It's not easy to offer a short version of all that beckons travelers to Latin America, but there are a few spots that everyone should see in their lifetime. We've tried to include destinations for experienced adventurers looking for something new and unknown, as well as classic and well-worn draws for new travelers heading out on the road for the first time.
So start delving into remote ancient ruins, wandering charming colonial neighborhoods, exploring stunning natural wonders and enjoying pristine tropical paradises. Here are Latin America's top 10 must-see destinations that we at GET.com have narrowed down for you.
1. Machu Picchu, Peru
Perched in the high mountains above the town of Cusco, the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu is a wonder of the world on par with the pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the Taj Mahal in India.
The view from the top is beautiful whether it's clear or shrouded in fog, although the crowds are a little less bustling during the wet season between December and April. Here's our Peru travel guide for those who need a leg-up.
2. Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Created by an enormous volcanic eruption 84,000 years ago and still ringed by active volcanos, Lago de Atitlan is the deepest lake in Central America, and it's almost too beautiful to believe: The crystal-blue waters below, volcanic backdrop beyond and stunning cloud formations above make for one truly unforgettable sight.
There are plenty of cozy lake towns along the water's edge, from Panajachel, San Pedro and San Marcos to Santiago and Santa Cruz. Getting tired of one town? Don't stress, just hop on a lancha and cruise on over to the next one.
3. Iguazu Falls, Argentina and Brazil
"Poor Niagara!" - Eleanor Roosevelt's exclamation upon seeing Iguazu Falls for the first time pretty much sums it up.
Iguazu Falls is hands down one of the world's most incredible waterfalls that deserves more attention from all of us.
And, like Eleanor, Brazilians and Argentinians can't help but make comparisons about who's got the better end of the waterfall. Brazilians, of course, say their side is the most beautiful, while Argentineans hotly disagree. It's up to you to decide, but you'll need to get a visa to see things from Brazil's point-of-view.
4. The Lost City, Colombia
Image source: Flickr - Andrew Hyde
Even older than Machu Picchu, Colombia's own Lost City was built by the Tayrona people over 1,000 years ago. The Tayrona made their last stand against the conquistadores in the Cuidad Perdida, which they called Teyuna, before falling under onslaught of Spanish invaders.
Hidden in the jungles of Colombia's northern Sierra Nevada mountains, getting to the Cuidad Perdida is quite a trek, but it's well-worth the journey.
5. The Galapagos, Ecuador
Relive Darwin's journey on the Beagle and experience one of the most pristine and biodiverse areas of the world on the Galapagos off the coast of Ecuador.
Spot blue-footed boobies, snorkel with sea lions and scuba dive with hammerhead sharks (they don't bite), or just chill out with the island's friendly population of marine iguanas and giant tortoises.
Getting to the Galapagos isn't cheap, but the costs go to preserving this natural wonderland for future generations to enjoy. The Galapagos is, in our books, one of the most fascinating wildlife destinations in the whole wide world!
6. La Candelaria, Colombia
La Candelaria is a jewel of the old world set on the edges of the modern metropolis of Bogota. One of Bogota's earliest neighborhoods, La Candelaria has jealously guarded its unique charm against the winds of change. Home to museums, cathedrals, cafes and a smorgasbord of stellar restaurants, La Candelaria is easy to love and hard to leave.
Perched on the hills above the old barrio is the former monastery of Monserrate. Hike up or take the tramway to get the long view of Bogota. Be sure to check out our Colombia travel guide here as well if you have plans to head there.
7. Ilha Grande, Brazil
Tucked in the bay between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Ilha Grande is a forgotten tropical paradise.
Formerly a leper colony and a maximum-security prison, Ilha Grande is now home to a small town called Vila do Abraão with about 2,000 permanent residents that cater to the growing tourism industry.
Getting around can be a challenge. All vehicles are banned on the island, so you'll have to hoof it on foot or grab a water taxi. Hiking trails through the jungle lead to pristine and secluded beaches, but there are plenty of water taxis waiting to take you back to Abraão once you've had your fill of sun and surf.
8. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Going to embark on an adventure traveling Bolivia? The salt flats of Salar de Uyuni are almost impossibly picturesque, with an endless horizon and a hypnotic panorama reminiscent of the paintings of Salvador Dali.
Check out the train cemetery and the Incahuasi "island" in the center of the flats, where backpackers and adventurers gather to swap stories and share food. When you're tired of wandering around the lunar landscape, rest up at one of the "salt hotels" on the borders of the Salar, built almost entirely out of salt blocks taken from the flats.
9. Chichen Itza, Mexico
One of the oldest and best-preserved Mayan sites in the Yucatan peninsula, Chichen Itza marks the high point of Mayan civilization in Mexico and is a definite must-see for all adventurers.
Nearby accommodations are cheaper during the rainy season between October and January, but be sure to keep an eye out for the occasional hurricane.
Once you've scaled the pyramids of Chichen Itza, check out the Sacred Cenote nearby, an underground pool where ancient Mayans offered sacrifices to their gods.
10. Old Havana, Cuba
Step back in time on the streets of Habana Vieja. Walk along the Malecón, stroll the walls of La Cabaña and Castillo del Morro fortresses that guard the entrance to Havana Bay, then wander down the Paseo del Prado that separates the two Havanas, one charming and old, the other squalid and rapidly showing its age.
The Cuban government has done its best to preserve the architecture and character of Habana Vieja as a draw for tourists. But walk a few blocks away from the center and you'll see rampant poverty amidst crumbling concrete buildings, broken-down cars and other evidence of Cuba's experiment with communism under the U.S. embargo.
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