This is an updated version of an article originally published in December 2019.
OK, let’s start with a humble disclaimer. The following piece is just a meek attempt to pick the 10 must-see places in Latin America based on the 8 months of travelling across the region. Latin America is a huge region and although I’ve been to nearly 100 locations in more than 10 countries, I can’t claim that I’ve seen it all. FYI, this piece won’t even cover all Latin countries because I haven’t had enough resources to explore them all so I’ve only travelled the so-called “Gringo Trail” from Tierra del Fuego to Yucatán.
What countries are “excluded” from this list then? Well, I can’t say that I’ve properly visited Brazil or Mexico and I’ve completely skipped all the northeast countries in South America, plus my budget didn’t allow me to go to Galapagos. Furthermore, due to various reasons, I have also only rushed through Costa Rica, Honduras and Belize in Central America. With this little fact-straightener out of the way, let’s get on 10 must-see destinations in Latin America.
10 must see places in Latin America
Talking about special places, my 10 must-see locations in Latin America list can not be left without the Chilean town of Valparaíso. Its speciality lies in the bohemian atmosphere this historically busy port town comes with. Insane colours; endless murals; numerous stylish cafés, restaurants and galleries, street musicians and the steep hilly nature of the city makes Valpa a very lovable place for the creative folks. More details, what to see, safety and other practical tips, such as places to see, what to do, safety and things like that about Valparaíso could be found here.
Salta and Jujuy regions (Argentina)
Salta and Jujuy, the two stunning provinces in the higher altitudes of Northern Argentina. Whether it’s the surreal character of the local nature, the small picturesque towns, such as Tilcara or Purmamarca, the local hospitality or numerous trekking options in and around the spectacular Humahuaca Valley, vineyards, riding a train into the clouds, there are numerous gems to be discovered in the area. Places to see, where to stay, general travel tips and more information about Salta and Jujuy could be found here.
Perito Moreno Glacier (Patagonia)
To be honest with you, Perito Moreno was the first proper glacier I have ever seen and I’m aware that the first time element is playing a major role in my assessment of this breathtaking place. Regardless of that, Perito Moreno is a very majestic and mind-blowing spectacle. Apart from the visual element, the sound phenomenon of cracking ice Perito makes also plays a role in its overall beauty. More details about Perito Moreno, including some useful tips, are here, in case you were interested.
Iguazú Falls (Argentina/Brazil)
There are waterfalls and then there are Waterfalls. The rumour has it that Ms Eleanor Roosevelt has only hissed the words “Poor Niagara!” in pure amazement upon seeing the Iguazú Falls. I’m not sure if that is not just an urban legend but the fact is that Niagara Falls are kinda smaller than Iguazú if we take the measurable elements into the occasion, but the main factor that plays the role in affecting how an individual likes a place is always the general atmosphere and that is rather a subjective property.
Speaking for myself, Iguazú did capture my heart in a rather decisive winning fashion. To be frank, I didn’t believe that I could still be blown away by a place this much anymore. The last time it happened was in Angkor Wat and that happened after some years of travelling and visiting some great places. In other words, Iguazú Falls are certainly one of the most spectacular places I have ever seen. More information about this New World Wonder, including some practical tips, is here in case you were interested.
Carretera Austral (Patagonia)
Chile’s Carretera Austral is a 1240km long partially paved highway famous for its stunning views of glaciers, lakes, fjords, steep mountains and forests. From its south end, it starts at Villa O’Higgins and ends in Puerto Montt. There are numerous national parks one can visit along the way and I wouldn’t be stretching it much if I’d call it heavens for wild nature-lovers. More details about Carretera Austral can be found here.
There’s plenty of places to discover on the 1600 km (995 miles) of the Caribbean coast of Colombia, ranging from the most visited locations in the country, like the glorious city of Cartagena, through the stunning Tayrona Natural Park, up to hidden gems such as Rincón del Mar. The Sierra Nevada mountain range on the east and Darién Gap jungle on the west hold also an amazing and rich trekking element for nature-lovers, with The Lost City trek being perhaps the most popular of them all.
And last but not least, there is the unavoidable Caribbean vibe, spectacular beaches with a wide variety of water sports and endless beach parties available. There is plenty of things to see and do in this beautiful part of the world, many of which were virtually inaccessible because of the Colombian conflict only a few decades ago. In case you were interested, here are things to do&see, safety, where to stay, transport options and so on in and around these five Caribbean locations in Colombia: Santa Marta, Cartagena, Rincón del Mar, Necoclí and Capurganá.
Lake Atitlán (Guatemala)
I am usually sceptical when people talk about the special energies of certain places. Rather than falling for some sort of prescribed general hype, I prefer to make my own independent assessments about the place, if you know what I mean. I must however admit that lake Atitlán was exactly as “special energy” place as I was told it would be. No wonder it has been attracting the NOrth American hippies in the 60s.
Lake Atitlán is however far from being just one of the former hippie havens. It is generally a truly stunning place, surrounded by three volcanoes, and 12 friendly Mayan villages, which brings many great hiking options. On the subject of the “unique and creative energy”, I must say that there was hardly any other place from the whole duration of my 8 months trip where I was as productive as here and that was against rather a significant amount of hangovers I’ve nursed. More info about this beautiful place, including the towns to visit, trekking options, safety, social life and so on could be found here.
When it comes to Buenos Aires, I’d say that I’m even less objective here than I was in the few places described above, because I have instantly fallen in love with the city. Basically, the “Paris of South America”, as some people call this gorgeous city has a real essence and a massive character, rather than just the looks.
If you are into architecture, if you like long strolls in beautiful parks, if you are into culinary treats, if you are into history or arts, theatre, tango or if you just prefer to meet some incredibly friendly and life-loving people – or if you are into anything for that matter – Buenos Aires has something for everyone. Further details about this incredible city, could be found in our “Things to do, see and experience in Buenos Aires” guide here, in case you wanted to find out more.
Btw, when it comes to that Paris metaphor – with Buenos Aires imagine the old bohemian Paris – not the current “open-air museum” shadow of the French capital’s former glory. Everybody you meet in BA looks like a massive character. I mean that I’d cast so many porteños AKA “Buenos Aireans” in some character-based movies. Even the guy that sells you a sandwich in the local corner shop would match the character of someone like Lance Henriksen.
El Chaltén and Torres del Paine (Patagonia)
Try googling Patagonia and within the first 10 pictures displayed, at least 4 would be taken in one of those two parks. Separated by the Andean border between Chile and Argentina, both parks are equipped with a decent arsenal of epic views and excellent trekking options. Both parks are also well maintained and organised. In case you like nature, neither of the parks is to be missed in my humble opinion. More information, some practical tips could be found here.
Uyuni Salt Flats (Bolivia)
No “must-see places” list of Latin America could be complete without mentioning Uyuni Salt Flats. This incredible and surreal demonstration of nature’s diversity and beauty is one of the best memories I have ever created. I guess that if certain conditions were met when it comes to my personal preferences during the 3-day tour I have taken, Uyuni Salar would be one of my top memories in my entire life. More about Uyuni Salt Flats could be found in this article.
10 must see places in Latin America: Honourable mentions
Lake Titicaca (Bolivia/Peru)
Lago Titicaca is a 190km long lake with an area of 8 372 km², which makes it the largest lake in South America and 18th in the world, plus it is located at 3810 metres above sea level. From a historical point of view, Titicaca is an important spiritual place for Incas. In their religion, the Solar deity (Sun God or Sun Goddess) is believed to have been born here, on Isla del Sol, the largest island on the lake. Titicaca‘s shores are therefore filled with the Incan agricultural terraces and several ruins to add to the place’s natural beauty. If you are interested in reading more about Lake Titicaca, things to do and see, safety and so on, please click here.
Tierra del Fuego (Argentina/Chile)
I admit that Tierra del Fuego made this list mainly because of its remote character. Its southernmost city Ushuaia promotes its tourism as “the end of the world” and the actual feeling is rather authentic. To be honest, the vast majority of the island is just a flat land that comes with some farms, a lot of cattle and hardcore antarctic winds. The southern part of the main island is however entirely different story because this is where Andes rise again and that is where nature shows its beauty in a more diverse way. More information about this part of the world, including the trekking options, can be found here.
Cabo Polonio and Punta del Diablo (Uruguay)
To be fair, Uruguay itself is already a rather special country. Those two semi-hippie coastal places were however truly peculiar. I guess that the unique spirit of Cabo Polonio and Punta del Diablo hides in the mix of the friendly attitude of the settlers and the nature that surrounds the settlements, which includes massive dune-beaches one can stroll on in eternity as well as the presence of seals (Cabo). More information, including some practical info about those two coastal settlements, can be found here.
It wasn’t easy to leave so many beautiful places out of this list, even though rather than the 10 must-see places in Latin America, I’ve managed to turn it into a baker’s dozen must-see places list. And that is without including the beauty of Brazil, Mexico and few other Latin countries I haven’t properly visited. Latin World is just filled with places to make multiple such highlights articles.
In other words, América Latina is a natural beauty, it’s a rich history, its colours, its friendly people and many other things I found myself missing pretty much straight away upon my return to Europe. Latin America is a beautiful and troubled world. There’s a lot of compassion but also a lot of conflicts. It’s love and hate. It’s basically what one might call a “full-on world”.
Some practical info about travelling in Latin Americas
- Budget: in case you were interested, here‘s an article listing the country-by-country basic expenses for a traveller in Latin America
- Safety: Few safety tips on how to secure your valuables, what to watch out for and more could be found here
- Cheap Flights: advice on how to score a cheap/er flight
- Transport: Information, safety and some other practical advice regarding public transport in Latin America can be found here
- ATM withdrawal charges: Some practical info, including the list of free-of-charge ATMs in Latin America, can be found here
- Border fees: To find out how much will you have to pay to enter or exit certain countries in Latin America, please click here
- Pre-trip preparations: Few things you can do ahead of time before you’ll become frantically busy prior to your departure are listed here
- Packing list: What to take with you for an extended trip as well as some security tips could be found here
Locations covered on Quaint Plant
Santiago de Chile ► Valparaíso ► Santiago de Chile ►Punta Arenas – Ushuaia – Punta Arenas ► Puerto Natales – Torres del Paine – Puerto Natales ► El Calafate (Perito Moreno Glacier, Arg) ► El Chaltén (Los Glaciares National Park) ► Chile Chico (Ch) – Puerto Rio Tranquillo (Marble Caves) ► Coyhaique – Puyuhuapi – (Carretera Austral) ► Puerto Chacabuco – Quellón/Castro ► Puerto Varas – San Carlos de Bariloche (Arg) ► Buenos Aires ► Colonia (Ur) ► Montevideo ► Punta del Diablo – Cabo Polonio ► Montevideo ► Salto ► Concordia (Arg) ► Puerto Iguazú (Iguazú Falls) ► Salta ► San Salvador de Jujuy ► Tilcara ► San Pedro de Atacama (Ch) ► Uyuni Salt Flats Tour (Bol) ► Uyuni ► Sucre – La Paz (Death Road Tour) ► Copacabana (Lake Titicaca) – Isla del Sol – Copacabana ► Cusco (Per) ► Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu) ► Cusco ► Lima ► Máncora – Montañita (Ecu) ► Puerto López ► Quito ► Ipiales (Col) – Pasto ► Tatacoa Desert ► Bogotá ► Medellín ► Villa de Lleyva ► Santa Marta – Cartagena – Rincón del Mar Necoclí ► Capurganá ► Puerto Obaldía (Pan) ► Panama City ► Las Lajas ► Cerro Punta ► David ► Bocas del Torro ► San José (Costa Rica) ► San Juan del Sur (Nic) – Ometepe ► Granada ► Managua – El Rama – Bluefields – Corn Islans ► Léon ► El Tunco (El Salvador) ► La Antigua Guatemala – Lake Atitlán ► Lanquín (Semuc Champey) – Flores (Tikal) ► Belize City ► Bacalar – Tulum – Playa del Carmen – Valladolid – Cancún.