By Peter Terzian
July 10, 2019
Credit: Karol Kozlowski/Getty Images

Our readers had heaps of praise for the best cities in Central and South America, but one word came up repeatedly: beauty. With their mix of old and new, these places continue to entrance Travel + Leisure readers.

Every year for our World’s Best Awards survey, Travel + Leisure 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.

Of course, we’ll always have Rio. “The people are friendly and there are a variety of international restaurants,” wrote one reader. “The nightlife is like no other, full of light and joy, including many carnivals and shows.” A few voters cautioned about the city’s safety, but as one reader gushed, “The character of the people, the music, and the beaches more than make up for it.” Buenos Aires won plaudits for its laid-back way of life and old-world allure. “The Paris of South America hasn’t lost her charm,” wrote one reader. “Buenos Aires is rich in culture, with many free events, like concerts and tango milongas. If you like steak and red wine, this is the place for you — the city has the best ice cream, too.”

Smaller cities received their fair share of accolades as well. One reader praised the festivals in Antigua Guatemala, recommending that fellow travelers “try to be there on a Sunday between Lent and Easter, because that’s when they have wonderful processions, in which men clad in purple robes carry floats that describe the Passion of Christ.” Of Mendoza, in the heart of Argentina’s wine country, one reader wrote of the “wonderful tasting experiences. The Argentines welcome visitors and are excited to educate about their wines. The food is amazing as well.” Of Quito, the capital of Ecuador, one voter adored the markets, with their “diverse and delicious fruits that I’ve never seen before.” And one reader recommended staying in the old part of Cartagena, Colombia, “where there are incredible restaurants — it’s also a good place to shop for emeralds.”

10. Valparaiso, Chile

Credit: Pierre-Yves Babelon/Getty Images

Score: 78.25

9. Lima, Peru

Credit: Christian Declercq/Getty Images

Score: 78.92

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8. Bogotá, Colombia

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Score: 79.37

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  • Sofitel Bogota Victoria Regia,, rates from $206/night
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7. Cartagena, Colombia

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Score: 81.01

6. Rio de Janeiro

Credit: Karen I. Chen

Score: 81.38

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5. Quito, Ecuador

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Score: 82.22

4. Mendoza, Argentina

Credit: Philippe Widling/Getty Images

Score: 82.53

3. Buenos Aires

Credit: Getty Images

WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 82.92

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  • Alvear Palace Hotel,, rates from $350/night
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2. Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala

Credit: Lucy Brown/Getty Images

Score: 83.26

1. Cuzco, Peru

Credit: Getty Images

WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 85.66

Location, location, location. Cuzco is perennially popular, in part because it’s the nearest large city to Machu Picchu, one of the world’s most popular travel destinations. But the ancient town has much to recommend it in its own right. “We visited on our honeymoon,” wrote one reader. “The local food was hearty, healthy, and delicious, and we were impressed with everything we tried there. We still crave all of it!” Another voter singled out the “interesting history and old Spanish-style buildings.” But it was the small moments that counted most for a third voter, who “loved getting to take a picture with the locals and hold a baby llama.”

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  • Palacio del Inka Cusco,, rates from $379/night
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See all of our readers' favorite hotels, cities, airlines, cruise lines, and more in the World's Best Awards for 2019.