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10 Best UNESCO Sites in South America

by Travelbag on 15 February 2019, 10:02AM

Machu Picchu, Peru

Vast South America is arguably the most diverse continent on the planet. From its glaciers and rainforests to its coastal cities, South America encompasses a range of temperatures, altitudes and cultures. And it’s much bigger than you think – Brazil alone could comfortably fit the whole of Europe inside its borders. So it’s not surprising that there’s an endless amount of must-see sites.

It can be hard to know where to start. Thankfully, UNESCO has done most of the legwork by giving their seal of approval to nearly 100 places in South America. But, to narrow it down for you, we’ve cherry-picked the 10 best ones, spanning from lush Ecuador down to mountainous Patagonia.


Valparaiso – Chile

Even if the name of this colourful city doesn’t ring a bell, you’d probably recongnise it. Built between the mountains and the sea in northern Chile, Valparaiso is a photographer’s dream. When you walk along the main road, it looks like any other port – but head up into the hills to the protected Historic Quarter, and you’ll soon realise that Valparaiso is pretty special. Steep steps are painted to look like piano keys, vibrant murals cover whole alleyways, and every house is treated like a canvas. In fact, the entire Historic Quarter is a masterpiece. Take a walking tour to make sure you don’t miss any of the stop-and-stare street art.

Valparaiso, Chile

Iguazu National Park – Brazil and Argentina

Straddling the border between Brazil and Argentina, crescent-shaped Iguazu Falls is one of the world’s most famous waterfalls. Stretching for 2,700 metres, Iguazu is twice as wide as Niagara Falls, but you can still get close to the rushing waters on a boat tour. The surrounding rainforest is impressive too, with tapirs, monkeys, jaguars and more. If you can’t decide whether to see the Falls from the Brazilian side or the Argentinean side, why not do both as part of our 11-day Highlights of Brazil and Argentina tour?


Sucre – Bolivia

Bolivia may not be as well-trodden as its neighbours, but this diverse country boasts some wonderful sites – and you can see them all thanks to our nine-day Spirit of Bolivia itinerary. Sucre is our pick of the bunch. Dating back to the 16th century, Sucre is the constitutional capital of Bolivia. It’s easily the country’s most beautiful city, with whitewashed churches, colonial architecture and many of the original buildings still intact. Compared to the chaotic legislative capital, La Paz, Sucre is a calm retreat of red rooftops and shaded patios – bliss.

Sucre, Bolivia

Machu Picchu – Peru

South America’s headline act is, of course, Machu Picchu. This ancient Incan city is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and hugely popular, with up to 5,000 visitors every day. Depending on how energetic you’re feeling, you can either hike a four-day trail to the summit, or ride straight up on a train from Cuzco. Whichever one you go for, you’ll be greeted with postcard-worthy views – but it’s best to get there as early as possible. All our Peru tours include a visit to Machu Picchu, so you’ve got plenty of options.


Perito Moreno Glacier – Argentina

The phrase ‘jaw-dropping’ can be overused. But, when it comes to Perito Moreno Glacier, it’s completely justified. This enormous chunk of blue ice covers more than 250-square kilometres – or, in simpler terms, it’s bigger than Buenos Aires. But what’s really special about Perito Moreno is the fact that, unlike most glaciers, it’s advancing. As the glacier grows in size, huge icebergs break off and fall into the lake below with an almighty crash. If you’re planning a holiday to Argentina, a visit to Perito Moreno Glacier is a must. You can take a day trip from the nearby town of El Calafate, or tick it off on our 11-day Spirit of Argentina tour.

Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

Rio de Janeiro – Brazil

Admittedly, not all of Rio de Janeiro is UNESCO-protected. But the Carioca Landscapes between the Mountains and the Sea – yes, that’s its full title – certainly is. Stretching from the highest point of Tijuca National Park all the way down to the ocean, the Carioca Landscapes include Rio’s Botanical Gardens, Sugarloaf Mountain and the hunchbacked Corcovado Mountain, where you’ll find Christ the Redeemer. Discover this incredible landscape on one of our Brazil tours, or take a look at our Rio hotels and plan your own trip with the help of our experts.


Galapagos Islands – Ecuador

Sea lions, giant tortoises and blue-footed boobies – nowhere does wildlife like the Galapagos Islands. Floating off the coast of Ecuador, this archipelago is one of the most untouched places on Earth, famous for its natural beauty and unique species. So, if you’re an animal lover, the Galapagos should be at the top of your list. You can snorkel with incredible marine life, see volcanic landscapes, and visit Darwin Bay. Plus, if you book a spot on our 13-day Wonders of Peru and the Galapagos Islands tour, you can tick off Machu Picchu in the same trip.

Galapagos blue-footed booby

Quebrada de Humahuaca – Argentina

Tucked away in northern Argentina, Quebrada de Humahuaca is one of South America’s lesser-known UNESCO Sites. But it’s certainly not a wallflower. Nearly 100 miles long, this narrow valley is lined with multi-coloured mountains. The varying shades of purples, reds and yellows are actually different layers of rock, each one thousands of years old. But the most eye-catching spot is the Hill of Seven Colours – the striped surface looks like a painting.


Torres del Paine National Park – Chile

When you think of Patagonia, you probably imagine a dramatic wilderness of mountains, lakes and glaciers. Well, that’s exactly what you’ll find in Torres del Paine. Although it’s technically not a UNESCO Site, it is on the list to become one – and we can see why. The scenery is stunning. You can visit the park on our 12-day Magic of Chile tour or, if you’re feeling adventurous, why not don your boots and hike deep into the park along the famous ‘W route’? It takes at least four days and is by no means glamorous – you’ll be sleeping in either a tent or a hostel – but the spectacular views are more than worth it.  

Chile's Torres del Paine

Cuzco – Peru

Last, but certainly not least, there’s Cuzco. The once-capital of the Inca Empire, Cuzco is a truly fascinating mishmash of cultures. You’ll find grand cathedrals towering over Inca temples, llamas walking the cobbled streets, and sprawling plazas filled with people. And the food is top-notch. Peruvian cuisine is one of the tastiest in all of South America – expect to feast on fresh sea bass, stir-fried beef, spicy stuffed peppers and more. You can spend a few days eating your way round Cuzco on our Land of the Incas tour, or simply spend a day there with our Inca Discovery itinerary.


Swooning for South America? Call our travel experts today on 0203 944 2201 to start planning your independent adventure, or take a look at our exciting tours.

Before you set off, read our cultural etiquette tips about the dos and don'ts when travelling in South America.

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