Top 5 Destinations Latin America


 Latin America’s Finest


Narrowing down 120 days worth of new cities, towns and villages into 5 top destinations is not an easy task. The moment we touched down into edgy Guatemala City, we knew we were in for something pretty special. Within 3 days we were sitting just meters from an enormous lake closed in by perfect conical volcanoes, the views and locations kept getting better. Latin America offers up destinations in varying sizes from cities with millions of people, down to villages with just hundreds. We based our top recommendations on the uniqueness of the destination, how much they give you a vibe of ‘something different’, and where we could, the quality of food. So, who did we throw into our top 5? In no particular order, these are the big hitters:


1. Ometepe Island (Nicaragua)


Finca Mystica, Ometepe Island

This is life at Finca Mystica – with Luna chilling alongside

It might be the cliche “there’s a lake, within an island, within a lake” that sets it over the edge, but the unrivaled hospitality, howling sounds of nature on your doorstep  and overwhelming feeling of ‘chilled out’ puts Ometepe firmly in the Top 5. It was one of those places where you arrive and aren’t quite sure what is happening on the island, but aren’t too worried because the vibe feels just right. The vibe only got better when we met our hosts for the 3 days we’d planned on staying at Ometepe (turned out we’d stay 4 nights). Ryan and Angie (the owners of Finca Mystica) played a huge part in making our time on the island unforgettable  The all-American couple, who gave up life in the US to come down to Nicaragua and build their dream – a farm / boutique accommodation / yoga retreat / restaurant / paradise – did everything and more to make Celina and I feel at home. While we ended up staying for 4 nights, we could have happily kicked back for many more, the food was amazing, the service fun and there were plenty of things to do in and around the farm so long as you didn’t mind taking a walk or a taxi (4wd-only due to the roads). Swimming in Lake Nicaragua (previously inhabited by whale sharks), scrambling up Volcan Maderas, spotting howler monkeys and wandering the island roads to check out local life were among the things we ticked off while we were there. Would it have made the Top 5 without Ryan and Angie at Finca Mystica? Perhaps not – therefore if you go to Ometepe you know where you must stay. Plenty more about our time Down on the Farm in Ometepe


2. Iguazu Falls (Brazil & Argentina)


Iguazu Argentina

The wall of waterfalls

It came late in our 120 day adventure through South America and it took a bit of effort to get there (30-odd ours in a bus) but the Iguazu Falls more than lived up to their reputation as arguably one of the natural wonders of the world. There is absolutely no point trying to explain the sensation of being next to these looming beasts, it would be like trying to describe the feeling of a bungy jump when watching someone else do it. What can be said though, is that I’ve never been that close to something in nature that has consumed all my thoughts and emotions. Simply trying to imagine how powerful the fall called ‘Devils Throat’ is, boggles the mind. We consumed the views of this amphitheater of falls from both the Brazilian and Argentinan sides and if we had to choose we’d say the Argentinian was the best to visit. If you tried your very best and rushed through the national parques you could maybe do both falls in a day, but you wouldn’t get much time to fully appreciate the experience. Puerto Iquazu (ARG) is a good place to hang out, drink a few beers and relax before or after a visit to one side of the falls. If you are in the southern half of Latin America , you must travel to the Iguazu Falls – A Natural Wonder of the World. It’s a 24hr bus ride from Salta in Argentina (with a change in Posadas) and if you’re crazy enough, like we were, you can take a direct bus from the falls to Mendoza – it’ll only take you 37hrs.


3. Lake Atitlan (Guatemala)


Lake Atitlan, Guatemala (12)

Heading out on the kayak

One of the first places on the trip we visited was Lake Atitlan. After 2 nights, more or less, holed up in Guatemala City trying to keep ourselves safe we headed north to the lake. Still fresh out of London, we did our best to listen to the advice of another traveller and get ourselves aboard a boat that was ‘public’ and not spend half our trips savings on a private boat. Santa Cruz was our destination on Lake Atitlan, but it was pretty evident that anywhere on the Lake would do. The lake is massive, 130 square kilometers to be precise, and is set at the foot of three volcanoes (Volcan Atitlán, San Pedro & Tolimán), being at Santa Cruz we got great views of the volcanoes – I guess on the other side of the lake you don’t get the views. Our hostel, La Iguana de Perdida, did it’s very best to let us chill out with communal meals, a room with no electricity and a kayak to rent. We spent a good 3-4 hours out on the lake paddling the shores, checking out some of the massive houses that line the shores. There isn’t a great deal of swimming to be done, the lake levels have risen and there are no beaches to be spoken of, but Atitlan takes it all in its stride giving you treks up to waterfalls and boats trips across to other little communities to fill in time. It was a nice warm-up for our Guatemalan travels, it had a feeling of NZ with all the water and volcanoes, but definitely had the elements of culture that made us feel as though we were somewhere quite foreign. A trip to Guatemala would be missing something if Atitlan wasn’t included, just like a trip through Latin America would be missing something if Guatemala wasn’t included. If you can summon up the energy, take a relaxing look at what we got up to in Lake Atitlan – where volcanoes meet the lake


4. Villa de Leyva (Colombia)


Villa de Leyva

Villa de Leyva turns it on for our arrival!

Colonial towns come thick and fast in Latin America. In all fairness though, you can never really get too much of them, provided you’re happy chilling out eating, drinking and walking amongst nice buildings. Nicaragua threw up a couple of back to back colonial towns (Leon and Granada) and Guatemala had one of the more famous ones (Antigua),  but it was one of Colombia’s gems that took the cake. Villa de Leyva is a small town, or maybe you’d call it a village. Home to 10,000 people, the town sports cobblestone streets, white-washed buildings a rugged hill range towering above it and an enormous central plaza – Villa de Leyva has all the makings of a cracking Colonial town. While it was sometimes hard to separate the colonials, it was a mixture of it’s size, outstanding countryside, strong and well made coffee, unique clay buildings and outdoor offerings that allowed Villa de Leyva to take the prize of top 5. The place offers so much for somewhere so little, architecture (including the handmade clay house), history (museum built around a dinosaur fossil), outdoors (walking in the countryside or hiking the hill overlooking town), food and coffee (our favorite was Cafe Los Gallos) and great accommodation. It’s a favored destination for the city dwellers of Bogota, so just make sure you don’t hit it on a long weekend! Plenty more pics and commentary about Villa de Leyva – Small town Colombia


5. Arequipa (Peru)


Volcan Misti 2

Ooooooolld Misti catches the last rays of sun for the day

Recall the saying ‘I bet you think the sun shines out of your @£$%’, well if Arequipa was an ar$@ then it would be an extremely accurate statement. Never before have I seen a city with such a lack of clouds that I began to forget what they looked like. Arequipa is a medium sized Peruvian city that sits at 2,300 meters above sea level. It was a stop-off between the hiking mecca of Cusco and the Peru-Bolivia border. It’s a great looking city with colonial buildings, cobbled streets, views of the surrounding mountains and, as mentioned, blue, blue skies. Arequipa has what I think is probably the most interesting museum we went to on the trip, the Catholic University’s Museum of Andean Sanctuaries. It’s home to the ‘Ice Maiden’, a frozen mummy of a girl who was sacrificed to the gods on top of Mt Ampatu and later discovered, still perfectly preserved (definitely check it out). The enormous monastery in Arequipa is worth a look too, a relaxing walk around this massive complex (it has it’s own roads and enclosing brick wall) shows you what life was like in the 1500 and 1600’s. To cap things off, Arequipa has a sense of self-pride, they make their own brand of beer, have dishes and cocktails that you’ll only find in Arequipa and, we were told, even have had some of their own money made. Arequipan’s like to think of themselves as better than the rest of Peru, I probably would to if the sun shined out of my rear-end! Find the whole story about Arequipa – Sunshine, Sanctity and Skeletons


That’s it! It was tough to narrow down to five, so here are a few other notable spots that I just couldn’t quite fit in: Tikal (Guatemala), Medellin (Colombia), Cuenca (Ecuador), Tupiza (Bolivia) & Salento (Colombia). If you make it out to Latin America, be sure to check out the top 5 destinations and if you don’t like them…well I guess you don’t agree with me!


More on Latin America

Feel like there could be a few key destinations missing? They’re probably not far away, in an equally as important place:

> Top 5 Experiences: Latin America

> Top 5 Photos: Latin America (coming soon)

> Top 5 Feasts: Latin America (coming soon)

One Comment

  1. Top 5 Experiences: Latin America « says: December 2, 2012 • 19:20:10

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