Last updated on: May 17, 2020
South America is a land of vibrant, bustling cities. And though Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, and Santiago are usually the first that spring to mind, the best places to visit in South America aren’t so well known. Here are five great examples to include in your South America travel itinerary.
Arequipa is Peru’s second largest city after the capital, Lima. Known as the White City, many of the colonial buildings around its historic centre are built of sillar, a pale volcanic stone. This distinctive look is set against a beautiful backdrop of mountains and the towering Misti Volcano.
While the city is often visited because of its proximity to the Colca Canyon (the world’s second-deepest canyon, and twice as deep as the USA’s Grand Canyon), it has a fascinating history to explore and a lively local food scene. Around the central Plaza de Armas you will find an array of rooftop and terrace restaurants to relax and enjoy the city view.
Few cities of the world have a setting as spectacular as Bariloche. In the heart of Argentina’s Lake District, it is perched on Lago Nahuel Huapi and surrounded by snow-capped Andean mountains.
Bariloche has a strong Swiss and German influence, which is evident in its wooden chalet buildings, chocolate shops and ale houses. It’s a quaint environment to explore at your own pace, or if you’re the type that loves to get outdoors, there are plenty of hiking trails within close reach. To the west of the city, you can climb to viewpoints at Cerro Campanario or Cerro Llao Llao for spectacular panoramic views of the landscape.
At over 4,000 metres above sea level, Potosí is one of the world’s highest-altitude cities. Its defining feature is Cerro Rico, a towering peak looming over the city known as the ‘mountain that eats men’. The mountain’s legendary mines are still operational today, and you can take tours inside and meet the local workers.
The city itself is a maze of winding alleys, colourful houses, street markets and old colonial architectural features. It’s also home to the National Mint of Bolivia, which features a money museum. There’s much to explore while absorbing the city’s animated spirit.
Brazil’s carnival atmosphere is epitomised by the bright and buoyant city of Salvador in the state of Bahia. The Pelourinho district is the heart of its cultural and artistic scene, and on Tuesday evenings it sparks to life. Dancers and drummers parade lavishly through the streets late into the night.
Salvador is also the perfect place to sample Brazil’s delicious street food. Vendors at stalls and carts in Pelourinho sell local favourites like acarajé (deep-fried balls of mashed beans and shrimp). If that’s not to your liking, Pelourinho has a choice of cafés and restaurants with balcony views of the sunset over Baia de Todos os Santos. Read more on why you should visit Salvador.
Valparaíso is perched on the Pacific Coast of Chile just a couple of hours’ drive from the capital, Santiago. In its heyday it was an important port city, but the opening of the Panama Canal brought about a huge transformation. It is now a hub of Chile’s artistic expression, visible in its ubiquitous street art, giant murals and lively music scene.
With colorful houses sprawled over rolling green hills, Valparaíso is one of the most picturesque seaside cities of the world. Take a walking tour with born-and-bred local youths who will narrate the city’s turbulent past and introduce you to its creative present.