Latin America is home to some pretty amazing cities — Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, and Cusco to name a few — so we can understand if you’re having trouble picking and choosing what to see and what to skip. That said, there are so many equally impressive destinations that get overlooked. Whether you’re a history buff or an outdoor adventurer or wine lover, here are five underrated Latin American cities worth exploring, no matter your interest.
For Culture: Panama City, Panama
When someone mentions Panama, does your mind immediately jump to the famous canal? If so, you’re not alone. Yet, surprisingly, the canal is likely to be the least exciting part of your trip. Instead, spend time getting to know the city. There’s an off-beat walking tour led by former gang members that delves into how and why the crime rate has dropped in the past decade. Another perk of touring Panama City? Day trips are easy. One of the most popular is a boat tour through the Islands of San Blas. Not only can you meet some of the indigenous people living there (called Kuna) but you can also snorkel in crystal clear water. Panama Vacations offers a pretty comprehensive one-day tour.
For Innovation: Santiago, Chile
Most travelers head to Chile for the nature; and while hiking through Patagonia or taking in the views of Atacama are bucket-list worthy experiences, the country’s capital city shouldn’t be skipped. Over the past few years, Santiago has become a hub for startups and companies focused on innovation. Initiatives like Start-Up Chile, a program that funds early stage startup companies, have helped put Santiago on the tourism map. In fact, due to its similarities to Silicon Valley, some have coined the city “Chilicon Valley.” Even the architecture showcases the advanced development, like the skyscrapers in the El Golf neighborhood and the modern transportation system.
For Wine: Cafayate, Argentina
It’s no shocker that Argentina is a top destination for wine connoisseurs, but we’re not just talking about Mendoza. Despite its small-town feel, Cafayate is a booming wine region due to the microclimate and fertile soil. As soon as you enter the central plaza, you know that you’ve arrived somewhere special. There are some bodegas (otherwise known as wineries) located within walking distance, with many more a short car ride away. Even if you can’t afford an expensive hotel, you can still enjoy the view. Head to Piatelli Vineyards for lunch and overlook the valley or opt for a wine tasting on the outdoor courtyard at Bodega el Esteco.
For Architecture: Montevideo, Uruguay
Montevideo’s proximity to Argentina is both a pro and a con for Uruguay’s capital. It’s a perk because it’s a quick journey from Buenos Aires, but unfortunately many travelers choose one or the other and thus, Montevideo goes undetected. The city is kind of a one-stop-shop for history, landscape, and architecture. In addition to a historic city center, there are 14 miles of beaches lining the coast. On the flip side, there are many buildings boasting Art Deco and Art Nouveau architectural styles, providing a sharp contrast to the restaurants and shops along the seafront. This is the perfect city to people watch, whether from land or sea.
For Nature: Monteverde, Costa Rica
Technically Monteverde is a small community, but we still think it’s deserving of our list. About an hour’s car ride from the Central Valley, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is a must for any nature lover. There are a few different ways to tour the park, from hikes to ziplines, so pick your adventure. Besides housing 400 species of birds, there are thousands of insects and plants, plus an impressive collection of orchids. For something less strenuous, take a coffee tour and learn about the growing process or ride the sky tram for a picturesque view. You can even step on the Continental Divide that separates the Caribbean side from the pacific side.