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South America's Can't-Miss Stops

Stunning mountains, waterfalls, and centuries-old vineyards: Visit the gems of South America while you have the chance.

  • Iguaçú Falls near Argentina and Brazil, South America, image
    Photo caption
    The breathtaking Iguaçú Falls thunder along the Argentine-Brazilian border.
  • Traveler looking at view of Machu Picchu, Peru, image
    Photo caption
    Peru's Machu Picchu towers 1,000 feet above the Urubamba River. 
  • View of Rio de Janeiro coastline, Brazil, image
    Photo caption
    Brazil's Rio de Janeiro will host the World Cup in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016.

  • Under the gaze of an iconic, towering statue of Christ the Redeemer, a blanket of white buildings in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, stretches out between sugary sand beaches and verdant forested mountains. Excitement over the arrival of soccer’s World Cup this year combines with the buzz about the 2016 Summer Olympic Games to make this Rio’s big moment.
  • A semicircle of hundreds of waterfalls along the Argentine-Brazilian border makes up breathtaking Iguaçú Falls. The cascade throws rainbows from every angle as it thunders over a series of ledges. Visitors watch the drama from catwalks on both sides, but the best (and wettest) way to experience it is on the deck of a boat that cruises right into the gorge.
  • Like an island in the sky, Peru’s Machu Picchu floats on a striking cliff’s edge 1,000 feet above the Urubamba river. The structures are thought to track the solstices; elaborate gutter systems help prevent landslides. Visit in may when the rain has stopped and the crowds have yet to arrive.
  • Just up from where the dark Rio Negro meets the tawny Rio Solimões to form the Amazon River you’ll find Brazil’s Anavilhanas National Park. In this maze-like archipelago, guides teach visitors to spot freshwater manatees, swim with lively pink dolphins, and fish for piranha.
  • Spanish colonists first planted grapes around Mendoza, Argentina, at the foot of the Andes, in the late 1500s. Today it’s one of the world’s best wine regions, with hundreds of wineries. Visit Bodega Norton, where 90-year-old vines produce the fruity, intense Lote A109 malbec.

Read about the Paris of South America: Buenos Aires.

Photography by PictureGarden/Corbis (Machu Picchu); DPK-Photo/Alamy (Iguacu Falls); Tim Tadder/Corbis (Rio de Janeiro)

This article was first published in March 2014. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.