I am not in favor of ‘best-of’ or ‘top-10’ blog posts. Usually they are a clickbait, designed to lure visitors to some uninspired article that has been googled together. But after traveling Latin America for in total around ten months by now, I guess I am qualified to present a top-10 list of travel highlights of Latin America.
Yes, this one is eternally under construction. As I plan to gradually travel all across Latin America, this list will be updated when deemed needed by yours truly. The criteria for this top-10? The more unexpected and the more off-the-beaten track, the better. Because beautiful places like Chichen Itza you can find yourself.
Here goes, in random order:
- Las Pozas, Xilitla (Mexico): hidden in a rainforest 400 kilometres north of Mexico City, Xilitla was an odd choice for British artist Edward James to start the construction of a surrealistic sculpture garden in the jungle. It took decades to complete, but now makes for a stunning experience. Staircases going nowhere, bridges in the shape of flowers, a waterfall where you can swim, Las Pozas is a place where art and nature come together in a unique way
- Quilotoa Loop (Ecuador): the loop that isn’t really a loop, volcanic lake Quilotoa can also be done on a daytour by bus from Latacunga. But the easy way often isn’t the best, and this is no exception. When you take the bus from Latacunga to the village of Sigchos, you can embark on a three-day hike through a spectacular valley. Halfway the third day you finally get your reward: the unforgettable sight of the emerald blue lake Quilotoa, at 3’914 metres
- Somoto Canyon (Nicaragua): there are obviously more spectacular canyons in Latin America, but Somoto is pretty unique. A two hour drive north from Esteli in the north of Nicaragua, this canyon at the border with Honduras was only discovered two decades ago. In the rain season you can’t visit, but otherwise you can book a spectacular tour through a narrow gorge. The biggest surprise is that at a certain point you have to jump from a high rock, as there is no alternative, and you have to swim the next hour or so to the exit of the canyon, where boats will bring you to your drop-off point. A simply stunning experience
- Desierto Tatacoa (Colombia): it isn’t exactly the biggest desert, and the hills aren’t the highest either. But the sight of this red desert is one you will never forget. Just as unique is the fact you can actually walk a path between those hills (which vary in height between 10 and 20 metres probably), and experience the silence and the heat yourself. When you stay to sleep, you can even enjoy a clear night sky full of stars, but the adjacent village of Villavieja is also a haven of peace and a great place to chill
- hiking from Xela to Lago Atitlan (Guatemala): Xela (officially Quetzaltenango) is the perfect base to explore the surrounding volcanoes of Guatemala. The second city of the country is even located at the foot of Santa Maria. But the most beautiful adventure is the three-day trek to the volcanic Lago Atitlan. On the first night you can enjoy a local sauna to recover from your walk. On the third morning you wake up early to walk the last hour to the ridge of the volcanic lake, to enjoy sunrise over Atitlan. The tour ends with a descent to San Pedro and a well-deserved dive in the lake
- Ometepe island (Nicaragua): the sight of one island with two almost perfect volcanic cones is something you will not easily forget. Ometepe is in the heart of Lake Nicaragua, and around a two-hour ferry trip from the mainland. The island itself only has around 5’000 permanent inhabitants. Being there is a unique and tranquile experience, with lost beaches, great hikes, and swimming pools hidden in the jungle
- Cajas national park (Ecuador): paramo is a landscape you can only find in the Andean highlands, above 3’500 metres. These dry rough landscapes have a unique fauna, as it is difficult to survive the harsh weather conditions. Cajas is one of the best examples. A one hour drive from colonial student town Cuenca in Ecuador, there are several multi-hour hikes here. The elevation (around 4’000 metres) makes this a breathtaking experience in all aspects
- Monte Alban (Mexico): Teotihuacan, Palenque and Chichen Itza are probably internationally much more famous. But Monte Alban is a stunningly preserved site, overlooking the city of Oaxaca, the culinary capital of Mexico and with its lively party and art scene already worth a visit. Monte Alban features several temples and a ball court and is an easy and impressive daytrip from Oaxaca
- Tierradentro (Colombia): a Unesco World Heritage site most Colombians never even visited, as it is in the no man’s land between Neiva and Popayan. You can reach the valley easiest from Popayan, with a still rocky and uncomfortable four-hour ride in a mini-bus. But the trip is well worth the while: Tierradentro (meaning ‘inside the earth’) is a collection of five sites, connected by a perfect hiking trail of 5-6 hours providing incredible vistas of the surrounding valleys. The sites themselves have tombs, where several hundreds of years ago civilizations left the remains of their dead in potts
- Rucu Pichincha (Ecuador): there are higher peaks in Ecuador, but Rucu Pichincha is only a cable car ride away from the capital Quito. Well… in fact the cable car brings you to around 4’000 metres, but then a (relatively easy) gradual path still awaits you which culminates in a final ascent that is heavy as the summit is at over 4’700 metres