What are some great backpacker cities in Latin America?
February 29, 2016 1:54 PM   Subscribe

What are some great backpacker cities in Latin America? I am leaving for an open-ended backpacking trip and I would like to know some great backpacker cities to stop in, and any can't-misss locations. In particular I am looking for places where I can immerse in the local culture without breaking the bank.
posted by alocalhistorian to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Look into where the conversion rate is good. I'm just leaving Medellín, Colombia and right now the rate is really really favorable if you have US dollars. Medellín is a really cool city, as well.
posted by saul wright at 3:49 PM on February 29, 2016

All the places I went that had both local culture and backpackers was Sucre, Bolivia.
posted by sandmanwv at 4:06 PM on February 29, 2016

Latin America is a big place, especially if you're using the term to refer to Central America and South America.

Can you be more specific about where you'll be going?
posted by BadgerDoctor at 4:11 PM on February 29, 2016

Caye Caulker in Belize and Cusco in Peru come to mind.
CC is chill and cheaper than Ambergris Caye, with plenty of local flavor, understanding that Belize, in general is not the cheapest country to visit.
Cusco is on any backpackers list of SA cities for its proximity to Machu Picchu, there are lots of hostels and it's a good meet-up spot for solo travelers.
posted by OHenryPacey at 4:39 PM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: BadgerDoctor, I am hoping to do an overland trip from Panama City to the Yucatan. However, I plan to start in Columbia, after exploring there, I will fly to Panama City to get started on that leg. So for the most part, I am talking about Central America.

Saul and sandmanwv, where did you stay? What are good places to eat?
posted by alocalhistorian at 6:07 PM on February 29, 2016

I've done this trip. Here are some spots I liked:

Costa Rica: Uvita / Dominical (beach town on the Pacific coast)
Nicaragua: Ometepe (an island in a huge lake), Granada (the nicer city near the capital)
Honduras: Utila (chill island with cheap diving & snorkeling)
El Salvador: El Tunco (surf town)
Guatemala: Antigua (the nicer city near the capital), San Pedro or San Marcos on Lake Atitlan (Mayan villages on a mountain lake), Semuc Champey (waterfalls! don't miss it! it's amazing)
Yucatan: Xcalak / Majahual (best scuba ever, they have manatees), Tulum (cenotes!), Cozumel (island with great diving & snorkeling)
Belize: Caye Caulker (chill island with pricey scuba and snorkel tours)

I know a bunch more places that are way off the beaten track, but if you want backpackers plus culture, the ones I've listed are on the gringo trail :)

Everywhere is cheap except Belize. Caye Caulker is the cheapest you get over there :)
posted by ananci at 7:12 PM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The Colombian coast is beautiful and could really use the tourist dollars. I recommend Santa Marta for its great historical vibe and Palomino for the classic backpacker, off-the-beaten-track, cheap but beautiful vibe.

Both are a great jumping off point to Parque Tayrona as well.

In Santa Marta you can stay in a bunch of places. I stayed at La Casa del Farol but that's because the exchange rate was definitely in my favor. My friend recommended Emerald Hostel as the actual cheap hostel option.

Palomino is right on the cusp of exploding in popularity--but it's not quite there yet which is great for the budget. We stayed at La Sirena but again there are five or six cheap hostels available.

Buena suerte! And if you do go to either Santa Marta or Palomino, feel free to MeMail and ask about transport, food, and culture. I had a blast and really recommend the area.
posted by librarylis at 8:14 PM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you want to experience local culture, eat in the main markets. You'll get old ladies hollering at you to eat-- go to the place with the biggest lines.

I stayed in a hostel (this was 7 years ago, though) and did alot of 'homestays'-- which in some cases are much like Airbnbs where the degree of connection depends.
posted by sandmanwv at 2:58 PM on March 2, 2016

Good places for backpacker and local culture:

Nicaragua: Granada, Isla Ometepe, Leon (Granada and Leon are both old colonial towns. Granada is better-maintained but more buttoned-up, while Leon is a bit less "charming" but also a fun university town)
Honduras: Copan Ruinas near the Guatemlan border was a lovely little mountain town when I was there 12 years ago, but check the safety situation before you go. Utila on the coast was popular among backpackers for scuba diving, but, again, check the safety situation.
Guatemala: Lots of places to go, but I especially liked Xela. In the mountains, feels like a "real Guatemalan town" but also has a lot of services for gringos. Lots of foreign language students and NGO workers, so a pretty good social scene. Antigua is popular but felt a bit like the Disney/Epcot version of Central America to me. Lago Atitlan is a lake, not a town, but an amazing place to spend a week soaking up the beauty, meeting interesting travelers, and checking out the different villages around the lake.
Mexico: On your way to the Yucatan, check out San Cristobal de las Casas, the capital of Chiapas. Cool international community, lots of local cultural and political stuff going on.
posted by lunasol at 6:23 PM on March 2, 2016

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