Latin America


Overview

Latin America travel advice, including top 10 Latin America travel tips, map of Latin America, guide to Latin America city breaks, rail journeys in Latin Americ

But though the Amazon Basin accounts for over a third of South America, it’s far from the whole picture.

Latin America – which includes Central America and Mexico – is a geography lesson brought to life: Chile has fjords, Argentina has pampas, Bolivia has salt flats, Mexico has desert, and Ecuador and Central America are strung with volcanoes. The mighty Andes support the world’s highest capital city (La Paz), as well as the highest mountain (6,962m Aconcagua) and highest railway (from Lima to Huancayo) outside Asia.

For culture vultures Mexico and the compact countries of Central America are the heartlands of the Maya and Aztec civilisations, and Maya sites such as Chichen Itza (Mexico), Tikal (Guatemala) and Copan (Honduras) retain the power to thrill – despite high tourist numbers.

Further south there are also myriad opportunities to meet today’s tribal groups in Amazon ecolodges, offering a fascinating insight into the rainforest, an often surprising level of comfort, and, when well-managed, a viable economic future for marginalised people.

For walkers, Peru and Patagonia are classic destinations. The trek to the Inca city of Machu Picchu (Latin America’s biggest tourist draw) heads a long list of Peruvian trails combining stunning scenery and ancient cultures. In Chile, the jagged peaks of Torres Del Paine are the iconic image of Patagonia, the southern wilderness shared with Argentina.

For wildlife enthusiasts, the most bio-diverse area of the planet awaits, with Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia all offering access to the mighty Amazon. But many other parks or areas best the Amazon for actual sightings: try Brazil’s Pantanal or Guyana’s Iwokrama for jaguar; Mexico’s Baja peninsula for whales and whale sharks; Central America for birds; the Galapagos Islands for, well, extremely close encounters.

If you’ve got a few months to spare, Latin America is a thrilling region to explore overland. Travellers on the ‘gringo trail’ frequently start in the sophisticated cities of Rio or Buenos Aires, or work their way south from Mexico City.

Local transport is variable: the overcrowded ‘chicken bus’ and ramshackle pickups remain stalwarts; trains are few but spectacular. Flights are an increasingly popular way of handling some of the huge distances involved (Brazil alone is 35 times bigger than the UK), but remain expensive.

Wherever you’re going, two useful resources are the Latin American Travel Association (LATA) – whose members comprise the UK’s leading Latin American tour operators – and the South American Explorers Club, which offers independent travel advice and friendly clubhouses in Lima, Cusco, Quito and Buenos Aires.

So what are you waiting for? Start planning your Latin American adventure today…

Further Reading

Top 10 Latin America experiences

Great treks to lost cities, wildlife that nibbles your shoelaces, the world's biggest raiinforest (by far) and colourfully crumbling colonial splendour – Latin America has something to suit everyone

  1. Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Peru – Latin America’s biggest draw is over-visited but still overwhelming. Book early to ensure you get a place on the classic Inca Trail, or consider one of the quieter alternative routes.
  2. Explore the Galapagos, Ecuador – Darwin’s wildlife wonderland shows evolution in action, and offers extremely up-close wildlife encounters with frollicking sea lions, scaly iguanas, giant tortoises and a range of curious birds (don't miss the courtship dances of both the albatross and the blue-footed booby).
  3. Go jaguar-spotting, Brazil – the Pantanal wetland is simply the cat’s whiskers: it's one of very few places where jaguar are regularly spotted, along with a whole host of other wildlife. August and September are the peak months for big cat sightings.
  4. Hike the wilds of Patagonia – a travel word to conjure with, Patagonia is a sweeping land of lakes, rock spires and wilderness, offering fantastic trekking. The Torres del Paine Circuit is a classic, though other options abound. Try northern Patagonia to escape the crowds.
  5. Riding the rails, South America – the Devil’s Nose, the Train to the Clouds – the names of the continent's rail routes say it all. The trains here are more scenic spectaculars than a means to get around: there are few services, but those that do exist offer world-class experiences.
  6. Whale-watch in Baja California, Mexico – a bounty of marine riches: in winter the Pacific coast of this peninsula is home to pretty much the entire population of grey whales, while the Sea of Cortez, on Baja's east, is a sheltered calving ground for fin, sperm, humpback and even blue whales; the best time for blues is January to March.
  7. Follow the Maya Route, Guatemala – a museum in the rainforest: trek into the jungle of Guatemala for an Indiana Jones adventure. Pyramids such as Tikal are well excavated; for a more rugged adventure head for little-visited and rainforest-hidden El Mirador.
  8. Experience Carnival, Brazil – Rio gets the headlines, but the February/March street parades in Salvador and Recife get the connoisseurs: expect samba moves, exuberant costumes and a real locals' party.
  9. Fall for Cartagena, Colombia – this Unesco-listed, coastal gem of a city has deservedly put Colombia back on the map; wander the pastel-coloured streets and soak up the ambiance. Visit in January for the Hay Literary Festival.
  10. Salar de Uyuni salt flats, Bolivia – this high-altitude, incredibly flat and vastly spreading salt pan is one of the world's weirdest places. Stay at a hotel made of salt blocks, meet the resident flamingoes and go on a (long) drive to appreciate the scale.