cliffs at viña del mar

You’ll find an oasis at the cliffs of Viña del Mar. (Photo: Getty Images)

Tips + Trends

Small Towns Bring Big Delights in the Caribbean and Latin America

Are you dreaming about your next adventure? If you’re eager to escape the crowds and get off the beaten path, take note of these lesser-known, but no less interesting, small towns across Latin America and the Caribbean.

Only a few hours away from central cities, these small towns offer unique day trips to make your vacation a memorable (and Instagram-worthy) adventure. As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

Santiago to Viña del Mar, Chile

Drive 90 minutes northwest from Chile’s capital city and you’ll arrive at the “Garden City” of Viña Del Mar, a green oasis of culture and beauty situated on Chile’s Pacific coast.

Lounge on a white sand beach like Reñaca; take a stroll along the promenade and visit Wulff Castle, a European-style château; or relax in one of the city’s many parks and botanical gardens.

If you’re passing through in February, plan to attend the International Song Festival at Quinta Vergara and have the chance to be a part of the famous “El Monstruo.”

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Old San Juan waterfront
Wind down with a stroll in Old San Juan. (Photo: Getty Images)

Only a 15-minute taxi ride from the capital of San Juan, the Old San Juan neighborhood is a colorful respite with centuries of history. Easily walkable, Old San Juan is crisscrossed with cobblestone streets and infused with cultural energy.

Explore the grand Spanish forts El Morro and Castillo San Cristóbal, or tour the house of famed explorer Ponce De León. Be sure to take advantage of Puerto Rico’s unique cuisine, a blend of Taíno, Spanish, African and American influences.

After enjoying one of the area’s many fine restaurants, finish your day trip with an evening stroll down the Paseo de la Princesa.

Mérida and Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula

ancient pyramid ruins at chichen itza
Explore Mexico’s ancient history at Chichen Itza. (Photo: Getty Images)

A short distance from the capital city of Mérida are some of the best-preserved Mayan archeological sites in Mexico. Step into the past while visiting Chichén Itzá, located only an hour and a half drive from the city’s center. The sacred site is home to the famous stepped pyramid, El Castillo, and has been named a UNESCO world heritage site.

Uxmal, also named a UNESCO World Heritage site, is about an hour drive away and well worth the trip. Another closer and less-crowded option is the Temple of the Seven Dolls at the Dzibilchaltún site.

An hour drive east of the city lies the magical town of Izamal, also known as “the Yellow City.” As the name implies, the buildings are all painted a brilliant yellow. The city holds both a deep Mayan history and a more recent Spanish colonial influence.

In the town’s Spanish monastery, Convento de San Antonio de Padua, some of the stones under the building’s arcades have a distinct maize (corn) design. Their presence indicates they were repurposed from the Mayan temples the Spaniards destroyed when they conquered Izamal.

Montevideo (or Buenos Aires) to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

flower lined street in colonia del sacramento
Take a stroll down charming streets. (Photo: Getty Images)

A UNESCO World Heritage site, Colonia del Sacramento is only a 2.5-hour road trip from Montevideo, Uruguay, or a little over an hourlong ferry ride from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Due to its Portuguese, Spanish and British colonial past, this picturesque little town is full of well-preserved and historical architecture.

Walk down cobblestone streets admiring the pastel-colored houses on your way toward the town’s central square, Plaza de Armas, located near the Iglesia Matriz (Mother Church). You can also enjoy several museums, galleries, restaurants and a trip to the beach.

Colonial Zone, Dominican Republic

Santo Domingo’s Colonial Zone, home to the first hospital, university, cathedral and even the first paved street of the New World, is a treasured UNESCO World Heritage site in the Dominican Republic that is overflowing with vibrant beauty and rich history.

First settled by the Spanish in the late 15th century, the central neighborhood is home to an abundance of historical buildings and lavish private residences of the founding families.

Take a historic walking tour, brush up on the Dominican Republic’s art and history while enjoying a coffee, do some shopping at Mercado Modelo, and enjoy a meal or two before ending the day with a sunset stroll on the Malecón.