Despite an improving knowledge of species distribution patterns in the Neotropics, the processes that underlie these patterns remain uncertain. The tribe Bignonieae (Bignoniaceae), with 21 genera and c. 400 species, is the largest clade of lianas in the Neotropics. The group is an excellent model for biogeographical and evolutionary studies as it is widely distributed and exhibits high levels of morphological diversity. Here, we investigate the biogeographical history of Bignonieae using a tribe-wide time-calibrated phylogenetic tree as a basis for ancestral area reconstructions. We examine four hypotheses for the origin and subsequent biogeographical spread of the tribe. Our analyses suggest that the crown group of Bignonieae originated in South American rainforests approximately 50 Mya. Ancestral area reconstructions for the early divergences are equivocal, although the resulting Adenocalymma–Neojobertia and core Bignonieae clades appear to have occurred in eastern South America and lowland Amazonia, respectively. Our analyses suggest that, following this initial split, most lineages of Bignonieae have been repeatedly exchanged between biogeographical areas. These events occurred over a broad time span and are likely to have had multiple drivers; climate drying and the Andean Orogeny may have been particularly important for shaping overall diversity. In Bignonieae, contemporary distribution patterns appear to have been strongly influenced by Holocene environmental change. © 2012 The Linnean Society of London, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2013, 171, 154–170.