There’s a slower pace of life in small towns and I’m always chasing after it.
The gentle ocean air flowing through your salty hair. The whiff of freshly baked empanadas.
I crave this magic.
They’re usually unusual and sometimes isolated. They’re not overcrowded with people and best of all, there are no lines to wait in.
I spent nearly 10 months backpacking around South America and traveled through many small towns and cities.
Keep on reading to find out which places are the best small towns in South America.
My 9 Favorite Small Towns in South America
1. Ilha Grande, Brazil
Ilha Grande is a small island in Brazil just south of Rio de Janeiro. There are no cars on the island which is what makes it so charming. Cobbled streets, sandy trails, secluded beaches, and crystal clear water abound, Ilha Grande is a tropical paradise that you must visit.
Things to do in Ilha Grande
- Hike to the top of Pico de Papagaio
- Sail around the island in a schooner
- Relax on one of Brazil’s most famous beaches
2. Paraty, Brazil
Located on the coast of Brazil between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, this small colonial town is full of history. Paraty is surrounded by rivers, mountains and tons of sugar cane distilleries (alambiques). Paraty’s historic center was built below sea level and some people call it the “Venice of Brazil” because the water floods over its uneven cobblestones during high tide.
Things to do in Paraty
- Go on a free walking tour
- Hop on a Jeep tour for jungle waterfalls and cachaça
- Visit a hilltop citadel
3. Cabo Polonio, Uruguay
It’s hard to compare Cabo Polonio to any other place in South America. This village is off the grid. No roads. No running water. No electricity. Wifi.. a hard nope. If you want to get to this coastal village in Uruguay, catch a ride on an open-air, double-decker 4×4 through the forest and over dunes or head out on a 7 km walk. You choose.
Things to do in Cabo Polonio
- See one of South America’s largest sea lion colonies
- Hike the sand dunes
- Climb Faro de Cabo Polonio for sunset
4. Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay
Vine-draped shops, antique cars and narrow cobbled streets make Colonia del Sacramento colorful and picturesque. It’s the oldest city in Uruguay and its historic quarter was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995. If you’re visiting Buenos Aires, Colonia del Sacramento is a perfect day trip.
Things to do in Colonia del Sacramento
- Walk along the waterfront
- Climb Faro de Colonia del Sacramento for sunset
- Take photos at La Calle de los Suspiros
5. Valle del Elqui, Chile
This valley in northern Chile has over 300 days of sunshine which perfectly accompanies its clear night skies. Valle del Elqui is famous for pisco, astronomical wonders, and its unique energy—don’t be surprised to find an abundance of energy pyramids throughout its small towns.
Things to do in Valle del Elqui
- Taste the pisco
- Follow the Ruta de las Estrellas
- Camp beneath the stars
6. El Chaltén, Argentina
El Chaltén is a small mountain village in Argentinian Patagonia. This village is a gateway to Mt. Fitz Roy, one of the most rugged, impressive and beautiful peaks in the Andes Mountains. You can choose to see El Chaltén’s many glaciers, lakes, and mountains on day hikes or head out on a multi-day backpacking trip. All in all, this place is truly a hiker’s paradise.
Things to do in El Chaltén
- Eat an empanada at Che Empanada
- Hike Laguna de Los Tres and marvel at Fitz Roy
- Watch condors soar at Los Cóndores viewpoint
7. San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
San Pedro de Atacama is a Chilean town in the middle of the Atacama Desert—the driest desert in the world. Cone-shaped volcanoes, snow-capped mountains, large sandstone formations, geysers and salt pools (that you can float effortlessly in), these landscapes are other-worldly and make this town a must-see. San Pedro de Atacama is also a stargazing haven and the largest land-based observatory ever built is situated 40km outside of town.
Things to do in San Pedro de Atacama
- Explore the driest desert in the world
- Watch flamingoes at Lagoon Chaxa
- Look out to distant galaxies at the ALMA Observatory
8. Isla Santa Cruz, Ecuador
Isla Santa Cruz is the second largest island in Ecuador’s Galápagos National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage site offers unique landscapes and wildlife, including hammerhead sharks, sea lions, giant tortoises, marine iguanas, and blue-footed boobies. Traveling to the Galápagos Islands can be expensive but don’t let that stop you from knowing this incredible island.
Things to do in Isla Santa Cruz
- Scuba dive with hammerhead sharks
- Snorkel in a crevasse at Las Grietas
- Learn about endangered giant tortoises
9. Baños, Ecuador
Baños is a small town and a giant adventure hub. Located in Ecuador, this small town will entice any adrenaline junkie. Hiking, canyoning, repelling, bungee jumping and mountain biking are just some of the outdoor activities that’ll get your heart pumping. If that’s not enough, there are plenty of thermal baths to soak in and volcanoes to marvel at.
Things to do in Baños
- Swing at the end of the world
- See a waterfall on the Ruta de las Cascadas
- Hop on a Chiva bus and get the party started
What’s your favorite small town? Let me know in the comments!