Latin America is famous for tourism due to its attractions, including tropical rainforests, Spanish and Portuguese city architecture, and beaches. The region is especially popular with Americans; Mexico regularly ranks as the top international destination for American travelers. Other top Latin American destinations include the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, and Colombia. The region benefits from its proximity to the U.S., providing warm weather during the winter and a general familiarity with the cultures among Americans (e.g., students taking Spanish classes in school).
I have extensively traveled in Latin America through trips to Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Panama. This guide will look into four must-visit cities in Latin America, their main attractions, and how to fly there from the U.S.
1. Bogota, Colombia
Bogotá is Colombia's capital and its financial and commercial hub. Although the city is not as well-known among tourists as Medellín and Cartagena, there are still many attractions and things to do. I stayed in Bogotá for four days, which was enough time to explore the city.
Bogotá has activities for all travelers, including historical, modern, and natural attractions. I recommend taking a cable car to the top of Monserrate for nature. The mountain provides a view of the entire city, which can be amazing if you visit during a time with few crowds (weekdays), sunrise, or sunset. It was foggy when I visited, so I saw the clouds touching the mountains nearby and across the "valley" that Bogotá lies in.
Bogotá has a district called La Candelaria for history buffs, especially those interested in Spanish colonial architecture. I recommend spending at least half a day in the area since many historical attractions are close to each other. The attractions include Plaza Bolívar, Catedral Primada de Colombia, Plaza de Armas, Museo Botero, and Colombia's legislature, executive, and judiciary offices. I witnessed a ceremony with a parade when visiting Casa de Nariño, the home of Colombia's president. La Candelaria was not swamped with tourists during my trip; most people hanging out there (especially in the squares) were locals.
How to Fly to Bogota from the United States
I took two flights to Bogotá since the city I lived in then had no direct flights. I flew on United Airlines from John Glenn Columbus International Airport (CMH) to George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) and then from IAH to El Dorado International Airport (BOG). Many Americans should have an easier time flying to Bogotá since Avianca and many other carriers offer nonstop flights to multiple U.S. cities.
American passengers can fly directly to Colombia on the following carriers:
- American Airlines from Dallas/Fort Worth and Miami
- Avianca from Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, New York-JFK, Orlando, and Washington-Dulles (Washington)
- Delta Air Lines from Atlanta and New York-JFK
- LATAM Chile from Miami
- LATAM Colombia from Miami and Orlando
- Spirit Airlines from Fort Lauderdale and Orlando
- United Airlines from Houston-Intercontinental (Houston) and Newark
2. Mexico City, Mexico
Mexico City has become more popular with Americans in recent years amid the rise of remote work and the city's relatively low living costs compared to major U.S. cities. Mexico City's attractions include street food, museums with pre-colonial exhibits, Spanish colonial architecture, and many parks.
I took a day trip to Teotihuacán, an ancient Mesoamerican city outside Mexico City. Teotihuacán has two large pyramids and many smaller ones, each with a different height and design. There are also many outdoor attractions within Mexico City. I recommend visiting Bosque de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Forest) and the canals in Xochimilco. Activities that can be done in these places are riding a bike around the park and going on a gondola ride, respectively.
Mexico City's founding in 1325 — originally under the name Tenochtitlan before becoming Mexico City in 1585 — means the city has centuries of history. Centro Histórico is home to museums, churches, government offices, Plaza de la Constitución, and many other historical landmarks. I visited Catedral Metropolitana, Museo Nacional de las Culturas del Mundo, Palacio Postal, and Palacio de Bellas Artes. Mexico City does not only live in the past; the city has several modern and futuristic buildings, including the curving structure of Museo Soumaya.
Traveling to Mexico City from the United States
Mexico City is the easiest major Latin American city for Americans to visit since many airlines offer nonstop flights from dozens of U.S. cities. I took a direct United Airlines flight from IAD to Mexico City International Airport (MEX).
The carriers with direct flights are Aeroméxico, Aeroméxico Connect, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Viva Aerobus, and Volaris. Even passengers from smaller U.S. cities without much international connectivity can fly directly to Mexico City.
The following destinations with these airlines have direct flights to Mexico City:
- Aeroméxico from Boston, Chicago-O'Hare (Chicago), Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York-JFK, Orlando, Salt Lake City (starting on July 1), San Francisco, Seattle/Tacoma, and Washington (starting on July 1)
- Aeroméxico Connect from Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Raleigh/Durham, and San Antonio
- American Airlines from Charlotte, Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Miami, New York-JFK, and Phoenix
- Delta Air Lines from Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York-JFK, and Salt Lake City
- United Airlines from Chicago, Houston, Newark, San Francisco, and Washington
- Viva Aerobus from Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York-JFK, and San Antonio
- Volaris from Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, Sacramento, and San Antonio
3. Panama City, Panama
Panama City is unique among Latin American cities because it focuses on the future, complementing the past. Based on the number of skyscrapers, you can walk along the coast and think you are in Dubai or New York City. Panama City has established itself as a regional financial hub and a center for international trade due to the nearby Panama Canal. Despite the city's focus on modernity, tourists can find plenty of history going back to the 16th century.
I spent a day at Panama's most famous attraction: the Panama Canal. One canal end borders Panama City at the Pacific Ocean, while the other is on Panama's Caribbean coast. I saw large container ships traverse the Panama Canal, going through a series of locks lifting vessels 85 feet (26 meters) to the canal's elevation and down again once they reached the ocean. Panama's small size means either side of the canal can be done as an easy day trip from Panama City. Since the city itself does not have beaches, I recommend doing another day trip to Isla Grande on the Caribbean coast.
Panama City has Casco Viejo for anyone interested in the city's history. Casco Viejo — built in 1673 after pirates destroyed the original city two years earlier — is a walkable neighborhood with colonial architecture. I admired the colorful historical buildings after walking through Casco Viejo at night and the modern ones after walking along the Pacific coast during the day. My favorite part about Panama City was the architecture and historical attractions, such as Catedral Basíilica Metropolitana Santa Maria and Plaza de la Independencia.
Traveling to Panama from the United States
American tourists can fly nonstop to Panama City from U.S. cities on Copa Airlines and major American carriers. I flew from IAD to Tocumen International Airport (PTY) on Copa Airlines. Panama's small size means a significant amount of the country can be seen in only a few days, making it a good destination for a long weekend.
The following airlines offer nonstop flights between the U.S. and Panama City:
- American Airlines from Miami
- Copa Airlines from Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York-JFK, San Francisco, and Washington
- Delta Air Lines from Atlanta
- United Airlines from Houston and Newark
4. Santiago, Chile
Santiago is not as well-known among Americans because of its relatively far distance from the U.S. and being overshadowed by neighboring Argentina. I recommend Santiago for anyone interested in wine, winter sports, or simply a Latin American destination without the crowds. Although I spent my time in Santiago entirely within the city, several activities can be done as day trips. Wine enthusiasts can visit the vineyards in the Maipo Valley, while the adventurous traveler can go skiing in the Andes Mountains during the winter.
I went to the 61st and 62nd floors of Gran Torre Costanera, the second-tallest building in Latin America. The observation deck offers views of the entire city and the neighboring Andes. It was smoggy on the day I went, during Santiago's winter in August, reminding me of Los Angeles due to the city being below mountains. Another elevation-based attraction that I visited was Parque Metropolitano de Santiago. I took a cable car to the top of the hills, which offers more views of Santiago and a large statue of the Virgin Mary behind terraces.
Santiago's historical district offers many landmarks for those interested in Chilean history. I visited Plaza de Armas, Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago de Chile, Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, Plaza de La Constitución, and Plaza de La Moneda (Chile's presidential office). This area is extremely walkable and lively, with locals hanging out in the squares even during the day on weekdays. Outside of the historical district, I recommend visiting Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (highlights the human rights violations of Chile's military dictatorship in the 20th century) and Parque Quinta Normal.
How to Travel to Santiago, Chile from the United States
There are multiple ways for Americans to visit Santiago. I flew on Delta Air Lines from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) and then from ATL to Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport (SCL). Although no direct flights to Santiago from Washington exist, many other major American cities have direct connectivity.
Americans can fly nonstop to Santiago from the following cities on American and Chilean carriers:
- American Airlines from Dallas/Fort Worth and Miami
- Delta Air Lines from Atlanta
- LATAM Chile from Los Angeles, Miami, and New York-JFK
- United Airlines from Houston
Have you visited any Latin American cities that you found are a must-visit? Do you have additional recommendations for any of the cities above? Share your experiences in the comments below!
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