In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Tourism in Modern Latin America

  • Introduction
  • Caribbean: General
  • Dominican Republic
  • Cuba
  • Puerto Rico
  • Central America
  • Guatemala
  • Colombia
  • Peru: Heritage
  • Bolivia: Heritage
  • Ecuador: Heritage and Ecotourism
  • Argentina
  • Chile

Latin American Studies Tourism in Modern Latin America
Evan Ward
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 October 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0262


Aside from a handful of travelers (including the intrepid Maria Graham in Brazil and Chile), explorers (like the diplomat John Lloyd Stephens and artist Frederick Catherwood in Central America), and scientists (such as Alexander von Humboldt, throughout the Americas), tourists arrived in Latin America en masse after the turn of the 20th century. Privately funded seaside resorts popped up around the Caribbean and along South America’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Andean redoubts like Machu Picchu and urban ensembles like Salvador da Bahia’s Pelourinho served as forerunners for archaeological and colonial heritage tourism, respectively. Nationalist movements, in Mexico, for example, during the early 20th century, generated tourism policies, spurred preservation initiatives, and attracted tourists. As a focal point for research, the United Nations established the Economic Council for Latin America (ECLA, or CELAC, in Spanish) after World War II in Santiago, Chile, where the Argentine economist Raúl Prebisch, an advocate for state-directed industrialization, initiated the study of tourism as a tool for economic development. National and state governments adopted ECLA’s recommendations of tourism as an engine for amassing foreign exchange reserves with eagerness, developing “sun, sea, and sand” enclaves, including the megaproject of Cancun in southern Mexico. Consultants and nongovernmental institutions, including UNESCO, the World Bank, and the Organization of American States, lent technical and financial support for these endeavors. Subsequently, economists examined the viability of such projects in the 1970s and 1980s, ultimately questioning the validity of tourism as a developmental strategy. At the same time, anthropologists studied the gendered, economic, and cultural inequities in power between tourists and their hosts. As questions of identity became entangled with questions of imperialism and dependency, scholars increasingly focused on the cultural, social, and environmental consequences of vulnerable communities caught up in the maelstrom of leisure travel. Taking the lead from anthropologists and integrating their models for understanding the outcomes of encounters between the Global North and Global South, historians contextualized the complexities of an industry initially calculated to lift Latin American nations and peoples from the throes of dependency and underdevelopment. A growing consensus suggests that locals have carved out spaces of economic and social empowerment from the very uneven relationships posed by the presence of (mostly) foreign tourists. More recently, scholars in the field have relied on the methodologies of literary criticism and postcolonialism to ground their studies as well as support their conclusions. A final thread of scholarship draws upon the environmental, urban, and architectural legacies of tourism development, as tourism has blighted landmarks of national heritage (i.e., archaeological and architectural ensembles primarily dating from the pre-Colombian and colonial periods, respectively). Preservationists and environmentalists view conservation as a practical outcome of their scholarship and advocacy. In short, the study of tourism in Latin America is a highly interdisciplinary enterprise, rooted in the pursuit economic development and the tourist-host relationships that populate it.


Academic institutions and publishing houses throughout the hemisphere offer peer-reviewed studies related to all facets of tourism development. Those in the English language tend to either be interdisciplinary, theme-related, or regionally focused. Many of the Spanish- and Portuguese-language journals focus on even more specialized themes, including sustainability or economic development.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.