Ordered geographically from north to south, here are our top ten Latin America travel highlights. From the best experiences in Central America and Cuba right down to the icy shores of Antarctica. The region is far bigger than you perhaps realise and while there are cultural and linguistic similarities throughout, there is still an incredibly diverse range of travel experiences to be had.
10 of the Best Latin America Travel Experiences
1. Smoke cigars, drink rum and travel like it’s 1959 in Havana, Cuba.
Cuba has become far easier to visit over the last decade and while it is changing, the capital Havana still retains almost all of its old world charm. Read our Cuba backpacking budget for more info on travelling on the Caribbean island.
2. Explore colourful Central America on chicken buses.
Travelling like the locals, on Central America’s famous chicken buses is the cheapest and most entertaining way to get around. Virtually the entire region is linked up by a huge network of small buses and while it can be slow and frustrating, you will get from A to B with a good few laughs along the way.
3. Reach the summit of an active volcano in Guatemala.
Guatemala is home to a number of fiery volcanoes that are very much in the active category. While there are risks, you can climb to the summit of some of them and you can feel the heat and activity of everything going on beneath the surface.
4. Discover Caribbean beach paradise beneath snow-capped peaks in Colombia’s Tayrona National Park.
One of the most stunning places in South America, Colombia’s Tayrona National Park is still relatively under-visited, even by more adventurous travellers in the region. It sees the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta collide with the Caribbean coast and it’s just a beautiful place to spend some time.
5. Follow the Inca Trail up to Machu Picchu.
One of several destinations on this list to make our itinerary for backpacking South America which takes in Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and more. Machu Picchu is one of the undisputed highlights of South America and one of the most iconic travel destinations on the planet.
6. Sail deep into the vastness of the Amazon.
While deforestation is having a devastating impact in some regions, the Amazon Rainforest still accounts for a huge portion of South America, covering much of Brazil as well as parts of Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guyana, French Guiana and Suriname. Boats travel slowly along the vast Amazon River into the heart of the basin and while time-consuming and not particularly comfortable, it’s the best way to experience one of the world’s natural wonders.
7. Lose yourself in a world of salt at Uyuni, Bolivia.
Bolivia’s vast Salt Flats, feel like they belong on a different planet and there isn’t really anywhere quite like it on earth. Travel deep into the heart of Salar de Uyuni and you won’t be able to see anything besides a vast whiteness all around you. There’s even a hotel entirely made of salt, which makes our countdown of weird and wonderful places to stay around the world.
8. Party hard at Carnaval in Brazil.
Carnaval takes place across Brazil with the biggest parades in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, two cities that feature on our itinerary for backpacking Brazil. While it’s the busiest and most expensive time to travel in the country, it’s a big party the likes of which you will most likely never see again.
9. Witness the world’s most wondrous waterfalls.
At the point where Brazil meets Argentina and Paraguay, the enormous Iguazu Falls form one of the world’s most breathtaking natural borders. A must-see for travellers in South America.
10. Explore the incredible landscape of Patagonia.
The icy shores and magnificent glaciers of Patagonia form the southern end of South America and offer a huge contrast to most of the Latin America travel highlights featured in this post. Take a look at our Backpacking Route for Patagonia for a bit of inspiration.
This article was last updated in January 2021.