South America has never been more accessible, with daily flights from Auckland and regular connections all over the continent – and as lucky Kiwis, we don’t need any visas in advance! Furthermore, travelling through South America is a far cry from just a few years ago: transport has vastly improved and you can choose from boutique family-run hotels to major international hotel chains.

Broadly speaking, the continent is best visited from April to October. This generally means excellent clear weather and little rain in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, and pleasant, less humid weather in Argentina and especially Brazil. If you plan to visit the southern region of Patagonia, October to March is best. One of the biggest challenges when visiting South America is where to go! It’s a tough call when there are so many iconic highlights on offer. With this in mind, World Journeys has put together a list of five top spots – a great place to start your planning.

5 Top Spots In South America

For extraordinary wildlife that remains totally unfazed by your presence, a powerful connection with the writings of Charles Darwin, and expedition-style cruises that see you waking up to a different landscape and ecosystem every morning, the Galapagos are truly unique. What’s more, they’re part of Ecuador, which itself offers incredible colonial cities, vibrant Indian cultures in the highlands, and superb Amazonian jungles.

Fantastic Amazon experiences can be had in Ecuador, Peru and of course, Brazil. Stay at an ecolodge in amongst it all and take a birds-eye walk on a rainforest canopy walk, or cruise the waterways witnessing life on the river, fishing for piranha and spotting the glowing eyes of the caiman at night!

History abounds everywhere in South America, but Peru is a veritable treasure-trove of amazing early Spanish Colonial architecture and of course the incredible Inca story found at Machu Picchu, the former “Lost City of the Incas”. In Cusco you’ll find colonial architecture built on
top of Incan walls. Colourful local culture is everywhere, along with beautiful scenery in the Sacred Valley.

This vast alpine lake lies between Peru and Bolivia and you can cruise between the two visiting the floating reed islands of Uros, whose history pre-dates the Incas, and Taquile Island, famous for its home-made textiles including the knitting which is done exclusively by the men of the village. The skies are invariably as clear as can be, and the waters an entrancing deep blue.

We had to include at least one city, but even that is difficult when the competition includes Rio de Janeiro! Buenos Aires is the most elegant and atmospheric of cities, with great food, wonderful wines and fantastic shopping. Add to that visits to Eva Peron’s mausoleum, the antique markets, the tango shows and the colourful architecture of La Boca. A bonus right now is that it is highly affordable due to Argentina’s weakening currency.

Have we missed your top spot in South America? Let us know what it is in the comment section below.

Read the full edition of Explore magazine here.