Due to proximity, Latin America is a popular vacation destination. Over the decades, travelers have found solace and relaxation in popular destinations such as Cabo, Punta Cana, and Guanacaste.
During my time living and working throughout Latin America, I have observed that there are still destinations that receive very little to no travelers or are considered quick stopovers.
A select few have become my personal go-tos or recommendations I give to friends when they want to escape for a brief time.
1. Tonalá, Mexico
Located 30 minutes outside of Guadalajara, Tonalá will immediately impress travelers who decide to stop by on either Thursday or Sunday as, on those days, the streets are decorated with colorful banners.
Local Markets, Indigenous Art, And Craft Beers
Multiple markets open on and around Avenida Tonaltecas and offer a range of items including locally-made foods, handmade art, and household goods. Through statues and murals, the area showcases the art, look, and aesthetic of the indigenous people who once lived there.
Pro Tip: Tours are offered from Guadalajara that give you a history of the area and provide a translation if you are interested in making a purchase.
2. Cabarete, Dominican Republic
About an hour east of Puerto Plata is the quieter and more relaxed Cabarete Bay. The town of Cabarete is a popular destination for European travelers and artists looking for fewer crowds and more time on the beach.
Miles Of Unoccupied Beach
Activities range from surf lessons on Kite Beach and foodie and hippie culture in the Encuentro Food Park to rough ATV trails that crisscross forests, muddy trails, and farms where animals watch you pass by the Parque Nacional El Choco y Las Cuevas.
This area has very few hotels, but that is what makes the place worth your time — few crowds and an abundance of sand and sun.
3. Suchitoto, El Salvador
Have a seat in Suchitoto’s Parque Central and watch the children playing, old men engaging in conversations, vendors dealing, and the main attraction: Iglesia Santa Lucia. In my opinion, the small towns in El Salvador are worth spending time in because there you will see and become immersed in the local culture.
Beautiful Views And Delicious Foods
Suchitoto is a personal favorite due to the views of the nearby Lake Suchitlan and Sierra Madre Mountain range. The cobbled streets serve as a reminder of the Spanish Colonial period. The nightlife focuses more on conversation over meals than a party-type atmosphere.
Take a short walk to see A Thousand Plates and More Museum, have a café at Casa de La Abuela, or enjoy a late-night meal at La Lupita del Portal where the local gossip is always the topic of conversation.
4. Granada, Nicaragua
Granada is the ideal location for rekindling a romance or simply blowing off steam. Walk past Plaza de la Catedral in the evening and you will notice couples walking in circles attempting to find a private space. During the day, the same space is used as a meeting place and tourist attraction.
Pirates, Chocolate, And Nightlife
Granada is usually put on itineraries as a day trip before heading to the Mombacho Volcano, which can be seen from town. Staying in the area offers some of the best chocolate in the region at the Chocolate Museum as well as at the various local shops.
Take a kayak tour on Lake Nicaragua as you retrace the path of pirates who once raided the area. After you dry off, do a bar crawl or enjoy the foods on Calle La Calzada.
History: Grenada was once the base camp of American William Walker who attempted to become the President of Nicaragua.
5. Mendoza, Argentina
A 2-hour flight from Buenos Aires or 1 hour from Santiago de Chile takes you to Mendoza. Set against the Andes Mountains and the surrounding wine country (Maipu, Lujan de Cujo, and Uco Valley) the town waits for you and other visitors. Mendoza is a quiet alternative to the big cities.
Milanesas, Wine Country, And A Touch Of Western Europe
Although the street layout and long walkways and shops will remind visitors of Buenos Aires, Mendoza has a very different atmosphere. Take a wine tour at the family-owned Zuccardi Winery or explore the surrounding region on horseback with a local guide.
For the more adventurous, take a paragliding tour to get a good view of the area and see a different side of Argentina and a bit of Chile as well.
Take a basket full of milanesa sandwiches and a bottle of the region’s finest red wine to Aconcagua Provincial Park. Enjoy a picnic followed by a quick hike before heading back into town.
Pro Tip: There is an entrance fee to visit Aconcagua Park, and the rate depends on the activity you do.
6. Trujillo, Peru
My interest in Latin American history is what first brought me to Trujillo. Located in what was once the city of the Chimor peoples, the UNESCO Heritage City of Chan-Chan (Sun-Sun) offers a look at other kingdoms and Indigenous groups that pre-dated and co-existed with the Incas.
Peruvian Dogs And Pre-Columbian Ruins
Take a day trip to the archeological dig and perhaps you will get to see a hairless Peruvian dog along the way. Spend some time at a café in Plaza Mayor de Trujillo or visit the restaurant inside Casa Andina Standard. Many of their chefs are honing skills so that one day they can open their own restaurant.
Visit the Trujillo Toy Museum before making a stop at Dulceria Doña Carmen. Grab some Peruvian pastries before planting yourself at the nearby Plazuela El Recreo to people-watch.
7. Isla Negra, Chile
Take a bus from Terminal Alameda in Santiago de Chile going in the direction of Valparaiso, and 90 minutes later you will be in Isla Negra, a small beach town that was once the home of Chile’s most famous poet, Pablo Neruda.
Pablo Neruda And Waves
Visit his former home and the small boat he used to gaze at the South Pacific Ocean. Try Chilean wine at Los Secretos de Don Omar before heading to Playa Las Conchitas de Isla Negra to watch the waves.
There is not much to the town, but that is what makes it perfect. Spend a day to take in the views and, if you are physically capable, visit the other beaches that require a bit of a hike. Then watch the sunset while enjoying Chilean seafood.
Bonus: Santiago de Cali, Colombia
Although not a town, Santiago de Cali is an extra destination that is worth a long weekend. With its theme of Grupo Niche’s Cali Pachanguero (meaning easy and boisterous), Cali, what the locals call it, is where you come to show off your salsa dancing skills.
The Capital Of Salsa
The West Andes form the backdrop for the Bellavista area’s bars and restaurants. Take a taxi to El Zaguan de San Antonio, which was listed as one of Anthony Bourdin’s recommended restaurants — a fact the staff will not let you forget. Enjoy dinner upstairs before heading into town to show off your dancing skills.
Be warned, Cali is not a place for those who want to turn in early.
Pro Tip: Can’t dance? No worries. Take a class at Salsa Swing Escuela de Baile before visiting one of the many salsa clubs that start the evening as restaurants before turning up the music.