Sun rising at Laguna Quilotoa, in Euador This scene of travelers in Latin America captures the spirit of travel as defined by Mark Twain more than a century ago. "Twenty years from now you'll be disappointed by the things you didn't do rather than the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, fly away from the safe harbor. Catch the tradewinds in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover!"

Latin America Travel

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Defining Latin America

The region includes those countries in South, Central and North America where Spanish or Portuguese is the official or most common language. Although the term is sometimes used in the U.S. to refer to the entire region of the Americas to the south, it is more properly a cultural or linguistic term. It is not precisely defined, but does not include the United States of America, Canada, or Caribbean islands where English and/or local languages are dominant. (French-speaking nations are sometimes included, as the language is Latin-based, but this isn't the usual sense of the term).

Tourism

Income from tourism its key to the economy of several Latin American countries. Mexico receives the largest number of international tourists, with 21.4 million visitors in 2007, followed by Brazil, with 5.0 million; Argentina, with 4.6 million; Dominican Republic, with 4.0 million; and Puerto Rico, with 3.7 million. Places such as Cancun, Galapagos Islands, Machu Pichu, Chichen Itza, Cartagena de Indias, Cabo San Lucas, Acapulco, Rio de Janeiro, Margarita Island, São Paulo, Salar de Uyuni, Punta del Este, Santo Domingo, Labadee, San Juan, La Habana, Panama City, Iguazu Falls, Puerto Vallarta, Poás Volcano National Park, Punta Cana, Viña del Mar, Mexico City, Quito, Bogota, Buenos Aires, Lima, La Paz and Patagonia are popular among international visitors in the region.

Culture

Latin American culture is a mixture of many cultural expressions worldwide. It is the product of many diverse influences:

Indian and native cultures of the people who inhabited the continent prior to the arrival of the Europeans. Ancient and very advanced civilizations developed their own politic, social and religious systems. Civilizations as the Maya, the Aztecs and the Incas are examples of these.
 
The Western civilization and European culture, brought mainly by the Spanish, the Portuguese and the French between the 16th and 19th centuries. Most recently, cultural influence from the American in northern Latin America, and from the Italian and the German in South America can also be found. This can be seen in any expression of the region's artistic traditions, including painting, literature and music, and in the realms of science and politics. The most enduring European colonial influence is language and Christianity.
 
African cultures, whose presence derives from a long history of New World slavery. Peoples of African descent have influenced the ethno-scapes of Latin America and the Caribbean. This is manifest for instance in dance and religion, especially in countries such as Belize, Brazil, Honduras, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Haiti, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, and Cuba.

Literature

Pre-Columbian cultures were primarily oral, though the Aztecs and Mayans, for instance, produced elaborate codices. Oral accounts of mythological and religious beliefs were also sometimes recorded after the arrival of European colonizers, as was the case with the Popol Vuh. Moreover, a tradition of oral narrative survives to this day, for instance among the Quechua-speaking population of Peru and the Quiché of Guatemala.

From the very moment of Europe's "discovery" of the continent, early explorers and conquistadores produced written accounts and crónicas of their experience--such as Columbus's letters or Bernal Díaz del Castillo's description of the conquest of Mexico. During the colonial period, written culture was often in the hands of the church, within which context Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz wrote memorable poetry and philosophical essays. Towards the end of the 18th Century and the beginning of the 19th, a distinctive criollo literary tradition emerged, including the first novels such as Lizardi's El Periquillo Sarniento (1816).
 
The 19th Century was a period of "foundational fictions" (in critic Doris Sommer's words), novels in the Romantic or Naturalist traditions that attempted to establish a sense of national identity, and which often focussed on the indigenous question or the dichotomy of "civilization or barbarism" (for which see, say, Domingo Sarmiento's Facundo (1845), Juan León Mera's Cumandá (1879), or Euclides da Cunha's Os Sertões (1902)).

At the turn of the 20th century, modernismo emerged, a poetic movement whose founding text was Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío's Azul (1888). This was the first Latin American literary movement to influence literary culture outside of the region, and was also the first truly Latin American literature, in that national differences were no longer so much at issue. José Martí, for instance, though a Cuban patriot, also lived in Mexico and the U.S. and wrote for journals in Argentina and elsewhere.
 
Mexican writer Carlos FuentesHowever, what really put Latin American literature on the global map was no doubt the literary boom of the 1960s and 1970s, distinguished by daring and experimental novels (such as Julio Cortázar's Rayuela (1963)) that were frequently published in Spain and quickly translated into English. The Boom's defining novel was Gabriel García Márquez's Cien años de soledad (1967), which led to the association of Latin American literature with magic realism, though other important writers of the period such as the Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa and Carlos Fuentes do not fit so easily within this framework. Arguably, the Boom's culmination was Augusto Roa Bastos's monumental Yo, el supremo (1974). In the wake of the Boom, influential precursors such as Juan Rulfo, Alejo Carpentier, and above all Jorge Luis Borges were also rediscovered.

 Contemporary literature in the region is vibrant and varied, ranging from the best-selling Paulo Coelho and Isabel Allende to the more avant-garde and critically acclaimed work of writers such as Diamela Eltit, Ricardo Piglia, or Roberto Bolaño. There has also been considerable attention paid to the genre of testimonio, texts produced in collaboration with subaltern subjects such as Rigoberta Menchú. Finally, a new breed of chroniclers is represented by the more journalistic Carlos Monsivais and Pedro Lemebel.

The region boasts five Nobel Prizewinners: in addition to the two Chilean poets Gabriela Mistral (1945) and Pablo Neruda (1971), there is also the Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez (1982), the Guatemalan novelist Miguel Ángel Asturias (1967), and the Mexican poet and essayist Octavio Paz (1990).

Art

Beyond the rich tradition of indigenous art, the development of Latin American visual art owed much to the influence of Spanish, Portuguese and French Baroque painting, which in turn often followed the trends of the Italian Masters. In general, this artistic Eurocentrism began to fade in the early twentieth century, as Latin-Americans began to acknowledge the uniqueness of their condition and started to follow their own path.

From the early twentieth century, the art of Latin America was greatly inspired by the Constructivist Movement. The Constructivist Movement was founded in Russia around 1913 by Vladimir Tatlin. The Movement quickly spread from Russia to Europe and then into Latin America. Joaquin Torres Garcia and Manuel Rendón have been credited with bringing the Constructivist Movement into Latin America from Europe.

Located in the lobby of the Casa del Arte, University of Concepcion in Concepcion, Chile.An important artistic movement generated in Latin America is Muralismo represented by Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco and Rufino Tamayo in Mexico and Santiago Martinez Delgado and Pedro Nel Gómez in Colombia. Some of the most impressive Muralista works can be found in Mexico, Colombia, New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

Mexican painter Frida Kahlo is one of the most known and famous Latin American artists.[citation needed] She painted about her own life and the Mexican culture in a style combining Realism, Symbolism and Surrealism. Kahlo's work commands the highest selling price of all Latin American paintings.

Colombian sculptor and painter Fernando Botero is also widely known by his works which, on first examination, are noted for their exaggerated proportions and the corpulence of the human and animal figures.

Dancing and Music

Latin America has produced many successful worldwide artists in terms of recorded global music sales. The most successful have been Roberto Carlos who has sold over 100 million records, Carlos Santana with over 75 million, Luis Miguel, Shakira and Vicente Fernandez with over 50 million records sold worldwide. [73]One of the main characteristics of Latin American music is its diversity, from the lively rhythms of Central America and the Caribbean to the more austere sounds of the Andes and the Southern Cone. Another feature of Latin American music is its original blending of the variety of styles that arrived in The Americas and became influential, from the early Spanish and European Baroque to the different beats of the African rhythms.

Caribbean Hispanic music, such as merengue, bachata, salsa, and more recently reggaeton, from such countries as the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Panama has been strongly influenced by African rhythms and melodies. Haiti's compas is a genre of music that draws influence and is thus similar to its Caribbean Hispanic counterparts, with an element of jazz and modern sound as well.

Another well-known Latin American musical genre includes the Argentine and Uruguayan tango, as well as the distinct nuevo tango, a fusion of tango, acoustic and electronic music popularized by bandoneón virtuoso Ástor Piazzolla. Equally renown, the samba, North American jazz, European classical music and choro combined to form bossa nova in Brazil, popularized by guitarrist João Gilberto and pianist Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Other influential Latin American sounds include the Antillean Soca and Calypso, the Central American (Garifuna) Punta, the Colombian cumbia and vallenato, the Chilean Cueca, the Ecuadorian Boleros, and Rockoleras, the Mexican ranchera, the Nicaraguan Palo de Mayo, the Peruvian Marinera and Tondero, the Uruguayan Candombe, the French Antillean Zouk (Derived from Haitian Compas) and the various styles of music from Pre-Columbian traditions that are widespread in the Andean region.

 The classical composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) worked on the recording of native musical traditions within his homeland of Brazil. The traditions of his homeland heavily influenced his classical works.[76] Also notable is the recent work of the Cuban Leo Brouwer and guitar work of the Venezuelan Antonio Lauro and the Paraguayan Agustín Barrios. Latin America has also produced world-class classical performers such as the Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau, Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire and the Argentine pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim.

Arguably, the main contribution to music entered through folklore, where the true soul of the Latin American and Caribbean countries is expressed. Musicians such as Yma Súmac, Chabuca Granda, Atahualpa Yupanqui, Violeta Parra, Victor Jara, Mercedes Sosa, Jorge Negrete, Luiz Gonzaga, Caetano Veloso, Susana Baca, Chavela Vargas, Simon Diaz, Julio Jaramillo, Toto la Momposina as well as musical ensembles such as Inti Illimani and Los Kjarkas are magnificent examples of the heights that this soul can reach.

Latin pop, including many forms of rock, is popular in Latin America today (see Spanish language rock and roll).

More recently, Reggaeton, which blends Jamaican reggae and dancehall with Latin America genres such as bomba and plena, as well as that of hip hop, is becoming more popular, in spite of the controversy surrounding its lyrics, dance steps (Perreo) and music videos. It has become very popular among populations with a "migrant culture" influence - both Latino populations in the U.S., such as southern Florida and New York City, and parts of Latin America where migration to the U.S. is common, such as Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Mexico.

Cinema

Latin American film is both rich and diverse. Historically, the main centers of production have been México, Brazil, Cuba, and Argentina.

Latin American cinema flourished after the introduction of sound, which added a linguistic barrier to the export of Hollywood film south of the border. The 1950s and 1960s saw a movement towards Third Cinema, led by the Argentine filmmakers Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino. More recently, a new style of directing and stories filmed has been tagged as "New Latin American Cinema."

Argentine cinema has been prominenent since the first half of the 20th century and today averages over 60 full-length titles yearly. The industry suffered during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship; but re-emerged to produce the Academy Award winner The Official Story in 1985. A wave of imported U.S. films again damaged the industry in the early 1990s, though it soon recovered, thriving even during the Argentine economic crisis around 2001. Many Argentine movies produced during recent years have been internationally acclaimed, including Nueve reinas (2000), El abrazo partido (2004) and El otro (2007).

In Brazil, the Cinema Novo movement created a particular way of making movies with critical and intellectual screenplays, a clearer photography related to the light of the outdoors in a tropical landscape, and a political message. The modern Brazilian film industry has become more profitable inside the country, and some of its productions have received prizes and recognition in Europe and the United States, with movies such as Central do Brasil (1999), Cidade de Deus (2003) and Tropa de Elite (2007).

Cuban cinema has enjoyed much official support since the Cuban revolution and important film-makers include Tomás Gutiérrez Alea.

Mexican cinema in the Golden Era of the 1940s boasted a huge industry comparable to Hollywood at the time. Stars included María Félix, Dolores del Rio and Pedro Infante. In the 1970s Mexico was the location for many cult horror and action movies. More recently, films such as Amores Perros (2000) and Y tu mamá también (2001) enjoyed box office and critical acclaim and propelled Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñarritu to the front rank of Hollywood directors. Alejandro González Iñárritu directed in (2006) Babel and Alfonso Cuarón directed (Children of Men in (2006), and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in (2004)). Guillermo del Toro close friend and also a front rank Hollywood director in Hollywood and Spain, directed Pan's Labyrinth (2006) and produce El Orfanato (2007). Carlos Carrera (The Crime of Father Amaro), and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga are also some of the most known present-day Mexican film makers. Rudo y Cursi released in December (2008) in Mexico directed by Carlos Cuarón.

It is also worth noting that many Latin Americans have achieved significant success within Hollywood, for instance Carmen Miranda and Salma Hayek, while Mexican Americans such as Robert Rodriguez have also made their mark.

Languages

Portuguese and Spanish are the predominant languages of Latin American. Portuguese is spoken primarily in Brazil, the most populous country in the region , . French is spoken in some countries of the Caribbean, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and French Guiana and Haiti. Dutch is the official language of some Caribbean islands and in Suriname on the continent; however, as Dutch is a Germanic language, these territories are not considered part of Latin America.

Other European languages spoken in Latin America include: English, by some groups in Argentina, Belize, Nicaragua, Panama, and Puerto Rico; German, in southern Brazil, southern Chile, Argentina, and German-speaking villages in northern Venezuela and Paraguay; Italian, in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Venezuela; and Welsh, in southern Argentina.

In several nations, especially in the Caribbean region, creole languages are spoken. The most widely spoken creole language in the Caribbean and Latin America in general is Haitian Creole, the predominant language of Haiti; it is derived primarily from French and certain West African tongues with some Amerindian and Spanish influences as well. Creole languages of mainland Latin America, similarly, are derived from European languages and various African tongues. Native American languages are widely spoken in Peru, Guatemala, Bolivia, Paraguay, and to a lesser degree, in Mexico, Ecuador, and Chile. In absolute numbers, Mexico contains the largest population of indigenous-language speakers of any country in the Americas, surpassing those of the Amerindian-majority countries of Guatemala, Bolivia and the Amerindian-plurality country of Peru. In Latin American countries not named above, the population of speakers of indigenous languages is small or non-existent.

In Peru, Quechua is an official language, alongside Spanish and any other indigenous language in the areas where they predominate. In Ecuador, while holding no official status, the closely related Quichua is a recognized language of the indigenous people under the country's constitution; however, it is only spoken by a few groups in the country's highlands. In Bolivia, Aymara, Quechua and Guaraní hold official status alongside Spanish. Guarani is, along with Spanish, an official language of Paraguay, and is spoken by a majority of the population (who are, for the most part, bilingual), and it is co-official with Spanish in the Argentine province of Corrientes. In Nicaragua, Spanish is the official language, but on the country's Caribbean coast English and indigenous languages such as Miskito, Sumo, and Rama also hold official status. Colombia recognizes all indigenous languages spoken within its territory as official, though fewer than 1% of its population are native speakers of these. Nahuatl is one of the 62 native languages spoken by indigenous people in Mexico, which are officially recognized by the government as "national languages" along with Spanish.

Religious Life in Latin America

Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) atop Corcovado mountain, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.The vast majority of Latin Americans are Christians, mostly Roman Catholics.[40] Membership in other denominations, like Protestantism, is increasing, particularly in countries such as Guatemala, Brazil, and Puerto Rico.

Indigenous creeds and rituals are still practiced in countries with large percentages of Amerindians, such as Bolivia, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru. Various Afro-Latin American traditions such as Santería, Candomblé, Umbanda, Macumba, and tribal-voodoo religions are also practiced, mainly in Cuba, Brazil, and Haiti.

Brazil has an active quasi-socialist Roman Catholic movement known as Liberation Theology, and Brazil is also the country with more practitioners in the world of Allan Kardec's Spiritism. Practitioners of the Jewish, Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Buddhist, Islamic, Hindu, Bahá'í, and Shinto denominations and religions exist.

History of the region

The Americas were thought to have been first inhabited by people crossing the Bering Land Bridge, now known as the Bering strait, from northeast Asia into Alaska more than 10,000 years ago. The earliest known settlement, however, was identified at Monte Verde, near Puerto Montt in Southern Chile. Its occupation dates to some 14,000 years ago and there is some disputed evidence of even earlier occupation. Over the course of millennia, people spread to all parts of the continents. By the first millennium AD/CE, South America’s vast rainforests, mountains, plains and coasts were the home of tens of millions of people. The earliest settlements in the Americas are of the Las Vegas Culture[citation needed] from about 8000 BC and 4600 BC, a sedentary group from the coast of Ecuador, the forefathers of the more known Valdivia culture, of the same era. Some groups formed more permanent settlements such as the Chibchas (or "Muiscas" or "Muyscas") and the Tairona groups. The Chibchas of Colombia, the Quechuas and Aymaras of Bolivia and Perú were the three Indian groups that settled most permanently.

The region was home to many indigenous peoples and advanced civilizations, including the Aztecs, Toltecs, Caribs, Tupi, Maya, and Inca. The golden age of the Maya began about 250, with the last two great civilizations, the Aztecs and Incas, emerging into prominence later on in the early fourteenth century and mid-fifteenth centuries, respectively.

With the arrival of the Europeans following Christopher Columbus's voyages, the indigenous elites, such as the Incans and Aztecs, lost power to the Europeans. Hernán Cortés destroyed the Aztec elite's power with the help of local groups who disliked the Aztec elite, and Francisco Pizarro eliminated the Incan rule in Western South America. European powers, most notably Spain and Portugal, colonized the region, which along with the rest of the uncolonized world was divided into areas of Spanish and Portuguese control by the line of demarcation in 1493, which gave Spain all areas to the west, and Portugal all areas to the east (the Portuguese lands in South America subsequently becoming Brazil). By the end of the sixteenth century, Europeans occupied large areas of North, Central and South America, extending all the way into the present southern United States. European culture and government was imposed, with the Roman Catholic Church becoming a major economic and political power, as well as the official religion of the region.

Diseases brought by the Europeans, such as smallpox and measles, wiped out a large proportion of the indigenous population, with epidemics of diseases reducing them sharply from their prior populations. Historians cannot determine the number of natives who died due to European diseases, but some put the figures as high as 85% and as low as 20%. Due to the lack of written records, specific numbers are hard to verify. Many of the survivors were forced to work in European plantations and mines. Intermixing between the indigenous peoples and the European colonists was very common, and, by the end of the colonial period, people of mixed ancestry (mestizos) formed majorities in several colonies.

By the end of the eighteenth century, Spanish and Portuguese power waned on the global scene as other European powers took their place, notably Britain and France. In Latin America resentment grew among the majority of the population over the restrictions imposed by the Spanish government, as well as the dominance of native Spaniards (Iberian-born Peninsulares) in the major social and political institutions. Napoleon's invasion of Spain in 1808 marked a turning point, compelling Criollo elites to form juntas that advocated independence. Also, the newly independent Haiti, the second oldest nation in the New World after the United States and the oldest independent nation in Latin America, further fueled the independence movement by inspiring the leaders of the movement, such as Simón Bolívar and José de San Martin, and by providing them with considerable munitions and troops.

Fighting soon broke out between juntas and the Spanish colonial authorities, with initial victories for the advocates of independence. Eventually these early movements were crushed by the royalist troops by 1812, including those of Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla in Mexico and Francisco de Miranda in Venezuela. Under the leadership of a new generation of leaders, such as Simón Bolívar, José de San Martin and other Libertadores in South America, the independence movement regained strength, and by 1825, all Spanish America, except for Puerto Rico and Cuba, had gained independence from Spain. Brazil achieved independence with a constitutional monarchy established in 1822. In the same year in Mexico, a military officer, Agustín de Iturbide, led a coalition of conservatives and liberals who created a constitutional monarchy, with Iturbide as emperor. This First Mexican Empire was short-lived and was followed by the creation of a republic in 1823.

Individual Latin American Country Travel Guides - Courtesy of Wikitravel

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