Stretching from Mexico in the north to the frozen landscapes of Patagonia deep in the southern hemisphere, Latin America claims the majority of real estate in the Western Hemisphere. Great indigenous empires once ruled here: the Aztecs, the Maya, and the Incas. The remnants of these civilizations reveal advanced skills in the sciences and engineering and still boggle the minds of academics and travelers alike. Some are well known: Macchu Picchu in Peru, Tikal in Guatemala, Tulum in Mexico.
The temples of Tikal in Guatemala, for instance, only began to be unearthed in the 1950s. The majority of Tikal’s 23-square miles has yet to be mapped, cleared or unearthed. What has been unearthed, however, is astonishing. Rising up from the heart of a massive jungle known as the Petén, Tikal’s vastness is slowly being revealed.
Tikal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and active archaeological investigation. It is one of Latin America’s true gems, and visitors can become more intimately acquainted with the mysteries of Tikal and the Petén by spending a night or two in the heart of the jungle. Lights are out at midnight when the generators shut down and only the sounds of the jungle remain.
The ghosts of indigenous civilizations long gone are but one part of Latin America’s charm. Whatever your feelings about the colonial history here, there’s no denying the architectural legacy of the Spanish and Portuguese in Latin America. The colonial architecture of towns like Trinidad in Cuba, Antigua in Guatemala and Salta in Argentina, is stunning to behold.
Yet, the human imprint on Latin America is dwarfed by the natural history to be explored here. The names are legendary: the Amazon, the Andes, Patagonia, Iguazu Falls. The Amazon basin has often been called the ‘lungs of the world’ for the amount of oxygen given off and carbon dioxide taken in. It is also one of the planet’s richest depositories of biodiversity and one of the most endangered. Each day a few square miles of Amazon rainforest is lost to logging and burning to create grazing land for livestock.