Sometimes life just gets to the point where you need to order a double. No, we don’t mean your drink (necessarily), but your vacation! After all, why stop at one country when you’re heading to explore a whole other continent. Let’s say you’re planning a Latin America trip…
While it’s easy to connect a multi-country itinerary through, say, Europe, it’s also possible to connect larger countries in a region as diverse as Central and South America. While viable land crossings and combinations might not be as plentiful, an abundance of highlights and must-sees close to national borders makes it easy to find a perfect pairing. You’ll also save a bundle on flights between countries when you cross by land. There are just a few of our favourite combinations.
Argentina: Malbec Pairs With Everything
First, let’s wait for Dad to make a joke about needing two to tango.
Okay, with that out the way, Argentina, the land of tango, polo, incredible steak and malbec might just be the most versatile partner for your Latin America trip. Step off the plane in beautiful Buenos Aires, and you’re just a short ferry ride from another great South American capital, Montevideo. From there, you can go on to the beautiful town of Colonia, or the beaches of Punta del Este, all within criminally underrated Uruguay.
If tropical rainforests are more your style, and you want to see one of the world’s top natural wonders, make Iguassu Falls your gateway to Brazil or vice versa. Personally, I recommend a day on the Brazilian side first to take in the awesome panorama of Iguassu’s 275 waterfalls. Then take a day to explore the Argentinean side, where most of the falls are located, in detail. But there’s no wrong way to do it, and it’s an ideal link between two of South America’s best destinations. You can even dip into neighbouring Paraguay, just to cross another country off your list.
If gauchos, the mighty Andes, and perhaps most importantly, wine capture your imagination, head west to Mendoza and on through the mountains into Chile. This narrow country between Argentina and the Pacific has its own world-class wine regions, while fascinating Santiago and the port city of Valparaiso are within easy reach. Further south, you’ll want the freedom to hop between the two countries as you explore the Lake District and Patagonia since both countries offer awesome sites. Hikers, take note, this is your dream itinerary!
Peeking Out from Peru
Peru is an unforgettable Latin America trip on its own, but if you make it down to Lake Titicaca, it’s worth taking an extra week and extending the adventure into Bolivia. While not as high profile as Peru, it’s not exactly unknown either, and one awesome reason for that is Salar de Uyuni, the vast salt flats. In the dry of winter, you’ll be able to take in the sheer enormity of the flats, with greater access as they thicken. The wetter summer months create reflective pools giving an awesome infinity effect between earth and sky. Either time offers fun ways to play with perspective and scale when taking photos, ensuring a memorable day. Elsewhere in Bolivia, be sure to explore its gritty but fascinating and friendly big city, La Paz, and its beautiful capital, Sucre.
As for Ecuador and Peru, there aren’t that many major sights of interest near the border that justify the long trip over land. But don’t let that discourage you if your heart’s set on it (and really want to get out there among the locals). These two still make a great pairing whether you go by bus or air. There’s definitely something to be said for seeing both the Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu in one epic trip.
The Cradle of the Maya
This one’s a three-way marriage. Very modern, we know, but with good reason! The Mayans were more about powerful competing cities than national borders, so as you hop between Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize, be ready to learn about an epic history that spans over 3,000 years. Today, its descendants define the region’s culture, especially in Guatemala, where over 40% of the population identifies as Maya, and a further 56% of the population is Mestizo (mixed Amerindian-Spanish).
Sure, everyone knows about Chichen Itza and Tulum, both easy day trips from Cancun or Playa del Carmen. Adventurous travellers, however, might reach Palenque with its distinctive square windows. In Guatemala, don’t miss Tikal, the largest of the Mayan cities and the world’s second-largest collection of ruins and instantly recognizable pyramids (heads up, Star Wars fans). Then how about scooting over to Calakmul or Uxmal in Mexico, or Altun Ha or Caracol in Belize? Also in Belize, Actun Tunichil Muknal will show you a very different side of the Maya, in a cave where artefacts and skeletons including the famous Crystal Maiden still lie in state.
And of course, we don’t have to tell you what great destinations Belize and Mexico are for snorkelling those vivid Caribbean reefs.
Chase the Sun to Nature
Costa Rica gets a lot of praise when we talk about Central American ecotourism. It’s absolutely deserved, but why stop there when you can round out your trip with Panama? Every bit as safe as Costa Rica, Panama’s national parks and rainforests are finally getting the recognition they deserve, making the countries an ideal pairing. What’s not to love about a vacation where you can kayak through some of the world’s greatest wilderness areas in Costa Rica, and then do the same on one of its greatest engineering feats at the Panama Canal?
Since both countries are relatively small, this is also an easy Latin America trip to do in a limited time. You might even stop over in Panama en route to Costa Rica. At the other end of the scale, consider Panama as a snow-birding destination to escape the winter. You can always zip to Costa Rica or across to Colombia for a week to mix things up.
The Miraculous Link between Colombia and Ecuador
This one takes a bit more planning, but it’s worth it. Colombia is a sizeable country where you’ll probably want to fly between destinations. Still, there’s one excellent, often photographed reason (besides cost) to cross into Ecuador or vice versa by land. Las Lajas Sanctuary looks like something out of a Gothic fairy tale. The soaring arches of its entry bridge straddle the Guáitara River and even then, the sanctuary and pilgrimage site appears to be only halfway up the valley.
The true allure of Las Lajas Sanctuary however lies in its legends. The Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a deafmute girl and her mother in 1754. When the girl died soon after, her mother returned to the spot, only to have the Virgin reappear and revive her daughter. The tale has since drawn pilgrims from Colombia, Ecuador, and beyond. Whether you’re here for pilgrimage or not, it’s an easy day trip from the small city of Ipiales, which makes an ideal overnight stop before your onward travels in Colombia, or crossing the border into Ecuador.
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