South America is growing as a travel destination. It has elements that are at once very unique and very familiar to people from Europe, North America, and Asia. From steamy jungle towns to historic mountain cities to booming coastal metropolises with beautiful beaches, this continent has something for every traveler.

Though South America is known for its vast natural areas – the Amazon, the High Andes, the Pantanal, Patagonia – the best place to start a journey in South America is in one of its most exiting cities. Here are some of the best places to go in South America if you want to add an urban destination to your itinerary.

South America is growing as a travel destination. It has elements that are at once very unique and very familiar to people from Europe, North America, and Asia. From steamy jungle towns to historic mountain cities to booming coastal metropolises with beautiful beaches, this continent has something for every traveler.

Though South America is known for its vast natural areas – the Amazon, the High Andes, the Pantanal, Patagonia – the best place to start a journey in South America is in one of its most exiting cities. Here are some of the best places to go in South America if you want to add an urban destination to your itinerary.

Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires
Photo: Luis Argerich / Flickr

This Argentine city is arguably one of South America’s most accessible destinations. A place of tango, cafes, world-class steak-houses, and all night parties, it offers a truly international urban experience for travelers. People come here from all over the world, so there is a good tourist infrastructure. There are also many different districts worth exploring in the city. Some are focused on shopping and restaurants, while others are headlined by historic buildings and the kind of more-rustic charms that people so-often associate with southern South America. If you can tear yourself away from the wine bars, nightlife, barbecue restaurants, and photo-worthy plazas and pedestrian areas, the beautiful Argentine countryside is only a short drive outside of the city, making it easy for travelers to add another dimension to their journey.

Montevideo

Montevideo
Photo: Vince Alongi / Flickr

Sometimes overlooked by tourists, many of whom opt for the beaches of Rio or the aforementioned streets of Buenos Aires, this charming capitol city has a little bit of everything. Both beaches and history are within easy reach, and the food and drink is arguably as enticing as it is across the border in Argentina. While other South American metropolises are more “in-your-face,” Montevideo is ver, very laid back. Its beaches are beautiful, but usually uncrowded, and its streets are wide and tree-lined, giving the city an airy feel that many visitors find very pleasant. Montevideo is also quite safe, at least compared to its larger South American sister cities, so it is actually a reasonably worry-free place to introduce yourself to the continent.

Lima

Lima
Photo: Serious Cat / Flickr

Peru’s capitol city has one of the most charming historic districts in all of South America. The city was founded nearly 500 years ago, and that history is very evident in Lima’s Old Town buildings and plazas. At the same time, this city is vast and covered mostly by slum areas that are home to migrants from the Peruvian Andes. Despite this, violent crime against tourists is rare, especially in the central districts of the city (pickpocketing is quite common though). One of the best reasons to come to Lima is to shop for traditional handicrafts, which are sold throughout the city in shops and by vendors right on the sidewalks.

Rio and Sao Paulo

Sao Paulo
Photo: JD Lasica / Flickr

Everyone knows about the beaches of Rio and about its legendary Carnival parades. But this is a vast city that has a bit of everything, from nightlife and restaurants to sports, concerts, and high-brow culture. Fun loving and friendly people make this a great place to visit. Many people forget about Sao Paulo because Rio is the undisputed tourist headliner in Brazil. However, SP is Brazil’s economic capitol. It is a sprawling but exciting city with a huge amount of things to do and plenty of places that have a very international feel. No, Sao Paulo doesn’t have the teeming beaches of Rio, but it has hundreds of worthwhile neighborhoods and thousands of museums, restaurants, and nightspots. So, though it lacks a well-defined “tourist trail,” Sao Paulo is certainly worth a look for urban travel enthusiasts.

Cartagena

Cartagena
Photo: Pedro Szekely / Flickr

Colombia’s tourist city sits on the nation’s Caribbean coastline. This place, like the other ones on our list, has a diverse set of attractions. The historic Old Town has an amazing atmosphere, not to mention some of the best party spots in the entire country. The beaches and water-sports are also major attractions and the cuisine of Cartagena, a mix of Caribbean flavors, fresh seafood and South American staples, is very unique and always delicious. With beaches, history, nature, culture, and nightlife all within easy reach for tourists, Cartagena is one of South America’s most tourist-friendly cities.

What should we add to our list of South America’s most exciting cities? Use the comments section to give us your recommendations.

0 Comments

5 Most Exciting Cities in South America

  1. Buenos Aries is on my travel radar lately. Would you say that it\’s a safe place for a solo traveler (given normal precautions)? Is it very English friendly? My Spanish is basic at best.

    1. Hi Melissa. I think BA is pretty safe if you take the normal \”big city\” precautions. The worst danger is probably petty theft (bag snatching and the like). A lot of people there speak a little English, and those close to the tourist industry (hotel staff, etc) will often be able to speak English quite well. So you probably won\’t have the need for anything more than some basic \”phrasebook Spanish.\” Happy travels!

  2. Nice compilation, would surely help me plan my trip to South America next year! so looking forward to it. Its strange how the south is so very different from the north. But thats the fun part. Love the pictures too.

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