7 Most Populous Cities in South America

Although sometimes overlooked as a vacation destination, South America abounds in natural wonders and exciting urban environments. Some of the most interesting cities in the world can be found nestled on the banks of the Amazon and in between the peaks of the Andes. Here are the seven largest cities in South America that you can visit on your next vacation south of the equator. Population numbers are estimates of each city's metropolitan area, based on the latest available data from World Population Review.

7. Caracas, Venezuela

Aerial photo of Caracas in Venezuela
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Metro area population: 2.9 million

Venezuela’s largest city and capital is located near the Caribbean, separated from the water by the Cordillera de la Costa mountain range, which leaves it in a narrow valley. Despite the limited space, the city proper is home to more than 2 million.

Due to the limited building space in the valley, Caracas has some of the tallest buildings that can be found in Latin America, such as the twin Parque Central towers, which are over 700 feet tall.

6. Santiago, Chile

City of Santiago, Chile with mountains in the background at sunset
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Metro area population: 6.72 million

This capital city — population 5.2 million with another million-plus in the metro area — is surrounded by tall peaks of the mountains that make up the Andes, which can be reached in a little less than an hour from the city center. The city is surrounded by extensive vineyards as it sits in the center of the Maipo Valley, regarded by many as the birthplace of Chilean wine.

5. Lima, Peru

San Martin Square, in Lima, Peru
Credit: Christian Vinces/ iStock

Metro area population: 10.55 million

Peru’s capital city is located on the shore of the Pacific Ocean and is home to over 8 million. The city is renowned as a center of higher education, and the Nacional Institute of San Marcos is the oldest operating university in the western hemisphere, having been founded in 1551.

4. Bogota, Colombia

Capital city of Bogota, Colombia at sunset with mountains in the distance
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Metro area population: 10.87 million

Another South American city centered in the Andes mountains, Bogota is one of the highest capitals in South America. The city center, population 7.8 million, sits at an elevation of 8,500 feet. The sprawling city was able to reach such a large size only because it is built on an ancient lakebed. The area has attracted settlers for centuries, and evidence exits that suggests the Bogota area has been inhabited for over 12,000 years.

3. Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Credit: R.M. Nunes/ iStock

Metro area population: 13.37 million

The second largest city in Brazil is well known for the Christ the Redeemer statue that towers over the metropolis and the 6.3 million inhabitants who live in the city. It is famous for hosting the world’s largest Carnival, which lasts for five days every February.

Despite the abundance of architectural wonders that can be found here, one of the biggest draws for visitors to Rio De Janeiro is the idyllic Botafogo Bay, which lies beneath the steep cliffs of Sugarloaf Mountain.

2. Buenos Aires, Argentina

Aerial photo of Buenos Aires, Argentina
Credit: Sadie Teper/ Unsplash

Metro area population: 15 million

The capital of Argentina is also its largest city, with a population of 2.89 million in its urban center. A popular tourist destination, Buenos Aires is home to a vibrant artistic community. The Buenos Aires Museum of Modern Art holds a world-renowned collection of pieces from some of the most celebrated artists from South America.

The city is well known for its abundance of street murals. These have flourished with the lax laws on public art and wealth of available wall space.

1. Sao Paulo, Brazil

Sao Paulo urban city buildings street cars downtown view
Credit: Cleber Macedo/ iStock

Metro area population: 21.85 million

The largest Portuguese-speaking metropolis in the world can be found in Brazil. Sao Paulo has a population that exceeds 12 million, which not only makes it the largest city in South America, but the largest city in the Western Hemisphere, beating out Mexico City and New York for the top spot.

The city is known as a melting pot of different cultures, with a significant population of individuals whose heritage can be traced back to Europe, Asia, and Africa. Sao Paulo’s diverse population and robust industry make it a global powerhouse, and the city’s metropolitan area controls the 10th most powerful economy in the world.

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