Travel tips and best destinations to visit: Ten places everyone should return to in North and South America

It's home to the world's largest rainforest, highest waterfall and longest mountain range. In geographical terms, it dominates the western hemisphere. Culturally, it's the most influential society on the planet. More than a billion people live there, yet some of them have never been contacted by the outside world.

We know this region of superlatives and paradoxes as the Americas – the 14,000-kilometre-long landmass that sweeps up from the glacial fiords of southern Chile to the barren tundra of far north Canada. Comprising North, Central and South America, it's a region that presents travellers with a tantalising variety of landscapes, cultures and experiences.

Adventure addicts can scale Patagonia's dramatic snow-capped peaks, raft through a billion years of geological history in the Grand Canyon or roam Atacama's rain-parched high desert. North America, in particular, has done an exceptional job of protecting its natural wonders, creating a national park system that preserves precious jewels such as Yellowstone, Yosemite, Zion and Banff.

City lovers are similarly spoilt. New York will always be one of the world's great metropolises but Mexico City, Buenos Aires and Rio are equally vibrant. There are countless smaller gems too, such as Texas' music-obsessed Austin, Colombia's cobblestoned beauty Cartagena and Ecuador's breath-sapping Quito.

History buffs can explore the remnants of three of the world's great civilisations (the Maya, Incas and Aztecs) while music fans can visit the birthplaces of jazz, blues, samba and salsa. For foodies and wine connoisseurs, the region offers a lifetime of opportunities to gorge and imbibe.

There are a million reasons to visit the Americas and a million more to go back. We asked Traveller's team of America experts to name the one place they'd return to given the chance. - Rob McFarland


Buenos Aires


I want to be in Buenos Aires. Endlessly. Eternally. I want to feel the city's passions coursing through my veins. I want to love what its people love. I want to feel what they feel.

This is a place so filled with passion, passion that sometimes erupts into anger, that sometimes breaks down in tears, and that is reserved, always, for the great things in life.


In Buenos Aires, passion means food and wine, it means steak and Malbec, it means pasta and sushi and the most perfect hipster cocktails you've ever been served. It means fashion, looking good, never leaving the house without a natty scarf or the perfect boots. It means dance, gripping your partner tight and channelling the love and pain of so many Porteno practitioners before you. It means football, this all-consuming mania, this unbreakable support for your favourite team. And it means, more than anything else, family and friends, it means spending time away from the office and doing what really matters, enjoying the city, enjoying your life.

As a visitor it's so easy to tap into the passions of the Argentine capital and to make them your own. It's so simple to spend time in a restaurant or to while away a late evening in a bar; it's completely natural to trawl the boutiques of Palermo and Recoleta to buy nice clothes; it's always possible to attend a football match; it's absolutely fine to go to a "milonga", or tango club, and watch as amateur devotees tread the boards, or even to learn the dance yourself.

The friends and the family come with time. It takes a few weeks in Buenos Aires to properly fall into the city's rhythms, to realise there's no point trying to do anything in the middle of the afternoon because everything's closed; that there's no sense eating dinner at a normal time because the restaurants are full of tourists; that the bars will be empty until midnight, at least. Once you learn its ways, the Argentine capital and its people begin to embrace you, and before long you're going to backyard asados, or barbecues, with new friends, you're drinking with them in uber-cool bars, you're wearing a scarf and boots and striding around BA's Euro-style streets like you own the place.

There are traditional tourist attractions in Buenos Aires, if that's what you're looking for. There are art galleries and museums, there's the grave of Eva Peron, the colourful streets of La Boca. But to me, Buenos Aires' appeal is so much more than attractions. It's passion: feverish, wild and deeply sincere. That might not be the main reason you decide to go – but it will certainly be the reason you'll want to go back.




I want to be in Cusco, feeling high. I speak literally, of course, since Cusco sits at 3399 metres in the Peruvian Andes. Yet at times I feel metaphorically high, too. The thin air sets me wheezing. The hot, green infusion of coca leaves that locals insist I drink against altitude sickness makes my mind muzzy. All around me, the Quechuan people are psychedelic in bright shawls, pompom shoes and homburg hats. They lead alpacas smug in pink ribbons.

I love Cusco for its surreal appearance. Though I visit nearby Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, it's Cusco that makes me linger. This wacky place is South America's oldest continuously inhabited town. Spanish-era cobblestone streets and terracotta-capped churches have barely changed since the 17th century. Beneath are the remains of far older Incan monuments.

The baroque Church of Santo Domingo sits atop the elegant, stone-carved foundations of the Temple of the Sun. Calle Loreto, which follows an Incan thoroughfare, is flanked by massive walls that were once part of another temple, over which the Convent of St Catherine squats like an incubus.

Fusion Cusco is fascinating. You see interlocking Incan foundations everywhere, like a giant 3D puzzle underpinning a flamboyant Spanish eruption of coloured marble and gilt moulding. Colonial churches sag with golden loot and enough cherubs to start a dimpled-bum convention.

I often feel I'm hallucinating. The Convent of St Francis sports a candelabra made of human bones. In the cathedral – perhaps the best colonial cathedral in all of the Americas – a painting of the Last Supper depicts Quechuan-looking disciples tucking into roast guinea pig.

I like wandering San Blas neighbourhood. Its artisans and artists lend it a bohemian atmosphere. Whitewashed, blue-doored cottages contrast with the colonial town's red-brown buildings. Walk upwards and streets turn into staircases carved with religious symbols. An hour's panting takes me to the massive ruins of Sacsayhuaman – pronounced "sexy women", as local lads endlessly remind visitors.

Cusco is changing, and that's OK. It adds another clash of cultures. Incan alleys are riddled with cyber cafes, nightclubs and fast-food joints. Women in traditional flounced skirts, looking like rotund flamenco dancers gone wrong, spruik for restaurants in which Marilyn Monroe simpers from the walls. Street hawkers sell llama-wool mittens and phone cards.

Cusco's streets are shadowy and moody in the evenings, but shop interiors are a pink and orange kaleidoscope of alpaca-wool ponchos and hand-woven textiles. The bars are humming. I relax with Bob Marley in my ear, Quechuan drinkers at my elbow and Incan foundations at my feet. Maybe it's the beer, or the altitude, or the sheer happiness of being in this odd, lovely place, but it's easy to get high on Cusco.




Give it up, New York. Montreal has your bagels beat. Hand-rolled, baked not boiled, crispy outside and fluffy inside, encrusted with sesame seeds and with just the faintest hint of honey: no wonder people queue outside the Fairmount and St-Viateur bakeries for these fresh-from-the-oven treats.

It is not just bagels, either. Montreal is one of North America's great foodie capitals, a place that makes my mouth water every time I think about it. Start your grazing at one of the city's sprawling food markets – I'm particularly partial to the Marche Jean-Talon – before munching your way through the city's diverse neighbourhoods. Whether you hang with the hipsters in one of Mile-Ex's cool cafes or opt for one of the atmospheric eateries in Vieux Montreal, or Old Montreal – which, by the way, really is old, dating back more than 400 years – a good feed is guaranteed.

It's not just the brasseries and bistros that will appeal to food fans; Montreal's home cooks are blessed with an unusual abundance of kitchenware shops, including one where you can buy both cookware and guns, for those who like to kill their own dinner.

It's this quirkiness that is Montreal's real charm. Montreal is many things, but it is never predictable. Visitors can explore both heritage neighbourhoods and a lively street art scene, not to mention the ornate Notre-Dame-Des-Neiges cemetery, home to more than a million dearly departed and thousands of OTT monuments, including a life-size reproduction of Michelangelo's Pieta. Montreal has a shop dedicated to mushrooms, and an actual geodesic dome. How can you not love this city?

It is not just the city that seduces me; it is also the people. Montrealers love a party. They'll throw a festival to celebrate just about anything. They even have a part of downtown, the Quartier des Spectacles, dedicated to staging festivals. Some, such as the jazz festival and the comedy festival, are world-famous. Others, such as the African culturefest Nuits d'Afrique, the food truck festival and the mural festival fly under-the-radar, but all of them are celebrated with style.

What's more – and this surprises many people – Montreal is a destination for all seasons. The balmy summers, when people flock to the beaches in the St Lawrence River, are a no-brainer. However, fearless visitors will discover that the frigid winters are lot less daunting than you might imagine. Winter is the time to visit the sugar shacks, where maple syrup is boiled up, and party with the vibrant Montreal en Lumiere festival. Stay warm by navigating through the underground city, a subterranean system of passageways and shopping arcades that shields you from the worst of the weather. Those Montrealers really do think of everything.



Photo: Alamy

I want to be drinking caipirinhas on the streets of Leblon. I want to be watching the sunset from the rocky headland by Ipanema beach. I want to be dancing to the infectious beat of samba in a steamy club in Lapa. In short, I want to feel the irrepressible exuberance of a city that lives to party.

I've only been to Rio once but I was instantly smitten. Occupying a peninsula on Brazil's western coast, the city is a stunning montage of white sand beaches, soaring granite monoliths and lush, tropical rainforest. Take the cable car to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain and you'll be presented with a sweeping panorama of such heartbreaking loveliness it'll make you want to sing or cry or propose.

There is a similarly enchanting vista at the summit of Corcovado mountain, although this one plays second fiddle to the city's most recognisable icon – French sculptor Paul Landowski's mesmerising 38-metre-high statue of Christ the Redeemer.

For many Rio residents (cariocas), life revolves around the beach. Copacabana and Ipanema are the most famous – two neighbouring arcs of fine white sand where cariocas go to play, parade and party. These vast outdoor playgrounds are the venue for spirited games of football, spirit-fuelled family get-togethers and the best people-watching in South America. Arrive beach-ready because everyone else will be bronzed, scantily-clad and unfairly attractive.

When the sun goes down, the party moves to the bar-lined streets of upmarket suburb Leblon then continues in the sweat-soaked dance halls of former red-light district Lapa. Bars throb to the frenetic rhythms of samba and bossa nova until the sun comes up and it starts all over again.

It's thanks to this rigorous training schedule that cariocas are mentally and physically prepared for the city's ultimate stamina test: Carnival. This riotous five-day celebration before Lent includes a samba competition in the purpose-built Sambadrome and free neighbourhood block parties across the city.

Of course, Rio has other, less-heralded attractions, too. Like spectacular hiking and climbing in Tijuca National Park (the world's largest urban forest), a vibrant street food scene (try the tapioca pancakes) and a beguiling botanical garden with more than 8000 plant species. Cultural highlights include the Museum of Modern Art and the thought-provoking Museum of Tomorrow – one of the few positive legacies from the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Tragically, when you peel back Rio's fun-loving exterior, you find a city struggling with corruption, poverty, drugs and crime. Hopefully, Brazil's newly-elected government can tackle these issues. In the meantime, be vigilant and take extra precautions, particularly at night.

Despite these flaws, Rio still has an irresistible allure. Unashamedly hedonistic, it's South America's wild child – gorgeous, vain and utterly adorable. See




I really shouldn't love Mexico as much as I do. It has either instigated, or been visited in the aftermath of, two relationship break-ups; I was stung by a scorpion and had near-death visions; and I was shaken from a slumber by an earthquake. Somehow, however, all these dramas have enhanced my experience and passion for this vibrant, fiercely independent country south of the controversial border.

My "happy place" I can't wait to revisit for the fifth time is a village 90 minutes from Mexico City, Valle de Bravo, where friends of mine own a classic hacienda named Finca Enyhe. This was the location for both the el alacran (scorpion) and el terremoto (earthquake) incidents; and it was to here that I escaped following the passing of my mother in 2012, spending three months recovering from an all-consuming, soul-punching grief.

Valle de Bravo is one of Mexico's official "pueblo magicos'' (magical villages), however – and that magic lies in its healing powers. A cobblestoned colonial town founded by Franciscan monks in 1530, Valle today is the domain of millionaires from Mexico City, whose holiday mansions line the shores of sparkling Lake Avandaro.

On weekends, it buzzes with day-trippers scouring its boutiques, galleries and street markets; but midweek, it reverts to sleepy village life, vendors gazing curiously at the lone, non-Spanish-speaking gringo who has long overstayed the usual two-day tourist curfew.

On the town's evocative, tree-lined zocalo, I join families and lovers on habitual evening strolls, snacking on homemade papas fritas and popsicles as the discordant strains of a mariachi band waft from a central gazebo. I wander geranium-lined cobbled streets, dodging ATVs driven by 12-year-olds and firecrackers exploding in celebration of virgins, miracles and sheer lust for noise; while in a hammock outside my bungalow, I sway in the balmy breeze to a chorus of barking dogs, distant church bells, gobbling turkeys and furious geese, my nemeses ever on the attack.

My friend Lucia is a horse-riding instructor; and it's in the sand arena of Finca Enhye that I rekindle my passion for riding, sweating and aching after brutal hours of sitting trot, canter leads and position corrections. We also hit the trails in cool pine forests surrounding the lake, cantering through cactus-strewn rural hamlets, past kindle-laden donkeys, and to mountain viewpoints with far-reaching vistas of Mexico's scorched hotlands, Tierre Caliente.

We also swap our steeds for sturdy local ponies, climbing a slippery goat-trail into a hidden forest grove where migratory monarch butterflies nest in the thousands. As a shaft of sunlight pierces the gloom, clusters of wings unfold, flashes of orange and black and the hypnotic whir of tiny wings a-flutter in a dance of pure joy.

We watch in silent awe, breathless, spellbound. "Welcome to my cathedral," Lucia whispers.

Amen to that. And muchas gracias, Mexico.


I want to be in the Deep South, revelling in music. The hard part is choosing where to start. You could head to New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, and become charmed by the street-corner brass bands and cafe gigs. Even if you don't normally dance, inhibitions slide away in this city where steaminess and humidity somehow work a voodoo magic. And if you stumble upon a jazz funeral, which twists grief and loss into something uplifting and celebratory, you might think you've also died and gone to heaven.

Work your way upriver into the Mississippi Delta and you'll find the blues, forged from African spirituals, field hollers and work songs. Make a point of stopping in Clarksdale, Mississippi. While it's no more than a speck on the map – the city is home to fewer than 20,000 people – it hosts a blues gig every night of the week. One of the best spots is Red's Lounge, an unassuming but authentic juke joint. During daylight hours, head to the Delta Blues Museum to see Muddy Waters' cabin and John Lee Hooker's guitars. Travel just outside of town, through the pancake-flat cotton fields, to spend the night in a sharecropper shotgun shack at the quirky Shack Up Inn.

Memphis is only 90 minutes' drive away. Check in at The Guest House at Graceland – a 450-room "resort hotel" near Presley's former home and the $US45 million museum, entertainment and retail complex known as Elvis Presley's Memphis. The edge-of-town location isn't convenient to Beale Street but puts you awfully close to the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church where, on Sunday mornings, soul singer turned pastor Al Green might be raising the rafters. If you haven't had your fill of the King, visit his childhood home in Tupelo on the way to Muscle Shoals where Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones recorded hit songs at FAME Recording Studios and the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.

From northern Alabama, sensible music enthusiasts would point themselves towards Nashville for a knees-up at the Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Auditorium, Station Inn, Bluebird Cafe, The 5 Spot or Dee's Cocktail Country Lounge. They might also head to Arnold's Country Kitchen for meat and three and to see if John Prine is waiting in line. But if you don't mind clocking up a few more lonesome miles, here's my hot tip.

In east Tennessee, 40 minutes from the crazy Vegas stylings of Pigeon Forge (home to Dollywood) and a hop and a skip from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is one of the most down-home music experiences you could ever hope to find. The Rocky Branch Community Club stages jam sessions every Friday night in the former Rocky Branch Elementary School. There's no drinking, no smoking, no weapons and no cursing – you simply wander the classrooms until you find the bluegrass picking session that tugs you inside.




I want to be in New York whenever I am not actually in New York, my adopted home. Allergic to boredom, I want to be surprised daily, constantly unsure of what I'm about to witness. A man dancing burlesque on a subway platform, a hawk swooping people as they walk through the park, a grey wicker sofa lodged in a tree on 95th Street – the city rarely disappoints.

Joan Didion once compared New York to Xanadu, the fantastical dream place described by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. That sounds about right to me. True, Didion was leaving at the time – "one does not live at Xanadu," she wrote on her way to Los Angeles – but even she returned eventually, having missed the New York energy too much. Whenever I step off a plane at JFK, my routine of reacquaintance is usually the same. I take a taxi across one of the bridges into Manhattan, its great gilded towers springing up from nothing like a mirage. I drop my bags at my apartment, then head to a diner for breakfast regardless of the time – Broadway Diner on the Upper West Side, where the waitress is ancient and the coffee is lousy, but the atmosphere evokes an Edward Hopper painting.

If I'm feeling perky, I might go across Central Park to Cafe Sabarsky for apple strudel and a copy of The New York Times, served ironed on a wooden frame. Over the next few days, I make sure to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History, which has a surreal diorama of Australia's Blue Mountains, magpies and all. I don't feel like I am truly back, however, until I've had a bagel from Bo's in Harlem and strolled past the guy who sells steamed crabs from his van on the intersection of 125th Street and Madison Avenue. Having said all that, if I had to choose just one spot that sums up, for me, why New York is so special – one spot I always yearn to return to – it would be a small room on the top of floor of MoMA PS1, in Queens. Called Meeting, the room is an installation by the artist James Turrell, and it consists of nothing more complicated than a gaping hole in the ceiling. Visitors from all around the five boroughs come to sit together in silence and gaze up at the shifting palette of an urban sunset. It is intoxicating, a communal experience of wonder and silence at the heart of one of the busiest places on earth. A few weeks ago, the room was closed temporarily when high-rise scaffolding became visible through the skylight; New York, it must be said, never stops building. But Meeting is slated to reopen this summer, when the scaffolding comes down. I want to be there when it does.


The last rays of sun were fading behind the mountains surrounding Swiftcurrent Lake when we arrived at Many Glacier Hotel.

Inside, the atmosphere was almost self-parodic in its perfection; someone playing a beat-up piano in a vast, airy lobby beside the fire, expansive windows overlooking glacial waters, a mezzanine floor of Swiss-style chalet rooms. My wife and I grabbed a bottle of wine and sat by the hearth, chatting with other guests, our long and winding drive soon a distant memory.

We hit the trailhead early next day, an undulating mountain path snaking past slopes of fir trees, jagged alpine peaks and impossibly still lakes, turquoise and viscus thanks to rich glacial deposits. The hike was a full eight hours hoofing up and down steep terrain in the biting air, but the scenery was such, we'd never felt more alive.

Back at the lodge it was another story. Inside, the lobby was dark and silent. Not a soul in sight. White bed sheets covered the furniture, the piano was mute, the fire nothing more than a cold pile of ash. Last night had marked the end of the season and it was time to shut up shop for winter. I felt like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, ready to approach an imaginary bar tender to commiserate over a tumbler of whisky in a deserted hotel.

Fitting, really, as said film's opening credits were filmed at the nearby Going to the Sun Road, a staggeringly beautiful route crossing the Continental Divide through Logan Pass at high elevation. We drove it, soon discovering sections of that, too, were closing for winter, but it didn't matter. Over the next week, we explored further, hiking countless trails.

At Scenic Point, we made our way through a ghostly winter landscape, all twisted trees and snow dusted paths, only to be chased down from our vantage point by the moodiest storm clouds I'd ever seen. Traversing to Upper Two Medicine Lake, we paused at an abandoned boat shed for lunch, picking our way through hushed mountain forest beneath a feathering of snowfall.

Each night we refuelled on comfort food, drank cheap wine and beer, slept in cosy cabins.

No-one had ever really mentioned Glacier National Park to me during my time living in the States. No-one besides a tour guide I'd met a year earlier in Yellowstone National Park. I'll be forever grateful for the tip; this has to be one of the most underrated regions in the Lower 48, a pristine alpine wilderness minus the crowds of many of its contemporaries. I will be back there soon.




The edges of the world have a mesmerising appeal. People have tried to sail off them or journey to them for centuries, and there are few places so poised on the edge as Chile's Isla Navarino.

This spectacular wind-strafed island, straddling the 55th parallel, is further south than the subantarctic Macquarie Island or South Georgia Island. It's home to the world's southernmost town and the world's southernmost trek.

In summer, days are long – first light at about 4am, dusk at around 11pm – so there's no sense of hurry in the island's sole town of Puerto Williams. The town is no visual beauty – nothing fine and pretty would survive the conditions here – but it has a raw charm and an intoxicating sense of frontier.

Like the landscape, Puerto Williams has been roughened and toughened by the harsh climate. Its tin and weatherboard homes sit bunkered low against the fierce Patagonian winds, and the unsealed roads turn to mud at the first hint of rain.

Pride of place in the town goes to a monument featuring the bow of the Yelcho, the Chilean naval ship that rescued Ernest Shackleton's crew from Elephant Island in 1916, while a wooden roadside walkway on a rise above the port peers across the Beagle Channel to the glaciated mountains of Argentina's Tierra del Fuego, just five kilometres away.

What intrigues just as much as Puerto Williams' end-of-the-earth atmosphere are the remote spirits drawn to this most remote of places. I meet a French hiking guide who spent six weeks alone in a cabin on Navarino's uninhabited south side, where he decided he wanted to stay on the island for good. A Spanish waiter tells me he once worked in Australia, at the equally far-flung Fitzroy Crossing and Marla. It's like meeting the eccentric expat cast from Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia.

The island's most compelling feature, however, is not Puerto Williams. It's the Dientes de Navarino – the Teeth of Navarino – mountains that rise in a line of sharp spires behind the town. Though standing little more than 1000 metres in height, they're as dramatic and wild as grander mountain ranges many times their size.

Winding through the Dientes de Navarino is a four-day circuit walk that's billed as the world's southernmost trek, and which Lonely Planet has called the best trek in South America.

Though I'm trekking in summer, this guarantees nothing about weather conditions in far-southern Patagonia. On my first night in the mountains my tent is all but buried in a snowstorm. By the next evening, the sharp peaks of the Dientes are glowing golden in the warm, late-setting sun.

There are times atop ridges that I can barely stand up in the wind, and there's a glimpse from a mountain pass across the furious ocean to Cape Horn, the fabled southern tip of South America. It's life truly on the edge.


Hawaii, you had me at aloha.  At first glance it means hello and goodbye, but more than that, it's a beautiful way of life. The most Hawaiian word is all about peace, love and understanding. And a very warm welcome.

You feel it as soon as you touch down to a Fanta-orange sunrise in Honolulu. The sound of ukulele tunes, the fragrant hug of a purple orchid lei. The promise of another lovely day on the beach.

Resting majestically in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii is the only US state located outside North America. Thousands of kilometres away from Hollywood's star wattage and New York City's skyscrapers and Washington DC's government shutdowns, Hawaii's relative isolation has helped to preserve a gentle culture with deeply spiritual roots and royal traditions. Yogis say it's one of the most energetically sacred places on earth. Surfers come to catch a wave and pay homage to the birthplace of longboard surfing. Honeymooners and lovers of the tropics lap up the romance of a torch-lit luau feast.

The Aloha State's hundreds of Polynesian islands arguably have more in common with Tahiti or Samoa or even Queensland than they do with the mainland United States. Yet culturally there's a red-white-and-blue allegiance that goes beyond Starbucks and Pearl Harbor memorial tours. Hawaiians celebrate the 4th of July with fireworks and hot dogs, and are proud to claim Barack Obama as their own. The boy who would be President was born in Honolulu in 1961, returned to live there with his grandparents 10 years later and now vacations regularly in upscale Kailua Bay with his photogenic family.

I fly between Sydney and New York City a few times a year; after much trial and error, I reckon the hands-down best way to make this trip is with a stopover in Hawaii. It splits the journey neatly in half and gives me another excuse for a plate of fresh ahi tuna for lunch followed by a swim at Waikiki Beach.

If I only have one night, I make a reservation at the waterfront House Without a Key restaurant at Halekulani, where nightly cocktails and Hawaiian music are served under the century-old Kiawe tree. As the sun sets into the ocean and the legendary mai tais flow, former Miss Hawaii winners gracefully dance the hula and all seems right with the world.