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!
- Ultimate Backpacking South America Packing List
- Best Budget-Friendly Things to do in Arequipa, Peru
- 10 Reasons Bogota Colombia Should be on Your Bucket List
This page contains affiliate links meaning Big World Small Pockets may receive a small commission on any purchases at no extra cost to you.
#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.
#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.
#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!
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.
PIN IT TO PINTEREST!
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!