The Best Places to Travel in Mexico and Central & South America in February
Come February, Latin America may be best known for its wild Carnival celebrations. They are, after all, some of the most famous parties in the world. But there are plenty of other reasons for travelers to take advantage of the quiet travel month and explore this half of the world.
To find the absolute best places to travel in the area during the month of February, we tapped into a large pool of top tourism providers that specialize in this region. We also looked at popular annual events, noteworthy openings, and called upon a deep knowledge of travel in Mexico, Central America, and South America to inform our selections.
You'll recognize some of these destinations from our list of the 50 Best Places to Travel in 2018, like Brazil’s sprawling and sophisticated second city, São Paulo; Los Cabos, which is enjoying a major luxury boom; and Iguazú Falls (because even if you’ve already been, we’ve got a major reason to return).
But we also scoured the rest of Latin America to find the best reasons to travel there right now, including a once-in-a-lifetime wine tour in Chile, “table to farm” dining in Mexico, and hands-on conservation in the Peruvian Amazon.
Travel near or travel far, but these are the best places to go in South America, Central America, and Mexico this February.
São Paulo, Brazil
Carnival marks the beginning of lent and is celebrated in countries around the world. Carnival in Rio de Janeiro may be more famous, and the largest in the world, but Carnival in São Paulo (February 9 to 13, 2018) is nipping at Rio’s heels, with numbers growing every year. Rival samba schools with up to 3,000 members each compete during elaborately costumed and choreographed parades in São Paulo’s Sambadrome, which accommodates 30,000 spectators. Meanwhile, neighborhood block parties break out all over town, giving everyone a chance to strut their stuff in the street. Carnival in São Paulo now also includes float-riding movie stars and swanky masked balls.
Los Cabos, Mexico
Los Cabos is experiencing a massive hotel boom this year, and this month, Le Blanc Spa Resort opens its doors. The property features a 25 treatment room spa and 373 guest rooms and suites decked out with Bulgari amenities, a pillow menu, aromatherapy, an in-room Lavazza coffee maker, a bottle of wine on arrival, a beach bag, and more.
Wildland Adventures is now offering the brand new Unexplored Colombia: Coffee, Culture, and Coast trip (12 days, from $3,660) which includes guided explorations of Cali, Bogota, Medellin, the coffee triangle, and the Choco region on the Pacific Coast. Participants will explore cities, taste coffee, go hiking, kayak with whales, and more on this wide-ranging tour of the country.
Wine Travel Chile is debuting a series of new wine tours in February, including The Luxury Red Wine Experience (4 days, from $4,000) which includes plenty of wine tasting and accommodations at the Vik and the Clos Atalpa Residence, a Relais & Chateaux hotel. The Women's Walking, Wine, and Food tour (7 days, from $3,500) travels in part on foot for a more active introduction to Chilean wine country.
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
On February 10, 2018 Outstanding in the Field (a U.S. group that pioneered “table to farm” gourmet al fresco dining), hosts their first-ever event in San Miguel de Allende at the Bodega Organica at Rancho Luna Escondida urban farm. Here, 150 diners will enjoy sustainable cuisine from local chef Donnie Masterton, and chef Eduardo Garcia from Mexico City.
Panama City, Panama
The Santa Maria, a Luxury Collection Hotel & Golf Resort, opens in the Santa Maria enclave of Panama City this month. The property features a championship Nicklaus Design 18 hole, 72 par golf course. The 182 rooms and suites boast Panamanian touches, such as blankets in the graphic style of the Guna Yala (the largest indigenous group in Panama), and baskets woven by hand by members of the Embera community. The property also has two restaurants, a bar, an outdoor pool, and a spa featuring treatments that incorporate native Panamanian ingredients.
Iguazú Falls, Argentina
The Awasi Iguazú, just 20 minutes from Iguazú Falls, opens its doors this month. This much-anticipated new hotel will offer 14 villas and more luxury than this region has seen yet. Guests, for example, have access to private plunge pools, personal guides, and rugged 4X4 vehicles.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Every weekend in February, porteños — the nickname for people from Buenos Aires — celebrate the Carnaval Porteño festival which delivers tango, folk, cumbia, salsa, and traditional murga (a mash up of European and African music). Costumed dancers and roving, drum-heavy bands parade in the streets. Getting there will be easier than ever, too: Norwegian Air debuts its first South American route this month with flights from London’s Gatwick Airport to Buenos Aires.
The southern amazon region in Peru was once full of macaws. When macaw populations began to plummet (because of predation and loss of habitat), the Tambopata Research Center, or TRC, was established deep in the Tambopata National Reserve. Here, Peruvians and researchers from Texas A&M University established a program to protect existing macaws and encourage more successful breeding — and they’ve been bringing the species back since 1989. The TRC eventually opened up to tourism, and guests can now bed down at their shockingly luxe lodge (some rooms have chic outdoor bathtubs). Peak macaw hatching season is in February, and guests at the TRC lodge can join researchers in their work with these gorgeous birds.
Sacred Valley, Peru
On February 27, 2018 Peruvian celebrity chefs Virgilio Martinez and Pia Leon (their Central Restaurante in Lima is No. 5 on the list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants) open a new project at the Moray Incan archeological site in the Sacred Valley. The project includes a food research lab and MIL Restaurante, which will serve a set seven-course-tasting menu designed to showcase seven different ecosystems in the Andes. All ingredients will be harvested or collected in the Cusco region. The 40-seat restaurant will do just one seating per day at 12:30, from Tuesday to Sunday — so reservations are a must.
Easter Island, Chile
Combine adrenaline with culture at the annual Tapati Rapa Nui Festival (February 2 to 17). The name translates to “Rapa Nui Week,” and during this time people partake in the unusual sport of sledding down volcanoes using banana tree trunks. There’s also horse racing, fish bakes, live music, and dance performances. Guests of the Explora Easter Island will be provided with transportation to Hanga Roa town so they can experience (and participate in) the festival.
The Virgen de la Candelaria Festival takes place during the first two weeks of February, and revolves around a Catholic ceremony to "purify" the Virgin Mary. Indigenous Andean cultures added their own elements, and today the festival also honors pre-Hispanic agrarian cycles of sowing, harvesting, and a general reverence of Pachamama (Mother Earth). This event is so important, it was declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2014. Visitors can expect to see street parades, traditional dancing, elaborate costumes (some masks weigh more than 20 pounds), traditional food, thousands of observers, 70 bands, 9,000 musicians, and 40,000 dancers.
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Hotel Amapa, in the historic center of Puerto Vallarta, opens this month with 55 rooms just one block from Playa Los Muertos. A member of Design Hotels, the property features top notch handicrafts and promotes a decidedly anti all-inclusive vibe.
Viña del Mar, Chile
The annual Festival de la Canción (Festival of Song) is one of the largest and most famous music festivals in Latin America, and has been held regularly since 1960. The centerpiece is a best song competition that draws entries from around the world, and a festival queen is chosen as well. But travelers may recognize major musicians, too, as past performers have included Tom Jones, Franz Ferdinand, Sting, Elton John, and the Backstreet Boys.
Riviera Maya, Mexico
The adults-only Royal Hideaway Playacar will alter your notions about all-inclusive fare when it welcomes Michelin-starred chef Alejandro Sánchez as gastronomic director this month. Sánchez will apply his skills, honed at restaurants throughout his native Spain, to invigorate the menus at the resort’s five restaurants. New, weekly menus will be designed to dovetail with the show being performed in the resort’s Club Royale dinner theater restaurant — and chef Sánchez, along with visiting guest chefs, will anchor the chef’s table experiences at the Las Ventanas restaurant.