[leadin]South America is home to some of the world’s best travel destinations. Machu Picchu, Torres del Paine, El Chalten, Iguazu Falls. But South America holds plenty of treasures beyond this All-Star lineup.[/leadin]
Pull out your bucket list and prepare to add to it. Here are South America’s 10 best landscapes you (probably) have never heard of.
1) Cerro Castillo, Chile
Some believe this mountain will be “the new Torres del Paine,” as in Patagonia’s new most popular destination.
It certainly has the right ingredients to bring the crowds; spires of rock, glacial lakes, miles of trekking, and more than enough beauty. This castle in the mountains lies along the Carretera Austral in the Patagonia Region of Chile and draws far fewer travelers than other parts of Patagonia.
2) Eduardo Abaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve, Bolivia.
Bolivia has consistently ranked low for international tourism. But anyone who has explored this Andean country knows it holds quite a few spectacular landscapes.
The Salar de Uyuni is Bolivia’s most famous and visited landscape. But tucked in the southwest corner you’ll find trees made of stone; red, white, black, and neon green lakes; purple mountains; and pink flamingos. This nature reserve is as beautiful as it is strange.
3) Vinicunca, Peru
The Rainbow in the Mountain, Vinicunca is a landscape even most locals don’t know exists. This striated mountain requires some serious dedication to get to, as almost no information or infrastructure exists for trekkers willing to put in the work to get here. A four-day trek is required, and even then you might not find it.
But if you do, you’ll be rewarded by an expansive landscape of almost-unbelievable color.
4) Pailon del Diablo, Ecuador.
“Don’t believe in God?” A sign en route to this thundering waterfall asks. “You’re about to meet Him.” The question is ironic, since the name of the waterfall translates to The Devil’s Cauldron. Water blasts down a narrow chute and into a boiling cauldron before it continues down another series of cascades. A water-soaked path has been carved into the cliff to allow visitors to climb up and behind the waterfall and experience its raw (possibly divine?) power.
5) Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, Brazil.
If the pure white sand dunes of Lençóis Maranhenses were not beautiful enough, each year during monsoon season heavy rains flood this area, forming hundreds of pristine lagoons. The water remains on the surface, kept from seeping underground by a layer of rock under the sand. And the results are a staggeringly beautiful series of multi-colored lagoons.
6) Huacachina, Peru
Haucachina is a literal oasis in the desert. Outside the city of Ica, a beautiful lagoon is surrounded by palm trees and massive sand dunes. Things to do here include catching a surreal sunset over the expanse of sand dunes, paddling a boat in the lagoon, and an adrenaline-filled buggy ride with sandboarding tour.
7) Humahuaca and Purmamarca, Argentina.
In the northwest desert of Argentina, outside the famous wine region, exists a colorful canyon and mountain landscape.
The village of Humahuaca is home to the “Fourteen-Colored Mountain,” and the nearby village of Purmamarca is set against the backdrop of “The Seven-Colored Mountain.” Buy a bottle of Argentina’s famous Malbec wine, and watch the sunset over these gorgeous landscapes.
After the sun goes down, enjoy spectacular star-gazing. The clear sky leads to some of the best skies one can witness and stars that seem like you could reach out and touch them.
8) Cocora Valley, Colombia
This lush valley in Colombia is home to a strange sight, the world’s tallest palm trees. 200-foot wax palms tower over this landscape, one of only a few places these palm trees grow in the world. It is a bit of a mystery why this species of palm trees grows so tall, as they do not compete with any other vegetation. But there’s no mystery this valley is beautiful.
9) Villa O’Higgins, Chile
Villa O’Higgins is a small town at the terminus of one of the wildest roads in the world, the Carretera Austral. Driving the Southern Road through Chilean Patagonia is already an incredible experience, and ending in this town is the perfect way to cap the adventure. Villa O’Higgins is surrounded by spectacular mountains, glaciers, ice fields, and lakes. This is a destination that receives far fewer travelers than what you’d expect out of one of Patagonia’s premiere destinations for hiking, climbing, glacier trekking, and all around adventure.
10) Valle de Muerte, Chile
The Atacama Desert in Northern Chile is the driest non-polar desert in the world. Some locations show no evidence of precipitation in several centuries. But this landscape does not rely on water to make it beautiful. Valle de Muerte, outside of San Pedro de Atacama, is beautiful and otherworldly for the strange outcroppings of rock, sand dunes, and surrounding volcanoes.
This desert is a must for South American travelers. Bonus: the high altitude, dry air, and lack of light pollution make this the best stargazing destination in the world.
–Eric Hanson is a photographer, writer, and adventurer who just returned from seven months of trekking in South America. Find him on Instagram @ericrhanson.