South America is a special place for a backpacking holiday, with an incredibly diverse array of things to see and do, which will cater to everyone. Each country you visit offers unique and memorable experiences; from joining the carnival in Brazil to climbing the world's second highest mountain range in the Andes or surfing in Ecuador, you can do it all and then some! Read on for our guide to seven of the best backpacking destinations in South America that shouldn't be missed…
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil:
There's something truly special about Rio de Janeiro, which is unlike any other major city in the world. One day you could be relaxing on the shores of Copacabana beach, and the next you could be taking in the views from the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain or visiting the favelas that are home to more than 1.5 million people across the city. Backpackers should also spend an evening at Lapa Square, where you can join the crowds in sipping caipirinhas and dancing in the street. A fun and fabulous way to make new friends and immerse yourself in the Brazilian culture.
One of Peru's most popular party destinations, Cuzco is the place to come if you want to let your hair down. Head to Plaza de Armas – the city's central square - to discover a number of pubs, restaurants and cafés, which are great places to socialise and meet new people. Or if you're going to tackle Macchu Picchu, this is the place to start. Known as the gateway to the lost Inca city, from Cuzco you can either take the train, hike or follow the classic Inca trail, which is around a four or five day walk.
The beachside town of Canoa, Ecuador, has earned a reputation as a hotspot for surfers, paddle boarders and paragliders, or just relaxing after touring through South America. Between December and February, surfers descend upon the town to try and find the best waves of the year, while nature lovers should also head down to Isla Corazon – just off the coast of San Vicente – to go bird watching.
Galápagos Islands, Ecuador:
The Galápagos Islands may not be the first place that spring to mind when you think of backpacking on a budget, but it is possible to visit this amazing archipelago off the coast of Ecuador without booking an expensive cruise. You can get around the main islands via ferry, taking in San Cristobal, Santa Cruz and Isabela, which are all home to pristine beaches and a vast array of wildlife (it's no wonder several scenes from David Attenborough's Blue Planet II were filmed here).
You won't be short on things to see and do in Sucre, the capital of Bolivia and a popular choice among travellers. This city sits at 2,810m above sea level and has a rich history, while also having the benefit of being close to the Andes, where you can go trekking or take climbing tours out into the mountains.
If you're feeling adventurous, you won't regret a visit to Patagonia, one of the most remote regions on earth – but arguably one of the most beautiful. This region has a well-established network of hiking trails that make it ideal for exploring on foot, however, compared to other backpacking destinations across South America it can be much more expensive. This is due to there being fewer hostels and accommodation, and the fact that all food has to be imported into the region, among other factors. While you're there, be sure to visit Torres del Paine National Park, which has two treks – the W and the O routes - and an epic landscape that you're sure to find captivating.
Chile's capital city is a breathtaking backpacking destination, flanked by the Andes on one side and the Chilean Coastal Range on the other. Travellers should visit the historical centre and bustling La Vega market, and you can't miss a trip to the dive bar La Piojera, where the tasty (and strong) Terremoto cocktail was invented. See our guide to the top 10 things to do in Santiago here for inspiration.