For years Latin America has been a popular backpacking destination, with hordes of young backpackers travelling to the same places, along the same routes, staying in the same hostels. How, and where, can one get off this “Gringo Trail”, whose photos, stories and tales are almost invariably very similar? Here’s some country by country suggestions for getting off the beaten track in Latin America.
A huge country such as Brazil has plenty of opportunities for getting off the beaten track. In the Amazon region, head towards either Tefe or upriver from Tabatinga, as opposed to the far more frequently visited area around Manaus. The North Coast is heavily developed in parts, but blissfully undeveloped in others - travel to either the Lencois Maranhenes National Park or the area of the Costa Branca (between Fortaleza and Natal) for beautiful, off the beaten track beaches.
Most travellers who visit Patagonia base themselves in either Bariloche or El Calafate - head further afield from these destinations to get off the beaten track. South from Bariloche the area is wild and remote - Esquel has a pioneer feel to it and some great trekking nearby. The Salta region of North Argentina has some remote but beautiful little villages - consider using Iruya as a base for getting even further off the beaten track. Near Iguasu, the Ibera wetlands have some great wildlife viewing in a rarely visited part of Argentina.
Chile’s gringo trail includes Santiago, the Atacama Desert (& San Pedro de Atacama), the Lake District (eg. Puerto Montt & Puerto Varas) and Torres del Paine National Park. For a more off the beaten track experience, consider visiting the wine growing region just South of Santiago. Alternatively, head South from Puerto Montt along the beautiful Carretera Austral to the remote Aisen region, for a taste of unexplored, undeveloped Patagonia.
It’s rather difficult to get off the beaten track in Peru, but it’s much easier to do so in the less visited North of the country. The area around Chiclayo, Cajamarca and Chachapoyas might be explored, or alternaitvely head to the beautiful Cordillera Blanca mountain range.
I’ve been to a few very off the beaten track places in Ecuador that I can recommend: San Luis de Pambil (Bolivar province) and Salinas de Guaranda both offer a great taste of rural Ecuadorean life, or the Cotacachi Cayapas Ecological Reserve is a fine place for rainforest tours (try using the nearby village of San Miguel as a base).
Providencia Island is a beautiful, underdeveloped Caribbean backwater, and remains little changed over the years. Also with fine beaches is the La Guajira peninsula - a desert area with wonderful beaches and landscape that is sparsely populated by indigenous goat herding Wayuu Indians. Elsewhere in Colombia, consider the long journey to the ultra sleepy village of Mompos, or try exploring the Circuito Oriente around Medellin. The Pacific coast also has many wonderfully remote, off the beaten track destinations, however safety is sometimes a problem in this part of Colombia.
Island hopping in the San Blas Islands, a remote set of indigenously populated islands on the Caribbean coast, must be the top off the beaten track travel idea in Panama. Alternatively, consider exploring the scenic Azuero Peninsula, or heading to explore the Darien Province and it’s Embera Indian villages.
Elsewhere in Central America
Nicaragua and Honduras are two off the beaten track destinations in their own right - both are less frequently visited than their neighbours, but with plenty to offer adventurous travellers. In Belize, head to the various Mayan villages in Toledo District (known as the “Forgotten District”) for some off the beaten track travel in Belize. In Mexico, consider using San Cristobal de las Casas as a base to explore the less visited regions of Chiapas Province.
That’s all for know - any off the beaten track destinations you might recommend, do drop in a comment…