The 10 Best Places to Visit in Central and South America –

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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

View of Cusco, Peru from ancient ruins in the mountains

“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

Antigua Guatemala streets and buildings

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

What to do and see in Province of Guanacaste, Costa Rica: The Best Waterfalls

Looking to combine some exhilarating activities with ample time for rest and relaxation in an idyllic, tropical setting? Costa Rica is the place to go, and in spring, the weather is both reliably warm and mostly dry. White-water rafting down the Balsa River, trekking through the jungle of Arena National Park in search of jaguars and capuchin monkeys, and spotting sloths in the Monteverde Cloud Forest are just a few of the incredible experiences that await. You can do all of that on this nine-day trip, as well as swimming in waterfalls in La Fortuna, coffee tasting at the Doka Estate and learning to surf in Tamarindo.

4 . Colombia’s Caribbean coast, for glorious beaches and jungle trekking


Many travelers to Colombia head straight to the Andes and the cities ofBogotá and Medellín, but the Caribbean coast shouldn’t be overlooked. With rainforests, snow-capped mountains, idyllic islands and vast swathes of golden sand beaches, it’s jam-packed with gorgeous scenery. On this eight-day adventure, you’ll go hiking through the Tayrona National Park, river tubing along the Rio don Diego and snorkel among coral reefs on a day excursion to the Rosario Islands. The vibrant city of Cartagena ensures a taste of history and culture, not to mention pulsating nightlife. March and April are favorable if traveling in spring, as May tends to bring heavier and more frequent rainfall.

5. Ecuador, for hiking around volcanoes, cycling and horse riding

Quito to Antisana Ecological Reserve Private Full-Day Trip 2022

Boasting a combination of rugged, volcanic landscapes, thick jungle and vibrant, high-altitude cities, Ecuador offers an enormous catalogue of adventures to enjoy. From hiking around the emerald green Quilotoa crater lake and the Laguna Limpiopungo in Cotopaxi National Park to cycling past gushing waterfalls between Baños and Puyo, it’s one of South America’s prime destinations for outdoor pursuits. This eight-day adventure features all of the above, as well as chocolate tasting and a cooking class in Quito, white-water rafting in the Amazon, and soaking in the Papallacta hot springs. As Ecuador lies on the equator, temperatures are fairly consistent throughout the year; if you want to avoid the crowds of peak season, spring is a good time to visit – if you don’t mind the occasional rain shower, that is.

6. The Galápagos Islands, for viewing a vast array of wildlife

Why Can't We Touch the Animals in the Galapagos?
It’s impossible not to be enthralled by the sheer variety of wildlife and unspoiled nature on the Galápagos Islands – and with spring bringing the warmest temperatures of the year, it’s an ideal time for snorkeling and scuba diving. Galápagos giant tortoises, white-tipped reef sharks, eagle rays, Galápagos penguins and sea turtles are just a few of the extraordinary creatures you’re likely to come across, as well as an abundance of endemic bird species. This five-day trip is a fantastic way to see the best of the archipelago in a relatively short space of time. Go kayaking in the Itabaca Channel, sleep in a luxury safari tent in the Santa Cruz highlands, swim with sea lions at Punta Carola beach and head snorkeling or scuba diving at Kicker Rock – one of the best spots in the Galápagos for encountering marine wildlife.

7. Mexico City, for a gastronomic city break

40 Cool things you can do for free in Mexico City |

Mexico City is cool and dry in the winter – while you might want to pack a jumper for the evenings, you’re going to love the bright sunshine that lights up the Mexican capital from October all the way through to March. This five-day Trips by Culture Trip tour might be short, but it’s absolutely packed with activities. Start by touring through the trendy neighborhoods of Roma and Condesa – before eating your way through taco stands at a local gastronomic market. You’ll visit the Aztec temples of Tenochtitlan, step back into the past at the Museum of Anthropology and experience the revelry and beer of a lucha libre match.

8. Iguazu Falls (Brazil & Argentina)

Tourists at Iguazu Falls, Foz do Iguacu

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)

Ushuaia Harbor

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)Quito

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.

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