Editor’s Note: This post is part of the Viator Travel Awards, an annual awards competition where we – along with our readers, travelers, and fans – select the top things to do and see in each of the major regions we serve, the top things to do in our most popular tour categories, and more.
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Welcome to the 2016 Viator Travel Awards: Central and South America Edition! We’ve read hundreds of traveler reviews and pored over data from our most popular tours to bring you a list of experiences you won’t want to miss out on if you’re planning to travel to Central and South America in 2016.
The activities listed are as varied as the landscapes you encounter when you travel to Central and South America, from spending a long, lazy afternoon on a Brazilian beach to more active pursuits, like hiking to the ruins of Machu Picchu. But it’s not all about how active you are in your excursions across Central and South America. We also highlight activities that will give you a good glimpse into the culture, as well as the delicious cuisine and beautiful scenery that makes the continent so enticing.
So without further ado, here are the Top 25 Things to Do in Central and South America!
1. Trek to Machu Picchu
Few destinations in Latin America have captured our imagination like Peru’s Machu Picchu. The trek up the mountains to the ancient Lost City of the Incas is a legendary pilgrimage that tops any list of things you must do before you die. First-time visitors who are short on time, however, may take the Machu Picchu Day Trip from Cusco and spend the day soaking in the gorgeous views and the rich history of the famous ruins. Try out a more in-depth tour with a Viator Exclusive: Early Access to Machu Picchu with an Archaeologist. Maybe try your hand at the Inca Trail with a 4-Day Trek to Machu Picchu.
2. See Christ the Redeemer and Corcovado Mountain
Take a random postcard in any gift shop in Rio de Janeiro, and nine times out of ten you’ll spot the Corcovado Mountain with its landmark statue of Christ the Redeemer. Religious preferences aside, the climb up to Rio’s much-loved symbol is an absolute must, not only for the chance to see the statue up close, but also because you’ll get an unparalleled view of the city and the Tijuca rainforest below. The best way to get there? Take a Corcovado Mountain and Christ Redeemer Statue Half-Day Tour, which includes the cog train ride through the Tijuca rainforest right up to the mountain top. If you’re in the mood take in these locations and show, why not try a super saver like the Rio de Janeiro Super Saver: Corcovado and Sugar Loaf Mountain plus Plataforma Samba Show? For a more personalized experience, check out a Viator Exclusive: Early Access to Christ Redeemer Statue with Optional Sugar Loaf Mountain Tour.
3. Summit Sugar Loaf Mountain
Sugar Loaf Mountain stands high above the city below. Many times Sugar Loaf is combined with tours that also go to Corcovado Mountain and Christ the Redeemer statue. All three locations share expansive views of Rio de Janeiro. If you’re short on time, take a Sugar Loaf Mountain Half-Day Tour. To combine both of Rio’s highest hot spots, book a Corcovado Mountain, Christ Redeemer and Sugar Loaf Mountain Day Tour.
4. Discover the Best of Buenos Aires
Few cities are as dynamic as Buenos Aires, with old-world charm, stunning architecture, and a Europe-meets-South-America vibe that addicts travelers instantly. To see exactly what all the fuss is about, take a Buenos Aires Sightseeing Tour for an overview and to plan your itinerary for the rest of your trip. To add a bit of spice to your night, combine a City Sightseeing Tour and Tango Dinner Show. If you really want to go for the gusto, then add one more ingredient for the perfect mix with a City Sightseeing Tour, Tango Show with Dinner and Tigre Delta River Cruise.
5. Explore Argentina Beyond Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires is arguably the biggest draw for those visiting Argentina, but there’s more to this country than this world capital. To get out of town and see some lush scenery, book a Tigre Delta Day Trip from Buenos Aires and discover another way of life. To learn about the historic rural life of Argentina, take a Gaucho Day Trip from Buenos Aires for some horseback riding and fresh air. And for some real thrills, head further afield for a Day Trip to the Argentinian Side of Iguassu Falls from Foz do Iguaçu. Yes, you can visit the falls on the Argentine side!
6. See Lima
Spanish colonial architecture, modern touches and mouth-watering cuisine, Lima is yet another South American capital city that should be on every traveler’s list. If you’re itching to get a taste of this city before moving on to other destinations, see Lima in a Day: City Sightseeing Tour, Larco Museum and Magic Water Circuit – the last of which is a laser music show that will make your jaw drop! Get to know the history and hotspots on a more traditional Lima City Sightseeing Tour, or take advantage of the balmy weather with a Lima Open-Top Bus Tour. Then once you’ve gotten the lay of the land, try a Small-Group Lima Coast Bike Tour to discover the city’s fantastic coastline.
7. Visit the Glaciers of Patagonia
Traditionally we tend to think of Central and South America as being a fair-weathered land filled with beaches and jungles. But as you get closer to the tip, getting closer to Antarctica, glaciers start becoming a more prominent sight. In Argentina, take a Full Day Tour to the Perito Moreno Glacier. Or enjoy the glaciers from a different point of view with a Perito Moreno Glacier Day Trip from El Calafate with Optional Boat Ride. Really get up close and personal with the glaciers in Argentina with the El Calafate Adventure Tour: Hiking Across El Perito Moreno Glacier.
8. Explore Peru’s Other Wonders
If you’ve been to Peru and looking to explore beyond Maccu Picchu, don’t fret! There is so much else to see and do, especially with the city of Cusco as your starting point. See Sacred Valley, Pisac and Ollantaytambo on a full-day tour. Visit various Cusco Archeological and Religious Sites. Head to the Archeological Park of Sacsayhuaman on a half-day tour. Get a feel for traditional culture and ancient mysteries on a Temple of Pachacamac Half-Day Tour from Lima.
9. Soak up Carnival and Samba Shows in Rio
If flamboyant shows and exciting experiences are what you’re after, look no further than the magical season of Carnival in Rio! If you’re a little bit short on time, take advantage of the Rio de Janeiro Carnival Parade Ticket with Optional Transport. Samba reigns supreme in Rio, and you will be blown away by the sights and sounds of these amazing performers. Or if you’re exploring around Rio and in need of a night on the town, check out the Plataforma Samba Show in Rio de Janeiro. But if you want to have a full experience of sightseeing and fun, combine it all by seeing Corcovado and Sugar Loaf Mountain plus Plataforma Samba Show all in one day and night!
10. Get Lost in the Rainforest
There are very few places left in the world where untouched rainforest still exists. Central and South America are great places to get lost in the jungle and catch a rare glimpse into this forgotten piece of paradise. While staying in Rio, take a Tijuca Rainforest Jeep Tour from Rio de Janeiro. In Costa Rica, reach high into the canopy to experience the Buena Vista Rainforest Combo Tour that combines hot springs, volcanic mud facials, monkeys and a ziplining adventure. Learn where your favorite treat comes from on a San Jose Tropical Rainforest Adventure including Chocolate Tasting. If you’re interested in a more in-depth exploration, book a 3-Day Iquitos Amazon Jungle Adventure at Heliconia Lodge.
11. See the Famous Panama Canal
Among all of the natural wonders we find in Central and South America, there is one man-made marvel that is just as awe-inspiring. Built in the early 20th century as a way to shorten the shipping routes between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the 48-mile (77.1-km) canal is a feat of engineering and one definitely worth checking out. Cruise the canal through the fascinating Miraflores Locks on a Panama Canal Partial Transit Sightseeing Cruise or take the more complete Panama City and Canal Sightseeing Tour for a closer look at Panama’s most historic landmarks. To get up close and personal with the logistics of this historic passage, go on a Panama City Sightseeing Tour Including Miraflores Locks.
12. Explore the Volcanoes of Central America
For a bit of a walk on the wild side while traveling in Central America, try exploring the volcanoes of the region. An Arenal Volcano and Hot Springs Day Trip from San Jose will suit your needs while traveling through Costa Rica. On a Nicaragua Day Trip to Catarina, Masaya Volcano and Granada from Guanacaste, you’ll learn about the geology as well as the history of the country. Nature and culture collide on this Poas Volcano, Doka Coffee Estate and Sarchi Arts and Craft tour that will leave you with a more intimate knowledge of Costa Rica.
13. Learn About Rio’s Favelas
The favelas of Rio de Janeiro are deeply intertwined with the city’s history and an undeniable part of the cultural fabric. Even if you don’t have a lot of time in Rio, it’s arguably impossible to experience the city without visiting them. Try a half-day, highly educational Favela Tour in Rio de Janeiro, which will give you a solid overview and a chance to meet locals. If you have more time and want to put the favelas into context with the rest of this sprawling metropolis, then a combination Santa Teresa, Corcovado Mountain and Santa Marta Favela tour is the ticket for you.
14. See the Power of Iguassu Falls
Named one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, the Iguassu Falls are unrivaled when it comes to sheer beauty and variety in wildlife. Iguassu Falls may be visited from either of the two countries that it straddles. On the Brazilian side, take an Iguassu Falls Combo Tour: Off-Road Jungle Drive, Hike and Waterfall Boat Ride to add adventure to your trip. The Argentinian side offers a Full Day Tour to Iguazu Falls, as well as an Iguassu Falls Tour with a Waterfall Boat Ride. Don’t forget your passport on this Full-Day Sightseeing Tour of the Argentinian and Brazilian Sides of Iguassu Falls from Puerto Iguazú, which takes you to two countries in one day!
15. Explore South America’s Growing Wine Scene
Traditionally we think of wine tasting as being primarily located in the Mediterranean or over in the Napa Valley. But there is so much wine to be had to South America! Enjoy a combination of Argentinian tapas and wine in Buenos Aires while on a Buenos Aires Small-Group Wine Tasting tour. Mendoza, Argentina, is prime wine-tasting real estate and you can enjoy it in style by booking a Mendoza Wine Tour with Lunch. Chile is swiftly becoming a popular region for wine growing, so take a trip to visit the two premier vineyards, the Santa Rita and Concha and Toro Wineries. Also from Santiago is a chance to get in some exercise, with a Santa Rita Winery Bike and Wine Tour.
16. Go Sightseeing in Santiago
Santiago’s wide boulevards, neoclassical architecture, and a go-getting business atmosphere makes Chile a cosmopolitan paradise in South America. Because of its immense popularity, there are a variety of ways to discover the city while allowing enough time to get lost and discover it on your own. A Santiago City Sightseeing Tour has morning and afternoon times to better fit your schedule, and includes on-the-street history as well as panoramic views. A Santiago Hop-On Hop-Off Tour lets you be more spontaneous, and explore a new neighborhood immediately – but with the convenience of a pre-planned transport route. To get a more in-depth look, book a Private Tour of Santiago.
17. Experience Local Cuisine
Experience fantastic meals while traveling in Central and South America. Take a break from your cruise and stretch your legs with a Taste of Panama City: Walking Tour with Food and Drinks in Casco Viejo. If you want to also take to the kitchen, try the Buenos Aires Dining Experience: Empanada Making, Steak, Wine, Alfajores and Mate. See Argentinian nightlife in a whole new way with this Piazzolla Tango Show and Dinner in Buenos Aires.
18. Visit the National Parks
National parks come in all shapes and sizes. See all kinds of wildlife and nature while on all different kinds of day tours around Central and South America. Tortuguero National Park, as seen above, is a lush paradise home to a popular turtle nesting site. Get the best of the beach and jungle with a trip to Manuel Antonio National Park Day Trip from San Jose. Experience a fun day of hiking with a Full Day Tour to National Park of Cajas in Ecuador. For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, see the end of the world from a train on a Tierra del Fuego National Park Half-Day Tour!
19. Relax on the Beautiful Beaches of Central and South America
When the need to relax is topmost on your mind, nothing beats a beach vacation, and Central and South America have a variety to choose from along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Brazil alone has over 5,000 miles (8,000 km) of beaches, which basically guarantees you’ll find a quiet spot to sip your caipirinha. An Angra dos Reis Day Trip and Schooner Cruise leaving from Rio de Janeiro is nothing less than a day in paradise. Take a Goff’s Caye Barrier Reef Snorkeling and Beach Break, where you’ll have the chance to swim in spots that are only accessible by boat (perfect for cruise passengers!). For some of the best Chilean beaches, take a Vina Del Mar and Valparaiso Day Trip from Santiago. Or visit one of the biggest coral reefs of the Colombian Caribbean coast on a Rosario Islands Day Trip from Cartagena.
20. Explore the Temples and Ruins like Indiana Jones
Become an archaeologist and go see the various ruins and historical buildings and valleys south the equator. Peru isn’t just known for Macchu Picchu; take the Temple of Pachacamac Half-Day Tour from Lima. In Belize, visit the Mayan ruins with a Lamanai Day Trip from San Ignacio, or get a more comprehensive overview with an Altun Ha and Belize City Half-Day Tour. See everything from a bird’s eye view on a Tikal Day Trip by Air from Guatemala City with Lunch.
21. Zip Through the Jungle
You know you’ve always wanted to feel what it’s like to fly through the jungle, so why not make that dream come true in South America? Zip on through the canopy while on a Sarapiqui River Sightseeing Cruise and Zipline Canopy Tour from San Jose. Cruisers can get in on the action too, with a Roatan Shore Excursion Zip ‘n’ Dip Canopy Tour in Honduras. In Costa Rica, a day at the Vida Aventura Park in Guanacaste includes a Zipline tour, horseback ride and hot springs experience, so bring your bathing suit!
22. Get to Know Bogotá
With its location in the Andes Mountains and plenty of green spaces within the city limits, Bogotá is a refreshing take on a major city. Add gorgeous architecture, a fascinating history and delicious cuisine, and you have one of the top destinations in South America. To get the full effect of the city, try a Bogotá City Sightseeing Tour with Optional Lunch and Cable Car Ride. For a bit of retail therapy, book a Bogotá Small-Group Sightseeing Tour with Shopping at Zona Rosa and get ready to shop ’til you drop. And because of its role as a transportation hub, even if you don’t have a lot of time, you can still take advantage of a Bogotá Layover Private City Sightseeing Tour with Round-Trip Airport Transport.
23. See a Football Game
Sports, primarily soccer (or football), is a big part of life in Central and South America. You can participate in different sports activities, visit museums dedicated to sports, or attend matches while on your travels. Attend soccer matches in Rio de Janerio or Buenos Aires to experience the famed-sports culture in these two soccer-crazy cities. Get insider access to the stadium that has held two World Cup finals on a Maracanã Stadium Tour in Rio or on the Buenos Aires Behind the Scenes Soccer Stadium Tour.
24. Enjoy the Sun in Punta del Este
Punta del Este has everything you’d want from a South American resort town – great dining options, shopping galore, and miles of gorgeous beaches to rest your weary head and work on that tan. A Punta del Este Day Trip from Montevideo is a wonderful break from the city, and a day of fun in one of South America’s most charming beach towns. Cruise day trippers can get in on the action as well with a Private Sightseeing Tour of Punta del Este shore excursion. To strike out on your own, even when traveling on a budget, take advantage of the great rates for a Punta del Este Electric Bike Rental.
25. Galapagos Islands
Visiting the Galapagos Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage treasure, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and one that cannot be done in a day trip or shore excursion. But that doesn’t mean you have to go it alone! With small groups and transportation and accommodation taken care of, you can relax and enjoy the wonders of this destination. Like many trips, a Galapagos Islands Explorer Package from Santa Cruz Island combines six locations and hotel accommodations for the best of both worlds. Show up with just some clothes and a bathing suit once you’ve squared away booking a 5-Day Galapagos Island Hopping All-Inclusive Tour. A 4-Day Tour to Santa Cruz, Genovesa and San Cristobal Islands gives a great overview. For a full immersion into Darwin’s world, go all out and splurge on a 9-Night Galapagos Tour from Quito: San Cristobal, Isabela, Florena and Santa Cruz Island.
– Viator Travel Team