The ancient ruins of Machu Picchu have gotten so overcrowded with tourists that there are now strict limits on how and when you can visit. Rio’s beaches and the colorful streets of La Boca in Buenos Aires are wonderful places, but if you want less crowds and a more local experience, check out these hidden gems of South America.
Off the Beaten Path Places to Visit in South America
While there are plenty of lesser-known, more remote places to visit in the expansive continent of South America, these are seven places I’ve been outside the major cities that have left a lasting impression on me. If you’ve never heard of some of these places, add them to your bucket list.
San Cipriano, Colombia
Get ready for an adventure in San Cipriano, Colombia. It’s not an easy feat to reach this tiny village alongside the Rio Danubio. Once there, you’ll have the opportunity to do some river tubing in the jungle and see some remote waterfalls and wildlife in the Reserva Natural San Cipriano.
How to get there: Here’s the really fun part! The only connection to San Cipriano is by taking a thrilling ride on a brujita (makeshift motorbike train car) down the railroad tracks from Cordoba, which is just east of Buenaventura and a few hours west of Cali. The nearest major airport is in Cali, where you can arrange a tour or just hop on any bus to Buenaventura and get off in Cordoba.
Where to stay: There are only a few places to stay in San Cipriano. You might find it easier to find accommodation when you arrive, but if you’d like to book in advance, try Hotel Yubarta. The hotel has a new location in the village of San Cipriano or you can stay at the Buenaventura location if you prefer.
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This gateway to the Amazon is a gem of its own. Far from the big city of Lima, Iquitos is a remote city in the northeast of Peru. It rests right on the banks of the Amazon river, where you can venture out on many multi-day tours deep into the Amazon jungle. You’ll get a chance to be up close and personal with wildlife such as sloths, pink river dolphins, and many species of birds unique to this region, in their natural habitat.
How to get there: Iquitos is pretty much cut off for land travel from any major city. You can fly into Iquitos from Lima, Bogota, Quito, and a few other smaller cities in Peru. You may have trouble finding a decent single flight itinerary from North America, so try searching for a good deal into Lima first. Once in Lima, you can hop on a low-cost carrier such as Viva Air Peru or Peruvian Airlines, which has super cheap flights around $50 USD each way between Lima and Iquitos.
Where to stay: Relax at Heliconia Amazon River Lodge after a full day of jungle excursions. The property lies right on the river, 50 miles north of Iquitos, and provides creature comforts in an eco-friendly environment.
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The last time the U.S. men’s soccer team won a World Cup match was in this seaside retreat in the northeast of Brazil. Rent a dune buggy and explore the Dunas de Genipabu or Dunas Park for a memorable experience. There are some beautiful beaches to see and you can even zip line into the water for a thrill.
How to get there: There aren’t many international flights into Natal and none from North America, so you’ll have to connect somewhere in Brazil before flying into Natal. This can make for a long journey since most connections will have to go through either Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro. I’d recommend stopping over for a few days to break up the trip. Alternatively, look for flights into Recife, which has nonstop service from Florida, and either travel by land or book a cheap flight from there to Natal.
Where to stay: Get pampered at an affordable rate when you stay at Wish Natal by GJP. The stunning beachside property has ocean views, a swim up pool bar, and a waterslide for the kids.
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Sometimes referred to as Argentina’s gateway to Patagonia, Barlioche is a picturesque lakeside town near the border of Chile. Outdoor enthusiasts will thrive on the activities this region offers. Choose from ski resorts in the winter to hiking trails, kayaking, and fishing in the summer. The Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi is a must visit and Jurrasic Park fans might enjoy a trip to Parque Nahuelito, which has life sized replicas of the prehistoric dinosaurs that once roamed the Patagonia region.
How to get there: First, have a look at flights into Argentina. Buenos Aires, Cordoba, and Mendoza all have international service and super cheap flights to Bariloche thanks to Flybondi, a new ultra-low-cost carrier based in Buenos Aires. You can also book single ticket itineraries from North America all the way to Bariloche, but it will likely require an overnight layover in a connecting city.
Where to stay: Spectacular views, spacious apartments, and excellent service are what you’ll find at Catalonia Sur Aparts & Spa. What better way to start your day than a peaceful outdoor breakfast with a beautiful view of the lake.
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If you’re visiting the port city of Valparaiso or Chile’s famous beach retreat Viña del Mar, don’t pass up the opportunity for a day trip up to Concón. The beach is less busy than Viña del Mar and you’ll have the choice between surfing the waves in the ocean or taking a sandboard down the dunes. After a day at the beach, make sure to try the excellent seafood at one of the many seaside restaurants.
How to get there: You’ll have to first fly into Chile’s main international airport in Santiago. If you don’t wish to rent a car, the greater Valparaiso region is only a few hours away with regular bus service. From Valparaiso or Viña, it’s a short taxi, Uber, or bus ride up to Concón.
Where to stay: There are more accommodation options in Valparaiso or Viña del Mar, but if you’d like to stay in Concón, check out the Casadoca Hotel Boutique. You’ll find luxurious rooms in a small and intimate setting overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
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This small town beside Volcan Tungurahua is a nice contrast to the expansive capital of Quito. Rent a bike and cycle the Ruta de las Cascadas for a look at several impressive waterfalls, ending at the suspension bridge to see the powerful Pailon del Diablo (Devil’s Cauldron). Another point of interest is La Casa del Arbol for a classic photo shoot, swinging from a tree house atop a mountain.
How to get there: Baños is accessible by bus from both Quito and Guayaquil, where you’ll find international flights from North America. It’s about 3.5 hours from Quito and 5.5 hours from Guayaquil.
Where to stay: There are plenty of budget options in Baños. La Villa del Penon Hotel & Spa has excellent reviews and provides comfortable rooms that are priced right if you want to save some money for activities in the area.
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Much different than the famous beach in Brazil, Copacabana is a lovely Bolivian town just across the border from Peru. It lies along Lake Titicaca, which is the highest navigable lake in the world. You can take a boat out to the Sun and Moon islands for some hiking trails or head up to the top of Cerro Calvario for outstanding views of the lake and a look at some ancient burial sites.
How to get there: Most people pass through Copacabana when traveling by land between Peru and Bolivia. If you fly into La Paz, it will be about a 4-hour bus ride to Copacabana. The journey between La Paz and Copacabana involves a pretty neat ferry service to cross the Strait of Tiquina. After passengers get off their bus and board a passenger ferry, the bus is then loaded onto a small wooden ferry to make the crossing.
Where to stay: Hotel La Cupula has well-kept grounds and charming, affordable rooms to enjoy a peaceful stay. Chill out on an outdoor hammock and take in the scenery of Lake Titicaca.
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Header image by Christian Vinces via Shutterstock. All other images courtesy of TripAdvisor.