A trip to South America will be a great adventure for any wanderlust. Whenever you think of South America, think of hospitable people, amazing weather, and an almost carefree aura, festivities that do not end, and an indulgence you will not experience in any other part of the world. The continent is blessed with stunning landscapes, great weather all year long, beautiful, great cuisine, and a local culture that will pull you in wherever you go. When planning a trip to South America, the following cities are a must-visit if you want to have a great experience.
- Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio is a very vibrant city. It seems as if it was built for fun. There are festivals, dances and some sort of celebrations happening at almost every corner of the city, any time of the year. The location of the city – between the sea and mountains- gives Rio a unique appeal to any traveler, with great beachfront, stunning landscapes, a thriving, contemporary atmosphere, and an almost wild culture. This is a city that pulls you in, daring you to indulge in exotic dishes, culture, and fascination that can only be found in South America. To take in the beauty of the city at a glance, you have to head up to Sugarloaf, where a giant statue of Jesus overlooks the city. You can use a cable car or take a hike to the summit and you will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the city. People who love parties can head to the Copacabana or Ipanema beaches. Outdoor lovers can explore the Tijuca National Park.
- Buenos Aires, Argentina
You can be assured that you will not miss a soccer match while you are in Argentina, but Buenos Aires offers other numerous attractions as well, as the capital city of Argentina. Museums (in Palermo), farmers markets, fine restaurants (the Empanadas and Alfajores are to die for), music (tango in the air), Boating on the Tigres, lush botanical gardens, colorful neighborhoods, and the Recoleta Cemetery (where the rich and famous Argentinians are buried) are some of the beautiful attractions awaiting you in this big city.
- Cartagena, Columbia
On the Caribbean coast of Columbia lies this old, charming coastal town that is a haven for tourists. Old buildings (some dating as far as 1533) exist in perfect harmony with contemporary architecture marking the days when the city used to be a hub of politics for the region. The city prides itself in the superb preservation of its culture that led some of the sections to be recognized as a UNESCO heritage site.
There are a network of narrow streets and cobbled stones wherever you go, a heritage left behind by the Spanish masters, and massive catholic churches adorning interesting architecture. The best way to experience the city would be to take a stroll among these houses, pop into classic restaurants for a local experience, and head to the beach later to enjoy the beautiful sunset scenery.
- Cusco, Peru
As the home for the infamous Machu Picchu, Cusco receives millions of visitors every year. Machu Picchu is considered to be a historical sanctuary with captivating architectural beauty located inside the Peruvian Andes. This is a must-visit attraction if you will be visiting the charming, historically (and culturally) significant city. Cusco was once the capital city of the Inca Empire, founded in 1438, and lasted until it was conquered by the Spanish in 1572.
Apart from Machu Picchu, you can head to Maras to see the salt ponds and learn about the fascinating way in which they harvest their salt, or the Moray and Pisac archeological site where rings of stone terraces create a stunning sight in the remote valley. The Vinicunca (or rainbow mountain) near Machu Picchu is also another attraction worth visiting. Back in the city, visit the quaint, little restaurants for the local experience, or head over to Chinchero if you want to fully immerse yourself into the local culture.
- Bogota, Columbia
This is the current capital city of Columbia. It has a sort of exotic vibrancy to it, something that is reflective of most of the cities you will visit in South America. We are talking about a city that never sleeps a diverse, exciting culture, hospitable locals, radiant restaurants, and dining areas. All this exists perfectly alongside old houses, massive churches, and even convents that speak of the city’s historical significance. It is a perfect blend of the past and the present.
Since the Andes also straddle the city, you will be spoilt for choice if you are looking to enjoy the outdoors. There are numerous parks and botanical gardens if you are looking for some peace and tranquility after exploring the beautiful town where festivals and some sort of celebrations seem to happen in almost every corner.
- Quito, Ecuador
At 2800m altitude, Quito, the capital city of Ecuador is one of the most beautiful cities to visit in South America. The warm, relaxed Ecuadorian way of life will put you at ease immediately. The culture here runs deep, with most families passing on a craft, trade, or skill from one generation to another. You will find healers and craftsmen here that have carried on a family tradition that many generations old. The scenery is also stunning, owing to the location in the Andes. The streets are flush with many tiny shops and old buildings that exist in harmony with contemporary structures that seem to crop up in the city every day. Visit the ‘Old Town’, a UNESCO world heritage site to learn more about the history of the charming city.
- San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Everyone in this city seems to take life in its stride – slow, easy, with an almost carefree, but free spirit. This is the place to visit when you want to relax, have a great vacation before getting back to your fast life. The old town seems to slow everyone down when you arrive here. Take time to mingle with the locals and learn a thing or two about the indigenous settlers who are custodians of some amazing, old traditions. Hiking, horseback riding, and occasional biking are the common transport modes here.
There will be many historical sites to explore, beautiful trails to sample, and stunning sceneries wherever you look. Head to the Death Valley for a great picnic with your family. You can also explore the Atacama desert, the Lagunas around the city (Baltinache and Miscanti y Miniques), or visit the Geyser del Tatio for hot spring action.
- Sao Paulo, Brazil
Sao Paulo is recognized as the industrial center of Brazil, owing to the massive growth of the coffee export market. However, because of its strategic location – on a plateau in the highlands the town attracts tourists and outdoor lovers from all over the world throughout the year. It is surrounded by low-lying mountain ranges, especially to the west. While visiting here, be sure to explore the Museu de Arte to enjoy a mixture of both contemporary and traditional creativity, the Ibirapuera Park, the neo-Gothic cathedral in the heart of the city, and the Avenida Paulista, a haven for shopping and fine dining.
- Sucre, Bolivia
Sucre is believed to be Bolivia’s most beautiful city. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The locals in Sucre contribute to the charming disposition of the city. You will find hospitable people who are ready to take you around and indulge you in the city’s pleasures, including enjoying the little, tightly packed, white-washed buildings. Cal Orck’o, a paleontological museum that claims to have the largest number of dinosaur tracks in the world is a must-visit. Its location in a valley surrounded by beautiful mountains gives you unlimited access to whatever outdoor activity you may fancy while you are here.
- Lima, Peru
Lima is also a vibrant, historical city in Peru, aghast with colonial buildings that speak volumes about the intricate architectural skills they possessed. You will find beautiful wooden balconies and Baroque crafts whenever you walk past the old buildings. Catholic churches are dominant in the city. The San Francisco Church is one of the main attractions in the city because of the catacombs beneath and the narrow hallways. At night, enjoy the magical water tour at the Circuito Magical del Agua, a 13 fountain complex inside the city.
Most of the cities and towns in different countries in South America have a common theme. The co-existence of the traditional and modern way of life delivers a vibrancy that is almost palpable wherever you go. There are many other places to see, more towns and more attractions to explore in South America. But if you are short on time, the cities we have highlighted here will not disappoint a traveler in pursuit of amazing experiences.