6 Fantastic Cities For Your First Trip to Latin America

You’ve got two weeks vacation from work. Or maybe you’re taking a month or two off to travel around. A sabbatical of sorts. You want to take a trip to Latin America, but you have no idea where to go.

You started learning Spanish. You’ve read blogs and guidebooks about the region, but you’re still stuck. You have no idea where to go. There are so many amazing options and so little time.

Indecision sets in and the amount of amazing cities to visit confuses you even more.

Luckily, you came to the right place. After traveling the region for 3+ years, I found some absolutely amazing cities.

Some of these secret spots won’t be shared on this blog or online. Some of these cities are too small or dangerous for newbies. Other places are absolutely ideal for your first time in Latin America.

That’s what we’ll be talking about here. The absolute best cities for your first trip. Latin American locales that offer unique cultural experiences, while still offering modern amenities, decent English levels, and fairly safe neighborhoods.

6 Fantastic Cities For Your First Trip to Latin America

Enough with the intro, let’s dive in and take a look at the absolute best cities to check out during your first trip to Latin America.

Here are a few spots I’d recommend:

Lima, Peru

Without hyping too much, Lima, Peru is the best city for first-timers to Latin America. Seriously, if you speak little to no Spanish, have the streets smarts of a dipshit, and have never travelled before -you still won’t have any issues in Lima!

The city is home to one of the safest neighborhoods in all of Latin America, Miraflores. Miraflores offers bars, clubs, restaurants, hotels, hostels, gyms, yoga studios, coworking spaces, and stunning Pacific Ocean views.

You’ll find English speakers around every corner in Miraflores and Peruvians hold gringos in high regard, even backpackers who look like they haven’t bathed in months are respected in Peru.

Come to Lima on your first trip to Latin America. Just make sure you visit from November through May.

Enjoy a little rumba, maybe meet a cute Peruvian, surf some baby waves in the Pacific Ocean, and book a flight down to Cusco for a few days. Make sure you check out Machu Pichu!

It’ll be a trip you’ll never forget. Lima is one of the safer cities in South America and caters to gringos. To learn more about Lima, Peru – check out a few of my posts from my time in the city:

Panama City, Panama

Outside of a few romps in Mexico, my first solo trip to Latin America was in Panama City, Panama. Obviously, things went pretty damn well here or I wouldn’t have spent the last three years traveling around the region.

PTY is another exceptionally safe city in Latin America and boasts one of the strongest economies in the region. English levels are decent, especially in the middle and upper-classes.

The nightlife here is good fun and there’s solid tourism all around. Check out the Panama Canal, enjoy the colonial ruins in Casco Viejo, and enjoy an amazing hike up Ancon Hill. Hell, you can even hit a few beaches just a short 1-2 hours away.

While PTY can be a little expensive, it’s a great place to spend a couple weeks as an intro to Latin American culture. I’d say Panama City a lighter, safer version of what you’ll find in places like Colombia or the Dominican Republic.

Learn more about PTY here:

Bogota, Colombia

Many will argue and say Bogota, Colombia isn’t a great choice for someone’s first trip to Latin America. They wouldn’t be wrong. The city features shit weather, dangerous neighborhoods, and has become less and less gringo-friendly over the last couple years.

Still, Bogota is an incredible place for the gringo with an affinity for partying. If you stay in Zona T, you’ll have a safe neighborhood filled with some of the best nightlife in Latin America. Hell, some say it’s world-class.

There are dozens of bars and clubs throughout the district, along with many restaurants, supermarkets, hotels, hostels, and more. Every amenity you’d ever need can be found in Zona T.

English levels are decent in Zona T and you’ll find a good place to party almost every night of the week. If you stay in the small district, then I’d venture that Bogota is just as good of a starter destination as any in South America.

Learn more about Bogota, Colombia:

Mexico City, Mexico

I haven’t been, although that’s changing in a few months. After careful research and planning, I know Mexico City is one of the best introductions to Latin American culture any gringo will find.

Mexico City offers world-class neighborhoods like Condesa, Roma Norte, and Polanco. These areas are 100% safe and feature every modern amenity you’d ever desire. Yoga studios, nightclubs, speakeasy bars, and coworking spaces fill up these districts.

English levels are great in these high-end barrios, as the expat populations are high. Plus, it’s easier to get a flight to Mexico City than any other Latin American locale for most people living in the United States.

Enough with my hypothesis, here’s a little more info on Mexico City from people who have lived there:

Medellin, Colombia

I’m not a huge fan of Medellin, Colombia. My take is the place is overrun with gringos and the whole vibe of the city has changed. I won’t be going back anytime soon.

Still, Medellin is one of the easiest cities to get acclimated with in South America. The weather is absolutely fantastic, the people are good looking, and the prices are still damn cheap in most neighborhoods.

Safety concerns play a role while in Medellin, but most travelers have little issue staying in the Poblado. The nightlife is decent here and there’s fantastic tourism opportunities, like Guatape, just a stone’s throw away.

You’ll also find plenty of fellow gringos to hang out with in Medellin, as the city has become the digital nomad hub of South America.

Learn more about Medellin here:

Playa del Carmen, Mexico

I’ve almost booked 2-3 month stays in Playa del Carmen multiple times, but never pulled the trigger. I’ve spent a few weeks here and on Cozumel. Both trips, I absolutely loved it.

Playa del Carmen has a lot to offer the traveling gringo. While you won’t find as much unique Latin culture here as you would in Bogota, you’ll still meet plenty of Spanish speakers. Hell, clubs still play reggaeton from time to time, too.

There’s no doubt PDC is a bit westernized, but the good far outweighs the bad here. Playa del Carmen offers amazing beaches, unique tourism opportunities, amazing nightlife, yoga studios, and coworking spaces.

Plus, the small beach city is still incredibly cheap. There aren’t many places you can live in a furnished studio apartment within walking distance of the beach, nightlife, and more for under $500 a month.

Learn more about Playa del Carmen here:

Finding the Best City For Your First Trip to Latin America!

If you’re a gringo looking to take your first solo trip south of the border, the cities above are absolutely ideal. You won’t need fluent Spanish to get by in any of these places and safety shouldn’t be too much of a concern.

While not mandatory in these cities, a little Spanish speaking ability will go a long way in Latin America. Click here to start learning today!
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Jake D

Travel junkie turned blogger. Location independent. From the Midwest, but often based in Latin America. Big on beaches, rumba, and rum. Addicted to the gym. Committed to showing a different style of travel - one that involves actually interacting with locals and exploring different cultures.

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Mario Favela - October 6, 2018

Good post and thanks for the link!

I’ve been to/lived in three out of these six – Bogota, Medellín, and of course Mexico City. And I came to very similar conclusions about them (although didn’t party much in Bogota). I can’t see myself living in Panama or Peru, but Playa del Carmen is very tempting…

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