Underrated South American Destinations You Shouldn't Sleep On, According To Locals

While thinking of destinations to visit in South America, we typically consider places like "Machu Picchu" or "Buenos Aires," and for good reason. According to Statista, the most visited South American countries in 2022 included Colombia, Brazil, and Argentina, respectively. Colombia alone welcomed approximately 4.5 million international tourists. That's a lot of people. But if you're trying to beat the crowds while still getting a taste of some of South America's rich culture, maybe it's time you consider visiting some of the continent's more underrated destinations.

We spoke with various South American nationals to learn about their favorite underrated places to visit and when to visit them. Whether you're looking for beautiful hikes, archeological ruins, or underdeveloped hidden beaches, you can plan to be spoiled with choices when visiting the locations we've compiled. These destinations are also considered safe while offering a variety of incredible landscapes and activities off the beaten path.

Puerto Madryn, Argentina

Located in the region of Chebut, Patagonia, Puerto Madryn offers a variety of wildlife such as penguins, dolphins, sea lions, sea elephants, and whales. Puerto Madryn is rich in rugged landscapes, stunning sunsets, and charming coasts. Locals say that the Valdez Peninsula is the best place to go from May to December to see whales migrate to breed. If you visit the nature reserve in Punta Tombo between September to April, you'll find yourself surrounded by thousands of penguins among stunning landscapes of red rocks and turquoise waters. 

To learn more about the region, Ecocentro is a stunning cliff-top museum with unique exhibits that artistically and interactively educate visitors about the biology and ecology of the Puerto Madryn region. You can also take historic tours at Punta Cuevas and visit a variety of museums, such as the Oceanographic and Natural Sciences Museum and the Municipal Museum of Art. 

If you're looking for more adventurous activities, Puerto Madryn offers scuba diving sessions, sailing and boat tours, and kayaking. Some favorite local spots include El Doradillo, Punta Este, Parana, and Playa Casino. Savor each moment by eating authentic cuisine, which includes seafood and asado, and after spending the day sightseeing and exploring,  Puerto Madryn boasts several highly-ranked accommodations, including a variety of private rentals and five-star hotels.

Mendoza, Argentina

Situated in a valley surrounded by the stunning Andes mountains, Mendoza is a picture-perfect destination that beckons visitors to wine and dine in Argentina. Here, there's something for every type of foodie, from rural, family-run eateries to celebrity chef-owned restaurants. You can savor acclaimed chef Francis Mallmann's regional dishes at Siete Fuegos, or visit Al Pasillo, a closed-door restaurant in Chef Angelo and his wife Claudia's home. Outside of the city, you can experience the stunning backdrop of the grape-growing regions of Maipu, Valle de Uco, and Lujan de Cuyo, while sampling incredible Malbec wine paired with authentic meats, cheeses, and artisan breads.

But don't just come for the food and wine; the area offers a variety of activities, including fly fishing, horseback riding, mountain biking at the foothills of the Andes Mountains, and white water rafting along the Mendoza River. Walking through the city, along the cobblestone roads, you'll find yourself surrounded by a diversity of art and modern deco buildings. Plan to visit Plaza Independencia and the Museo Municipal de Arte Moderno. 

The Mendoza culture is very traditional Argentine, and many businesses, cafes, and shops close during the "siesta" time between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. October through April have been considered as the best months to visit Mendoza, but if you plan to visit during spring or fall, you'll be welcomed by warm temperatures (around 70 degrees Fahrenheit) and beautiful fall colors. 

Valparaiso, Chile

Valparaiso is a vibrant port city on Chile's coast filled with color and diversity. Often referred to as Little San Francisco for its maze of hills, Valparaiso is bursting with colorful cliff-top homes and European-inspired architecture. This is a place that offers steep and narrow streets, endless staircases, and a gritty bohemian vibe. Valparaiso has been a place of inspiration for poets and writers, including the world-famous poet and politician Pablo Neruda. 

Steeped in history and culture, Valparaiso offers a little something for everyone. Ride the historic funicular elevators to enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of the unique architecture of the UNESCO World Heritage City. Savor authentic Chilean cuisine while walking the streets and coastline or taking part in Chilean cooking classes. You can explore the La Sebastiana Museum, where Pablo Neruda once lived, participate in the city's many carnivals, or visit during Christmas and New Year to experience Valparaiso's famed fireworks display on the oceanfront. 

To immerse into the coastal atmosphere, explore the port and fishing wharves, walk the incredible beaches of Playa Canelo and Playa Renaca, and sample freshly caught seafood at the market. You can also visit historic landmarks such as the Valparaiso Historic Quarter, Cerro Concepcion, Plaza Sotomayor, and the Corporate Museum of Archaeology and History. Plan to visit Valparaiso from January to March if you want to go swimming, but for the most part, Valparaiso offers good weather year-round.

Carretera Austral, Chile

The Carretera Austral is more than 745 miles of natural beauty along the incredibly scenic Patagonian Route in Chile. If you're looking for a variety of activities, adventure sports, and breathtaking landscapes, then driving along and exploring the Carretera Austral is an ideal option. The Carretera Austral runs from Puerto Montt to Villa O'Higgins, passing through rural Patagonia and Chile's Aysen Region. 

In the region, you can take in breathtaking scenic views by visiting the 22 national parks and reserves. Consider river rafting on the Futaleufú River or hiking to see the San Rafael glacial lagoon. You can spend days hiking through lush rainforests, along fjords, and among green valleys. For something truly unique, plan a trip to General Carrera Lake to see the surreal colors and shapes of Chile's unique marble caves that span over various small islands.

The entire Aysen region offers incredible activities and landscapes, so renting a car is recommended. Plan to take a camera, pay entrance fees to some of the parks, and reserve tour guides to safely access more remote places. You can choose to stay in hostels, cabins, or hotels along the route, but camping is also an option for those who wish to stay in a region while hiking.

Huacachina, Peru

Huacachina is a tiny village turned desert oasis found just outside the city of Ica. At the heart of this oasis is the green waters of the Huacachina Lagoon surrounded by beautiful palm trees and rolling sand dunes. While Huacachina may seem small, it is full of a variety of unique activities. Book a dune buggy tour for an after-hours adventure or rent a sandboard for the day. After your desert adventure, paddleboard or rent a peddle boat to cruise the lagoon, mingle at the city's bars and clubs, or relax in the pool at Banana's Adventure, a lively hostel. 

Locals recommend shopping in the beautiful markets throughout Huacachina and Ica but suggest bringing cash as many of the market stalls don't accept cards. Visitors have a variety of accommodation options, including private rentals, hotels, and hostels, or if you want a more unique experience, reserve a glamping tent to spend the night out in the desert under the stars. 

While here, plan a day trip to the Ballestas Islands to see sea lions, or take a tour of the Pisco vineyards for wine tastings. You can also take a scenic flight over the mysterious Nazca Lines. If you want to visit Huacachina on a day trip, instead of staying in the small village, you can book a full-day excursion from Lima.

Sacred Valley, Peru

The Sacred Valley is nestled between Cusco and Machu Picchu. Surrounded by the Andes mountains and dotted with ancient ruins and fortresses, the valley offers a more peaceful, less crowded experience than Cusco and Machu Picchu, allowing visitors to engage in a variety of activities such as kayaking, horseback riding, and hiking. See the mysterious circular terraces of the Maras Salt Mines, explore the incredible archaeological sites at Ollantaytambo, and immerse into traditional Incan culture at Chinchero, also known as the "land of rainbows." The best time of year to visit is from April to December, outside of the rainy season.

For an adrenaline rush, consider climbing to your accommodations by staying at SkyLodge Adventure Suites. These transparent capsules offer the incredible experience of looking out over Cuzco's Sacred Valley. However, you must either climb up via Ferrata or hike difficult trails and zipline to access your hanging, windowed capsule. SkyLodge Adventure Suites, along with other tour guides, also offer other planned activities that expose you to the unique Peruvian culture, cuisine, and breathtaking landscapes of the Sacred Valley. 

Uyuni, Bolivia

Found amid the Andes in Southwest Bolivia, Uyuni is home to one of the world's largest salt flats, Salar de Uyuni, and is considered one of the most beautiful places in South America to visit. Created from evaporation, the remnants of what was once a prehistoric lake created a breathtaking, bright-white landscape. During the summer months, this salt landscape creates geometric designs, while in the winter or rainy season, the rain and wet surface create the effect of a giant mirror. Here, you can experience stunning landscapes of rock formations and cacti-studded islands. Locals recommend taking a tour in a 4x4 vehicle to fully experience the incredible landscapes and to stargaze at night. The area offers some of the world's most incredible views of the Milky Way and stars.

While here, visit Laguna Colorada to snap photos of the hundreds of pink flamingos that stroll through the vibrant, red-tinted water of the lake. Take a day trip out to see the stunning colors of the Tunupa volcano, or visit the geysers of Sol de Mañana (Morning Sun geyser). Other notable places to visit include the community of Colchani, Incahuasi Island, the Salt Hotel Museum, and the Chantani Museum. There are a variety of hotels and hostels in and around Uyuni. While both rainy and dry seasons offer unique experiences, locals warn that if you plan to visit during the rainy season, be prepared for potential flooding and closures.

Isla Gran Roque, Venezuela

Isla Gran Roque is a part of the Los Roques Archipelago and offers visitors incredibly blue waters, relaxing and stunning beaches, beautiful sunsets, and outdoor adventure. These islands offer exceptional coral reefs, mangroves, wildlife, and stunning backdrops. Plan to fly to Los Roques via small aircraft or by sailing from the port city docks. Los Roques Archipelago National Park is composed of over 300 islands and cays and has become a well-sought-after haven for sun-chasers and adventurers. 

Popular activities include snorkeling and scuba diving along the coral reefs, soaking up the sun on the white-sanded beaches, windsurfing, sailing, and fishing. Other popular activities include visiting the Old Dutch Lighthouse and taking in the breathtaking views of the western lagoons. To make the most of your time here, consider visiting during the Virgen del Valle celebrations in September or during the Lobster Festival in November. On Isla Gran Roque, visitors typically stay in "posadas," or converted fisherman homes that vary in style and price.

La Guajira, Colombia

La Guajira is a Colombian region along the Caribbean Sea bordering Venezuela. It is renowned for its beautiful desert landscapes, sand dunes, traditional fishing villages, and the Wayuu culture. The contrast of the desert's colors against the stunning turquoise waters of the Caribbean is truly remarkable. You can experience incredibly beautiful sunsets and star-dotted skies along dense landscapes with beautiful cliffsides. Visit Cabo de la Vela, a desert village and mythological place considered to be home of the Wayuu God Maleiwa, and see the photogenic flamingos at Los Flamencos Fauna and Flora Sanctuary. 

Other notable attractions include the Omar Ibn Al-Khattab Mosque and the Salinas de Manaure, a salt flat in an unworldly landscape. Locals recommend immersing yourself in the Wayuu culture of this region by staying at a rancheria within the communities, but if you prefer to stay in a hotel, you have a variety of options, including the popular Makao Beach Hotel

Suesca, Colombia

Suesca is a unique town in the Almeidas Province, about an hour north of Bogota. It's known for its diverse green landscapes and valleys, cliffs, and mountainsides that offer visitors plenty of activities, including rock climbing and repelling, bungee jumping, horseback riding, and hiking opportunities. You can trek the Desierto de la Tatacoita to see stunning rock pillars or hike the Cerros de las Tres Viejas for impressive, panoramic views of Covadonga Hill and the Tomine and Sisga Reservoirs. For something less intense, Suesca Rocks provides easy-to-intermediate hiking trails and climbing opportunities. 

Locals recommend visiting Suesca from June to September for pleasant temperatures and less rain. They also suggest making a trip to the mountains of Sesquile to explore the caves, waterfalls, and the hot springs in Macheta. Above all, however, locals recommend visiting the Termales los Volcanes for a relaxing and enriching spa-like experience. In Suesco, you can camp in designated locations, rent a glamping cabin, or book a room at a small hotel or inn, such as Hotel Rural La Esperanza in Suesca and the Hotel Rokas

Arraial do Cabo, Brazil

Arraial do Cabo is a coastal town in the state of Rio de Janeiro that features white-sand beaches and bright blue waters. Here, you can snorkel, dive shipwrecks, and reserve a boat tour to explore surrounding islands and beaches, such as the famous Ilha do Japonês, known for its thatched huts and coastal landscapes. Other highlights of the area include the Gruta Azul (Blue Grotto) cave and the ruins of the Cabo Frio Lighthouse. As one of Brazil's oldest cities, it is full of historical and cultural landmarks, such as the Sao Matheus Fort and the Nossa Senhora dos Remedios Church.

Lounge on Praia do Forno, a popular area beach, or rent a buggy car to explore the town and surrounding area. Arraial do Cabo offers a variety of accommodations, including hostels, private rentals, and modern hotels. Locals recommend visiting the cove at Prainha Beach and experiencing Brazil's famed nightlife at local nightclubs. 

Island of Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

Located off Brazil's northeast coast, Fernando de Noronha is a volcanic archipelago that consists of 21 islands and islets. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this beautiful South American destination is renowned for its undeveloped beaches and wildlife. This is a trip that requires careful planning, as access to visitors is strictly controlled to protect its delicate ecosystem.

Marine life includes sea turtles, dolphins, and reef sharks, which makes activities like snorkeling, surfing, boating, and scuba diving very popular here. On land, you can explore ecological trails, visit the Shark Museum, hike to see the famous Morro Dois Irmaos, and sand surf on the north side of the island. As a note, you'll need to apply for a permit to trek through the Fernando de Noronha Marine National Park, and you can only hike the area with an accredited guide.

Although Fernando de Noronha is restrictive about what you can do and when you can go, locals boast of its beauty and advise giving yourself at least four days to fully experience the area. If you're trying to travel during a time when you can save costs on steep hotel prices, consider visiting Fernando de Noronha between March and May.


To find out which underrated South American destinations should be added to our list, we spoke with locals to get an idea of what locations offered beautiful landscapes, a wealth of activities, and a range of amenities. We also inquired about the best time to visit each destination.