Best of the ‘Off the beaten path’ Destinations in Latin America
Colca Canyon in Peru is the world’s second deepest canyon with an average distance of 100 kilometers between the high mountain peaks and the Colca River below. The canyon rests in the southern end of Peru in the Colca Region, originally conquered by the Incas in the 15th century. This natural Peruvian wonder is filled with pre-Colombian towns and agricultural sites that still support farming and human life. The town of Chivay is the largest town in the canyon and hugely popular due to La Calera, the soothing natural hot springs.
The Canyon is territory to many birds including: the giant Calibri (the largest member of the hummingbird family), the Andean Goose, the Chilean Flamingo, and the mountain Caracara. Also indigenous to the canyon is the Andean Condor. Increasingly dwindling in population, the Andean Condor is commonly seen at the Cruz del Condor, a popular tourist attraction. The Cruz del Condor is a pass in the canyon with rising thermals as the air warms that supports the elegant flights of the Andean Condor.
The impressive landscape allows for several outdoor activities including: hiking, rafting, and mountain biking. However, due to the drastic elevation changes, visitors are advised to allow time to acclimate and be aware of the changing altitude.
Granada is the oldest colonial city in the western hemisphere and has an intriguingly turbulent past. Previously the jewel of Central America, Granada was the point of exchange for gold and other minerals mined throughout the Spanish Empire during Colonial times. Granada’s history expands to include political movements, devastating fires, and pirates. Currently Granada is a conservatively prosperous city due to its increase in tourism and consequential property development including hotels and restaurants. Granada’s vibrant city captures the opulence of the old Spanish Empire with charming colonial buildings painted in light pastel colors. The city’s picturesque colonial style is built up around the city’s main square the Parque Central, the heart of Granada.
Surrounding the Parque Central are various historical landmarks and buildings such as the Cathedral, as well as horse drawn carriages.
Nearby Granada is the Nicaragua’s first park, Volcan Masaya National Park established in 1979. The park has scenic trails and roads that travel through the impressive landscape composed of two large volcanoes and five deep craters. Also close by is Laguna de Apoyo, a popular local watering hole that teems constantly with wildlife. At the Laguna de Apoyo are opportunities for visitors to kayak the waters.
Escape the beaches and wild jungles of Brazil and retreat to the mountain town of Ouro Preto, historically rich in gems and gold. Ouro Preto was a wealthy 18th century colonial mining town that today is abundant in culture and history. While walking the cobble stone streets that wind amongst Baroque-styled buildings, it’s easy to become seduced by the city’s ancient charm. The beautifully preserved buildings loom with the air of the Renaissance and have acclaimed the city a World Heritage Site. The town’s rich history also encompasses an era of slavery from the town’s mining days. Ouro Preto has a large university scene and a youthful population making it an exciting place to celebrate Brazil’s large festival Carnival.
Villa de Leyva is a small colonial town so well-preserved that it feels lost in another time. The village boasts Andalucia architecture complete with small alleys and cobblestone streets. Within the town are several attractions including the Cathedral, the house of Antonio Narnio, the house of Antonio Ricuarte, the Colonial Art Museum, and the House of Congress. Due to its rich history and intense beauty Colombia declared Villa d Leyva a national monument in the 1950’s. To this day the colonial town remains a Colombian treasure and is commonly a weekend getaway for those retreating to a slower pace and a temperate climate.