Skip to Content

Home / Reading Challenges / Book Voyage Challenge Book Lists / Books Set in South America

Books Set in South America

Whether you found this list searching for books set in South America before a trip or are participating in our Book Voyage reading challenge, we have a variety of fiction and non-fiction book recommendations set across the South American continent.

Three angled book covers with On a Night of a Thousand Stars in the center

The Geography & People of South America

For many of us, our introduction to South America came from learning in school about the tropical rainforests of the Amazon Basin. The Amazon covers about 40 percent of the continent (an area roughly the size of the 48 contiguous United States). Despite once being even larger, the Amazon remains the world’s largest rainforest. It’s also one of the most biodiverse places on Earth.

Unlike the Amazon rainforest, one of the wettest places on Earth, Chile’s Atacama Desert is the world’s driest non-polar desert. Additionally, South America is home to the world’s longest mountain range – the Andes. The mountains stretch all along the western edge of the continent, from the northernmost coast to the southern tip.

The Incan Empire was established in Peru in the 1400s, then expanded to include parts of five other present-day countries. It is the most well-known of South America’s indigenous cultures, but many other indigenous societies also call this continent home. The indigenous populations of South America continue to have a strong influence on the human landscape of this continent. Although nearly half of the indigenous people now live in urban areas, they maintain a deep connection to the physical environment. The connection is manifested through their religious beliefs, cultural celebrations, and political actions.

What Countries are Included on This List?

The term Latin America generally refers to the entire region south of the United States in which Spanish, Portuguese, or French (all Latin languages) are officially spoken. The countries of Latin America span both the North American and South American continents. The seven countries often referred to as Central America are included on our North American reading list.

This month our book recommendations cover the 13 countries of South America, including: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

What Kind of Books are Included on This List?

We’ve compiled some highly recommended reads to get you started. Our list of books set in South America includes a wide variety of non-fiction, memoirs, historical fiction, and contemporary fiction. Several of the novels on the list feature elements of magical realism, which is a prominent subgenre in Latin American literature. Of course, you are welcome to choose any book that you’d like to read for the challenge, but we hope that this list of books gives you a good starting point.

Highly Rated Books Set in South America

Infinite Country Book Cover

Book Summary

Elena and Mauro have grown up in Bogotá, Colombia and their teenage love contrasts the brutality of life in their country at the turn of the millennium. Once they have a daughter, it becomes clear that they will have better economic prospects if they can make it to the United States.

They arrive in the US on tourist visa and work to send money back to Elena’s mom. When they don’t leave the county at the end of their visa, the growing family enters the precarious life of undocumented immigrants.

A second timeline follows their now 15-year-old daughter, Talia, as she breaks out of a nun-managed reform school in the Colombian mountains.

WARNING: This book contains scenes of sexual assault & animal abuse.

The Book Girls Say…

While this 256-page fast-paced novel does not take place exclusively in South America, it richly describes Bogotá’s urban life and is steeped in Andean myth.

Author Patricia Engel is the daughter of Colombian immigrants and a dual citizen. If you’ve already read and enjoyed Infinite Country, try another of her novels partially set in Colombia, The Veins of the Ocean.

On a Night of a Thousand Stars book cover

Book Summary

This split-timeline book tells the story of one family in both 1998 and the 1970s. Father Santiago Larrea is now a wealthy Argentine diplomat living in New York with his wife, Lila, and daughter, Paloma. Their life seems perfect until an unexpected party guest from Santiago’s past makes a comment that visibly shakes him. The cryptic comment makes college student Paloma curious about her father’s past in Argentina.

Paloma has the perfect opportunity to learn more when the family heads to Buenos Aires for Santiago’s UN ambassadorial appointment. She meets an Argentine student, Franco, who is an activist in a group for children of the Desaparecidos, those who were “disappeared” by the regime during Argentina’s “Dirty War” in the 70s. Paloma’s research not only leads her to question her own family and identity it also puts her life in danger.

The Book Girls Say…

For another look at Argentina in the 1970s, check out Hades, Argentina. It is about a medical student named Tomás who has a crush on passionate Isabel. Unfortunately, she’s in a group of young insurgents fighting back against an oppressive regime, and people like her keep being “disappeared” by the government.

Andrea Yaryura Clark grew up in Argentina amid the political turmoil of the 1970s until her family relocated to North America. After graduating from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service — including a year of study at the Universidad del Salvador in Buenos Aires —and completing her MBA at York University (Toronto, Canada), she returned to Buenos Aires to reconnect with her roots.

The Woman in Red Book Cover

Book Summary

This historical fiction tells the tale of a feminist icon and revolutionary who became on of the most revered figures in South American history. Anita Garibaldi was a force to be reckoned with.

She was forced into marriage at an early age, but everything changed when she met Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1839. After being swept into a passionate affair with the mercenary, her life became consumed with the plight to liberate Southern Brazil from Portugal. The struggle spanned more than 10 years and thousands of lives were lost.

But this was just the first taste of revolution for Anita. Over the course of her short life, she crossed oceans and traversed continents, impacting the course of the world.

The Book Girls Say…

Anita Garibaldi was a revolutionary figure known for her role in the Italian unification process and as the wife and comrade-in-arms of Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi. Her life was marked by her active participation in the struggle for independence and democracy, as she fought alongside Giuseppe in both South America and Italy, becoming a symbol of bravery and a champion of women’s participation in military and political life.

This is the debut novel of author Diana Giovinazzo. She found a passion for writing historical fiction after researching her Italian family history. It was her father, also a published author, who first encouraged her to research the life of Anita Garibaldi.

Seven Sisters Cover

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

91% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

Maia and her five sisters were all adopted as babies by their beloved father. Upon his death, all of the sisters gather together at their childhood home – a secluded castle on the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Each woman is handed a letter with a clue about her true heritage, and Maia’s clue takes her across the world to another mansion in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where she’ll begin to assemble the pieces of her own story.

Maia’s Brazilian journey will lead her to the story of her great-grandmother, Izabela Bonifacio. Along the way, she’ll learn about the legend of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer – the 98-foot tall statue that towers over the city.

The story is told in a dual timeline between Maia’s present day, and the Golden Age of Rio in the 1920s, where Izabela Bonifacio’s father aspires to marry his daughter into the aristocratic class. But Izabela’s life is forever changed when she convinces her father to let her travel to Paris with famous architect Heitor de Silva Costa to join him in her search for the right sculptor to complete his vision for Christ the Redeemer.

The Book Girls Say…

This is book 1 in a series of 8, but it’s the only book in the series set in Brazil. Each subsequent book follows the other sisters through different locations around the globe.

Also Featured on These Book Lists:

Best Book Series for Adults – 19 Reader Picks

Puma Years book cover

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

100% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

In her early twenties, Laura lacked direction and decided to quit her job to embark on a backpacking trip in Bolivia. She found herself at a wildlife sanctuary on the edge of the Amazon jungle. It was filled with over a hundred lost and hurt animals and an equally complex cast of employees and volunteers. Laura was assigned to work with a puma named Wayra.

Set against the backdrop of deforestation, the illegal pet trade, and forest fires, this memoir explores what happens when two creatures needing rescue find one another.

The Book Girls Say…

The Puma Years was a 2021 Goodreads Choice Award nominee for Best Memoir.

In 2007, author Laura Coleman went to Bolivia to volunteer with Comunidad Inti Wara Yassi (CIWY), an NGO that manages three wildlife sanctuaries. This work inspired her to start the UK-based charity ONCA (Panthera onca means jaguar).

Kindle Unlimited as of: 11/03/2023
Exile Music book cover

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

90% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

Orly’s father plays viola in the Philharmonic, her mother is an opera singer, and she lives a peaceful, music-filled life in Vienna. However, it’s the 1930s, and Hitler is rising to power in Germany. As part of a Jewish family, she’s aware enough of his threat to dream up imaginary worlds with her best friend but has no idea how bad things will get.

Then, in 1938, the Germans arrived. Orly’s family is lucky enough to secure a refugee visa to take them to a totally new world – the Bolivian Andes. As the town of La Paz, Bolivia, grows with fellow refugees, Orly’s family tries to adapt to life in the mountains, even as they dwell on the music careers, family, and friends they were forced to leave behind.

The Book Girls Say…

We were surprised to learn that Bolivia accepted over 20,000 Jewish refugees between 1938 and 1940, largely thanks to a tin exporter. While the country of Bolivia was in political turmoil and much of South America supported Europe’s fascist leaders, La Paz and Cochabamba became an unexpected saving grace (although not a welcoming utopia) for countless families that may have otherwise fallen to Hilter’s concentration camps.

Author Jennifer Steil is an award-winning novelist and memoirist from Boston who has lived all around the world. After living for a time in Yemen, she and her family moved to La Paz, Bolivia. There, she met Jewish Bolivians whose families had fled during WWII, inspiring Exile Music. She now lives in Uzbekistan.

Turn Right at Machu Picchu book cover

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

100% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

Mark Adams spent his entire career editing adventure travel magazines, but he had never done anything adventurous. That is, until he decided to recreate a controversial 1911 expedition to Machu Picchu.

In 1911, a young Yale professor named Hiram Bingham III climbed into the Andes Mountains of Peru and “discovered” an ancient city in the clouds – what we now know as Machu Picchu. Of course, this Incan citadel had long been known to the villagers of this region (the ones who showed Bingham the way), but its discovery was officially credited to him when he cabled the United States to report his archaeological finding. Despite finding something that was never lost, Bingham turned the world’s attention to Machu Picchu and Incan history and helped inspire the Indiana Jones stories. But Bingham’s legacy is also shadowed by allegations that he stole historical artifacts.

Fast forward a century to 2011, Mark Adams decided to find out the truth about Bingham’s discovery for himself. The not-so-adventurous adventure writer set out to retrace the famous explorer’s steps through the Andes and to write about Bingham’s work, 500 years of Incan history, and his own experiences along the way.

The Book Girls Say…

This travelogue vibrantly describes Peru’s gorgeous landscape, from the Inca capital of Cusco to the ruins of Vitcos and Vilcabamba. Adam’s journalism background is evident in his writing style and meticulous research, but this book is also a humorous and entertaining, light read.

Violeta book cover

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

90% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

This book is told in the form of a letter written by 100-year-old Violeta as she reflects back on her life and the tragedies she overcame. Violeta was born in 1920, as the world was trying to recover from World War I, and just as the Spanish Flu began to take hold in South America. But that won’t be the only pandemic she encounters during her long life.

From the Great Depression to the fight for women’s rights and from drug cartels to lovers, this fictional but raw book looks into all aspects of Violeta’s lifetime.

The Book Girls Say…

Isabel Allende Llona is a Chilean-American novelist. Allende, who writes in the “magic realism” tradition, is considered one of Latin America’s first successful women novelists. According to PBS, as of 2022, Allende is the world’s most widely-read living Spanish-language author.

While many around the world love her writing, it’s definitely literary, descriptive, and can be a bit slower-paced with deep themes.

Treasure of the World Book Cover

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

100% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

Set in a desolate and impoverished Bolivian silver mining community, this middle-grade fiction tells the story of twelve-year-old girl named Ana. She bravely volunteers to take her eleven-year-old brother’s place when their father demands that he begin working in the silver mines despite his illness.

Ana gives up her dreams of school and a future outside the mining village to protect her brother from the dark and dangerous mines, but the men who work there see her as a girl who is just in their way. When a tragic accident happens, Ana mustered the courage to survive and find a way to save her family.

The Book Girls Say…

Although it’s written for a younger audience, this beautifully crafted 400-page novel will be equally eye-opening for adult readers. The author also wrote Golden Boy, one of the popular books from our Africa reading list.

Author Tara Sullivan was born in India, then spent her childhood in Bangladesh, Ecuador, Bolivia, and the Dominican Republic. She received a BA in Spanish literature and cognitive science from the University of Virginia and a MA/MPA in Latin American studies/nonprofit management from Indiana University.

Llama Drama Book Cover

Book Summary

This compelling travel memoir takes you along the author’s 5,500 miles journey down the Andes Mountain range from Boliva to the bottom of Argentina. The author, Anna, made the trek with her friend, Faye. During the ride, they ascended over 100,000 meters through the mighty Andes – equivalent to 11 times the height of Everest.

They rode through dense jungle, across pristine white salt flats, and past towering volcanoes, following the path of thundering glacial rivers to the snow-tipped peaks of Patagonia. The writing is entertaining and funny as Anna shares the highs and lows of this once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

The Book Girls Say…

Those who don’t enjoy this book as much as others note that much of the story features the developing friendship between Anna and Faye and fewer encounters with locals. Other readers praise the mix of adventure travel and friendship.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 11/12/2023

Book Summary

This dream-like novel goes back and forth in time from Montoya family matriarch Orquídea’s fascinating, yet difficult, past to the present day in which she is dying and has called her four descendants home to receive their inheritance.

None of the descendants know why Orquídea refused to ever leave her home in Four Rivers, so when they’re called home, they hope to leave with answers. Seven years in the future, you’ll see how Orquídea’s deathbed gifts have granted blessings. However, a hidden figure is in the backyard trying to destroy everyone in Orquídea’s family line. To save what remains of their family, four descendants travel to Ecuador to find Orquídea’s buried secrets.

The Book Girls Say…

This book relies more on magical realism and fantasy than we normally include in Book Voyage challenge selections, however, magical realism is a very traditional component in South American literature. The book has been described as fairytale-like, ambiguous, and unexplained, so it’s perfect if you’re okay being along for a ride. However, not the best pick if you prefer linear plots and reality-based reads over fantasy.

Author Zoraida Córdova was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, New York.

The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao Book Cover

Book Summary

It’s the 1940s, and Euridice has a typical life of a woman from that era. She is expected to be an obedient and traditional housewife. While passionate about cooking and sewing, her dreams go far beyond caring for her family. She starts several secret projects, like making recipe books, as she tries to make a business for herself. However, her husband forbids her from using her talents. On top of that, a gossipy neighbor is spreading rumors about Euridice.

Her sister, Guida, also has challenges despite escaping her family’s expectations and eloping with a medical student years earlier. Suffering and pain eventually cause her to return home with her young son. Euridice takes them in, and together, the sisters learn to be independent and make the most of their lives.

The Book Girls Say…

Readers say this book is full of eccentric characters and even a touch of magical realism in line with regional tradition. Much of the book is focused on Euridice’s inner thoughts and world as she struggles to find herself as a progressive woman in a patriarchal home.

Author Martha Batalha was born and raised in Brazil, where she worked as a journalist and publisher for many years before moving to New York in 2008. She now lives in Santa Monica, California, where she is working on her second novel, which will be set in Ipanema, Brazil.

Also Featured on These Book Lists:

Best Magical Realism Books

Fruit of the Drunken Tree book cover

Book Summary

The Santiago sisters lead carefree lives in a gated community in Bogotá – a protective bubble that shields them from the political upheaval and violence terrorizing the country in the 1990s. Outside of their neighborhood walls, the world looks very different, including the constant threat of kidnappings, car bombs, and assassinations.

When Chula and Cassandra’s mom hires a live-in-maid from Bogotá’s guerrilla-occupied slum, seven-year-old Chula is eager to understand more about Petrona’s world. The story is told from the alternating perspectives of Chula and Petrona, providing two very different coming-of-age stories that become inextricably linked. As each girl’s family struggles to maintain stability amidst escalating conflict, they will be forced to choose between sacrifice and betrayal.

The Book Girls Say…

Author Ingrid Rojas Contreras was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia. Her debut novel, Fruit of the Drunken Tree, was a Goodreads Choice Award nominee for Best Historical Fiction and Best Debut Author in 2018, and her 2022 memoir, The Man Who Could Move Clouds, was named a “Best Book of Summer” by TIME Magazine.

Queen of Water book cover

Book Summary

While this book is a work of fiction, it’s largely based on the life of co-author Maria Virginia Farinango. She was born and raised in an earthen-walled dwelling within her Indigenous community in Ecuador. At only 7 years old, in the early 1980s, she was taken to work full-time as a house servant for a member of the ruling class – those who descended from Spain. 

For most children of similar misfortune, their life is defined at that moment, and they are destined for a life of excessive work and abuse. But Virginia wanted more. Like Malala and Adunni in Girl with the Louding Voice, Virginia knows education is the answer. But how will she get from her dream to the new reality she desires? 

Papillion book cover

Book Summary

Initially published in 1968, this autobiography is a stunning non-fiction* tale of prison escape. In 1931, Henri Charrière was convicted of a murder he didn’t commit in Paris. He was sentenced to the French penal colony of French Guiana in South America.

He became obsessed with escaping, but despite much scheming and bravery, he had many failed attempts. Henri was sent to an even more secure location, Devil’s Island, to further deter his efforts. No one had ever successfully escaped Devil’s Island, but that didn’t impact his overwhelming desire to set himself free.

The Book Girls Say…

*In the 50 years since publishing, it has largely been determined that some of the stories were experienced by fellow inmates, not all by Henri as he writes them. However, readers praise the suspense, adventure, and message of self-determination.

Cantoras book cover

Book Summary

In 1977, Uraguay was under a dictatorship and militarized government. Homosexuality was brutally punished. Cantoras is the intertwining story of five women – Romina, Flaca, Anita “La Venus,” Paz, and Malena – who find respite in each other as they try to live as their authentic selves. They form a deep bond after finding a nearly uninhabited cape, Cabo Polonio, where they can have sanctuary from the harsh world. 

The novel follows the women and examines the concept of family over 35 years as they find both struggle and triumph. Readers describe the book as both heartwarming and heartwrenching, with overwhelming mentions of it being an amazing and emotional read.

The Book Girls Say…

The same author’s debut novel, The Invisible Mountain, is also set in Uraguay and covers the lives of three women over three generations, covering 90 years. The book is heavy on Uruguayan culture, geography, and food.

HEADS UP: This book contains scenes of conversion therapy (shock treatments), rape, & suicide.

Author De Robertis grew up in a Uruguayan family that immigrated to England, Switzerland, and California.

Adventures of a Young Naturalist

Book Summary

David Attenborough is often regarded as “the greatest living advocate of the global ecosystem.” In this memoir, he tells the stories of his voyages that started it all.

In 1954, David, then a young television presenter, was offered the opportunity of a lifetime! He was asked to travel the world finding rare and elusive animals for London Zoo and to film the expeditions for the BBC. He searched for giant anteaters in Guyana, armadillos in Paraguay, and Komodo dragons in Indonesia.

While trekking treacherous terrain and braving unpredictable weather, he battled cannibal fish, aggressive tree porcupines, and escape-artist wild pigs. All along the way, he managed to record the incredible beauty and biodiversity of these regions.

The Book Girls Say…

Sir David Attenborough, born in 1926 in London, England, is a celebrated broadcaster and natural historian. He is known for his groundbreaking work in nature documentaries. His BBC career spans over six decades, where he has brought the wonders of the natural world into the homes of millions worldwide via shows like “Life on Earth,” “The Blue Plantet,” and “Planet Earth.” His dedication to educating about biodiversity, climate change, and the need for sustainability has earned him numerous awards and global admiration.

Dancing with the Devil in the City of God

Book Summary

Written by a native of Brazil and a prize-winning journalist, this engaging non-fiction looks back at a city filled with unfortunate poverty and corruption as it prepared to host huge international events – the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. 

While the book robustly covers the problems that plagued the city and the background that set the stage for them, it also focuses on the wide range of people dedicated to helping Rio de Janeiro achieve its potential. 

The Book Girls Say…

For a different non-fiction look at Brazil, try Fordlandia, which is the true story of Henry Ford’s jungle community in Brazil.

Furia book cover

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

94% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

In this Own Voices YA novel, Camila is an Argentinian teenager with a passion for soccer and the talent and skill to go far in the sport, but her parents don’t know anything about it. At home, Camila lives in the shadow of her rising soccer star brother and constantly strives to be a model daughter. She does her best to meet her mother’s expectations and avoid upsetting her abusive and short-tempered father.

When her team qualifies for a major South American soccer tournament, Camila dreams her talents will earn a scholarship to a North American university. But her parents wouldn’t knowingly allow a girl to play fútbol, and she can’t play in the tournament without their permission. Then, to complicate things, the boy Camila once loved (who has become an international soccer player in Italy) is back in town.

Camila will be forced to face her secrets as she tries to make her way in a world that doesn’t value her dreams and ambitions.

The Book Girls Say…

Despite being written for a younger audience, this novel has been enjoyed by many of our adult readers over the past few years who say they felt invested in the characters and learned a lot about the culture of Argentina.

This novel was a Goodreads Choice Award nominee for Best Young Adult Fiction in 2020.

Author Yamile Saied Méndez is a fútbol obsessed Argentine-American. She was born in Rosario, Argentina, and is now raising her five children in Utah.

Wild Coast Book Covre

Book Summary

Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana make up 900 miles of rugged coastline tucked between Venezuela and Brazil in northeastern South America. Much of the region is still unexplored, with a lack of roads and frequent border disputes. Author John Gimlette spent three months on an expedition into the jungles and swamps of the countries.

Despite being relatively unknown, all three countries have a fascinating and international history with descendants of African slaves, Dutch conquerors, Hmong refugees, Irish adventurers, and Scottish outlaws. Wild Coasts explores the region’s history and current state through the author’s travels.

You’ll also learn about the Jonestown Massacre, which took place in Guyana.

The Book Girls Say…

If you’re looking for a book set in Paraguay, this author also has a non-fiction book exploring that country’s history titled At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig.

Perla Book Cover

Book Summary

Perla Correa is a young woman who grew up as an only child in a privileged Buenos Aires family. Argentina was still reeling from the military dictatorship of the 1970s and 80s, and the war in which thirty thousand people simply “disappeared.”

Perla understands that her polished mother and a straitlaced naval officer father were on the wrong side of the conflict, but when ghosts of the past open her eyes to her beloved father’s role in the heinous war crimes, she is forced to question everything.

The Book Girls Say…

As is common in Latin-American literature, this novel contains some elements of magical realism, but the issues the book deals with – including a dark period of Argentina’s history and struggles with family and identity – are very much real.

De Robertis grew up in a Uruguayan family that immigrated to England, Switzerland, and California.

Out of the Silence Book Cover

Book Summary

In 1972, a plane carrying a rugby team from Uruguay crashed in the Andes mountains of Argentina. For the next 72 days, the teammates suffered a harrowing endurance test. Among the survivors was a young architect named Eduardo Strauch.

Four decades after the tragedy, a climber discovered Strauch’s wallet near the memorialized crash site and returned it to him. That gesture compelled Strauch to finally break his silence and write this memoir about the life-changing events that tested him physically and emotionally.

The Book Girls Say…

This is a harrowing adventure and survival story which can be disturbing at times. The final chapters are more of a philosophical look at the tragedy.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 11/03/2023

You are welcome to choose any book that you’d like to read for the challenge, but we hope that this list of books has given you a good starting point.

Sign Up for the Book Voyage Challenge

Sign up for our email list below to receive a free printable tracker for the Book Voyage Challenge. Our weekly email newsletter helps you stay on track with friendly reminders while still allowing you the flexibility to read at your own pace. Additionally, challenge participants have an opportunity to discuss the books on this list and to provide ratings and reviews via our book logs.



Angela & Melissa

The Book Girls are best friends who jointly read over 200 books per year. We started Book Girls' Guide in 2019 to help others de-stress and find joy through the power of a great book. We do in-depth research on thousands of novels and non-fiction titles each year to provide curated book lists covering a variety of genres.

Follow Along on Social Media

Looking for your next great read? Try one of the highly-rated titles from our curated book lists.