When you think of traveling south of the United States border, you usually have your sites set on one of the highly famous resorts in Mexico, or Rio de Janeiro, or Buenos Aires. Those are typically the top spots that come to mind after all. Next time you’re heading to Latin America, consider adding a new destination to your trip to Machu Picchu. Take a side trip or reroute your original plan to learn about somewhere new. Here are a few places to consider while you’re out and about:
- Cartagena, Colombia
Cartagena is a port city on the Caribbean, and it is one of Colombia’s more popular and well-known cities. Gone are the days when Colombia was a country to be avoided altogether. Now, it’s cleaned up and ready for exploration.
Cartagena is by the sea and features gorgeous colonial structures, and even an old town that still can be explored, dating back to the 16th century. Cartagena is a popular beach destination, despite its cobblestone streets and colorful colonial buildings. If you’re looking for a beach that’s not as overwhelming as some of the more popular ones you were considering, try Isla de Baru and the Islas del Rosario just off the coast of Cartagena.
- Quito, Ecuador
Quito is a place for foodies. It is a culinary destination in the mountains – 9,000 feet up in the Andean foothills, to be more specific. It is located on the side of the Pichincha Volcano, and it is home to 1.6 million residents. The cuisine is Spanish-influenced and the ceviche is famous for being some of the very best. Combine that with the local breweries that are popping up all over the city, and you’ve got a food-lover’s paradise. Just be sure to get there before all of the tourists begin learning about it!
- Paraty, Brazil
You may not have heard of it before, but that means you’ll have it mostly to yourself. Paraty is a bayside town between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil. This little piece of paradise has been likened to the Aegean Sea and Greek Islands, thanks to its picturesque beaches, clear waters and tantalizing seafood.
You can also find colonial houses that look like they came straight out of Europe. Think cobblestone streets and horses and buggies, because that’s the culture of this destination. Paraty is also famous for its cachaça distilleries, where you can go have tastings while you’re at it.
- Ambergris Caye, Belize
This little island is the rumored subject of Madonna’s song, La Isla Bonita, and it lives up to that nickname completely. The culture here is truly that of island living, where time moves more slowly and the key point is always to chill out and relax.
Just off the coast lies the second largest barrier reef in the world, so as you can imagine, Ambergris Caye is ripe for diving and snorkeling adventures. You can take day trips to the Mayan ruins on the mainland and you can spend your days in over-the-water swings and hammocks. This island has it all.
- Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
This Patagonian national park features a 60-mile ‘W’ trail that winds through forests and around lakes, crossing wood plank bridges and white-water rapids. The Torres make up three needle-like mountain peaks, and the trail will take you straight to them. You’ll experience breathtaking panoramic views of mountainous scenery that looks like it could be straight out of a movie, and you can even hear the Grey Glacier as pieces crack off.
When visiting this park, you can stay in one of the cozy mountain lodges available for visitors. That, or you can choose to camp out under the stars. The hike itself can take five days or more, and the weather might have you experiencing every season, but it is all well worth it.
- Punta del Este, Uruguay
Punta del Este is a resort city on the narrow peninsula coast in southeast Uruguay. If pictures of a hand sculpture coming out of the sand come to mind, you’re in the right spot. The sculpture is located on Brava Beach, famous for its strong surf.
If calm is more your thing, you might prefer Mansa Beach’s shallow waters. You can also find a plaza there that sells local crafts, along with an avenue of upscale shopping. This city is well-rounded and out of the way of your typical tourist crowd. While there, be sure to stop and see the 19th-century lighthouse viewing point at the southern tip of the peninsula.