South America seems to have been specifically designed for travelers, offering visitors a plethora of superlatives -- the world’s largest rainforest and largest river (the Amazon), the world’s highest waterfall (Angel Falls), and the highest mountain range outside of Asia (the Andes), in addition to remote islands, amazing beaches, wide deserts, icy climates and a wide assortment of natural attractions.
South America also offers the extensive ruins of ancient civilizations and a collection of world-class modern metropolitan cities. Tourism has increasingly become a significant source of income for many South American countries. Historical relics, architectural and natural wonders, a diverse range of foods and culture, vibrant and colorful cities, and stunning landscapes attract millions of tourists every year.
South America consists of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela, as well as the United Kingdom’s Falkland Islands and French Guiana. Easter Island, with its mysterious statues, lies in the Pacific near Chile. Other wonders that lure visitors to the continent are Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, Argentina’s mighty Iguazu Falls, Chile’s scenic Patagonia, Peru’s Inca Trail leading to Machu Picchu, Brazil’s mountaintop Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, and Bolivia’s Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake.
Not including Brazil and Ecuador, the capital cities of each country have the largest populations and are the economic, cultural and political centers. For example, São Paulo is home to 10 million residents, while Brazil itself contains one half of the continent’s population.
One of the top tourist destinations in South America is the fascinating lost Inca city of Machu Picchu, the best-known and most-popular archaeological site on the continent. Located on a mountain ridge high above the Urubamba Valley in Peru, this awe-inspiring ancient city has retained its air of grandeur and mystery. Machu Picchu was built around 1450, at the height of the Inca Empire, and was abandoned about 100 years later, during the Spanish conquest. The Spanish apparently didn’t find the Machu Picchu site, so it was not plundered or destroyed, as were many other Inca cities. Although known locally, it was unknown to the outside world until it was brought to international attention in 1911. Today, Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Peru's most-visited tourist attraction and major revenue generator,
For something a little more exciting, check out Rio during Carnaval. Rio receives more tourists than any other city in the Southern Hemisphere, attracting nearly three million international visitors every year. Some visitors come for the world-class hotels, nearly 50 miles of beaches, and the famous Corcovado and Sugarloaf mountains. Many visit during Carnaval, the annual celebration in the Roman Catholic tradition that allows merry-making before the more sober 40 days of Lenten penance. Every year, hundreds of thousands of revelers descend on the city to enjoy the massive and magnificent parades and street revelry on almost every corner of the city, all set to a throbbing samba beat.
The cuisine of South America can be as varied as the geography, with strong influences from Mexico, Spain and Portugal, as well as the Inca traditions and culture. Key ingredients include rice, beans, potatoes, plantains and corn. Fresh seafood is popular throughout the continent, while Chile and Argentina produce beef, lamb and venison.
Reaching South America from almost anywhere in the world has gotten much easier in recent years with the massive increase in flights to the continent by the major global airlines. Some South American destinations are still difficult to reach, but most of the major tourist destinations, such as Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, are more accessible than ever.
The climate of South America is typically hot and wet, but the large size of the continent offers many different weather regions. The Amazon River basin is typical of the rainforest, with temperatures regularly reaching 90°. The Andes Mountains remain cold throughout the year. The desert region of Chile is the driest part of South America, while the wettest place is Quibdo, Columbia, which receives an annual rainfall of 350 inches.
The best time to visit South America depends on where you’re going, what you want to do, and the schedules of the various festivals and other activities.
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