My Top 20 Best Latin American Telenovelas From Every Country

Carolina

Carolina

Argentinian Carolina has an extensive movie background in the cinematic universe. She is our resident TV analyst and a seasoned expert in global streaming platforms. She showcases her comprehensive knowledge through her love for Netflix 'Originals', Frozen, The Good Place, and The Dragon Prince.

Telenovelas are a popular culture TV format born in Latin America. If you want to know more about how Telenovelas have evolved through the years, we have a dedicated article on the subject.

Now, let’s focus on the most iconic telenovelas from the main producer countries in Latin America.

As you may notice, Brazil is not included in this list because it deserves a dedicated chapter which I’ve written separately.

Sadly, nowadays, these countries aren’t the top telenovela producers anymore. Some of them, like Argentina and Venezuela, have been going through a forever economic, political, and social crisis that has influenced TV fiction production.

On this list, I’ve chosen the most iconic titles from each country, with most of them being classics from the ’80s and ’90s.

Let’s dive into the fascinating world of Latin American telenovelas.

How to watch these telenovelas

The older the telenovela is, the harder it is to find it online.

However, some users on YouTube have made a service to the world and uploaded complete telenovelas on their channels. Of course, this is not an official source, but worse would be having no access to them.

Streaming services are incorporating telenovelas in their catalogues, not only in their Latin American libraries but worldwide.

Amazon Prime Video is a good example.

Netflix has done the same and also is producing some telenovelas under the new format of a super series.

However, if you want to get access to a great amount of Latin American telenovelas, the streaming platform ViX is the solution.

If you are not sure if these services are available in your country, please check our dedicated guides to access them from everywhere.

Argentina

As it happened in most Latin American countries, telenovelas began their run in the mid-50s, once the TV was established with different show formats.

In the beginning, telenovelas were called teleteatros (like teleplay), because they were like plays broadcast live.

Between 1956 and 1976, telenovelas followed the standard formula common in all Latin America. However, when the military dictatorship began in 1976, censorship was the rule.

The end of the 70s and the beginning of the 80s was when telenovelas turned into an industrial process in all Latin American countries, but Argentina missed this chance.

In the 80s and 90s, Argentina caught up for the lost time and began to produce telenovelas that were exported to several countries.

Currently, Argentina has stopped producing telenovelas at the same rate as before because of the high costs and the deep economic crisis.

The dollar devaluation and high inflation have made it almost impossible to keep up with the production costs.

1. Rolando Rivas, Taxista (Rolando Rivas, Taxi Driver) (1972)

This telenovela, broadcast in black and white, is the most successful in Argentina’s history.

With a total of 68 episodes aired once a week in the prime time slot, it was ahead of its time in addressing social and costumbrists topics, portraying Argentine traditions, mostly from the Buenos Aires life style.

The love story between Rolando Rivas, a taxi driver from the working class, and a young woman from a rich family stopped the whole country when it was on air.

Besides the melodramatic elements, which are the trademark of any telenovela, Rolando Rivas also addressed political issues and used breaking the 4th wall as a tool to connect with the audience.

This telenovela was the vehicle for Claudio García Satur y Soledad Silveyra that launched them to stardom. Rolando Rivas, taxista can be found on YouTube on the official Volver channel.

2. Rosa…de lejos (Rosa…from far away) (1980)

One of the first telenovelas to use recording technology and broadcast in colour, Rosa…de lejos, was an icon in the 80s, breaking records of audience viewership numbers.

This telenovela is a remake of Simplemente María, another Argentine telenovela from the 60s that was broadcast in black and white.

Rosa…de lejos follows Rosa María Ramos, a provincial girl who goes to Buenos Aires looking for a job to help her father and eight siblings.

The story follows all the tropes of the telenovelas. It was broadcast daily at noon and lasted for 264 episodes. Leonor Benedetto portrayed Rosa, a character that launched her into fame.

3. La extraña dama (The Mysterious Lady) (1989)

Besides being considered one of the best Argentine telenovelas of all time, La extraña dama has a soft spot in my memories.

It was the first telenovela I was hooked on, although I jumped on the wagon late. When we were visiting my grandparents in the country, once the telenovela started, my grandpa made us watch it.

My mom and I were hooked and never missed an episode until the end. La extraña dama follows Gina Falconi, played by Luisa Kuliok, a woman in love with a rich young man, Marcelo Ricciardi.

Both love each other, but they’re separated, and soon, she finds out she’s pregnant. She hides in a convent and takes the vows as a nun.

However, every night she leaves behind her nun robes to become the mysterious lady to be near Marcelo and her daughter.

La extraña dama kept the whole country on the edge, making people forget for an hour the deep economic crisis they were sinking in.

4. Perla Negra (Black Pearl) (1994)

Perla Negra is another telenovela that has a special place in my heart. When my mom moved with my grandma, I was alone at home.

We watched the telenovela at the same time, and the next day, we commented on it. It was an exercise to stay connected.

Perla Negra follows a young woman named Perla (Andrea del Boca), who was abandoned when she was a baby at an exclusive boarding school along with 22 black pearls to pay for her education.

At school, Perla grows up with her best friend Eva. When Eva meets a young man named Tomás, she falls in love with him, and they become lovers. Tomás leaves her without knowing she’s pregnant.

Both Perla and Eva decide to raise the baby together. When Eva finds out she’s the only heir to her late grandfather’s cosmetic company, she decides to take Perla with her.

However, the plans are abruptly truncated when in a car accident Eva dies and Perla survives being confused with Eva by her family.

Now Perla takes Eva’s identity to keep her friend’s memory alive, raise the baby, and take revenge on Tomás. A remake named Perla Negra 2.0 was made as a web series streamed on YouTube in 2021.

5. Pequeña Victoria (Victoria Small) (2019)

Pequeña Victoria is part of the new trend of a hybrid format between a telenovela and a traditional TV series, commonly known as a super series.

Divided into two seasons, with a total of 51 episodes, Pequeña Victoria tells a story full of transgressions and progressive topics that weren’t addressed before in a telenovela.

A businesswoman decides to follow the path of clandestine surrogacy to become a mother and keep the balance between her personal life and job.

When the surrogate mother is about to give birth, she takes a taxi to the hospital and the driver, also a woman, decides to be involved in the event.

After the baby girl is born, a trans woman appears claiming to be the sperm donor.

In a twist against all odds, four women end up raising little Victoria: her biological mother, the surrogate mother, the taxi driver, and the trans woman who is the biological father.

Pequeña Victoria was nominated as Best Telenovela at the International Emmy Awards in 2020. Currently, it’s available on Prime Video worldwide.

Colombia

Colombia has been one of the most iconic telenovela producers for years. The first Colombian telenovela was En el nombre del amor (In the name of love) produced in 1963.

In the beginning, Colombia emphasized the cultural aspect of TV, for this reason, telenovelas used to be inspired and based on novels from universal literature.

In the 90s, Colombia started reaching the international market, and the telenovelas took the narrative standards from other countries.

Fernando Gaitán was one of the most prolific Colombian writers and producers.

1. Café con aroma de mujer (Coffee with the scent of a woman) (1994)

Created by Fernando Gaitán, Café con aroma de mujer is a classic telenovela that became a success worldwide.

The story follows Teresa Suarez, nicknamed Gaviota, and her mother. Both are coffee harvesters who travel all across Colombia the whole year searching for work.

Every October, they go to the Casablanca farmland, where the owner, Octavio Vallejo, secures them the job. But one year, Vallejo dies, and his family, who is spread around the world, comes back for the funeral.

There, Gaviota meets Sebastian Vallejo, Vallejo’s grandson. Both fall in love with each other and become lovers secretly. Sebastian must go back to London to complete his studies.

Gaviota finds out she’s pregnant, and without any means to contact him, she decides to go to London by herself. There, she is deceived by a human trafficking network and ends up working as a prostitute in Paris.

If you want to know if this story has a happy ending or not, I highly recommend you to watch it.

Café con aroma de mujer broke with several tropes from traditional telenovelas. A strong female character, portraying rural and modern Colombia alongside the culture of the coffee harvest were some of the points that made this telenovela stand out.

A remake was produced in 2021 with some updates according to current times. The original telenovela can be found on streaming on ViX in the US and Latin America, and Prime Video in Latin America.

2. Yo soy Betty, la fea (I am Betty, the Ugly one)(1999)

Betty, la fea was and still is a worldwide phenomenon. Included in the Guinness World Records as the most-watched telenovela in the whole world, it was also written by Fernando Gaitán.

The key to success was the balanced mix of melodrama, romance and humour. The story follows Beatriz Pinzón Solano, commonly named Betty, played by Ana María Orozco. She’s a brilliant young woman who graduated in economics still living with her parents in Bogotá.

Her only “flaw” is she’s not attractive, by society’s standards, and she dresses in an old-fashioned way. However, her strength is in her intelligence. And this is the most positive message from this telenovela.

Betty finds it hard to get a good job because the labour world, mostly ruled by men, chooses women based on their appearance.

When she gets a job as secretary to the president of a company named Ecomoda, she becomes the right hand to recently appointed president Armando Mendoza, played by Jorge Enrique Abello.

Of course, as any telenovela, they fall for each other and have a lot of obstacles to fully release their relationship.

Betty is the Cinderella fairy tale in a nutshell, but the key in this story is seeing Armando falling for Betty for her brains and not for her body.

This telenovela was an immediate success in the whole of Iberoamerica and an international success being aired in 180 countries, dubbed into 25 languages, and adapted 28 times around the world.

The most iconic adaptation being from the US under the title of Ugly Betty and with America Ferrera as the titular character. Betty la fea can be found on Peacock TV in the US and Prime Video in Latin America.

3. Pasión de gavilanes (Hidden Passion) (2003)

Pasión de gavilanes is a Colombian telenovela produced for Telemundo, the Hispanic channel in the US.

The story is based on the novela Las aguas mansas written by Julio Giménez, who also adapted the telenovela.

Two families, the Elizondos and Reyes, united by passions and affairs, see their lives torn apart when a tragedy affects both families.

A second season, released in 2022 and set 20 years after the events of the first series, was produced. Pasión de gavilanes is available on Netflix worldwide.

4. El zorro: la espada y la rosa (The Sword and the Rose) (2007)

Yes, you read it well, a telenovela about El Zorro. You may be familiarised with this character thanks to Disney’s classic TV series or the films starring Antonio Banderas.

Well, Diego de la Vega is back in the shape of a Colombian telenovela produced for Telemundo.

La espada y la rosa can be considered a super series, mixing action with traditional melodrama elements. With some changes in the character’s origin like instead of being a Spaniard, now Diego is a mestizo with a Spanish father and a native mother.

And although the overall plot of El Zorro fighting the corrupted tyrant of Spanish California, this telenovela has a high dose of romance, including a love triangle.

You can find El Zorro: la espada y la rosa on Atresplayer, the premium streaming service of the Spanish TV network Antena 3.

5. Rosario Tijeras (2010)

This Colombian telenovela can be situated in the subgenre known as narco novelas.

The story follows Rosario, a young woman raised in a dangerous neighbourhood in Medellin. After facing a lot of hardships, she becomes an assassin working for a big boss.

She meets two men from two wealthy families, and she sees herself torn between the love for both of them.

Rosario Tijeras is one of the most successful Colombian telenovelas. In 2016, a Mexican remake was produced. Rosario Tijeras can be found on Prime Video.

Mexico

Mexico was one of the pioneer countries in producing telenovelas. Sponsored by soap companies just like in the US, Mexican telenovelas always follow a traditional narrative based on the Cinderella structure and are highly influenced by the religious Mexican culture.

Currently, Mexico has lost its exclusive crown in the production of telenovelas because of the invasion of Turkish telenovelas.

1. Los ricos también lloran (The Rich Also Cry) (1979)

Los ricos también lloran was one of the first Mexican telenovelas that became an international success.

This telenovela also launched Mexican actress Verónica Castro to international fame. The story follows Mariana (Castro), a poor young woman who, after the death of her father, is left by herself. She gets to the big city, where she starts working as a maid at the house of the Salvatierra family.

There, she meets Luis Alberto Salvatierra, the family’s son. Although, at the beginning, they don’t get along so well, they end up falling for each other.

Of course, their love is not easy, and Mariana must face several threats and dangers. This telenovela has three remakes, the most successful one being Maria la del Barrio, starring Thalia.

The latest remake, also titled Los ricos también lloran, was produced in 2022 and belongs to the format of the super series. This telenovela, its latest remake, and Maria la del Barrio are available on the ViX streaming platform.

2. Quinceañera (Sweet 15) (1987)

Considered a progressive telenovela back in time because of the topics it addresses and also for being the first Mexican telenovela aimed at teenagers, Quinceañera is still among the best telenovelas of all time.

Quinceañera was the first telenovela in addressing sensitive topics such as drug abuse, date rape and gangs.

The story focuses on two best friends: Maricruz (Adela Noriega) and Beatriz (Thalia). Both are also classmates coming from different social backgrounds.

They’re about to turn 15 and excited for their quinceañera party. Two boys, mechanic’s apprentice Pancho and gang member Memo, are attracted to Maricruz.

The girl accepts Pancho’s advances, and Memo, in revenge rapes her. Maricruz’s brother, Gerardo, starts dating Beatriz.

When Beatriz gets pregnant, she receives the support of her family, although their first reaction was outrageous. You can find Quinceañera streaming on ViX.

3. Rosa salvaje (Wild Rose) (1987)

Rosa García, played by Verónica Castro, is a poor woman living with her godmother. She has no manners, she’s a tomboy, and solves situations by hitting and insulting.

After an encounter by chance with a man who belongs to a wealthy family, Rosa’s life will never be the same, trapped in a net of betrayal, jealousy, and intrigues.

Rosa salvaje is a great example of a Latin American telenovela with plot twists, secrets, and melodrama. You can find this telenovela on ViX.

4. La Usurpadora (Deceptions) (1998)

This Mexican telenovela is a remake of a Venezuelan one of the same name from 1971.

If you’re familiar with the classic story by Mark Twain, The Prince and the Pauper, you already know half the plot of this telenovela.

A rich woman, Paola Bracho, is bored with her rich life and decides to escape to Cancun with her lover. There, she meets Paulina Martinez, who works cleaning the bathrooms in a restaurant.

Both women are identical, and Paola proposes to Paulina to exchange places so she can run away with her lover. Paulina is reluctant to do this, but Paola manipulates to agree.

They exchange places and Paulina finds out that Paola is hated by her family because she’s selfish and unkind. Paulina gets used to Paola’s life, while Paola’s family falls in love with this new version of hers.

However, Paulina’s true identity is exposed, and everything gets complicated. Besides other versions and remakes, La usurpadora got another Mexican remake in 2019.

This telenovela is available for streaming on ViX.

5. La casa de las flores (The House of the Flowers) (2018)

The House of the Flowers is perfect for people who don’t like long telenovelas.

Divided in three seasons and with a total of 35 episodes, this series has all the elements you can easily find on a telenovela, but with the fast narrative of a TV series.

The House of the Flowers was produced for Netflix, hence the shorter format. Created, written, and directed by Manolo Caro, a young Mexican filmmaker who knows very well how telenovelas work, but also incorporates in his creations a lot from films and TV series.

The House of the Flowers works as a parody of telenovelas, with all the melodramatic ingredients, but at the same time with dark humour.

The series follows a dysfunctional upper-class Mexican family who owns a flower shop named The House of the Flowers.

The series also addresses topics in the LGBTQ+ spectrum, like bisexuality and transsexuality.

Since the series satirises telenovelas but at the same time takes from them the main elements, subverts traditional stereotypes from the Mexican telenovela like class, race, and morality. This series is considered as a new format called “the millennial telenovela”.

The House of the Flowers is available worldwide on Netflix.

Venezuela

Venezuela began its telenovela road at the same time as most Latin American countries. It was among the pioneers, and for decades, Venezuelan telenovelas were the icon of the genre, exported to the whole world.

However, in the 90s, after the so-called Bolivarian Revolution with Hugo Chavez in power, telenovelas started to decline.

The war Chavez made against private media is well-known, and this had a direct impact on the production of fiction.

Also, the huge economic and social crisis that has been in the country for decades was another important factor affecting the production of telenovelas.

There’s a rumour that after more than six years, Venezuela will be producing fiction again, it’s a matter of time to see if it bears fruit.

1. Topacio (1984)

Topacio was a huge international success and launched to fame its main actress, Grecia Colmenares.

This telenovela is a remake of Esmeralda, a black-and-white Venezuelan telenovela produced in the 70s and written by Cuban writer Delia Fiallo.

The story follows the titular character, a young woman who was born blind and was raised in a poor ranch.

Twenty years later, she meets a young man coming from Caracas who falls in love with her and decides to take her to the big city, suspecting her blindness may have a cure.

Of course, as in any telenovela, some secrets can turn the lives of the protagonists upside down, and things are more complicated than they look.

Besides this version, there have been three other remakes made in Brazil and Mexico.

2. Abigail (1988)

Abigail was the vehicle to fame for Venezuelan actress Catherine Fulop.

This telenovela tells the story of the titular character, a spoiled girl, the only daughter of a wealthy businessman. Abigail falls in love with her literature teacher, Carlos Alfredo.

After their affair, she gets pregnant and ends up giving her son to an unknown taxi driver in a rapture of madness.

Years later, her lost son breaks into her mansion to steal. Abigail is always seeking the love of Carlos Alfredo, but the are several obstacles are in her path.

This telenovela is available on ViX.

3. Cristal (1989)

Also written by Cuban writer Delia Fiallo, Cristal was an international success. Cristal was the first Latin American telenovela to conquer Spain.

The country was paralysed when Cristal was on air, and created a fandom and an obsession with Latin America.

Spain accepted the Venezuelan Spanish variation without complaining! The story is about an orphan girl abandoned by her mother when she was born and started working for a modelling agency when she grew up.

This is only the tip of the iceberg because the owner of the agency is her biological mother. I almost forgot to mention that her father is a priest.

This telenovela launched the protagonis pair, Jeanette Rodríguez, who played Cristina “Cristal” Expósito, and Carlos Mata, who played Luis Alfredo Ascanio, to international fame.

4. Kassandra (1992)

Based on the novel Peregrina by Delia Fiallo, this telenovela, besides being an international success, is considered even today as one of the most influential telenovelas.

The story follows the titular character, Kassandra, a young woman who grew up in a circus thinking she’s a Romani as well.

What she doesn’t know is that she is the granddaughter of a wealthy landowner whose stepson she has fallen for.

Kassandra was a success in the whole of Europe, mainly in the Eastern European countries. This telenovela it’s available on Prime Video in selected countries.

5. Mi prima Ciela (My Cousin Ciela) (2007)

This telenovela is special for the Venezuelan audience because when it started broadcasting on May 2, 2007, on RCTV, the concession to the channel ended 25 days later, because Chavez’s government didn’t allow the channel’s contract renewal.

So, the telenovela resumed its broadcasting on RCTV International, a cable channel.

Although the story is a remake of Elizabeth, a Venezuelan telenovela from the 80s, the writers managed to include the political and social crisis that was taking Venezuela and address the censorship and lack of freedom of speech in the story.

The telenovela follows three cousins who are best friends: Silvia, Maite, and Graciela (the titular character).

The girls are finishing high school, and the passing to the adult world is full of complicated and tragic events.

Silvia ends up pregnant with a boy who works for Graciela’s parents, Maite’s true calling is music, but her mother wants her to study medicine, and Graciela falls in love with a young man with a bad reputation.

However, they get married.

Things get worse when Ciela is diagnosed with bone marrow failure. Once she gets pregnant, her condition gets worse.

If you’re interested in watching Mi Prima Ciela, you can find it on Tubi in Australia, Canada and the US, and Vix in Latin America.

Summary

When I came up with the idea for this article, I needed to curate this list by leaving out several iconic telenovela titles in Latin America.

But the purpose of this article is just to give a general overview of the most influential telenovelas from Latin America.

Whether you’re a telenovelas fan or a newcomer, I hope you enjoy the titles in this article. Although some of them are not easy to find online, you still can get a glimpse on YouTube.

And if you already watched some of these telenovelas, please let me know which one is your favourite by dropping some lines in the message box below.

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