The 10 most luxurious travel destinations in Latin America
Luxury means different things to different people. The idea of luxury travel, for example, often involves a variety of factors and elements – things like stylish shopping, sumptuous hotels and gourmet cuisine. A high standard of living for locals, or at least a chic neighborhood, can contribute to the ambiance as well. But which destinations in Latin America offer the most luxury travel experiences?
You’ll find a lot of ways to take a luxury vacation in Mexico, Central and South America. Even small towns can offer decidedly indulgent travel experiences. This ranking is NOT designed to highlight the single most luxurious hotels or individual fine restaurants. I’ll leave that to those star and diamond rating systems. What we’re aiming for here is a roundup of the top overall destinations for travelers looking for a luxury vacation or business travel experience — in other words, these are the places where you’ll find the widest variety of upscale options.
To judge which destinations are the absolute, top-of-the-line most luxurious places to visit, I’ve used several key factors, including the following (using these guidelines can also help you to determine which destinations are worthwhile for your next trip):
• Number of Luxury Hotels: The number of hotels in the Luxury and Upper Upscale categories, as determined by STR, a global data analytics company.
Luxury brands with a presence in Latin America include Andaz, Banyan Tree, Belmond, Capella, Conrad, Dreams Resorts & Spas, Four Seasons, Gran Melia, Grand Hyatt, Iberostar Grand, InterContinental, JW Marriott, Luxury Collection, ME, One&Only Resorts, Park Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton, Rosewood, Secrets Resorts & Spas, St. Regis, W Hotels, Waldorf Astoria.
Upper Upscale brands in Latin America include Caesar Park, Camino Real, Casa Andina Private Collection, Hilton, Hyatt, Live Aqua, Marriott, MGallery Collection, Renaissance, Sheraton, Swissotel.
• High Standard of Living: Depending on how you measure it, Chile may have the highest “quality of life” score in Latin America. But according to an investment company called Mercer, the city of Montevideo, followed by Buenos Aires, score higher than the Chilean capital of Santiago de Chile. (After that come the cities of São Paulo, Lima and Mexico City.)
• Upscale Shopping and Gourmet Dining: A variety of upscale shopping — including local and international brands, cutting-edge designers, personal shopping services – as well as gourmet restaurants (think star chefs, creative cuisine and elegant venues) help to provide more options for travelers looking to indulge.
Also worth noting: A recent study by luxury holiday specialist Sovereign found that Colombia came out on top of the list of the 10 most luxurious destinations in the world, based on the number of five-star hotels and customer experiences found there — although it seems the study focused mostly just on Cartagena. The next-highest score in Latin America was the Dominican Republic, which came in at number six, with Mexico coming in at number seven and Panama landing at number eight. But these ratings were largely and subjectively based on just one hotel or two, and limited destinations.
To get an up-to-date handle on the best culinary options, stay tuned: The 2017 and 2018 editions of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, sponsored by S. Pellegrino and Acqua Panna, will be held in Colombia, starting with the fifth edition, which takes place in Bogota in September 2017. Click here to see the 2016 winners.
Without further ado, here are the winners of the most luxurious destinations in Latin America:
Most Luxurious Urban Destinations in Latin America
1. Mexico City
North America’s largest city offers countless ways to indulge. You can check into the fab St. Regis (where Daniel Craig and lots of other celebrities and diplomats stay), or perhaps the Four Seasons. Travelers who prefer a stylish, upscale boutique ambiance might prefer the gorgeous Hippodrome Hotel Condesa, the trendy Condesa DF or Las Alcobas, a Luxury Collection Hotel. Multiple neighborhoods — including Polanco, Condesa, Roma Norte and further-flung Santa Fe — cater to the needs of upscale travelers, and shopping provides everything from up-and-coming local designers to international brands. When it comes to dining, Mexico‘s capital scored impressively with no fewer than four restaurants — Pujol, Quintonil, Biko and Sur 777 — scoring in the top 20 of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants awards for Latin America in 2016.
2. São Paulo
It makes sense that the two largest cities in the Americas ranked high when it comes to offering the greatest number of luxury travel experiences. Brazil‘s biggest metropolis, São Paulo is home to exceptionally luxurious boutique-style hotels, most notably the Hotel Emiliano, the Fasano and Hotel Unique. Top São Paulo restaurants include D.O.M. and Maní, both of which ranked in the top 10 of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants.
3. Buenos Aires
Argentina‘s legendary capital continues to entice visitors with its outstanding array of luxury hotels, including the Four Seasons Hotel Buenos Aires, the Alvear Palace and Palacio Duhau – Park Hyatt Buenos Aires. Fine dining options include El Baqueano, and shopping is always rewarding here.
The capital of Peru has garnered increasing praise for its culinary delights, scoring awards for the top two restaurants in Latin America with Central and Maido. Also in the top 20 are Astrid y Gastón and La Mar. Top luxury hotels in Lima include the Belmond Miraflores Park, the Hotel B (a boutique property in the cool Barranco district) and the Country Club Lima Hotel.
Most Luxurious Beach Destinations in Latin America
5. Rio de Janeiro
South America’s original jet-set hotspot, Rio de Janeiro combines the allure of the sand with big-city sophistication. The destination has long been lacking in a truly large portfolio of luxury hotels, but that’s improved with recent development and investment. Top Rio de Janeiro hotels include the chic Fasano, the classic Belmond Copacabana Palace and the JW Marriott. Be sure to reserve a table at hotspots like Olympe and Lasai to sample the city’s creative cuisine.
6. Los Cabos, Mexico
There’s a reason why lots of celebrities vacation in Los Cabos: it quite simply has lots of amazing hotels. Private villas and private yachts are easy to find here (but not easy on the wallet), as are luxury hotels like Esperanza Resort, One&Only Palmilla, Las Ventanas al Paraiso and The Cape – A Thompson Hotel.
7. Riviera Maya, Mexico
The long stretch of sand that runs south of Cancun has become a magnet for vacationers looking for a luxurious getaway. Top hotel choices include Grand Velas Riviera Maya, Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso, Rosewood Mayakoba and Banyan Tree Mayakoba, each of which aim to create their own self-contained world of beach-based luxury and indulgence.
8. Puerto Rico
The so-called Isla del Encanto has, in recent years, upped the ante with luxury beach vacation offerings. The most elegant accommodations in Puerto Rico are found at Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, as well as Bahia Beach Resort & Golf Club, the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, the Ritz-Carlton, San Juan, and the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel. El Conquistador, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, is also noteworthy, while Hotel El Convento and Olive Boutique Hotel offer lovely, small-scale accommodations in the heart of San Juan.
Best Luxury Travel Values in Latin America
Colombia‘s capital city has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, with increased investment, stability and growth in the luxury travel segment. The city is now home to not one but two Four Seasons hotels, as well as JW Marriott, Hotel de la Opera and other luxury brands. Favorable exchange rates for many foreign visitors makes it a good deal too — Four Seasons room rates often hover around the $200 mark, while the JW Marriott is well under.
10. Panama City, Panama
Central America’s boom town has witnessed a nearly unbelievable surge in hotel inventory in recent years, with thousands of new rooms coming online in nearly every price category. The increased competition in Panama means that you can often score a luxurious Panama City hotel room for a very reasonable rate. You can often check into Latin America’s only Waldorf Astoria (other than in Puerto Rico) for under $200, as well as other properties like the Westin Panama, Bristol Hotel and beautiful boutique properties like Las Clementinas and American Trade Hotel, both of which are located in the super-hot historic Casco Antiguo district.