I recently spent 10 months discovering the best places to travel in South America (off-the-beaten-path) and I can honestly say that it was the time of my life!
The reason for this is simply because I experienced more on that South America trip than I ever imagined I would have.
There were certain expectations I had for visiting South America, and certain experiences I knew would be great.
But it was those moments that I never predicted, that to this day, remain the most memorable.
South America is an incredible continent to travel simply because it is so diverse for any adventurer. There are many famous things to do such as the Inca trail to Machu Picchu or Iguazu Falls in Brazil.
However, there is so much more to discover on this incredible continent that is less well-known.
Many of these less popular experiences are some of the best places to visit in South America and deserve more attention so that travelers find out about them and don’t miss out!
In this post I’m going to highlight my favorite off the beaten track experiences in South America in hopes to help others expand their own travel list of things to do in South America.
These are personal experience I had, which I think would be a shame if any other traveler missed!
5 best places to travel in South America
1. Huayhuash Circuit in Huaraz, Peru
I was in Peru for a month before I even heard this hike mentioned.
The Huayhuash is an 8-12 day hike in the Andes of Peru boasting some of the most beautiful mountains and lakes in the entire world.
I didn’t even know the Huayhuash Circuit existed until I had been in Peru for one month already! Once I saw the pictures for my own eyes I was on the next bus to Huaraz (the town in which the Huayhuash starts from!)
It is important to note that the Huayhuash may be less famous due to its sheer difficulty. I did the circuit in 8 days which involved walking for 7-12 hours every single day at altitudes between 4,300 and 5,100m.
Needless to say, it was challenging.
Was it worth it? Is it one of the best places to travel in South America?
After my aching body healed completely, I would 100% have to say “yes!”
2. Scuba Diving on San Andrés Island
Many places in the world are famous for incredible scuba diving, and mistakenly San Andrés Island is frequently forgotten.
This Caribbean island technically belongs to Colombia but it is actually closer to the coast of Panama or Nicaragua.
Regardless of who the island belongs to, the scuba diving is world class!
There are several different colorful reefs with caves and tons of wildlife. The sheer number of reefs means you’ll never have to share a dive with anyone else.
Several different dive companies operate on the island offering fun dives, equipment rental, shore dives, boat dives, and different types of PADI courses.
The warm water and great visibility along with cheap prices make this island a divers’ paradise.
3. Hiking and Snorkeling on Isla de la Plata, Ecuador
The Galapagos Islands is famous and one of the best places in South America, and also (unfortunately) very expensive.
I always had the Galapagos Islands on my things to do in South America list – that was, until I researched prices.
Disappointed at the fact that my budget just simply wouldn’t allow for the Galapogoas this time, I was preparing to say goodbye to my dreams of seeing the famous “Blue-footed Boobies” when I heard about an island referred to as “the poor man’s Galapagos!”
Isla de la Plata is nicknamed “the poor man’s Galapagos” because it is just that.
Only a short 1.5 hour boats ride from the mainland at Puerto Lopez, Isla de la Plata displays much of the same unique scenery and wildlife as the Galápagos Islands such as the famous Blue Footed Boobies, fright birds, and humpback whale.
Day trips can be easily arranged from the popular tourist town of Montanita for about $50 USD and include a hike on the island, snorkeling, and whale watching.
During the two hour long hike it is pretty much guaranteed to see the rare Blue-footed Boobies.
When I was there, a couple different times the birds came right up to my tour group and posed for our cameras.
There are giant sea turtles that can seen when snorkeling along with a variety of fish and corals.
The day ends while humpback whale watching, where I saw a few different whales in a matter of an hour!
Isla de la Plata really was a great substitute for the Galapagos, and one of the best places to travel in South America.
4. Riding a Buggy through the Sand Dunes in Brazil
In the Northeast of Brazil massive sand dunes become a tourist attraction.
These crazy mountains made of white sand not only make for a spectacular sight to see, but also an adventure activity.
From the nearby town of Natal, buggy tours can be organized easily through any tour agency or hotel. These tours are a full-day activity cruising through the sand dunes and stopping at beaches, lakes formed in the dunes, and some viewpoints.
The buggies hold up to four guests and one driver.
Be sure to select your group based on the level of “thrill” you are all after. These buggy drivers are experts and can go incredibly fast through the dunes making this an extreme adventure activity.
It feels like you are riding a roller-coaster as you wind through the dunes and slide through the sand.
If that does’t sound like fun to you, it is possible to do the tour slower as a more enjoyable ride.
5. Swimming with Wild Sea Lions off the Coast of Peru
Yes, right off of the coast of one of South America’s biggest cities, Lima, is home to a sea lion colony of approximately 10,000.
$50 USD and an hour boat ride will get you out to the island which is home to these incredible animals.
Once the island is in sight, you can simply just jump in the water and wait for them to come to you, curious if you are dinner or just a friend!
I must admit, it is slightly intimidating getting approached by these massive wild animals, but they are friendly giants who are happy to have visitors.
It was an insane experience and incredibly unique that almost everyone who visits Lima misses.
Most people think of Lima as just a big city, not knowing that this amazing wildlife experience is right there. It is a great way to interact with the animals in their natural habitat without disturbing them.
The tours do not go on the island, feed the animals, or lure them to the boat in anyway.
Swimmers just enter the water and wait for the sea lions to come to them, swimmers are not allowed to touch the sea lions but that doesn’t mean they won’t touch you!
These 5 experiences in South America are ones I will ever forget!
I hope these South America travel tips have helped inspire you to get off the beaten track a little bit and discover some of the best places to travel in South America.
Try some different things than what everyone else always does!
If you have any questions or comments I would love to hear them, just comment below! What do you think are the best destinations in South America?
Need more South America travel tips?
Check out this post: 20 more of the best places to visit in South America
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