Having spent over 2 years travelling up and down this fabulous stretch of the globe, it goes without saying 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 as well!
So here is my version of the most overrated places in Latin America I visited!
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#1 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 really 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.
I saw Masaya Markets as part of a day out from Granada to Laguna De Apoyo, which is much nicer.
I would recommend skipping the markets and heading straight out to the lake instead, where Hostel Paradiso is a great place to spend a few days.
READ MORE: León Vs. Granada: The Fight for Nicaragua’s Best City
#2 Playa 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 Playa 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 but wasn’t I glad, because despite planning a week there, after just a day in Playa 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.
Playa Del Coco is renowned for the bull sharks that frequent its waters. This is a pretty good claim to fame and the only reason I could recommend going to Playa Del Coco.
My advice? Do a diving trip with Rich Coast Diving, stay a night in Casa Marina, then get out!
#3 Mindo Cloud Forest, Ecuador
Mindo had been totally hyped to me in the Lonely Planet of Ecuador 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!
The accommodation was overpriced, even the backpacker hostel, 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.
Nevermind, I saw a ton for free elsewhere in Ecuador!
La Casa de Cecilia is the best budget accommodation in Mindo, but as discussed, it wasn’t cheap enough for me – hence the roof camp!
You’re much better to enjoy some cloud forest action and see some hummingbirds in Ecuador around the town of Baños.
Here, I recommend staying at Los Piños, which had cheap camping and was wonderfully close to a ton of free hikes in the hills and valleys around town. Then you’ve always got the hot pools to warm up in after.
For more info, check out the post top 5 things to do in Ecuador.
#4 Medellin, Colombia
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 the fun was.
Not much seemed to be happening anywhere, beside a few mediocre bars by the Yellow House Hostel 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 better!
If you do want to see a little more in the gorgeous area around Medellin, then I recommend the town of Guatapé instead.
Only an hour by bus, it’s a world away in terms of beauty and things to do!
Some great friends of mine own a hostel there, so staying at Hostal Mi Casa Guatapé comes highly recommended, as does climbing El Peñol.
The views are stunning, the weather is better and the cute little town with its model houses and bright colours takes some beating!
#5 Livingston, Guatemala
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 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, they said, really identify 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 Casa de la Iguana, but it was dirty and felt unsafe.
As such, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed by Livingston, which is why it’s made its way onto my list as one of the most overrated places in Latin America.
Save your Caribbean cravings until you get to Nicaragua and then check out Little Corn Island.
This really is the picture-perfect place you’ve been looking for!
If you do make it to the Corn Islands, I suggest staying at Green House Hostel and diving with Dolphin Dive.
Also recommended is sipping some great rum under the palm trees while admiring the lapping turquoise waves!
#6 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 feat 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 a 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 I ended up catching a cab.
This is an expensive way to see boats being raised and lowered between different docks.
Definitely just cut your losses and save your money!
The whole of Panama City was actually pretty boring to me, so unless you’re using it as a stopover in order to travel to Colombia, I’d avoid it.
If you’re not looking to cross the Darien, then you’d be much better exploring other areas of Panama instead. Boquete and Santa Catalina are lovely towns, which come highly recommended.
In Boquete, stay at Hostal Refugio del Río and check out the free yoga classes over the bridge.
In Santa Catalina check out Deseo Bamboo Eco-Lodge and Panama Dive Center for your chance to encounter some whale sharks.
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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!
25 thoughts on “The Most Overrated Places in Latin America I Visited”
I’ve heard so many mixed reviews about Medellin that I now sort of just want to go to see what I make of it. Really interesting list!
Ha ha that’s really funny Silvia – yes going for ourselves is the only real way of knowing if we’ll like a place or not! Glad you found the list interesting. Enjoy Latin America
My guy and I spent 4 weeks there and loved it. Two weeks were planned, and we got a “bonus” two weeks when my boyfriend ran into some dental issues. Besides being a fabulously lush city, the medical tourism is spot on. He got about $20,000 (US$) worth of dental work for $2,500.
Is that picture under Medellin actually from there? That building looks exactly like the one in Panama City!
I agree that Panama City was definitely underwhelming. We spent a day there and I feel like we saw and did everything of interest. At least the hotel was nice!
No your right Katrina, the picture is from Panama City (PC) – good spot. Medellin was so grey and dull I didn’t even take any photos there! Nice that you agree about PC. Where did you stay to make it worthwhile? Old city or the new town?
The place that let me down was Antigua, Guatemala. Expensive, touristy, and no more special than a dozen other towns in the region. I agree about Playa de Coco, though! Even the diving was underwhelming (not to mention cold). I did hear that the name comes from the cocoa-colored sand, not coconut palms, so at least that part of it is accurate.
Ha ha, cocoa-coloured sands sounds more appropriate Sarah – thanks for the info! Shame about Antigua – it was touristy, but I still enjoyed it, probably because it was the first place I went in Latin America. I can see why you weren’t so keen however 🙂
Really?? I was thinking of going there in February. Can you explain?
Sorry, Brianna whereabouts were you thinking of going in Feb? I’m not sure which location you’re referring to.
While I do agree that the Panama Canal is lackluster, the Panama metro system is fantastic and a city bus goes right by the canal for $0.25. There are lots of other great places to visit in the city, Casco Viejo, the fish market, Cinta Costera, Panama Viejo to name a few. The Masaya Market is also overrated in my opinion, we could find everything we needed at the Granada market, without going to a more touristy venue. Lastly, I must disagree with Medellin. What a beautiful city. We rented bikes and rode all over town and even biked up two of the hills to get a better view. The metro system there is also fantastic. We stayed in the Laureles barrio instead of the more touristy El Poblado which probably made a difference in our experience as well.
Thanks so much Shelly for your great tips and advice, especially about Medellin and Panama City – looks like I may have to revisit them sometime! Also great to know about the metro fare to the canal – that would have been a much cheaper option. Thanks so much for sharing the info
I love hearing about where not to go as much as where to go. We had planned to spend some time in Marseille in Southern France until some locals at a caravan Park said it was a bad choice and they told us to go to Cassis and Arles instead. Completely changed our holiday for the better. Great article.
Thanks Christie and glad you got some good advice re. Marseille! I do think it’s just as valuable to hear about the overrated, bad and ugly as it is the good, beautiful and awesome. Happy to hear you feel the same!
Im looking forward to see your list about overrated places in Europe, Asia and Australia in the future, i know which one i would put on a list like that:)
Ha ha, great idea for a future post series! I shall get my thinking cap on …
Great post, it’s always nice when people tell the real truth about places. To many bloggers only post rainbows and butterfly s about places when they really did not like the place.
Totally agree David – I do think it’s important to portray the reality of traveling and not just the utopia!
Central america in general is shit. I just dont get it, its underdeveloped, super expensive for what you get and unsafe. I rather be bored in medellin than robbed by the overblown prices in san jose.
Shame you didn’t enjoy Central America Steve, I loved it and its underdeveloped madness! Lots of people saying they enjoyed Medellin so maybe I should take another look!
Hey Steph! I love when people sometimes write about what they didn’t like rather than all the amazing parts. It is great to see different perspective on things. I personally loved Livingston. We stayed in a little guest house overlooking the water. I had just come from Belize, so perhaps I wasn’t in the beach mindset anymore. I was interested in exploring the river and jungle, which is exactly why I loved it so much! I agree the market in Masaya was crap. I liked it there because we went during a special holiday – Day of the Dogs (or something like that) and there was a huge festival in town where everyone dressed their dogs up and got them blessed at the church. It was really cool! Love reading about other people’s experience in Latin America–it’s one of my favorite parts of the world!
Thanks so much for telling us a different side Katie – it’s great to hear about the spots others enjoyed even if I didn’t! Your experience of Livingston sounds much better than mine. Also, Day of the dogs sounds INCREDIBLE! Classic Latin America – I love that part of the world too!
You made the mistake of taking anything from Lonely Planet at face value…
Did I Andrew? Perhaps you could explain more? Would love to hear your thoughts …
I am from medellin but Medellin is only famous for cheap drugs and prostitutes. There’s not much to do. People are false and always want something from you.
Now I live in the Czech Republic I think I will never return to Colombia.
Oh wow Claudia, that’s quite a statement. Sorry to hear you feel that about your hometown, but glad you are happy in the Czech Republic.