The Best Places to Travel in Mexico and Central & South America in January
January is an action-packed month in Latin America. In addition to excellent summertime weather, there are new openings and attractions that will excite everyone from culture hounds to adrenaline seekers, and from sybarites to shoppers.
To determine the absolute best places to travel in the area, we tapped into a large pool of top tourism providers that specialize in this region. We also looked at popular annual events and noteworthy openings, sought out prime weather, and called upon a deep knowledge of travel in Mexico, Central America, and South America.
But we scoured all of Latin America to find the best reasons to travel there right now, including a new 15-day bike adventure in Brazil, a natural phenomenon in Bolivia, the first helicopter tour of Ecuador’s Avenue of the Volcanoes, and world-famous orchid blooms in Peru.
From just below the border all the way to Argentina and Chile — two countries that extend to the bottom of the Earth — these are the best places to travel in South America, Central America, and Mexico this January.
The largest city in the Yucatán Peninsula was founded on January 6, 1542 — a date that is celebrated annually. This year's 476th anniversary celebrations will span three weeks beginning on January 5. Festivities will include concerts, art exhibitions, theater performances, readings, fireworks (this is Mexico, after all), Afro-Caribbean dances with the city's Chamber Orchestra, and the FILUX international light festival: a series of avant-garde light installations that lead visitors through the city's gorgeous historic district.
This month, TDA Global Cycling debuts the new Carnival tour: a 1,700 mile journey from Recife to Rio de Janeiro down the coast of Northeast Brazil, arriving just in time for Carnival. During the month-long tour (from $9,400) riders will pedal past fishing villages, beaches, Atlantic rainforest, the Historic Center of Salvador de Bahia — a UNESCO World Heritage site — the Discovery Coast, and more. Rest days and good food (fresh fish, the national meat dish, feijoada, cold beer, and caipirinhas) keep you fueled. Two shorter sections of the tour are also available.
Aguas Calientes, Peru
It's orchid season in the Andes, and the gorgeous blooms are best seen on the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel's 12 lush acres. According to the American Orchid Society, the hotel's garden is home to the world's most diverse native orchid collection within a private setting. Admire the flora before a visit to nearby Machu Picchu, and then bed down in one of the property's 85 white-washed adobe casitas.
This month, Metropolitan Touring unveils the first helicopter volcano tour in Ecuador. Four different itineraries will take five passengers from Quito along the “Avenue of Volcanoes," a series of enormous volcanoes, many of them active, flanked by waterfalls, lakes, and spectacular Andean peaks. Trips range from 35 minutes to 90 minutes, and prices are based on flight duration and seat selection.
Mexico City, Mexico
People from all over the world travel to Mexico City to shop in the city's lavish malls and department stores. Prime among them is El Palacio de Hierro, the largest luxury department store in Latin America, in the swanky Polanco neighborhood. In January, traveling shoppers can take part in a Korean Beauty pop-up at El Palacio including K-Beauty brands IPKN, Huxley, Cool Enough, and others in one avant-garde shopping event. Spend the rest of the day exploring the 646,000-square-foot retail mecca which his home to flagship boutiques like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Hermès, and Gucci year-round.
This month, Casa Republica boutique hotel opens in the buzzing Barranco neighborhood of Lima. A multi-year, multi-million-dollar renovation turned the 1920s mansion (once used as a summer home), into an eight-room retreat within a block of the Pacific. Marble bathrooms, chandeliers, and a rooftop bar — a rare luxury in Lima — are standouts. Of course, January is always the best time to go to Lima. It's peak summer in South America, and travelers are most likely to enjoy sunny, cloud and fog-free days.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
The annual Tango Salon Festival (January 11 to 15) attracts top tango superstars who participate in workshops and milonga performances in tango halls across the city. Get into the spirit by watching the 1998 Oscar nominated movie Tango, which stars one of the performers at this year's event. After some serious dancing, head to the beach. From January 6 until February 28, an artificial sand beach, complete with lounge chairs, umbrellas, showers, sports, and Wi-Fi, will be set up on the banks of the Rio de la Plata, in Parque de los Niños, and the Parque Indoamericano, in Buenos Aries.
The best weather of the year comes in January with clear blue skies, dry conditions, and milder temperatures. Travelers should expect hot days and cardigan-cool nights. January in Santiago also ushers in the annual Teatro a Mil theater festival, which is a month long celebration of theater (think parades and performances) in both established venues as well as on the streets.
Los Nevados National Park, Colombia
This month, Mountain Travel Sobek unveils the Trekking in the Heart of Colombia tour (12 days, from $4,195) which begins with exploration of the art and food of Bogotá, continues to Colombia's coffee country, and culminates in high-altitude hiking in Colombia's Los Nevados National Park. Here, travelers will see other-worldly paramo landscapes, snow-capped volcanoes, and members of the park's endangered Andean condor population, which received a boost from birds bred at the San Diego Zoo.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
The world's largest salt flat is impressive any time of the year, but in January seasonal rain turns this 4,000-square-mile expanse of pure white, utterly flat salt into a mirror-like reflective surface. You will feel like you're on another planet, not just in another country. Check out the remarkable landscape, and then spend the night at Luna Salada Hotel — a property built entirely out of salt harvested from the land.
Be one of the first to bed down at Casa de Uco's new private vineyard bungalows, which feature a dining area with an indoor fireplace, a rooftop Jacuzzi, and a private bonfire area. From the floor-to-ceiling walls of glass, guests will enjoy spectacular views of the 750-acre-property. The spacious bungalows range from 538 square feet to a 1,077-square-foot unit that can accommodate up to five guests and includes a deck that extends over a lake.
Panama City, Panama
The city's annual Panama Jazz Festival, January 15 to 20, attracts greats from around the world (including the Wayne Shorter Quartet this year). Small venue performances give a real sense of intimacy with the artists, and shows by students at a Panama City jazz school are always spectacular. Also of note, the W Panama City opens this month with 208 rooms including two Wow Suites and one Extreme Wow Suite (their take on a Presidential suite). It's the first W Hotel in Central America and is a convenient place for festival-goers to stay.
The annual Catholic festival of Bonfim attracts tens of thousands of onlookers and participants, most of them dressed in elaborate white outfits. Highlights include a 10-mile-long procession from church to church, traditional food sold by street vendors, and the tradition of tying a brightly colored ribbon printed with a personal wish around your wrist. It's said that if the ribbon wears off naturally, your wish will come true. Festivities peak on January 6.
Ollantaytambo, Sacred Valley, Peru
Go inside the annual Dia de los Reyes Magos (Three Kings Day, January 5 and 6) celebration in the Andes with a new guided tour from Naya Traveler. Locals from communities in the surrounding hills and valleys descend on the town with the effigy of Jesus. The celebration continues with a full day of traditional dancing in the streets and the main square of Ollantaytambo while the baby Jesus is paraded around town and taken to the Marcachocha church to be blessed. Traditional foods are available, a special mass is held, and there's a bull fight near the famous Ollantaytambo Incan archeological site.
The Dakar Rally made its first visit to Peru in 2012, and was held again in 2013 and 2014. The Dakar finally returns to Peru in 2018. The race will start from Lima on January 6, where live music and an air show will mark the occasion. Racers driving everything from motorbikes to buggies and trucks will continue through the country to the finish line in Córdoba, Argentina. Fans can also watch vehicles pass by from viewing areas in Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru.
São Paulo, Brazil
In honor of the 120th anniversary of the birth of Brazilian artist Emiliano Di Cavalcanti, the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo — one of the most important museums in Brazil — is hosting a retrospective showcasing six decades of the artist's work. The exhibit (called In the Suburb of Modernity — Di Cavalcanti 120 Years), includes more than 200 works from Brazilian and international collections. The exhibition is on view until January 22, 2018, and open Wednesday to Monday. Saturday admission is free.