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Central America Vs South America Travel: Pros and Cons

Are you planning a trip to Latin America but can’t decide between Central America or South America? Both regions have a lot to offer. Central America offers spectacular Caribbean beaches, dense jungles, and ancient Mayan ruins as well as excellent hiking, surfing, and diving. South America offers diverse cultures, the amazing Amazon rainforest, the rugged Andes mountains, and some world-class cities including Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, and Medellin. In this guide, I outline the pros and cons of traveling Central America vs South America to help you choose.

This guide covers natural beauty, food, travel costs, safety, things to do, culture, nightlife, weather, accommodation, ease of travel, and more. Hopefully, this guide helps you choose the best Latin American destination for your next trip.

Over the years, I have made multiple trips to both of these destinations. I have visited every Central American country and most countries in South America. In this guide, I’ll share my experience.

Rio de Janeiro from Sugarloaf Mountain
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
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Key Takeaways

Central America is cheaper and easier to travel around because it’s smaller. The region also offers beautiful tropical weather year-round.

South America offers more natural beauty. The food is better. It also has better cities and nightlife. The region is also more varied because it is so much larger. There are mountains, beaches, jungles, and glaciers.

Central America is the better choice for those who don’t have much time to travel, those on a tight budget, those who prefer tropical climates, and those who are interested in eco-tourism.

South America is a great choice for adventure travelers, long-term travelers, nature lovers, city people, and budget travelers. It’s a huge region with something for everyone.

Central America

Central America is made up of seven countries including Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. The population of Central America is around 52 million. The region has an area of around 524,000 square kilometers or 202,000 square miles. Central America is relatively compact. It’s possible to visit the whole region in one long trip or you could focus on one or two countries.

South America

South America is made up of 12 countries including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela. The continent is massive with an area of 17,840,000 square kilometers or 6,890,000 square miles. It’s the fourth largest continent.

It’s difficult to explore the entire continent in one trip. Most travelers focus their visit on a particular region or country. For example, you may explore the north and visit Colombia and Ecuador. You may focus on the south and visit Argentina and Chile. You could plan a whole trip around Brazil. Some travelers also tour the whole continent on an extended trip of 6 months to 1 year.

Iguazu Falls, Argentina
Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Central America Vs South America

In the following sections, we’ll compare Central America and South America in 13 different categories.

1. Travel Costs

Central America and South America are both affordable travel destinations. Prices are similar in both regions. Costs can vary quite a bit from one country to the next. Some countries are much more developed than others.

In general, Central America cheaper to travel than South America. You can backpack Central America on a budget of $30-$50 per day. On this budget, you’ll stay in hostels, travel by public transport, and eat in basic restaurants. For a mid-range traveler, you’ll spend around $75-$120 per day.

In South America, a budget traveler will spend closer to around $40-$60 per day, depending on the country. On this budget, you’ll have to stay in hostels and travel by bus. For a mid range travelers, you’ll spend closer to $80-$150 per day.

Prices vary by country. In Central America, Costa Rica and Panama are the most expensive places to travel. Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua are some of the cheaper countries in the region. In South America, Brazil, Uruguay, and Chile are the most expensive countries to travel. Bolivia, Paraguay, Ecuador, Argentina, and Peru are some of the cheaper countries to visit.

There are a number of reasons that South America is more expensive. First is transportation. Distances are much longer because the region is so large. During your trip, you’ll have to take some expensive flights or long-distance bus rides. In Central America, you can take a cheap bus from one country to the next. Entertainment cost is a bit higher in South America. This is because there are more attractions that you have to pay to see. You may have to pay for entrance fees or for guided tours. In Central America, you can find many attractions that are free or cost very little.

Winner: Central America is cheaper to travel than South America.

Sao Paulo
São Paulo from the window of my Airbnb

2. Safety

Traveling in Central and South America requires a bit more caution than traveling in other parts of the world. Crime rates are relatively high in many parts of Latin America. There are some regions that should be avoided. Crimes like theft, pickpocketing, scams, and violent crimes like robbery can be a problem. Particularly in larger cities.

Crime rates vary from country to country. Some countries are perfectly safe to travel. Others are not so safe. Crime rates can also vary by city and neighborhood. You may be perfectly safe in the tourist zone. downtown. If you wander a few blocks, you might find yourself in a dangerous area. Most countries in the region are safe to visit but there are some areas that should be avoided.

Some of the more dangerous countries in Central America include Honduras and Belize. Some of the more dangerous countries in South America include Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, and Brazil. These countries are considered more dangerous because they suffer from high levels of drug-related gang activity.

Some of the safest countries in Latin America include Costa Rica, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile. These countries have low rates of crime. Generally, they are safe for tourists. There are still be some dangerous neighborhoods to avoid.

Before traveling, it is always a good idea to research the security situation in your destination so you know what types of crimes exist. A good place to start is to read travel advisories from the US State Department. Before going out, ask your hotel receptionist if your destination is safe. Ask locals if you’re unsure. Stay away from areas that are known for crime or violence.

Violent crime rates in Latin America are high. If you look at the murder rates, you might start rethinking your trip. The truth is that most violent crime is related to the drug trade. Generally, tourists aren’t targeted.

One form of violent crime that you do need to be aware of is robbery or mugging. This is a common issue in many large cities throughout Central and South America. I have read numerous reports of travelers getting and robbed in Colombia and Brazil, in particular. Scopolamine is used to drug and rob tourists. This is the most common in Colombia but it happens in other countries as well. For more info, check out my guide: How to Avoid getting Robbed While Traveling.

Petty theft is also common problem in Latin America. Pickpocketing can be a problem in large cities, public transport, and touristy areas. For more info, check out my guide: How to Avoid Getting Pickpocketed While Traveling.

The truth is that Central and South America aren’t the safest travel destinations. Crime rates are higher here than in other popular destinations such as Europe and Southeast Asia. While traveling in Latin America, it’s important to take some basic safety precautions. Avoid isolated areas. Don’t walk around with valuables, flashy clothing, or jewelry. Always stay aware of your surroundings and stay alert.

Most countries in these regions are politically stable. Civil unrest isn’t common but it can occur. It may be best to avoid traveling during elections.

Most people who travel to these regions never experience any issues. Once in a while, a traveler will have a negative experience. Robbery seems to be the most common crime experienced by travelers.

Winner: Safety depends on the country you are visiting. There are probably more safe destinations in South America.

3. Transportation and Ease of Travel

Central America is far easier to travel around than South America. This is due to the small size of the countries and the shorter distances between them. Central America is a much smaller region than South America.

In Central America, you can travel from one destination to the next in just a few hours by bus in most cases. Local ‘chicken busses’ are available for shorter routes between cities. These are old school buses from the U.S. that have been repurposed into public transport buses. Coaches are available for longer trips and international routes. You can travel between countries by bus in less than a day. Journeys between capital cities take 6-10 hours.

There are also tourist shuttle buses running on popular routes. These are air-conditioned minibusses that take around 15 passengers. They’re more expensive but faster and more convenient. They usually pick you up and drop you off at your hotel. You never need to fly if you don’t want to.

It’s also easy to plan a route through Central America. You can travel one way without having to backtrack. The countries in Central America are all in a line, more or less. It’s easy to start at one end of the region and travel to the other.

South America is a bit harder to travel due to the long distances between destinations. When traveling between cities, you’ll have to either spend a full day or night on a bus or fly. For example, a bus trip from Lima to Cusco takes around 29 hours. Traveling from Buenos Aires to Bariloche is almost 24 hours by bus. Of course, flights are also available but they are more expensive.

In my experience, South America’s transportation infrastructure is better than Central America’s. The buses are well-maintained, clean, and comfortable. The bus stations are larger and more well-organized. Busses run more frequently. The roads are smoother. On some long-distance busses, meals are served. There are also more flights available as well. This makes it a little more comfortable to get around.

Winner: Central America is easier to get around. South America has a better transportation infrastructure.

4. Food

If you’re a foodie, South America is the better destination. South American food is a bit more varied and higher quality than Central American food, in my opinion.

One of the most well-known dishes in South America is Argentine steak. Argentine beef is often considered the best in the world. The steak is often grilled over an open flame. The two most popular cuts include bife de chorizo (sirloin) and bife de lomo (skirt steak). Uruguay and Brazil are also known for their high quality beef.

Another must-try dish in South America is ceviche. This is a seafood dish that is made by curing raw fish and other seafood in citrus. Peru is famous for ceviche but it can also be found all along the Pacific coast of South America.

Empanadas are a popular pastry found in many South American countries. These are folded dough filled with various meats, cheeses, vegetables, or fruits, and then baked or fried. Each country has its own unique style and flavors. Argentina is famous for them.

There are also many other regional dishes that are worth trying. Feijoada is Brazil’s national dish. It is a stew made with black beans, various types of meat such as beef, pork, and sausages, and spices. In Colombia and Venezuela, arepas are a must-try. These are flatbreads made from cornmeal and stuffed with cheese or other fillings. Argentina has churipán. This is a chorizo sausage sandwich. In the Andes region, you can try locro. This is a potato soup with cheese and avocado.

In South America, you can also find some great international dishes. Argentina and Brazil have large Italian populations. You can find great pizza and pasta in both countries. Brazil also has a large population of Japanese immigrants. You can find great sushi in São Paulo.

Central America also has some good dishes. The food is just a bit less varied. Pupusas are one of the most famous dishes of Central America. El Salvador is famous for them. Pupusas are thick and fluffy corn pancakes that are filled with cheese and pork or beans. Gallo Pinto is a breakfast dish made with rice and beans. It is popular all over Central America, particularly in Costa Rica. Baleadas is a dish from Honduras. They are flour tortillas filled with including beans, cheese, eggs, avocado, and meat. This is a popular street food. Tamales are common in Central America as well. Each country has its own version. Sopa de Mariscos is a seafood soup that is popular in coastal cities. Especially in Nicaragua.

Personally, Central and South America aren’t my favorite food destinations. I find many of the foods served to be kind of bland. Colombia has some of the worst food. In my opinion, Latin America’s best food can be found in Argentina, Peru, and Brazil.

Winner: South American food is a bit more varied than Central American food.

5. Weather

One of my favorite places in South America, Florianopolis, Brazil

South America is a huge continent with a wide range of climates. The weather can vary widely depending on where and when you are traveling. The weather in Central America is warm and tropical. It’s less varied.

South America is mostly located on the equator and south of the equator. This means that the seasons are opposite to the Northern Hemisphere. It’s summer in South America when it’s winter in North America and Europe.

Summer in South America runs from December to February. This is the warmest time of year. This time is the perfect time for exploring the beautiful beaches in Brazil, hiking in Patagonia, and visiting southern cities like Buenos Aires and Montevideo. Fall runs from March to May. The weather is usually mild. It’s a perfect time to visit places like Machu Picchu because it is less crowded. Winter runs from June to August. This is a great time to go skiing or snowboarding in the Andes in Chile and Argentina. It does get cold in some regions during this time of year. Spring runs from September to November. The weather is mild weather. This is a great time for visiting the wine regions of Argentina.

Different regions in South America have different climates. For example, the coast of Colombia is warm and tropical year-round. Patagonia is cool for much of the year. The Amazon is hot and humid. It’s important to note that many South American cities sit at extremely high altitudes up in the Andes. For example, La Paz in Bolivia and Quito in Ecuador both have altitudes of over 9,000 feet (2,700 meters). The temperatures are much cooler than you may, even during the warmer months.

A bridge over the Parana River between Brazil and Paraguay
A bridge over the Parana River between Brazil and Paraguay

Central America is known for its tropical climate. The weather in Central America is divided into two seasons: the dry season and the rainy season. The dry season runs from December to April. The rainy season runs from May to November. It doesn’t rain constantly during the rainy season. There are usually scattered afternoon showers.

The dry season is the most popular time for travelers to visit Central America because the weather is sunny and humidity is lower. This is the perfect time for outdoor activities such as hiking and going to the beach.

The rainy season can be a good time to visit Central America. The rainfall makes the jungles more lush. Wildlife viewing can also be better. It’s also less crowded.

Winner: South America because it offers all climate types.

6. Accommodation

Central and South America both offer plenty of accommodation options, including hostels, guesthouses, hotels, Airbnbs, and luxury resorts.

There is a great hostel culture in both of these regions. You can find hostels in all major cities and tourist destinations throughout Central and South America. A bed in a hostel dorm usually costs $10-$20 per night. You can also find hostels that cater to travelers who are interested in a particular activity. There are surf hostels, yoga hostels, ski hostels, and hiking hostels.

If you prefer a private room, you can usually find a budget hotel or guesthouse for $25-$30 per night. You can get a mid-range hotel room for $40-$60 per night. Airbnbs are common in larger cities and touristy spots. You can find some nice Airbnbs for $20-$40 per night.

If you’re looking for something higher-end, there are luxury hotels and resorts available in big cities and tourist destinations. These have all of the upscale amenities you would expect. Eco lodges are common in Central America. These lodges are located in remote areas. They are a great choice if you’re interested in ecotourism activities like hiking, birdwatching, and wildlife viewing.

Winner: Both regions offer all types of accommodation options.

7. Geographical Diversity and Natural Beauty

South America offers much more geographical diversity than Central America. South America is a massive continent with mountains, deserts, rainforests, and beaches. You can find every type of ecosystem here.

The Andes Mountains offer some of the most spectacular landscapes in the world. There are rugged granite peaks, glaciers, lakes, and rivers. There is some great hiking and skiing in the Andes region. Two of the most popular destinations in Patagonia include Torres del Paine National Park in Chile and Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina. The most famous glacier is Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina.

Ushuaia, Argentina mountains
Mountains in Ushuaia, Argentina

The Amazon Rainforest is another of South America natural attractions. Nearly two-thirds of the Amazon is located in Brazil. The rest is located in Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Suriname, and Guyana. In the Amazon, you can view wildlife, take boat trips, and visit indigenous communities. The Amazon is one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet.

Some other natural attractions in South America include the Atacama Desert in Chile, the Iguazu Falls in Argentina & Brazil, the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia, Lake Titicaca in Peru and Bolivia, and Angel Falls in Venezuela. In my opinion, South America is the most naturally beautiful continent.

Iguazu Falls
Iguazu Falls

South America also has some great beaches. Brazil has a 7,000 km coastline with some of the world’s most beautiful beaches such as Ipanema, Copacabana, and Jericoacoara. Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Peru also have some spectacular beaches.

I Walked Ipanema beach, RIO DE JANEIRO
Here’s a walking video I filmed in Rio de Janeiro to give you an idea of what the beaches look like.

Central America is a bit less diverse because it’s a smaller region. There is plenty of natural beauty including active volcanoes, beautiful beaches, lush jungles, unique wildlife, and more.

The volcanoes in Central America are a unique experience. Guatemala is one of the best destinations for hiking volcanoes and viewing them up close. You can hike the active Acatenango volcano and view lava flows on nearby on Fuego and Pacaya volcanoes. There are also popular volcano hikes in El Salvador. Santa Ana volcano is a popular hike. Nicaragua is also a great country for volcano hiking. You can explore Masaya Volcano, Cerro Negro Volcano, and more. In Costa Rica you can view the active Arenal Volcano.

Central America also has some legendary beaches. Nicaragua is known for its surf spots like San Juan del Sur. Costa Rica also has some spectacular beaches along its Pacific Coast such as Manuel Antonio Beach and Tamarindo Beach. La Libertad in El Salvador is a great spot to relax or surf. The small island of Caye Caulker in Belize is a tropical paradise surrounded by beautiful clear waters.

Central America also has some great diving and snorkeling. The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, which spans from Mexico to Honduras, is also a great place for scuba diving. It features over 500 fish species. Costa Rica is famous for its diving around Cocos Island National Park. Honduras has unique oceanic caverns such as the Blue Hole near Guanaja. Belize has some incredible spots such as Ambergris Caye and Hol Chan Marine Reserve.

There is also some great wildlife viewing in the jungles of Central America. In Costa Rica you can spot exotic animals including sloths, monkeys, and toucans. Some great destinations include Manuel Antonio National Park and Corcovado National Park.

Central American lakes are also incredibly scenic. Lake Yojoa in Honduras and Lago de Coatepeque in El Salvador are popular destinations. Lake Nicaragua is also a great spot for relaxing boat rides. You can view volcanoes and visit some unique small islands.

Winner: South America is more geographically diverse than Central America due to its larger size.

8. History

Central and South America are both excellent regions for history lovers. They both offer incredible ancient archaeological sites to explore. If you’re interested in viewing ancient ruins, you can’t go wrong with either. There is also interesting colonial history in both regions.

The ruins of Tikal, Guatemala
Tikal in Guatemala

Central America is full of Mayan history. For example, in Guatemala you can explore Tikal, one of the most impressive Mayan ruins. This site was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. In Honduras, you can visit the ruins of Copan. El Salvador also has some interesting sites like Joya de Cerén, which is an agricultural village preserved from volcanic ash, similar to Pompeii in Italy. Belize is home to one of the most impressive Mayan ruins, called Altun Ha, Xunantunich, and Cahal Pech.

Central America also has lots of interesting colonial-era sites that are worth exploring. For example, in Costa Rica, check out Cartago’s Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles. In Antigua, Guatemala, you can learn about Spanish missionaries at La Merced Church or El Convento Santo Domingo. In Leon Nicaragua, you can visit the ruins of Iglesia San Juan Bautista, which was built in 1610. It’s one of the oldest churches in Central America. Granada, Nicaragua has some incredible baroque architecture like El Convento de San Francisco and El Convento de Santo Domingo. Both were built in the mid-17th century.

For more modern history, the Panama Canal is a must-see. It’s one of the most impressive engineering accomplishments of the 20th century. You can view the canal, take a tour, and visit a museum to learn about the history.

South America also has some amazing historical sites. Of course, the most iconic historical site in South America is Machu Picchu. The Sacred Valley is another popular destination in Peru. Here, you can find a number of ruins and archaeological sites including the ruins of Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and Chinchero. In Peru’s Nazca Desert, you can visit the famous Nazca lines.

South America also has some interesting colonial cities such as Quito, Ecuador, and Cusco, Peru. These are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. They are known for their well-preserved colonial architecture. Other colonial cities to visit in South America include Cartagena, Colombia, and Buenos Aires, Argentina.

One of the most unique historical sights you can visit is Easter Island. It can be reached by a short flight from Chile.

Winner: This one is a draw.

Montevideo, Uruguay
Montevideo, Uruguay

9. Nightlife and Parties

If you’re into nightlife, South America is the better destination. This region is famous for its nightlife. One of the top nightlife destinations in South America is Rio de Janeiro. The city is famous for its samba music and street parties, especially during Carnival in February and New Years Eve. There are plenty of beach bars and nightclubs. It’s one of the world’s top party destinations.

Lapa, RIO DE JANEIRO at Night (4k)
Here’s a walking video I filmed in Lapa, Rio de Janeiro to give you an idea of what the nightlife looks like

Another great city for nightlife is Buenos Aires. The city is known for its tango dancing. Buenos Aires also has some great bars and nightclubs. The party here starts late, usually after midnight.

Medellin, Colombia, is another great party destination. The city’s nightlife scene is mostly centered around the Parque Lleras neighborhood. Here, you can find a wide range of bars and nightclubs.

Some other South American cities that are worth checking out for their nightlife include Salvador in Brazil, Valparaíso in Chile, and Máncora in Peru.

Central America has a bit more laid-back nightlife. It’s more casual with beach bars and music. In many towns, the nightlife caters more to tourists and backpackers rather than locals. If you’re looking for a Central American city with a nightlife scene, Panama City is the best choice. The historic Casco Viejo district is known for its orchestra events, jazz concerts, and live music.

Another great party destination is San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. This beach town is popular among surfers and backpackers. Here, you can find some great beach bars and live music. If you’re looking for a quieter nightlife experience, head to Antigua in Guatemala. The city has many bars, cafes, and restaurants that turn into live music venues. Caye Caulker in Belize is another exciting party destination. The island has plenty of chilled-out beach bars. A few other nightlife destinations in Central America include Utila in Honduras, Bocas del Toro in Panama, Roatán in Honduras, and Jaco in Costa Rica.

Winner: South America offers better nightlife than Central America.

The view of Rio de Janeiro from Sugarloaf Mountain
Rio de Janeiro from Sugarloaf Mountain

10. Cities

If you’re a city lover, South America is the better destination. A few of the best cities to explore include:

  • Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: This city is known for its iconic landmarks like the Christ the Redeemer statue, Sugarloaf Mountain, and Copacabana Beach. Rio also has a thriving arts and culture scene. There are also some great dance clubs, museums, and endless nightlife options. In my opinion, Rio is the most naturally beautiful city on Earth.
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina: This is one of the greatest cities in South America. I recently spent about a month and a half here and can’t wait to return. Buenos Aires is a cultural hub of South America. The city also has some great food, history, and architecture.
  • Medellin, Colombia: Medellin is another must-visit city. Medellin is naturally beautiful. It sits in a valley in the Andes surrounded by mountains. The weather is also great. It’s known as the city of eternal spring. Medellin has also become an extremely popular destination for expats and digital nomads over the past decade.
  • São Paulo, Brazil: Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo, is a major financial and cultural center. This is a great choice for city lovers. It’s the biggest city in the Western Hemisphere. São Paulo offers great art exhibitions, food, and music. Some of South America’s best restaurants are found here.
  • Cusco, Peru: Cusco Peru is the starting point of the Inca Trail and the jumping-off point to tours to Machu Picchu. This makes it one of South America’s most popular tourist destinations. The city is also known for its beautiful colonial architecture, local markets, and excellent cuisine.
  • Cartagena, Colombia: Cartagena is a beautiful walled city on the Caribbean. The city offers colorful colonial buildings, beautiful beaches, salsa dancing, and great seafood.

Other South America cities worth visiting include Bogota, Colombia; Santiago, Chile; Montevideo, Uruguay; and La Paz, Bolivia.

Florida Street, Buenos Aires, Argentina Virtual Walking Tour (4K)
Here’s a walking tour I filmed in Buenos Aires to give you an idea of what the city looks like.

People don’t really visit Central America for the cities. Most visitors actively avoid passing through large cities such as Guatemala City, Tegucigalpa, San Jose, and Managua because they are chaotic, dangerous, and simply uninteresting for travelers. There aren’t many major tourist attractions in Central American capitals.

There are some interesting cities to visit. Panama City is a modern metropolis. It’s known for its beautiful skyline. Here, you can explore the historic Casco Viejo district, go shopping in upscale boutiques, or visit the Panama Canal.

San Salvador, El Salvador is also worth visiting. You can wander through street markets, sample some pupusas, or explore some museums and historic landmarks. This is also one of the safest cities in the region thanks to the work done by President Nayib Bukele.

Antigua, Guatemala is a beautiful town located in the Guatemalan highlands. It is known for its well-preserved colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, and spectacular views of the surrounding volcanoes.

Winner: South America has bigger, more diverse, and more interesting cities than Central America.

Rio de Janeiro, one of my favorite cities

11. Culture

Central and South America are culturally diverse regions. Each country has its own traditions and cuisine. There are also many similarities between countries. Many countries share similar histories. The Spanish language is also spoken across the region with a couple of exceptions. Portuguese is Spoken in Brazil and English is spoken in Belize. Some indigenous languages are also spoken in Central and South America, such as Quechua and Aymara.

Foods are similar in these regions. Rice, beans, and corn are staples in many dishes. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also common. In Central America, dishes such as pupusas, tamales, and gallo pinto are popular. In South America, dishes such as ceviche, empanadas, and asado (barbecue) are more common.

Another cultural similarity is music and dance. In Central America, traditional dances such as merengue and salsa are popular. In South America, you will find a wide variety of dance styles, from the samba in Brazil to the tango in Argentina.

Religion is also an important part of the culture in Central and South America. In Central and South America, the majority of the population is Catholic. In South America, there is also a large protestant population. There are also several indigenous religions.

When it comes to art, both regions have indigenous art and craft traditions such as weaving, pottery, and textiles. In both regions, there is also a strong colonial influence that you can see in the art and architecture.

Winner: There isn’t really a winner here. Both regions offer plenty of culture.

12. Adventure

South America is the ultimate destination to have an adventure. There are rugged mountains, dense jungles, vast deserts, and massive cities. It’s also a huge area to explore. You could spend years in South America and still not see it all.

Patagonia is one of the best regions in the world for outdoor adventure, such as hiking. The scenery is spectacular. There are jagged peaks, amazing glaciers, and pristine lakes. There are a few epic treks including the famous W Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park in Chile and the Fitz Roy Trek in Argentina. Peru also offers some phenomenal hiking opportunities. The Inca trail trek is one of the most well-known.

Ushuaia, Argentina
Ushuaia, Argentina, The Southernmost city on earth

The Andes Mountains also have world-class skiing during the winter (June-August). Some of the most popular ski resorts in South America are located in Argentina and Chile. The Andes also offer incredible mountain climbing. Here, you’ll find some of the highest peaks outside of the Himalayas. Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America, is a popular destination for climbers. There are endless climbing opportunities in Patagonia.

The Death Road, in Bolivia, is a narrow dirt road that descends 3,600 meters over a 64-km stretch. This road offers incredible views of the surrounding mountains and jungle. A popular adventure activity is to cycle down the road. Another unique destination in Bolivia is Solar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat.

The Galapagos Islands, located off the coast of Ecuador, offer some of the most unique and diverse marine life in the world. You can take a snorkeling or diving trip to view sea lions, penguins, and sharks.

Visiting the Amazon rainforest is also an adventure. You can hike through the jungle or explore the amazon river by boat. You can also stay in nature at a jungle lodge. Trekking in the Peruvian Amazon was one of my favorite parts of my South America trip.

Another adventure destination is Easter Island. This is one of the world’s most remote islands. It is home to the mysterious Moai statues, which were built by the Rapa Nui people.

Central America is also a great adventure destination. There are loads of adventure activities. You can hike up active volcanoes, view wildlife in cloud forests, explore ancient ruins, and dive in the Caribbean Sea.

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Central America has some great hiking trails. One of the most popular treks is Acatenango Volcano in Guatemala. Here, you can view the active Fuego Volcano. On Ometepe Island, Nicaragua, you can hike up the twin volcanoes, Maderas and Concepción. Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve in Costa Rica is another great hiking destination.

Central America also has some of the world’s best diving spots. The Caribbean coast is filled with marine life and spectacular coral reefs. One of the most popular dive spots is the Great Blue Hole in Belize. This is a giant submarine sinkhole that is surrounded by coral reefs. It is inhabited by various species of sharks. In Roatán, Honduras, you can dive or snorkel the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. This is the second-largest coral reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef. Coiba National Park, in Panama is also a popular diving destination.

Central America’s rivers, lakes, and coasts offer great watersports activities. In Río Pacuare, Costa Rica you can go whitewater rafting through pristine rainforests. Another great rafting destination is Río Cangrejal, Honduras. Here, you can raft through the dense jungles of Pico Bonito National Park. On Lake Atitlan, Guatemala you can Kayak or canoe through the calm waters of the volcanic lake.

Zip lining and canopy tours are also popular adventure activities in Central America. In Monteverde, Costa Rica or Selvatura Park, Guatemala, you can zip line through the cloud forest canopy. You can spot various species of monkeys, tropical birds, and exotic plants. On Mombacho Volcano, Nicaragua you can zip line through the cloud forest and coffee plantations surrounding a dormant volcano.

Winner: South America offers a wider range of adventure activities.

13. Language

Spanish is the most widely spoken language in both Central and South America. Before traveling to Latin America, I highly recommend you take some time to study Spanish. In most of the world, you can get around with just English. That’s not really the case in Latin America. Most people in the region don’t speak English. You don’t need to be fluent but knowing some basic Spanish will be extremely useful. It will allow you to communicate with locals, read signs, ask for directions, and understand menus. Speaking some Spanish can also help you connect with locals and make local friends.

Of course, Spanish isn’t spoken everywhere in Latin America. In Brazil, the largest country in South America, Portuguese is the official language. If you plan to visit Brazil, it’s a good idea to take some time to learn basic Portuguese. I spent 2.5 months in Brazil last year. Before my trip, I assumed that I would get by just fine with my intermediate Spanish. I was wrong. It was a struggle. I found Spanish to be pretty much useless. When I first arrived in Brazil, it was a struggle to get around. After I learned some Portuguese phrases, it became much easier.

Other than other tourists, it’s rare to meet an English speaker in Central and South America. Even in large cities. I was surprised by this while visiting Buenos Aires. Very few people speak English. You will encounter some English speakers in major tourist destinations, large hotels, and touristy restaurants. Outside of that, most only people speak Spanish.

As you prepare for your trip, taking some time to learn basic Spanish and Portuguese (if you plan to visit Brazil). This will make it much easier to communicate with locals and navigate.

Winner: In Central America, you can get by with only Spanish. It’s a good idea to learn some basic Portuguese if you plan to travel to Brazil.

Final Score: Central America Vs South America

Central America

Central America wins in the following categories

  • Cost
  • Ease of Travel
  • Language

South America

South America wins in the following categories:

  • Safety
  • Food
  • Weather
  • Natural Beauty
  • Nightlife
  • Cities
  • Adventure
A view of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay from a rooftop
Ciudad del Este, Paraguay

In this comparison, South America is the winner. It offers more variety because it’s so much larger. It is one of the most naturally beautiful continents. Patagonia and the Amazon regions are spectacular. There are also some world-class cities like Rio and Buenos Aires. The food is also better. South America is also slightly safer.

Central America is still a great travel destination. It’s cheaper, easier to get around, and you can navigate the whole region with only Spanish. If you have less time to travel, Central America is a great choice because the region is so compact. You can travel to multiple countries in just a couple of weeks or you can travel the whole region in 6 weeks.

Both regions offer plenty of history and culture. There are also great accommodation options available everywhere. These regions are very backpacker-friendly. Central and South America are two of the world’s best travel destinations, in my opinion.

It’s also important to note that this isn’t really a fair comparison because South America is a much larger place than Central America. There are multiple countries in South America that are bigger than all of Central America. South America also has a much larger population than Central America. It’s not surprising that it has better cities, nature, etc.

Ciudad del Este, Paraguay

My Experience

After traveling in both regions, I prefer South America. The main reason is the natural beauty. I’m a mountain person. The Andes is one of the world’s most impressive mountain ranges. Hiking in Patagonia was incredible. The Amazon region is interesting as well. Trekking through the rainforest and catching a catfish from the shore is one of my favorite travel memories.

Another reason I prefer South America is the weather. I really don’t enjoy tropical climates. I much prefer cooler weather. The cool weather in the Andes region suits me best. Central America was a bit too hot and humid for me.

South American cities are more interesting as well. I am a city person. I was particularly impressed with Rio de Janeiro. It’s the most naturally beautiful city I have ever visited. The way the city, hills, and beach all blend together is incredible. I also enjoyed spending time in Buenos Aires, Medellin, and Lima.

The author at Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro

Central American cities aren’t as interesting. They are large and sprawling. I do have to say that I enjoyed Guatemala City for some reason.

Final Thoughts

The choice between traveling to Central America and South America depends on what type of experience you’re looking for. Both regions offer plenty of culture, natural beauty, and plenty of things to do. They are both affordable places to travel. Both regions are also easy to get around. Both regions share many similarities historically and culturally. There are colonial towns and ruins to visit. They are both located in the same general region as well. These are great destinations for first time travelers and experienced travelers.

It’s difficult to compare these two regions because South America is so much larger than Central America. Central America covers an area of 523,780 square kilometers while South America covers an area of 17,840,000 square kilometers. That makes South America around 34 times larger than Central America. Colombia alone is twice the size of all of Central America. Central America is also much smaller in population. Central America has a population of around 52 million people. To compare, South America has around 440 million people. It’s not a fair comparison.

Have you traveled to South and Central America? Share your experience in the comments below!

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