From misty rainforests to ancient archaeological sites, both Central America and South America boast a variety of destinations that appeal to all types of travelers. Because of this, choosing just one vacation spot from all of the excellent options available can seem daunting. To help, U.S. News ranked the top places to visit in both regions based on factors like culture, dining and attractions, as well as traveler votes and expert opinions. Do you have a favorite destination in these regions? Vote below to help us determine the best places to visit in Central and South America
1. Cuzco, Peru
“This city is a must for anyone interested in South American history,” wrote one voter. “It’s a beautiful place in an extraordinary location.” Low-strung buildings fan out like rivulets running down the emerald Vilcabamba Mountains, which erupt from the surrounding landscape so steeply they almost look alive. Once the capital of the Incan Tawantinsuyu empire, this city remains a stronghold of Indigenous culture (the word “Cuzco” comes from a Quechua word that means “center”), and should be considered a must-stop instead of just a gateway to Machu Picchu to the city’s northeast. Its history and beauty (and, possibly, the dizzying 12,000-feet elevation) is enough to make even the most discerning travelers skip a breath. Readers also loved local cuisine, noting a plethora of organic options and the classes at the museum of chocolate.
2. Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala
Ringed by volcanoes, Antigua Guatemala has had to endure its fair share of earthquakes and other natural disasters over the centuries, but there are still plenty of historic monuments and buildings from the 1600s and 1700s that left readers marveling. “We were fortunate to visit just before COVID-19 hit,” shared one voter. “Everything in this historic city is beautiful! The Jade Museum was wonderful. The friendliness and hospitality of the city were evident everywhere.” Echoed another, “Beautiful old city with lots of charm and history. Religious processionals around and into the cathedral were so inspiring.” In the historic core, visitors can also shop for beautiful local handicrafts and take a chocolate-making class at artisan shop Ek Chuah. Outdoor enthusiasts will also find plenty to do, including hiking the Corazón de Agua trail and taking a guided trek to see the Volcán Fuego erupt.
3. Costa Rica, for swimming in waterfalls and rafting through the rainforest
4 . Colombia’s Caribbean coast, for glorious beaches and jungle trekking
5. Ecuador, for hiking around volcanoes, cycling and horse riding
6. The Galápagos Islands, for viewing a vast array of wildlife
7. Mexico City, for a gastronomic city break
8. Iguazu Falls (Brazil & Argentina)
One of the best places to visit in South America, Iguazu Falls have to be seen to be appreciated as mere words cannot do them justice. They truly live up to their name, which translates as “big water:” They’re the world’s largest waterfalls system, with 275 waterfalls of various sizes – Devil’s Throat is the biggest.
For much of its journey to the ocean, the Iguazu River flows through Brazil, but, seemingly in a spirit of international cooperation, most of the falls are in Argentina.
9. Ushuaia (Argentina)
If you like to visit remote places, then put Ushuaia on your bucket list. The capital of Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia is considered the southernmost city in the world. Indeed, the train to the End of the World ends here.
Nestled among the mountains along a bay, Ushuaia is very picturesque when it’s not cloudy or windy, which is much of the time. The former penal colony has a museum and it’s a good place to see penguins, orca whales and seals
10. Quito (Ecuador)
Ecuador’s capital, Quito, is unique among world capitals. It is the highest capital in the world (La Paz is higher but isn’t Bolivia’s legal capital) and also closest to the equator. Founded by the Spanish in 1534, Quito’s colorful old town is one of the best-preserved, least changed and largest in all the Americas.
Located in Ecuador’s northern highlands, the city is surrounded by volcanoes that can be seen on a clear day. Quito is the only world capital that is threatened by active volcanoes.