Brazil's beaches are top of many people's list in terms of South America's highlights. The huge number of bewilderingly beautiful resorts, each with it's own unique charms can be staggering and overwhelming. The Lencois National Park in North East Brazil, just East of Sao Luiz, offer some of the most wonderful undeveloped beaches in all Brazil – there's huge empty beaches backed by shimmering sand dunes that run for about 200 km. For those who seek a more developed resort, there's also a host of small, chic options throughout Brazil – Jericoacoara, Pipa, Florianopolis, Morro do Sao Paulo and Fernando de Noronha are just a few.
Brazil is huge in size, and its interior has some of the worlds best wildlife viewing. The Pantanal wetlands are the best option for seeing animals – you'll see huge numbers of birds, as well as larger wildlife such as crocodiles, anacondas and even the elusive jaguar if you are lucky.
Brazil's Amazon jungle is also an amazing experience. Waking up to the sounds of monkeys screaming outside your lodge can be quite frayting, but highly memorable. There's lots of wildlife that can be seen in the Amazon, but a visit is more about experiencing quite how enchanting the rainforest can be.
Iguassu Falls is on the border of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. For many this is South America's number 1 travel highlight. The roaring waterfalls are truly monstrous in size – visit during the rainy season for the most impressive views. There's also good birdwatching and jungle lodges in nearby Argentina.
Torres del Paine National Park in Southern Chile is South America's top trekking destination. A wilderness of spectacular granite peaks and beautiful lakes will amaze all visitors, and there are some fantastic week long trekking possibilities. Torres del Paine is remote – it's 5 hours travel overland from the nearest airport at Punta Arenas, but this is certainly some of South America's most amazing scenery.
Chile's Atacama desert is bleakly beautiful. Volcanoes spring out of a barren lunar like landscape full of geysers and salt flats. There's also some amazing pre-Inca fortresses and excavated stone age settlements to enthral visitors.
South America's most frequently visited tourism attraction is the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. The location high in the Andes is quite spectacular, as are the ruins themselves. Adventurous travelers prefer to travel to Machu Picchu by way of the Inca Trail, a legendary 4 day mountainous hike through mountains, rainforests and Inca sites to the ruins of Machu Picchu themselves.
Ecuador's Galapagos Islands are expensive, but many people's first choice for a trip to South America. Darwin was so amazed by the natural biodiversity that he studied the fauna intensively – this is where the theory of evolution was born. The amount of wildlife in the Galapagos Islands is quite staggering – there's sea lions, penguins, seals, sharks, whales, turtles, tortoises plus a huge range of birdlife. What makes the Galapagos Islands so special is that the wildlife has no fear of humans – the animals treat visitors as if they were simply another animal, inquisitively approaching them. There are a lot of concerns that the environment is being irrevocably damaged in the Galapagos Islands – if you do visit, check your tour operators responsible tourism credentials.
The most beautiful and romantic colonial city in South America can be found in Cartagena, in Colombia. The fact that the city is still not overrun with tourists simply adds to the charm. Cartagena is well away from Colombia's trouble spots, and has long been a safe city to visit. Many cruise ships now make a regular port of call. While the cities beaches are rather unclean and hectic, the nearby Rosario Islands offer a perfect beach retreat.
Some of South America's most spectacularly beautiful beaches are found at Park Tayrona. The landscape could be described as an empty tropical beach paradise, full of beautiful bays and coves. The fact that there is only one hotel (although lots of camping options) keeps the tourist hordes away – at Park Tayrona you can experience a paradise without seeing another soul all day.
Many people travel to Venezuela for just one reason – to visit Angel Falls. At 979 meters in height, Angel Falls is the worlds highest waterfall. A flight over the falls is a quite spectacular experience, or alternatively canoe trips can be arranged to see the falls at close quarters. The landscape in nearby Canaima National Park is also quite beautiful – this is where the Last of the Mohicans film was shot.