13 Places in South America Where You Will be Dwarfed by Nature


From glaciers to deserts, from the Amazon Rainforest to vast wetlands, and from waterfalls to salt flats, South America has a number of places where you feel how insignificant we, as single individuals, are or where you may even feel that you have left planet Earth. Here are some of the places where we felt so small.

1. Bolivia – Salar de Uyuni

Whether it’s about the places that will dwarf you in South America or in the world, Salar de Uyuni is bound to be on the list. Driving on the world’s largest salt flat is simply surreal.

We can set the cruise control at 80 kms/hour, let go of the steering wheel and not get into trouble; the Land Cruiser just cruises straight ahead for some 130 kilometers before reaching the other side.

Read More: Tips for Rough Camping at Salar de Uyuni

2. Brazil – Iguaçu National Park

257 tiered waterfalls, spread out over three kilometers plunge into the Paraná River, spanning the border between Argentina and Brazil. The Guaraní Indians gave these waterfalls the name of “Iguaçu”, meaning “great water”.

Iguaçu National Park obtained a UNESCO World Heritage Status in the 1980s. Catwalks run along many of the waterfalls with the best one lying on the Brazilian side. It runs far across the water, drenching you with clouds of spray and rewarding you with a frontal view of Devil’s Throat, the fiercest of all waterfalls (full story here).

Read More: 7 Adventurous, Cultural and Inspiring Road Trips in Brazil

3. Bolivia – Death Road

Crosses and shrines lining the Yungas Road are still testimony to what indeed was once one of the most dangerous roads in the world. That is until some eight years ago. Since a double-lane highway was built around another mountain range, the so-called Death Road was left to become mostly a tourist attraction with an occasional local using it.

Having said that, many consider this one of South America’s most rewarding road trips. Some visitors cycle down from La Paz (at 4,000 meters) to Coroico (at 1,800 meters).

Travel Guides for Bolivia

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Rough Guides – Bolivia

Lonely Planet Travel Guides – Bolivia

Lonely Planet Phrasebook & Dictionary – American Spanish

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Read More: Driving the World’s Most Dangerous Road

4. Brazil – Pantanal

The world’s largest inland wetland is the best place in South America to see wildlife thanks to its geography of large, open stretches.

The best time of the year to visit the Pantanal is July and August, when water levels are low, and animals group together around the few ponds and creeks that are left. There are several roads leading into the Pantanal.

Travel Guides for Brazil

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Insight Guides – Brazil

Lonely Planet Phrasebook & Dictionary – Brazilian Portuguese

Lonely Planet – Brazil

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Read More: Behind the Fences of the Biggest Wetlands in the World – The Pantanal

5. Argentina – Agua Negra Pass

The highest border crossing between Chile and Argentina is located at 4,780 meters above sea level. Most of the year the pass is closed due to snow, and generally only open between December and April. Many passes in the Andes have snow, but what makes this road unique are the frozen snow formations you see in the photo, locally called penitentes.

Travel Guides for Argentina

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Lonely Planet Travel Guide – Argentina

Lonely Planet Phrasebook & Dictionary – American Spanish

Insight Guides – Argentina

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6. Brazil – Lençóis Maranhenses National Park

White sand dunes that, during parts of the year, are filled with sweet, crystal clear lagunas. Despite the rain there is hardly any vegetation and the few communities living in the middle of these dunes have a rough life, working hard to grow some vegetables and mainly living on fish as the communities are not too far from the Atlantic Ocean (read more here).

The best time to visit this area is July/August, when the valleys are filled with water. The town of Barreirinhas is lined with travel agencies willing to take you on a tour to the dunes. If you like an off-the-beaten-track approach, stay in Santa Amaro, on the western side of the park.

Read More: Driving Dunes and Beaches in Northeast Brazil

Lençois Maranhenses

7. Colombia – Tatacoa

‘Weird’ would be a correct adjective for this place. You’re driving among lush green hilly fields and all of a sudden these red sand formations pop up that are a miniature version of Bryce Canyon.

Despite this being one of Colombia’s arid zones, you will find beautiful flowers when hiking through this desert, such as flowering cacti.

Travel Guides for Colombia

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Insight Guides – Colombia

Bradt Travel Guides – Colombia

Lonely Planet Travel Guide – Colombia

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Read More: 5 Awesome, Off-the-beaten-track Road Trips in Colombia

8. Chile – Atacama Desert

The Caleta Los Verdes, twenty kilometers south of Iquique in Chile, was the last challenge of Top Gear’s Special in Bolivia, This incredibly steep descent, running from the Altiplano down to the Pacific Coast, has also been one of the challenges of several Dakar Rallies.

Travel Guides for Chile

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Insight Guides – Chile

Fodor’s – Chile Highlights

Bradt Travel Guides – Chile: The Carretera Austral

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Read More: Chile’s Northernmost Desert

9. Argentina – Perito Moreno

If I’d have to pick the top sight where I felt dwarfed by nature, Perito Moreno would be the one. Here you are staring at a natural phenomenon that is 5 kilometers wide, some 70 meters high and running about 30 kilometers in length. It is one of the few remaining glaciers in the world that is actually still growing.

Throughout the day huge chunks of ice break off, hence the boat can’t approach the glacier any closer than it does in this photo. Every few years there is a massive rupture, a sight people especially travel to Perito Moreno for. You don’t need to go on a boat trip; you can watch the ice mass from the mainland as well.

Read More: 11 Ultimate Rough Camps for Overlanders in Argentina

10. Argentina – Ischigualasto Natural Park

Argentina’s Valley of the Moon (Valle de la Luna) consists of eroded rock formations in red and grey tinges and is characterized by little rain, strong winds and high temperatures.

If you’re into dinosaurs, this is the place to go as it is known for a large number of dinosaur fossils found here. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Books on 4WD Driving

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The Total Approach of Getting Unstuck Off Road

4WD Driving Skills: A Manual for On- and Off-Road Travel

Four-Wheel Drive: The Complete Guide

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11. Peru – Tres Cruces

Tres Cruces, meaning Three Crosses, is a viewpoint at 3850 meters in the Andes Mountains from where you have an incredible view of the Amazon Basin, specifically Manu National Park. The place is nicknamed Balcony of the Orient. The sunrise and the play of clouds here were among the most mesmerizing sights in South America.

Travel Guides for Peru

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Insight Guides – Peru

DK Eyewitness Travel Guides – Peru

Lonely Planet Travel Guides – Peru

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Read More: The Paucartambo Festival in Peru

12. Argentina – Desierto del Diablo

From San Antonio de los Cobres, near Salta, the unpaved road crosses La Puna, the high plains, to Tolar Grande. It meanders between 4,000 and 5,000 meters, traversing a 1.3-kilometer-long salt flat and the Labyrinth Desert, where we almost felt we had left Earth and found ourselves on another planet.

That feeling was complete when we crossed Devil’s Desert, a world consisting of red sand, dust and mountains, and seemingly devoid of life.

Read More: 9 of South America’s Most Legit Road Trips

Desierto del Diablo

13. Argentina – Laguna Brava

Deep in the Andes Mountains of La Rioja province lies ‘Brave Pond’. At an altitude of 4,500 meters this place literally left me breathless battling a fierce wind and hiking around the blue lake surrounded by salt.

Apart from flamingoes this inhospitable land is home to vicuñas, pumas, red foxes, and birds of prey.

Which was the place on this continent where you felt so small? Feel free to share in the comment section below.

Read More: the Best Camera for Travel

Laguna Brava

This article was first published on Matador Network.

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2 thoughts on “13 Places in South America Where You Will be Dwarfed by Nature”

    • It’s all about personal preferences of course. Ecuador would make a lot of lists for us, but to be dwarfed by nature in the sense like the other places in this article, no not so. Often it’s about being in a place at a specific time that one place overwhelms you, but not somebody else’s, e.g. based on your own experiences or even something simple as the weather (e.g. which for us really contributed to our feel of Manu in Peru.


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