The Top 10 Cities in Central and South America
This year's World's Best Awards survey was open for voting January 11 through May 10, 2021, as destinations around the world were lifting COVID-19 restrictions. Survey rules have always allowed readers to reflect on their travel experiences over a three-year period. We hope that this year's honorees will inspire your own travels as you get back out into the world.
The natural environments and jaw-dropping archaeological sites of Central and South America hold massive appeal for good reason. After all, how many of us have included stepping into the ancient world of Machu Picchu or counting blue-footed boobies in the Galápagos on our list of dream itineraries? But the regions' urban centers captivate voters, too, with the best cities in Central and South America offering an exhilarating blend of modern culture, cross-cultural cuisine, and adventures of their own.
Every year for our World's Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Readers rated cities on their sights and landmarks, culture, cuisine, friendliness, shopping, and overall value.
Colombia has two honorees, with Cartagena placing fifth and the capital, Bogotá, coming in at No. 7. In both destinations, readers appreciated the high energy, friendly residents, and superb dining. "The old walled-city part of Cartagena was wonderful," wrote one voter of the coastal Caribbean city. "The food is great, and there are many opportunities for shopping." Another reader encouraged fellow travelers not to miss Bogotá's historical La Candelaria neighborhood and the Museum of Gold.
Argentina also scored two entries, with cosmopolitan Buenos Aires at No. 4 and Mendoza, in the heart of wine country, following close behind at No. 6. Several carnivores praised the former's parrillas (grill restaurants), which include the legendary La Cabrera and Don Julio. "If you like beef, you'll think you're in heaven," said a voter. "Outstanding and huge portions." Seeing a tango show, of course, is a popular activity — one that had a reader commenting, "I am totally in love and can't wait to go back!" Another reader who'd been to Mendoza pointed out that it's not just a fantastic jumping-off point to visit the regional vineyards, but also "the Uco Valley and nearby mountain communities like Tunuyán and Uspallata."
But even these long-popular hubs were no match for this year's No. 1: Antigua Guatemala. Find out below why readers voted it their favorite among the best cities in Central and South America.
1. Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala
Ringed by volcanoes, Antigua Guatemala has had to endure its fair share of earthquakes and other natural disasters over the centuries, but there are still plenty of historic monuments and buildings from the 1600s and 1700s that left readers marveling. "We were fortunate to visit just before COVID-19 hit," shared one voter. "Everything in this historic city is beautiful! The Jade Museum was wonderful. The friendliness and hospitality of the city were evident everywhere." Echoed another, "Beautiful old city with lots of charm and history. Religious processionals around and into the cathedral were so inspiring." In the historic core, visitors can also shop for beautiful local handicrafts and take a chocolate-making class at artisan shop Ek Chuah. Outdoor enthusiasts will also find plenty to do, including hiking the Corazón de Agua trail and taking a guided trek to see the Volcán Fuego erupt.
2. Cuzco, Peru
WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 86.17
3. Rio de Janeiro
4. Buenos Aires
WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 84.40
5. Cartagena, Colombia
6. Mendoza, Argentina
7. Bogotá, Colombia
8. Quito, Ecuador
9. Montevideo, Uruguay
10. São Paulo, Brazil
See all of our readers' favorite hotels, cities, airlines, cruise lines, and more in the World's Best Awards for 2021.