It’s not exactly a secret that South America is one of the most biologically diverse places in the world, making it an excellent continent to travel to for those who love wildlife experiences.
If you love heading out into the wild in search of animals, there are many places in South America that offer just that experience.
After all, countries like Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador are on the top 10 list of the most biodiverse ones in the world, and the Amazon rainforest is surely a champion for wildlife.
They may not be as accessible as other places in the world, but there are many destinations in South America where wildlife encounters are as exciting as they get.
If you’re currently wondering where to go next for an insane adventure where you’re guaranteed lots of animal sightings, here are the best places to see wildlife in South America.
1. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Made up of 18 islands, the Galapagos archipelago is located just off the coast of Ecuador and is considered one of the most diverse destinations when it comes to wildlife. There’s a reason Charles Darwin dedicated such a huge part of his life to studying its endemic species, after all!
What makes the island so unique is the fact that they were created by volcanic eruptions and are distributed over each side of the equator, not to mention they are also located at the exact point where three different oceans converge.
All of the above makes for a pretty interesting combination where unique wildlife roams. Endemic species in the Galapagos include giant tortoises, flightless cormorants, Galapagos lava lizards, marine iguanas, and finches.
Moreover, you will also get to meet dolphins, penguins, blue-footed boobies, sea lions, and plenty of other species that have adapted to the islands’ unique ecosystems!
The ultimate way to plan a trip to the Galapagos is by booking a cruise. Itineraries are varied depending on the company, but they all include plenty of stops to remote islands, hikes, and marine activities.
2. Tayrona National Park, Colombia
Home to a plethora of animals, Tayrona National Park, is a large protected national park that covers the area between the mountains all the way to the Caribbean coast.
As such, the landscapes you’ll find here are incredibly diverse, ranging from lagoons, rainforests, beaches, and lots more.
While there are plenty of species residing within the boundaries of Tayrona, a favorite creature visitors can spot are monkeys. Three different species of them live in the park: the endangered cotton-top tamarins, red howlers, and capuchins. No matter where you find yourself in the park, you should be able to hear them screeching!
While hiking, you may also get to see other animals. Poison-dart Frogs, blue-knobbed curassows, caimans, iguanas, jaguars, and basilisks (yes, they really do exist!) all call the park their home!
3. Puerto Maldonado, Peru
Located on the eastern side of Peru, Puerto Maldonado is one of the gateways to the Amazonas rainforests and one of the easiest to access.
This cozy town stands on the edge of the Madre de Dios river, where guests can hop on a boat in order to head deeper into the rainforest.
Once there, you’ll find plenty of incredible lodges and accommodation options for all budgets. Activities here almost entirely revolve around wildlife sightings, so you can expect a schedule that involves animals galore.
Species like jaguars, macaw parrots, anacondas, toucans, caimans, and all sorts of types of monkeys hang out here, and visitors can choose from a range of activities in order to spot them.
Hiking is a favorite one, but if you’d rather not break a sweat, you can also join a cruise through the river, go on a kayaking adventure, or even try zip-lining and see how many animals you can find as you soar across the canopies!
4. El Pantanal, Brazil
As the most biodiverse country in the entire world, Brazil is definitely king when it comes to wildlife, and El Pantanal plays a huge part in the country’s status!
El Pantanal is the biggest tropical wetland in the entire world, encompassing an area of over 190,000 square kilometers where thousands of bird species, mammals, and invertebrates can be found.
Even though El Pantanal is the epitome of wilderness, if you’re the adventurous type, you can definitely visit and try your hand at several activities in order to get close and personal with this unique region. Hiking, scenic driving, riding wetland horses, and boating are favorite ways for true outdoor lovers to explore!
As for which animals you’ll get to spot, a few species that stand high above the crowds include maned wolves, pumas, jabiru storks, Hyacinth macaws, capybaras, and even jaguars!
5. Amboró National Park, Bolivia
Even though Bolivia is often overlooked by travelers to South America, the country homes a truly special place for those who want to see unique species.
Amboró National Park is home to Spectacled bears, which are the only ursine species in South America and a very unusual sight.
The park is located near the Amboró National Park, and even though seeing the bears is the ultimate bucket list item for visitors, other interesting species roam within its rainforest, including armadillos, spider monkeys, giant anteaters, pumas, ocelots, jaguars, and tapirs, not to mention over 800 species of birds reside here as well.
Activities here range from jungle trekking, seeing volcanoes, birdwatching, rappelling, swimming under waterfalls, and plenty more.
6. Isla Yecapasela, Argentina
Located just off the coast of Ushuaia, Isla Yecapasela is an island where you’ll find the only continental colony of rockhopper penguins in South America, which is why the island is more commonly called “Penguin Island!”
To get here, you’ll need to take a short boat trip from Ushuaia. Even though it’s possible to explore independently, taking a guided tour is recommended, as you will get access to a designated trail in order to be able to get closer to the penguins.
Aside from the rockhopper penguin colony, the island is also home to species like albatrosses, petrels, cormorants, and Magellanic penguins, which can also be spotted on guided tours.
As a tip, visiting between October and April is recommended, as this is the time of the year when mom penguins raise their little ones!
7. Iguaçu National Park, Argentina and Brazil
Even though most people visit Iguaçu for its striking waterfalls, there’s another gem to be found at the park if you love animals: the chance to see coatimundis!
Coatis are incredibly cute members of the raccoon family, and they can easily be seen roaming about on both the Argentinian and Brazilian sides of Iguaçu.
Even though they may look harmless, make sure to keep a safe distance from them, as they are known to bite!
8. Chico Mendes Ecological Reserve, Brazil
Think sloths are only found in Costa Rica? Think again!
Three-toed sloths can also be found in the Brazilian Amazon, and they can easily be seen on a day trip to Chico Mendes Ecological Preserve, which is located just outside of Rio and is one of the most accessible places in South America to see wildlife.
This place spans over 44 acres of protected land, providing a safe shelter for many endangered species from South America.
Aside from sloths, other species like capibaras, Brazilian ducks, and red-legged tortoises also reside within the reserve.
9. Cabo Polonio National Park, Uruguay
Tucked away in Uruguay’s Pacific Coast, you’ll find Cabo Polonio National Park, a place that is often overlooked by visitors but a true gem for those who dream of observing sea lions in complete solitude.
The park is home to a pretty large colony of sea lions, which you can spot from a safe distance up above. Be prepared, though, as no matter how far you are, they are definitely pretty stinky!
Aside from sea lions, other species you may get to see during your visit to Cabo Polonio National park include dolphins and whales, especially during October and November.
10. Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Even though Patagonia may not sound like a place where many animals would choose to live, there are plenty of places around where animals love hanging out.
A favorite? Guanacos, which are related to llamas but are a lot smaller (and cuter!). They were once incredibly endangered, but these days, a visit to Torres del Paine pretty much ensures sightings of these friends, so much so that spotting dozens of them from the road is easy as pie!
Scenic driving, horseback riding, and hiking are the ultimate ways to explore Torres del Paine National Park. Aside from getting to get close and personal with guanacos, you’ll also get to do it with stunning views of snow-capped Andean mountains in the process, which is in itself reason enough to travel to the park!
Have you ever been to South America to see wildlife? What are other incredible places on the continent to see animals? If you have any other recommendations, please feel free to drop them in the comment section below!
Looking For More South America?
Planning a trip to Peru? Machu Picchu may well be on your to-visit list, but there’s a whole lot more to see and do in this incredible country in South America.
And if you love to read about a destination before you visit, try these books set in South America for my favorite fiction and non-fiction books.