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18 Most Iconic Landmarks In South America (You Can’t Miss!)

What landmarks in South America come to mind immediately — Machu Picchu? Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro? While these are definitely worth a visit, South America is home to countless natural and man-made landmarks that have so much to offer visitors.

From glistening skyscrapers to the sky-high Andes mountains and Amazon rainforest, there is something for every type of traveler here, much of it still far off the beaten path for many travelers.

This guide to the most incredible and famous landmarks in South America will help inspire your next adventure in South America, whether you’re headed to one of South America’s favorite cities or landmark-hopping to all the bucket list destinations on this list.

Landmarks in South America

From the deserts of Chile and Bolivia to the tropical jungles of Colombia, the most impressive landmarks in South America can be found everywhere. Modern skyscrapers and ancient ruins galore.

Check out this map of the most impressive landmarks in South America to see all the most famous spots you can’t miss!

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1. Lençóis Maranhenses

Lençóis Maranhenses is one of the most incredible must-sees in South America. It features miles and miles of sand dunes, which during the rainy season fill up with beautifully clear, turquoise water – perfect for diving into after a hot hike through the desert-like terrain.

Situated in the northeast of Brazil, in the state of Maranhão, the closest town is Barreirinhas, where most visitors tend to base themselves for a visit. However, there are also some gorgeous Airbnbs dotted around out in the countryside in a scattered village called Atins.

It takes a river crossing, an hour of bumpy jeep-riding through an arid landscape, and a steep hike up a sandy hill to reach the edges of Lençóis Maranhenses from Barreirinhas, but those who manage it will be rewarded with one of the most epic views of their lives.

Visiting this viewpoint at sunset is an essential experience for travel in North-East Brazil, and one of the main tours that visitors to the area go on.

Tours from Barreirinhas will take you to where the sand dunes meet the sea – you can surf or kitesurf while here if you book in advance. but no doubt the best way to see the full glory of Lençóis Maranhenses is by hiring a small aircraft to give you an unforgettable aerial view of the sand dunes and lagoons.

iguazu falls

2. Iguazu Falls

One of the new Seven Wonders of Nature, Iguazu Falls is more than just an awe-inspiring sight – it is an unyielding force of nature. It straddles two countries – Brazil and Argentina – and encompasses up to 300 separate waterfalls. To get the most out of your visit, try to see it from both the Brazilian and Argentine sides. 

About 20% of the falls flow on the Brazilian side, and the other 80%, on the Argentine side. This means that you get a more expansive view of the falls from the Brazilian side, looking towards Argentina. But in Argentina, you get closer to the falls, and there is more area to explore. 

As at any world-famous attraction, Iguazu Falls can get very crowded, but on the Brazilian side, you have a chance to avoid the crowds first thing in the morning. Alternatively, you could splurge and stay at Belmond Hotel das Cataratas inside the National Park and have the falls to yourself outside of the visiting hours.

You could also take a flashlight walk from the hotel at night to see some of South America’s incredible wildlife. You might even spot a jaguar if you are lucky!

machu picchu

3. Machu Picchu

You can’t find more recognizable landmarks in South America than this! Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and easily one of the most beautiful, mysterious archeological sites in South America – or, the world.

Representing a pinnacle of the Inca civilization, the site is set at more than 7,800 feet (2,400 meters) above sea level in the Sacred Valley, where it was built in the 15th century.

One interesting detail is its use of built-in dry-stone walls – without the use of mortar. The perfectly-cut stones, along with the specific astronomical alignments of the buildings, are details that have fascinated archaeologists and historians for decades.

You can easily get to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes, a small town at the very end of the Sacred Valley and about 60 miles (100 km) from Cusco. From there, regular shuttle buses will take you all the way to the site.

You will want to hire a guide to Machu Picchu to take you around because the site is massive!

From Cusco, you can take the Peru Rail Vistadome train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes for an unforgettable view of the Sacred Valley before you even arrive to Machu Picchu.

Another way of getting to Machu Picchu is on the Inca Trail, a challenging 4-day hike that goes through Inca territory and for which you need a permit, guides, and porters, and which has to be booked well in advance. In your Inca Trail hike, Machu Picchu is the very last stop.

You’ll arrive at the site just after watching the sunrise over the ruins from Inti Punku – the sun gate ruin overlooking the site. It’s truly unforgettable.

perito moreno

4. Perito Moreno Glacier

The Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina is one of the most epic landmarks in South America. While Patagonia is home to a number of important glaciers in its large ice field, Perito Moreno is unique in its ease of access and the fact that it continues to grow. It’s located outside of the small city of El Calafate.  

To visit Perito Moreno Glacier from El Calafate there is a bus that departs in the morning and returns in the late afternoon, allowing you to spend the entire day in the national park.

However, the absolute best way to see the glacier is by trekking across the ice yourself. The Big Ice Trek has a short 4-hour trek that is suitable for more ages and a more demanding full-day trek that goes deeper onto the glacier. Both treks end with a well-deserved glass of whiskey poured over glacial ice. 

Visits can be budget-friendly by taking the bus and exploring the pathways and viewing points alone. The glacier trek and kayaking tours are more of an investment but well worth it if your budget allows it. 

While in Patagonia, nearby El Chalten is the hiking capital of Argentina. The tiny village is 3 hours north of El Calafate and a must-do for any lovers of the outdoors. Buses connect the two towns for a reasonable fee. The hikes here are within the same Glacier National Park as the glaciers of El Calafate! 

There are regular flights to El Calafate from Buenos Aires and the length is a little over 3 hours. There are a number of hotels to choose from here as well as private cabins on Airbnb. For a hostel, I recommend the America del Sur Hostel

bolivia salt flat

5. Salar de Uyuni

Known as the world’s largest “mirror” for its perfect reflection of the sky when covered in water, the Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats in southwest Bolivia is one of the most otherworldly landscapes in South America. Remnants of an ancient ocean, these salt flats are the world’s largest and stretch for miles in every direction.

Whether you visit in the wet season and catch the mirror effect, or the dry season, this landscape is wild and overwhelming to the senses. The extreme flatness of the ground and few points of reference on the horizon lead to plenty of optical illusions, yet another reason this unique spot is one of the most identifiable landmarks in South America.

In addition to driving through the Salt Flats, you’ll see attractions in the area like Incahuasi island with giant, 90-foot (30-meter) high cacti, nearby caves with mummies, and more.

When visiting the Salar de Uyuni, you must stay in a salt hotel! Constructed entirely from giant bricks of salt, everything from bed frames to floors are made from salt – it’s an unforgettable stay! They’re standard on multi-day tours.

While there are plenty of ways to visit the Salt Flats, the most common way is by taking a multi-day tour through the southwest part of the country where they’re located – not only will you spend a full day on the salt flats, you’ll also see the many other incredible things to see in this area, one of South America’s most beautiful.

One of the most incredible nearby destinations is Laguna Colorada. This bright red salt lake is located a few hours away and is a very popular destination with multi-day tours.

Here you’ll find bright red-orange water, surrounded by desert landscape and snow-capped peaks… and flocks of Andean flamingos.

lagunas route

6. The Atacama Desert

The Atacama Desert (Desierto de Atacama) is one of the most famous landmarks in South America, though you might not know much about it! Located in northern Chile between the Andes Mountains and the Chilean Coastal Range, the arid desert stretches approximately 1000km from north to south.

This expansive region is the oldest and driest nonpolar desert on Earth, seeing less than 1mm of rainfall per year.

The Atacama Desert is a dream destination like no other, home to some of Chile’s most impressive, otherworldly landscapes. With its host of enchanting scenes, it is easy to imagine you may have stepped onto an entirely different planet!

From the country’s largest salt flats to otherworldly rock formations, saline lagoons, fields of steaming geysers, natural hot springs, and snow-capped mountains in the distance, everywhere you look there is something magical to witness.

Some of the best places to visit within the Atacama Desert include the aptly named Valle de Marte (Mars Valley) and Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley). Other incredible attractions include the Salt Mountains, El Tatio Geysers, and the Puritama Hot Springs.

It is also one of the best places in the world to observe the night skies. At 16,500 feet (5,050 meters) in elevation, it has some of the darkest skies and as many as 330 cloud-free nights per year.

Most people visiting the Atacama Desert will do so via the town of San Pedro de Atacama. Here you’ll discover many different tour companies offering a variety of tours throughout the region. For the more adventurous, it is also possible to hire bikes and cycle from San Pedro de Atacama to some of the nearby attractions.

kaieteur falls

7. Kaieteur Falls

Forget about Iguazu Falls – if you want to feel the privilege of seeing a place that only a handful of travelers get to admire every day (and no more than 6,000 per year!) you must go to Kaieteur Falls, in Guyana.

Located in the Potaro-Siparuni region, this part of the country is characterized by impressive biodiversity – during your visit, you will be able to see various species of birds, including the cock-of-the-rock. Kaieteur Falls became a national park in 1929.

At Kaieteur Falls, the Potaro River jumps down an impressive 820-foot (250-meter) cliff. The width of the falls varies with the season and is between 250-400 feet (76-122 meters). Definitely try visiting at the very end of the rainy season to see the falls in their full power if your itinerary allows for it!

The best way to get to Kaieteur Falls is by plane from Georgetown. The flight lasts a little over one hour on a small plane that carries no more than 12 passengers. You will get a first glimpse of the falls during the flight – the view is truly impressive. At the site, a guide will walk you to various viewpoints.

christ the redeemer

8. Christ the Redeemer

The iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer – in Portuguese, Cristo Redentor – stands high above the city of Rio on Corcovado Mountain. The statue was inaugurated in 1931 and has since been visited by millions of people. Designed by Polish-French sculptor Paul Landowski, the statue took five years to complete.

In 2007, it was named one of the modern seven wonders of the world, an honor for what is easily among the most recognizable landmarks in South America!

The idea of building the statue on the mountaintop was first suggested by a Christian priest in the 1850s, but he could not secure funding.

After the First World War, the city’s Catholic priests were concerned about the lack of faith in the city and thought that a visible statue would remind people of their faith.

Christ the Redeemer stands 125 feet (38 meters) high and has a small chapel in its base. Christ’s outstretched arms measure 92 feet (28 meters) across and each hand is 10.5 feet (3.2 meters) in length. The statue comprises thousands of triangular soapstone tiles inlaid into steel-reinforced concrete. This gives the statue a light color that reflects both the sunlight and moonlight.

To get to Christ the Redeemer, you can catch the bus to the Cosme Velho neighborhood for the Trem do Corcovado station. There are rack railway trains up the mountainside to the statue – buy your tickets online to avoid long queues. Don’t be tempted to hike to the top, as there have been numerous incidents of mugging.

mitad del mundo

9. The Equator

Ecuador is a wonderful country full of rich culture and gorgeous natural beauty, and you can’t visit the country without seeing its namesake – the equator! The equator lies just a few miles north of Quito and can be easily visited on a day or half-day trip from the city.

There are a couple of different ways you can visit the equator from Quito, but one of the easiest is to join the group tour led by Community Adventures. This tour, along with several others, is led by a company affiliated with the Community Hostel, one of the best hostels in South America; however, you don’t have to be a hostel guest to attend one of the tours.

The tour is just $10 and includes transportation to both the Inti Ñan Museum and the Middle of the World Monument (admission fees not included).

First, visit the Intiñan Museum, which features fun exhibits showcasing the magnetic forces of the equator as well as what is said to be the most geographically-accurate equator line. Later, visit the more famous Middle of the World Monument.

This is the perfect place to get those fun photos standing in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres at the same time!

At the end of your visit, make sure to head to the TeleferiQo cable car, which heads up the side of the Pichincha Volcano overlooking the city, for sunset. Whether you have a short Quito itinerary or are in the city for a few weeks, visiting the equator at Mitad del Mindo is a must.

easter island

10. Easter Island

Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui, is a laid-back, remote island off mainland Chile that is one of the most recognizable landmarks in South America. This recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site is known for the giant moai sculptures created by the Rapa Nui people. 

Moai are giant heads with their bodies partially in the ground or full-body and upright on the ahu, the stone platform. Why and how the moai appeared on the island is still a mystery. It’s astonishing to see the details and massive size of the moai as the height can be 13 feet (4 meters) high.

High concentrations of moai are available at the Rano Raraku and Ahu Tongariki sites. They’re also scattered throughout the island yet many are still lying on the ground waiting to be restored and erected on the ahu – sacred and ceremonial site multiple moai stand.

Besides seeing the moai, there are plenty of things to do on Easter Island. Spend time on the beaches, go hiking, snorkeling, or scuba diving in the ocean, and explore caves.

Since the South Pacific Ocean surrounds Easter Island, the local restaurants have fresh seafood. Make sure to try any dish with tuna! 

To get to Easter Island, travelers must take a 5-hour domestic flight from Santiago, Chile. There are only a couple of flights per week. On the island, travelers can rent a motorbike, bicycle, or ATV car to travel to various attractions.

lake titicaca

11. Lake Titicaca and Isla del Sol

Even if you have been to the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, the Bolivian side of this gorgeous lake is a must. And once you are on the Bolivian side, if there is one destination you shouldn’t miss is, the Isla del Sol. Make sure to check out the information on Bolivian visas before you plan to cross the border.

While there are a number of islands brushing the shoreline of this lake and glacier-capped peaks of the Cordillera Real, Isla del Sol is no doubt the most popular with visitors. 

Translating to the Island of Sun, Isla del Sol owes the origins of its name of the Incan myths about the Sun God Inti, being born here. This is where Viracochathe supreme God of the Incas, founded the Incan civilization along with his son and daughter.

There are more than 80 ruins and sacred spaces all over the island, dating back to the Inca period circa the 15th century. You can easily spend a day or two hiking and exploring the ruins of Titi Qala, Chinkana, Q’asa Pata, and Pillkukayna. Visitors can also hike from shore to hilltop, and watch the sunset.

Visitors can take a boat from Copacabana to get to the island, with rides lasting about one and a half hours and costing between 15 and 30 Bolivianos (between $2 and 5 USD) one way. You’ll also need to pay an entrance fee of 10 Bolivianos (less than $2 USD) that supports the local community upon arrival.

While it is possible to do a day trip, staying at least one night to explore the peaceful north and the touristy south of this island makes for a much more complete experience. There are many affordable hostels and hotels where you can stay – Hostal Challapamba is a comfortable and affordable option!

ciudad perdida

12. Ciudad Perdida

Colombia’s Ciudad Perdida, more famously known as ‘The Lost City’, is one of the best treks in South America, and one of the most identifiable ruins and landmarks in South America. This archaeological site of an ancient city in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta was founded in 800 AD – 650 years before Machu Picchu!

This is a tough trek. Not only is it physically demanding at points, but Colombia’s hot and ever-changing climate only intensifies the hike. That being said, the trek is unbelievably rewarding and gives you the opportunity to learn about the indigenous tribes’ history, see incredible scenery, and make great friends.

Booking a trek with an experienced guide is required. You have the choice between a 4-6 day trip, departing from Santa Marta or Palomino. Expect to pay around $450 USD for all trip lengths, so if you have extra time, go for a longer option.

Given its rainforest climate, the key is to pack light and for all weather; from heavy downpours to over 100°F (40°C) heat. Packing essentials include sunscreen, walking sticks, hiking boots, slip-on shoes (to keep hiking boots dry during river crossing), and mosquito repellent.

Make sure to check out our Lost City Packing List before preparing!

The camps along the route are full of atmosphere with great food. Expect relaxing in hammocks, card games, making friends with the locals, and lots of swimming in waterfalls. A perfect combination after a long day of hiking.

The trek includes a mix of uphills, downhills, river crossings, and lots of jungle, with stunning scenery throughout, plus the arrival to the Lost City on day 3. Enjoy the stunning jungle views over the impressively-built Lost City, fascinating history, and beautiful river swims! 

Although it’s a tough trek, the largely-untouched Colombian jungle and fascinating Lost City make it worth the effort to visit this, among the most unique hidden landmarks in South America.

nazca lines

13. Nazca Lines

Set in the Peruvian desert, the Nazca Lines are the most enigmatic group of geoglyphs in the entire world. Not only are they unmatched in size (some measure over 5.5 miles or 9 kilometers in length!), but they so skillfully depict the stories, evolution, and everyday life of pre-Hispanic societies of ancient Peru.

They cover over 280 square miles (450 square kilometers) of the desert, and they’re believed to have been crafted over the course of a thousand years. Some lines depict imaginary beings, while others are clear images of animals and plants that did not exist anywhere in the area.

The best way to see the lines? From high up above! While you certainly can see these most impressive landmarks in South America from the ground, you won’t get the full picture until spotting them from above.

You can get to Nazca easily from Lima, so it makes for a perfect day trip. Moreover, there are a ton of things to do in Nazca after seeing the lines, including going on sand dune adventures, visiting an ancient Nazca cemetery, and checking out a ceremonial pyramid which still remains a bit of a hidden gem!

Read More: 25+ Best Things To Do in Peru

torre santiago

14. Gran Torre Santiago

Gran Torre Santiago is South America’s tallest building. With its 980-foot (300-meter) height, it’s impossible not to spot it in the skyline of Chile’s bustling capital, making it one of the most identifiable buildings and landmarks in South America. It’s a must-visit on a trip to Chile.

This beautiful skyscraper was designed by César Pelli who was also one of the main architects behind the incredible Petronas Twin Towers in Malaysia. The construction of the Gran Torre began in 2006 and finished in 2013 when it was declared the tallest building in all of South America.

You can go to the top of Gran Torre Santiago for around $20 USD (15,000 Chilean pesos) per adult. You’ll be taken straight to the top of the skyscraper where you will find the most incredible 360-degree view over Santiago and the Andes mountain range.

The skyscraper even has a restaurant on the top, which means you can have a bite to eat or enjoy a drink with these incredible views.

From the top floor, you can take an escalator up to the “open air” part of the skyscraper. Here you’ll be standing outside and feel the air at nearly 1000 feet (300 meters) while you are safe behind the enormous glass windows.

Visiting Gran Torre Santiago is an incredible experience, and it’s a must if you’re looking to visit some of South America’s best landmarks.

quilotoa ecuador

15. Quilotoa Crater Lake

Quilotoa Lake is a stunning crater lake located near Quito, Ecuador and certainly is one of the most amazing places to visit in Ecuador, and a must-visit tourist attraction in Ecuador becoming more popular by the minute. It is found within the Ecuadorian Andes and is one of the most distinctive natural landmarks in South America.

Many tourists opt to take a day trip from Quito with an organized tour or hop on a bus and explore on their own.

The views from the top of the crater are absolutely stunning, and visitors can hike down to the water. The hike down takes around 30 minutes to complete. Near the water, locals offer kayak rentals and refreshments to enjoy before hiking back up.

The hike back up can take over one hour due to the steep incline. It can be a challenging hike back up as the air is quite thin. There are locals with donkeys and horses that offer to carry you back to the top for around $10. 

Around the lake, there is a great trail for hikers to embark on a multi-day hike. Known as the Quilotoa Loop, it is a popular trail and is regularly hailed as one of the best treks in South America. There are small towns spread along the way that offer accommodations, so hikers can avoid camping along the trail.

This hike is beginner-friendly, with well-marked paths with a steady or slight incline.

Read More: Quilotoa Crater Lake + Quilotoa Loop Ultimate Guide


16. Guatapé and Piedra del Peñol

Guatapé is a small colonial town known as the most colorful town in Colombia, and home to the famous Piedra del Peñol. It’s a must-see when visiting Colombia – one of the best things to do when visiting Medellin! – and it’s very popular with visitors to see both the town and nearby attractions. 

Guatapé is an easy day trip from Medellín. Many tours visit Guatapé, or you can take a bus or rent a car. Make sure to head out early to beat the crowds, as it’s the most popular day trip from Medellín.

The town is charming, filled with cobblestone streets and vibrantly-colored homes. Not only are the homes colorful, but many have zócalos – motifs of village life tailored to the homeowner’s interests. These are unique to this area and special to see.

Near Guatapé is the stunning Guatapé Lake, also among the most identifiable landmarks in South America. It’s a man-made reservoir that powers nearly a third of all of Colombia’s electricity. And this is no ordinary lake as it hides a secret—the old town of Peñol was sacrificed to create it.

For the best views of the area, climb the massive La Piedra del Peñol. It’s a large granite rock that stands 7,000 feet (2,000 meters) high. Though it was once navigated by some brave climbers, you can now climb a concrete staircase to the top where the scenery is absolutely breathtaking.

Colombia is a country filled with many beautiful areas, and Guatapé offers an incredible mix of vibrant small-town charm and stunning scenery. Guatapé is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and it’s well worth seeing.

torres del paine

17. Torres del Paine

If you love stunning scenery or being out in nature, you cannot miss Torres del Paine National Park in Southern Chile.  Featuring dramatic mountains, sparkling turquoise glacial-fed lakes, constantly calving glaciers, and world-class hiking, it is one of the most beautiful national parks in the world, let alone South America.

Located in the Patagonia region of Chile, you’ll find the area to be truly stunning but very sparsely populated.  Because of this, the easiest way to visit the park is from the neighboring town of Puerto Natales, two hours away. 

There are frequent buses running between the two making transportation very straightforward. 

While you can visit as a day trip, the best way to explore the park is by hiking the 5-day W Trek or the 8-day O Trek. Both of these treks fully immerse you in the beauty of the park and allow you to take in even the furthest reaches of Torres del Paine.

You’ll find campsites and lodges spread throughout the park, each with full bathroom facilities and limited food options, so you will not be alone in the wild on these hikes. However, the accommodations do fill up quickly so you will need to book all campsites and lodges well in advance. Otherwise, you will be out of luck! 

No matter how you opt to visit Torres del Paine National Park, you won’t want to miss the famous Towers, the mesmerizing Lake Pehoe, the gigantic Grey Glacier, and everything in between!  It’s an outdoor paradise among the most impressive landmarks in South America.  Pictures simply can’t do it justice.

landmarks in south america
pxhidalgo / Depositphotos

18. Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá

Among the most unique landmarks in South America with religious origins, the famous salt cathedral of Zipaquirá is a must-visit day trip from Bogotá. This one-of-a-kind cathedral was completed in 1950, constructed within the tunnel of salt mines far beneath the earth.

The salt cathedral is considered among a “Jewel of Modern Architecture” in Colombia. While it’s a working church that welcomes thousands of locals and visitors every Sunday, it’s not technically recognized by the Catholic Church because it doesn’t have a bishop.

To get here, take a car from Bogotá or join a small-group excursion, which is perhaps the easiest way to get here, and can be surprisingly affordable. Alternatively, take the Tren Turistico De La Sabana, a touristic train that makes for an idyllic and easy trip from the city.