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Want to know the 10 best Latin American cities to visit? Then reading this post is a must as we put our hearts and souls into picking our most memorable cities across both South and Central America, so others don’t miss out! Check them out and start getting excited!
Traveling through Latin America was one of the most memorable trips I have been on. It involved over 15 months of hitchhiking, chicken buses, flying, and walking through 14 countries.
Upon arriving back home, the question of my favorite places kept coming up! This question is nearly impossible to answer as a whole so I decided to break it up…
So without further ado, here are the 10 best Latin American cities I visited, the ones that made me go “wow”, the ones that completely shocked me, and the ones that I still miss! These are the best cities in both South and Central America that I think every traveler should add to their Latin America bucket list!
1. Havana, Cuba
From the moment I left the Havana International Airport, I felt like I had entered a different world. Vintage cars lined the streets and laidback cab drivers smoked cigars while they waited for their passengers. Havana’s charm flowed from the large central squares onto every little street as locals went about their daily lives.
Havana offers so many unique things to do like taking a tour of the old town in a vintage car, learning about their history on a walking tour, and spending your whole day with your camera working overtime. Visiting Havana is also about taking in what’s around you with big deep breaths – so why not sit back and enjoy a coffee while watching this marvelous city at work!
Havana really took me to an old era that no other city could. This city on its own is enough of a reason to visit Cuba. With the friendly locals, this super safe city belongs more in my heart than on this list. Havana is quickly becoming a top tourist destination, so get there quick!
Related read: If you’re going to Cuba, then be sure to read our blog about Backpacking in Cuba before you go – we include tons of important info you need to know before you go!
2. Medellin, Colombia
Twenty years ago Medellin was one of the most dangerous cities in the world thanks mostly to notorious narco bosses. These days though, Medellin has rid itself of its nasty past as no city has before. It didn’t take me long to work out how either.
With possibly the friendliest people in all of Latin America, the locals of Medellin have taken it upon themselves to rid the shady past. Tourists are now welcomed, and even looked after, by millions of locals who want you to see Medellin for what it really is – a world-class city!
This bustling city is now home to amazing culture, food, and nightlife that makes for one amazing Medellin itinerary. With one of the best free walking tours on the continent, hundreds of amazing restaurants, world-class nightlife, and beautiful people makes Medellin my favorite city in South America!
Related read: Medellin was one of my favorite places to visit in Colombia – find out what the others were!
3. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro shot to the top of everyone’s bucket list after the Christ de Redeemer became one of the “7 Wonders of the World.” However, there are so many more amazing things to do in Rio de Janeiro than that!
The city runs along a beautiful coastline met with huge granite mountains that give you one breathtaking reason to visit. My list of the best Latin American cities simply wouldn’t be complete with Rio!
Once you get tired of taking in Rio’s amazing landscape, you can party the night away in Lapa, spend your days at the famous Copacabana Beach, walk the beautiful botanical gardens, or visit one of Rio’s favelas on a tour!
Oh, and just because Rio de Janeiro is a big city, don’t miss the amazing hiking opportunities in the city such as the trail to the Christ the Redeemer or the Two Brothers Hike through Vidigal favela!
With so many amazing things to do, every visitor will leave with their own unique experience. I was lucky enough to be there during the famous Carnival, and just for the record, it was crazy!
Related Read: For more inspiration, check out our blog about our personal top Brazil highlights!
4. Cusco, Peru
Every year, thousands of people head to Cusco to start their journey to Machu Picchu, the most famous Inca ruin in the world! However, what most don’t know is that Cusco itself is an Inca ruin and was actually the capital city of the Inca Empire.
When I went backpacking in Cusco I was amazed at the city. Original blocks still show at the base of Colonial buildings due to the fact they could withstand earthquakes (unlike the Spanish building methods!)
Despite the thousands of tourists, Cusco has held onto its history and culture like no other city. The traditions of the locals still continue to this day and simply walking the streets or visiting a local market, you can immerse yourself in the Inca culture and those who still preserve it.
Let’s not forget, Machu Picchu is only “around the corner”! Cusco really is one of the best cities in Latin America!
5. Mexico City, Mexico
“22 million people can’t be wrong” was the slogan I first read when arriving in Mexico City, and after spending a couple of weeks there for myself, I agree.
The city can be daunting to any first-time visitor so one of the best things to do in Mexico City is to join one of the many free walking tours around the city. These walking tours dive right into the history of the city and why it keeps on sinking! Literally!
Mexico City also boasts many amazing museums and getting around to all of them is just about impossible – there are so many, but you can still try! If history isn’t your thing why not go see the famous Lucho Libre Mexican wrestling live! This cool event should be on every visitor’s list when visiting Mexico City. It’s a great way to get amongst the locals!
Mexico City’s music scene is also on fire with many amazing artists coming up through the ranks, and with that comes great nightlife!
Mexico City has something for everyone, it is one of the best Latin American cities for sure!
Related read: Choosing the best area to stay in Mexico City is really important. If you plan on visiting, be sure to check out our best hostels in Mexico City blog.
6. Buenos Aires, Argentina
Buenos Aires is the perfect place to dive into Argentinian culture head first! Renowned for Tango, this amazing city offers everything Argentina is known for such as mouth-watering Argentinian steaks, world-class wines at modest prices, and of course, crazy football (soccer) games!
Buenos Aires is also home to many amazing museums and free walking tours that give you a great insight into the past and present of Argentina and Buenos Aires. Some tours even go to famous areas such as Bocas which is a seaside district known for its beautifully colored buildings and cute walking streets!
The city is huge though, and picking the best area to stay in Buenos Aires is important. With that said, each area offers its own unique culture, atmosphere, and experience.
Buenos Aires is one city you simply can’t miss!
7. Cartagena, Colombia
The second Colombian city to make my “Best Latin American Cities” list, and rightly so, is Cartagena. This northern coastal city of Colombia takes you into the true culture of the Caribbean as you learn about pirate incounters on the city in its early days! Or, you can try traditional foods, eat fresh fish, visit museums, and explore the old town of Cartagena on foot!
This fort city really breathes, and the hustle and bustle of the beautiful cobblestone streets will leave you in awe! Enjoy taking a million photographs and still not being satisfied, or head to one of the nearby beaches and kick back and relax!
And if that’s not enough to tempt you, try watching one of the brilliant sunsets from the top of the huge wall that surrounds the old town! Cartagena is a beautiful city.
8. Salvador, Brazil
When I finally made it to Salvador in my last weeks of traveling Brazil, I thought that I had a rough idea of what to expect. However, what I found was something completely different. Salvador’s African influence has really shaped this city and made it a unique place to visit.
The small cobblestone streets and the old town built by the Portuguese are now home to African dancers, traditional food stands, and shops that sell unique souvenirs. This beautiful city really charmed me during my stay.
But it’s not just the city that had me head over heels. In fact, there are lots of great beaches near Salvador filled with that typical Brazilian atmosphere. I’m talking about coconuts and caipirinhas on the beach!
If you get a chance to visit during any Carnival celebrations, take it! The place lights up with amazing costumes and street parades and is a very different experience to Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. A visit to Salvador also wouldn’t be complete without getting your hair braided!
Related read: Salvador was one of Brazil travel highlights – find out what the rest are!
9. Valparaiso, Chile
The coastal city of Valparaiso is located only a few hours from the capital Santiago in Chile. This quirky port city is home to some of the most important history in Chile. Used as the main port of trade for the country, Valparaiso has been influenced by travelers from all over the world bringing their own unique touch to the city.
The hillside boasts bohemian-like neighborhoods, cool museums, and beautiful architecture that are full of color and history. There are plenty of cool and unique places to stay in Valparaiso both in the crazy streets and quiet neighborhoods.
Nowadays, the city is very famous for its creative graffiti scene, and after walking the streets, it won’t be hard to see for yourself why this is! On almost every building detailed murals are painted on the walls. On top of all of that, Valparaiso also has cool bars, cafes, and is overall known to be a very “trendy” city!
10. La Paz, Bolivia
There really is no other city like La Paz. Like the fact that La Paz is the highest major city in the world at a whopping 3,640m (11,940ft) above sea level! Nearly every step will have you gasping for air!
To put it simply though, La Paz is crazy! The streets are a crazy place and for some, very overwhelming. That being said, it doesn’t mean that La Paz won’t charm you.
To truly get to know La Paz one must take a few chances at the quieter streets. This is where you’ll find the true charm of the city. The local people of Bolivia are a friendly bunch so sit back and enjoy a Coca Leaf tea and watch the craziness from afar.
However, if craziness is what you love then I suggest one of my favorite things I did in La Paz – take a ride in one of the many cable cars! These cable cars are there to help the locals get to their homes in the surrounding mountainside outside of the city center. But for tourists, they provide the best views of the city to get the most amazing views of this massive city!
Before you go…
Every place I visit gives me some sort of reward or brings its own unique touch, so writing this list was extremely hard…but there it is. And despite contemplating the list for hours and changing it as I went along, these are the most memorable cities I visited, in no particular order of course!
I hope you enjoyed reading my “10 Best Latin American Cities” post, please let me know in the comments what you thought or if you need more information!
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