There are so many incredible places in South America to explore! From the ancient sites of Peru, the gorgeous landscapes of Bolivia to the incredible hikes, too. Though these are all incredible, you certainly shouldn’t forget the best cities in South America to visit. Especially as they’re all so diverse and full of history.
From the rich cultures, ancient history, epic festivals, there’s a shed load of cities that should be on your travel-radar whilst visiting South America. Though there are too many to visit in one trip (or one year for that matter), I hope I can introduce some of the best cities in South America that you will love.
Truth be told, before planning our first visit to South America, I had grand plans of seeing the whole continent in 21-days. Yep, it’s as stupid and impossible as it sounds. Thankfully, we decided on sticking to one country, Peru, and experienced as much as we could in that time.
Obviously, don’t make the same mistake in planning as I did, especially when travelling across countries. This is exactly why I wanted to share some of the best cities in South America that you can tag onto any trip.
Take a look at the best cities in South America to visit. Have the best time.
1.) Rio De Janerio, Brazil
Rio De Janerio is easily one of the best cities in South America to visit (and probably one of the most famous).
It’s the kind of city that’s great during festival time, but, there’s so much more to the city than just vibrant festivals.
Once here, make sure to visit Sugar Loaf Mountain for the views and see the sunset from Christ The Redeemer. We visited via the cog train (which is the safest way). Some people can hike, but these aren’t always the safest in Rio as you sometimes get armed gangs that roam the area.
Also, make sure to chill out at Copacabana Beach and visit some of the cool bars and restaurants at the Jockey Club, too.
Finally, make sure to see the stunning Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading. It’s totally stunning and so incredible to see.
Oh yeah, and if you’re looking for a place to stay, we checked into the Emiliano Rio and totally loved it.
2.) Cusco, Peru
Perched within the Andes Mountains, Cusco is easily one of the best cities in South America to visit.
Now, for most people, it will their first stop before heading further to Machu Picchu (and climbing Huayna Picchu Mountain). Or, sometimes it’s used as a ‘base’ to start a journey towards Lake Titicaca and the Uros Floating islands, via the luxury trains.
3.) Santiago, Chile
Santiago is one of the best cities in South America where skyscrapers and mountains almost intertwine.
For art stretching from the pre-Colombian era through contemporary, head to Forest Park and to see the most beautiful architecture in the city. Oh, and don’t forget to wander around Plaza de Armas.
There are two major Neoclassical buildings are located here: the Royal Court Palace, which houses Chile’s National History Museum, and the Metropolitan Cathedral.
4.) Ushuaia, Argentina
Famous as being the most southernly city in all the world, Ushuaia is one of the best cities in South America to visit if you love nature.
You see, lots of tours of Antarctica actually depart from Ushuaia as it’s about 600-miles away. This makes it a perfect city to explore if you’re planning a trip to Antarctica and fancy a little city break, too.
Once here, make sure to spend some time exploring the nearby Tierra del Fuego. It’s a totally stunning national park and really easy to visit when in the region. Afterwards, take some time to explore the Maritime Museum and head over to Isla Martillo, too.
You might even spot some penguins!
5.) Buenos Aires, Argentina
Probably known as the shopping capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires is one of the best cities in South America to visit if you love a more cosmopolitan city.
Once here, you’ll get to experience the totally vibrant nightlife, and the history of the region that’s so perfect to explore.
Be sure to stop at the oldest cafe in town, a Parisian place called Cafe Tortoni. Teatro Colon, a piece of the city since 1908.
Oh, and don’t forget the colourful neighbourhoods of La Boca (and Caminito, too), where you’re sure to find plenty of Italian influences due to the many early settlers from Genoa.
6.) Montevideo, Uruguay
Relatively near to Buenos Aires is the capital city of Uruguay. Located along the Atlantic Coast, this city is known for its down-to-earth downtown area, as well as its upscale beach area, Pocitos that is great on a sunny day.
Once here, head towards Plaza Independencia, where the historic old town and the downtown areas divide; it’s totally amazing. Plus, amidst the art deco and neoclassical buildings you’ll find in the city, look for the Palacio Salvo and the Castillo Pittamiglio.
Honestly, these alone make it one of the best cities in South America to visit.
7.) San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
For me, I always recommend San Pedro de Atacama if you like your city life a tad more rustic!
Located in northeast Chile, in the arid Andes Mountains, it’s is nestled within the most dramatic landscapes filled with deserts, salt flats, geysers, hot springs, and volcanoes. It’s like another world.
Once here, make sure to explore Valle de la Luna, located in Los Flamencos National Reserve, too. It’s home to some epic geological formations, massive sand dunes, and pink-streaked mountains.
Honestly, it can feel like you’ve visited Mars at times!
8.) Sao Paulo, Brazil
Sao Paulo, the largest and one of the best cities in South America, is best enjoyed like a local. Well, for me at least.
The sheer diversity of the art (and foodie haunts) can be overwhelming, so find some cool spots to visit before your trip. This stops you getting too overwhelmed when you visit a big city like Sao Paulo and makes sure you use your time wisely.
For food, the Jardins district is a haven for little restaurants and art-house cinemas (another local favourite).
Oh, also, the nightlife here is massive, with over 15,000 bars to get a tipple
Plus, the diversity of culture found here is totally astonishing, with over one million people of German descent residing here, as well as the largest Japanese and Italian populations outside of their native countries, Sao Paulo has become so eclectic.
9.) Paramaribo, Suriname
Quite a few people seem to have never even heard of Suriname (let alone start to figure out where it is). That being said, it’s one of the best cities in South America that’s quite different from the likes of Rio or Santiago.
For starters, Paramaribo is the country’s capital city, and oddly enough, is really nothing like the rest of South America. The national language of Suriname is Dutch, for starters (due to Dutch colonisation of the area in the 16th century). Plus, there’s also a mix of Creole, international and indigenous cultures here, making it a true melting pot.
The entire downtown area is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, too. The buildings here, like; the Presidential Palace, Fort Zeelandia, and St. Peter and Paul Basilica all date back from the 1600s-1800s. This makes it one of the best cities in South America to visit if you love history.
Plus, Paramaribo is also a great starting point for specialist tours of the rainforests of Suriname, too. Just make sure to organise your tours with a certified and expert guide.
10.) Lima, Peru
Founded in 1535 by Francisco Pizarro, Peru’s capital city is one of the best cities in South America to visit. That being said, it seems like most people either love it or hate it. Whatever you think, it’s well worth giving it a visit (even for a few days) to make up your mind.
Located between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Coast, you’ll find a huge amount of colonial Spanish buildings as well as ancient Incan archaeological sites that aren’t too far away.
Also, for some experimental Peruvian cuisine, head to the Nanke (which serves organic Peruvian fusion dishes).
Architecture buffs should definitely head over to the historic centre, which has the most picturesque architecture. Here, you’ll get to see the Palace and the Basilica de San Francisco which are stunning.
11.) El Calafate, Argentina
Known as the gateway to Los Glaciares National Park, El Calafate has understandably grown in popularity in recent years. This means it’s one of the best cities in South America to visit if you want to partner in a visit to the nature spots of Patagonia, too.
Located on the edge of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the city is home to the Perito Moreno Glacier and a major reason to head this way in South America.
Hiking and sightseeing are (also understandably) popular activities here and the growing downtown area of El Calafate is definitely worth a visit when you’re in town. Oh, and don’t forget the Glaciarium Patagonian Ice Museum, too. It’s perfect if you’re looking to learn more about the landscapes, here.
12.) Bogota, Colombia
Now, over the years, Bogota has certainly had a reputation for narcotics and drug lords, but the city is so much more than this and one of the best cities in South America to visit.
Food lovers (like myself) will appreciate the fantastic wine and many food festivals that Bogota is known for. Considered the “Heart of the Andes”, visitors will also appreciate the mountains that act as a background to the stunning buildings located around Bogota.
La Candelaria is the best place to visit in the city for these architectural wonders, with its cobblestone streets and colonial-era structures. For upscale shopping and nightlife, the city’s Zona Rosa neighbourhood is where you want to be at.
Just make sure to always follow local advice on where to go (and not) whilst you’re here. The city can move from being safe to quite unsafe at the cross of a street.
13.) La Paz, Bolivia
Now, you might not know this but La Paz is the very highest administrative capital in the whole world! This makes it a total highlight (see what I did there?) to see.
Located high in the Andes Mountains, you can take in gorgeous views of the city that literally clings to and sprawls down the canyon that’s incredible to explore.
If it’s the views you’re after, head on the aerial cable car system, Mi Teleferico. Though, dress warmly, and be prepared to spend some time acclimating to the high elevations. It can be tough when you breathe, especially if you’re not used to higher-altitude cities.
That being said, it’s still one of the best cities in South America you should definitely visit when in Bolivia.