South America is blessed with three of the Wonders of the World (new and natural) which makes it a top destination for bucket-list adventures. These include Machu Picchu, the mysterious Inca citadel, the Iguazu Falls, the world’s largest waterfall system, and Christ the Redeemer, a dizzying statue overlooking the city of Rio de Janeiro. In this article, we discuss in more detail why each of them has been honored with their ‘Wonders of the World’ titles, as well as how to see them all on one unforgettable two or three-week vacation.
What are the Wonders of the World in South America?
Although you’ve likely heard of South America’s three ‘Wonders of the World’, have you ever considered why they have been granted this elite status? Below we will take a closer look at each of them to find out.
Machu Picchu, Peru — 7 New Wonders of the World
Machu Picchu is a 15th-century citadel built by the Inca Empire which, despite the intricacy and skill required for its build, was only occupied for around 110 years. Today, people are still determining why this ingenious complex became abandoned so quickly and where the Incas went. All that we know is that this mountaintop citadel, wholly hidden from view miles from the Inca capital of Cusco, held particular significance amongst its people.
The citadel may be in ruins today, but there’s enough preservation to see that the complex supported significant agriculture, astronomical observation, sacrificial rituals, and royal Inca burials. Between these insights and the magnificent views of Machu Picchu amongst Peru’s tropical mountain peaks, everyone that visits leaves with a new appreciation for our human capacity.
Christ the Redeemer, Brazil — 7 New Wonders of the World
Completing construction in 1931, the centennial of Brazil’s independence from Portugal, Christ the Redeemer is the newest of the 7 New Wonders of the World. The statue measures 30 meters tall and 28 meters across Christ’s arm span, but nothing can prepare you for the feeling of immensity it brings when standing at its feet. To add to the dizzying feeling it induces, the statue was erected on top of Corcovado Mountain, the tallest mountain peak in Rio de Janeiro, allowing it to be spotted from almost every city street.
To reach the Redeemer, you can challenge yourself to climb over 200 steps up the mountain or opt for a peaceful ride on a traditional cog train through the lush mountainside vegetation. At the top, not only are you rewarded with a close-up view of Christ the Redeemer, but you are also rewarded with panoramic views across Rio de Janeiro, which are arguably some of the best city views in the world.
Iguazu Falls, Brazil and Argentina — 7 Natural Wonders of the World
Running 1.7 miles (2.7 km) across the border between Argentina and Brazil, Iguazu Falls is by far the largest waterfall system in the world. Naturally, this qualifies it for an official ‘7 Natural Wonders of the World’ status. Across the 1.7 miles, there are around 275 separate cascades pummeling into the Iguazu River below at any one time. The sheer size and power of this waterfall demands the attention of its visitors with a mighty roar.
There are several viewing platforms promising attractive angles of the falls on both the Argentinian and Brazilian borders, but this isn’t the only way to experience this natural wonder. While kayak and boat tours dare to take you beneath and behind the falls for a more ‘interactive’ experience, a helicopter tour will give you a unique birds-eye-vew of it. Whichever way you get to see Iguazu Falls, the sight of it will leave you speechless.
The Best Itinerary to see the Wonders of the World in South America
If you’re a bucket-list kind of traveler then there’s no better way to see South America than on a ‘Wonders of the World Tour’. In one thrilling and adventurous two-to-three-week trip, you could cross all three of South America’s Wonders of the World off your list. To give you an idea of what your bucket list trip could look like, our Latin America experts have curated a recommended sample itinerary.
Wonders of the World in South America: 2-Week Itinerary
Rio de Janeiro and Christ the Redeemer — 4 days
Reserve four days to discover the many facets of this culture-rich city. Start by neighborhood-hopping from the high-end barrios like Santa Teresa and Ipanema and end the day in Lapa where you can find the famous mosaic staircase Escadaria Selarón and dance the samba in the streets beneath its Roman arches. There are numerous world-renowned museums and galleries to visit along the way including the neo-futuristic Museum of Tomorrow. Leave half a day to visit Christ the Redeemer, and a few hours here and there to stop for caipirinhas at an upscale Ipanema beach club.
Iguazu Falls — 4 days
Hidden amongst the immense Atlantic Forest hundreds of miles from another sign of civilization, your stay at Iguazu Falls is an opportunity to embrace escapism. Luxury hotel resorts like Belmond Hotel das Cataratas (Brazil) and Awasi Iguazu (Argentina) assist you on this journey with private tours of Iguazu Falls, indulgent spa treatments, and hidden jungle bungalows that promise uninterrupted privacy. For moments when you’re inspired to be active, there’s a menu of exciting adventures to choose from. After a morning yoga and meditation session, you could find yourself white-water rafting on the Iguazu River, wildlife spotting in the jungle, or meeting local tribes.
Cusco (via Lima) — 3 days
As the Inca capital, Cusco is an ideal place to stop before beginning the journey to the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. Its cobbled streets, lined with original Inca-built walls and spilling with traditional craftwork, transports you into their ancient ways of living. As you acclimate to the altitude difference (3,399 meters above sea level), you can spend your days admiring the city’s charming infusion of Incan and Spanish Colonial architecture and browning its boutiques and markets. However, the best way to explore Cusco is through its five-star food at world-renowned gourmet restaurants like Mil, Limo, and El Tupay, an elegant Peruvian restaurant in Belmond’s Monastario, Cusco’s finest hotel.
Machu Picchu — 2 days
Although it’s possible to see Machu Picchu in one day, a two-day trip allows you to feel more relaxed and present during the once-in-a-lifetime experience. On the first day, you will travel by train (around 2.5 hours) from Cusco to Aguascalientes at the base of Machu Picchu where you will stay overnight. For an extra-special experience, we recommend taking the Belmond’s Hiram Bingham train where you’ll be treated to a three-course champagne lunch with traditional live entertainment in 1940s Pullman carriages. After wandering around the local markets in search of high-quality local crafts, you’ll need an early night ready to reach Machu Picchu for sunrise the next morning. A full morning private guided tour in the citadel should leave you more than satisfied with your experience, ready to return for the return journey on the Hiram Bingham. Find out more about our luxury Machu Picchu tours here.
Lima — 1 day
With a return flight from Lima, it would be rude not to take the opportunity to have a brief tour of such a monumental city. Of course, one day is not enough to see it all, so it’s best to focus one or two highlights. With a private guide and car, you can shave off travel time and benefit from a more personal experience. In one day, you can thoroughly explore the Historic Center’s highlights including the Plaza de Armas, San Fransisco Church and catacombs, and the renowned Museo de Arte Lima, stopping for authentic Peruvian street food at Mercado Central in between.
Wonders of the World in South America: 3-Week Itinerary
As you have seen, South America’s three Wonders of the World comfortably fit into an enriching two-week itinerary. However, those with an extra week to spare can enjoy a few extra must-sees along the way. Here are our suggestions of how to seamlessly expand and further enrich your Wonders of the World in South America vacation.
1. Spend a few extra days in each destination
From the ancient ruins of Lima to the bohemian Rio neighborhoods, there’s so much more to see and do in each of the destinations on this Wonders of the World in South America vacation that can easily fill up an extra week.
2. Explore Salta and the Atacama
Instead of heading directly to Cusco from Iguazu, take the opportunity to see some of the incredible South American must-sees in between. Fly from Iguazu to Salta, Argentina where you can embark on a journey through the indigenous north to explore the small adobe towns and arid rockscapes. Then continue across to the Atacama Desert, Chile to see the most diverse desert-scapes you’ll ever see.
3. Join the Inca Trail
Extend and expand your Machu Picchu experience by opting to reach the citadel via the Inca trail rather than by train. This 4-day hike follows in the Inca’s ancient footsteps, making it one of the most coveted trails in the world
4. Tell us your dream destinations
There are so many amazing ways to spend an extra week in South America. If you have an idea of how you would like to spend it, get in touch and tell us what it is so that we can build it into your dream 3-week Wonders of the World in South America itinerary. Speak to our team by messaging us here or calling on +1 855 217 9045.