From ancient sites to breathtaking natural wonders and unrivalled wildlife diversity, South America has it all. Whether you’re keen to step back in time to the mighty Incan Empire or immerse yourself in otherworldly landscapes, there’s no shortage of mystery to uncover here.
With this in mind, we’ve partnered with Cosmos, who deliver budget-friendly escorted holidays, to bring you 11 mysterious South American adventures.
On a Cosmos escorted tour, all the details like hotels, transportation, and sightseeing are taken care of – so you can focus on fully immersing yourself in the experience.
1. Explore Lake Titicaca and the Floating Islands of Uros, Peru and Bolivia
Lake Titicaca is the largest freshwater lake in South America, and the highest navigable lake in the world. It sits 3,810 metres above sea level between Peru and Bolivia, with striking Andes ranges cradling it from either side. Titicaca is dubbed as the birthplace of the first Inca king, and today, it remains home to the fascinating Floating Islands of Uros.
The Uros people predate the Inca civilization and are famous for their centuries-old practice of creating man-made islands, homes, and traditional boats from totora reed. On a tour with Cosmos, you’ll uncover how the local people integrate their Spanish and Incan past and learn all about how the Uros people construct their islands, homes, and boats.
Immerse yourself in the mystery of Lake Titicaca
2. Trek through the Amazon Rainforest, Brazil
Although the Amazon Rainforest covers 2.6 million square miles across nine different countries, a mighty 60% of it is located in Brazil. Home to 10% of all plant and animal species known to Earth – as well as 24 million people in Brazil – the Amazon is unparalleled in its diversity of life. So, it’s no surprise that it has plenty of mystery to uncover.
On a Cosmos escorted tour, you’ll stay inside the rainforest; enjoying naturalist-guided walks through the amazing flora and fauna, and connecting with locals on visits to traditional Amazon villages. Then, prepare to cruise down the Rio Negro which joins with Rio Solimoes to form the mighty Amazon River in the famous ‘Meeting of the Waters’.
Discover the wonders of Brazil’s Amazon
3. Wander through Recoleta Cemetery, Argentina
Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina, is one of the world’s most extraordinary graveyards. This exclusive cemetery houses over 6,400 coffins which resemble everything from Greek temples to Gothic temples and fairytale grottoes, and it’s been the last stop for many of Argentina’s most well known residents.
One particularly popular grave to visit at Recoleta cemetery is that of Eva Peron. The beloved – if not slightly controversial – First Lady of Argentina from 1946 to 1952 was an active campaigner in female suffrage. Peron is especially known for her role in obtaining women’s right to vote in Argentina in 1947.
Explore one of the world’s most unusual graveyards
4. Visit the Catacombs of Lima, Peru
Peru’s capital, Lima, is full of wonderful sightseeing spots that tell us more about the country’s heritage. The 11-century baroque-style Monastery of San Francisco and its accompanying church may be two of Lima’s most attractive sights, but they also house an eerie secret. Lying beneath the monastery are the skulls and bones of an estimated 70,000 people.
Here, wealthy Lima residents have been laid to rest since colonial times. But, since the catacombs couldn’t expand and, naturally, residents kept dying, the bodies had to be stacked. Once decomposed, the bones were arranged in an artistic, circular pattern to make them more aesthetically pleasing to visitors. The catacombs are considered the largest in the continent and are a must-see on any city tour of Lima.
Have a spooky experience in the catacombs of Lima
5. Get lost in Valparaiso, Chile
Exploding with colour and character, the vibrancy of Valparaiso in Chile has long inspired poets and writers, such as the famous Pablo Neruda, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971. Pablo’s electrically decorated Valparaiso home, La Sebastiana, is now a charming museum with collections of paintings, glass, and figureheads – and stunning views across the city.
With Cosmos, you’ll have ample time to marvel at the quirky architecture of this World Heritage City and uncover the many stories hidden in Valparaiso’s narrow, twisting streets, which snake up and down the steep hills. When you’ve finished exploring, the nearby resort of Vina del Mar, with its beautiful gardens and beaches, is the ideal place to wind down.
Get inspired by Valparaiso
6. Step back in time in The Sacred Valley, Peru
The lush green Sacred Valley lies 15km north of Cusco. Used by the Inca people as a home and for maize production, it boasts rich history, authentic Peruvian towns and villages, and an uncountable number of ruins. With Cosmos, you’ll have the opportunity to learn more with visits to various ancient villages in the valley.
At Awanakancha you’ll learn about how Inca cultures transformed camelid coats into fibres for weaving; and, at Ollantaytambo, you’ll find one of the best surviving examples of Inca town planning. The ruins at Ollantaytambo also house some of the best stone work outside of Machu Picchu and were the site of the Incan resistance against the Spanish conquest.
Unravel Inca mysteries in the Sacred Valley
7. Puzzle over the giant stone statues on Easter Island, Chile
Easter Island remains one of South America’s greatest mysteries. Located some 2,300 miles off of Chile’s west coast, the island was formed by a series of volcanic eruptions and later became the home of nearly 900 giant stone statues. To this day, it’s still unknown precisely why these statues were constructed and how they were moved around the island.
With Cosmos, you can explore the mystery of this utterly unique open-air island museum. Marvel at the statues in various stages of completion, gaze at the second oldest volcano on the island, Rano Kau, and visit the topknot-quarry where all of the hat-like structures placed on top of the statues were made.
Be captivated by Easter Island
8. Enjoy an Argentine Tango Show, Argentina
Argentine Tango is more than just a dance style. Referred to as “a secret danced by two people”, this mysterious and fiery style of tango relies on intuition and connection. It originated in the late 19th century on the streets of Buenos Aires, when European immigrants, former slaves, and lower classes began to ease the pain of being far from home by dancing.
Seeing an Argentine tango show first-hand is a dramatic, exciting, and often mesmerising experience – and definitely one to tick off the bucket list. As you watch, you can enjoy trying to unravel the story being told through the steps. There’s also much to learn about the history of the Argentine Tango and how it was once banned for being too passionate.
Watch the Tango in Buenos Aires
9. Visit the sacred refuge of Machu Picchu, Peru
Nestled in the slopes of the Andes, the remarkable 15th-century ruins of Machu Picchu continue to reveal secrets of the Inca Empire today. It’s believed to have served as a royal estate or sacred religious site for Inca leaders. And the incredibly well-preserved ruins, dramatic location, and mist-shrouded mountains make it a bucket list experience for many travellers.
On a tour with Cosmos, you’ll ascend towards Machu Picchu up mountains and through tropical forest – hearing about the many accomplishments of the Incas along your journey. Gaze at the stonework, soak in the history, and learn all about how after the Inca Empire fell to the Spanish, Machu Picchu remained undiscovered for nearly 400 years.
Discover the secrets of Machu Picchu
10. Get up close to Iguassu Falls, Argentina and Brazil
Wider than Victoria Falls and taller than Niagara Falls, Iguassu Falls is the most extensive waterfall system in the world. It spans roughly 2.7 kilometres between Brazil and Argentina and, with over 275 individual waterfalls, Iguassu’s might and majesty is breathtaking. It’s no wonder that the Falls have earned their place as one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.
Surrounded by lush rainforest, Iguassu Falls is also home to over 2,000 plant, 400 bird, and 70 mammal species – so keep an eye out as you make your way through the ecological jungle trail. Plus, with boat tours that take you right up close to the falls, there’s plenty of adventure and thrill to be sought here too.
Experience the power and might of Iguassu Falls
11. Trek through Colca Canyon, Peru
Carved by the mighty Colca River in the Peruvian Andes, Colca Canyon is an astonishing geological formation. Twice the depth of the Grand Canyon and surrounded by snow capped mountains, volcanoes, endless trekking routes, and giant condors that soar the skies, everything about Colca Canyon is extreme.
With a visit to Condors’ Cross – an observation point within the canyon where you can watch Andean condors in flight at eye level – sometimes a moment is needed to digest the enormity of these mighty birds. Then, once you’ve had your fill of nature, the nearby city of Yanque (the main tourist entrance gate to Colca Canyon) is well worth exploring too.
Experience the magic of Colca Canyon
In all its great diversity and mystery, South America is the ideal place for an adventure. Whether you see yourself exploring ancient ruins or wandering through the natural wonders of Iguassu Falls or the Amazon Rainforest, Cosmos has an escorted tour to suit every dream.
You can browse more South American tours with Cosmos using the button below.
Alternatively, for further reading, head over to the travel section of our website.
Where have you travelled to in South America? Which of the places on our list spark your interest? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.