South America’s first human settlements date to nearly 10,000 B.C., but it’s a city built around 1400 A.D. that really made its mark on the continent. Machu Picchu, Peru’s "lost city of the Incas," is a mountaintop marvel that draws thousands of visitors each year. Historians believe that the city was built as a vacation site for a pre-Columbian emperor, a collection of polished stone homes and temples that might have catered to the royal entourage each summer.
Other cities also stand as major chapters in South American history. Buenos Aires, Argentina; Lima, Peru; and Caracas, Venezuela, were founded by the Spanish in the early 16th century, and that colonial influence can be seen in the food, language, customs and carefully preserved architecture of each city to this day. Brazil, meanwhile, was conquered by Portugal in the early 1500s, so Portuguese is spoken there. Other destinations, including large areas of Bolivia and Paraguay, still prefer indigenous dialects over European speech.
Cities like Cartagena, Columbia, represent modern history. Several monuments celebrate Simon Bolivar, a politician who fought for the region’s independence from Spain in the early 19th century.