10 of the Best Tourist Spots for Landscape Architecture in South America


Article by Sophie Thiel In our fifth article about landscape architecture tourist destinations, we take a closer look at landscape architecture in South America. In South America, there are only a few countries where landscape architecture as a profession is well established. Indeed, landscape architecture in the European sense is much less prevalent in South America. Brazil, which was influenced early by Roberto Burle Marx and Rosa Kliass, seems to be one of the rare exceptions. However, those cities or regions that have a more profound understanding of landscape and garden design are still hard to find throughout the continent. The following list includes ten different examples of such rather hard-to-find landscape architecture projects of South America. Although there are many other reasons to visit the various countries of this continent, visiting new and exotic landscape design sites is often what landscape architects need, to regain inspirational power.

Landscape Architecture in South America

10. Hotel Unique and its Garden– Sao Paulo, Brazil, by Gilberto Elkis As the name suggests, this postmodern hotel building by Brazil’s foremost architect Ruy Ohtake breaks with known standards. Its exceptional design reminds one of a dazzling ocean liner standing in the middle of a residential area. Landscape architect Gilberto Elkis designed the riveting surrounding garden as an equal accompaniment to the Hotel Unique. When viewed from different perspectives – whether from the ship-like portal of a suite, from the ground floor, or from the rooftop bar and pool deck – its landscape varies dramatically. From above, the winding water channel evokes an abstract drawing, but from the ground plane, where the coursing line is barely visible, the architectural cut of the vegetation dominates the view as the trees seem like outcrops of the crescent-shaped building. If you stay in Sao Paulo, the Hotel Unique with its commanding landscape is a must-see landmark.

Image: Design by Ruy Ohtake; Hotel Unique, Sao Paulo, Brazil April 2006. Photo credit: seier+seier, via Flickr, licensed under CC-SA 2.0

Image: Design by Ruy Ohtake; Hotel Unique, Sao Paulo, Brazil April 2006. Photo credit: seier+seier, via Flickr, licensed under CC-SA 2.0

9. and 8. Mano de Punta del Este – Punta del Este, Uruguay, and Mano del Desierto – Atacama Desert, Chile. Both by Mario Irarrázabal The Mano de Punta del Este – shortly called “La Mano” or “Los Dedos”– is the first of three sculptures by Chilean Artist Mario Irarrázabal. He sculptured the “drowning” hand as a warning to swimmers due to the rough waves of the Brava Beach. It took the artist just six days to form the five human fingers that partially emerge from the sand, during the first annual International Meeting of Modern Sculpture in 1982. Since then the hand has become one of Uruguay’s most recognizable landmarks and is popularized by tourist photographs. If you stop at Punta del Este, plan to stay a day or two to relax on the beautiful beaches or go surfing since this resort town is known as “The Monaco of South Americaaccording to Wikitravel.
By Coolcaesar - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The Hand sculpture at Punta Del Este, Uruguay. Photographed by user Coolcaesar on November 20, 2012. Photo credit: By Coolcaesar – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Mano del Desierto is another large-scale sculpture by Mario Irarrázabal, located in the Atacama Desert in Chile, nearly 3000km away from the original Mano in Uruguay. This piece of art was inaugurated in 1992, 10 years after the completion of La Mano de Punta del Este. It has since become a well-known point of interest for travellers on Route 5, which forms part of the famous Pan-American-Highway. Despite having the same creator, both Manos look very different from each other due to alterations in materials and design, as well as a completely different landscape setting for each. Hence, just because you’ve seen one, doesn’t mean you don’t have to visit the other sculpture; so go and collect your pictures with the giant hands of South America!
Image: Panorama around Mano del Desierto. Photo credit: By Marcos Escalier from Antofagasta, Chile. - Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Image: Panorama around Mano del Desierto. Photo credit: By Marcos Escalier from Antofagasta, Chile. – Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

7. Ladeira da Barroquinha – Salvador, Brazil, by Metro Arquitetos When visiting Salvador as a tourist, you will definitely notice the redesigned Ladeira da Barroquinha – literally; the slope of Barroquinha. The new design for this central street considers the tranquil flow of customers that attend the local street market, as well as the intense pedestrian flow towards the nearby bus terminal. As a tourist, I would suggest you take the time to stroll around, discover the different sized steps and plateaus and take a seat on one of the many new benches that are smartly incorporated into the slope design. The old Barroquinha Church, from which you have wonderful views of the sea and beach, is located directly in this area, too.
Ladeira da Barroquinha. Image courtesy of METRO ARQUITETOS

Ladeira da Barroquinha. Image courtesy of METRO ARQUITETOS

6. Plaza Victor J. Cuesta – Vargas Machuca, Ecuador, by DURAN&HERMIDA arquitectos asociados On this continent, a designed open space such as Plaza Victor J. Cuenca is a rarity that arises unexpectedly between a plethora of unsustainably designed cities. This medium-scale plaza forms the historical centre of Cuenca. Its contemporary urban design still prevails on the value of the plaza’s historical context as well as showcasing many harmonious details. Unlike the traditional way of creating open spaces in South America, which often results in fenced green areas, this project proposes a homogenous surface that integrates greenery and pedestrian flow. Plaza Victor J.Cuesta turned a neglected, unsafe place into a multi-functional space that is well integrated into the social and built surroundings. This project in Ecuador is one of the few top landscape architecture projects that we would love to see more of in South America, and worldwide.
Plaza Victor J. Cuesta

Plaza Victor J. Cuesta by DURAN&HERMIDA arquitectos asociados. Photo credit: © Sebastián Crespo

5. The Sitio – Roberto Burle Marx‘ Garden – Barra de Guaratiba, Brazil
Image: Farmhouse and chapel gardens in Barra de Guaratiba where Burle Marx died in 1994. Photo credit: By Halley Pacheco de Oliveira - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Image: Farmhouse and chapel gardens in Barra de Guaratiba where Burle Marx died in 1994. Photo credit: By Halley Pacheco de Oliveira – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

One of Brazil’s most famous gardens is Roberto Burle Marx’s Private Garden called The Sitio, which is a one-hour drive west of Rio de Janeiro. The world-famous landscape architect resided at this estate from 1949 until he died in 1994. Burle Marx left an important botanical collection of tropical plants behind, in his beautifully arranged garden, along with his original farmhouse and studio where Marx’s paintings, furniture, and sculptures are displayed. An abstract wall and pool form one of the most famous parts of his garden’s context-sensitive design. Visit Burle Marx’s private home at Sitio and enjoy his artful, dynamic, landscape creation. Read about Roberto Burle Marx’s life in these two articles by Alexandra Wilmet and Julia Lucchese:

4. Orquideorama – Medellin, Colombia, by Plan B Architects + JPRCR Arquitectos With the Orquideorama , the city of Medellin gained a design attraction that inspires both residents and visitors alike. Orquideorama is a large timber and steel canopy located in the Botanical Gardens of Medellin. The 50-foot-high canopy not only creates a shading extension of the surrounding forest, but the trunk structures also form various functional spaces such as a café for visitors, a feeding facility for birds, and a butterfly breeding area. Be prepared to go on an educational trip, since the Botanical Garden of Medellin is home to more than 4500 species of plants and more than 1000 species of animals. Take this opportunity to see and learn about the natural environment found only in Colombia and South America; you won’t want to leave. The Botanical Garden of Medellin is ranked number 7 of 142 things to do in Medellin, on TripAdvisor.

Orquideorama. Photo credit: Sergio Gomez -

Orquideorama. Photo credit: Sergio Gomez –

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3. Rua Gonçalo de Carvalho – Porto Alegre, Brazil Seen from above, the Gonçalo de Carvalho street in Porto Alegre looks like a soft but thick green carpet between the adjacent buildings. When entering the street on ground level, you will be overwhelmed with the feeling of diving into a different world. The reasons for this are the countless rosewood (Tipuana tipu) tree lines that tower over the 500-meter-long, ancient cobbled street on both sides. The trees were planted in the 1930s and have grown into a shady neighbourhood canopy that creates a pleasant climate to be found whenever you might take a walk at Rua Gonçalo de Carvalho. The street became famous worldwide in 2005 when a resident initiative fought to preserve the gorgeous redwoods. Take the time for a long stroll under the leafy canopy and get inspired to create your own Gonçalo de Carvalho in the future.

GONÇALO DE CARVALHO; credit: Adalberto Cavalcanti Adreani

GONÇALO DE CARVALHO; credit: Adalberto Cavalcanti Adreani

2. Quilotoa Crater Overlook – Zumbahua, Ecuador, by Jorge Javier Andrade Benítez, Javier Mera Luna, and Daniel Moreno Yet another exceptional tourist spot can be found in South America. The Quilotoa Crater Overlook is a viewing platform that enables visitors to step out over an active volcano at nearly 4000 meters above sea level. To reach this place, you could go on a hiking trip on your own, or you may decide to ride comfortably on a mule and be guided by true indigenous people of the Ecuadorian Sierra through the sensitive Andean Paramo ecosystem until you reach the overlooking platform and its breath-taking views. One thing is for sure: the Quilotoa Crater Overlook project, also called Mirador Shalala by the indigenous people, teaches everyone the lesson of how to meet human needs without compromising a perfect natural site.
Quilotoa Crater Overlook

Quilotoa Crater Overlook, Zumbahua, Ecuador, by Jorge Javier Andrade Benítez, Javier Mera Luna, and Daniel Moreno

1. Cockfight Coliseum Garden – Lima, Perù, by 2.8 x arquitectos Have you ever relaxed or even meditated at a cockfighting arena? Guess what, this exceptional landscape architecture project in Lima will allow even beginners to meditate. The former cockfighting arena – a place of tradition but also cruelty – was transformed from a memorial of death to a place for life. Through the resolute circular form, the simple elements and the use of two calming colours (grey and green), the design of the Cockfight Coliseum Garden is, overall, characterized by peacefulness. The addition of a small waterfall evokes a thriving but also a calm and balanced feeling, which is perfectly fitting to this meditation spot. Enjoy the calm oasis when sitting on the grass and improve your meditation skills – this is the perfect place to do so in South America.
Cockfight Coliseum Garden. Images courtsy of 2.8 x arquitectos

Cockfight Coliseum Garden. Images courtsy of 2.8 x arquitectos

Despite a handful of great landscape architecture projects, vast parts of South America are still in urgent need of professional landscape design influence. Though by no means should there be Europeanization taking place; rather a strong support of traditional materials and ideas, mixed with new approaches, would be desirable for the many, still underdeveloped, parts of South America. Always keep your eyes open and enjoy your trip to South America. What designs do you think are missing from this list? What else can landscape architects learn from the more traditional design of South America? Let us know in the comment section below! Go to comments Article by Sophie Thiel

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