Rainbow-colored mountains, glaciers pouring into the ocean and some of the globe’s oldest mountains; it’s fair to say that South America is blessed with a wealth of utterly dazzling sights.
And while the delights of Machu Picchu and Iguazu Falls have entered the global consciousness as “must-sees” on a trip to South America, you might besurprised by how many equally beautiful, if lesser-known sights are yet to find their way to international renown.
So, as you meander through this list of South America’s most stunning hidden gems, we challenge you to make it to the end without being tempted to book your next vacation!
Vinicunca Mountain (Rainbow Mountain), Peru
Once only accessible as part of a six-day trek through some of the Andes’ toughest terrain, Vinicunca Mountain is so bizarre you’ll be convinced you’re dreaming when you arrive. This mountain ridge is patterned by stripes of dusty reds, powder blues and chalky yellows from the minerals in the rock, making it a natural rainbow in the middle of the Peruvian Andes.
Glacier Alley, Chile
Hidden away in the depths of the Beagle Channel in the far south of Chilean Patagonia, Glacier Alley is a stretch of silent water, lined by tidewater glaciers. These dense blue slabs of ice make a real impression – particularly when huge chunks calve off into the calm ocean below.
Ciudad Perdida (the Lost City), Colombia
It might not be as well-known as its southern cousin, Machu Picchu, but Ciudad Perdida is arguably the more fascinating – and beautiful – of the two.
Only rediscovered in 1975, it receives a tiny number of annual visitors, partly because you must trek through barely penetrable jungle to arrive. But the sight of the stone terraces rising up out of the rainforest and the flights of butterflies that cloud the air more than make up for the toil required to get there.
El Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
A bewitching patchwork of salt hexagons stretching beyond the horizon, El Salar de Uyuni is one of nature’s strangest landmarks in South America. The world’s largest salt flat, El Salar was formed when a prehistoric lake dried up and left behind this huge expanse of pristine, white sand.
Although it supports little life, flamingoes are regular visitors to the saline lake of Laguna Colorada nearby and the salt flats themselves are perfect for watching the sunrise.
Ilha Grande, Brazil
With a history as strange as it is beautiful, Ilha Grande is not just a stunningly beautiful South American gem. Once a pirate hideout, this white sand paradise off the coast of Brazil has since housed a leper colony and been a political jail. With all signs of its previous residents having been removed, it’s now a peaceful island with few inhabitants and even fewer visitors. Brimming with rainforest and exotic wildlife, it’s still one of the continent’s best-kept secrets.
Canaima National Park, Venezuela
Having inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel “The Lost World”, it’s no wonder that the tabletop mountains or tepuis of Canaima National Park look like something out of a movie. Over two-billion-years-old, the plateaus of these ancient landforms have their own ecosystem; those who venture here can expect to encounter toads shaped like pebbles and hummingbirds in exotic colors.
Isla del Sol (Sun Island), Bolivia
Rising out of the azure blue water of Lake Titicaca, 12,500 ft. (3,800m) above sea level, Isla del Sol feels like it sits at the very top of the world. An important place in Inca mythology – they believed the creator god Viracocha rose from the lake to create the sun and the moon – it’s still home to traditional ways of life.
Visit to see the local Bolivian people working the fields as they have for hundreds of years and explore the remains of religious shrines established by the Tiwanaku civilization in 500 AD that are scattered around the island.