From Where Did Latin America Get Its Name?
There is a lot of confusion and misuse of the terms Latin America, South America and who is Latino and who is Hispanic. To understand all this we have to go back to the 1860s when the French emperor Napoleon first coined the term Latin America. The emperor and his ministers suggested a cultural familiarity to the region to justify their imperial control.
They claimed cultural familiarity because the population spoke the Romantic languages, which were Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian and Romanian as they are derivatives of the Latin language. During those times, Europeans who spoke the Romantic languages are called Latin hence the name Latin America.
Now, Latin America refers to the territories in the Americas where they predominantly speak in Spanish, Portuguese or French. On the other hand, South America refers to the continent south of Mexico and is defined by its boundaries rather than language.
Latin America consists of 20 countries and 13 dependencies and it covers the area below the United States to the southern tip of South America, including the Caribbean. The demonyms Latino and Hispanic are used exclusively by Americans to refer to those of Latin American background living in the US, the population of Latin America do not identify by those demonyms but rather by their country.
Guidelines for When Travelling to Latin America
Latin America has a very interesting and diverse culture. There are many incredible traditions, history and catastrophic events that shaped up this beautiful continent. It is definitely worth a visit! And we have compiled for you the best places to see but before doing that, we have a few guidelines to prepare you before your visit to this amazing continent.
Book Your Accommodation and Activities in Advance
Going with the flow might sound so adventurous and spontaneous but it shouldn’t be as tempting as people make it seem. No matter how small the city you are visiting is, most of the time hotels, hostels and motels aren’t placed in just one area and you’ll probably end up spending more than your budget.
In this day and age, finding accommodations online is just one click away and you can compare according to your preferences. Not only can you book accommodations in advance but also activities, which are usually cheaper to buy online.
Doesn't Hurt to Learn Basic Spanish
While this is not a necessity, it does make your trip a bit easier to pick up a bit of Spanish. Just the basic hello, thank you, goodbye, how much, where and any phrases you think you shall be using. The locals will greatly appreciate your initiative to communicate in their language and it will improve your connection to the people and in turn your overall experience in the country that you are visiting.
Get Your Vaccine Shots!
Health is wealth and nothing rings truer than that. It is important to know the illness endemic to the areas you are visiting and be prepared for them.
The Ones You Usually Need to Have Vaccines for Are:
- Yellow Fever
Some countries even require you to show a vaccine card to be able to move between countries. So a quick google search and reading on preventative measures is essential before your travels.
Dollars Talk Louder!
While ATM machines are widely available in Latin America, it is wise to carry a bit of cash with you. The best and profitable exchange rate to local currency for you would be the American dollar. It is the easiest currency to exchange as it is wanted more than others but that doesn't mean you can't exchange other major currencies from around the world.
10 Best Destinations to Visit in Latin America
The Galapagos, Ecuador
The Galapagos Islands were formed from volcanic upheavals and there still are many active volcanoes in the region. These islands were never connected to the landmass thus creating 19 breathtaking islands. The islands are a perfect scenery for those that enjoy being in nature around stunning volcanic islands set in the deep blue ocean.
You can sit down next to a sea lion or an iguana to take pics as the animals are free of instinctual fear and tame. There are a few places in the world where one can get very close to animals, which is the case here in the Galapagos Islands due to the island’s volcanic origin and remoteness.
Some visitors opt to take cruises to enjoy wildlife sightseeing, capturing endemic and native animal species but snorkelling is the activity we recommend. It would be a shame not enjoying every aspect of nature up close and personal.
Machu Picchu, Peru
The ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu is well renowned and considered as one of the wonders of the world much like the Pyramid of Egypt and the Taj Mahal of India. The sacred city of Machu Picchu was built in the 15th century on the order of great Inca ruler, Pachacutec, as a royal estate for himself.
It was used for 80 years before being abandoned due to the Spanish conquest in other parts of the Inca empire. Now it is a major attraction of forgotten ancient large ruins and strange architecture that continues to captivate the masses.
The city is roughly divided into the urban and agricultural sector, and each sector is enchanting in its architect. The temples namely the Intihuatana, The Temple of the Sun and Room of the Three Windows are acclaimed archaeological treasures and truly surreal and beautiful.
They were erected for the ancient and greatest deity the sun god Inti.
Other Than the Temples, There Are Notable Sites Like:
- The Remarkable Terraces
- The Sun Gate
- Watchman’s Hut
- Royal Tomb
However, entrances to the city have a limit of 6 hours per ticket either in the morning or afternoon, you can choose to purchase entrance tickets for the morning and afternoon. You have to have a proper itinerary with a well-planned tour to make most of your visit to this amazing city.
The Lost City, Colombia
The Lost City of Columbia goes by several names, the spanish translation Ciudad Perdida, and locally named Teyuna and Buritaca. This multi-named intriguing city is believed to have been founded in 800 CE more than half a millennia earlier than Machu Picchu.
The city disappeared and was forgotten during the Spanish conquest. It was discovered in the 1970s when local treasure looters found a series of stone steps that led to the Lost City. Ciudad Perdida remains accessible by foot only and is known as one of the most exciting hikes in the whole of Columbia.
This journey is no easy feat though and requires you to be physically fit with competent stamina. The hike includes several river crossing, steep climbs and descent of nearly 63 km before a wary 1200 narrow and slippery steps. However, once you complete the hike, a breathtaking city awaits you.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat that was formed as a result of several prehistoric lakes drying out leaving behind salt as deep as 120 meters. While Bolivia has several tourist attractions, none compare to the majestic beauty of the salt flat that dubbed ‘Where Heaven meets Earth’ and ‘World’s biggest mirror’.
Silent calmness and tranquillity are the few words that come to mind at the captivating sight of the flat whiteness of the landscape. During the rainy season the flat white landscape transforms into a giant mirror with enchanting views of the sky right at your feet.
Not to mention that the reflective sunset and sunrise views look as if you're walking amongst the clouds and sky. The endless horizon makes a perfect backdrop to take pictures, you can also create optical illusions as the horizon gives a perspective that objects near a camera is larger than the ones farther away.
In the heart of Salar de Uyuni, is a stop for refreshments and also a mound of salt where you can plant your flag if it isn't already there.
Chichen Itza, Mexico
Mexico is not only home to beautiful resorts and beaches but also home to one of the oldest and best-preserved Mayan sites, Chichen Itza. It served as a sacred Mayan site for more than 700 years and by the 11th century, it was the political and religious capital of the revived Mayan empire.
Chichen Itza has several buildings, tombs and temples that are noteworthy but the most remarkable one is the Pyramid of Kukulkan also called El Castillo. Especially on equinoxes when the plane of the earth’s equator passes through the centre of the sun, you can enjoy a spectacular undulating shadow show. The effect is as if a huge serpent is slithering towards the ground.
The Mayans also have entertainment activities like ball games that they took way too seriously. Any player who loses is immediately decapitated as is shown decorated on the base of the walls in the ball court. They also had a sacrificial sinkhole, Cenote Sagrado, which was a place of pilgrimage to offer ritual human sacrifices and precious objects in exchange for rain. In the 1960s, approximately 4000 objects of resins, dolls and bones of humans and animals were discovered.
Old Havana, Cuba
Going to Old Havana is like stepping into the past and after decades of isolation, this city district’s mysterious aura is for everyone to explore. The architecture and structure of the forts, museums and vintage cars are thriving and well preserved. The only way to appreciate this historic borough is on foot and there is a lot to see.
One of the top attractions is the Catedral de San Cristobal which shows off the Cuban Baroque architecture. The interiors of the cathedral are breathtaking and there is much to admire from the statue of St. Christopher to the vaulted ceilings.
It was said that Christopher Columbus’s relics were housed from 1796 to 1898 but there is no actual proof of that claim. For a more laid back and cultural vibe, Plaza de Armas is where most locals and tourists stroll as it has been a social hub for more than five centuries.
Cayo Sombrero, Venezuela
Venezuela’s tourism has developed considerably in recent years due to its beautiful landscapes. While Margarita Island is the top tourist destination, Cayo Sombrero has its own charm. If you love relaxing and gazing at beautiful beaches, Cayo Sombrero is considered one of the most appealing beaches in South America.
This island has glorious white sand and clear blue waters and palm trees and still is underrated in its beauty. The picturesque view is so surreal and enchants its visitors. Snorkelling is among the favourite activities on the island and overnight camping is permissible so you can enjoy the beautiful sight of the beach all night long.
Honduras is pretty much not on most people’s radar, making Copan totally unfamiliar. Copan is a haven for those that are into ancient history, archaeology and nature. The Copan ruins were rediscovered in the 1500s but were excavated in the late 19th century and much of the ruins still are buried in surrounding fields.
However that is not the only thing to see in Copan, there is the Macaw Mountain Bird Park where you can see these magnificent macaws in their habitat and take a picture or two. There is also the Zipline Canopy Tour right across the Macaw Mountain Bird Park entrance.
If you enjoy vigorous activities this may be for you, the facility has 16 cables and you can enjoy the ride from treetop to treetop. This is definitely an experience not to miss when visiting Copan.
Iguazu Falls, Brazil and Argentina
Iguazu Falls are one of the most majestic waterfalls in the world and are located at the junction of two Latin American countries, Brazil and Argentina. This enchanting waterfall has not only one, not two but 275 waterfalls and is considered to be one of the new seven wonders of nature.
The small islands along the edge of the fall separate the Iguazu River into several waterfalls which then gathers in a long and narrow chasm called the Devil’s Throat. The sight of the many waterfalls is quite simply breathtaking and can be viewed in close proximity on the Brazilian side walkway at the Devil’s Throat.
If you don't mind getting wet, taking a speedway safari on the Argentinian side is guaranteed to be the highlight of your trip. This thrill ride ventures to the Devil’s Throat as well and right under the thunderous falls. Both sides of the waterfall are equally beautiful but each country claims their side is better, it's up to you to decide however we recommend seeing it from either side.
Exploring Mayan ruins is a must when visiting Latin America and the ancient Mayan ruins in Tikal should be on your itinerary. Tikal is one of the largest cities of the ancient Mayan civilization dating back as far as the 4th century BC.
The population of Tikal was a continuous growth and estimated to be at 425,000 inhabitants at its peak. At 900 AD it was abandoned presumably due to lack of resources, and shortly afterwards the city was lost in the Guatemalan jungle.
While there are several well-preserved temples and structures spread all over Tikal, Temple IV is quite remarkable. Temple IV is the largest temple pyramid standing at 70 meters high. It is the largest temple built by the Mayans in all of the Mayan regions and the tallest pre-Columbian structure in the Americas.
Climbing to the top of the temple gives a spectacular panoramic view of the temples and jungle making it very popular among visitors. The rest of the temples and plazas are also exquisite in their structure and fascinating even though they receive less attention.
Latin America Has a Lot More to Offer!
Do explore other countries and destinations as well. Latin America has a really rich culture and cuisine as well. We hope you enjoy your stay in this amazing region.