Bitesize LatAm: Which country to visit in Latin America?
Still in the early planning stages of a LatAm trip and feeling confused by all the detail out there about which countries are best for what? We’ve written brief summaries of each Latin nation we’ve visited in order to help you decide which country to visit in Latin America. Too often, LatAm is grouped into one homogenous region, and people expect all the countries to have the same culture and activities, but they couldn’t be more different! This post on which country to visit in Latin America should show you how diverse they can be 🙂
Needless to say, these are our own views based on our experiences in each Latin American country listed – with the exception of Paraguay & Belize, we spent a minimum of 1 month in each, some as long as 9 months. We aim to be honest on this blog in order to best inform you, so honest we shall be!
Pros: easy to feel at home with a more European vibe; some of the best food in South America; landscapes are out of this world; plenty of hikes for outdoorsy travellers.
Cons: the country is vast and towns are far apart; BA and Patagonia are particularly pricey; tough accent to understand for those who were taught Spain or Mexico Spanish; a small minority is not super welcoming to the British (for obvious reasons…).
Visit for: amazing dive spots; world’s second largest coral reef; learning about Creole, Garifuna and Mayan cultures; ancient ruins & sacrificial sites.
Pros: incredibly friendly locals; size of the country makes it relatively easy to get around and is perfect for shorter trips; cheap chicken buses; Caribbean-style food & reasonably-priced street lobsters, Belize dollar fixed 2:1 with USD and used interchangeably, so unfair currency exchanges are not possible from USD.
Cons: tours are eye-wateringly expensive and basic accommodation can be pricey – even supermarket food is not cheap; not really a beach destination; some areas can be gentrified and resorty; public transport timetables aren’t well publicised.
Must-sees in Belize: ATM caves near San Ignacio; wild manatees, sharks & rays at the world’s second largest reef near Caye Caulker; calm beaches of Placencia; rich Garifuna culture in Hopkins; Mayan ruins at Xunantunich; Great Blue Hole from a plane.
Cons: Brazil is as large as Europe, so travelling within the country is long and often expensive, plus the cheapest airlines don’t like you paying with international cards; need to keep your guard up in big cities like Rio de Janiero; Portuguese can present a language barrier for those who have been focused on improving their Spanish throughout the region!
Pros: fairly similar weather all year round; easy-to-understand Spanish; months’ worth of must-sees; the majority of the country is safe despite a bad reputation; not yet over-touristy thanks to said reputation.
Cons: several cities have 2 rainy seasons; certain public transport routes still aren’t safe at night (advisable to travel through the very south on a day bus or via plane).
Visit for: Latin America for beginners; a taste of Central America without feeling too much like you’ve left the USA. If you’re deciding which country to visit in Latin America for a 1 or 2 week holiday with your family, we see Costa Rica as a perfect place – plenty of adventure activities, beaches, wildlife and tours available.
Pros: enjoy Caribbean and Pacific cultures all in one country, INCREDIBLE wildlife (like, really insane), good tourism infrastructure in terms of tours offered, qualification of guides, private shuttles, etc.
Cons: bar Bolivia, Costa Rica has the worst roads and public transport we’ve encountered (but we’ll let Bolivia off because, you know, hardly any money), and it’s truly infuriating. The country is expensive on Latin terms anyway, but large numbers of tourists from the US has led to high expectations for tipping from foreigners on top, even when pura vida got in the way of the service. Some parts can feel a little void of authentic culture.
Must-sees in Costa Rica: rehabilitated animals at the Jaguar Rescue Centre in Puerto Viejo, bike rides to beaches from Puerto Viejo, wild horses on Sámara beach, sloths anywhere and everywhere, ATV around the peninsula from Santa Teresa to Manzanillo.
Pros: fairly similar weather all year round; main cities all have very distinct styles; landscapes are epic; US $ makes currency calculations easier!
Cons: domestic tourism can make things crowded at weekends; some other countries request Yellow Fever Vaccination certificate if you’ve been to Ecuador, (even if you only stayed in urban areas) – not really a con as you’ll be protected but a slight inconvenience if it doesn’t apply to your route! It’s not the cheapest Latin country, but not as bad as people make out – $4 meals are still a thing.
Pros: easy and cheap shuttle buses, decent standard of accommodation at low price; the Spanish spoken is slow due to it being a second language for many; there is enough tourism to make plenty of friends, but not so much that it’s overwhelming.
Cons: you need to be careful of your surroundings on chicken buses and in Guatemala City, especially; strong WiFi can be difficult to find; keep up to date with volcano eruptions!
Must-sees in Guatemala: a stay at Maya Moon Lodge on Lake Atitlán; Indian Nose Hike at Lake Atitlán; Siete Altares in Lívingston; Volcán Pacaya; Acatenango hike to see El Fuego erupting at dawn (high difficulty!); Semuc Champey, ancient Mayan ruins at Tikal; market days in Antigua; Finca Paraíso in Río Dulce.
Visit for: lack of crowds, active volcanoes, Caribbean island paradise, all of the lakes.
Pros: tourism hasn’t picked back up yet following 2018’s civil unrest, so tourist crowds are minimal; it’s a country full of beautiful options for hiking of different levels; unique geographies (from active volcanoes forming lake islands to canyons and crater lakes); colonial architecture here is really stunning.
Cons: though accommodation is still very reasonable, living costs are not as cheap as we were told they were, presumably as they recover from the recent shut-down of tourism. For women, there’s lots of cat-calling, especially in Granada; it’s hard to get a grasp on how much transport should cost as lots of the bus attendees have a habit of charging foreigners whatever they feel like that day.
Must-sees in Nicaragua: stunning architecture of Granada; board down an active volcano in León; Masaya Volcano’s lava-filled crater; sunset from Catedral Inmaculada Concepción in Granada; Sunday Funday in San Juan del Sur; San Ramon waterfall on Isla Ometepe; paradise beaches of Little Corn Island; sunrise over Laguna de Apoyo – the lake within a crater (rent a paddle-board from Paradiso Hostel!).
English spoken: ****
Visit for: paradise beaches, small Caribbean islands, Miami-like development.
Pros: as a Westerner, you can very much feel at home in Panama City – expect to see all your favourite shops and restaurants; as Latin countries go, Panama has a relatively good relationship with its indigenous population, enabling them to rule over and protect their San Blas Islands from over-tourism.
Cons: it’s the kind of place rich white retirees go to pick up a young new plaything, which is both hilarious and gross to watch; Panama as a country is not as rich in things to do as others in the region.
Must-sees in Panama:San Blas Islands boat tour (to or from Colombia); Bocas del Toro island hopping; Casco Viejo in Panama City; Panama Viejo in Panama City.
English spoken: *
Visit for: well and truly off the Gringo Trail, wild terrain, safaris, cheap shopping, cost-saving route to Iguazú Falls (if coming from the West or North).
Pros: of those deemed safe to visit, this is probably Latin America’s most under-rated country, and that means… NO OVER-TOURISM, YAY! Hikes and trails to waterfalls in the South, safaris on the plains to the West.
Cons: no over-tourism also means little tourism infrastructure, so the travel here is more raw. Internal tourism is still a thing among the upper classes, so there are some busier holiday areas around San Bernandino on weekends. Everything is unpolished, which is a pro or con depending on your travel style!
Must-sees in Paraguay: San Jeronimo, Asuncion, at the weekend; party with the elite at Morgan Warehouse in Asuncion; hike to waterfalls and rock formations at Tobatí; see monkeys in Ybycuí national park; soak up holiday vibes at San Bernardino; safari in Gran Chaco; cheap shopping at Ciudad del Este.
English spoken: ***
Visit for: epic wonders of the world; rich history; diverse terrain; colonial architecture; partying.
Pros: excellent public transport; ease of visiting places of interest on tours; good tourism infrastructure.
Cons: touristy in places; sheer size means it takes a long time to get anywhere by bus; very popular with both long and short term travellers (both a pro and a con!).
Visit for: gringo-less travels, rolling countryside, incredible beaches.
Pros: very safe country; untouched beaches; underrated by most (so not over-crowded).
Cons: Some parts are full of tourists (mostly from Brazil and Argentina) during high season and then completely closed during low season (such as Punta del Este); close to Western European prices; food is sometimes lacking in flavour, variety and vegetables; tough accent to understand.
So, there you have it! Our comprehensive guide on which country to visit in Latin America. We hope that you can use this to be able to select the countries that suit you and your travel style best. Let us know in the comments which country to visit in Latin America you would choose!
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