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10 Most Beautiful Places in Latin America

By Hasna Haidar

Updated March 31, 2021 Updated March 31, 2021

If you’re thinking of studying abroad in Latin America, there’s plenty to look forward to: world-class universities, never-ending cultural offerings, delicious and wide-ranging cuisines, a thriving nightlife in the top student cities, and friendly and welcoming local people.

With the release of the new edition of the QS Latin America University Rankings, we’ve taken a step away from the academic side of things to look at another great reason to study in Latin America: its vast selection of historic, natural, man-made, traditional and modern beautiful places to see. We’ve attempted to narrow down 10 of the most beautiful places in Latin America – leave a comment below if you think we’ve missed any must-see treasures.

1. Iguazu Falls (Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay)

Stretching across the “tri-border” between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, Iguazu Falls (or Iguaçu Falls) is made up of 275 waterfalls and is collectively twice as wide as Niagara Falls. The biggest drop is a massive 80 meters, and the entire 2,700 meter-wide area is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. 

The majority of the falls are in Argentina, including the main attraction Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat), while the Brazilian side gives a sweeping panoramic overview your camera will love. Plus, if you inconceivably get tired of the spectacular view, there’s always the varied wildlife or the surrounding rainforest to explore instead, plus you can go swimming under the falls, take an exhilarating guided boat ride, or even go white-water rafting or abseiling.

Top tip: Arriving from the Brazilian side is cheaper, and, for a close-up view of Garganta del Diablo, walk through the subtropical forest of National Iguaçu Park and take the elevator to the top of the falls.

2. Patagonia (Argentina and Chile)

Argentina has 42 institutions in the new QS Latin America University Rankings, including three in the top 30: Universidad de Buenos Aires (eighth), Universidad Nacional de La Plata (21st) and Universidad Austral (30th)

Argentina is also home to the wonderfully wild and untouched Patagonia, a region it shares with Chile, which is widely celebrated as one of the most beautiful places in Latin America. Argentine Patagonia is a combination of steppe-like icy plains and glaciers (the most stunning being the Glaciar Perito Moreno) and luxuriant vegetation, animal and bird life towards the Andes. 

Top tip: Don’t miss the famous Cueva de las Manos (Cave of Hands) in Santa Cruz, Argentina. The name refers to the wall paintings that are believed to date back to around 8000BC – particularly the imprints of hundreds of hands.

Find out more about studying in Argentina >

3. Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia)

Photo credit: Mountain Leon

Bolivia has nine entrants in the QS Latin America University Rankings, led by Universidad Mayor de San Andrés (UMSA) at 128th.

Salar de Uyuni in southwest Bolivia is the world’s largest salt flat, spanning 10,582 square kilometers and situated 3,656 meters above sea level. The Salar is extraordinarily flat and has a lithium-rich salt crust with an estimated 11 billion short tons of salt. When it rains, the thin layer of water transforms the crust into a giant mirror, leading to some stunning and very creative pictures at one of the more unique places in Latin America.

While visitors increasingly choose community tourism (staying with locals in nearby towns), hotel stays also provide a unique experience: Palacio de Sal (Palace of Salt) is one of many hotels made entirely of salt, including the floor, walls, ceiling, furniture and sculptures. But, before you get any ideas, there is a strict rule prohibiting visitors from licking the walls.

Don’t miss: The antique train cemetery, previously a distribution hub for trains carrying minerals to Pacific Ocean ports.

4. Ouro Preto (Brazil)

Brazil has an impressive 94 institutions in the QS Latin America University Rankings, including three in the top 10: Universidade de São Paulo (second), Universidade Estadual de Campinas (fifth), and Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (ninth).

A former colonial mining town, Ouro Preto is now a thriving university town, whose flagship university Universidade Federal de Ouro Preto (UFOP) is ranked at joint 111th in Latin America.

The town’s well-preserved Baroque architecture, quaint cobblestone streets and various old buildings have seen it labeled as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While February and March bring hectic Carnival crowds in costume and the trilling of traditional band music, Ouro Preto is usually quiet. Its small size and steep hills are perfect for exploring the city’s many museums, bridges and fountains on foot.

Did you know…? Ouro Preto’s highly-regarded Baroque sculptor Antônio Francisco Lisbôa (aka Aleijadinho) created many of its famous structures. Legend has it that as Aleijandinho’s debilitating disease worsened (his nickname means “little cripple”), he continued to work despite losing his fingers and the use of his legs.

Find out more about studying in Brazil >

5. Torres del Paine (Chile)

Chile’s Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (UC) tops the QS Latin America University Rankings 2021 and joins its 40 other institutions in the top 410. Southern Chile also boasts the impressive Torres del Paine National Park. A World Biosphere Reserve which came fifth on the list of most beautiful places in the world according to National Geographic, this spectacular region is a transition area between the Magellanic sub-polar forests and the Pantagonian Steppes.

As such, Torres del Paine has it all: giant glaciers including the largest Glacier Grey, snowy Cuernos del Paine (horn-like mountain tops), pristine ice-blue lakes, sparkling clear rivers and cascades, vegetation in all shades of green, and the llama-like guanacos. It is one of the largest and most visited parks in Chile, and a popular hiking destination.

Top tip: Whether hiking the W Circuit or the Big Circuit, using a tour guide can greatly enhance your experience: they can make detours to points of interest and will provide opportunities for fly-fishing, kayaking, ice-hiking and all required equipment.

Find out more about studying in Chile >

6. Cartagena (Colombia)

Colombia boasts an impressive 60 institutions in the QS Latin America University Rankings, including Universidad de los Andes (ranked sixth) in capital city Bogotá. One of many beautiful places in Colombia, Cartagena (Cartagena de Indias) is often described as Colombia’s most beautiful city.

This picturesque port city on the northern coast of Colombia is the fifth-largest city in the country, and is best known for its colonial walled city and fortresses. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984, Cartagena has the most extensive fortifications in South America.

Cartagena’s colorful and friendly people, open-air cafés, sandy beaches and horse-drawn carriages combine with its stunning range of colonial and Italian-style architecture to provide a picture-perfect backdrop as you navigate its maze of cobbled alleys.

Did you know…? Cartagena is the city most associated with the real-life pirates of the Caribbean.

Find out more about studying in Colombia >

7. Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve (Costa Rica)

Channel your inner Aladdin and walk among the clouds at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, so-called because of its persistent low-level cloud cover. This 10,500-hectare reserve has six ecological zones, extremely high biodiversity, over 500 bird species, the endemic Golden Toad, and the largest number of orchids in the world.

Roughly 70,000 visitors enjoy traversing the well-maintained trails and suspension bridges that run through the reserve each year. If you’re not in a hiking mood, zip-lines and horseback tours are also an option.

Of the country’s six ranked universities, the Universidad de Costa Rica is the country’s highest scoring, ranked an 20th in Latin America, with Tecnológico de Costa Rica in 69th and Universidad Nacional Costa Rica in 71st place.

Did you know…? The Reserve boasts views of both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, due to its location on the Continental Divide.

Find out more about studying in Costa Rica >

8. Tikal (Guatemala)

Guatemala has two institutions in the top 400 of the QS Latin America University Rankings, with its highest ranking being Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (UVG) (148th). It is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Tikal, one of the largest archeological sites of the Maya civilization. Set in the heart of the jungle, this remote city is the best understood of any of the large lowland Maya cities, due to archeologists’ continued exploration of its tombs, monuments, temples and palaces.

Tikal has been partially restored by the University of Pennsylvania and the government of Guatemala. Its limestone architecture includes thousands of ancient structures such as large royal palaces, ceremonial platforms, pyramids, and the Plaza of the Seven Temples.

Top tip: Use the steep wooden staircases to climb to the top of some of the temples to get panoramic views above the tree tops. You can also take a jungle canopy tour, whizzing along cables between the tall trees just outside the gate to Tikal National Park.

9. Machu Picchu (Peru)

Of Peru’s 20 institutions in the QS Latin America University Rankings, its highest-ranked is Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú in 16th place. Peru is perhaps most well known for Machu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Located 2,430 meters above sea level, this relatively intact cultural site has three primary structures: the Inti Watana, the Temple of the Sun and the Room of the Three Windows, all situated in the Sacred District of Machu Picchu. Trekking the Inca Trail is the most popular way to explore Machu Picchu and the southern Wayna Picchu, although some tour operators now offer zip-lining, biking and rafting.

Did you know…? While Machu Picchu is one of the most familiar icons of Inca civilization, it retains its aura of mystery. Archeologists agree its functions were partly residential as well as religious, but there’s fevered debate about the specifics.

Find out more about studying in Peru >

10. Angel Falls (Venezuela)

Featuring eight institutions in the QS Latin America University Rankings, of which four are in the top 100, Venezuela’s highest ranking university is the Universidad Central de Venezuela at 41st. Speaking of height, Venezuela is also home to the tallest waterfall in the world: Angel Falls in Canaima National Park.

Salto Ángel in Spanish and Kerepakupai Vená in the language of the Native American Pemon, many of whom call Canaima their home, Angel Falls stands at a neck-straining 979 meters. The spectacular waterfall drops over the edge of the Auyantepui Mountain in Canaima National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which serves as the gateway to Angel Falls.

Did you know…? Angel Falls inspired the setting of the Disney animated film Up and was also featured in the Disney film Dinosaur and American horror-comedy film Arachnophobia. Plus, writer Arthur Conan Doyle was inspired by the Table Mountains (tepui) of southeast Venezuela when writing The Lost World.

Find out more about studying in Venezuela >

Want to spend your student years close to one of these top 10 most beautiful places in Latin America? Tell us in the comments below.

This blog post was originally published in June 2014. It was last updated in November 2020 with the latest QS Latin America University Rankings results.

This article was originally published in June 2014 . It was last updated in March 2021

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