Matador Brand Ambassador Gretka Milkovic and her partner spent the last several months exploring South America. Here is a look at their favorite places.
We spent 5 months traveling around South America visiting all together 8 countries: Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. And let me tell you, South America has it all. From turquoise waters of the Caribbean sea, beautiful lagoons sitting in mountain valleys, endless hiking with breathtaking views, chaotic big cities to ancient Inca towns to the once forgotten Machu Picchu. There is no doubt that one can spend endless years wandering around South America. Traveling in South America can be sometimes challenging, but also rewarding. So yes, South America has it all. We have never been to a continent with so much diversity of natural wonders. While it was very hard for us to choose, here is our list of the 15 most beautiful places in South America.
SAN ANDRES ISLAND, COLOMBIA
The first place we chose is a Caribbean island called San Andres. It belongs to one of the most beautiful places in South America. For us as beach addicts, this place was the jackpot. The island blew our minds away with it’s endless beauty. San Andres is a true paradise with water that has so many different shades of blue and turquoise, that you get confused when you try to count the shades. In fact the waters around this island have 12 shades of blue. Can you see a few of them in the background? While San Andres is much closer to Nicaragua, it is part of Colombia.
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL
Rio de Janeiro was always our dream to see. There is something about this place. Rio is beautiful and the best way to enjoy it is definitely from above. I knew the view would be gorgeous, but like this? Wow! What do you think? Isn’t this view just stunning?
7 HIDDEN LAGOONS, CHILE
This is one of the most incredible places we have seen in Chile. These 7 Hidden Lagoons (also called Lagunas Escondidas or Lagunas Baltinache) were high on our bucket list and we had to see them. Surrounded by salt, in the middle of the Atacama desert, this place is out of this world. As the title says, there are in total 7 of them, but you can only float in 2 of them. What do I mean by floating? The water is so rich with salt that you won’t need to swim at all. But be warned, the water is ice cold. While we were there not many tours went here so you might be lucky and only share this beautiful place with a few people. The road going there is quite rough so be careful if you decide to take a rental car out there.
SUNRISE AND SUNSET IN SALAR DE UYUNI, BOLIVIA
We have seen many sunrises and sunsets during our year of traveling. But a sunrise like this, you won’t see every day. The sky during sunrise was literally, on fire! The reflection made our photo session even more exciting and it is definitely one of the most amazing experiences in Bolivia. By the way, the tour guides are absolute masters in taking pictures of reflections and time lapse videos. Salar de Uyuni definitely belongs to one of the most beautiful places in South America.
HUACACHINA OASIS, PERU
I have never been to an oasis before so I was looking forward to spending my birthday at one: Huacachina in Peru. It’s a small place surrounded by sand dunes in the middle of nowhere but super interesting to see.
Huacachina itself is not the greatest place to stay as it lacks good places to sleep and eat. But the desert, dunes and this little oasis not surrounded by buildings absolutely surprised and left us speechless. I definitely don’t regret spending my 30th birthday there.
LAGUNA PARON, PERU
Laguna Paron. One of the most beautiful lagoons we have ever seen. This lagoon is famous for its Caribbean blue waters surrounded by white rocky mountains. We couldn’t believe that such a place even exists. In order to get to the top you need to hike to around 4200 meters above sea level. I am not going to lie, it wasn’t an easy hike, especially since you will have to battle with altitude sickness and steep rocky paths. But it’s absolutely worth it!
Not every tour operator does the trip to the top so make sure to read our article about this amazing place to find out more: PERFECT DAY TRIP TO LAGUNA PARON
IGUAZU FALLS, ARGENTINA
We had to mention the incredible Iguazu Falls as one of the most beautiful places in South America. The waterfalls of the Iguazu River are located on the border of Argentina and Brazil. Together they create the largest waterfall system in the world. People argue which is the better view to see the falls. Argentinian side or Brazilian? To be honest, they are both beautiful. If you decide to visit the falls, just make sure to avoid any kind of holiday. We visited during the winter holidays and it was awful, we couldn’t even walk. That wasn’t the falls' fault of course, just a little advice to make your time more enjoyable.
SALINAS DE MARAS, PERU
Peru is definitely one of those countries with a lot of extraordinary places. Like this one. Around 3000 small squares of salt fill the valley for as far as the eye can see. This place is incredibly impressive as it has been around since before the famous Incas. Wonder how the salt water gets there at 3380 meters above sea level? The reason is a so called hyper-saline underground spring which emerged 110 million years ago during the formation of the Andes. Also, Salinas de Maras is not owned by only one person or organisation but by the 300 local families in the area.
ATACAMA DESERT, CHILE
We faced harsh conditions, strong and cold wind hitting our faces. I was wearing all my warm clothes. It was absolutely freezing, but when you see this kind of beauty, you will forget about everything. Trust me, I did, and seeing this pastel scenery will take your breath away. Atacama Desert you are absolutely beautiful!
QUILOTOA VOLCANO, ECUADOR
Quilotoa volcano is a small 3 km wide caldera and can be easily reached from the capital of Ecuador - Quito. This water-filled caldera is the most western volcano in the Ecuadorian Andes. We were a bit unlucky as the weather wasn’t that great. The color of the water changes dramatically with the sun light. You can walk down and enjoy beautiful scenery overlooking Quilotoa. Going back up can be difficult due to the altitude, so make sure to drink some coca tea before.
MACHU PICCHU AND RAINBOW MOUNTAIN, PERU
Once a forgotten town of glorious Incas often referred to as the Lost City of the Incas, Machu Picchu was built in the 15th century and probably constructed by famous Incan emperor Pachacuti. It is still a mystery why the Incas abandoned this beautiful place even before the Spanish arrived. I recommend you take a guided tour around Machu Picchu to learn about the interesting history.
We did a 4-day jungle trail from Cusco to Aguas Calientes in order to get to Machu Picchu. We had so much fun and every day we experienced a different program. All together, we did downhill biking, rafting, zip lining, walking on the ancient Inca path, taking a bath at a hot spring under the stars, until we finally reached the breathtaking Machu Picchu.
Rainbow Mountain, known as Vinicunca, Montana de Siete Colores (Mountain of 7 colors) or simply Montana de Colores (Colorful mountain) is an incredible place. We are not experienced hikers, but hiking to these places is a must. Getting to the peek of Rainbow Mountain isn’t very easy though. The altitude will make you walk like a turtle and breath like an elephant. I am so happy that I took a horse to get there. I know I wouldn’t have been able to get there on my own. Where exactly? To be precise, to 5200 meters above sea level. Fun fact: Mountain Everest base camp is located at 5365 meters above sea level.
What makes Rainbow Mountain so special are the colorful layers. In fact, there are 7 different sedimentary mineral layers that have been exposed by erosion, creating different types of colors.
Choosing Cartagena as one of the most beautiful places in South America was very easy. Cartagena absolutely stole my heart. This beautiful Caribbean town has such a nice vibe, many beautiful and colorful houses and local women selling fruits everywhere. South America has many colorful cities, but none of them can compete with the beauty of Cartagena. The elegance dancing in the street surrounded by vivid colors and the smell of flowers popping out from sweet balconies. Just beautiful. I definitely would like to visit again.
PLAYA LOS FRAILES, ECUADOR
Many people go to Ecuador and head straight to visit Galapagos Islands. But exploring the coast of Ecuador is not for nothing and we highly recommend you visit it. Especially one of the most beautiful beaches in Ecuador: Playa Los Frailes. It is a very peaceful place and without many tourists, so you will likely have this piece of paradise mostly for yourself.
INCAHUASI ISLAND, BOLIVIA
What do you see in the background? Is it water, snow or salt? This island in the middle of Uyuni is called Incahuasi or Inkawasi. So yes, salt everywhere. Incahuasi is located in the middle of the largest salt flats in the world. And if you do a day tour to Salar de Uyuni, you will stop here as well. Some people also call it Cactus Island as there are gigantic cacti everywhere. This island was created around 40,000 years ago and once it was surrounded by water.
TYRONA NATIONAL PARK, COLOMBIA
What is the last place on our list of the most beautiful places in South America? We chose a national park called Tyrona located on the west coast of Colombia. We hiked for about 4 hours to get to the final beach called Cabo San Juan del Guia which you can see in the photo. It is a really beautiful and easy hike, where you walk through jungle and where you also come across other beaches.
This beach is also a special place as it’s water has small gold pieces (not real gold but so called fool’s gold) so when you get out you will sparkle. Many people also sleep in the park as there are modest accommodation facilities where you can sleep in a hammock, or in an overpriced hotel.