Landmarks are so much more than easily recognisable symbols of a landscape or area. They act as a visual representation of culture, history and geography, encapsulating the very essence of the place they’ve come to represent. Home to a mix of manmade and natural wonders, there are numerous landmarks in South America, each unique and wonderful in its own right.
Planning your trip to a continent this large can be overwhelming but by prioritising the South American landmarks you want to see, it becomes easier. To help you out, we’ve compiled our favourite spots, comprising a mix of off-the-beaten-track attractions as well as the most famous landmarks in South America. After all, the popular sites are popular for good reason – and there’s no shame in enjoying them!
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27 Breathtaking Landmarks in South America
1. Machu Picchu, Peru
You can’t talk about famous landmarks in South America without talking about the ancient Incan citadel of Machu Picchu. A mecca for backpackers, hikers and history buffs alike, hundreds of thousands make the journey to Machu Picchu on foot, often embarking on the Inca Trail to do so.
Despite the volume of hikers who take on one of the challenging trails to the ruins, you don’t have to go on foot. There is now a train which transports visitors the majority of the way, making this lost treasure more accessible to the masses.
For many, a trip to Machu Picchu is an undeniable highlight of any visit to Latin America. Make your way there for sunrise and wait with bated breath to see the clouds part and the imposing complex emerge from the mist.
2. La Mano, Uruguay
Located in the coastal favourite Punta del Este, La Mano is a sculpture of five human fingers emerging from the sand. It was designed by the Chilean sculptor Mario Irarrázabal and has become one of the most easily recognisable landmarks in Uruguay.
Irarrázabel has said that the hand is not actually surfacing as it first appears but drowning in the sand. This was designed to act as a warning to nearby swimmers as the rough waves can pose a lethal threat.
3. Iguazu Falls, Argentina and Brazil
This natural landmark straddles the border between the continent’s two largest countries; Brazil and Argentina. Arguably the most iconic waterfall in South America, Iguazu Falls is over a mile wide and comprises 275 different cascades.
Known for its horseshoe shape and sheer power, this collection of waterfalls is one of the most visited attractions in the whole of South America. The best time to visit is during July-October or Feburary-April. During these months, the falls are still impressively full but you’ll share the experience with fewer crowds.
Did you know… Iguazu Waterfall has been featured in a few Hollywood films, including Miami Vice and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull!
4. Kicker Rock, Ecuador
When we think of iconic places in South America, the magical Galápagos Islands always make the list. But what is the most recognisable landmark on this archipelago? Kicker Rock, also known locally as León Dormido, probably fits the bill.
Jutting out from the sea below, this epic rock formation is a hugely popular site in the archipelago, visited by land-hoppers and cruises alike. It is one of the most likely spots to see hammerhead sharks in the whole national park. Easily identifiable for its distinctive shape, it is also possible to swim in the rock channel.
5. El Peñól de Guatapé, Colombia
The Rock of Guatapé is a formidable-looking granite stone situated in the town of Guatapé. It is best known for the 708 stairs that zigzag up the rock face, offering visitors the chance to take in the views from a breathtaking vantage point.
The rock has been estimated to be around 65 million years old and was once believed to have been worshipped by some of the indigenous communities that used to live there. It is now a national monument which means it has been recognised for the role it has played in Colombian history and culture.
6. Torres del Paine, Chile
Although this Chilean national park makes many internet lists, it isn’t a landmark in its own right. However, the three granite peaks after which the park is named definitely are. Featured in nearly every photo of Torres del Paine, these iconic peaks make up the most distinctive points of the Paine mountain range in Chile’s Patagonia region.
At their tallest, they reach up to 2,500 metres above sea level. While as a collective they form Torres del Paine, they each have their own names too: Torres d’Agostini, Torres Central and Torres Monzino.
7. Nazca Lines, Peru
When it comes to unique South American landmarks, you’d be hard-pressed to find something more enigmatic than Peru’s Nazca Lines. A series of geoglyphs made in the Nazca desert, no one knows what the purpose of these etchings was, nor how many were created. In fact, another 168 geoglyphs were recently been discovered!
Although a (very) small selection of the lines can be seen from the viewing tower in the desert, to get the real picture of what is hiding in plain sight, you’ll need to fly over them. Be warned, this isn’t a trip for the faint of heart – the motion sickness is real! However, it’s worth it to experience one of South America’s greatest mysteries.
8. Angel Falls, Venezuela
Holding the accolade for the world’s tallest uninterrupted waterfall, Angel Falls is 979 metres high and sits in Venezuela’s Canaima National Park. Due to political instability throughout the country, the falls see far fewer visitors than they deserve.
Named Angel Falls after the surname of the first pilot to fly over them, there has been talk of reverting to the indigenous name (Kerepakupai-Merú) in recent years. This translates to ‘waterfall of the deepest place’. As of now, no change has yet been made.
Also read: Amazing National Parks in South America.
9. Christ the Redemer, Brazil
One of the most iconic landmarks in South America and indeed, the world as a whole, is the Christ the Redemer statue. Perched on the peak of Corcovado Mountain, it towers over the city of Rio de Janeiro. The art deco style statue was designed by the French sculptor Paul Landowski and is made of soapstone and concrete.
The statue is immense and the arms alone stretch 28 metres wide! Since its installation in 1931, Christ the Redeemer has become not only a cultural representation of Brazil but also a wider symbol of Christianity. It was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007 alongside Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, Chichen Itza, the Coliseum and Petra.
10. Kuélap, Peru
Nicknamed ‘the Machu Picchu of the North’, this ancient fortress just outside the Peruvian jungle city of Chachapoyas is somewhat of a hidden gem. The ruins of this Kuélap date back to the 6th century and are located at over 3,000 metres above sea level.
Although a guide is not necessary to visit the site, it is advised if you want to get the most out of your visit. Some historical context will help you understand the importance of what you are seeing and how each construction would have been originally used. It isn’t quite the grandeur of Machu Picchu but you’ll be able to see it with just a fraction of the crowds!
11. Kaieteur Falls, Guyana
We’re not people to skip over an amazing waterfall and this is the third one that has made our list! Located in the Guyanan jungle, this is one of the major tourist attractions of the country and indeed, the only landmark in Guyana that most people can name!
Reaching 226 metres high, Kaieteur Falls is twice the height of Victoria Falls. You can hike there, however, this is no mean feat and you’ll need to be very physically active to complete the trail. Most people tend to visit the waterfall on board a small plane – a much more leisurely experience!
12. Moai, Chile
Heralding from Rapa Nui off the coast of Chile, the Moai statues are undoubtedly one of the most recognisable landmarks in South America. These monolithic human statues are lined up all over Easter Island, however, some have been taken and installed in museums around the world.
It’s estimated that there are around 1000 Moai statues and some of them are huge, weighing as much as 86 tons! Many think that the statues were originally built to honour important community figures who had passed away. It was believed that by having the statues watch over the tribe, they would be kept safe.
13. Cerro Rico, Bolivia
Bolivia’s most well-known silver mine literally translates to ‘Rich Mountain’, a throwback to the days of the Spanish conquistadors. After being discovered by Diego de Huallpa, silver ore was continually mined from the mountain, providing immense quantities of the precious metal for the Spanish empire.
Topping out at 4,782 metres above sea level, the mountain looms large above the high-altitude city of Potosí, acting as a permanent reminder of the mining trade which still thrives there. Despite more modern mining regulations being implemented across the world, Bolivia’s mining industry has been afforded a lot of leeway when it comes to safety and environmental rules.
It is possible to take a tour of Cerro Rico with a former miner, however, this is a somewhat controversial practice that many have called voyeuristic. We’ll let you make up your mind on that one.
14. Ingapirca, Ecuador
I was once told that the site of Ingapirca in Ecuador is home to the Incan ruins that tourism forgot. After visiting myself, I can say that this appears to be true. The largest of all the Incan archaeological sites in Ecuador, the ruins are a mix of both Incan and Cañari structures, two civilisations that butted heads a lot!
After a failed attempt by the Incans to conquer the Cañaris, the two sides lived together in relative peace. The most notable part of the ruins is the Temple of the Sun which is known for being the only elliptical Incan temple in South America. Ingapirca is commonly visited on a day tour from the city of Cuenca.
15. Fitz Roy Mountain, Argentina
Sometimes referred to as Cerro Chaltén, this epic mountain sits between the Patagonian border of Chile and Argentina. Although geographically it’s on the border, the summit is officially Argentinian territory and the landmark has become synonymous with Argentina’s Patagonia region.
Situated in the Los Glaciares National Park, Mount Fitz Roy stands at 3,405 metres above sea level. It is a respected peak among mountaineers and the rapidly changing weather conditions make trekking up it difficult. December through February are the best months to attempt the hike.
16. Choquequirao, Peru
Machu Picchu’s little brother is a popular spot with travellers but only the ones who know about it! Meaning ‘Cradle of Gold’ in Quechua, historians believe that it’s one of the final outposts of the Incas attempting to resist the Spanish invasion.
These important Incan ruins are three times larger than Machu Picchu but with just a fraction of the tourists. As the site can only be reached on foot, only the hardiest travellers make it there. The trek takes between four and five days to complete and some companies also provide the option to visit both Choquequirao and Machu Picchu on the same trek. This latter route tends to span around a week minimum.
17. Itaipu Dam, Paraguay and Brazil
Compared to many of the larger countries in South America, comparatively few of us know anything about Paraguay prior to visiting. The most dominant landmark of the country is the Itaipu Dam which sits on the Paraná River and is shared between Paraguay and Brazil.
Finished in 1984, this dam is the physical manifestation of years of talks and cooperation between the two countries. These days, the Itaipu Hydroelectric Plant is one of the world’s largest and sits as an example of world-class engineering.
18. Lake Titicaca, Bolivia and Peru
This is another South American landmark which sits on the border between two countries; this time Peru and Bolivia. This freshwater lake is the highest navigable lake in the entire world and sits at an altitude of 3,812 metres above sea level.
Many believe the lake to be the ‘birthplace of the sun’ making it an important spot spiritually. As such, several freethinkers have set up in the area, offering retreats aimed at harnessing the energy of the lake and the sun (and attracting rich hippies).
If you’re visiting Lake Titicaca, don’t miss a trip to the floating Uros islands on the Peruvian side and Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna on the Bolivian side.
Also read: Islands in South America.
19. Chimborazo, Ecuador
The Andes Mountain range is the spine of South America and lures countless mountaineers every year. One of its most challenging peaks can be found in Ecuador, just outside Riobamba. Chimborazo volcano is not one of the world’s highest peaks or even the highest in the Andes but its location along the equatorial bulge means that the summit is the furthest point from the Earth’s centre.
Climbing Chimborazo is a popular goal for mountaineers visiting Ecuador but those wanting to conquer the peak will need technical equipment as well as a licensed guide. The best months to attempt the climb are in December, January, July and August.
20. Ushuaia, Argentina
Bienvenidos to the ‘End of the World’! Perched on the southernmost tip of Argentina’s Patagonia region, the city of Ushuaia is pretty much as far south as you can get. A popular gateway for cruises to Antarctica, the city is ringed by the Martial Mountain range and close to the Beagle Channel.
An adventure lover’s paradise, the city is a hub for all things outdoorsy, including hiking, skiing, mountain biking and even kayaking! A variety of wildlife calls the area home including penguins and sea lions.
21. Medellín Cable Cars, Colombia
The city of Medellín is nestled in a huge valley, sprawling far and wide. It buzzes with energy around the clock and jumping in a cab at the wrong time of day is nothing short of a nightmare. Cue the introduction of the cable car system in 2004! This innovative transportation method revolutionised the infrastructure in the city, making it far easier to get around during peak times.
There are currently six lines which can be accessed by tram or metro. The idea behind the installation of the cable cars was to make the city centre more accessible for those living on the outskirts of Medellín, thus opening up economic opportunities. The cable cars have been heralded as a symbol of the rapidly transforming city, moving away from its dark past and instead to a bright and innovative future.
22. Quebrada de Humahuaca, Argentina
A UNESCO World Heritage Site of Oustanding Universal Value, Quebrada de Humahuaca is a narrow mountain valley in the Jujuy region of Argentina. Situated in a harsh and arid environment, it is famous for the vibrant colours seen in each layer of rock.
While it’s undoubtedly aesthetically impressive, it is also renowned for the small villages that dot the valley. Following the Camino Inca, it is believed that the valley marks a significant trading route which has been used for over 10,000 years.
23. Marble Caves, Chile
Chile’s Marble Caves almost look like a dreamscape. The product of over 6,000 years of erosion, the spot can only be reached via boat.
Swirling cobalt waves can be seen in the patterns of the cavern walls which reflect the colour of the turquoise waters below. Depending on the water level, the caves can appear a different colour!
For example, in December the water level is low and plenty of sunlight is present. This makes the colours appear lighter and softer. When the water level is higher, the blue of the cavern appears deeper in colour.
24. Ciudad Perdida, Colombia
Meaning ‘Lost City’ in Spanish, this pretty much sums up what you can expect from Ciudad Perdida. This archaeological site is hidden away in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of Santa Marta. It is an ancient city believed to have been founded around 800 CE, making it even older than Machu Picchu!
Ciudad Perdida is one of the most iconic hikes in South America and has become a bucket list trek for many visitors to the country. Spanning either four or five days, the hike itself isn’t that long, however, the hills and climate make it challenging.
25. Rainbow Mountain, Peru
Rainbow Mountain was arguably the first South American landmark to crack Instagram. The social media network has brought who knows how many visitors to the colourful Vinicunca mountain and it isn’t showing signs of stopping yet!
Also known as the ‘Mountain of Seven Colours’, this unmistakable attraction is famous for its colourful stripes. While most photos will have the saturation turned up, the different hues are still visible to the naked eye and the rainbow in the rock is a unique spectacle that should be seen firsthand.
26. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
When it comes to extreme landscapes in South America, Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni is hard to surpass. The salt flats cover a whopping 4,050 square miles and look like nowhere else on earth. Bizzare, enchanting and completely ethereal, the thick crust of salt is made up of hexagonal patterns so perfect you’ll wonder how nature managed it.
Every year, during the rainy season, the nearby lakes flood, coating the salt flats in a thin layer of water. This transforms them into the world’s largest mirror, blurring the lines between land and sky (not to mention reality and dreams). See it for yourself.
27. Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina
Perito Moreno is one of the few glaciers in the entire world that is growing. Perhaps the most notable landmark in Los Glaciares National Park, this Pataogian jewel attracts nearly one hundred thousand visitors every year! Tours of different durations are available and the chance to hike on the glacier itself is one Argentinan hike that you should not miss.
Ruptures are common, especially when the afternoon sun hits the glacier. Boats venture out to the glacier to give visitors a better look at the glacier but luckily, they know not to get too close. People have actually been killed by falling ice blocks in the past so we recommend keeping your distance and enjoying this natural marvel from afar!
With far too many incredible landmarks in South America to name, this shortlist should be viewed as a starting point for planning a trip around the continent. While the above includes some of our favourite attractions, South America is full of unique and breathtaking sights and we’re sure more will be discovered (and constructed) in the future!
What is your favourite landmark in South America? Let us know in the comments.