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Sure. You could go to the same places everyone visits in South America, but why not strike out on your own? Of course, that is not to say those places aren’t worth seeing – landmark sites such as Machu Picchu, Iguassu Falls and Cusco should not be overlooked. But there is a lot more to see – it’s a big continent! Let us share a few gems as the beginning of your guide to the best off-the-beaten-path cities to travel in South America – bring your camera and let’s go!
Punta del Este, Uruguay
When considering a visit to South America, somehow the smaller countries of Uruguay and Paraguay get lost in the shuffle, and they are definitely worth the visit. Punta del Este on the Atlantic Ocean is a great location for relaxation with beaches, culture, nightlife and superb food! The population is only 10,000, but the city boasts some 24,000 households, with an abundance of part-timers owning or renting residences. The climate is about as perfect as it gets, with a summer high of 71-72 degrees and a winter average in the low 50’s.
One of the most famous landmarks is the La Mano de Punta del Este, or The Hand, sculpted by Chilean artist Mario Irarrázabal in 1982. Be sure to have your photo taken where the five fingers rise up from the sandy beach.
San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina
A trip to Argentina usually means visiting Buenos Aires – after all, it is the capital as well as the birthplace of the tango. But, there are a lot of other great cities and sites to see such as San Carlos de Bariloche, at the foothills of the Andes. As compared to other ancient cities in South America, this is new, although a deeper history surrounds it.
There is a strong German presence here, from the European settlers during the late 19th century. In the 1930’s the city’s center was redesigned in the appearance of an Alpine town. Although the elevation is just under 3,000 feet, it does snow here. It absolutely resembles a European Alpine town and the local chocolate is to die for! While not well-known by North Americans, tourism is the number one driver for the economy and is popular among many Brazilians and Europeans for skiing during the winter.
Located in southwestern Peru, this is a true oasis in the sand. Huacachina is a small village with palm trees surrounding a natural lake, or lagoon. It’s located just five miles from the city of Ica, with its population of 222,000. Huacachina, however, only has about 100 permanent residents, but the community sees tens of thousands of visitors each year. The waters and mud are said to have curing powers much like hot springs. It is believed to relieve arthritis, rheumatism, asthma, and bronchitis.
Of course, there are numerous hotels, restaurants, and clubs here. Sandboarding has become a large sport. And, whether you just want to relax, or prefer to take up with the numerous dune buggy riders in the area, it’s a perfect stop on your South American getaway.
Ouro Preto, Brazil
A historical mining town, Ouro Preto dates back to the late 17th century. The name means black gold, and the town is of Baroque architecture with local museums, churches, bridges, and fountains, making it a great place to visit for history buffs and architecture hounds. Ouro Preto was one of the main focal points of the Brazilian gold rush.
Located in southeastern Brazil, Ouro Preto is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While there is little gold left to be found, the city and surrounding area is still quite active in mining being the home to imperial topaz, which is only found here. Local artists carve sandstone figures to sell to the tourist trade, which this city of 70,000 now relies upon. The city holds an annual Carnaval in February or March, starting the Saturday before Lent, and ending the day before Ash Wednesday.
Baños de Agua Santa, Ecuador
Banos de Agua Santa translates to Baths of Holy Water. A Roman Catholic religious center, Banos lies in the center of Ecuador, in the northern foothills to the Tungurahua volcano, at an elevation of about 6,000 feet. The city has approximately 17,000 residents.
Surrounded by beauty and in the mist of some 60 waterfalls, zip lining is among other sporting activities that have become a major tourist attraction. Here’s another you didn’t even know was on your list – swing on the world’s highest swing! Located at the Tungurahua observation station, in the tree Casa del Arbol, swing if you dare out over the deep canyon. Adventurers take note — There are no safety nets here; you are on your own!
There are a lot of reasons to visit South America, whether bucket list items, breathtaking views to fill the photo album or deepening your knowledge of history and culture. It helps to know a bit of Spanish, or Portuguese, especially when traveling off the beaten path.