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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 America 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 and one of our favorites was taking a tour of the old town in a vintage car! Cuba is famous for these and it’s a fun and convenient way to see the city and cruise the coastline with the wind blowing through your hair. If you try booking online in advance it’s likely you’ll pay at least $65 USD but my tip is to haggle in person like we did. We ended up getting our tour for half of the online price!
Learning about Havana’s rich history is another must-do activity and the best way to learn is on a walking tour. I recommend the free walking tours offered by Free Walking Tour Havana where you will be guided all around the city visiting notable locations including the Christ de Redeemer statue and Che Guevara’s house. Your camera is sure to be working overtime! Just made sure to tip your guide as that’s what supports the locals and keeps the tours free!
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 quickly!
Related Read: If you’re going to Cuba as a backpacker, 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! There are even tons of incredible tours in Medellin to help you discover the city.
This bustling place is now home to amazing culture, food, and nightlife that makes for one amazing Medellin itinerary. You’ll definitely want to visit the neighborhood of Comuna 13 which has transformed from one of the most dangerous places to an area full of street art, dancing, and friendly locals!
This art and food-filled tour has been one of the most authentic tours that I’ve taken. For just $19 USD you’ll learn about Comuna 13’s history and enjoy awesome graffiti and street food. Over 3 hours, you’ll explore the streets, seeing top sights and learning about the fascinating meaning behind each piece of street art. Bring your appetite too because you’ll be snacking on mango ice cream, empanadas, and more.
If you want to go on a super unique adventure with incredible views then you have to check out the Dream Hammocks!
On this private tour from Medellin, you’ll be transported to the La Ceja nature reserve outside the city where you’ll have the chance to hang in a hammock at 492 feet (150 meters) above the ground! Personally, I’ve yet to do anything quite like it. In addition to the hammocking experience, you will also see some waterfalls and zipline through the forest. For just $205 USD it’s such a great value!
With some of the best walking tours on the continent, hundreds of amazing restaurants, epic day trips, world-class nightlife, coffee tours galore, and beautiful people make Medellin my favorite city in South America! You can even conveniently take a day trip to Guatape which is home to the famous El Penol Rock.
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 statue 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. A visit up Sugarloaf Mountain by cable car at sunset is a must. Truly, my list of the best Latin American cities simply wouldn’t be complete without 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, try scuba diving, walk the beautiful botanical gardens, or visit one of Rio’s favelas on some of the tours in Rio!
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!
Because Rio is so massive I’d highly recommend adding a city tour to your Rio itinerary, especially if you don’t have long in the city. We think that this particular full-day Rio tour is the best way to check out the major sights including the Christ de Redeemer statue, Sugarloaf Mountain, the area’s best beaches, the Tijuca Forest and more! It costs $73 USD and can easily be booked online in advance.
If you haven’t thought about seeing Rio from a completely different perspective I have to put you on to this helicopter tour because the views are fabulous! The flight is around 30 minutes long and you will see a huge list of notable sights from the coastline and beaches to the Christ the Redeemer overlooking the city and the gondolas making their way up to Sugarloaf Mountain.
Helicopter tours start at $288 USD per person with up to five passengers per booking, so this is a great experience if you’re traveling with a group.
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! Carnival in Brazil is one of the best times to visit, trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
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!)
While you can simply wander around and see the remnants of the ruins the best way to learn is to join this affordable ruins tour for only $35 USD where a local guide will pick you up from your hotel and take you to four different ruins around Cusco. The best thing about having a guide is that you’ll be able to learn so much about the significance of each location!
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 walking the streets or visiting a local market, you can immerse yourself in the Inca culture and those who still preserve it. Plus, there are tons of fun things to do and see in Cusco.
You’ll meet in San Pedro Market to pick out ingredients with your Peruvian chef. Then, you’ll learn how to make local dishes with a modern twist, taste a pisco sour which is the national drink, and even have some dessert where you’ll try a variety of exotic fruits. The entire experience is $59 USD which is a great deal as it includes a meal!
Let’s not forget, Machu Picchu is only “around the corner” and most people book a guided tour from Cusco. There are many different kinds of tours, from hiking the Inca Trail or the Salkantay Trek to taking a luxury train tour there is an option to match your traveling style!
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 a tour of Mexico City. There are some great free walking tours or reasonable sightseeing tours to choose from. These tours dive right into the history of the city and why it keeps on sinking! Literally!
We particularly love this historical tour because it covers some of the most important aspects of Mexican life: ancient Mayan history, Catholicism, and tequila!
You will see the city’s largest archeological site, visit one of the most notable crusade sites in Christianity, and go beyond city limits to climb an ancient pyramid that will bring you impressive views of Central Mexico. Wash it all down with some high-quality tequila and you have as close to a perfect day in Mexico City as you could ask for!
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, then try some delicious food on a taco tour in Mexico City!
I had some of the best tacos in my life on this authentic taco tour in La Roma. It was an intimate small group tour where our guide showed us to 5 different local spots. The $63 USD cost also included two drinks so we found it to be excellent value.
Or why not go see the famous Lucha Libre Mexican wrestling live! This cool event should be on every visitor’s list when visiting Mexico City. A Lucha Libre tour like this one in Mexico City is a great way to get amongst the locals! Plus before the wrestling match begins you’ll meet at a local bar to sample a variety of handcrafted mezcal.
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! If you need a full plan for your visit, this 3-day itinerary for Mexico City should be helpful!
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 jaw-dropping tango shows, this amazing city offers everything Argentina is known for such as mouth-watering Argentinian steaks (one of the best I had was on The Argentine Experience dining tour), world-class wines at modest prices, and of course, crazy football (soccer) games!
The city is home to many amazing museums and excellent tours that give you a great insight into the past and present of Argentina and Buenos Aires. Some sightseeing tours in Buenos Aires even go to famous areas such as La Boca which is a seaside district known for its beautifully colored buildings and cute walking streets!
This is the exact small group tour of Buenos Aires that we did our first time here and we loved it! We got to see all the best sights in just 3 hours, including Plaza de Mayo, the La Boca neighborhood, and the fascinating Recoleta Cemetary.
Because wine tasting is a must in Buenos Aires I have to highlight this small-group tour which only costs $59 USD. It is led by an expert sommelier who will teach you all about winemaking in Argentina and how to taste wine properly.
Three of the country’s most popular types of wine are Malbec, Chardonnay, and Torrontés so you’ll get to try these from inside a subterranean wine cellar – how awesome is that?
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 encounters in the city in its early days! Or, you can try traditional foods on a food tour, eat fresh fish, visit museums, take a tour to explore, or wander around 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! It’s a beautiful city and there are plenty of fun things to do and see in Cartagena.
If the city we’re visiting is on the coast you better believe we’re going to get out on the water if we have the chance to. We loved this 2-hour dinner cruise not only for the food, vibes, and music but also for the chance to see different angles of the city for sunset. We were able to down the pace for the evening and just enjoy being in Cartagena!
If you want to be taken to paradise you can easily take a day trip from Cartagena to the Rosario Islands which actually made our list of the top things to do in all of Colombia because of their crystal waters and white sandy beaches.
The best way to get there is on a catamaran tour such as this one. It’s a 7-hour tour where you’ll cruise around the different islands before anchoring up off the coast of Island Grande and Isla Baru to go snorkeling in the coral reefs. After you’ve exerted some energy you can refuel with the provided lunch. All this for just $90 USD!
As you can see, Cartagena really has it all!
8. Salvador, Brazil
When I finally made it to Salvador in my last weeks of traveling around 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.
If you join a city tour like this one you can actually see many of the famed sights including the Bahia Lighthouse and Fortress and Jesuit Basilica Cathedral all in one go while simultaneously learning about the history from your local guide.
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!
Specifically, this beach tour for only $31 USD drives past many different beaches but primarily spends most of the time hanging out at Praia do Forte and Guarajuba (beaches) to enjoy the warm and clear waters and indulge in some local cuisine.
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!
Salvador is not only one of our most memorable Latin American cities but also one of our 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.
Make sure to take advantage of the awesome free walking tours that are offered here with Tours 4 Tips or if you want to learn in more depth about the artists and famous graffiti pieces around the city you can join this 1.5 hour Valparaiso street art tour for $70 USD.
Food lovers won’t want to leave without indulging in some local Chilean cuisine and the best way to do so is by getting hands-on and taking a cooking class with a local chef.
This Chilean cooking class comes with a market tour and takes about five and a half hours since you are a part of the process from selecting the food to making it and, finally, enjoying your home-cooked 3-course meal at the end that is accompanied by either pisco sours or fine Chilean wines.
Speaking of wines, the Casablanca Valley wine region on the outskirts of Valparaiso is unbelievably beautiful and the wine here is some of the best in the country! If you’re anything like me then you won’t be missing out on any opportunity that involves fine wine and incredible views and that’s just what’s offered on this private wine tour for around $188 USD.
On top of all of that, Valparaiso also has cool bars, cafes, and is overall known to be a very “trendy” city!
Related Read: Planning to fly into the capital city but short on time? Check out our one-day Santiago itinerary!
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 as one of the best places to see in Bolivia.
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 – taking 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!
Continuing with the theme of crazy, if you have a few daring bones (ok maybe more than a few) in your body then Death Road is sure to pique your interest. You essentially will be mountain biking along the World’s Most Dangerous Road. It must be done carefully and with some safety precautions so I’d recommend booking the same tour that we did because the company makes sure to keep their bikes in great condition.
On the opposite spectrum, there are still plenty of ways to take it easy or get out in nature in La Paz. Ride the Mi Teleférico to enjoy views of the city (the one at the top of the green line is awesome!), shop or people watch at the Mercado 16 de Julio, go high-altitude hiking in the Cordillera Real mountains, join a gourmet food tour, or attend a cholitas wrestling show.
These ideas just scratch the surface of all that La Paz has to offer for adventurous individuals!
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Thanks for reading!
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 guide to the best Latin American Cities, please let me know in the comments what you think or if you need more information!
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