South America is a large continent but it consists of only 13 countries on its mainland, 3 of which are only small coastal territories that identify more as Caribbean. In this post we will run down the five most visited countries in South America according to official UN figures for global tourism.
The figures quoted are for 2019 and rounded up to the nearest 100,000. They do not include Bolivia, French Guiana, Suriname or Venezuela which have not released figures for that year. Historical data suggests none of those countries would have featured in the top five in any case.
Top 5 Most Visited Countries in South America
1. Argentina – 7.4 million visitors (2019)
Argentina is South America’s most visited country. Over 7 million travelled there for tourism purposes in 2019 and while some may be surprised that it is more popular than Brazil, Argentina does have an awful lot to offer.
Its capital Buenos Aires is one of the liveliest cities on the planet and the beating heart of the nation. However for many the main draw to Argentina is its natural wonders with the glaciers of stunning Patagonia, the beautiful lake district and the peaks of the Andes, which stretch for thousands of kilometres along its border with Chile, among the highlights.
2. Brazil – 6.4 million visitors
Brazil is the 2nd most popular destination for travellers in South America. For such an enormous country, it’s perhaps surprising that its visitor numbers are so low. Many of its major destinations are largely filled by domestic tourists although Rio de Janeiro is one that has a much clearer international vibe.
The dense Amazon region is growing in popularity despite its overall inaccessibility while the world famous Iguaçu Falls are also a huge hit with travellers to the country. There are loads more great destinations in Brazil but with getting around being both time-consuming and challenging by land, many get few visitors from overseas.
3. Chile – 4.5 million visitors
Chile is another genuinely stunning South American country. Over 4,000 kilometres long but with an average width of less than 200 kilometres, it is a quite unique place and as you might imagine there are dramatic contrasts in terms of its landscape from north to south.
Travel highlights in Chile include the Atacama Desert and its dramatic lunar and martian terrain, while at the other end of the country, it also has a spectacular Patagonian region. Much of its population lives in the central part of Chile with its capital Santiago and artsy Valparaiso both interesting places to visit, while the country’s Andean peaks boast some of the best options for skiing in South America.
4. Peru – 4.4 million visitors
Peru is another of South America’s most well known countries in terms of travel with the old Incan capital of Machu Picchu arguably the continent’s number one travel destination. Backpackers continue to flock to Peru but overall it doesn’t draw in as many tourists as Argentina, Brazil or even neighbouring Chile. It lacks a really popular city destination but more travellers are heading out to Iquitos to get a taste of the Amazon in Peru.
5. Colombia – 4.2 million visitors
Colombia is a growing destination for travellers with visitor numbers having spiked over the past decade with the country a safer place to visit now that FARC rebels and the major drug cartels are having a lesser influence on life in the country.
Bogota and Medellin are turning into large, thriving modern cities while Colombia also has a stretch of stunning Caribbean coastline to the east of the charming old city of Cartagena. More adventurous travellers can also head into its remote Amazonian region or undeveloped Pacific coastal region.
The visitor numbers in the other South American countries (that published figures for tourism) in 2019 were Uruguay (3.1 million), Ecuador (2.1 million), Paraguay (1.2 million) and Guyana (315,000). Bolivia had 1.1 million visitors in 2018. In 2017 Venezuela attracted 427,000 visitors, 278,000 visited Suriname, while 111,000 visited French Guiana.
This article was published in September 2020 although the figures relate to the 2019 calendar year.