With inspiring historical architecture, diverse cultures, delicious food, and (generally) affordable prices for travelers, Latin America is increasingly a popular travel destination for backpackers and luxury travelers. Whether you’re headed to the biodiverse Galapagos Islands, the beaches of Cuba, or the ruins of Machu Picchu, you’re in for the travel experience of a lifetime.
Want to visit some of the best, most vibrant cities in Latin America on your next trip? From tiny beach towns to some of the largest capitals in the world, these are the Latin America cities you won’t want to leave off your itinerary.
Latin America Cities
Latin American cities come in all shapes and sizes and include some of the most important metropolises in the world. In this article, we cover the best cities in Latin America for travelers, meaning you’ll find some of the region’s best capitals alongside mid-sized cities and even small towns with a particularly important cultural, historical, or touristic significance for visitors.
For the purposes of this article, we stick to cities that are in the countries that are considered a part of Latin America: countries in Central and South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean countries whose primary language derives from the Romance Languages.
Looking for the best cities in South America? We’ve got a guide for that, too!
Best Cities in Latin America
1. Mexico City, Mexico
Mexico’s vibrant capital is one of the world’s largest and most hectic cities, but it has plenty to offer travelers. Whether visitors are drawn to the city by its rich and layered history, delicious cuisine – with both world-class fine dining and street tacos, or art-filled neighborhoods, there is plenty to see here.
Travelers can visit the National Palace and the enormous main square, the Zócalo, before visiting the Frida Káhlo museum and taking a self-guided tour around the city to spot Diego Rivera’s murals. Then, explore neighborhoods like Condesa, Roma, and Polanco.
Plus, Mexico City is a perfect gateway to beach resort destinations on both the Atlantic or Pacific Coast, as well as Mexico’s charming pueblos mágicos – magical towns – in the center of the country that stun with their quaint beauty.
2. Quito, Ecuador
Sitting in the shadow of the snow-capped Cotopaxi Volcano, the Ecuadorian capital city of Quito is an unforgettable mix of history and natural beauty. Buildings crawl up the sides of a dramatic valley for views from every turn but make sure to take Quito’s TeleferiQo cable car up to the top of the Pichincha Volcano for dramatic panoramas that go on for miles.
Quito is also an excellent base for a short Ecuador itinerary, with easy day trips from Quito including visits to the cloud forest town of Mindo, adventure-sports capitals like Baños, indigenous market towns like Otavalo, and even the Amazon Rainforest.
Perhaps we’re biased – we lived in Quito for more than two years and loved every second of it! – but we truly think it’s one of the best cities in Latin America and one that should be at the top of every travel bucket list.
3. Buenos Aires, Argentina
There are no other Latin America cities like Buenos Aires! Known as the Paris of the South, Buenos Aires, Argentina combines the architecture of Europe with the energy of New York and the flavor of Latin America in a way that no other city can for a one-of-a-kind travel experience.
Even if you have just a day or two in Buenos Aires before heading off to Patagonia, make sure to spend time exploring all Buenos Aires has to offer – it’s home to so many of the things to do in Argentina that you won’t want to miss. Take a tango class at La Catedral, visit the famous La Bombonera fútbol stadium, or explore the hauntingly beautiful Recoleta Cemetery, the final resting place of Eva Perón.
Plan a Trip to Buenos Aires
4. Montevideo, Uruguay
Montevideo is often considered the laid-back little sister of Buenos Aires, but don’t let this comparison fool you – this tiny capital is one of the coolest cities in South America, in one of the safest countries in South America, and is bursting with things to see and do.
Take a stroll down Montevideo’s coastal promenade known as the Rambla and enjoy ocean views, or explore the city’s Ciudad Vieja (Old Town) with its markets, galleries, and museums. Try out one of our favorite solo travel tips – take a free walking tour to meet other travelers while you’re here!
Don’t skip the Mercado del Puerto in the heart of the Old Town – it’s packed with vendors selling Uruguayan asado, a local barbecue style.
Montevideo is also a gateway to exploring Uruguay’s numerous beaches. It’s just a quick drive from both posh resort towns like Punta del Este and windswept surf spots like Punta del Diablo which are home to some of South America’s best beaches.
5. Antigua, Guatemala
A UNESCO World Heritage site for its stunning colonial architecture and rich, layered history, Antigua, Guatemala is one of the most charming small cities in Latin America for travelers looking for both natural beauty and undeniable character. Travelers will instantly recognize the iconic Santa Catalina Arch, perfectly framing views of the Volcán de Agua in the background.
Antigua is known for its towering volcanoes, making for both impressive vistas and incredible excursions and hikes. Hike the Acatenango volcano for incredible sunrise views of the nearby active Volcán de Fuego, often seen living up to its name by spewing lava. After exploring Antigua, travel onward to Lake Atitlán to explore tiny lakeside towns and hike the verdant volcanoes that dot the shoreline.
6. Havana, Cuba
There’s no place on Earth quite like Havana, the timeless Caribbean capital known for its vintage cars, colorful architecture, and enduring history. When it comes to Latin American cities, few places come to mind with more cultural richness and historical and political significance than Havana.
There are truly endless things to do in Havana for travelers, including strolling along the seaside Malecón seawall, visiting the mixed-use arts and entertainment space Fábrica de Arte Cubano, and taking dance lessons in the birthplace of some of the world’s most important rhythms.
Make sure to explore Old Havana, but spend the night in a casa particular in Vedado, one of Havana’s other beautiful neighborhoods where gentile mansions are now home to some of the city’s coolest bed and breakfasts and boutique hotels.
7. San Juan, Puerto Rico
Cobblestone streets and colorful architecture make Old San Juan, Puerto Rico one of the most historic Latin America cities in the Caribbean, but it’s just the start of what makes San Juan such a fantastic destination.
Visit La Placita de Santurce for evening festivities and local bites like alcapurrias, explore centuries-old Spanish colonial architecture with ocean views by climbing San Juan’s iconic fortress El Morro, and party at Fifty Eight, where you’re bound to run into Bad Bunny or any of the island’s other famous reguetoneros. It’s all in a day in San Juan.
After you’ve explored the city, retreat to the Condado Collection of hotels and resorts nestled along some of the city’s most beautiful beaches. The Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, La Concha Resort, and Condado Ocean Club each offer their unique take on a luxurious Caribbean beach getaway while offering easy access to the best of San Juan’s upscale Condado neighborhood.
Read More: 22 Best Things To Do in Puerto Rico
8. Bogotá, Colombia
The capital city of Colombia is much more than just high-rise buildings and urban sprawl. The mega city of Bogotá is home to a thriving arts scene, beautiful historic districts, stunning mountain views, and fantastic cuisine, making it a must on any South America backpacking route.
Spend your time exploring the historic district of La Candelaria before visiting the city’s breathtaking Gold Museum to see the city’s extraordinary collection of pre-Columbian gold artifacts. Then, end the day by taking the cable car or hiking to the summit of Monserrate Hill for panoramic views of the city at the Monserrate Sanctuary.
From there, head onward to other major Colombian cities like Medellin or Cartagena, or any of the tiny pueblos patrimonio – heritage towns – that dot the mountainside with historic churches, plazas, and gorgeous architecture.
Read More: 15 Best Cities in Colombia for Travelers
9. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro is much more than just its iconic attractions like the towering Christ the Redeemer statue, lively Carnival celebrations, and stunning beaches like Copacabana and Ipanema. This sprawling city offers everything from a budding art scene and world-class dining to cool cultural events to keep travelers coming back for more.
In-the-know travelers recommend spending at least five days based in Rio de Janeiro if you’re looking to experience all the best that one of the most iconic cities in Latin America has to offer. Then, head onward to the country’s best beaches in destinations like Ihla do Mel or the colonial gem of Paraty.
10. Arequipa, Peru
Nestled within a breathtaking landscape of volcanoes and canyons, the southern Peruvian city of Arequipa hides endless allure, even though far too few travelers add it to their Machu Picchu-centric Peru itineraries. Arequipa’s dramatic white architecture and the bright red walls of the stunning Santa Catalina Monastery create an enchanting contrast against the volcanoes that tower over the city.
After exploring the city of Arequipa, consider summiting one of the city’s many peaks or heading onward to a multi-day trek through the Colca Canyon, which is one of the world’s deepest canyons where Andean condors soar. Beyond, Lake Titicaca and the Incan capital of Cusco await.
11. La Paz, Bolivia
The world’s highest-elevation capital city, La Paz, Bolivia will take your breath away both literally and figuratively. This city’s incredible mix of colonial and indigenous tradition, cuisine, architecture, and history make it one of the most intriguing, if little-visited, cities in Latin America.
Take in the city from above by riding the iconic cable cars that cut across the valley for a bird-eye view before visiting the famous Witches Market, one of the coolest markets in Latin America where you’ll learn plenty about indigenous traditions and beliefs – these are just a few of the incredible things to do in La Paz.
La Paz is also the gateway for many travelers headed to Salar de Uyuni, one of the most important landmarks in South America and one of the most breathtakingly unique bucket list destinations in the world. Also known as the World’s Largest Mirror, Uyuni is home to the world’s largest salt flat, which floods during the rainy season to perfectly reflect the sky.
12. Panama City, Panama
Panama City, Panama is uniquely known for its soaring, modern skyscrapers and bustling business center, making it one of the most important financial capital cities in Latin America. However, a nascent tourism industry and increasingly appealing attractions within Panama City and beyond are transforming it into one of the region’s most interesting new travel destinations.
Once overlooked, rundown, and even a bit dangerous, Panama City’s Casco Viejo Historic Center has had an incredible renaissance in recent years, transforming it into one of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods. Restored colonial mansions and religious properties now boast some of the most beautiful hotels in Panama City.
13. Baños, Ecuador
Its unique position between the Andes Mountains and the Amazon Rainforest makes it the perfect destination to enjoy everything from white water rafting and ziplining to endless waterfall hikes and mountain biking excursions. The Swing at the End of the World is another must, allowing visitors to feel like they’re soaring over the mountainside.
Or, enjoy a more relaxing visit to Baños by visiting the city’s countless spas, home to warm-water pools naturally heated by volcanic energy from deep within the earth. Public spas charge nominal fees for visitors or choose from more luxe options like Luna Volcán.
Read More: Baños, Ecuador: Ultimate Traveler’s Guide
14. Oaxaca, Mexico
The beautiful central Mexican city of Oaxaca is a culinary and cultural gem with an endless list of things to do and one-of-a-kind experiences for travelers that make it an undeniable winner with travelers. Notably, this city is home to the ancient Zapotec ruins of Monte Albán, offering a glimpse into Mexico’s pre-Columbian history.
Oaxaca is also well known for its unique gastronomy, totally unique among others in Mexico, which makes it one of the best destinations in Mexico for a food tour. Visit local markets to sample mole, tlayudas, and local spirits like tequila and mezcal – it will be one of the best things you do in Mexico!
15. Cusco, Peru
Cusco is known as the gateway to Machu Picchu, but the former capital of the Incan empire is so much more than that. From luxe accommodations to local markets, it’s clear why it’s among the most beloved cities in Peru for travelers.
Spend a few days in Cusco getting acclimated to the sky-high altitude and visiting museums with Incan mummies or taking day trips around Cusco to sites like Ollantaytambo, the site of an important indigenous resistance against Spanish conquistadors, or Pisac, with its lively market and impressive ruins. There are plenty of things to do in Cusco no matter your interest.
Of course, a visit to Cusco wouldn’t be complete without heading to Machu Picchu. It’s a short train ride from Cusco – take the Vistadome train to enjoy mountain views through transparent rooftops.
16. Medellin, Colombia
From dark history to one of the most fascinating cities in Latin America, Medellin stands out for its incredible transformation and brilliant future. Now a beloved destination for digital nomads in Latin America, it’s only going to get bigger and better for travelers and remote workers alike.
Explore Medellin by riding the modern, above-ground metro and connecting to the cable car system for a birds-eye view of the city’s sprawling neighborhoods tucked into the sides of mountains. Ride the cable car all the way to Parque Arvi, one of the best destinations for hiking, walking, and biking on the heights outside of Medellin.
Of course, a trip to Colombia wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Eje Caftero – the coffee-producing region of the country. Take a day trip from Medellin to one of the many coffee farms just outside of the city, or take a multi-day visit to some of the smaller cities in Colombia known for their coffee production.
17. Tamarindo, Costa Rica
The beaches of Costa Rica have long been known as a paradise for surfers and beach lovers, offering pristine sands, clear waters, and a laid-back atmosphere in a gorgeous setting. If you’re looking for a laid-back beach town experience with all the amenities and conveniences, there are destinations better than Tamarindo, located on the country’s Pacific coast.
Enjoy waves ideal for both beginners and experts before heading to the Tamarindo Wildlife Refuge to encounter endemic flora and fauna in a remote yet accessible setting. Howler monkeys and crocodiles will keep you on your toes.
Read More: 12 Best Beaches in Costa Rica
18. Santiago, Chile
Modern, bustling Santiago, Chile is one of the most important financial capitals in Latin America, but it has plenty that draws travelers here as well. Hike or take the funicular to the top of Cerro San Cristobal for incredible panoramic vistas over the city and to the snow-capped mountains of the Andes just beyond. Then, head to the colorful neighborhood of Bellavista for street art, restaurants, and endless shopping and nightlife.
Take a day trip – or even better – spend a long weekend visiting Valparaiso, Chile along the country’s dramatic coastline. This colorful town is another one of the must-visit cities in Latin America that travelers can’t get enough of.
19. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Often overlooked by travelers rushing off to beachfront resorts in Punta Cana, the Dominican capital city of Santo Domingo boasts a rich history with its colonial district and offers travelers a blend of Caribbean charm and Spanish heritage. The city’s Zona Colonial is a UNESCO World Heritage site with endless historic churches, plazas, and other important landmarks worth exploring.
This vibrant capital is just the starting point for enjoying the most-visited country in the Caribbean. From Santo Domingo, head to the best beaches in the Dominican Republic found in the laid-back province of Samaná, the mogotes of Los Haitises National Park, or the country’s new private island resort at Cayo Levantado.
20. Monteverde, Costa Rica
The tiny town of Monteverde is barely a blip on the map, but for travelers looking to explore the lush cloud forests of Costa Rica, it’s one of the Latin America cities that first comes to mind. Embark on a nature walk in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve to observe exotic bird species, lush vegetation, and unique biodiversity in this hidden gem in the country’s interior.
Spend the night at Hotel Belmar, with its unique Swiss-inspired architecture and stunning mountain views. The hotel is one of the first luxury eco-friendly resorts in Costa Rica and offers unique experiences for travelers like farm-to-table dinners from platforms suspended among the jungle canopy.
Read More: 23 Best Cities in Costa Rica for Travelers
21. Puno, Peru
If you haven’t heard of the tiny Peruvian city of Puno, you’re not alone – this town is little but lively and best known for its next-door neighbor: the enchanting Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake. This is a must-visit destination for travelers who want to experience Lake Titicaca’s abundant natural beauty alongside the unique traditions of the local Uros communities who call the lake’s “floating islands” home.
Puno is within driving distance of other popular Peruvian cities like Cusco and Arequipa and even within a few hours’ drive of La Paz, Bolivia. It’s an easy addition to any Peru or Bolivia itinerary and offers an impressive window into ancient and modern cultures.
Plan a Trip to Puno, Peru
22. Granada, Nicaragua
Located along the shores of Lake Nicaragua, the tiny city of Granada is one of Central America’s most beautiful and historic destinations. Admire the colonial architecture of the Granada Cathedral and the nearby Parque Central before heading to the Islets of Granada by boat to witness unique birdlife and breathtaking volcano views.
During your visit to Granada, make sure to take day trips to León, with its gleaming, white-domed cathedral, and Lake Nicaragua’s Isla Ometepe. Then, head to Nicaragua’s beloved backpacker destination of the Corn Islands for the best affordable Caribbean island destination you’ve never heard of.
23. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Central Mexico is known for its gorgeous and colorful towns, but few are as enchanting as San Miguel de Allende. This artistic haven is known for its charming colonial architecture, art galleries, and cool restaurants that make it increasingly among must-visit Latin America cities at the top of every traveler’s bucket list.
Spend a night at Casa de Sierra Nevada, A Belmond Hotel, a sumptuous boutique property in a historic building that brings the best of the city’s rich beauty close. It was recently named one of the world’s 50 best hotels by Travel + Leisure. The property is also home to Tunki Rooftop by Handshake, a cocktail bar designed by Handshake, one of ‘The World’s Best Bars.’
24. Cartagena, Colombia
There’s no Caribbean destination hotter right now than the coastal Colombian city of Cartagena. Nestled along white sandy shores, Cartagena is both a bustling, modern capital and a historically significant haven. Exploring the historic Walled City, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is one of the best things to do in Cartagena before retreating to one of the city’s restored mansions turned luxury boutique hotels.
Cartagena has plenty of beaches to choose from, though the best beaches near Cartagena are located at Isla Barú, and on Cartagena’s nearby Rosario Islands. Take a speedboat ride to these islands where tiny boutique hotels offer a Caribbean getaway so affordable you’ll be surprised more travelers haven’t considered it.
25. Valparaiso, Chile
It’s impossible not to love Chile’s colorful coastal city of Valparaiso. Steep hillsides make taking the city’s historic funiculars known as ascensores a must for getting around town but offer sweeping bay views from every corner. Endless street art makes taking a street art tour with a local artist one of the best things to do in Chile.
If you’re visiting during the summer, make sure to plan a day trip to neighboring Viña del Mar. The golden shores of this upscale beach town are home to some of Chile’s best beach resorts, coolest restaurants, and an annual music festival that put this city on the map.
Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual New York-based travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Explorers Away and Home to Havana. Carley is an expert on all things Latin America, the Caribbean, and Cuba, having lived and worked in four different countries in the region. Her writing has appeared on the Associated Press wires and in Travel + Leisure, Yahoo, MSN, Euronews, The Weather Channel, and more. When she's not writing about her travels, find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.