10 Largest South American Cities
Sao Paulo, Brazil: 18,505,100
Sao Paulo, Brazil’s vibrant financial center, is among the world’s most populous cities, with numerous cultural institutions and a rich architectural tradition. Its iconic buildings range from its neo-Gothic cathedral and the 1929 Martinelli skyscraper to modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer’s curvy Edifício Copan. The colonial-style Pátio do Colégio church marks where Jesuit priests founded the city in 1554.
Buenos Aires, Argentina: 12,923,800
Buenos Aires is Argentina’s big, cosmopolitan capital city. Its center is the Plaza de Mayo, lined with stately 19th-century buildings including Casa Rosada, the iconic, balconied presidential palace. Other major attractions include Teatro Colón, a grand 1908 opera house with nearly 2,500 seats, and the modern MALBA museum, displaying Latin American art.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: 11,246,600
Rio de Janeiro is a huge seaside city in Brazil, famed for its Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, 38m Christ the Redeemer statue atop Mount Corcovado and for Sugarloaf Mountain, a granite peak with cable cars to its summit. The city is also known for its sprawling favelas (shanty towns). Its raucous Carnaval festival, featuring parade floats, flamboyant costumes and samba dancers, is considered the world’s largest.
Bogota, Colombia: 7,798,000
Bogotá is Colombia’s sprawling, high-altitude capital. La Candelaria, its cobblestoned center, features colonial-era landmarks like the neoclassical performance hall Teatro Colón and the 17th-century Iglesia de San Francisco. It’s also home to popular museums including the Museo Botero, showcasing Fernando Botero’s art, and the Museo del Oro, displaying pre-Columbian gold pieces.
Lima, Peru: 7,603,500
Lima, the capital of Peru, lies on the country’s arid Pacific coast. Though its colonial center is preserved, it’s a bustling metropolis and one of South America’s largest cities. It’s home to the Museo Larco collection of pre-Columbian art and the Museo de la Nación, tracing the history of Peru’s ancient civilizations. The Plaza de Armas and the 16th-century cathedral are the heart of old Lima Centro.
Santiago, Chile: 5,636,800
Santiago, Chile’s capital and largest city, sits in a valley surrounded by the snow-capped Andes and the Chilean Coast Range. Plaza de Armas, the grand heart of the city’s old colonial core, is home to 2 neoclassical landmarks: the 1808 Palacio de la Real Audiencia, housing the National History Museum, and the 18th-century Metropolitan Cathedral. La Chascona is the home-turned-museum of poet Pablo Neruda.
Belo Horizonte, Brazil: 4,413,800
Belo Horizonte is the capital city of southeastern Brazil’s Minas Gerais state. Surrounded by mountains, the city’s known for the vast Mineirão Stadium. Built in 1965, the stadium also houses the Brazilian Football Museum. Nearby are Lake Pampulha and the Pampulha Architectural Complex, home to the wavy-topped Church of St. Francis of Assisi, designed by Brazil’s modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer.
Salvador, Brazil: 3,173,500
Salvador, the capital of Brazil’s northeastern state of Bahia, is known for its Portuguese colonial architecture, Afro-Brazilian culture and a tropical coastline. The Pelourinho neighborhood is its historic heart, with cobblestone alleys opening onto large squares, colorful buildings and baroque churches such as São Francisco, featuring gilt woodwork.
Fortaleza, Brazil: 2,976,200
Fortaleza is the capital of the northeastern Brazilian state of Ceará. It’s known for its beaches, which are punctuated by red cliffs, palm trees, dunes and lagoons. Fortaleza’s long-standing folkloric traditions are presented in dance performances at the art nouveau José de Alencar Theater, open since 1910. Another architectural highlight is the neo-Gothic Catedral Metropolitana.
Cali, Colombia: 2,800.600
Cali is a Colombian city in the Valle del Cauca department, southwest of Bogotá. It’s known for salsa dancing and there are many clubs in the suburb of Juanchito. In Cali’s oldest quarter, the neoclassical San Pedro Cathedral houses paintings of the Quito School. Nearby is the 18th- and 19th-century San Francisco Religious Complex. La Merced Chapel is where the first mass was held after Cali was founded in 1536.