With an ever-growing list of Latin America routes from low-cost carriers such as Frontier, JetBlue, and Spirit, it's easier and more affordable than ever to explore Central and South America. On-the-ground savings, especially compared to pricier destinations such as Western Europe, make these destinations an even better deal.
San Jose, Costa Rica
Who flies there: Frontier (from Denver), JetBlue (from Orlando), and Spirit (from Ft. Lauderdale)
Cost: At press time, for a mid-September round-trip flight, the cost (including taxes and fees) on JetBlue from Orlando was $315, and $320 on Spirit from Ft. Lauderdale. Frontier suspends service to Costa Rica between August 29 and December 18, but a flight from Denver in mid-August cost $433.
Why Visit: San Jose is the main entry point for travelers exploring Costa Rica. Long known as a premier eco-tourism destination, Costa Rica offers rain forests, volcanoes, beaches, and an amazing diversity of wildlife. Visitors can soar through the jungle canopy on a zip line, raft down a river, bird watch, surf, and more in the small Central American country.
Who Flies There: Spirit (from Ft. Lauderdale)
Cost: For a mid-September round-trip flight, airfare (including taxes and fees) on Spirit from Ft. Lauderdale was quoted at $400.
Why Visit: Explore Lima to get a taste of Peru. In the capital, you'll find museums, archeological ruins, and colonial architecture. Lima is an ideal jumping-off point for daytrips such as Caral, the archeological ruins of the oldest city in the Americas. Lima is also a popular starting and ending place for travelers exploring Lake Titicaca, Machu Picchu, Colca Canyon, and other popular sights. We featured Lima and the rest of Peru as one of our Destinations to Watch in 2009.
Who Flies There: JetBlue (from Orlando) and Spirit (from Ft. Lauderdale)
Cost: For a mid-September round-trip flight including taxes and fees, JetBlue had fares from Orlando for $268. Though Spirit offers lower fares for members of its $9 fare club, the cost of a regular fare from Ft. Lauderdale was $348.
Why Visit: Eclectic modern architecture and a serious restaurant scene define Colombia's capital city. Bogota is markedly safer than it was a decade ago, though crime continues to be a concern. Still off the beaten path for mass tourism, Bogota is emerging as a destination for intrepid travelers. The city is full of parks, churches, and museums worth a visit. Among the city's 50 museums is the Museo del Oro, which displays more than 34,000 pieces of gold. A thriving cafe scene fueled by the mass quantities of coffee produced in Colombia provides visitors an ideal break between sights.
Bogota isn't the only Colombian destination served by Spirit. The airline also flies from Ft. Lauderdale to Cartagena and Medellin. And travelers who are curious but intimidated by Colombia might consider a guided adventure trip of the country.
Panama City, Panama
Who Flies There: Spirit (from Ft. Lauderdale)
Cost: A mid-week round-trip flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Panama City in mid-September was $234, including taxes and fees.
Why Visit: Panama shares the adventure and eco-travel spirit of neighboring Costa Rica. White sand beaches, small tropical islands, jungle, and of course the Panama Canal offer a myriad of ways to get outdoors. Panama is an easy destination because English is widely spoken, and U.S. dollars are accepted everywhere.
Los Cabos/Cabo San Lucas
Who Flies There: Frontier (from Denver), and Southwest via its Mexico partner Volaris (from Oakland via Toluca starting July 16)
Cost: For a mid-September round-trip flight, including taxes and fees, Frontier had service from Denver for $310. On Southwest's Mexico partner Volaris, the flight (which includes a connection in Toluca, Mexico) was a steeper $551. It remains to be seen if Volaris' prices will come down as it establishes its relationship with Southwest.
Why Visit: Cabo San Lucas sits on the southern tip of Mexico's Baja California Peninsula. A popular sport fishing haunt, Cabo also features luxury resorts and a party atmosphere set against beautiful beaches. The Los Cabos region also includes the small colonial town of San Jose del Cabo, where the pace is slower and more relaxed. The Los Cabos Tourism Board has discounts on accommodations this summer and fall.
These aren't the only Central and South American destinations served by low-cost carriers. You can find Alaska/Horizon and Sun Country flights to Mexico, and Spirit service to Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. The trend of low-cost carriers connecting the U.S. and Latin America is growing, so keep them on your radar when you compare airfares, though it will likely mean you'll have to connect through the carrier's hub airport.