Top 10 Must-Visit Cities in South America: From Bustling Metropolises to Hidden Gems

From the heights of Machu Picchu to the depths of the Amazon Rainforest, South America offers a kaleidoscope of experiences waiting to be discovered. Whether you’re drawn to natural wonders, cultural treasures, or culinary delights, these top 10 destinations in South America promise unforgettable adventures and memories to last a lifetime.

Key Takeaways

  • Explore the vibrant cultural scenes in cities like Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires.
  • Discover historical and archaeological wonders in Cusco and Lima.
  • Experience the natural beauty of Santiago and Quito, nestled in stunning landscapes.
  • Enjoy the unique culinary delights offered in cities such as Bogota and Medellin.
  • Visit hidden gems like Montevideo and La Paz for an off-the-beaten-path adventure.

1. Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro cityscape

Rio de Janeiro captivates visitors with its stunning beaches, vibrant street life, and iconic landmarks like Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer statue. Experience the energy of Carnival, relax on the golden sands of Copacabana Beach, and hike through the lush Tijuca Forest.

There’s no shortage of thrilling activities for travelers in Rio. Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain, Copacabana beach, the list goes on and on. But Rio is more than dramatic viewpoints and sunny white-sand beaches. It’s the cultural hub of Brazil. Time your visit during the annual celebration of Carnival to see Rio at its most colourful.

Rio de Janeiro is a city that captivates with its stunning natural beauty, vibrant street life, and iconic cultural landmarks like Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain. Known for its laid-back beach culture, samba-fueled nightlife, and the annual Carnival, Rio offers an unparalleled experience for digital nomads looking for a destination that combines work and play in equal measure.

2. Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires cityscape

Buenos Aires, often referred to as the "Paris of South America," offers a unique blend of European grandeur and Latin flair. This cosmopolitan city is known for its vibrant cultural scene, including world-class opera, theater, and museums, alongside a lively nightlife that caters to all tastes. Wander through colorful neighborhoods like La Boca and San Telmo, attend a passionate tango show, and savor world-class steak and Malbec wine.

Buenos Aires is Argentina’s biggest and capital city, with a whopping 15.5 million people calling the city home and no less than 48 “barrios” or neighborhoods here – it’s fair to say that you’ll never get bored in this sprawling city. Not only are there stunning iconic buildings here like the famed balconied presidential palace, Casa Rosada, Teatro Colón, a majestic opera house, and the super-modern MALBA museum, but there are plenty of fantastic restaurants and highly rated hotels in Buenos Aires, too.

For those traveling to South America, Buenos Aires is a must-visit destination. Whatever your passion, there’s a private guide who’s perfect for you. Our Buenos Aires tour guides can create a 100% personalized tour to match your wishes.

3. Lima

Lima stands as a cultural beacon on the Pacific coast, offering a rich tapestry of history, architecture, and burgeoning tech innovation. As the capital of Peru, Lima attracts a diverse group of digital nomads and entrepreneurs, drawn by its affordable living costs and vibrant startup scene. The city’s culinary reputation is unparalleled in South America, with an array of dining options that highlight the best of Peruvian cuisine, renowned for its variety and flavors.

Foodies, listen up – you MUST visit Lima, which is regarded by many as the culinary capital of South America, with no less than four of the top 50 restaurants in the world. It’s also the capital and biggest city in Peru and is filled with cool, trendy neighborhoods like Miraflores and Barranco and great surfing beaches! Even if you can only visit Lima for one day, it’s totally worth it!

Lima’s rich cultural heritage is visible in its museums, galleries, and archaeological sites, which offer insights into the ancient civilizations that once ruled this land. The combination of modern conveniences, cultural depth, and a supportive community makes Lima an attractive base for digital nomads seeking a blend of history and contemporary urban life.

4. Santiago

Santiago, nestled in a valley surrounded by the snow-capped Andes, offers a striking blend of natural beauty and urban sophistication. This city is the economic and financial heart of Chile and has become a magnet for entrepreneurs and business professionals from around the world. Santiago’s modern infrastructure, reliable public transportation, and high-quality healthcare make it an appealing choice for digital nomads looking for stability and a high standard of living. The city boasts a variety of cultural and recreational activities that cater to all tastes.

The view from Cerro San Cristobal of Santiago is priceless! Chile’s capital and biggest city just HAD to make our list of the best places to visit in South America. This vibrant, modern city is a Chile highlight, and honestly, you’ll “get” its magic within a day of wandering Santiago! Besides its dramatic setting – backdropped by the Andes Mountains on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other, there are plenty of awesome activities to fill your cup, as they say, in Santiago.

Whether you find the unique contrast of Santiago fascinating or off-putting, there is plenty to keep you busy and things to enjoy here. Make sure to eat at the Mercado Central, wander Bellavista and appreciate the street art, and climb Santa Lucia hill for an impressive view.

5. Cusco

Cusco, Peru, at the heart of Peru’s Sacred Valley, is one of South America’s most enchanting and beloved cities. With its fascinating mix of Incan and colonial historic architecture, easy access to nearby Incan ruins and natural wonders, and proximity to Machu Picchu, this city has plenty to offer.

Cusco’s rich cultural heritage is palpable in its cobblestone streets, ancient ruins, and lively markets filled with artisanal crafts. The city is also the gateway to Machu Picchu, offering easy access to one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites, which can be a profound source of inspiration. Local cuisine, characterized by traditional dishes such as ceviche and alpaca steak, offers a unique culinary experience.

Cusco served as the capital of the Inca empire. Today, Cusco is a vibrant city that takes the title of Peru’s most visited destination! That’s because not only can you enjoy lots of fun activities in Cusco, like wandering around the Qoricancha Temple, shopping at San Pedro Market, and climbing up to Sacsayhuamán Fortress, but it’s the gateway to the famed Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley, and the Instagram-famous Rainbow Mountain!

6. Medellin

Medellín, often celebrated as a symbol of transformation, has evolved from a troubled past to become a hub of culture, innovation, and community. The city’s year-round spring-like climate endears it to locals and expatriates alike, earning it the moniker "City of Eternal Spring." Medellín offers digital nomads affordable living conditions and a variety of coworking spaces, which are often equipped with high-speed internet and comfortable working environments.

The people of Medellin, known as Paisas, are famously friendly, warm, and welcoming folk. It’s a great place to speak to random strangers, make new friends, and share new experiences.

Not only is Medellín a very innovative urban space to explore, but it’s also green wherever you look. Pleasant mountain scenery surrounds the city, while urban parks are never far away.

Medellin offers vibrant nightlife and cultural heritage, making it one of the top South American cities for dating and traveling. The city is filled with trendy cafes and restaurants, beautiful parks, and memorable museums, making it a safe, liveable city!

7. Bogota

Bogota cityscape

No vacation to Colombia would be complete without spending some time in the capital city, Bogota. Home to almost 12 million people, Bogota is a bustling metropolis that never seems to rest. Most tourists head to explore the historic buildings and plazas of the old town of Bogota on foot. In the same area, the Gold Museum is not to be missed.

  • Historic Center: The old town, known as La Candelaria, is a must-visit with its colonial architecture, vibrant street art, and cultural landmarks.
  • Gold Museum: This museum houses one of the largest collections of pre-Hispanic gold artifacts in the world.
  • Mount Monserrate: For a panoramic view of the city, take a cable car or hike up to this iconic mountain.

Bogota offers a unique blend of history, culture, and modernity, making it one of the top South American cities for finding a girlfriend or wife: Medellin, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Cartagena, and Sao Paulo offer vibrant cultures, romantic experiences, and diverse opportunities for meaningful connections.

8. Quito

Quito cityscape

High in the Andes, Quito offers a unique combination of colonial charm and modern conveniences, making it a fascinating place for digital nomads to explore and reside. The city is characterized by its stunning historical architecture, particularly in the well-preserved Old Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Quito’s affordable cost of living, coupled with its spring-like climate throughout the year, makes it an attractive option for those looking to stretch their budget further while enjoying a high quality of life. The local nomad community is welcoming and increasingly vibrant, providing a supportive network for newcomers.

Quito serves as a gateway to the rest of Ecuador’s natural wonders, including the Amazon rainforest, Andean highlands, and the famous Galápagos Islands. The city’s cultural scene is dynamic, with numerous museums, galleries, and cultural centers that offer a deep dive into the rich heritage and traditions of the region.

9. Montevideo

Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, embodies a relaxed, laid-back vibe that is ideal for digital nomads seeking a slower pace of life without sacrificing urban amenities. The city boasts a high quality of life, with a strong emphasis on safety and inclusivity, making it an appealing destination for those looking to settle for either short or long-term stays. Montevideo’s burgeoning tech scene is supported by robust internet connectivity and an array of coworking spaces that cater to the needs of modern professionals.

Montevideo is also home to museums, galleries, cultural events, shops, cafes, and bars, plus even a few beaches, all easily accessible by affordable public transport, though this compact city is quite walkable. From Montevideo, you’ll find plenty of transportation options across the country to Uruguay’s many beaches, from lively Punta del Este to the windswept hippie magnet of Punta del Diablo. There are also multiple daily ferries to Buenos Aires, and a busy international airport.

You won’t generally hear much about Montevideo as a travel destination, but don’t let this deter you: there are so many reasons to travel to Montevideo. While many travelers compare Montevideo to a smaller and more relaxed Buenos Aires, this hidden gem of a city has plenty that makes it uniquely its own.

10. La Paz

La Paz, set dramatically against the backdrop of the Andes Mountains, is known for its high altitude and breathtaking landscapes. This city offers some of the most affordable living conditions in South America, making it a popular choice for digital nomads on a budget. Despite its affordability, La Paz does not skimp on cultural experiences, offering access to vibrant markets like Mercado Rodriguez, where locals and visitors alike can indulge in a wide range of fresh produce and traditional Bolivian goods.

Highlights of La Paz include the fascinating Witches Market, where you’ll learn so much about indigenous traditions and culture, cable cars that stretch across the city for incredible views, and a historic center with beautiful architecture. Day trip options are endless, too, and include canyons, snow-capped mountains, and much more.

La Paz is also a great jumping-off point for further exploring Bolivia, including the otherworldly Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats, Lake Titicaca, and the stunning Madidi National Park on the edge of the Amazon Rainforest. Don’t wait until Bolivia gets popular to plan your trip – it’s well worth exploring now!


From the heights of Machu Picchu to the depths of the Amazon Rainforest, South America offers a kaleidoscope of experiences waiting to be discovered. Whether you’re drawn to natural wonders, cultural treasures, or culinary delights, these top 10 destinations in South America promise unforgettable adventures and memories to last a lifetime. Each city brings something unique to the table, whether it’s the vibrant culture, stunning scenery, or welcoming communities. So pack your bags and get ready to explore the best that South America has to offer!

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the best times to visit South America?

The best time to visit South America varies by region. Generally, the dry season from May to September is ideal for most destinations, including the Andes and the Amazon. Coastal areas like Rio de Janeiro are great year-round, though they can be hot and humid in the summer months (December to March).

Is it safe to travel to South America?

Safety in South America varies by country and city. While many areas are safe for tourists, it’s always best to stay informed about your destination, follow local advice, and take standard travel precautions. Cities like Buenos Aires, Santiago, and Rio de Janeiro have safe tourist areas but also have neighborhoods that should be avoided.

What kind of food can I expect in South America?

South American cuisine is diverse and delicious. In Brazil, you can enjoy feijoada (a black bean stew with pork), while Argentina is famous for its steak and empanadas. Peru offers ceviche and lomo saltado, and Colombia is known for arepas and bandeja paisa. Each country has its own unique dishes and flavors.

What are the must-visit historical sites in South America?

South America is rich in historical sites. Machu Picchu in Peru is a must-visit, as are the ancient ruins of Tiwanaku in Bolivia. The colonial cities of Quito, Ecuador, and Cartagena, Colombia, offer a glimpse into the continent’s colonial past. Don’t miss the Jesuit Missions in Paraguay and Argentina.

What are some hidden gems in South America?

Some of the hidden gems in South America include Paraty in Brazil, a colonial town with beautiful beaches; the Salt Flats of Uyuni in Bolivia; and the remote Patagonia region shared by Argentina and Chile. These destinations offer unique experiences away from the usual tourist trails.

Do I need a visa to travel to South America?

Visa requirements for South America vary depending on your nationality and the countries you plan to visit. Many countries, like Brazil and Argentina, offer visa-free entry for short stays to citizens of certain countries. It’s essential to check the specific visa requirements for each country before you travel.

What languages are spoken in South America?

The primary language spoken in most South American countries is Spanish. However, Portuguese is the official language of Brazil. Indigenous languages, such as Quechua and Guarani, are also spoken in various regions. English is commonly spoken in tourist areas but knowing some Spanish or Portuguese can be very helpful.

What are the best beaches to visit in South America?

South America boasts some stunning beaches. Copacabana and Ipanema in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, are world-famous. In Colombia, the beaches of Cartagena and the Rosario Islands are beautiful. Uruguay’s Punta del Este and the beaches of Florianopolis in Brazil are also popular with tourists.

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