Manager and Guide @ Rio de Janeiro Urban Adventures. Beach and samba lover, like most typical cariocas.
Tourism in South America has grown a lot in recent years. The cities are safer, the economy is developing, and the infrastructure is growing. Events like World Cup last year have put the continent on the travel wish lists of anyone who is interested in history, nature, and, of course, fun times (ahem, Carnival).
But once you’ve decided South America is your destination of choice, where to go within such an incredible continent? To help you narrow down your options, we’ve got the top picks to please every personality.
For scenery seekers: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Of course, Rio. Yes, there are plenty of pretty cities through South America, but Rio de Janeiro is hands-down one of the most naturally beautiful cities in the world. Head to the beaches (filled with beautiful people, of course), or hike your way into the gorgeous wooded mountains. Head up to the top of the Sugar Loaf Mountain or take in Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado Mountain. Really, anything you do here will be beautiful.
For sultry souls: Buenos Aires, Argentina
The most European of all South American capitals, Buenos Aires is a city of great architecture and broad avenues. Tango, one of the world’s sexiest dances, is the most famed cultural attraction — appropriate for such a seductive place. Add to that great food (all that meat!), excellent wine (we see you, Malbec), and plenty of shops and cafés, and we guarantee you’ll want to stay just a little bit longer.
For architecture afficionados: Salvador, Brazil
Salvador gets less attention than her sisters Rio and São Paulo, but this city is well worth a visit. It’s Brazil’s third largest city and a great destination for discovering the many different cultures that exist in South America. It’s also home to some of the most beautiful examples of architecture in the Americas. There are some wonderful beaches around the city, while in the older, central area, you’ll find a collection of coloured buildings dating back to when the Portuguese fortified the city. Must-visits include the golden São Francisco Church and Convent.
For food fanatics: Lima, Peru
Lima was once Latin America’s richest city (a status that’s still reflected today in the big Plaza Mayor), but the treasures of ancient pre-Columbian civilisations housed in the National Museum and Larco Museum are the reasons many people visit the city. Well, that and to also check out Lima’s status as one of the world’s top culinary hot spots. The local gastronomy, from street food stands to celebrity chefs, have helped to build the city’s modern foodie fame.
For history hunters: Cusco, Peru
It doesn’t matter if you spell it Cusco, Cuzco, or Q’osco, you’re talking about one of the world’s most fascinating cities. And, more specifically, you’re likely talking about it because of Machu Picchu (which isn’t really in Cusco, but very near) — the Incan city in what was once a sacred valley, and the most amazing pre-Columbian ruins in the world. But before going to Machu Picchu, you should first go to Plaza de Armas, the heart of ancient Cusco; then make a list of the Incan ruins and all the colonial architecture you want to see (think fortresses, temples, and mansions).
For romantic Romeos: Cartagena, Colombia
Cartagena is a beautiful city protected by a fortress, with charming cobblestone streets and colourful squares that make it one of South America’s most romantic destinations. The impressive old town is filled with colonial charm (perfect for falling in love), and the beach is always really close by for when you want to snuggle by the sea.
For geography gurus: Quito, Ecuador
Surrounded by the Andes Mountains, Quito is the world’s highest capital city — and located almost right at the centre of the planet, just a 30-minute drive from the equator. Quito is considered the best preserved historic city in South America, which means if you’re a history lover, you are simply going to lose your mind there. But in addition to the colonial constructions, Quito also offers new attractions, such as contemporary art museums and a cable car that will give you a fresh perspective of the city from the top.
For culture vultures: São Paulo, Brazil
São Paulo is famed for having some of the best restaurants and shopping in South America. It’s a city of thousands of skyscrapers, but also an amazing mix of cultures. Think world-class dining, and a variety of cultural attractions such as the São Paulo Museum of Art — a great place for art, culture, and food lovers.
For thoughtful travellers: Santiago, Chile
Chile’s capital of Santiago is more modern than historic, and well worth visiting for its gastronomic scene, colonial mansions, and massive buildings. Don’t miss the house of Nobel-prize-winning Pablo Neruda, one of the most important poets of all time, and the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, dedicated to the victims of human right violations during the dictatorship regime led by Augusto Pinochet between 1973 and 1990.
So. Which one is going to be your next destination?