Each year, millions of tourists flock to Latin America, the continent south of the United States where the official language is Spanish, Portuguese or French to enjoy its beaches, rainforests, mountains, biodiversity, history and culture. According to the latest data from Statista, in 2015, Latin American’s travel and tourism industry contributed more than U.S.$371 to the region’s GDP. By 2026, this figure is expected to rise to nearly $600 billion.
Mexico, by far, is the most visited Latin American country having hosted 39.3 million international tourists as of 2017. Following Mexico are Argentina (6.7 million), Brazil (6.6 million), Chile (6.5 million), Dominican Republic 6.2 million), Peru 4 million) and Colombia (4 million).
If you're concerned about safety, consider that many Latin American countries received favorable scores on the Global Peace Index, a measure of the relative peacefulness of 163 nations worldwide (representing 99% of the world’s population) compiled by the Institute for Economics and Peace. The Index measures peace based on 22 qualitative and quantitative indicators, including ongoing domestic and international conflict, societal safety and security (including crime rates), and militarization.
Read on for snapshots of the four Latin American countries that earned the best scores on the Global Peace Index. By comparison, the U.S. ranked 114 out of 163, less peaceful than any of the countries listed below. Canada's rank was 8. Another note: A country's affordability here is judged in light of the Economist's Big Mac Index, which measures purchasing power parity (PPP), by comparing the worth of a Big Mac in each country. For reference, a Big Mac was worth $5.51 in the United States as of July 2018. (For more, see: The 7 Best Countries for Retiring in Latin America For investing news related to Latin America, see: The 3 Largest Latin America ETFs (EWZ, EWW))
Global Peace Index Rank: 24/163
International Tourists in 2017: 6.5 million
Big Mac Index: $4.05
Chile is a geographically diverse country along South America’s western coast that stretches from the tropics in the northern part of the country to close to Antarctica in the south. The Atacama Desert in the north is the world’s driest non-polar desert, and Chile’s southern region is lush with forests and grazing land, volcanoes, lakes and a maze of fjords, inlets and islands. Travelers enjoy Chile for its numerous coastal beach towns—some with world-class surf breaks—an extensive national park system, wine tours and exquisite natural beauty.
Global Peace Index Rank: 34/163
International Tourists in 2016: 2.9 million
Cost of Living: $4.03
Costa Rica is a Central American country bordered by Nicaragua in the north and Panama in the south and situated between the Pacific Ocean on its west coast and the Caribbean Sea to the east. Because of its proximity to the equator, Costa Rica has a tropical climate year round. Parks and protected areas—which include about 25% of Costa Rica’s land area—help protect the country’s extensive biodiversity.
In addition to enjoying its numerous beach towns, rainforests, volcanoes and ticos (locals), Costa Rica is a well-known adventure-tourism destination where travelers can experience whitewater rafting, canopy tours, zip-lines, night-hikes through the rainforest and horseback rides on beaches.
Global Peace Index Rank: 35/163
International Tourists in 2016: 3 million
Cost of Living: $4.90
Sometimes called the Switzerland of South America, Uruguay sits on the southeastern Atlantic coast between Argentina to the west and south and Brazil to the north. Uruguay is known for its wide open beaches, coastal fishing villages that attract abundant wildlife including sea lions, seals, penguins and offshore whales, natural thermal baths such as the Termas de Daymán in northwestern Uruguay, a love of fútbol (soccer), cobblestone streets and the gaucho culture with its cattle ranches and skilled horsemen.
Global Peace Index: 55/163
International Tourists in 2017: 6.7 million
Cost of Living: $2.71
Argentina is South America’s second-largest country, sharing its borders with Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil and Uruguay, with the South Atlantic Ocean on its east coast. Argentina is known for its cultural offerings and natural beauty. Popular tourist destinations include Buenos Aries, the nation’s capital city; numerous national parks home to waterfalls, rainforests, glaciers, and abundant plant and animal life; Bariloche, a town located in the foothills of the Andes in the Nahuel Huapi National Park, which serves as a ski, trekking and mountaineering hub; and historic Inca and colonial sites.
The Case for Mexico
There are many safe destinations in Latin America, but where does Mexico, the most-visited country, rank? Toward the bottom of the Global Peace Index, with a score of 142/163. Some states within Mexico, says the Index, are far more peaceful than others. Out of Mexico’s 32 states, Yucatán, Nayarit, Tlaxcala, Hidalgo, Coahuila scored well compared to Guerrero and Colima.
The Bottom Line
Latin America offers a wealth of things for people of all tastes to experience. To help ensure you enjoy your trip, do your homework ahead of time and research all you can about where you want to go. Use common sense and avoid (or use extra caution in) areas with active travel alerts and warnings. Always check the U.S. Department of State’s Alerts and Travel Warnings to start. (For peace of mind when you're planning a trip, see The Basics of Travel Insurance and Credit Cards With Travel Insurance.)