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.
Highlights of Rio de Janeiro Iguassu Falls & Buenos Aires
FIRST-CLASS | PRIVATE-GUIDED: On this private-guided adventure, discover a classic South American route that all globetrotters should experience at least once. Combining the rhythms and culture of Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires alongside two nights in spectacular Iguassu Falls, it is a quintessential exploration of three iconic destinations.More Details
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.
It’s Nature’s Ultimate Playground
Deserts, mountains, islands, jungles… whatever your preferred playground for active travel, Central and South America have a little bit of everything. Take an Amazon cruise to meet the wildlife of the world’s largest rainforest. See the world’s widest 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 on a Galapagos Islands cruise. 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.
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.
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 street food in Medellin, to traditional Ecuadorian recipes, to a refreshing bowl of acai on a Brazilian beach, options are limitless, and some are more famous than others. Besides great parilla barbeque (there's more to it than steak!), 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. Chilean wines also give their Argentinean neighbours a run for prestige. The breakout food 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 Peruvian flavours with cutting-edge techniques, and shows no sign of slowing down. You can even learn to cook like a Peruvian!
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.
Popular Central and South America Vacation Spots
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.
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 humans.
Malbec, tango, steak and football? Hmmm… more like mate, polo, asado and… okay, definitely football! Argentina never fails to surprise. Discover the culture of romantic 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.
From the top of the Andes to the shores of the Pacific, Chile is packed with adventure. Explore 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Boasting one of the best preserved native American cultures, 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.
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!
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.
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.
An easy addition to any Antarctic cruise or a great trip on their own, discover life at the southern edge of the Atlantic.
Follow the route of flowers and discover what makes Central America’s smallest country one of its most exciting and beautiful.
A progressive, yet unassuming powerhouse a short ferry ride from Buenos Aires, let Uruguay show you another side of South America.
Between the Amazon and the Caribbean lies pure rainforest perfection waiting to be explored.
The Mayans’ southern doorstep, Honduras is home to the ruins of Copan and beautiful Roatán Island.
After years of slipping under the radar, travellers are catching on to the laid-back charms and natural beauty of Nicaragua.
While we don’t recommend travel to Venezuela right now due to current South America travel restrictions, 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.
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.
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.
11 Nov 2022, 8:32 p.m.