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10 World Heritage Sites in South America to Add to Your Bucket List

Introduction: UNESCO world heritage sites are located throughout the world and have been deemed to have cultural, historical, or scientific significance by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Across the globe there are 1,121 sites, all of which provide visitors with uniques experiences. To date there are seventy world heritage sites in South America.

Highlights: Visit Rapa Nui National Park in Chile to visit the world famous stone people, vie the diversity of wildlife on the Galapogos Islands in Ecuador, view the popular Angel Falls inside Canaima National Park in Venezuela, explore the ancient Inca ruins at Machu Picchu, and visit the glaciers of Torres del Paine National Park in Chile.

Rapa Nui National Park, Chile

More commonly known as Easter Island, Rapa Nui National Park is one of the most iconic world heritage sites in South America. Easter Island is a small island that sits 2,220 miles off the coast of Chile and is home to the famous stone people, the moai. Easter Island was first inhabitated by settlers from Eastern Polynesia in 1200 AD. Rapa Nui National Park consists of 900 statues, 300 ceremonial platforms, and thousands of structures. Visitors can also find rock carvings within the caves and other sites throughout the park. Easter Island was added to the UNESCO list in 1995.

When to Visit: The beginning of February tends to be the busiest time of year as the local Rapanui people participate in the Tapati Rapa Nui festival. If you are looking to avoid the crowds visit in September/October or April/May. The weather will be warm and tourists will be fewer.

How to Get There: The easiest and quickest way to get to the island is by plane. The only flights to Easter Island leave from Santiago via LATAM. Flights leave two to three times daily, with a 6 hour flight out and 4 and a half hour flight back due to wind changes. Note that flights may frequently being delayed due to high winds. Another option to reach Easter Island is via a cruise ship, but this will be much more costly.

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chilechilePhoto by Thomas Griggs on Unsplash

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

The Galapagos Islands are perhaps one of the most well known world heritage sites in South America, added to the list in 2007. The Galapagos Islands sit about 621 miles off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. Made famous by Charles Darwin after his visit in 1835, from which he based his theory of evolution on, the Galapagos Islands draw in visitors to view the diverse marine life that is found across the nineteen islands. Visitors will find different and unique landscapes on each island from volcanic rocks to white sand beaches.

When to Visit: June through August are the busiest times of the year, with slightly cooler weather and cooler water. Mid December through Mid Janurary is also a busy time. The weather is warmer with calmer waters. If looking to avoid crowds, these are the months to avoid. The calmer, warmer weather continues through May, so early spring may be a good time to visit.

How to Get There: First you will want to fly into mainland Ecuador. Guayaquil is the closest to the Galapogos. From here you will fly into Baltra Island, followed by a bus ride or ferry to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. To visit the islands an organized tour with a licensed guide is required in most cases, many of which leave from Santa Cruz.

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Photo by Deb Dowd on Unsplash

Port of Cartagena, Columbia

The Port of Cartagena is a port city that sits on the Northern coast of Columbia. The city of Cartagena is well known for its extensive militray fortifications as well as its civil and religious monuments that are located throughout the city. The city is home to historic districts, colorful streets, plazas, and city walls that you can walk along for views of the city and sea. The Port of Cartagena was added to the UNESCO list in 1984.

When to Visit: The best time to visit Cartagena is between December and April. The weather will be warm and dry. The crowds will be higher but you will avoid the rain and humidity of the winter months.

How To Get There: The easiest way to reach Cartagena is via plane. Fly into Rafael Núñez Airport, which is about two miles outside of the Cartagena old town. The city can also be reached via bus or private car. Once in Cartagena you can get around via foot, taxi, or private car.

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Image by Angeles Balaguer from Pixabay

Canaima National Park, Venezuela

Canaima National Park is located in South-Eastern Venezuela between the border of Guyana and Brazil. A majority of the park is covered with tepui, or flat-topped mountains. The park is home to a wide diversity of animals, including the giant Armadillo, widow monkey, and giant otter. Two archaeological sites are also located within the park and contain stone tools that are estimated to be 9,000 years old. The well-known Angel Falls is also found within Canaima National Park, dropping over the Auyán-tepui mountain in the park. Canaima National Park was added to the UNESCO list in 1994.

When to Visit: The best time to visit Canaima National Park is between October and November. During October the wetter season comes to an end, but water levels are still high making it easy for commuting. August and September are the wettest months and should be avoided. If you are seeking to visit Angel Falls avoid visiting between Janurary through May, as no tours are offered to the falls.

How To Get There: The best way to reach Canaima National Park is via plane. Flights to Canaima leave from Ciudad Bolivar and Puerto Ordaz.

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Angel Falls. Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu, being one of the most well know world heritage sites in South America, is a must do for every bucket list. a historical Inca civilization city that sits 2,430 above sea level on a tropical mountain at the meeting point of the Peruvian Andes and the Amazon Basin. The city demonstrates one of the most significant acheievements and legacy of the Inca civilization. Visitors can explore the ancient ruins of the city, with its stone buildings and terrances. Machu Picchu was added to the UNESCO world heritage site list in 1983.

When to Visit: The busiest time of year to visit Macchu Pichhu is between July and October. The weather is dry and pleasant, but note that the crowds will be high. April through June are the best months to visit if looking to avoid the crowds and the rainest season.

How to Get There: To get to Machu Picchu, you will first fly into Lima, Peru’s capitol and then catch a flight to Cusco. Machu Picchu can be reached via train, leaving from Cusco and arriving at Aguas Calientes. From there you can take a shuttle bus or hike to Machu Picchu. Reaching Machu Picchu can also be accomplished by trekking. The Inca Trail is the most popular way to get there and requires a guide. The Inca Trail will take four days to complete. There is an easier and quicker trail that will get you to the ruins in two days, but use is restricted to 500 people a day. The Salkantay trek is a strenous hike that will take five days to reach the ruins or the Lares trek which will take you four days.

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Photo by rhett sorensen on Unsplash

Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Torres del Paine Natonal Park is located in southeran Chile and is one of the most unique world heritage sites in South America. It is well known for its combination of mountains, icebergs/glaciers, golden pampas (grasslands) which are home to rare animal species, and the three granite towers that the park is named after. The park spans 935 square miles, with its highest peak reaching 9,462 feet. Torres del Paine National Park was added to the UNESCO list in 2013.

When To Visit: The best time to visit Torres del Paine National Park is between December and February for the warmest weather and longest days. Mid Novemer to mid-December are the sping months and will add blooming spring flowers to the scene while March to April will offer stunning Autumn backdrops.

How To Get There: To reach Torres del Pain National Park, fly into Santiago, where you will then catch a flight to Punta Arenas. From there you can catch a bus to Torres del Paine National Park.

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Image by LuisValiente from Pixabay

Quebrada de Humahuaca, Argentina

Quebrada de Humahuaca is a mountain valley that is known across the world for its colorful mountains. The valley is located in the north-westernmost portion of Argentina along the Rio Grande.  The mountains are layered with many different types of rocks, creating the rainbow like appearance of the mountains. Perhaps one of the most notable is Cerro de los Siete Colores, or the Hill of Seven Colors. Located outside of the town of Purmamarca, the mountain is home to seven different types of rock, creating the stunning appearance that so many visitors travel to see. Another unique feature of Quebrada de Humahuaca is the evidence of the area’s long history. Throughout the area is evidence of advanced social, cultural, and economic systems. You can also find the remains of settlements dating back to 400 AD throughout the valley. Quebrada de Humahuaca was added to the UNESCO list in 2003.

When to Visit: The most popular time to visit Quebrada de Humahuaca is between the months of January  and June. The Carnaval, a celebration featuring dancing, food, and local drinks, takes place in February and draws in large crowds. If you visit between May and August you will cooler temperatures and less rain with less crowds.

How To Get There: To reach Quebrada de Humahuaca fly into the Buenos Aires airport. From there catch a flight to San Salvador de Jujuy. From San Salvador you can take a bus to Humahuaca. The bus departs hourly seven days a week. The trip by bus is approximately 2 hours. Once in Quebrada de Humahuaca you can get around to the different villages via bus.

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Photo by Toimetaja tõlkebüroo on Unsplash

Nazca Lines, Peru

The Nazca lines, although maybe one of the lesser known world heritage sites in South America, provide for a unique experience and are believed to be one of the greatest geoglyph sites. They are carved into the Pampas de Jumana located between the towns of Nazca and Palpa. The Nazca lines consist of over 300 ancient geoglyphs that are dated back to 400 AD, with the most notable being those of a monkey, spider, hummingbird, hands, an astronaunt. The geoglyphs span over approximately 621 miles. The geoglyphs are believed to have been part of astronomical rituals. The Nazca lines were added to the UNESCO list in 1994.

When to Visit: The best time to visit the Nazca lines is between November and May.

How To Get There: The easiest way to reach the Nazca Lines is via bus from Lima. The bus ride takes about 7 hours.

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Image by Monika Neumann from Pixabay

Iguazú National Park, Argentina

Iguazú National Park is another great world heritage site in South America, particulary for nature lovers. The park is home to one of the world’s largest waterfalls, a series of smaller waterfalls, and many endangered species of wildlife. The park borders Parana, Brazil to the north and is adjacent to Iguaçu National Park. Iguazú National Park was added to the UNESCO list in 1984.

When To Visit: The busiest time to visit Iguazú National Park is Janurary and Februray. April through June are the dry seasons with warm weather. August through September are dry with cooler temperatures, which may be better for active hikers. If you are looking to see the falls with the highest water levels and most power, visit during the wetter months, but note that access to trails will be more difficult.

How To Get There: Fly into the international airport in Buenos Aires, Argentina. From there you will want to drive to the domestic airport, El Aeroparque Jorge Newbery. Finally catch a flight to Puerto Iguazu, from which you can reach your acommodations and Iguazú National Park.

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Photo by Jonatan Lewczuk on Unsplash

Historic Centre of Salvador de Bahia (Brazil)

The Historic Centre of Salvador de Bahia served as the capitol of Brazil from 1549 until 1763. The Historic Centre of Salvador de Bahia saw the blending of European, African, and Amerindian cultures. The area was also the first slave market of the New World and slaves would be brought to work on sugar plantations. Today visitors will be delighted by Portuguese colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, colorful buildings, Afro-Brazilian culture, and beautiful coastline. The Historic Centre of Salvador de Bahia was added to the UNESCO list in 1985.

When to Visit: The best, but also busiest, times to visit Salvador de Bahia is between the months of December to March. The weather will be warm, but with less humidity and less rain.

How to Get There: The easiest way to get to Salvador is via plane to the Deputado Luis Eduardo Magalhães International Airport. If you are traveling from another location in Brazil you can reach Salvador either on a bus or private car. After arrival to Salvador, transporation options around the city include taxi, bus, and private car.

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Photo by Milo Miloezger on Unsplash

Stayed tuned for more bucketlist UNESCO sites around the world!

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South America is home to 70 UNESCO world heritage sites. Here are 10 of the best to add to your bucket list!
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  1. We were so glad we got to visit South America this year before the world shut down. But it was just a taste test and we know we want to go back. We are certainly sad we got turned away before we explored the great sites in Peru. We definitely want to visit Easter Island and Galapagos on a return trip. All great reasons to head back. Torres del Pain National Park and in fact all of Chile were quite stunning to see. Even if we did miss Iguazú Falls. Thanks for the tease!

  2. I love this list! I have wanted to visit Easter Island for a long time, great tip to visit in September. Angel Falls and Torres del Paine National Park have also been on my radar for a long time. If I could leave tomorrow, my pick would be Iguazú National Park for sure. It is absolutely gorgeous!

  3. The tag of UNESCO World Heritage SIte in itself adds to the aura of the place. We love visiting UNESCO sites. These sites of South America are all amazing. My favourites would be Machu Pichhu and the Galapagos islands. Hope to visit these amazing places soon.

  4. So far I’ve visited four of these sites and loved reading about the others to remind me to plan another trip to this region of the world! Rapa Nui and the Nazca Lines are at the top of my list. These incredible cultural creations are utterly fascinating.

  5. In January we started traveling with our car in South America. It took us two months to drive from Santiago to Ushuaia. Sadly the corona situation stranded us in Ushuaia and forced us to return home to Europe before we had chance to see any od the places in this article. We were really looking forward to hike in Torres del Paine and go to Machu Picchu. Hopefully we will be able to come back soon and continue our trip and explore more of these wonderful places.

  6. South America is so beautiful and the variety on offer is so vast. Have always wished to visit that part of the world but still tays in my bucket list. These 10 UNESCO sites that you have listed all all so attractive but if I had to pick 5 of them,then they would definitely be Port of Cartagena,Columbia,The Historic Centre of Salvador de Bahia in Brazil, Machu Picchu,Peru,The Galapagos Islands,Ecuador and Iguazú National Park, Argentina.I wish we are able to travel carefree again soon.

  7. Wow that’s such a great list. I missed Easter Island when I was in Chile and I would love to visit it again. I have been to only Machu Picchu and Tores Del Paine national park and they are absolutely amazing.

  8. It has been my dream to visit as many heritage sites as possible and Machu Picchu has been on top my bucket list. It would be amazing to see the historical Inca civilization. Thank you for sharing this. Will take note of the best time to visit.

  9. UNESCO Heritage Sites are an institution in themselves. And it is always a great excitement to visit one. I have a great desire to visit South America and explore Rapa Nui and Machu Pichu. However, I would definitely want to visit all the ones in this list now, especially the Galapagos Island. Hope to visit them sometime soon!

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