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Christian Baines Senior Content Editor 3 weeks, 4 days ago

Latin America Destination Guide

  • Peruvian women in traditional dress

To fly to Central or South America is to enter another world, without changing (too many) time zones. No photo of Machu Picchu can prepare you for seeing the real thing. Think you’re too old for an all-night party? Tango the night away in Buenos Aires or join the festivities at Rio’s Carnaval. Discover a new side of Mexico, or unwrap the mysteries of Easter Island. There’s always so much more to explore in this part of the world. Through it, all, explore some of nature’s most spectacular environments and meet some of the most exotic animal species on Earth.

 

Reasons to Visit Central and South America

Honestly, we could list thousands of reasons for visiting Central and South America. But in the interest of you not missing your flight, here are just a few of the most popular.

Two men riding horses with mountain in background

It’s Nature’s Ultimate Playground

Deserts, mountains, islands, jungles… whatever your preferred playground, Central and South America have a little bit of everything. Cruise the Amazon River to meet the wildlife of the world’s largest rainforest. See the world’s widest network of waterfalls at Iguassu on the border of Brazil and Argentina. Get out there amid the awesome views and hikes of Patagonia and the Lakes District. Come nose to nose with unique species in the Galapagos Islands. Take in the clear skies and vast landscapes of some of the world’s most beautiful deserts, or embark on the ultimate ecotourism adventure in Costa Rica.

Sunset at the Mayan ruins of Tulum.

You’ll Explore the Awesome Civilizations of America’s Past

Modern-day Mexico was the heart of the Aztec and Olmec civilizations among others, including the mysterious builders of Teotihuacan. Mayan cities dot the Yucatan Peninsula and Central America into what’s now Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. In Peru, Machu Picchu is the iconic centrepiece of the Inca civilization, whose culture stretched throughout the region and lives on in cities like Cuzco. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even take the 5-day trek to Colombia’s Lost City, built by the Tairona around 1,000 years ago. The Americas have been home to thriving civilizations for quite some time, and their influence takes shape in more than just ruins. It blends with European culture to create all Latin America is today.

Interior of a steak restaurant in Argentina

Set Your Taste Buds Dancing

From Mexico to Buenos Aires and beyond, Latin America’s approach to food is both unique and diverse. Awesome cheap eats and street food abound in just about every country. From a chillaquilles breakfast in Mexico City to tasty choripan, fresh arepas and empanadas, to a refreshing bowl of acai on a Brazilian beach, options are limitless, and some are more famous than others. Besides great asado barbeque, Buenos Aires might be the best place in the world to go for Italian food outside of Italy. Sao Paulo has one of the world’s most surprising food scenes at every price point. Chile’s wines also give their Argentinean neighbours a run for prestige. The breakout star of the region though is Peru. From Lima to Cusco and beyond, Peru has rapidly gained recognition for its street food, fine dining, and blending of traditional flavours with cutting-edge techniques, and shows no sign of slowing down.

Lavish carnaval float in Rio de Janeiro's sambadrome

Popular Festivals in Central and South America

This is definitely a part of the world that appreciates a good party. Whether you’re in Rio’s Sambadrome for Carnaval night or trying not to smear your Catrina makeup while you bite into a sugar skull during Mexico’s Day of the Dead, it’s hard not to get swept up in the excitement. If you’re going to Carnaval, remember, it’s a bigger celebration than just Rio. Parades and dance parties or blocos are held all over Brazil and beyond. In fact, the second biggest Carnaval celebration takes place in Barranquilla, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Many of the region’s festivals are part of the Catholic calendar, while some, like Peru’s Inti Raymi in June, find their roots in America’s pre-colonial culture. Sao Paulo hosts the world’s biggest LGBTQIA+ Pride festival, while Santiago holds the title for the world’s biggest electronic dance music festival. Even if your visit doesn’t coincide with one of the big events, a good night out is never far away.People participating in Peru's Inti Raymi festival

Best Latin America Countries to Visit

There’s no right or ‘best’ answer to this. In a region as diverse as Central and South America, the ‘best destination’ is all about what kind of adventure inspires you. History? Nature? Wine? The options are limitless, and each country has its own unique offerings.

Woman watching iguanas in the Galapagos Islands

Ecuador

If good things come in small packages, Ecuador is snapping up every prize. From its enchanting capital to mountainous national parks, to its foothold on the Amazon rainforest, it’s like the best of South America in miniature. Of course, the jewel in Ecuador’s crown is the Galapagos Islands, where isolation has allowed unique species to flourish unhindered by human civilization.

The Obelisk overlooking the Buenos Aires skyline

Argentina

Malbec, tango, steak and football? Hmmm… more like mate, polo, Asado and… okay, definitely football! Argentina never fails to surprise. Discover culture-rich romance in Buenos Aires, head west into some of the world’s best wine countries, gaze across the salt plains of the north, and lose yourself (not literally, please) in the gorgeous terrain of the Andes.

Mountains in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile.

Chile

From the top of the Andes to the shores of the Pacific, Chile is packed with adventure. Explore resourceful, creative Santiago, and the lively port city of Valparaiso. Sip world-class wines in the shadow of the Andes, visit the world’s driest desert (and clearest night skies) and admire the mighty glaciers of Patagonia. Not enough mystery for you? Easter Island is calling.

The ruins of Machu Picchu in the Andes, Peru.

Peru

Few civilizations left their mark on the Americas like the Incas. In Peru, their innovations live on amid one of the world’s most vivid cultures. Catch your first incredible glimpse of Machu Picchu. Meet the Incas’ descendants in Cuzco and the Lake Titicaca region. Explore Colca Canyon, and tuck into cutting edge-cuisine in cosmopolitan Lima.

Person ziplining in the Costa Rica rainforest.

Costa Rica

The ultimate spot for adventure or ecotourism, Costa Rica can feel more like a garden than a country. Relax as nature’s guest as it roams free around you, or, get your adrenaline pumping with ziplining, 4x4ing, white-water rafting and more. See Central America’s jungle at its best from the Pacific to the Caribbean, or sloth it out on the beach or by the pool.

People playing at sunset on Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro

Brazil

Every bit as vast and varied as the United States, there’s lots of Brazil to discover beyond Rio and Iguassu Falls. Not that you should skip those of course! But once you’ve applauded the sunset on Ipanema and stared down the awesome Devil’s Throat, try your samba moves in the clubs of Salvador or Sao Paulo, or embark on the ultimate Amazon adventure on an eco-friendly vessel.

Two people snorkeling with a turtle in Belize.

Belize

The best of the Yucatan and the Caribbean come together in Belize. The only English-speaking country in Central America, this small wonder is packed with archaeological treasures from hidden tombs to mighty Maya pyramids. Then strap on your snorkel gear and head to the cays for a wildlife experience beneath these inviting coastal waters.

Two Columbian women with a tourist in Cartagena.

Colombia

South America’s fastest-rising travel star is leaving the bad old days behind and sharing its magical realism with the world. Dance under the vivid colours of Cartagena’s old town, marvel at the transformation of enchanting Medellin and explore the heart of it all in bustling Bogota. If it all sounds exhausting, we have one word for you… coffee!

Blue waters in a cenote, Yucatan, Mexico.

Mexico

Think you know Mexico? With so many faces to show the world, the world’s most populated Spanish-speaking country still finds ways to surprise. Immerse yourself in its romantic central region. Learn about the customs of the Day of the Dead, or dive into the story of the Maya on the Yucatan before relaxing on some of the best beaches in the Americas. 

Tikal ruins site peeking above rainforest canopy at sunset.

Guatemala

Boasting one of the best preserved native American cultures on earth, Guatemala is one of the continent’s most rewarding, yet least understood destinations. Wonder at the civilizations that once thrived here as you explore Tikal. Admire the architecture and charm of Antigua, and learn first-hand (and taste) how chocolate became integral to today’s Guatemala.

Salar de Uyuni, salt flats in Bolivia reflect the sky.

Bolivia

Bolivia has a character all its own, just one step off the typical South American tourist trail. You might soar above La Paz, on the Mi Teleférico cable car, fall in love with its pretty capital, Sucre, or add some unforgettable travel snaps to your collection, creating your own optical illusions at the awesome salt flats of Uyuni. Now that’s worth stepping off the trail for!

Stone arched building in the old town, Panama City

Panama

Linking both continents and oceans, Panama brings nature, its own lively culture, and of course, one of the world’s greatest feats of engineering together in one small package. Discover its rich history as a Caribbean port, catch a glimpse of sloths and other wildlife in the Panama rainforest, and take a kayak out on the world’s most famous canal.

King penguins in the Falkland Islands

Unusual Destinations in Central and South America

Fancy yourself a travel trendsetter, or just want to go somewhere out of the ordinary? These small but amazing destinations add some serious variety to your Latin America trip.  

Falkland Islands

An easy addition to any Antarctic cruise or a great trip on their own, discover life at the southern edge of the Atlantic.

El Salvador

Follow the route of flowers and discover what makes Central America’s smallest country one of its most exciting and beautiful.

Uruguay

A progressive, yet unassuming powerhouse a short ferry ride from Buenos Aires, let Uruguay show you another side of South America.

Guyana

Between the Amazon and the Caribbean lies pure rainforest perfection waiting to be explored.

Jaguar in the Amazon rainforest

Honduras

The Mayans’ southern doorstep, Honduras is home to the ruins of Copan and beautiful Roatán Island.

Nicaragua

After years of slipping under the radar, travellers are catching on to the laisd-back charms and natural beauty of Nicaragua.

Venezuela

While we don’t recommend travel to Venezuela right now, keep this incredible country on your ‘one-day’ list for some of the world’s most amazing scenery, including Angel Falls, the tallest waterfall on earth.

 Stone moai on Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island

Do I Need to Know Spanish to Visit Central and South America?

It’s not essential, but in most parts of the region, knowing a little Spanish will certainly help smooth your trip and endear you to locals. It might even open some unexpected doors. English however is the official language of Belize and Guyana. The language of Brazil is Portuguese, and again, we recommend learning the basics before you arrive. Nobody will make you feel ashamed or foolish for making mistakes.

 Man serving at a bar in Punta del Este, Uruguay

Are Central and South America Safe to Visit?

Yes! While there are some Central and South American destinations where you should take extra precautions and a few regions you’ll want to avoid entirely, this holds true for anywhere in the world. In fact, by the numbers, most South American cities are no more dangerous than their US counterparts. A prepared traveller is always a safer traveller, so brush up on those safety essentials to protect yourself from petty theft and scams. 

Read up on the safety tips particular to your destination, be extra conscious of your valuables (particularly in crowds) and take only what you need with you for the day, keep away from any protests or political actions, and take cabs or ride shares after dark if you’re at all uncertain. Locals in these regions are very conscious of the concerns visitors sometimes have about visiting their countries, and they want you to go home with only good memories. So trust local advice and be prepared, not paranoid.

Costumed samba dancer at Rio Carnaval

11 Nov 2022, 8:32 p.m.

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