I stand in a sea of Latinos, eagerly talking to one another in Spanish. As the only gringa inside I fidget around uncomfortably waiting for the mass to being. Then suddenly the chatter dies to a low hum as the congregation starts to sing in unison in preparation for the mass.

This upcoming June will two years since I stepped on a plane from Santiago to Toronto, swearing to myself that one day I would be back. And yet, my move to Canada was followed by a move to Belgium and with each passing month my promise to return seemed less likely. Last Sunday as I say through this 1.5 hour Spanish mass, I was reminded why I had made that promise two years ago as I witnessed the incredibly sense of community, love and respect between each attendee, culminating in a message at the end about the importance of solidarity and an invitation for the obvious asado afterwards. It was a sight that I, a regular Catholic practitioner for the last 10 + years, had never witnessed. 

travel to latin america

If you ask anyone who really knows me they’ll say that I am obsessed – in fact, I tell people that I must have been a latina in another life (I’m still figuring out if that statement offends actual lations, anyone?). So it saddens me when I hear people tell me that they are afraid to travel to Latin America (Central or South America). One of the main reasons that they are afraid to travel to Latin America is because they are concerned for their safety. You know what, I get it! I was robbed and mugged in Chile, and I understand that terrifying feeling of having people constantly stare at you, catcall or stand uncomfortable close. I’ve also heard it all – numerous stories of people being robbed or recounting their “close-call” stories. But guess what, I’ve also heard these stories about Paris, London, New York, Brussels and Toronto. IN FACT, I can recount many more horror stories from the time I was living in Paris 8 years ago … but that’s for another time. But does that mean that we should all cower underneath the covers because there is a chance something might go wrong? Ummm…. HECK NO!  

this old lady uses a pen and sketches images in Buenos Aires
this old lady uses a pen and sketches images in Buenos Aires

So why should you travel to Latin America? Oh, let me count the reasons.

My experience is limited to a number of Latin American countries, specifically Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Panama, but as I visited each country I found one commonality that made me truly fall in love: the people. Warm and inviting, many of the Latinos that I met along my travels made me feel a part of their circle, even if had met only a couple of hours prior. I can’t remember the number of times I was invited to a family dinner and treated like I was part of the family. When I lived in Pamana my host mother would drive me everywhere; she told me she’d rather pick me up at 2 am at a club because it was safer then having me take a taxi home. When I revisited them 3 years later, they took me and my friend (who they never had met before) out for a fancy dinner and told us we could stay in their house during our stay … no problemo. 

travel to latin america

Nature is another favourite of mine – you may have heard of Machu Picchu, the Galapagos Islands, Patagonia and Iguaçu Falls but the list of natural wonders found within these 20 countries is endless – for example, did you know that paradise falls featured in Disney “UP” is actually a portrayal of Angel Falls located in Venezuela? My Latin American bucket list is pages and pages long and includes a number of adventure sports – from scuba diving, windsurfing, surfing, hiking, canoeing etc. This region has something for everyone here. 

Can you tell which one is the real Angel Falls? © David Kjelkerud
Can you tell which one is the real Angel Falls?
© David Kjelkerud

Then of course there is history; rich history that not only dates back hundreds of years ago but has roots in the present. Latin American countries are recognising the tourist interest in more authentic travel experiences and have taken advantage of this. The indigenous people of the Americas, from the Mapuche in Chile to the Kuna Yala in Panama or the Quechua in Bolivia, have started to create community-based tourism projects (in collaboration with other partners) to cater to this demand. The system is not perfect, but the growth is there and I am optimistic that these community-based projects will grow and strengthen in the region in the coming years. I also find it extremely fascinating that it is believed that around 67 different un-contacted tribes still exist in Brazil. 

travel to latin america
Buying fresh lobster in Bocas del Toro

Oh and the food. Wait, did I mention the food? If you are a meat lover, then I have good news – barbecue (known as asado), is quite popular in South America, in fact it is considered the national dish in Argentina and Uruguay. Each country has their own particular dish, from ceviche (Peru/Ecuador), Bandeja Paisa (Colombia), pastel de choclo (Chile)… there is just too much deliciousness to name! And what better to wash down all this delicious food than with a traditional drink or a glass of red wine? I would recommend a pisco sour! 

travel to latin america

I can not rave enough about travel to Latin America;the region is truly is the land of discovery, from its rich history, to its breathtaking landscape, its friendly people and ending with its food and drink.

Still don’t know if you want to travel to Latin America?

Here are a couple of safety tips on what you need to know when visiting the region!

18 Comments

    1. Nice write up! I don’t really need convincing though to go to South America. I would love to go there and spend maybe a couple of months travelling around the continent. The only problem is the airfare from this side of the world to that part of the globe is quite prohibitive unfortunately.

    1. I agree there are so many special things about Latin America! So much natural beauty, and so much vibrant culture. It’s great that you’re encouraging others to not be afraid to travel to the region as well!

    1. Came across this post earlier, but I’m back to comment! I love that you included the photo from “Up”! Such a fun movie, and Angel Falls is totally on my bucket list! My sister went there a few years back and just loved it. Said it was like visiting Jurassic Park!

    1. I have lived in Ecuador for 6 months, and yes, it did get a bit dangerous being there… But you know what, the country was so beautiful, food so spectacular, that I would definitely, definitely go there again! You just need to be very careful when you travel to Latin America – even locals get robbed and killed and kidnapped all the time, not just tourists… But I strongly believe that if you travel safe and travel wisely, you’ll be absolutely fine.

    1. I have always wanted to visit Latin America, and now you have convinced me even more with this post. Despite of hearing that it is “dangerous”, I agreed with you that it can happen anywhere else in the world but it is still a matter of traveling safety. I can’t wait to visit and see what everything that Latin America has to offer 🙂

    1. For the geology alone I’d love to go to South America! It might have to wait a while though, as SE Asia keeps drawing me back in and forcing me to spend all my money…

    1. Those photos really do look like the movie UP! Is the photo on the left the real falls? I’d love to visit Venezuela!

    1. There is so much more good than there is bad ALL over Latin America. You make an excellent point, bad things will happen, even in our hometowns. The only real question is: “Are you going to let fear stop you?”

    1. I loved this post!! You said it all here: “does that mean that we should all cower underneath the covers because there is a chance something might go wrong? Ummm…. HECK NO!” My sentiments exactly! It’s hard sometimes to ignore all the horror stories and warnings (mostly from people who have never even traveled to the place they are warning you about) but as your story shows, it’s almost always worth the trip! You look like you had such a great time surrounded by wonderful and welcoming people!

    1. I am so excited about visiting that part of the world next year. I’m definitely convinced to go there – although it didn’t take much to get me convinced! 🙂

    1. Hi Yvonne! I hate when people say they’re scared to go somewhere and start listing reasons that could apply to any major city all over the world. You made some great points as to why they should go to Latin America 🙂

    1. I’m sorry to read that you were robbed in my hometown (Chile) but I’m glad to see that you like latin people and enjoyed my favourite meal: pastel de choclo! 🙂

      Let me know if you ever come back. I can show you some cool spots.

      @lavidanomade

      Francisca*

      1. I hope to go back very soon. I lived there for a year and I did not want to go back. Do you live there now?

    1. Eeek, this has made me even more determined to travel in Latin America! It’s the next place I want to do a big backpacking trip, but I’ve heard infrastructure is pretty bad and that put me off a little – would you agree?

      1. The infrastructure is not bad at all, in fact it would be very easy to do backpacking trips around South America because it is well connected. I travelled from Santiago to Buenos Aires on a bus for 25 hours, but the chair turned into a bed where I could sleep. The prices aren’t that steep either! Where do you plan on going?

    1. Great post, Yvonne! I love Latin America, I have been living almost 3 years here in Bolivia. I have visited most of the countries in south america, and I love them all. I agree with you, and it is really worth visiting. Or even better moving to – for us that loves slow travel 😉
      Too bad to hear about the robbing in Chile. I was that here in Bolivia three times as well. And I have friends it happened to in Chile as well. But this should not let anyone stay at home. This can happen everywhere, even at home.
      And yes! The food in Latin America is delicious!!!!

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