• Angad Chowdhry

Dreaming of South America: Our Culture AI Looks at American Travelers’ Bucket Lists

Unsplash image credit: Pete Burdon

The pandemic has severely impacted the travel industry. With international borders closed for months at a stretch, globetrotters had to resort to virtual travel — dreaming of all the places they would visit once the pandemic ends, and updating their travel bucket lists in the process.

Even though accelerated global vaccination drives are leading to countries slowly opening up for tourism, travelers are treading with caution, and it could take a while for the industry to recover. But once international travel restrictions are lifted, where would Americans like to go?

Given the popularity of destinations such as Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador, and their proximity to the United States, American travelers are most likely to turn to these options for immediate international travel. We studied search behavior using our Culture AI to understand which places and experiences American travelers are looking forward to the most.

What South American travel experiences are Americans searching for?

We looked at search data from the last three months (April - June 2021) to decipher the most popular experiences in South America. Here’s what we found.

We deployed our AI to analyze 1600 Instagram posts of travelers who have visited these destinations to understand what draws them to these experiences.

Iguazu Falls

As one of the largest, most mighty waterfalls in the world, this UNESCO World Heritage site tops every American traveler’s list. Consisting of a total of 275 waterfalls, the grandeur of these falls demonstrates a certain calming energy that draws people to the panoramic site. According to our AI analysis, the factor that attracts people most to Iguazu is the emotional experience they undergo minutes after witnessing the splendor of the falls.

Atacama Desert

The driest and oldest desert in the world stretches across 600 miles in the Andean region of Chile. The area is a geological marvel comprising geysers, valleys that resemble the surface of Mars, lagoons, and salt flats that are all abundantly present in the region. Even better, the desert is also a hub for astro-tourism and is considered to be one of the best places in the world to stargaze. The uniqueness of the landscape and the sensation of being in a deserted, uninhabited terrain appeals to visitors that are looking for remote tranquility.

Easter Island

How often do you come across 900 monumental statues with oversized heads on a remote volcanic island that is 1100 miles from the nearest stretch of land? The charm of the Moai statues (volcanic stone statues built to honor the ancestors of the Rapa Nui people) is unparalleled. Apart from the fact that travelers get the opportunity to explore the most remote island in the world, the main incentive to visit the location lies in the mystery that pervades the place and the idea that there is still much to unravel and discover about the history of the people and place.

Salar de Uyuni

Located high up in the Andes at an altitude of 11,995 feet, the Salt Flat of Bolivia was once a prehistoric lake that dried up, leaving behind a sparkling-white desert-like landscape. This bucket-list destination is unlike any other with unusual rock formations, spiked cacti, and miles of emptiness. Visitors claim that the sky often reflects off the salt flats like a mirror, making it the perfect spot for picture-taking. This photogenic, aesthetic appeal of the unique landscape draws thousands of tourists to the location annually.

Machu Picchu

As the enigmatic citadel of Peru, Machu Picchu may not be the most-searched-for destination but is definitely the most popular tourist spot. Built in the 15th century, this natural wonder is considered to be a masterpiece of Inca architecture. Surrounded by lush green mountain ridges, canyons, and smiling alpacas, this phenomenal structure is on every South American traveler’s wishlist.

Galapagos Islands

Located about 1000 km away from mainland Ecuador, the Galapagos archipelago comprises 127 different islands and islets. As one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet, visitors come across flora and fauna that they can encounter nowhere else in the world. This is why no matter whether travelers go snorkeling in the aquamarine waters of the island or go on a cruise or kayak to explore the region’s natural beauty — the primary incentive for tourists is to experience the diverse wildlife in the area.

Marine iguanas, giant tortoises, and blue-footed boobies are just some of the animals that are native only to the Galapagos, making the destination a haven for wildlife enthusiasts.


At the southern tip of the Americas lies a region covered in snow-capped mountains, narrow fjords, and lush green forests. Patagonia’s Torres del Paine and Los Glaciares national parks in Chile and Argentina offer some of the most spellbinding landscapes for nature lovers and hiking fanatics. The primary factor of appeal for travelers visiting these parks is the number of hikable peaks and trails around. While the region is home to some of the most challenging treks in the world, the spectacular views during the climb make the sweat and tears worth it!

Amazon Rainforest

The Amazon rainforest wildfires of 2019 and 2020 brought the tropical basin into a global light. Spanning over eight countries and comprising over half of the earth’s forests, the ecosystem is a major contributor to the planet’s health.

Our AI identified ecotourism as an emerging topic for related posts, possibly alluding to the fact that people got more climate-conscious following the natural disaster. Apart from the abundance of vibrant wildlife and flora in the region, a compelling reason for people to visit the rainforest is the environmental significance of the area and the realization that nature is, after all, finite.

After a year plus of being locked up at home, American travelers are eagerly embracing the trend of revenge travel - the phenomenon of wanting to break free from the monotony of Covid-induced routines. The intent of traveling to South America brings to surface the core desire of American tourists in wanting to escape to the outdoors and indulge in adventure and exploration after having a mundane year.

As globetrotters wait for international travel to restore in a Post-Covid world, they continue fulfilling their wanderlust by dreaming about and checking off those bucket-worthy experiences.

Write to us at [email protected] to learn more about our study.