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Previously overlooked or used only as stop-over points on the way to visit other destinations, a group of Latin America’s ‘second cities’ are emerging as top destinations in their own right. With pollution and crime rates vastly improved, many are the region’s new cultural and gastronomic centres, and we think that it’s well worth stopping by, and lingering a little longer to explore these new cities.

1. Santiago, Chile

Santiago is a vibrant cosmopolitan city, in the past believed not to have quite the same romance of neighbouring capital Buenos Aires, but recent changes have seen the balance tipping. Boutique hotels, bars and restaurants are springing up in historical areas such as Lastarria giving the city a completely new edge. Santiago also has one of the most stunning backdrops of any city, the majestic Andes mountain range. For specific information on where to discover Santiago’s varied restaurants and flavours read travel journalist Gabriel O’Rorke’s suggestions on eating in Santiago.

Santiago and the vineyards

2. Bogotá, Colombia

A diamond in the rough, Bogotá has a beautiful colonial centre, historic neighbourhood La Candalaria, and incredible museums like the famous Gold Museum. Boasting one of the most important pre-Hispanic metallurgy in the world this impressive museum attracts a large number of visitors and is a brilliant addition to any visit to the city. You can also take the cable car up Monserrate hill which offers exceptional panoramic views of the city and beyond.

Colonial houses

3. Guayaquil, Ecuador

Guayaquil is often seen simply as the gateway to the Galápagos, but with a clement climate and a picturesque promenade dotted with fantastic seafood restaurants, it’s well worth sticking around to soak up the atmosphere and flavours. The beautifully bleak El Cajas National Park, the Manglares Churute Mangrove and dry tropical forest reserve are also only a short distance away.

Guayaquil

4. Lima, Peru

With large amounts of regeneration in the colonial centre, fascinating museums and an internationally acclaimed gastronomic scene, Lima is fast becoming a hot city destination in Latin America. It’s the ideal location to try zesty ceviche and immerse yourself in an increasingly popular street food scene. For top tips on great dining spots, read Martin Morales’ suggestions on where to experience authentic Peruvian food on holiday in Lima.

Lima Cathedral

5. Mexico City, Mexico

Once considered polluted and unsafe, Mexico City has done a great deal to clean up and improve its reputation. A buzzing, modern and forward-thinking city, with lots to see and do; from the beautiful floating gardens of Xochimilco, the bohemian Coyoacan, home to the wonderful Frida Kahlo museum, to the spectacular Teotihuacan ruins on the outskirts of the city.

Mexico City

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Food and Travel Magazine Readers' Awards - Tour Operator of The Year 2016

Selling Travel Agents Choice Awards - Best Tour Operator to Latin America 2016

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Sunday Times Travel Magazine Awards - Best Specialist Tour Operator 2011

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