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Read about the 5 Must See National Parks in South America from our South America Travel Expert Izabela Zielinska.

South America is one of the most popular destinations for discovering natural wonders of the world and admiring vast landscapes. From the Northern coast of Colombia to the Southern borders of Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, the biodiversity is so expansive that certainly one trip to South America is not enough.  There are currently over 300 national parks in South America, many of which are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

It’s not easy choosing only 5 National Parks in South America, but I always recommend these 5 parks to anyone that loves adventure and appreciates mother nature.

1. Tayrona National Park, Colombia
National Parks in South America

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Colombia may not be the most popular country to visit in South America, however over the last decade it has developed into a safe, modern and thriving country.  Colombia is home to Tayrona National Natural Park, located approximately 20 miles from the city of Santa Marta on the Caribbean northeast coast.  Tayrona National Natural Park certainly deserves more attention and recognition.  The park covers over 58 square miles, with the sea portion adding another 12 square miles. The park is a beautiful natural paradise and you don’t have to be an environmental expert to enjoy it. Tayrona’s pristine beaches are perfect for relaxing and enjoying water activities like snorkeling or surfing.  There are over 300 species of birds in Tayrona National Park, making it the ideal destination for bird watching.   The park also offers a romantic and idyllic setting that is perfect for honeymooners.

Accommodations:
There are a couple of nice hotels inside Tayrona and within close proximity to the park. I recommend staying at the Ecohabs Tayrona, an exclusive lodge with wooden bungalows sitting in a natural environment of the Cañaveral beach.

Don’t forget to ask your travel agent to include the Tayrona Park entrance fee with your tour package (approx $15 USD per person).  Read more about Tyrona Park Here.

 

2. Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
National Parks in South America

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Torres del Paine National Park is the perfect destination for adventurous travelers keen on hiking, trekking, climbing, horseback riding, sailing and kayaking. The national park is over 935 square miles filled with trails, wildlife and animals.  Here you can experience the severe and dramatic nature of Patagonia., but keep in mind that this magnificent piece of earth is not easy to reach.

Traveling to the park:

  • Fly to Punta Arenas: From the Santiago de Chile International Airport take a 4 hour flight to Punta Arenas Airport.  Then take a 4 and a half hour bus ride from Punta Arenas to Torres del Paine.
  • Fly to El Calafate: From the Buenos Aires Airport, take a 4-5 hour connecting flight to El Calafate.  From El Calafate, take a 4 hour bus to Cerro Castillo and cross the boarder into Torres del Paine National Park.

Torres del Paine national park offers mountains, lakes, rivers and glaciers. The most picturesque places to visit include: Grey Lake, Pehoe Lake, Sarmiento Lake and the French Valley.  The three towers in the Paine mountain range are the most characteristic elements of the park and can be visible throughout the park (if the weather allows.)  If you want to fully experience the Torres del Paine, I recommend spending at least 3 nights in the park so that you can enjoy hiking and other outdoor activities.

The best time to visit the park would be from late December to late February during the Patagonian summertime.  Click here to read our Insider’s Guide to Torres del Paine National Park.


3. Galapagos National Park, Ecuador (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
National Parks in South America

 

The Galapagos Islands are without a doubt the best place to visit for those that are interested in observing unique animals and birds in their natural habitat. Although the Galapagos Islands are located more than 620 miles from the mainland of Ecuador, it is well worth the time, effort and money to get there.

Exploring the park:
You can explore the islands on a cruise ship or by staying in a hotel. Both options offer 3-7 night packages with daily excursions to visit the different islands. I personally recommend taking the Galapagos Legend boat cruise.  The fauna you can spot in the park include: fur seals, sea lions, Galapagos tortoises (the largest living species of tortoise), green sea turtles, Galapagos iguanas, lava lizards, flamingos, blue-footed boobies, brown pelicans, hammerhead sharks, Galapagos frigate birds and more.  While planning a trip to the Galapagos you need to keep in mind that it’s a specially protected area and all visitors must be accompanied by a licensed Galapagos National Park Guide and travel with authorized tour operators. This means you cannot tour the islands on your own and all excursions must be prearranged by a travel agency.

Park Fees:
The Galapagos National Park entrance fee is $100 USD.  You will need to pay this fee before you arrive to the islands, along with the Ingala Control Card fee of $20 USD. Both can be paid on the spot or we can include them with your tour package.

4. Glaciers National Park, Argentina (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
National Parks in South America

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Glaciers National Park (Parque Nacional de Los Glaciares) is another splendid National Park in Patagonia. Locally known as Austral Andes. It’s located in the Argentine province of Santa Cruz, around 50 miles from the city of El Calafate. If you are coming from Chile it is a 5-hour bus ride from Puerto Natales. If you are coming from Buenos Aires it is a 3-hour 20 min plane ride to El Calafate.  Over 30% of the park is covered by ice. This is home to Lake Argentino, the largest lake in Argentina that is nearly 100 miles long!

Perito Moreno Glacier:
The most popular place to visit in the park is Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the three Patagonian growing glaciers. This immense glacier is over 97 square miles, including 19 miles in length. Perito Moreno Glacier can be observed from numerous hiking pathways and/or also by boat. If you want to get up close and personal with the glacier consider signing up for a trekking tour or an excursion on the glacier.

Things to do:
Other popular excursions in Glaciers National Park include boat trips through icebergs to see the Upsala Glacier and Onelli Glacier. I recommend spending a few days in the park so that you have time to do all the different excursions including trekking, kayaking, boat rides and more.  Check out our recommended Patagonia Tours and Travel destinations for more ideas on what you can do in Patagonia.

 

5. Iguazu National Park, Argentina (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
National Parks in South America

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Once you are in Argentina let me present you to another national park worth visiting. Instead of glaciers and mountains take a trip to a subtropical jungle filled with colorful birds and immense waterfalls. Iguazu National Park is not to be missed if you are already in Argentina (yes, Argentina has a lot of beautiful National Parks!)

Transportation to the Falls:
From Buenos Aires take a 1 ½-hour flight to Iguazu National Park, located in the northern province of Misiones, close to the border of Brazil and Paraguay.

The very heart of the park is home to a massive group of waterfalls (80 meters high) and it’s numerous cascades. The waterfalls are surrounded by lush vegetation, a part of subtropical ecosystem and home to many creatures including: tapirs, howler monkeys, ocelots, jaguars, anteaters and more. The most common animals to spot include: coati, toucans and butterflies.

Brazilian side of the Falls:
If you have time, visit the Brazilian counterpart, Iguacu National Park, which is only a 30-minute drive from the Argentine side and offers more panoramic views of the famous falls.


 

With over 300 National Parks in South America to choose from, you really can’t go wrong.  From the coastal beaches of Tayrona to the glaciers in Patagonia, South America has something for every outdoor enthusiast.

 If you would like to start planning a trip to some of the National Parks in South America, simply fill out the form below or contact our travel consultants directly at (800) 747-4540.

must see national parks in south america

Izabela Zielińska

Izabela is a woman of Polish origin, European background and South American soul. A multi-language speaker (English, Italian, Spanish) educated in international tourism, she decided to follow her dreams and discover South America by listening to her inner voice that was always whispering “your place is there.” In the spirit of St. Augustine’s words, “the world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page,” she started her South American adventure. She has visited Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay and currently lives and works in Buenos Aires. Izabela still has several destinations remaining on her list including finding out how the real Colombian coffee tastes, seeing Machu Picchu emerge from the clouds and listening for the call of a toucan during an Amazon cruise. You can contact her at our Buenos Aires sales office or by email at Izabela(at)SouthAmerica(dot)travel.

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