11 Stunning Natural Wonders in South America That Will Take Your Breath Away
Cities are great, and there is no shortage of bustling metropolitan destinations around the globe. But there’s something about an amazing natural landscape that is really restorative, giving you a break from the chaos and bringing you back to your senses. And while every continent has its must-see natural wonders, South America offers some of the most diverse and stunning pockets of nature just waiting to be explored. Whether you’re hoping to live like a local or see natural wonders of the world, or you just really need a vacation, these awe-inspiring destinations in South America will totally change your perspective.
1. Atacama Desert, Chile: Sitting at 7,900 feet in elevation, the Atacama Desert is shockingly barren. Yet the harshness is made spectacular by gorgeous red stone floors known as Piedras Rojas (red stones). The color is the result of an iron-rich layer that sets itself apart from more neutral, tan colors in the other geological layers of the area. You can no longer walk up to the rocks, but there are accessible viewpoints, so get your camera ready.
2. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia: At 4,086 square miles, Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat and also one of the largest sources of lithium — which powers laptops and cell phones and a bunch of other electronics we can’t live without. To see this incredible reflective effect, you’ll want to visit in the rainy season, which is between December and April. Or go stargazing during the dry season for some once-in-a-lifetime photos with an endless sky of stars and magnificent cracks in the ground.
3. Angel Falls, Venezuela: The world’s highest uninterrupted waterfall, Angel Falls cascades down a breathtaking 3,212-foot cliff into a canyon below. But you won’t be able to just pull up a car and feast your eyes on this wondrous landscape from a parking lot; the falls can only be accessed through an organized tour, which will require you to charter a plane to a camp within Canaima National Park and then take a canoe or hike. Alternately, you can go on a plane ride within view of the falls.
4. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador: A place that many consider the birthplace of evolutionary theory, the Galapagos Islands are rich in unique species of plants and animals. Visitors have the option of staying at a hotel on one of the three islands with accommodations and taking day trips to sought-after spots, or booking a living space on a boat. Adventures include scuba diving, snorkeling, and keeping your eyes peeled for the giant, ancient tortoises the islands are famous for.
5. Fernando de Noronha, Brazil: Beyond its obvious beauty, Fernando de Noronha is so spectacular because since it was made a national park in the late 1980s, tourists have been strictly limited: Only 420 visitors are allowed in the park on any given day. If you love marine life, Fernando de Noronha is worth seeking out. The water is full of dolphins, lobster, turtles, and coral reefs.
6. Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina: Patagonia is a place of legend, and with its jagged mountaintops and massive glaciers, it’s no wonder. Thirty percent of the park is covered in ice at any given time, and perhaps what makes it most unique is how up-close-and-personal you can get with one of the only glaciers in the world that is actually growing and not melting, the Perito Moreno.
7. Caño Cristales, Colombia: This must-see natural wonder is all about the timing. Most of the year, the river of Caño Cristales is beautiful, but not unlike any other river. It’s only in between the wet and dry seasons, typically September through November, that the river starts changing into different colors, including a vibrant blood red. That’s because a species of plant that lines the river floor, Macarenia clavigera, finally gets the amount of light it needs to bloom. Flights to a nearby town are easy enough to come by, but you’ll need to take a guided horse or donkey ride to reach the river.
8. Quilotoa, Ecuador: Do you love high elevations, volcanoes, and crystal-clear water? Quilotoa has all three in one. Settled at over 12,000 feet, this lake formed in the caldera of the Quilotoa volcano, which last erupted in 1280. While you can get unbelievable views without having to do much work, the best way to see the lake is to walk around it. Take between three and five days to hike the whole rim trail (there are hotels and hostels along the way) for an unbeatable experience.
9. Kaieteur Falls, Guyana: Kaieteur Falls lies within Guyana’s Kaieteur National Park, which covers a chunk of the Amazon rainforest. The falls are the largest single-drop waterfall when measured by volume of water — so not as tall as Angel Falls, but with more water flowing. This is another location that requires a private tour charter, but you won’t have to do any intense hikes once you land, as there are several viewpoints to get a good glimpse of the falls.
10. Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, Brazil: This national park is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before — miles and miles of sand dunes peppered with… lagoons. This is the result of the area actually receiving regular rainfall despite looking like a movie-ready desert. There are even fish that live in the lagoons, thanks to the wet season connecting the area with local rivers. You’ll need to book four-wheel-drive transportation in order to make your way through the park, and bring a bathing suit — you can swim when the water levels are high enough.
11. Cuevas de Mármol, Chile: Accessible only by boat, these caves are along a glacial lake on the border of Chile and Argentina. Thirty-minute tours are available to get up close with the ancient marble patterns, which reflect the cerulean blue of the water, making them even more ethereal.
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(Photos via Getty)