Our in-depth guide to Latin American travel in 2023

Ancient odysseys, exotic natural wonders and beachfront bliss

Latin America does big adventure just as well as it does relaxed retreat. So often it’s at the top of our bucket lists for offbeat, vibrant and adventurous escapes (not to mention a much-needed dose of warm sunshine). The natural wonders of its landscapes are matched in splendor by those of its diverse and dynamic cultures. In the 20 countries that comprise Latin America, many of the richest treasures to be uncovered lie in the smallest nuances of character. It rewards rediscovery. It compels you to look closer.

Where to go in Latin America

Wondering where to begin? Read our guide below for an introduction to our top five Latin American destinations, why you should visit each, and what you should do while you’re there. Or, if you know where you’re headed and want to explore, click the menu below for individual country guides.

  1. Ecuador
  2. Costa Rica
  3. Peru
  4. Belize
  5. Guatemala

Ecuador: from Cacao to Charles Darwin

It may be one of Latin America’s smallest nations, but it’s safe to say that Ecuador has it all. Between Spanish colonial architecture, cobbled streets, Andean villages, verdant Amazon rainforest, volcanic landscapes, exotic wildlife and white sandy shores, a stellar array of spectacles await those who visit this compact gem.

Where to go in Ecuador

Situated high in the Andean foothills, Ecuador’s capital Quito is a one stop shop for an abundance of culture, history, art, food, and music – the more you explore, the more you’ll discover. The city’s Centro Histórico features perfectly preserved colonial buildings, palm-lined plazas, and churches, convents and chapels built by indigenous artisans centuries ago. Art lovers should visit the Museo Nacional and Oswaldo Guayasamín’s Capilla del Hombre, a poignant tribute to humankind and one of Latin America’s most significant artworks. Freshly cooked, authentic cuisine can be found in the evening stalls at the Parque de las Tripas in La Floresta, and for a sweet treat, Ecuador is famed for the sustainable local practices which transform its gold mine of native cacao beans into velvety smooth chocolate.

What to do in Ecuador

For the avid adventurer, Ecuador’s national parks are paradise. Keen hikers will enjoy Cotopaxi National Park, where some of its fantastic walking trails gradually ascend to border the edge of the snow-capped Cotopaxi volcano summit, which stands as Ecuador’s second highest peak at 5,897 metres. A number of traditional haciendas also offer horseback riding through the park’s Andean grassland, an exciting challenge for all the family. Another must-see, Yasuní National Park is an extraordinary area of unspoiled, protected rainforest, where you can expect to set eyes on a medley of exotic creatures found nowhere else on earth.

Travelling to the Galápagos Islands

1,000 kilometres off Ecuador’s west coast lie the Galápagos Islands, which transformed our understanding of life on earth in the nineteenth century when Charles Darwin visited to research his theory of evolution. Their dramatic volcanic terrain can feel otherworldly, more like the moon than earth at times – but rest assured our expert guide, Juan Carlos, will show you this magical archipelago from perspectives even Darwin himself would have envied. On Bartholomew Island, snorkel alongside penguins and sea lions. Other swimming spots like Los Túneles are teeming with green sea turtles, manta rays, and seahorses. On land, the blazing afternoon sun doesn’t bother prehistoric yellow iguanas and giant tortoises, and neither do human onlookers; they go about their daily business casually, allowing for rare close encounters you won’t forget in a hurry.

Want to know what else our Travel Experts have to say about Ecuador? Head below.

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Vive la pura vida in Costa Rica

In the heart of Central America, Costa Rica’s smiling, friendly locals live according to their signature saying ‘pura vida’. Its multiple meanings transcend its literal translation to ‘pure life’, and connote a relaxed outlook on things, infused with a joyful optimism. By the end of your travels here, you’ll feel just as invigorated and carefree.

Where to go in Costa Rica

First, we recommend a pit stop in Costa Rica’s culture-rich capital city San Jose, where you can stroll through the historic streets of Barrio Amón, taste flavourful delicacies in the restaurants and cafés of Barrio Escalante, and dance the night away to infectious Latin rhythms in the city’s flamboyant clubs. Foodies should be sure to visit the Feria Verde de Aranjuez on Saturdays, when it is transformed into a bustling market offering local produce, delicious fresh food, traditional crafts and live music. The Hotel Grano de Oro, a converted mansion with charming tropical character, is the perfect place to rest your head after a busy day of exploring.

Wildlife travel in Costa Rica

Outside of its buzzing capital, Costa Rica is home to over 500,000 impressive wildlife species. The southern Corcovado National Park, which spans almost half of the wild Osa Peninsula, is one of the most beautiful locations in which enthusiasts can spot them. Resident howler and spider monkeys swing effortlessly between the branches of the same trees you’ll find lazy two- and three-toed sloths snoozing in, and lucky visitors might even catch sight of a puma or margay on the prowl. Colourful toucans and bright scarlet macaws also soar through clear blue skies, a reminder of the incredible biodiversity Costa Rica boasts.

There’s no better place to reside during your visit to the Osa Peninsula than at Lapa Rios, where the hotel’s expert guides hold the keys to the area’s natural wonders; its luxury bungalows are dotted within a private rainforest reserve, with stunning views out to the point where the Golfo Dulce fjord meets the deep turquoise waters of the Pacific.

For a different kind of action-packed day out, the nearby Pan Dulce beach is our white sandy pick; the immense waves that cascade upon its shores are not to be missed by surfers of all abilities.

Curious about Costa Rica? Head below.

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Potatoes in Peru

Journey into Peru’s ancient past

Welcome to postcard-perfect Peru, where rich cultural heritage strikes a balance with trend-setting modern society. Colourful contemporary life is inextricably intertwined with time-honoured, traditional custom in Peru. That’s what we love about it – an exciting fusion of old meets new.

Where to go in Peru

Nestled in the Sacred Valley of southern Peru, the mighty Machu Picchu stands steadfast, awaiting the arrival of eager explorers. Almost forgotten by the world until its rediscovery in the early 1900s, this vast citadel is an iconic must-see UNESCO Heritage Site, steeped in the six centuries of fascinating history it has endured. There is so much to learn about this testimony of ancient Incan civilisation, and its lush green terraces, remarkably preserved against a backdrop of undulating Andean peaks, are – put simply – spectacular. Our favourite journey to Machu Picchu’s lofty escarpments is on foot, walking some of the Sacred Valley’s unexposed routes with an expert guide through bygone indigenous villages, taking in magnificent scenery most never see.

From echoes of the country’s past into its present, the lively capital city of Lima is not to be missed. Immerse yourself in the swirling atmosphere of an exuberant carnival, view the 50,000- piece-strong ceramics collection of Rafael Larco Hoyle at Museo Larco, and cycle through the city’s glorious coastal parks, before unwinding at the grand Hotel B in the city’s romantic Barranco district.

Food and and the culinary culture of Peru

Peru is also deemed the culinary capital of South America. Over centuries, cultural diversity has brought with it an exciting assortment of ingredients and dishes, resulting in a unique cuisine incorporating Spanish, Indigenous, Asian and African influences. There’s no better place to sample fresh conchitas a la parmesana, or aji de gallina than in the Miraflores neighbourhood in Lima. We can even let you in on the secrets to Peru’s national fish dish ceviche in a private cooking class with our Michelin-starred chef friends at Central Restaurant (trust us – it’s delicious).

Feeling adventurous? Head below.

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Belize: Barrier Reefs and Beautiful Beaches

Belize, perched on the eastern periphery of Central America, is full of surprises. It’s all about lodging in luxury here, where a small yet incredibly indulgent selection of hotels offer world-class service, beautiful rooms, enviable cuisine, and lavish spa treatments. Whether you choose a tranquil beachside retreat or a stay deep in the heart of Belize’s dense, green jungles, you’ll fall head over heels for this tempting tropical haven.

The best beaches in Belize

Nowhere has beaches like Belize. Its coastline is one continuous stretch of warm white sand that meets blue green waters: an idyllic paradise. If you’re needing relaxation, think sunshine beating down, cocktail-in-hand, and vistas of the glistening Caribbean sea. If your appetite is for something a little more dynamic, Belize is also home to the largest barrier reef system in the northern hemisphere – and with this oceanic treasure trove comes a heavy helping of action and adventure for those who seek it.

Within its network of protected areas, divers and snorkelers will be lucky enough to witness schools of fish in a rainbow of colours darting between a mesmerising mosaic of luminous coral. The waters are clearest from November through to May, the best time for spotting hawksbill turtles, yellow stingrays, lion fish, and – if you’re feeling brave – nurse sharks, the namesake residents of Shark Ray Alley on the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Canoeing at Barton Creek, you’ll take to the waterways with paddle and torch in hand, and float along meandering streams through ancient Mayan caves, lined with geological stalactite and stalagmite mineral formations. A trip to Belize is also incomplete without a visit to the Great Blue Hole – the largest ocean sinkhole in the world, best viewed by plane from above or by diving.

What to do in Belize

On land, the exploring continues. Our accomplished guides can also help you immerse yourself in local life, interacting with members of the Mopan and the Yucatec Maya tribes in the village of San Antonio, and to venture through the 35,000 ancient buildings of Belize’s largest archaeological site, Caracol. In the southern town of Dangriga, lose yourself in the rhythms of traditional Garifuna music sung loudly and passionately played on drums and maracas.

Want to know more about Belize? Head below.

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antigua guatemala

Venture Off-The-Beaten Track in Guatemala

Bright, diverse, and captivating, Guatemala is one of Latin America’s lesser-explored hidden gems. In its relative seclusion from the travelling masses, seldom visited by busy hordes of tourists, Guatemala is a special country that most know little about. Expect a warm welcome and the chance to delve into its rich cultural heritage and stunning landscapes, all while staying in some outstanding boutique hotels.

Where to go in Guatemala

With hardly 2 percent of its total landmass fully urbanized, Guatemala’s resplendent natural scenery is unparalleled. One of our favourite countryside locations is the Lago de Atitlán, Central America’s deepest, mirrored lake surrounded by hills and imposing volcanoes; you can imagine the sense of peaceful seclusion that arrives as you gaze out at its still blue surface. Situated in a national park, the Río Dulce is also a must-see feast for the senses. The river, a lifeline and a key method of transport for many locals, is encircled by flourishing vegetation, and is home to chirping choruses of tropical birds.

What to do in Guatemala

If exploring history and culture is what you’re after, then Guatemala has your back. With a specialist guide, treading through the ancient jungle ruins of Tikal amongst long hanging vines and grey-green stone Maya temples, is somewhat surreal. In the dense canopy, monkeys, agoutis and turkeys will accompany your extraordinary expedition through this UNESCO World Heritage Site – it’s like stepping into another world. We also recommend a visit to Iximiche, secluded Mayan ruins favoured by native Guatemalans, but rarely seen by travellers. Whilst you’re in the area, why not share a cup of coffee, fresh from the plantations, with the locals.

Where Guatemala is more populated, there’s also plenty to explore. The active city of Antigua (the country’s former capital), is marked by its traditional buildings coloured in pretty pastel shades, and setting against a backdrop of volcanoes. Dotted throughout its buzzing markets, churches, and plazas, are meticulously maintained architectural reminders of Guatemala’s colonial history.

Getting excited about Guatemala? Head below.

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Latin America awaits

Whether it’s dancing at energetic, spirited local carnivals or wildlife spotting in the remote tropical junglewe’ve scoured the vibrant countries of Latin America to find the most unique and exciting experiences, locations and hotels. Feeling inspired? Speak to our travel experts and start planning your trip, tailored to you.  

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