Much of the continent remains wild and untamed, which to the intrepid traveller can be both appealing and daunting. Travel overland is often difficult and time-consuming, which is one of the many reasons to consider visiting South America on a cruise ship.
Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina and a city that exudes elegance and passion, is often the embarkation point for many itineraries that explore the tropical coast northwards to Rio de Janeiro.
Discover the city's iconic neighbourhoods including the famous La Boca with its colourful buildings, vibrant street art and tango dancing, as well as San Telmo and Recoleta to indulge in delicious Argentine steaks and immerse yourself in the local culture. Appealing cruise extensions include travelling to Mendoza in the heart of the country's wine region and Iguazú Falls which straddles the Brazil-Argentine border.
Sandwiched between the largest of South America's countries lies one of the smallest, Uruguay. In Montevideo, discover a quieter and more relaxed atmosphere compared to Buenos Aires; the city's Old Town, known as Ciudad Vieja, is a charming area to explore with its cobblestone streets, historic architecture and cosy cafés.
The glamorous resort town of Punta del Este, often called the "St. Tropez of South America," is another of the country's highlights, boasting pristine beaches, upscale shopping, and the iconic sculpture "La Mano" protruding from the sand.
Continuing north discover some of Brazil's hidden gems including Ilhabela, an island known for its lush forests, waterfalls, and crystal-clear waters.
Hike through the verdant landscapes of Parque Estadual de Ilhabela or enjoy snorkelling and paddleboarding in this tropical haven - or, perhaps visit Búzios, a seaside retreat put on the map by Brigitte Bardot in the 60s, with stunning beaches and tropical forests that have been attracting a catalogue of stars ever since.
Rio de Janeiro, the carnival capital of the world, is an extraordinary highlight and demands a few days of your time. We can think of few cities in the world that are able to compete when it comes to location: hugging the beautiful sandy shore and surrounded by jungle-clad islands and mountains, including the iconic Corcovado, the setting for Brazil's most vibrant city is simply breathtaking.
Strut your stuff on Copacabana beach, shimmy to the rhythms of samba and bossa nova, or just drink in the view from the feet of Christ the Redeemer - Rio is truly a destination to be savoured, with many cruises beginning or ending in the city and overnight calls commonplace
Those looking for longer voyages can enjoy venturing further north, sailing along Brazil's huge coastline and into its interior along the mighty Amazon River, most commonly to Manaus - some 900 miles inland from the Atlantic Coast, usually enroute to central America, the Caribbean or sometimes even Miami.
Various coastal stops along the way include Salvador de Bahia where Afro-Brazilian traditions, colourful architecture, and samba rhythms abound. Explore the historic Pelourinho district, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its vibrant streets and colonial buildings, and sample local cuisine, including acarajé (deep-fried black-eyed pea fritters) and moqueca (a delicious seafood stew).
Entering the wide waters of the lower Amazon, sail through to Manaus to be immersed in the enchanting world of the rainforest, such as the Meetings of the Waters, one of South America's most captivating natural phenomena where the dark waters of the Rio Negro meet the sandy coloured Rio Solimoes to form the Amazon River, flowing side by side for four miles until they eventually mix.
Visit the tiny village of Boca da Valéria, with its picturesque little church and wooden stilt houses, home to a remote indigenous community; the villagers are used to welcoming cruise ship visitors, but stepping ashore here is still a memorable experience. Opportunities abound for wildlife viewing, jungle hikes, and cultural interactions and keep an eye out for pink river dolphins, toucans, and howler monkeys. Then discover Manaus - a sweltering, steamy city in the heart of the Brazilian rainforest, near the confluence of the Rio Negro and Amazon rivers and surrounded by thick jungle.
A final highlight included on some sailings, travelling the northern reaches of Brazil, is a visit to Devil's Island - part of French Guiana, this small, remote island holds a haunting history as a former French penal colony.
With a richness of experiences from vibrant cityscapes to tranquil beaches, cultural richness and natural wonders, South America is sure to offer an unforgettable voyage.