If you are planning to go backpacking in South America, or if you want to hit some incredible hiking trails and immerse yourself on this incredible continent, one of the best ways to explore the wildlife and nature, is to immerse yourself by going to some of the most amazing national parks in South America.
South America is a continent filled with the most beautiful national parks to experience, journeying through lush, pristine, and beautiful worlds, and it is should be in anyone’s Dream Destination Bucket List. With over 300 National Parks in South America to choose from, it make take a lifetime to visit all of them. But here I am going to cover the top top-rated National Parks in South America for your to add to your travel bucket list!
National parks are land areas chosen by the government for conservation purposes. The goal of a national park is to maintain the wildlife and geography of the land without human occupation and development.
The South American mountain system, Andes Mountains, the lush Amazon Rainforest, and the wide Gran Sabana are only a few of the many natural features the continent has. With a wide array of different ecosystems and climates, it is no wonder this continent is one of the most biodiverse continents on the planet.
- 10 Amazing National Parks in South America
- 1) Machalilla National Park, Ecuador
- 2) Turnari National Park, Bolivia
- 3) Iguaçu Falls, Brazil & Argentina
- 4) Manú National Park, Peru
- 5) Canaima National Park, Venezuela
- 6) Torotoro National Park, Bolivia
- 7) Kaieteur National Park, Guyana
- 8) Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park, Colombia
- 9) Torres del Paine National Park
- 10) Lençóis Maranhenses National Park
- Top National Parks in South America Conclusion
10 Amazing National Parks in South America
1) Machalilla National Park, Ecuador
Let’s start this list of the best National Parks in South America with this very unique ecological sanctuary.
The Machalilla National Park is a preserve located in the Manabí Province in Ecuador. The preserve encompasses numerous biomes such as cloud forests, dry forests, beaches, and islands. Cloud forests or fog forests amount to only one percent of the total woodlands in the world, making the Machalilla National Park one of the places to experience such a mysterious tropical biome.
Agua Blanca is a small community within the park that was a part of the Manteño – Huancavilca culture, while Los Frailes is a pristine, fine sand beach. Isa de la Plata is a small island off the cost of Manabí. Here you will be able to see blue and red-footed boobies, and divers could find themselves swimming with giant manta rays, whales, and turtles!
2) Turnari National Park, Bolivia
Tunari National Park is a mountainous park in the Cochabamba Department in Bolivia, and another stunning National Park in South America for your bucket list. The park contains arid rugged mountain ranges, valleys, and lakes. For those who love mountain climbing, Tunari is the perfect park to visit. Cerro Tunari is a scenic hiking spot there.
If you want to relax, the natural hot springs of Liriuni have become a destination for both tourists and locals. The Tunari National Park also contains Polylepis forest, a rare forest in the Andes Mountains defined by its signature, gnarled-looking Polylepis trees that thrive in mid to high elevations.
There are tours for avid birdwatchers who visit the park. Lamas, alpacas, vicuñas, and Viscachas also roam the mountain range. You might even be able to see an Andean cat!
3) Iguaçu Falls, Brazil & Argentina
This is one of the top National Parks in South America!
The Iguaçu National Park is in the Paraná State in Brazil, sharing the park with the Iguazú National Park in Argentina. The Iguaçu Falls are the main attraction in the national park. The massive spray it produces scatters across the nearby forest and river lands, enriching the flora there. Tours offer views of the impressive falls from both above and below, giving you a full view of the wide falls.
There are also many sanctuaries for those who want to experience the lush wildlife and vegetation! The Parque de Aves is a bird sanctuary to many endemic, Brazilian birds, and the Bella Vista Sanctuary is committed to caring for and protecting native animals. You will be able to find ocelots, harpy eagles, monkeys, and jaguars here.
4) Manú National Park, Peru
The Manú National Park is a national park and reserve located in Madre de Dios and Cusco, Peru. The park contains a diverse number of biomes, from Yunga forests and Mountain Cloud forests to Andean grasslands.
These make one of the most diverse National Parks in South America, in terms of both flora and fauna, with over 25,000 rare and endemic species! Many indigenous peoples also reside within the reserve, some living in voluntary isolation.
You will need to get permits and tour guides to enter the park because it is extensively protected. The effort is well worth it, though. Once you are there, you will see many kinds of wildlife such as capybaras, condors, alligators, giant otters, and many vibrant birds! There are also canopy walks and viewpoints to experience, traveling through the trees of the Amazon.
5) Canaima National Park, Venezuela
The Canaima National Park is in Venezuela, along its border with Brazil and Guyana. Large tabletop mountains called tepuis scatter the park. These tepuis are unique to the area around the park, akin to floating islands.
Just like islands, tepuis separate the wildlife above them from the surrounding area, creating unique ecosystems at its plateaus. A journey to the top of these tepuis can be like entering a completely different world!
One of the main attractions in Canaima is the Angel Falls! The Angel Falls is the highest waterfall in the world, with a height of 979 meters! Trekking through untouched and pristine wilderness is a must-do when visiting Canaima. On the other hand, hiking up Mount Roraima will lead you to the tri-point marker of the border that separates the three countries.
6) Torotoro National Park, Bolivia
Torotoro National Park is in the northern Potosí department in Bolivia. This makes the Torotoro one of the highest National Parks in South America, at least 2,000 meters above sea level, with canyons as deep as 300 meters. The national park is most well-known for its historical and archeological remains.
You will be able to find dinosaur footprints and flying vultures as you trek through the Torotoro canyon. The park contains over 2,500 dinosaur footprints from the Cretaceous period!
Adventurous spelunkers would also be excited to explore Cueva Humajalanta. The cave trek is quite challenging. You will encounter underground pools, stalactites, and stalagmites! History lovers will enjoy the hike to Llama Chaki, which has remnants of the Quechua people and culture.
7) Kaieteur National Park, Guyana
The Kaieteur National Park is in Potaro-Siparuni Region, Guyana. Even though Kaieteur is not one of the most popular National parks in South America, and it is not as visited by tourists as other parks, the wonders you can find here are just as breathtaking. When you hike through the deep jungle, you will be able to encounter animals such as the Guianan cock-of-the-rock, macaws, and the endemic golden rocket frog.
Kaieteur Falls is one of the main sights to see at this national park. For a more in-depth experience, it is possible to do an overland trek through the Canaima National Park! You should consider this trek to do if you want to experience the untouched wilderness of Guyana at its finest.
8) Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park, Colombia
The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park is a stunning national park in Colombia on a mountain range isolated from the well-known Andes mountains. Due to its close location to the sea, visitors to the park can enjoy both snowy mountaintops and beaches. The mountain range is also home to many indigenous peoples.
The Lost City is one of the most important archeological sites of Colombia. It is said to have been founded back in 800 CE by the Tairona people. The hike is a days-long trek through the rough, jungle wilderness, with numerous river traversals, steep ascents, and descents. The trip getting there makes you feel like an explorer discovering an ancient, lost city.
9) Torres del Paine National Park
This is one of the top-visited National Parks in South America and for a reason.
The Torres del Paine National Park is a national park in southern Patagonia, Chile. Large, towering grey mountains and glaciers surround your view as you walk through steppes and subpolar forests.
Unlike some other parks, solo hiking is easy and allowed, with clearly marked paths that visitors must follow. There are three main trails in the park, the W, O, and Q. These treks can range from 4 to 10 days.
Though there are occasional climbs and windy weather, these trails are manageable for all ages. A landmark to see in the park is Grey Lake. Large icebergs float on the lake, and its grey waters are perfect for kayaking and taking in the view! Towers are one of the most impressive mountains, with three massive granite towers that loom in the distance.
10) Lençóis Maranhenses National Park
The Lençóis Maranhenses National Park in Maranhão, Brazil. As you enter the otherworldly park, you will encounter coastlines and rolling dunes. Due to an impermeable rock layer beneath its white sands, water pools in the rolling dunes, creating vast pools of clear water. The contrast of pools of water against the pristine, endless white sand creates a unique sight.
One of the best ways of getting around the park is by joining a tour and riding 4×4 park vehicles. This way, it is easy to reach the different lagoons. There are many hiking routes for hiking enthusiasts out there, and the lagoons provide many water activities like kite surfing, kayaking, and swimming.
Top National Parks in South America Conclusion
I hope by now, you have selected the top National Parks in South America for your bucket list!
National parks are important for conserving our natural ecosystems and wilderness, and ecotourism helps keep these parks alive.
By visiting these parks, not only do you educate yourself in the importance and beauty of these ecosystems, but you also contribute to the local economy, giving them more incentive to keep these parks maintained!
Information and awareness are vital for these parks, so make sure to bring a professional camera to document your visit. Not only do you preserve your memories, but you will also be spreading awareness to others!
The next time you’re planning to visit South America, keep these national parks in mind for an exciting trip.
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- Amazing Things to do in Angra dos Reis, Brazil
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