Having spent over 2 years travelling up and down this fabulous stretch of the globe, it goes without staying that I’m pretty enchanted by Latin America, its places and its people. That said, there will always be disappointments along the road, especially when you are a foreigner and tourism is big business. As such, I’ve compiled a list of the destinations I found most disappointing, to help others avoid the let down of them too! My list of the most overrated places in Latin America are, of course, based on personal and subjective experience and there will always be open to disagreements. However, I do think, especially among us travel bloggers, that it’s easy to get carried away in the superfluous brilliance of every location, This often means that not enough is said about the places that don’t always live up to expectations. Life is full of hits and misses, as is travelling too, so it seems important and honest to talk about the less amazing times too! In that vein, here is my version of most overrated places in Latin America I visited.
Masaya Markets, Nicaragua
In one of my favourite countries in the whole of Latin America, Masaya was a real let down! This apparently famed market just outside the town of Granada is meant to be an artisan hotbed. However, it’s real just comprises of a small number of cheap, bland and uneventful stalls spread round a rather grey and depressing square! Masaya markets only seemed to offer stock-standard souvenirs that lacked an authenticity, quality and originality – I’m not sure anything there was made in Nicaragua, yet alone Masaya! If you’re going, or have been, to any of the great artisan markets in Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru or Bolivia, then give Masaya in Nicaragua a wide berth. Certainly one of the most overrated places in Latin America, it really will spoil your perception of what a good market can be here.
Playas Del Coco, Costa Rica
If you were looking for the deserted, palm-tree, beachside dream Costa Rica boasts then can I suggest you stay clear of Playas Del Coco in the northern region of Guanacaste. A popular stop for divers, as well as ex-pats and resort tourists, I visited this small beachside town on one of my visa runs from neighbouring Nicaragua. I only had to be out of Nicaragua for 72 hours and but wasn’t I glad, because despite planning a week there, after just a day in Playas Del Coco I was planning my exit! It didn’t help that it was rainy season when I visited, but the American style bars and back-to-back tourist shops really put me off. Sadly, I did feel this town had sold a little bit of its soul in the pursuit of development. In exchange, it seemed to have contracted a slightly seedy, weirdly sketchy vibe. I never saw any coconuts and the beaches were decidedly grubby. The visibility was also too poor to make diving worthwhile.
Mindo Cloud Forest, Ecuador
Mindo had been totally hyped to me in the Lonely Planet of South America and as such, I was eager to do a detour there from Quito, even when my travelling partner wasn’t keen. Big mistake, it was definitely one of most overrated places in Latin America! Accommodation was over priced, even in the backpackers, and I ended up camping out on a concrete roof in the pouring rain! Being high in the Andes, precipitation falls heavily and often on Mindo, which despite creating an apparently great ecosystem and habitat for wildlife, does generally mean you’re wet through and any great views are masked. However, probably the greatest disappointment about Mindo was the fact you aren’t actually able to experience the cloud forest without taking a tour. No self-guided walks, no nature trails, no wandering into forest on the outskirts of town. No everything is tucked away and inaccessible unless you have a guide and a tour. Nature, it seems, is only a commodity here. Needless to say, I didn’t pay for a trip and returned to Quito without even so much as having heard about a hummingbird. Never mind, I saw a ton for free elsewhere in Ecuador!
People had raved to me about what a great city Medellin was, so I know many love it. Sadly, however, I just didn’t get it. Even having some good friends who have grown up here was not enough to convince me of its brilliance. The centre of town, by the museum, seemed really dodgy to me and I failed to establish where any fun suburbs where. Not much seemed to be happening anywhere, beside a few mediocre bars by the Yellow HouseHostel where I stayed, so I’m not even entirely what there is to do in Medellin?! Apparently, it is meant to be the city of eternal spring, but just about every town in the mountains of Latin America lays claim to this title, so it’s hard to see why Medellin should be anymore deserving. Use Medellin as a bus stopover and save your city time in Colombia for Bogotá, which is much more fun!
Desperate to get my slice of the Caribbean when I first arrived into Latin America, this tiny town of the edge of Guatemala was my first chance. I’ve got to admit however, that I wish I hadn’t bothered! The journey to get here from Guatemala’s Central Highlands is long and arduous. You have to traipse through the equally unappealing Río Dulce and once you do get to Livingston you might to be disappointed to find there isn’t even a palm tree-lined beach to enjoy! Livingston is populated by the Garifuna people who don’t, we were told, identify at all with the Mayan/Latino majority of Guatemala. As such, their minority status and sense of disenfranchisement, creates a palpable feeling of anger and injustice that infiltrates the vibe of the whole town. We stayed at Cases de la Iguana, but it was dirt and felt unsafe. As such, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed by Livingston, which is why it’s made its way into my list as one of the most overrated places in Latin America.
Panama Canal, Panama
I know, if you’re even vaguely near the Panama Canal, you really feel like you should go and see this landmark piece of human engineering. My advice however? Don’t bother! It’s hard to imagine that anyone even remotely interested in construction could be entertained by this rather drab looking series of concrete compartments. Sure, there is a nice café from which you can watch the boats being jacked up and down the various locks of the canal, but it’s a long and dull process at best. There is also s museum explaining the history of the canal, which is ok, but you really could learn just as much from a guidebook to Panama. It seemed difficult to get public transport out to the canal from the city, which meant we ended up catching a cab. This is an expensive way to see boats being raised and lowered between different docks. Definitely just cut you losses and save your money!
So there is it, my list of the most overrated places in Latin America. Bound to be controversial, so what are your thoughts? Love them or hate them, let me know!