By Darren Griffiths

Top 9 Destinations in South America for History Buffs

11th February 2023

South America is the fourth-largest continent in the world and consists of 12 sovereign states, along with a number of other territories. The most common languages are Spanish and Portuguese and the continent is steeped in ethnic and cultural heritage. 

South America’s rich diversity of culture and its historical fabric make it the perfect vacation destination for history buffs, but where should you start exploring? When you’re planning your next couple of Peru tours, try to include some of the following destinations. You won’t be disappointed.

Machi Picchu, Peru

No South American travel itinerary would be complete without a visit to Machu Picchu. It’s one of the most stunning historical sites the continent has to offer. It is believed that this metropolis was constructed by the Inca Yupanqui people around the middle of the 15th century for their emperor Pachacuti. 

Sitting on top of a granite mountain, it’s a fine example of the high standard of engineering and construction the Incas used.  

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires is the capital of Argentina and is considered by many to be one of the most alluring cities on the planet. Over the years, it’s also experienced some major historical shifts. One of the most visited historic sites is the Plaza de Mayo. It is named after Argentina’s Revolution of Independence that took place in May 1810.

You’ll find the presidential palace in the square, Casa Rosada, from where Eva Peron famously addressed the nation in 1951.  

Cartagena, Columbia

Visit Cartagena, Columbia and it’ll feel like you’ve traveled back in time. In this old walled city, you’ll get to explore one of the Spanish cities of the New World. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the best preserved Spanish colonial towns you’ll ever find. 

Explore the city and you’ll find it full of colonial mansions, churches, incredible balconies, and charming plazas. The chief attraction is the massive fortress, Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, one of the largest and most important Spanish fortresses in the New World.   

Cusco, Peru

Cusco is the oldest continuously-inhabited city in South America and the closest to the Sacred Valley of the Incas. More than a million tourists walk along the streets every year on their way to Machu Picchu and the Andes Mountains. 

The main square, Plaza de Armas Cusco, is where the Spanish conqueror, Francisco Pizarro declared he had conquered the Inca Empire. 

Arequipa, Peru

If religious history is more your thing, Arequipa is a testament to how the Spanish were able to convince Peru’s indigenous population to begin worshipping a different god. Etched into the stonework of churches and famous buildings you’ll find examples of the Catholic church merging its symbolism and ideas with Inca beliefs. 

Tiwanaku, Bolivia

Tiwanaku in Bolivia is an archaeological site that houses the capital of a pre-Inca empire. Much about this location is still a mystery and the subject of much debate. Around 1200 BC it started out as a small farming village, that could have been the first to ever cultivate potatoes. 

From its humble beginnings, it developed over the course of the 1st century and by 550BC it was a thriving capital that had around 20,000 inhabitants at its peak. 

Visit this popular UNESCO World Heritage site, and you’ll be able to view the surrounding mountains, gates, and states. 

Chan Chan, Peru

Chan Chan is one of Peru’s many impressive sites. It is also the world’s largest adobe city and the largest pre-Colombian city in the Americas. The ancient Chimu civilization has this site as its capital and it was developed around 1300 AD. It reached its peak in the 15th century, after which it was overtaken by the Incas and became an abandoned city. 

The site is made up of 10 citadels, marking each of the 10 Chimu rulers. Because of its location in the desert, canals and aqueducts were built to supply the city with water. 

Las Lajas Sanctuary, Colombia

The Las Lajas Sanctuary is perched atop a forested forge between Colombia and Ecuador. It was built between 1916 and 1949 on the site of a pre-existing chapel. One side of the gorge is linked to the sanctuary by a dramatic bridge

The structure of the chapel is neo-Gothic, but it’s the dramatic setting that attracts just as many visitors, perched as it is, 150 feet above a river and cascading waterfall. 

Cuenca, Ecuador

Cuenca is a must for lovers of colonial architecture. However, its pre-settlement history is another reason to visit. Museo Pumpugo is built on the site of a significant Incan city named Tomebamba. The museum is free to enter and contains lots of artifacts and information for anyone who wants to learn about the traditions and ways of life for various Ecuadorian tribes. 

Next to the exhibition about the “Head Hunter” Shuar Amazon tribe, you’ll find a shrunken human head. The tribe is no longer allowed to practice shrinking heads, so instead, they shrink sloth heads as part of their rituals. 

This is just a small selection of the historical attractions you’ll need to include in your plans when you next visit South America.