The 10 Best Cities in Central and South America

The best cities to visit in Central and South America, according to Travel + Leisure readers, are the ones in which new upscale hotels and innovative dining trends mix with Indigenous culture and centuries-old history.

From the vibrant nightlife of Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana to the art galleries and historic architecture of Cuzco, the appeal of the best cities in Central and South America — according to Travel + Leisure readers — remains strong. In 2022, the reader-voted top 10 cities in this part of the world contained longtime favorites like Lima and Buenos Aires, but also interesting surprises, such as Montevideo (No. 10), Uruguay's coastal capital.

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.

The high-altitude, disarmingly charming city of Cuzco, Peru, earned the No. 1 spot, while cities in Brazil, Colombia, and other destinations remain popular with T+L readers, too. São Paulo, with its collection of architectural marvels and recent luxury hotel additions, moved from No. 10 in 2021 to No. 4 this year. Brazil's other contender, Rio de Janeiro (No. 3), earned applause from travelers who loved exploring the city's music, food, and the posh shoreside neighborhoods of Leblon and Ipanema.

Colombia's two top cities, unsurprisingly, are Bogotá (No. 9) and the UNESCO-protected Cartagena (No. 6). "I recommend staying in Cartagena's Old Town, in the Movich Hotel," one reader suggested. (The property has just 32 rooms and is well situated for exploring the city's ancient churches.) In Montevideo, Uruguay, another seaside star, readers loved stopping by the casual boliches, or small eateries often open late at night, that serve "the best beef asado dishes in South America, bar none."

Find out which other destinations readers chose as the best cities in Central and South America below.

Twilight over the plaza de armas in the heart of Cusco old town in Peru with the cathedral in the Andes.
Didier Marti/Getty Images

1. Cuzco, Peru

View of Cusco, Peru from ancient ruins in the mountains
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"This city is a must for anyone interested in South American history," wrote one voter. "It's a beautiful place in an extraordinary location." Low-strung buildings fan out like rivulets running down the emerald Vilcabamba Mountains, which erupt from the surrounding landscape so steeply they almost look alive. Once the capital of the Incan Tawantinsuyu empire, this city remains a stronghold of Indigenous culture (the word "Cuzco" comes from a Quechua word that means "center"), and should be considered a must-stop instead of just a gateway to Machu Picchu to the city's northeast. Its history and beauty (and, possibly, the dizzying 12,000-feet elevation) is enough to make even the most discerning travelers skip a breath. Readers also loved local cuisine, noting a plethora of organic options and the classes at the museum of chocolate.

WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 88.79

2. Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala

Santa Catalina Arch in Antigua Guatemala with a view of the Agua Volcano
Stefan Tomic/Getty Images

Score: 86.75

3. Rio de Janeiro

Sunset seen from the Mureta da Urca in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
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Score: 86.35

4. São Paulo, Brazil

Capivari traditional buildings - Campos do Jordao, Sao Paulo, Brazil
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Score: 84.57

5. Lima

Coastal View In Miraflores, Lima, Peru
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Score: 84.36

6. Cartagena, Colombia

Historic Downtown, Cartagena de Indias
Jorge Ivan Vasquez Cuartas/Getty Images

Score: 84.24

7. Buenos Aires

Distinctive architecture in Buenos Aires, Argentina, during sunset. Low viewpoint. This architecture is also very reminiscent of Barcelona and Paris.
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WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 84.15

8. Quito, Ecuador

Apartment buildings Sunrise, Quito, Ecuador
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Score: 84.07

9. Bogotá, Colombia

Bogota, Colombia - Local Colombian People and a Few Tourists Enjoying the Historic Plaza Chorro de Quevedo In The Candelaria District Of The Andes Capital City
Devasahayam Chandra Dhas/Getty Images

Score: 81.41

10. Montevideo, Uruguay

Architecture of Montevideo in Uruguay
Leonid Andronov/Getty Images

Score: 79.39

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