The 20 Biggest Capitals of Spanish Speaking Countries

Spanish is one of the few languages that is spoken on multiple different continents. After English and Mandarin Chinese, no other language is more widespread, reaching across four different continents and 20 different countries.

The Spanish language can trace its origins back to 210 B.C. when the Romans first touched land along the Iberian Peninsula off of Spain and Portugal.

The original Spanish language would be almost unrecognizable to modern ears, as it has changed and evolved significantly over the centuries.

The development of the language sped up drastically when Columbus set sail in 1492 and began colonizing the modern world.

People from around the globe came to know this tongue, and it is now one of the most spoken languages in the entire world.

Today, Spanish is one of the most spoken languages in North America, with more than 43 million native speakers in the United States alone.

Globally, about 572 million people speak Spanish as their first language, and 20 countries consider it their official language.

Below you’ll find a list of the 20 biggest capitals of Spanish-speaking countries ranked by population.

*Note that population figures are used from 2015 data, as this is the most comprehensive year for all 20 countries listed below.

The Biggest Capitals of Spanish Speaking Countries

NumberCapitalCountryPopulation (in millions)
1Mexico CityMexico 8.9
2LimaPeru 8.9
3BogotaColombia 7.9
4SantiagoChile 5.5
5CaracasVenezuela 3.3
6MadridSpain 3.1
7Buenos AiresArgentina 3.1
8AsuncionParaguay 3
9QuitoEcuador 2.6
10HavanaCuba 2.1
11MontevideoUruguay 1.4
12TegucigalpaHonduras 1.2
13ManaguaNicaragua1
14Santo DomingoDominican Republic1
15Guatemala CityGuatemala 0.9
16Panama CityPanama 0.5
17San JoseCosta Rica0.3
18SucreBolivia 0.3
19MalaboEquatorial Guinea0.3
20San SalvadorEl Salvador0.2

1. Mexico City, Mexico – 8.919 million

Mexico

Mexico City is home to the largest Spanish-speaking population in the world, with nearly 9 million inhabitants as of 2015.

Before the Spanish conquest of Mexico in 1518, many Mesoamerican civilizations could be found in this region, including the Aztec, Mayan, Toltec, Olmec, Teotihuacan, and Zapotec empires. Eventually, these civilizations would fall, and the Spanish people and language would come to rule.

This densely populated capital city is located high in the mountains of central Mexico. Vibrant and fast-paced, Mexico City is an important hub for finance, politics, culture, and cuisine.

2. Lima, Peru – 8.894 million

Peru

Peru’s capital city of Lima is the second most populated capital city of any Spanish-speaking country.

With a history similar to that of Mexico, Lima was made up of a variety of indigenous civilizations before the Spanish colonized the country that we now know as Peru.

But it wasn’t just the Spanish who have laid ruin to the city of Lima. Throughout history, massive earthquakes have plagued this capital city, forcing the people of Lima to rebuild time and time again.

Amazingly, much of the colonial architecture and even some of the ancient vestiges have remained intact, and tourists flock to the historic center of the city to learn more about Lima’s noble history.

Some of Lima’s other claims to fame include its gastronomic traditions, epic surfing opportunities, and colorful sunsets over the Pacific.

3. Bogota, Colombia – 7.862 million

Bogota

Colombia was one of the first countries to fall to Spanish rule back in 1499, though the city of Bogota wasn’t always the capital. During the Spanish rule, Bogota’s smaller region of Santa Fe was considered the capital.

After Colombia gained independence in 1810, Bogota would eventually become the country’s official capital.

The Santa Fe district of Bogota is a popular area to this day, and its historic roots make it a great place to get a hefty dose of Colombian history. While in town, don’t miss the La Candelaria district for more colonial-era landmarks.

While it would be a tall task to detail all the highlights of this massive city, some other areas of interest include Bolivar Square, the Museo del Oro, and the Monserrate Sanctuary.

Whatever you do, do not leave town before gulping down a steaming bowl of Ajiaco soup!

4. Santiago, Chile – 5.507 million

Santiago

Santiago is the capital of Chile and the fourth most populated capital city of any Spanish-speaking country with about 5.5 million inhabitants as of 2015.

The country of Chile was not discovered by the Spanish until 1520, and Santiago was established in 1541. Strategically placed in a valley below the snow-capped Andes Mountains, Santiago is as scenic as it is modern.

The streets are filled with tall skyscrapers and eclectic art galleries, and after the sun goes down you can hear music bumping until morning in the Barrio Bellavista district.

While the capital city plays on modern desires, there are still plenty of colonial landmarks to be seen in the city’s historic district.

Some of the top sites include the Cathedral, the Courts of Justice, and the Main Square that sits at the center of it all.

5. Caracas, Venezuela – 3.290 million

Caracas

After being ruled by Spain for over 300 years, it’s no surprise that Venezuela claims one of the largest Spanish-speaking populations in the world. The city of Caracas was founded in 1567 and became the country’s capital in 1577.

It has remained the capital throughout its history, and today it is home to over 3 million residents. Situated in a mountainous valley in northern Venezuela, Caracas is exceptionally scenic.

That being said, this city also has a dark side.

Years of political unrest, pollution, overcrowding, and poverty have transformed Caracas from a glamorous must-see destination into a decaying metropolis riddled with crime, corruption, and starvation.

6. Madrid, Spain – 3.142 million

Madrid

The Spanish language is derived from Spain, so it stands to reason that the country’s capital (Madrid) would house one of the largest Spanish-speaking populations in the world. However, Madrid has not always been the Spanish capital.

The country of Spain can trace its origins all the way back to the 9th century when the Palacio Royal (or Royal Palace) was built in Cordoba.

The city of Toledo also served as a capital before King Phillip II moved the courts to Madrid in 1561. While Madrid is not the oldest city in Spain, there is still plenty of history to soak up.

With ancient temples, Roman Basilicas, historic squares, and 16th-century monasteries, you’d never guess that Madrid hasn’t always been at the center of Spanish culture.

The city also has a modern side, with plenty of museums, world-class restaurants, and top-rated hotels.

7. Buenos Aires, Argentina – 3.054 million

Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires has served as the capital of Argentina since it was first colonized by Spain back in the 16th century.

Unlike some of the other colonized countries in South America, Argentina was not deemed important enough to colonize due to its lack of silver and gold.

It was therefore combined with the Viceroyalty of Peru until 1776 when the Viceroyalty of La Plata was formed.

Today, Buenos Aires is a fast-paced cosmopolitan capital known for its meats, tango, and culture. It is also known as one of the most beautiful capital cities in South America.

It was not all roses after Argentina gained its independence, however, and the thriving capital city you see today is not the result of years of peace.

The country saw civil wars break out almost immediately after gaining independence from Spain, and from 1976 to 1983 Argentina was under the rule of a brutal dictatorship.

There are many museums around the capital that detail this sordid past, in addition to other important historical architecture and landmarks.

8. Asuncion, Paraguay – 2.967 million

Asuncion

Paraguay is a small, landlocked country between Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, and its capital city of Asuncion is the 8th biggest capital of Spanish-speaking countries by population.

Asuncion was established by Spaniards after their colonization of the indigenous tribes that once ruled the area. After 300 years of Spanish rule, Paraguay gained its independence, but the capital has remained the same.

Today, Asuncion is a thriving and well-organized city that has not seen the same squalor as some of the other Spanish-speaking capital cities.

Asuncion is a great combination of modern and historic in terms of museums, architecture, and landmarks.

9. Quito, Ecuador – 2.552 million

Quito

Quito, Ecuador is the 9th biggest Spanish-speaking capital in the world, with about 2.5 million residents as of 2015.

It is the closest capital city to the equator, and it’s the only capital city in the entire world that sits directly next to an active volcano.

Quito was not always the capital, however, and Ecuador did not become its own country until 1830. The Spanish ruled the area that is present-day Ecuador until 1820 when it gave Gran Colombia independence.

This was a large area that included modern-day Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Venezuela, and parts of Peru, Brazil, and Guyana.

You can see the influence of the country’s history in the capital, which sits high in the foothills atop the foundations of an ancient Incan city.

From the 16th and 17th century churches to the indigenous style structures and well-preserved colonial center, Quito is a city all its own.

10. Havana, Cuba – 2.118 million

Cuba is a country located in the Caribbean Ocean just off the coast of Florida. Cuba did not gain independence from Spain until 1902, making it one of the last countries to do so.

The capital city of Havana is the 10th largest capital city of Spanish-speaking countries. With a history of piracy, colonialism, mobster rule, and revolutions, Cuba and its capital city are unlike any other.

Havana was founded in 1515, and it was later used as a strategic outpost to help the Spanish further colonize the Americas. Today, Havana is a colorful hub for culture and cuisine and it’s as audacious as it is interesting.

While in town, check out some of the local cafes and bohemian bars to get a real taste of this unique city.

11. Montevideo, Uruguay – 1.380 million

Montevideo

Montevideo is the capital of Uruguay, a Spanish-speaking country located in the southeastern region of South America.

Uruguay was ruled by Spain for nearly 100 years, and the influence can be seen in the language and culture of modern Uruguayos.

Although Uruguay was colonized much later than most of its neighbors, the Portuguese beat the Spaniards to the draw and began colonizing the indigenous tribes that ruled the area in 1680.

Because of the Portuguese presence and the location along the Brazilian border, Portuguese is commonly spoken in Uruguay and Montevideo.

While much has changed about Montevideo since the Spanish rule, the city still revolves around the La Plaza de la Independencia, which was once home to a Spanish citadel but is now a symbol of the country’s independence.

The Old Town has also been mostly preserved, and you can still see colonial-style homes and landmarks throughout this area.

12. Tegucigalpa, Honduras – 1.190 million

Tegucigalpa

Before the Spanish conquest of Central America during the 16th century, Honduras was populated by a variety of Mesoamerican cultures, including the Mayans.

Today, Honduras is a mix of indigenous and Spanish culture, and its capital city of Tegucigalpa is the 12th largest capital city of any Spanish-speaking country by population.

In 2015, Tegucigalpa was home to nearly 1.2 million people. The city sits in a valley and is surrounded by mountains, giving residents a beautiful view no matter where they are in the city.

Tegucigalpa is renowned for its well-preserved colonial architecture, along with the Plaza Morazan which features the 18th-century Cathedral of Saint Michael the Archangel.

For a better look into Honduras’s complex history, don’t miss the Museum of National Identity, located in the northern section of Tegucigalpa.

13. Managua, Nicaragua – 1.048 million

Managua

Situated on the stunning shores of Lake Managua (also known by its indigenous name: Lago Xolotlan) sits Nicaragua’s capital city, Managua.

With just over one million inhabitants as of 2015, Managua is the 13th biggest capital city of all the Spanish-speaking countries by population.

After being ruled by Spain for over 300 years, the country of Nicaragua adopted much of its colonizer’s culture, including the language.

Today, Managua is a culmination of historic sites, revolutionary landmarks, culture, commerce, and nature.

14. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic – 1.008 million

Santo Domingo

The Dominican Republic and its capital city (Santo Domingo) have a long history of Spanish rule. It was the first country and the first city to become a settlement of the Americas under Spanish rule.

Although it won its independence from Spain in 1821, in 1822 it was annexed by Haiti, with whom it shares the island of Hispaniola.

It was placed under Spanish rule again after gaining its freedom from Haiti, but the Dominican Republic won its independence for a final time after the Dominican War of Restoration in 1865.

Today Santo Domingo is the 14th largest capital city in terms of population amongst other Spanish-speaking countries.

While it is a city laden with historical landmarks and beautiful cobblestone walls, Santo Domingo is one of the most modern and well-developed cities in all of the Caribbean.

15. Guatemala City, Guatemala – 994,078

Guatemala

Although the country of Guatemala was founded during the 16th century when Spain began its colonization of Central America, the current day capital of Guatemala City was not established until much later.

Throughout Spain’s rule, the capital of Guatemala changed a whopping four times! These changes were due to war and natural disasters, but Guatemala City has been the capital of Guatemala since it was founded in 1776.

Today, Guatemala City holds the title of the 15th biggest capital city of Spanish-speaking countries.

Known for its high altitude, a nearby volcano, and its indigenous and colonial history, Guatemala City is a vibrant and utterly unforgettable city.

16. Panama City, Panama – 468,843

Panama

Linking two oceans, two continents, and two different countries, Panama is a country unlike any other. After being under Spanish rule for more than three centuries, the language and culture stuck.

Panama City counted nearly half a million inhabitants in 2015, making it the 16th largest capital city of Spanish-speaking countries.

The original Panama City was burnt to a crisp after an attack in 1671, and you can still see the ruins of Panama La Vieja (Old Panama) today.

The new city was built just five miles away from the original, and today it’s one of the most modern cities in the Caribbean.

That being said, it honors its history with the old plazas and other historic landmarks that still reside in the city to this day.

17. San Jose, Costa Rica – 333,980

San Jose

Situated in the center of the country, San Jose is the capital of Costa Rica. It is the 17th biggest capital of all the Spanish-speaking countries, and just like most of its counterparts, it was ruled by Spain for hundreds of years.

Today, it is considered an urban jungle and a traditional Central American city, and San Jose offers up the best of both worlds for residents and tourists alike.

This capital city boasts world-class museums, vibrant nightlife, a large collection of historic buildings, and tons of verdant parks all over the city.

Tourism is a pillar of the economy in Costa Rica, so locals are very friendly to tourists and will go out of their way to make you feel comfortable in their country.

18. Sucre, Bolivia – 275,569

Sucre

*Note that data for Sucre was taken from 2014 as no data from 2015 is available

Bolivia’s capital city of Sucre has a population of about 275,000, making it the 18th biggest capital city of any Spanish-speaking country by population. While the city may be small, it has tons to offer.

One of the most notable aspects of Sucre is its history. Bolivia gained its independence relatively young compared to some of the other countries in South America (1809), but this was only after 16 years of war with Spain.

Even with all the destruction that war brings, Sucre managed to preserve much of its colonial architecture. In fact, it is known for being one of the most intact colonial cities in all of South America.

The white-washed walls of the colonial houses, along with the ornate colonial church, make Sucre a charming place to visit. Come for the history, stay for the epic nightlife and the tantalizing food scene.

19. Malabo, Equatorial Guinea – 257,000

Malabo

Equatorial Guinea is the only Spanish-speaking country in Africa, though there are two other official languages as well (French and Portuguese). Even so, about two-thirds of the country can and does speak Spanish.

Unlike most of the other Spanish-speaking countries around the world, Equatorial Guinea was not colonized by Spain until 1778. Previously, the Portuguese ruled this Central African nation since 1472.

Equatorial Guinea did not gain its independence from the Spanish until 1968, making it one of the most recent countries to do so.

Its capital city of Malabo is located on the island of Bioko, though it is set to change as soon as the new capital city, Ciudad de la Paz (or City of Peace) is done being constructed.

Formerly known as Oyala, this city was chosen as the new capital due to its mild climate and its easily accessible location on the mainland.

20. San Salvador, El Salvador – 247,959

San Salvador

*Note that data for San Salvador was taken from 2016 as no data from 2015 is available

Last on our list of the biggest capital cities of Spanish-speaking countries by population is San Salvador, El Salvador.

The country was ruled by the Spanish Empire from 1609 to 1821 and was then a part of the First Mexican Empire until 1841.

While it has been its own country for more than a century, El Salvador has also seen violent gang rule in recent years, with as many as 25,000 gang members still at large throughout the country.

San Salvador’s small population could be traced back to El Salvador’s overall small population or the uptick in gang violence, but it could also be due to the number of natural disasters that have occurred there over the years.

San Salvador was completely destroyed by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions twice, once in 1756 and once in 1854. It has also suffered serious damage in recent years and doesn’t seem poised to stop any time soon.

Even with all the natural disasters, the population of San Salvador will likely grow at a rapid pace in the coming years.

The city has undergone a major facelift, with more areas being paved, pedestrianized, and filled with verdant parks. Its location near both the mountains and the ocean is another huge draw to San Salvador.