We’ve focused on where to go in Asia. This time the spotlight is on Latin America, with our guide to which spots to check out beyond Buenos Aires and what these up-and-coming hot spots have to offer.
There are several Latin American destinations to keep on your radar when planning your next trip. Martin Ruffo, Intrepid Travel‘s region product manager for Latin America, tells us that the region as a whole is heating up. “Intrepid’s Latin America trips have seen a significant jump in bookings in the past year, which is why we’ve decided to add trips in a few key places for 2014.”
This soon-to-be hot spot in Central America made the New York Times’ list for where to go in 2013 and it will continue to gain momentum. Ruffo tells us that he is seeing bookings increase for Nicaragua, as well as Panama. “These destinations offer great value, along with a diverse range of activities and fascinating history, and Americans seem to be discovering them as a great alternative to beach-only vacations,” Ruffo explains. Nicaragua in particular offers endless activities, from coffee plantation tours and eco-adventures to volunteerism tours, sand=boarding down the Cerro Negro volcano, hiking in lush jungles, rappelling into the ocean, zip lining and scuba diving off the Caribbean coast.
If you go, Rob Harper, director of business development for Namu Travel Group, suggests checking out Mukul Resort, which opened early this year. “This is easily Nicaragua’s finest five-star resort and, as the country continues to build a reputation as a safe and fascinating place for tourists to visit, Mukul will be a popular spot to visit,” he says. The resort is located just north of popular beach area San Juan del Sur, whose scenery he describes as majestic.
Kali Kucera, who runs Latin America’s largest bus schedule site and who travels extensively in Latin America, describes Zaruma as “a magical little city.” Perched on the top of a mountain in El Oro province, the quaint town has a relaxed pace and charm to spare. Winding streets, great views (the town is roughly 3,900 feet above sea level) and unique architecture help make Zaruma a destination worth seeking out. Kucera notes that it’s the only town in Ecuador where the buildings are made predominantly out of wood. You can also expect great coffee, friendly people and an off-the-beaten path vibe.
Now that Colombia has become a much more stable country, more and more travelers are starting to pay a visit to the country. “There are many beautiful hotels in Cartagena to choose from, but if you also want to get off the beaten path, try the little-known island of Providencia, which can be reached from either Panama or Colombia,” says Alison Crabb, director at luxury travel company Exsus.com.
Kucera also suggests Mompox if you really want a taste for something different. “It’s a very cool back-swamp town that in yesteryear was the hideout for the rich and famous of Cartagena when the pirates were attacking,” he says. “You have to get there by a combination of bus and ferry, but the result is this macabre experience of New Orleans meets the African Queen.”
Panama City, Panama
Panama City is set to experience a resurgence where tourism is concerned. Harper cites the Panama Canal’s current expansion project as one draw. “Taking a tour of the area or a ride through the existing canal while the construction is taking place is a really neat experience, sort of a history-in-the-making type of experience,” he explains. The city is also set to complete the first phase of Central America’s first subway system. “That, combined with the huge waterfront pedestrian upgrades, makes it a great city to get out and explore.”
Crabb agrees. “Now that Casco Viejo, the historical part of Panama City, has reached UNESCO world heritage status, there are many wonderful properties, and the area is quickly being restored to its former glory,” she explains. “It’s also a fun place to go out in the evening, with many restaurants and bars.”
The Bay Islands, Honduras
The Bay Islands in Roatan, Honduras, are heating up in terms of travel, notes Crabb. “Here you’ll find some wonderful unspoiled beaches and fantastic diving, all at exceptionally good value.” Think of Roatan as a more interesting alternative to some standard beach destinations you may already have visited several times, such as Cancun. Flights to the area are now also much more accessible, and there are new direct flights from Miami and Houston, which will help entice visitors.
Chiloe Island, Chile
Whether you’ve already been to Santiago or you’re simply looking for another spot to add to your Chile itinerary, Crabb suggests Chiloe Island. “Many people overlook Chiloe when visiting the lake district in Chile. However, now that there are direct flights from Santiago to Castro on Chiloe Island, it’s much more accessible,” she notes. “The island is very different from the rest of Chile, with its own history and mystical legends.” There are also some unique and quirky properties to check into on the island, such as Espejo de Luna, which is shaped like a boat, or the new and contemporary Refugia for those who want to travel in style.