The best cities in South America
By Martha Hales
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 head to on your next South America trip?
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 café culture make this one of the most beguiling cities in the world.
Capital of the northwest 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 1,200 metres altitude, Salta enjoys a pleasant climate almost year-round.
Sun-kissed 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 huge urban sprawl will be amply rewarded with a truly epic city.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lima wears its past on its sleeve, especially in the historic old town which is 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.
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.
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 Basilica Cathedral.
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 in the country and city names above to find out more. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.