A Tour of South America’s Top Historic Buildings and Architectural Sites


If history and architecture excite and interest you, South America is definitely a continent you should explore. A mixture of cobbled, traditional towns, countless vast national parks and vibrant colourful cities are crammed into the 12 sovereign states that make up the continent. Deciding where to visit and what to see will be your biggest worry in this enigmatic region, so we’ve done some research and present to you our must-sees in order from North to South. Enjoy!

Santuario de Las Lajas, Colombia

This gothic-style basilica church is located in southern Colombia and is built inside the canyon of the Guaitara River. You read that right, inside a canyon. This iconic structure has truly breathtaking architecture in addition to its beautiful surroundings. The name ‘Laja’ relates to where the church is built, and is the name of a flat sedimentary rock similar to shale.

The church contains a world famous shrine, which dates back to an event in 1754 in which a child was said to have seen an apparition of the Virgin Mary during a storm. Connected to the canyon by a 50m high bridge, the church sits 100 metres from the canyon’s bottom.

Machu Picchu, Peru 

A World Heritage Site you’ve probably heard of, but definitely deserves a mention, is the stunning 15th-century Incan citadel of Machu Picchu. Located on the ridge of mountains over 2,000 metres above sea level, archaeologists believe Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the emperor Pachacuti, however, it was left abandoned not long after due to the Spanish Conquest.

There are three primary structures – the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun and the Room of the Three Windows. During the past decade, this site has been voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and is definitely worth a visit, despite being tricky to get to, the views are unforgettable.

Teatro Amazonas, Manaus, Brazil

Otherwise known as the Amazon Theatre, this stunning opera house is situated in the city of Manaus, in the centre of the Amazon rainforest, and in walking distance of its banks. The unlikely position of this building makes it all the more beautiful, in addition of course, to its Renaissance Revival style with beautifully intricate masonry work.

The theatre was built by wealthy barons of the rubber trade using Europe’s most talented architects and craftsmen, and the money they spent on it, is still apparent today. The theatre is now the home to the Amazonas Philharmonic Orchestra, after being closed for the previous 70 years. The main hall has ornately-painted ceilings and has the ability to house over 700 people at its regular concerts and operatic shows.

Pelourinho, Salvador, Brazil

Known as the historic centre of Salvador de Bahia, Pelourinho (Portuguese for ‘Pillory’) was the city’s centre during the Portuguese colonial period and it retains the feel of that era even today. There are monuments dotted across the central World Heritage area dating from the 17th to the 19th century, many of which mark sites of importance that relate to the slave trade, which was rife here in the 15th century as the sugar plantations needed maintaining.

The ‘Largo’ in Pelourinho is a triangular cobbled area bordered by pastel-painted colonial homes and churches where the whipping post for slave punishment once stood. Within walking distance of the Largo are several other influential buildings such as the Paco Municipal, the Rio Branco Palace and the former medical school building, which is now a museum.

Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Perhaps Brazil’s most famous and iconic site is the towering art deco statue of Christ. It sits atop the peaks of Mount Corcovado overlooking the city of Rio de Janeiro and is considered one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Don’t be daunted by the statue’s height, as you don’t have to climb the mountain to visit it. The Corcovado train takes you to the mountain’s peak and, in daytime, you can see the entire city from the statue’s feet. A symbol of Christianity across the world, the reinforced concrete and soapstone monument is a cultural icon, and with almost two million visitors annually, is a real tourist hotspot worth enduring crowds to see.

Copacabana Fort, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The fort is a military base at the southern end of the infamous Copacabana Beach and is now open to the public as it houses the Army Historical Museum. It is a prominent building consisting of two armoured cupolas, one which holds a pair of 12-inch Krupp cannons and the other which holds a pair of 7.5-inch cannons. There is also weaponry and artillery pieces inside the museum that were originally used in the fort when battling Sao Paulo in 1922, as well as other items used throughout Brazilian history. You may recognize the fort from the 2016 Olympics when it was home to the cycling road race as well as swimming and triathlon events. Military buffs, this should be added to your literary.

Bahai Temple of South America, Chile 

Unique in its design – this temple, that’s situated close to the city of Santiago, is completely translucent, allowing light to flood the space. This is due to a Bahai belief that worshippers should let the light of the divine into their hearts. Designed and executed by Chilean landscape painter Juan Grimm, the temple is cleverly divided into separate internal areas with multiple entrances and exits which are said to reflect the distinct manner in which humans move. There are gardens which visitors are also welcome to stroll and enjoy the buildings elevated position.

If our tour of South America has inspired you, give our friendly sales team a call to discuss and book your trip on 0808 2746 777 or visit our homepage.


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Claire has worked in the travel industry since leaving college in 1994. One of this blog's most regular contributors, Claire covers cruise news and industry trends.

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