The Best Places to Experience South American Art, Culture and Music


South America is infamously diverse. From the awe-inspiring Amazon rainforest and the Andes to breath-taking Patagonian glaciers and the wide range of vibrant towns and cities. It is thanks to this diversity that this area is home to some of the most impressive art and music in the world, with an enviable culture that dates back centuries. Here, we recommend some of the must-see places to experience it all.

Espacio de Arte Contemporáneo, Uruguay

This contemporary art space is housed in the wing of Miguelete Jail in Montevideo, close by to the port. The Uruguayan government felt the derelict and neglected building should be used to showcase and encourage creativity. Open since 2010, the gallery occupies two floors and hosts exhibitions by national and international artists although lots of the work shown here has clear South American influences. Pay this one a visit and maybe even partake in one of the workshops that are on offer, in a truly atmospheric and unique space.

National Museum of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro

Nestled in city centre park, Quinta da Boa Vista, this museum is the oldest scientific institution in all of Brazil and one of the largest museums of natural history and anthropology in the Americas, so comes highly recommended. The ultra-grand building, built in 1818 was the residence of the Portuguese Royal Family as well as the Brazilian Imperial Family so is really steeped in history. The museum has a vast collection of over 20 million objects relating to natural science in the country so is the perfect day out if exploring the country’s roots, literally, is on your to-do list.

Museu Paulista, Sao Paulo

A Brazilian history museum that is situated near to the location of the most important events in the country’s history seems very apt, and this one is just that. It’s built on the site where Emperor Pedro I proclaimed Brazilian independence from Portugal in 1822. The museum, operated by the University of Sao Paulo, contains a huge collection of artwork, furniture and documents key to the Brazilian Empire era and is now surrounded by Independence Park’s perfectly manicured gardens. If you feel like venturing inland, Sao Paulo is definitely a contender. 

Museum of Portuguese Language, Sao Paulo

Also in the beautiful Sao Paulo city centre is this striking museum, situated in Luz train station. The choice of building isn’t a coincidence, but relates to the thousands of non-Portuguese speaking immigrants who have arrived through this station and the port of Sao Paulo. What better way to get under a country’s skin than explore the ways in which they’ve communicated over time? Striking a balance between new and ancient installations, this museum is the only one in the world dedicated to only one language. There are three main halls; a temporary exhibition, a permanent exhibition and an auditorium, all utilising interactivity to keep things engaging.

On your visit, expect to learn about the history of the Portuguese language as well as the changes it has undergone in Brazil. You’ll also see and hear cultural expressions and how the language is spoken with differing regional accents. The temporary exhibits are usually dedicated to local writers so are definitely worth a trip too.

National Museum of Visual Arts, Uruguay

Packed to the rafters with the work of Uruguayan artists, as well as some international contemporaries, this gallery style museum is placed in the leafy Parque Rodo are in Montevideo. This is a particularly varied collection, so is brilliant for understanding the influences of local artists past and present. The guided visits and workshops are also brilliant for true art lovers, as are the works that spill out into the surrounding gardens where modern sculpture and historic monuments await. For those still keen to research, pay a visit to the in-house library which has over 7,000 volumes of art history books, perfect for whiling away the hours. If you’re planning to visit, look on the gallery’s website, which is kept up to date, so see what installations will be showing in the coming months.

Imperial Museum of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro

This stunning neoclassical building was completed in 1862 with the purpose of serving as the Emperor’s summer residence. After this, it was used as a college, then converted into the museum we know today in 1940. The museum houses over 300,000 items, most of which belonged to the imperial family, perfectly illustrating their lives and giving an overview of the Brazilian Empire. There is also a temporary exhibition hall dedicated to local contemporary art. This museum gives a great education about the country’s history and is one of the most visited museums in Brazil.

Buenos Aires Latin American Art Museum, Argentina

Angular with a mixture of textures, this striking building is located in the Palermo area of Buenos Aires and is operated by a local not-for-profit organisation. The famous design is thanks to an open-call contest, which received proposals from over 45 countries. The winners were three, young, Argentinean architects. As another example of a museum-come-gallery, this one houses artwork from across Latin America but maintains a cultural edge by also including film exhibitions and develops cultural activities for its million visitors per year.

The collections in this museum span from the start of the 20th Century to the present day and the mission of MALBA, as it’s known locally, is to preserve, research and promote Latin American Art, in all of its forms. The works stored here celebrate the cultural and artistic diversity within Latin America and is a joy to visit. It’s clearly true that people from this corner of the world are extremely proud of their heritage.

If our favourite South American galleries and museums have inspired your inner culture vulture, give our friendly sales team a call to book your trip on 0808 2746 777 or visit our homepage.


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Claire has worked in the travel industry since leaving college in 1994. One of this blog's most regular contributors, Claire covers cruise news and industry trends.

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