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The 6 Most Underrated Destinations in South America

South America is fast becoming a popular destination for adventure-seeking trekkers. Instead of heading to places that are the staple of most travelers to the continent, why not beat the crowds while connecting with the local culture? Let’s take a tour of some of the most underrated destinations in South America and why you will want to include them on your next trip.

1. Asunción, Paraguay

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Asunción lays claim to the title “Mother of Cities,” because it is one of the oldest known settlements in South America. It has a rich cultural history and has long been a center of poetry, music, and the arts. This beautiful city boasts a mix of colonial architecture, fantastic cuisine, and locals who are friendly and welcoming. If your tastes tend to be more modern and chic, you will find trendy neighborhoods, posh shops, and stylish nightclubs. You will be able to find your way around in no time and discover Asunción to be one of the greenest and most pleasant capital cities in South America. Street food is cheap and fun, and food trucks hang out on many city streets. Forage for your dinner from these venders that reflect the diversity of Paraguayan culture and cooking methods.

2. Patagonia, Chile

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Patagonia is not for the causal adventure tourist. Few areas on the planet match the rugged frontier appeal of the Magallanes and Última Esperanza provinces. These glaciers were carved into the landscape long ago and are now a place for you to set out on a great adventure. The region of Patagonia will offer you the chance to trek through glacier chiseled lands, spy on thousands of Magellanic penguins on Isla Magdalena and Isla Marta, or set out on horseback across the vast steppe.

3. The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

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The Galápagos Islands are rapidly growing in popularity among tourists, both to the benefit and potential harm of these pristine islands. The 19 islands that make up the Galápagos are in the Pacific Ocean some 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador and surrounded by a marine reserve that has been called the “showcase of evolution.” This must be on any ecotourist’s bucket-list of travel spots. Get up close and personal with a variety of friendly wildlife, such as giant sea tortoises and playful sea lions for an experience you won’t forget. These islands are being threatened by plastic pollution, and calls for restrictions on land tourism to protect the ecosystem may soon limit your ability to travel. So plan a respectful, eco-friendly trip now to ensure you get to see these majestic sites.

4. Montevideo, Uruguay

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If you've ever explored the major cities of South America, you will find a pleasant change of pace in Montevideo, the laid-back capital city of Uruguay. No traffic jams or blaring car horns here. Instead, walk along palm tree lined roads that are well maintained, set next to a backdrop of gorgeous historical buildings. A must-see while in Montevideo has got to be Ciudad Vieja, the oldest barrio, or neighborhood, in the city. The area has gone through a transformation of late and is now a haven for tourists who can explore the sights using the pedestrian-only walkways winding past boutiques, outdoor cafes, and local markets. Don’t forget to stop and admire the sculptures and street art, where talented artists have turned the city into a living canvas for visitors to admire.

5. Cusco, Peru

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If you've planned a visit to Peru, odds are you're going to end up at the mecca of Peruvian tourism, Machu Picchu. However, not too far away you will find our next underrated destination in South America — Cusco. Did you know that in Quechuan, the language of the native people of the Andes, Cusco means, “navel of the world”? It was so duly named because the Plaza de Armas in Cusco once marked the exact center of the Inca Empire. Today, the Plaza is still the historic heart of the city, featuring landmarks important to the history of Andean and Spanish cultures. Plaza de Armas is a vibrant square where you will find Peruvian dancing, music, and plenty of cafés boasting great local cuisine. Hotels, restaurants and shops are just off the square adding to the lively feel, both day and night.

6. Sucre, Bolivia

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You will find Sucre in the southern highlands of Bolivia. This whitewashed city is one of the most beautiful in Bolivia, though often overshadowed by the bustling metropolitan goliath that is La Paz. Sucre is the heart of Bolivia, however, where the nation's independence was first declared and where its constitutional capital still lives. Gorgeous shaded patios cover a relaxed population that people from all backgrounds enjoy. Set in a valley surrounded by mountains, the city feels isolated from the chaos of the outside world, and its beautiful weather year-round adds to the sense of perfection.

About the author: Jim Stewart | Born in Paris, Jim is a retired lecturer of African Studies and self-described life-long global trekker. His career as an Air Force officer gave him the chance to experience amazing and exotic destinations in Europe, Asia and Africa. He is at home on the golf course or backpacking anywhere there is a story to tell.

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