A treasure chest of history and culture, and mass of land consuming almost 4% of the earths surface, filled with more than 590 million people, from different paths and walks of life. What I will be giving you today is an insight into the names and meanings of some of the most well known cities in South America.

Machu Picchu

Lets start the trip off with Cusco, a legendary city located in the heart or Peru; founded in 1100, a population of 360 thousand and very close to a popular Incan trail to Machu Picchu. A popular destination for any travels making the trip to South America, Cuzco has its name rooted in the Aymara language, the indigenous name is ‘Qusqu’ which originated from a phrase, ‘qusqu wanka,’ meaning ‘Rock of the owl.’ When the Spanish arrived in the early 1500s, they translated the name to Cuzco, and now both this spelling and the ‘Cusco’ spellings are recognized.

Next up is Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay, and an often overlooked place within South America. Calm and relaxed compared to it’s neighbors in Argentina and Brazil, Montevideo homes about 1.8 million people, and is currently under the watchful eye of one of the most humble presidents you could find in José Mujica. Cerro de Montevideo is a hill nearby the city, ‘Monte’ is Spanish for ‘mountain’ and thus it is here where the first part of the cities name originates from, unfortunately the rest is under debate; there is the belief that Montevideo came from the phrase ‘Monte vide eu’ a mix of dialects that translate to “I saw a mount,” yet this idea is refuted by some.


To mention Colombia will probably cause images of cocaine traffickers and armed soldiers to roll though your imaginations, yet this country has become far safer than its violent history would suggest, and is quickly becoming a tourist destination due to the amazing beaches and wonderful wildlife. Within Colombia there is a city that was chosen as the most innovative city in the world, big words for the city known as Medellín, which sits in the center of the country with a little over 2.7 million inhabitants. The name has changed many times in the past: Abúrra de los Yamesíes, San Lorenzo de Aburrá, San Lorenzo de Aná, Valle de San Bartolomé, and Villa de la Candelaria de Medellín. There is a city in Spain with the same name and that is where the name came, sorry about the rhyming, but it’s true; the Spanish city was founded as Metellinum in 75 BC. Later the President of the Council of the West Indies asked the Spanish monarchy to give the name to the Colombian city, and the request was granted.

Buenos Aires

There are of course many other interesting and history filled cities within the great continent, to name a few more there is Buenos Aires, meaning Good Air, Rio de Janeiro, or the River of January, and Santiago, which is named after a figure from the Bible.


Do you know of any other cities interesting past or etymology? Are there any you would like to know?