For Kiwis, “Latin” America is usually viewed as two quite separate destinations – ‘South’ – ie South of Panama, and ‘Central’ – North of Panama.
Flying into ‘South’ America is currently only possible from Auckland directly into Santiago (Chile) with LAN Airlines, then there are good connections to popular destinations like Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil and Argentina.
Flying into ‘Central’ America is usually quicker and cheaper via the USA – Los Angeles and/or Miami then onto Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica etc.
Getting to Cuba is a little trickier as there are no direct flights from the USA due to the ongoing travel embargo, but there are daily connections possible via Mexico City and Cancun.
First-timers to South America tend to explore the popular Andean countries of Peru, Bolivia or Ecuador first in search of Incan & pre-Colombian adventures, usually in the drier months of April to October with the star attractions undoubtedly Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands & Amazon Rainforest lodges, Peru’s Cuzco, the Sacred Valley of the Incas & Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca, astride the Peru/Bolivia border..
On the way to or returning from these Andean nations you may wish to enjoy a city break in the ‘heartland’ of South America – the three capital cities of Santiago, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro are very different but each are buzzy and cosmopolitan and the most iconic scenic highlight of South America – mighty Iguassu Falls – sits astride the Brazil & Argentinean border and is a very popular stopover.
In the Deep South you have Patagonia (think our Fiordland on serious steroids) – and this magnificent trekking region of Southern Chile and Argentina is best explored in our Summer – from November to March when the weather is warmer and more settled (slightly less windy than winter!)
Recently emerging destinations in South America are Colombia – Ian visited in 2012 and was very impressed, especially by the beautiful Spanish colonial coastal city of Cartagena, but the national parks, Caribbean beaches and coffee plantations all offer a ‘wow’ factor. Also the emergence of Brazil – with her impressive Pantanal wetlands region, the beaches of Paraty & Buzios either side of Rio and the African-influenced North-East – Recife & Salvador are encouraging travellers to venture past Rio & Iguassu.
The most popular destinations in Central America tend to be Cuba, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Costa Rica. Cuba in particular continues to provide a quirky & very unique experience despite some recent liberalisation, and cycling holidays here in particular are very popular.