Machu Picchu is widely regarded as one of, if not the best, tourist attraction for culture and heritage in the whole of South America. The historic Inca temple is visited by literally millions of people every year, making it by far the most popular spot in the whole of Peru.
But what about all those amazing places in South America that go unnoticed? Today we’re going to explore five South American attractions which rival Machu Picchu when it comes to tourist appeal.
1. Salar de Uyuni – Bolivia
This rather unique section of land is the world’s largest salt flat – spanning out over ten thousand square kilometres in the south-western section of Bolivia. Owing to the unrivalled construct of the lie of the land, this spot is unsurprisingly an area which sees many budding photographers flock to get picturesque images.
During the dry season the area is completely flat, with pure white salt spanning out as far as the eye can see. When it’s wet, it’s still possible to drive over – but will be topped by an ankle-thin layer of water. Some argue the flats are actually more beautiful in the wet season as a result of the shimmering glow that’s given off by the water.
The surrounding areas are made significantly more colourful as a result of the flats’ presence, with differing levels of salt (which runoff from local mountains) producing a wide array of coloured lakes. Most of these appear as fluorescent in the daytime.
The flats are without question worth seeing – simply because it’s highly unlikely you’ll find such an individual scene anywhere else in the world.
2. Sacred Valley – Peru
Located in incredibly close proximity to Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley is another Incan site of significant cultural importance. It is believed this area was at one point the beating heart of their empire, but in modern times plays host to vast areas of majestic natural beauty.
The valley itself contains some amazing wildlife, as well as the miraculous Ollantaytambo Ruins. These gigantic constructs are relatively common for Incan people, but the rocks which reside at the top of them are far more puzzling.
They’re made of granite, with scientists and historians still unsure how these people were able to carve them – owing to the lack of metal strong enough or available to them at the time. How they hauled thousands of tonnes’ worth up the perilous slopes without wheels is also unclear.
Regardless, the region is relatively free from tourists – that despite being located so near to Machu Picchu. It’s certainly one for any intrepid adventurers looking to try something a little different.
3. Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) – Colombia
Perhaps nowhere on our list fits into the category of a rival to Machu Picchu as well as this Colombian locale, in the top three on Secret Traveller’s guide to places no one knows about. Situated in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, the Lost City was, fittingly, only rediscovered as recently as the 1970s.
If you’re looking for a spot which has all the mystical and historical appeal of a place like Machu Picchu, but crucially lacks the hordes of photo-happy tourists which walk hand-in-hand with holiday hotspots, get to Ciudad Perdida in Colombia as soon as possible.
This “lost city” was built by the Tayrona people in the 11th century, and when Spanish invaders arrived on their shores the locals were forced to abandon their homes, leaving the city to go forgotten about for centuries.
That’s no longer an issue however, with people once again able to freely roam about and explore this ancient wonder. We hope you don’t mind a slight hike though – with it taking four days just to reach this famous landmark via foot. The journey is an experience in itself.
4. Los Glaciares National Park – Argentina
This incredible area of natural beauty in Argentina is one of the very few places on Earth where you’ll be able to simultaneously witness both vast areas of snowy-white mountain ranges, as well as luscious green fields.
Los Glaciares National Park was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1981, and stands out as one of the primary locations to visit in the whole of South America – regardless of what season you’re in when travelling to it.
Perito Moreno is the most famous of the many glaciers available to see here – located in the southern section of the park. This particular chunk of ice has grown popular as a result of its unique forwards and backwards rocking movement, as well as the fantastic ice structures which fall from it regularly.
Thousands of different types of flowers also grow in the park, with a wide range of fauna – most notably alpacas and mountain lions – also taking residence in the area. For fans of the living world, this region of Argentina is simply one you can’t afford to miss.
5. Tijuca Forest – Brazil
The Tijuca Forest in Brazil is argued by some to be the largest urban forest in the world (with others disputing that in fact the title should fall to the forest of Johannesburg in South Africa). Regardless, the forest is without question a testament to mans’ ability to cherish nature – with the entire region regrown in 1861. Precisely 100 years later, in 1961, the area was officially made a national park.
Owing to the fact it was constructed by man, the rainforest contains several monuments which have become popular tourist destinations while travelling through the wilderness.
Several sculptures can be found here, as well as a popular restaurant which looks out directly over the forest. The Wallace Fountain is another spot that is often frequented, as well as a beautiful weir known simply as ‘loneliness’.
Unsurprisingly, there’s also a plethora of wildlife to be found in the Tijuca greenery, with many of the animals found here currently threatened by extinction. The area serves as a natural preserve to keep them safe – with its national park status meaning that, theoretically, no poaching or hunting can be carried out to put them in further danger.
These are just five of the best rivals for the famous Machu Picchu in South America. All of these attractions, as well as many more, can be found when you take the time to visit one of the most naturally beautiful continents on Earth. So what are you waiting for? Book those flights today.