South America's energetic metropolises with their flamboyant carnivals, colorful street art, bustling markets, and unrivaled nightlife are like no other place on Earth. Known not only for warm hospitality and impressive landscapes that feature everything from towering skyscrapers and historical architecture, to stunning beaches, lush tropical forests, and mighty mountains, these fascinating and cultural South American cities all have one firm thing in common: they sure know how to throw a party.
So, with that being said, there's no excuse not to include these cities on your itinerary if you're seeking out the very best and authentic experiences that this lively continent has to offer.
7 Buenos Aires, Argentina
Argentina's modern capital mixes South American culture and European charm with its beautiful French and Italian-inspired architecture. The city is split into sections called Barrios, which are all unique in their own way. Visitors can marvel at beautifully-designed government buildings in the microcenter, and head to San Telmo for its enormous Sunday market and trendy bars serving up a variety of refreshing craft beers. Recoleta is much more high-end and upmarket if that's your vibe, whilst Palermo is the place to be if you adore street art and colorful nightlife.
As with most South American cities, there are tons of amazing cafes, restaurants, and bars seen on every street corner, but what makes Buenos Aires particularly special is its food. This city is the best place to gorge on empanadas, steak, and wine 'til you can consume no more. Once you've eaten and drunk your way around the city, prepare for the thrilling nightlife - the best of which doesn't start until 1 AM!
6 Santiago, Chile
Santiago is evolving into one of South America's best upcoming cities. The food scene is something to behold, with Chilean chefs adapting and redefining local cuisine into the new and extraordinary. Restaurants and bars are in no small number, and there are plenty of interesting museums, galleries, historic buildings, and an excess of impressive street art to marvel at. Barrio Bellavista is ideal for any foodie to visit, where there are also loads of lively, slick bars for sipping cold craft beers and cocktails.
For even more outstanding restaurants and bars, as well as fascinating galleries, buildings, and a variety of shops, Barrio Italia is the place to be, whilst Barrio Yungay appeals more to backpackers seeking out dive bars. As Santiago is changing for the better and giving other renowned South American cities a run for their money, the one thing that remains the same as always is the jaw-dropping views of the Andes nearby. Visitors can take in the very best sights from Parque Metropolitano - also known as Cerro San Cristóbal.
5 Lima, Peru
Lima doesn't always have the best reputation amongst travelers, but those that give it a chance will be very pleasantly surprised. Peru's capital city with its tranquil waterfront and Pacific ocean views oozes charm and boasts an abundance of fantastic restaurants, bars, and cheap markets offering tasty Peruvian delights.
Each of the city's districts is distinct. The historical and cultural center - home to the Presidential Palace and Lima Cathedral - is situated in the central square of Plaza de Armas, and is a truly stunning part of the city to stroll through whilst appreciating the pretty architecture.
On the other hand, Barranco is the complete opposite, featuring colorful buildings, funky street art perfect for your Instagram feed, and some of the very best restaurants and bars in the entire city. Those who visit must try the national dish - ceviche - and the classic Peruvian cocktail named the Pisco Sour.
4 Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
When the locals say "on the eighth day God created Rio," you know you've arrived somewhere special. This lively cosmopolitan city collides with stunning natural surroundings that make it a unique place like no other around the world. Tropical rainforests, golden beaches, and lush green mountains all blend effortlessly with the city's towering skyscrapers, whilst the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue - one of the World Wonders - watches over all from above.
Head up Sugarloaf Mountain to take in a striking 360-degree view of the city, or for even more unbeatable panoramas, soak up the views at the world-famous Christ the Redeemer statue, which sits at 2,300 feet and is Rio's signature icon. The best beaches are easily the legendary Copacabana and Ipanema, which are both postcard-perfect spots to work on your tan, play beach volleyball and get that idyllic Instagram shot.
The main reason for visiting this insane bustling seaside city is to have fun, and nobody throws a party like the people of Rio. The annual Carnival is the world's most epic street party, which takes over the entire city with heart-pumping music, loud costumes, lively Samba dancers, and non-stop celebrations. Even if you're not there for the party season, you'll still have the time of your life. Year-round nightlife is a signature staple of Rio, and a superb spot to go on an evening to let your hair down and party like a local is Lapa - home to some of South America's most flamboyant nightlife.
3 São Paulo, Brazil
It's hard not to fall in love with Brazil's largest city (and also the third-largest metropolis on the planet). São Paulo may not be as beaming as Rio, but it is very worthy for different reasons. It's a buzzing hive of cultures with no lack of local and international influences all in one lively place. This makes for outstanding cafes and restaurants featuring excellent global cuisines, as well as plenty of cultural museums, cathedrals, and attractions.
But if it's authentic Brazilian favorites and street food you're after, head to Mercado Municipal where you'll find heaving amounts of delicious local cuisine. At the end of the day, immersing yourself in the city's energetic bar scene is a great way to spend the evening drinking caipirinhas to the constant beats of Samba music.
Also, if culture's your thing, a visit to Beco do Batman, or "Batman Alley" is definitely worth your time. It's an open-air gallery of street art filled with color and incredible designs by artists from all over the world, whilst fans of more traditional art will appreciate MASP (the Museum of Art Sao Paulo).
Your inner child will also enjoy the massive Lego tower made from 500,000 pieces, which was once the world's tallest Lego structure until 2015. Finally, shopaholics and bargain hunters can rejoice, for São Paulo offers sublime retail therapy that entails everything from high-end designer stores, to markets, antique stores, and handicrafts shops.
2 La Paz, Bolivia
Cool, fun, but gritty and rough around the edges, La Paz - the capital city of Bolivia - is the perfect destination for experiencing authentic Bolivian culture against a backdrop of the jaw-dropping jagged glacier-topped Cordillera Real. And the fact that it's the highest capital city on Earth (3,640 meters above sea level!) alone is enough to pay this spectacular metropolis playground a visit. From local markets full of Bolivian favorites, trinkets, and clothing, to shopping, awesome restaurants, and lively bars, there's truly something for everyone in La Paz.
Also, the witches market is a definite must-visit with its weird and gruesome bits and bobs for sale, whilst the vast food markets will have you salivating for a sample. But what's so truly great about this city is that it's an ideal place to get lost strolling through the streets, taking in the unique architecture, gothic spires, and modern architecture that all add to La Paz's intriguing aesthetic. Plus, visitors can use the city as a base from which to dive into other epic day adventures, such as climbing the 6,088-meter high Huayna Potosi mountain, visiting the Valle de la Luna, or speeding on a mountain bike down the famed Death Road.
Transport within the city has become extremely convenient in recent years thanks to the installation of the Mi Teleférico - the world’s highest cable car network. People can quite literally get around in the sky, which turns any lengthy journey by car into a magical flight in the air over the city in a matter of minutes, allowing travelers to embrace breathtaking views of the city below, the skyline, and the stunning mountains in the distance. On a final note, if you happen to be in La Paz on a Sunday afternoon, taking the time to watch the wrestling cholitas will not be a waste.
1 Medellin, Colombia
Medellin was once known as the most dangerous city on Earth, but it's since shed this label to become one of the continent's safest - and best - cities. Set in the Aburrá Valley enveloped by emerald-green mountains and hills, this artistic city is as beautiful as it is interesting. Many people get around by metro cable, which offers a wonderful opportunity to absorb bird-eye views of the city with its colorful graffiti-painted roofs, lush national parks, and tall buildings.
Also, the sky is usually peppered with paragliders - a popular hobby in the city that's well worth a try, while those with their feet planted firmly on the ground will appreciate the dozens of pretty parks. And, on your to-visit list here should be Plata Botero, where famous Colombian artist Fernando Botero has 23 of his incredible sculptures on show.