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The best cities to visit in South America

by Martha Hales

published

Whether you seek the life affirming buzz of a metropolis or the solitude of an edge of the world port, you can find it in South America. The myriad nations each have exciting cities to discover, every one with its own distinct character and culture. So many cities, so little time… which will you prioritise on your next South America holiday?  

local lady in Salvador, Brazil

Argentina

Buenos Aires

Sensual and soulful, Buenos Aires is well known for capturing travellers’ hearts. An effortless mix of colonial architecture, characterful neighbourhoods, lively markets, tango performances and a thriving cafe culture make this one of the most beguiling cities in the world. Yes, the world.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Salta

Capital of the north west and a good springboard for exploring the area, historic Salta is a friendly city which will welcome you with open arms, plus great food and wine. Located at 1200 metres altitude, Salta enjoys a pleasant climate almost year-round.

Salta, Argentina, at night

Mendoza

Sunkissed and green with a magnificent mountain backdrop, Mendoza is the hub of Argentina’s sizeable wine industry. Stroll the city’s leafy boulevards or take a tour of one of the traditional local ‘bodegas’ where you can see wine production up close and enjoy some very fine cuisine.

Mendoza vineyard, Argentina

Bariloche

This is a city to get the pulse racing, situated in the dazzling landscape of Argentina’s lake district between pristine peaks and inky blue waters. Fans of adventure sports are spoilt for choice in scenic Bariloche where there are scores of land and water-based adventures to try.

Bariloche in Argentine Patagonia

Ushuaia

Right down there at the end of the world sits Ushuaia, overlooking the Beagle Channel under the watchful gaze of the Andes. It’s a dramatic location that gains Ushuaia the title of the most southerly city in the world, and it makes the perfect base for exploring the wilds of Tierra del Fuego.

Lighthouse near Ushuaia, Argentina

Brazil

Rio de Janeiro

Known as the ‘Cidade Maravilhosa’ - the Marvellous City, Rio de Janeiro deserves the hype. It is every bit as dramatic and impressive as it looks on the postcards, with incredible scenery at every turn. Have fun discovering the sultry, swaggering character of Rio for yourself.

Beach of Rio de Janeiro

Sào Paulo

The biggest city in the Southern Hemisphere is a hotspot of culture, business and leisure, wowing visitors with its awesome nightlife, museums and food scene. Those who persevere in the face of the overwhelmingly huge urban sprawl will be amply rewarded with a truly epic city.

Sao Paolo, Brazil

Salvador

Blessed with a lovely situation overlooking All Saints Bay, Salvador is one of Brazil’s urban hotspots. The pretty, colourful old town is stuffed with characterful old buildings and populated by inhabitants who make the town and its Afro-Brazilian culture come alive.  

Salvador, Brazil

Manaus

The Amazon rainforest is not just wilderness: the city of Manaus is right in the heart of the region and is the jumping off point for Amazon adventures. Although most visitors don’t linger, it’s worth staying long enough to check out the incredible Opera House.  

Manaus, Brazil

Belem

Lying at the mouth of the Amazon river where it flows into Guajara Bay, Belem is graced with some fantastic examples of colonial architecture, lots to do, and some delicious Parà state specialities. Don’t miss the lively market or the spectacular sunsets over the bay.  

Belem, Brazil

Colombia

Cartagena

Who could resist this colonial gem of a city slap bang on the shores of the Caribbean Sea? Streets filled with music are overlooked by balconies dripping with flowers, and atmospheric plazas lead to ancient churches and important museums.

Cartagena, Colombia

Medellin

Enjoying a balmy climate and a local economy based on flower farming, this is a green city nicknamed ‘The Land of Eternal Spring’ where a busy calendar of events keeps things lively all year round. The pinnacle of the festival season has to be the Feria de Las Flores in August.

Parade in Medellin's flower festival

Bogotà

Busy, bustling Bogotà has had a real renaissance over the last couple of decades, and the dining, nightlife and cultural landscape is vibrant and quintessentially Colombian. Explore La Candelaria district to uncover the historic character of the city.

Bogota, Colombia

Ecuador

Quito

Ecuador’s unmissable capital basks on its plateau at nearly 3,000 metres altitude, with spectacular volcanic peaks rearing behind the city sprawl. Impressive colonial architecture in the old town brackets the charming streets and picturesque plazas.  

Quito Old Town, Ecuador

Guayaquil

Recent injections of cash have transformed Guayaquil’s riverfront promenade into a wonderful area to people watch, stroll and enjoy an evening breeze, while the city itself is the most populous in Ecuador and has a corresponding buzz.

Guayaquil, Ecuador

Cuenca

With its easy going vibe, postcard pretty corners and historic marvels, Cuenca makes a fantastic stop on any tour of Ecuador. As well as the charm of the parks, whitewashed churches and chatter-filled lanes, Cuenca has a strong artisan tradition and browsing for souvenirs is a joy.

Church domes in Cuenca, Ecuador

Chile

Santiago

With the Andes as a backdrop, a pleasant climate and a vibrant street scene, Santiago is the major urban hub of Chile and holds much of its cultural appeal. Beloved of artists, academics and poets throughout history, there is lots to see in the capital.

Santiago Chile

Valparaiso

Easily reached from Santiago, Valparaiso is the colourful seaside city with a rebellious character which straddles 43 hills. Ride the funiculars to get a feel of the city and enjoy views over the colourful neighbourhoods and their inventive street art.

Valparaiso, Chile

Peru

Lima

Lima wears its past on its sleeve, especially in the historic old town, littered with architectural gems and buzzing plazas. There are plentiful cultural sights to soak up, including some excellent museums, monasteries, galleries and palaces as well as some impressive churches.

Monastery in Lima, Peru

Cusco

The one-time capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco has seen a huge resurgence is recent decades as it has become the hub of Peru’s tourist industry. It remains atmospheric and culturally vibrant, with a busy calendar of festivals and a constant flow of visitors.

Cusco Peru

Arequipa

Dramatically sited among volcanoes and canyons in the far south of Peru, Arequipa has buckets of colonial charm and earns a UNESCO World Heritage listing for its important historic architecture. Don’t miss the Monastery of Santa Cristina or the Cathedral.

Arequipa with volcano in background

Make it happen

Will you fall for Cartagena’s vivid colours, Rio’s never ending party or Mendoza’s sumptuous cuisine? There’s only one way to find out! Tailor make your South America itinerary with the help of our local experts who can offer inside tips and up to the minute suggestions to make your holiday into the trip of a lifetime. Click on the links above to find out more. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898

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