouched or less frequented due to their remoteness, challenging terrains, or protected status. Some of these areas include:
- Amazon Rainforest: Spanning across several countries, vast portions of the Amazon remain unexplored or sparsely populated. Its dense forests, vast river systems, and challenging conditions make certain areas difficult to access.
- The Darién Gap: Located between Panama and Colombia, this swampland and forest area is one of the most dangerous and challenging terrains in the Americas. It’s a break in the Pan-American Highway due to its inaccessibility and security concerns.
- Venezuelan Tepuis: These are table-top mountains found in the Gran Sabana region of Venezuela. While some are popular tourist destinations, others remain largely unexplored due to their sheer cliffs and unique ecosystems.
- Parts of the Andes Mountains: While many parts of the Andes are inhabited or frequented by trekkers, there are remote areas. This is especially so in the southern Andes, that see fewer visitors.
- Pantanal Wetlands: Located in Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay, the Pantanal is the world’s largest tropical wetland. While parts of it are popular for ecotourism, its vastness means there are still areas that remain less explored.
- Chaco Plain: This semi-arid region spans parts of Paraguay, Bolivia, and Argentina and is one of South America’s last frontiers due to its harsh climate and remote location.
- Madidi National Park, Bolivia: One of the most biodiverse places on earth, its remote location and vastness mean there are areas within the park that remain less explored.
What is the least visited place in South America?
The least visited places in South America are often those that are more remote, less developed for tourism, or have faced political or economic challenges. Here are some of the lesser-visited countries and regions in South America:
- Guyana: Located on the northeastern coast of South America. Guyana is an English-speaking country with vast rainforests, savannahs, and a rich mix of cultures. The Kaieteur Falls, one of the world’s largest single-drop waterfalls, is a highlight. However, the country sees fewer tourists compared to its neighbors.
- Suriname: Just east of Guyana, Suriname is a former Dutch colony with a diverse population and a mix of cultures. Its capital, Paramaribo, boasts colonial architecture, but the country as a whole isn’t a major tourist destination.
- French Guiana: This overseas department of France is located on the northeastern coast of South America. It’s known for its space center in Kourou and the Îles du Salut, but it’s not a mainstream tourist destination.
- Bolivian Lowlands: While Bolivia is a popular destination, its lowland regions, including the Amazon basin, are less frequented.
- Parts of the Amazon Rainforest: While the Amazon spans across several countries and certain parts are popular tourist destinations, vast stretches of this immense rainforest remain remote and less visited.
- Chaco Region: This hot and sparsely populated region spans parts of Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina. It’s not a typical tourist destination due to its harsh climate and remoteness.
What is the coolest country in South America?
Each country in South America has its unique charm, attractions, and cultural richness. Here’s a brief overview of some countries that are often highlighted for their unique attractions or natural beauty:
- Brazil: Known for its vibrant culture, the Amazon rainforest. It’s also known for Rio de Janeiro’s beaches and Carnival, and iconic landmarks like the Christ the Redeemer statue.
- Argentina: Famous for tango, the Andes mountains, Patagonia, and its cosmopolitan capital, Buenos Aires.
- Peru: Home to the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley, and the culinary capital of Lima.
- Colombia: Renowned for its coffee regions, the historic city of Cartagena, and the Amazon rainforest.
- Chile: Offers the Atacama Desert, the Andes mountains, and the mysterious Easter Island.
- Bolivia: Features the Uyuni Salt Flats, the world’s largest salt flat, and the high-altitude city of La Paz.
- Ecuador: Home to the Galápagos Islands, a unique archipelago with diverse wildlife.
- Uruguay: Known for its laid-back beach towns like Punta del Este and the historic city of Colonia del Sacramento.
- Venezuela: Offers natural wonders like Angel Falls, the world’s highest uninterrupted waterfall.
- Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana: These lesser-visited countries in the north offer dense rainforests and a mix of cultures.
Final thoughts on the South America hidden gems
As we wrap up our journey through the concealed treasures of South America, we are reminded that essence of travel lies in the pursuit of the unknown and the joy of discovery. Each hidden vacation spot in South America has whispered tales of uncharted beauty. This invites us to look beyond the familiar and embrace the wonders off the beaten path in South America.
These hidden gems beckon travelers to step away from the crowds and immerse themselves in authentic and tranquil experiences.
May the tales of these hidden gems inspire your own journey into the unknown, fueling your wanderlust and enticing your spirit to explore the myriad of secrets that South America holds!