These are the best Latin American cities to use your points and miles
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In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, TPG has highlighted the most points-friendly cities in Latin America. From the tropical paradise of Rio de Janeiro to the mountains of Medellin to the fabled restaurants of Lima and Mexico City, we’ll show you how to explore some of Latin America’s most dazzling cities — all while leveraging your points to the max.
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La Paz, Bolivia
Bolivia, a landlocked nation of mountains, high deserts and crystalline lakes, is often described as “The Heart of South America.” The epithet is due not only to Bolivia’s geographic location in the center of South America, but also due to the fact that Bolivia has the highest percentage of Indigenous population of any nation in the Americas. La Paz, with its neighborhoods, streets and sky trams climbing the steep slopes of the Andes, appears almost as an organic outgrowth of the mountains themselves.
At night when the Andean air is crisp and clear, millions of twinkling lights from La Paz’s mountainside communities render the skyline as hypnotically beautiful as the starry heavens above. Besides its colonial architecture, terrific museums and dynamic nightlife, La Paz is the ideal launching pad for exploring natural wonders like the salt desert of Salar de Uyuni and Lake Titicaca.
From the East Coast, New York City (JFK) and Miami (MIA) are the ideal cities for catching flights to La Paz (LPB). From Miami, Avianca operates a flight to La Paz for under $500 with a quick connection in Bogotá, Colombia (BOG); the total travel time from Miami to La Paz is about nine hours. Flights from New York City (JFK) to La Paz hover around $800, with an 11-hour duration and a connection in Bogota. If you’ve been collecting American Airlines points, the flight from either New York or Miami to La Paz costs 40,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles.
Unfortunately for West Coasters, almost all flights from Los Angeles (LAX) to La Paz connect through East Coast hubs like Atlanta (ATL) or New York (JFK), but there are still some American Airlines flights from Los Angeles for under $1,000.
Where to stay
The Marriott Santa Cruz de la Sierra costs about $130 per night for a basic but comfortable room. The hotel is located both close to the airport and El Centro, the area of El Paz containing the city’s historic cathedrals and plazas. A Category 2 hotel, the Santa Cruz de la Sierra costs 12,500 Marriot Bonvoy points.
The current welcome offer with the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card is 75,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after you use your new card to make $3,000 in eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership. That means if you took full advantage of this offer, you could stay up to 6 nights at the Marriott Santa Cruz de la Sierra.
If you’re looking to cash out with some of your World of Hyatt Points, the Hampton Inn Santa Cruz offers basic rooms for as low as 21,000 points per night. The rooms are comfy and efficient, and just a quick Uber ride to the bustle of the Sopocachi neighborhood and the historical sights of El Centro.
As far as hostels go, Hospedaje Milenio ($14 per night in a dorm) is a backpacker favorite and an easy place to find companionship for a raucous night out on the town. The Nest Boutique Hostel ($27 per night in a dorm) is a solid option, too, especially for those looking for smaller, less crowded dormitories.
San Jose, Costa Rica
In 1949, Costa Rica amended its constitution to abolish the military. The funds that would have been used for weaponry were instead earmarked for conservation. The world should be superlatively grateful to Costa Rica for this monumental decision, as the nation boasts some of the richest biodiversity and most stunning ecology on Earth: cloud forests high in volcanic mountains; coastal mangrove forests teeming with marine life; and countless species found nowhere else on the planet.
San Jose has long been a popular destination with U.S. tourists, and many refer to Costa Rica as “Latin America for beginners” due to the high levels of English proficiency, the use of the U.S. dollar and Costa Rica’s modernized infrastructure. While San Jose, located in central Costa Rica, is worth exploring for a few days — especially for the coffee lovers among us — the city’s greatest attribute is its proximity to Costa Rica’s superb national parks such as Parque Manuel Antonio and the Irazu Volcano.
Getting to Costa Rica from East Coast hubs such as New York (JFK, LGA) and Atlanta (ATL) is quick and easy. JetBlue occasionally has roundtrip flights (seven hours in duration) from New York (JFK) for around $300. On American Airlines, it will cost you 25,000 AAdvantage miles to get from New York City (JFK) to San Jose (SJO), a flight of about eight hours. If you happen to have Korean Airlines points, you can get from Atlanta to Costa Rica for 30,000 points.
If you’re starting your journey on the West Coast, tickets from Los Angeles (LAX) to San Jose sometimes drop into absurdly low prices ranges — below even $250 for a roundtrip ticket. Like New York City, 25,000 AAdvantage miles will also get you from Los Angeles to San Jose, a flight of about six hours.
Where to stay in San Jose
The Costa Rica Marriott Hotel Haciendo Belen is a stately tropical resort located right outside of San Jose. Standard rooms at the Haciendo Belen go for about $170 or, as a Category 5 hotel, for 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy points.
With its white-washed facade, swaying palm trees, and grand columns, the Gran Hotel Costa Rica, Curio Collection by Hilton looks straight out of a Hemingway novel. The hotel is affiliated with American Express’ Fine Hotels & Resorts program, and The Platinum Card® from American Express holders are entitled to benefits like room upgrades and even up to $100 of credit to spend at the hotel’s spa, shops or restaurants. If you book a room out-of-pocket (around $150 per night for a basic room), be sure to use Amex Platinum card, as you get 5x points on 5-star hotel bookings booked via Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts. If you choose to use points, a night in a standard room costs 35,000 Hilton points.
For those who favor the camaraderie and casual atmosphere of a hostel, San Jose does not disappoint with this style of lodging either. Costa Rica Backpackers ($11 per night for a dorm-room bed) is a classic Costa Rican hostel, complete with a lively pool and patio that keeps the party going most weeks of the night.
The “City of Eternal Spring” has undergone a renaissance over the last few decades. Once considered the most dangerous city on the planet due to the cartels’ reign of terror, the Medellin of the 21st century is safe to visit. It recently won the Urban Land Institute’s prestigious award as the World’s Most Innovative City.
With its beautiful cafes, excellent public Wi-Fi and cheap cost of living, Medellin has become one of hottest cities in the world for digital nomads, a trend that the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated. The natural beauty around Medellin, situated in the balmy equatorial Andes, is nothing short of mesmerizing, and the Paisa culture is welcoming and joyful. Moreover, the small city punches above its weight for art, music and architecture. The world-renowned sculptor and painter Fernando Botero was from Medellin, and there’s an excellent museum in downtown Medellin housing Botero’s oeuvre.
Roundtrip tickets to Medellin (MDE) from any of New York City’s airports (EWR, JFK, or LGA) hover around $300. But bear in mind that ticket prices tend to spike significantly around Christmas and New Year’s, the festival season in Medellin. If you’re not paying with points, be sure to use a card like the Amex Platinum Card to get those juicy rewards (5x for airfare purchases).
It’s a quick six-hour flight from take-off to touchdown from New York to Medellin. If you would prefer to use points, the flight from New York to Medellin costs 20,000 points on Cathay Pacific or other Oneworld alliance Airlines. If flying from the West Coast, ticket costs are around $400 or 30,000 Cathay Pacific points from Los Angeles (LAX), and the flight is about 10 hours in duration. The Chicago (ORD) to Medellin flight is about $350 or 20,000 points on Cathay Pacific. While there is no direct flight from Chicago, the total time with one connection is only about 10 hours.
Medellin has a gorgeous subway system—the only one in Colombia and a point of pride for Paisas (denizens of Medellin)—and you can get from the airport to just about anywhere in the city fairly quickly via subway. Remember to use your Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, a card that offers high rewards on public transportation purchases, when buying subway tickets to explore Medellin.
Where to stay in Medellin
Earn 125,000 bonus points and a free night award (worth up to 50,000 points) after spending $5,000 on the card during the first three months of account opening after signing up for the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card. That is enough to book up to seven nights at the Medellin Marriott, a Category 4 hotel, at 25,000 points per night, plus the free night award. The hotel is located within striking distance of Medellin’s best bars and nightclubs in the colorful Zona Rosa neighborhood. If you choose to pay with cash, a night at the Medellin Marriott will run you about $120.
The Hampton Medellin is a thriftier option ($45 per night), but is still comfortable and located within a short distance of the bustle of the Zona Rosa neighborhood. If you have a stack of Hilton points after applying for the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, a night at the Hampton Medellin costs 13,000 points.
And if you’re really on a budget, there are some excellent, quirky hostels in the Zona Rosa, like the Casa Kiwi ($9 per night) or the Rango Boutique Hostel ($36 per night). But a fair warning before your hostel stay: you’re right in the thick of the most raucous neighborhood of one of the world’s most hard-driving party cities.
You could spend several lifetimes exploring Mexico City, the largest city in the Americas. CDMX, as the city is frequently abbreviated, has it all: Michelin starred restaurants; spectacular museums housing the masterpieces of Diego Rivera, Frida Kalho, and unknown Aztec masters; and nightlife that easily holds its own with any city in the world.
Most visitors to CDMX favor Roma Norte, a neighborhood of youthful energy, narrow streets and hole-in-the-wall bars, or La Condesa, the leafy abode of Mexico’s City well-to-do and home to many of the city’s best eateries. One of the greatest perks of visiting Mexico City is the ability to eat in temples of fine dining — places like Quintonil or Pujol — and pay only a fraction of the price of comparable restaurants in New York City, San Francisco or Europe.
The flight from Newark (EWR) directly to Mexico City International Airport (MEX) is six hours and costs a touch under $300 on Aeromexico. Flights from Houston (IAH) to Mexico City can sometimes go for as low as $150 roundtrip, and it’s only two hours from Texas’ largest city. Flights from Los Angeles are also fairly cheap and quick: usually around $200 and about four hours in duration. If you have points with any of the Oneworld airline members, you can fly to Mexico City from any of the aforementioned cities for 20,000 points.
Where to stay in Mexico City
Given Mexico City’s importance as a commerce hub in Latin America, it should be no surprise that Mexico City boasts plenty of enviable hotels. Rooms at the JW Marriott Hotel Mexico City in the hip and foodie-friendly Polanco neighborhood, close to both the revelry of Roma Norte and the luxury of La Condesa, go for about $190 per night or 40,000 points. Or, look at the W Mexico City or St. Regis Mexico City.
The Hyatt Regency Mexico City, also in Polanco, offers rooms for about $290 per night or, as a Category 3 hotel, 12,000 points. The hotel is located right next to Parque Chapultepec, the city’s version of Central Park and home to the best museums. Signing up for a World of Hyatt Credit Card and subsequently spending $3,000 in the first three months of card membership will earn you 30,000 bonus Hyatt points—almost enough for a free long weekend. Plus, up to 30,000 more bonus points by earning 2 Bonus Points total per $1 spent in the first six months from account opening on purchases that normally earn 1 Bonus Point, on up to $15,000 spent.
If you want to splurge, check out the Four Seasons Mexico City, one of Latin America’s most luxurious hotels. If you have an Amex Platinum Card, using it at the Four Seasons Mexico City will get you reservations at the hotel’s renowned restaurant — Il Becco, which serves modern Italian and Zanaya crafts dishes inspired by the seafood-forward cuisine of Yucatán — as well as benefits such as extended check-out times and room upgrades.
Whether you’re a history buff interested in the Incan Empire, a gourmand keen to sample the most delicious ceviche in the world or an adrenaline-junkie looking to tour the most wild recesses of the Amazon, Peru should be at the top of a list of dream destinations. Lima, with its Incan art and history museums, fabulous dining and nearby beaches, promises to keep visitors captivated for days on end. What’s more, the Peruvian capital is the ideal launching point for exploring the Andes, Machu Picchu, the Amazon and Peru’s Pacific coast.
If you’re comfortable with a rather long flight (11 hours) with one connection, Spirit Airlines maintains a roundtrip flight from Newark (EWR) to Lima (LIM) that costs about $400 dollars or 30,000 Alaska Airlines points. For those traveling from the West Coast, Aeromexico operates a flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Lima for around $500. Travel time is also about 11 hours, and the flight has one connection. Those helpful Alaska Airlines points will also get you to Lima from Los Angeles for 30,000 points. Getting to Lima from Chicago (ORD) is about the same price and duration—around $400 and 11 hours—as the major West Coast or East Coast hubs.
Where to stay in Lima
The JW Marriott Lima is right in Miraflores, a beloved neighborhood full of eateries, colonial-era architecture, and as the place name suggests, streets and parks festooned with flowers. Rooms at the JW Marriott Lima go for about $160 per night or 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night. The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card’s up to 175,000-point sign-up bonus (125k points, plus reward night worth 50k) is enough to cover about five nights at the JW Marriott Lima.
The Hyatt Centric San Isidro Lima sits on the sea cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the San Isidro neighborhood, a neighborhood in which you can stroll past both Incan ruins and boutique restaurants. Rooms go for about $140 per night or 12,000 Hyatt points. Take advantage of the up to 60,000-point sign-up bonus with the World of Hyatt Visa Card to stay for several nights at this beautiful hotel.
If you want to pamper yourself while in Lima, look no further than Miraflores Park ($300 per night), Belmond’s luxurious glass-and-steel tower overlooking the ocean and within walking distance of all of the fun of Miraflores. Since it’s affiliated with Amex’s Fine Hotels and Resorts program, Platinum Card holders are entitled to perks such as late check-out, room upgrades, and breakfast for two.
Traveling during Hispanic Heritage Month is ideal, since temperatures in the above cities are pretty nice this time of year. Plus you’ll be able to experience the rich Hispanic and Indigenous influences that have melded 500 years after the first Spanish explorers set foot in the new world.
The best part? All of these countries are allowing U.S. citizens to visit. But check with each country’s embassy for the latest information, since news changes quickly.
Featured photo by Leonardo Em/Shutterstock.
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