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South America’s 7 Most Populous Cities in 2024

From its colorful history to its magnificent scenery, South America is a continent rich in color. Its busy metropolises give off a vivacious energy that makes the continent pulse. Past the broad stretches of verdant rainforests and the towering Andes peaks are an enthralling metropolitan setting where millions of people live into the intricate variety of daily existence.

South America’s most distinctive feature is its diversity, which is most vividly shown in the lively cities that dot the continent. Every city has its own distinctive blend of culture, history, and tradition, from the contagious rhythms of Rio de Janeiro to the classic elegance of Buenos Aires. These combinations create a variety of experiences just waiting to be found.

We are asked to peel back the layers of these cities’ urban environments as we travel around the most populated cities in South America, discovering the essence of each person and the numerous elements that have shaped their current identities. By doing this, we will get fully immersed in the cultural diversity of South America’s cities, where a lively pulse of life can be heard from every corner and every tale has a backstory.

The 7 Most Populous Cities of South America

The list of the 7 most populous cities in the South America, in descending order population-wise, is as follows:

  1. São Paulo, Brazil (12.3 million) 
  2. Lima, Peru (9.5 million)
  3. Bogotá, Colombia (8.2 million)
  4. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (6.7 million)
  5. Santiago, Chile (5.6 million)
  6. Buenos Aires, Argentina (3.1 million)
  7. Belo Horizonte, Brazil (2.5 million)

1. São Paulo, Brazil

Giant of industry and cultural vitality, São Paulo is a reflection of Brazil’s population domination. Over 12 million people live in this concrete jungle, which is teeming with the energy of fashion, finance, and a thriving art scene. Its bilingual streets and delicious food are testaments to the multicultural fabric that its immigrant heritage has fashioned.

Notwithstanding, São Paulo’s dense population poses several challenges, socioeconomic inequality and transportation choking continue to be major issues. Yet, this city of contrasts never sleeps, forever evolving and offering new surprises at every corner.

São Paulo, the capital of Brazil’s most populous state, is located in the Brazilian Highlands on a plateau that is located beyond the Serra do Mar. With a total size of 1,521.11 square kilometers (587.30 square miles), it ranks 8th among the state’s biggest municipalities.

The biggest urban area in Brazil, covering 949,611 square kilometers (366,647 square miles), is found in this metropolis. The population of São Paulo is made up of many ethnic groups, including 60.6% White, 30.5% Mixed, 6.5% Black, 2.2% Asian, and 0.2% Amerindian. Known as the “financial capital of Brazil,” São Paulo is home to several banks, financial institutions, and significant enterprises. It has one of the highest GDPs in the world as well as the highest in the entire country.

Acknowledged as an alpha global metropolis, it has considerable worldwide sway over business, economics, the arts, and entertainment. With a population of over 30 million living in the Greater São Paulo area, it is also the home to the largest economy in Latin America, accounting for more than one-third of the state’s total economic output.

Skyscrapers, museums, and colorful events like jazz festivals, art biennials, and the São Paulo Pride march are some of the city’s most well-known features. With its history of hosting FIFA World Cups and other significant international contests, São Paulo continues to be a dynamic hub for sports, culture, and industry despite obstacles like traffic congestion.

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2. Lima, Peru

The pace of contemporary Latin America mingles with the hushed murmurs of the Andes in Lima, the City of Kings. Built on layers of history, this thriving metropolis of over 9.5 million people is home to colonial churches, modern skyscrapers, and pre-Columbian ruins.

The population of Lima is varied, reflecting the city’s attraction as a crossroads for cultures, drawing people from all across the Andes. This fusion of the old and the new creates a vibrant food scene where traditional dishes can be found at both busy street markets and Michelin-starred restaurants.

The main and capital city of Peru, Lima, is situated in the country’s central coastal area, with a view of the Pacific Ocean and borders shared by the Rímac, Chillón, and Lurín Rivers. Lima has been classified as a “beta” tier city because of its prominence as a political, cultural, financial, and economic hub as well as its considerable geostrategic significance.

Lima is the most populous city in Peru and the second most populated city in the Americas, behind São Paulo, with an estimated population of 10,092,000. It makes up the Lima Metropolitan Area, which has 10,151,200 residents overall and 11,342,100 residents when the constitutional province of Callao is taken into account.

The agricultural area known as Limaq gave rise to Lima, which subsequently became the capital of both the Republic of Peru and the Viceroyalty of Peru. The Lima metro area is home to around one-third of Peru’s population. The 2019 Pan American Games, APEC Meetings, IMF and World Bank Group Annual Meetings, United Nations Climate Change Conference, and the Miss Universe 1982 pageant are just a few of the big events Lima has held.

About 800 square kilometers (310 square miles) make up the urban area. It is primarily flat, with valleys and mountain slopes rising up to 1,550 meters (5,090 feet) above sea level, typical of the Peruvian coastal plain.

The ethnic composition of Lima’s population is diversified, consisting of mestizos, European Peruvians, Amerindians, Afro-Peruvians, and Asian groups, mostly of Chinese and Japanese origin. The greatest Chinese diaspora in Latin America is found in Lima.

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3. Bogotá, Colombia

Bogotá, the vibrant city of Colombia, is tucked away in the Andes’ green embrace. With 8.2 million people living there, the city is resilient despite having been damaged by violence and represents the spirit of the country. Colonial churches coexist side by side with modern art institutions, and dilapidated structures are adorned with colorful street art.

Although Bogotá’s population growth has created issues for urbanization, the city’s cultural landscape is thriving, throbbing with famous theatrical shows and salsa rhythms. With its various populations looking forward to a vibrant future, this city is always striving to get past its difficult past.

Colombia’s capital and largest city, Bogotá, is a key hub for politics, business, government, industry, culture, and education in the northern part of South America. It is administered as the Capital District and has the same administrative standing as the departments of Colombia, although not being a part of the neighboring department of Cundinamarca.

As of the 2018 census, Bogotá has 7,412,566 people living inside its city borders, or 4,310 people per square kilometer. This makes the city highly populated. Rural-to-urban migration has been a major trend in the 20th and 21st centuries, driven by industrialization and societal problems including poverty and crime.

There is a sizable floating population in the city, believed to number up to 4 million, primarily made up of displaced persons and migrant laborers. Government initiatives to import capital goods, with the city serving as a major destination for these imports, support Bogotá’s role as a major economic and industrial hub.

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4. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The lively embrace of samba meets sun-kissed beaches in Rio de Janeiro, the City of God, creating an enticing song. The city’s 6.7 million residents celebrate life in rhythm and color, emulating its carefree attitude. Rio pulsates with an undeniable attraction, from the renowned Christ the Redeemer monument above the skyline to the explosive intensity of Carnival.

But despite all the glamour and flash, socioeconomic inequality still exists. However, the city’s unwavering energy is evident and promises to keep the samba rhythms pulsing for many years to come.

The capital and second most populous city in the state of Rio de Janeiro, as well as the sixth most populated in the Americas, is Rio de Janeiro. Established by the Portuguese in 1565, it has been the administrative center of colonial, imperial, and republican administrations throughout Brazil’s history.

Rio de Janeiro, known for its breathtaking scenery, lively culture, and well-known sites, welcomes millions of tourists each year. Along with beautiful beaches like Copacabana and Ipanema, the city is well-known for its carnival, samba, and bossa nova. Among the famous sites are Sugarloaf Mountain and the Christ the Redeemer monument atop Corcovado Mountain.

Rio de Janeiro has held major international events like the Summer Olympics in 2016 while the G20 summit is scheduled in November 2024. Due to the city’s history of European colonialism and African enslavement, its population is diversified, having sizable percentages of White, Mixed, and Black Brazilians. Rio de Janeiro is still a major cultural and economic hub for Brazil and the surrounding area today.

5. Santiago, Chile

Santiago is a sanctuary of contemporary architecture and fascinating cultural history, tucked away at the base of the snow-capped Andes. With its 5.6 million residents, it embodies the progressive spirit of the country, as shown by its green areas, vibrant cultural scene, and social conscience.

Santiago’s history hums in its colonial center and the storied Plaza de Armas, even as its contemporary skyline glitters beneath the Andean sun. This city, which is always balancing innovation and tradition, offers a window into Chile’s bright future.

Santiago is the main and capital city of Chile, sometimes referred to as Santiago de Chile, and it is situated in the central valley of the country. Several major firms have their regional headquarters located there, making it the political, financial, and industrial hub of Chile. With millions of people living in the Santiago Metropolitan Region, the city accounts for 40% of Chile’s total population.

Over the course of its history, Santiago has seen substantial population expansion due to migration from rural and mining settlements as well as high fertility rates. Alongside the city’s growth has come urban development, as seen by the expansive suburban regions and contemporary skyline.

With a strong economy that accounts for 45% of Chile’s GDP and a low level of public debt, Santiago is a popular destination for immigrants from both the US and Europe. The metropolis is home to South America’s largest subway system, the Metro de Santiago, as well as a burgeoning theater and restaurant scene, a plethora of retail malls, and other contemporary transit facilities.

Santiago is characterized by socioeconomic differences, with the western part of the city often being poorer than the eastern communes, despite its economic boom.

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6. Buenos Aires, Argentina

Argentina’s main city, Buenos Aires, is a city of love and romance, with avenues lined with ancient buildings and tango music permeating the air. Buenos Aires, with more than 3 million population, is a city full of beauty, from the wide boulevards of Recoleta to the vibrant homes of La Boca. Buenos Aires provides an absolutely unique experience, whether you want to have a delicious steak meal or see a late-night tango performance.

Argentina’s capital and primate city, Buenos Aires, is situated on the western bank of the Río de la Plata and is well-known for its pleasant breezes. According to the Globalization and World Cities Research Network, it is a major international metropolis ranked as an Alpha global city. It was taken out of the Province of Buenos Aires and given federal autonomy in 1880. Its city borders were then enlarged to encompass other towns.

Buenos Aires itself, which had a population of about 2.9 million in 2010, has not changed much, but the neighboring districts have grown considerably. The population is comparatively old, with a sizable percentage of those over sixty. While poverty rates are relatively low in the city proper, they are greater in the metropolitan region, where two thirds of the population resides in apartment complexes.

Argentina’s financial, industrial, and commercial centers are located in Buenos Aires, where the country’s economy is greatly influenced by a highly diverse services industry. The city is especially well-known for its financial and real estate services industry, which has a big role in the country’s banking system. Furthermore, Buenos Aires has a thriving tourist sector, with a large number of hotels welcoming both domestic and foreign guests.

7. Belo Horizonte, Brazil

Though smaller than its rivals, the capital of Brazil’s Minas Gerais state, Belo Horizonte, is home to a plethora of cultural attractions. Belo Horizonte is a city on the rise, from its contemporary architecture to its lively arts scene. Belo Horizonte provides a unique experience of Brazilian friendliness, whether you want to explore the charming Praça da Liberdade or eat at one of the numerous restaurants in the city.

The capital of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, is home to around 2.5 million people and is the sixth-largest city in Brazil. The city’s metropolitan region is home to about millions of people. With its mix of modern and traditional architecture, it took the place of Ouro Preto as the state capital when it was planned in the late 1800s.

The city is surrounded by enormous parks that offer natural beauty and variety, and it is situated amid hills and mountains. Belo Horizonte has received recognition for its efforts in food security and urban renewal. Notably, it had important athletic events in addition to the FIFA World Cup in 1950 and 2014.

A sizable portion of the population of the city is white, mixed, and black, and there is a discernible Italian cultural and culinary influence. It acts as a significant economic center and is home to many Brazilian and international businesses, especially in the service industry.

Due to the region’s abundant natural resources, particularly iron ore, Belo Horizonte’s industrial sector has historically been associated with the siderurgical and metallurgical sectors. The economic significance and growth trajectory of the city are reflected in its GDP and per capita income in recent years.

Conclusion

The biggest cities in South America are thriving centers of innovation, culture, and history that showcase the variety and vibrancy of the continent. Every South American city provides a distinct window into the spirit of the continent, whether it is the tall skyscrapers of São Paulo or the streets of Buenos Aires dating back to the colonial era.

Discovering these cities offers a wide range of experiences, from Rio de Janeiro’s vibrant carnival celebrations to Lima’s historic ruins. Whether exploring vibrant marketplaces or taking in architectural wonders, travelers are treated to a sensory-engaging mix of sights, sounds, and flavors.

These cities, however, are more than their surface-level numbers and monuments. They are breathing, living things that are molded by the goals and desires of the people who live there. Every city has its own distinct rhythm, enticing visitors to get fully immersed in its narrative, from the passionate tango dancers of Buenos Aires to the cutting-edge tech companies of São Paulo.

These cities, which provide more than just statistics on a map but also fascinating stories that are just waiting to be uncovered in the pulse of their streets and the gaze of their citizens, are beacons of development and opportunity as they continue to expand and change. The biggest cities in South America are more than simply travel destinations; they serve as entry points to life-changing experiences and amazing memories. 

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FAQs

Which South American City has the Most Population?

With a population of over 12.3 million, São Paulo, Brazil, is the most populous city in South America.

What is the Cultural Significance of Rio de Janeiro?

Rio de Janeiro is well known for its exuberant carnival celebrations, breathtaking scenery, and exciting music scene, which includes the samba dance and music.

What is Lima, Peru, Famous for?

Lima is well-known for its exquisite food, which includes the city’s signature ceviche, as well as its rich history and colonial architecture.

How does Buenos Aires Differ from other South American Cities?

The European-style architecture, lively tango culture, and world-famous steak and wine are the main draws of Buenos Aires.

What Attractions can Visitors Explore in Santiago, Chile?

Santiago has a variety of both historical and contemporary attractions, such as vibrant marketplaces and top-notch museums.

Oleksandra Mamchii

Working as a academic lead at Best Diplomats.

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