There’s so much more to South America than Rio, the mythical site of Machu Picchu, and the Amazon, and folks in search of its hidden gems will find such enchantment once they steer off the tourist trail. With so many authentic, culturally rich, and naturally diverse destinations, off-the-beaten-path Latin America promises intrepid travelers an incredible journey of discovery.
From remote deserts and beautiful beaches to mountainous rainforest-laden lands and indigenous villages, discerning visitors in search of something new and mostly unseen in this magnificent part of the world have so much waiting for them. Be it for relaxation, adventure, or the perfect mix of the two, consider some of these underrated South American destinations the next time those jet-setting feet start to itch.
8 La Guajira, Colombia
Nestled in the farthest north-eastern reaches of Colombia, La Guajira is set along the glistening Caribbean Sea right next to its neighbor, Venezuela. It’s shocking why this part of Colombia isn’t as raved about as its other regions since it’s one of the country’s most striking places; the area’s desert coastline and its bright salt flats blend with the vibrant blue ocean to create remarkable scenery completely unique to other parts of the nation.
La Guajira is one of Colombia’s most perfect destinations for people who enjoy secluded, off-the-beaten-path realms combined with wildlife unseen anywhere else; it’s home to numerous native and endemic flora and fauna, as well as communities of indigenous people and excellent scuba diving opportunities. One of the best places in the area for people interested in discovering the wildlife is the secluded Los Flamencos Sanctuary – a dedicated wildlife reserve playing host to amazing species – particularly nesting birds, including American flamingos. The reserve is also located near Camarones, which is a beautiful yet tiny fishing village sitting right next to estuaries and marshes just alongside the Tapias River.
7 Chachapoyas, Peru
If exploring the lesser-known ruins of an ancient civilization sounds like an adventure to tick off the bucket list, then pack a bag and head for this marvelous Peruvian cloud forest retreat towering high up in the Andes, where pre-Incan archaeology and intense ecosystems of pristine flora and fauna thrive.
This town – which is just one hour away from the gorgeous Gocta waterfall – is barely visited, and as such has beautifully preserved historic lands overflowing with archaeological remnants, like the huge Kuelap Fortress, Purunllacta, and the eerie burial sites of Pueblo de Los Muertos and Karajia balancing right on the cliff’s edge.
Interestingly, the ancient people of the Chachapoyas civilization who once inhabited the region used to be known as the “Warriors of the Clouds” and were particularly famed for their extraordinary circular architecture.
6 Aisen Region, Chile
Chile is accelerating to become one of the newest tourism hotspots on the map, offering amazing diversity in its landscapes and a plethora of unique things to do and see. One of its legendary yet lesser-visited areas is the Aisen Region, which is as untouched as it is dreamy, offering lush green forests, glittery light blue lakes, and the most majestic of all; breathtaking Patagonian Ice Fields. As the least populated part of the country, visitors are far more likely to encounter wildlife than humans, with the likes of marine otters, sea lions, and even dolphins being sighted frequently.
And it’s not just photographers and wildlife lovers who’ll be at peace here; adventure addicts have a massive playground to discover, and one of the highlights is kayaking or boating down the Lago General Carrera in search of Patagonia’s Marble Caves – the natural artwork of millenniums of wind and water that carved out these mesmeric blue and grey marble caverns, tunnels, and pillars within a crystalline turquoise lake.
5 Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia
The surreal and otherworldly Bolivian salt flats may be one of the country’s most famous attractions, however, they are still one of South America’s most underrated, often overshadowed by its more popular parts. Indeed the best way to explore these off-road vast plains is by jumping in a four-by-four and road-tripping it, cruising through the lands that mirror the sky as they shimmer and reflect the sun’s blinding white light. If one thought that the color white couldn’t get any whiter, it’s time to think again, because this place truly defies the eyes as much as it dazzles them (plus the photo opportunities to be had here are pretty extra-terrestrial too).
4 Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica
Remote and remarkable, Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park is among the country’s top wildlife-spotting regions. With a dense rainforest populated by equally dense amounts of rare plant and animal species, trekking this jungle wonderland’s endless nature trails is a sure-fire way to be at one with the natural world.
And this open-world zoo of fauna and flora isn’t limited to the land; jump feet first into the waters in and around this place, and there’s a whole entire world of marine species to be encountered while snorkeling and diving on kaleidoscopic coral reefs.
3 Puna, Argentina
An adventure to Puna is a traveler’s track that few people get to experience, where there are seemingly more animals than people along with beguiling scenery of massive pumice stone fields, ancient volcanoes, and unreal alien landscapes. Be it salt flats, historic Incan trails, desert mazes, or intense turquoise oases, there’s so much striking work of Mother Nature at play all in one place – a place that feels like a completely different planet. The wildlife to be spotted in and around these parts is just as eye-catching as the ever-changing terrain too; think colorful flocks of flamingos and grazing llamas hanging around near old bricked pueblos.
2 Puno, Peru
As the home of one of South America’s largest lakes, one would think that Puno would see more outdoorsy and adventure-seeking tourists than it does. In fact, not only is Lake Titicaca one of the continent’s largest, it’s simultaneously the planet’s highest navigable body of water – a prestigious label that should beckon the most thrill-hunting globetrotters and photographers alike, yet it does minimally so.
It’s illogical why the place isn’t more popular, since it’s a melting pot of untouched lands and rich local culture – like in the fascinating town of Puno nestled along its north-west side, where deep-rooted cultural traditions seem to be the order of each day. Festive dances, folklore, cultural music, and traditional performances truly add to the charm of this isolated yet historically significant portion of Peru, which only hosts a population of less than 150,000.
In addition to interesting local culture, Puno also offers a menu of awesome outdoor activities. Visitors can enjoy tours of the lake, as well as its unique floating islands, its coastline, and its sensational surrounding areas. But don’t get too carried away upon arrival – some travelers may need to take some to acclimatize to the altitude before engaging in anything too energetic and strenuous as the terrain is approximately 2,830 meters above sea level.
1 Huacachina, Peru
Golden sandy desert and bold blue skies combine with wiggling horizon mirages in this stunning setting that looks like something out of a Star Wars movie, where a refreshing green oasis of palm trees marks the spot – Huacachina. Situated in Peru’s fascinating district of Ica, Huacachina invites travelers to another planet, where undulating sand dunes under stargazing skies make for an utterly unique experience away from the beaten path.
From sandboarding and hiking to candle-lit desert dinners under the stars, there’s both relaxation and heart-thumping action to be had in this undercelebrated part of Peru. Plus, Huacachina is a great base from which to see other incredible Peruvian destinations that aren’t too far away, such as Nazca and Paracas.
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