25 Best Spanish-Speaking Countries
The Hispanic culture can be exciting — the food, the colorful art and the rhythmic tunes that urge you to dance. Plus, many of the countries where Spanish is the predominant language are found in warm-weather destinations, often filled with wide, sandy beaches, palm trees and heavily forested mountains.
Combining the culture and the scenery is enough to make anyone want to travel to these Spanish-speaking countries. So, it got us thinking: Which ones are the best?
Looking at the 21 countries where Spanish is the official language plus four where it is a majority and strong minority language, we ranked these 25 Spanish-speaking countries from worst to first based on a variety of factors. Like the fact that some places simply aren't safe, while others are beyond fabulous for their cuisine, natural surroundings and attractions. This way you know exactly where and where not to put your language skills to the test. (Don't hate us.)
25. United States
Capital: Washington, D.C.
Area: 3.8 million square miles
Population: 382.2 million
Number of Spanish Speakers: 41 million
Number of Visitors: 76.9 million
How the United States Compares
Of course, the national language of the United States isn't Spanish, but tell that to the 41 million people in the country that speak it. Nearly 40 percent of Californians, 30 percent of Texans, 25 percent of New York City alone and 20 percent of Floridians speak Spanish — with a whopping 60 percent of Miami's population fluent in the language. Miami even holds the nickname "Latin American Capital."
Plus, Puerto Rico, a territory of the U.S., is a Spanish-speaking island in the Caribbean. Turquoise waves lapping against beaches, historic districts that predate the U.S. and lush rainforests ripe for adventure are actually pretty darn great and should land the island higher on the list, but the U.S. hasn't done a very good job of helping the island recover from Hurricane Maria, which hit in 2017 and cost $90 billion in damage. It's bouncing back but isn't 100 percent yet.
So, ranking the U.S. above countries where Spanish is the native language seems laughable — especially when this is the same country that suggested building a wall between it and its Spanish-speaking neighbor, Mexico. Sorry, U.S., but you're really the worst for anyone looking to get an authentic taste of that Hispanic flavor.
Area: 353,841 square miles
Population: 28.9 million
Number of Spanish Speakers: 21.5 million
Number of Visitors: 429,000
How Venezuela Compares
Venezuela has not been the most stable country in recent years. Two presidents claimed they controlled the country. One of them was charged by the U.S. for drug trafficking, civil unrest and military brutality, corruption, crime and drugs. These are not selling points.
Even before the pandemic hit, the South American country was listed on the State Department's "Do Not Travel" list. It doesn't help that the capital city, Caracas, has one of the highest murder rates for a major city in the world.
23. Equatorial Guinea
Area: 10,830 square miles
Population: 1.3 million
Number of Spanish Speakers: 878,000
Number of Visitors: Data unavailable
How Equatorial Guinea Compares
Twenty years ago, Equatorial Guinea struck it rich with the discovery of oil. Rather than use the money to build up the African nation the way the United Arab Emirates did in the Middle East, the leaders of the nation pocketed the wealth through money laundering and corruption.
This has left the Sub-Saharan country poor. No wonder it is the sixth least-visited country in the world.
Area: 424,200 square miles
Population: 11.35 million
Number of Spanish Speakers: 8.5 million
Number of Visitors: 1.13 million
How Bolivia Compares
The political scene has been a mess in Bolivia since 2019, and human rights are struggling. In August 2020, the embassy alerted Americans, asking them to avoid the country due to ongoing demonstrations.
That's really a shame because the South American country is an underrated hiking destination and is considered the "Tibet of South America."
21. El Salvador
Capital: San Salvador
Area: 8,124 square miles
Population: 6.42 million
Number of Spanish Speakers: 6.4 million
Number of Visitors: 2.6 million
How El Salvador Compares
The 1970s and '80s were not kind to Latin America where coup after coup seemed par for the course. For decades, travelers were a bit put off about visiting, and countries had to work to regain trust.
That's not hard to do in El Salvador, where you'd be amazed to discover it has its own "Pompeii" in Ceren, a town buried for 1,400 years beneath volcanic ash. There are also Mayan pyramids, dormant volcanoes with crater lakes and cities with lower crime rates than some American cities.
So why is El Salvador not higher on our list? This year's "attempted coup" the current president was accused of gives us flashbacks.
20. Dominican Republic
Capital: Santo Domingo
Area: 18,704 square miles
Population: 10.65 million
Number of Spanish Speakers: 10 million
Number of Visitors: 6.5 million
How Dominican Republic Compares
The Dominican Republic (DR) was a real hot spot for tourism. Punta Cana alone is filled with beautiful beaches and all-inclusive resorts with excursions into the nearby jungles for ziplining and ATV adventures.
And, hey, we were right there with the rest of them loving the Caribbean nation — that is until tourists began dying mysterious deaths. All signs pointed to drugged drinks that left travelers passed out in their hotel rooms to be robbed. As a result, the U.S. State Department’s 2019 travel advisory designated the country as a Level 2 destination, advising visitors to “exercise increased caution.”
All of this resulted in the DR's tourism numbers dropping by 80 percent, leading the nation to work harder on making travel safer. And that's a good thing because World Heritage Sites such as the charming Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo, along with Parque Nacional del Este, are must-see travel spots. The white-sand beaches of Punta Cana are also begging for your bare feet to take a stroll, and the quieter, less-visited La Romana area can provide some serious R&R.
Area: 440,800 square miles
Population: 49.7 million
Number of Spanish Speakers: 46 million
Number of Visitors: 2 million
How Colombia Compares
Colombia once led the world in having the most kidnappings, scaring off any potential traveler who heard of rebels fighting in the jungles and drug cartels making it a very dangerous country. But the FARC Rebels and the Colombian government made peace, and kidnappings have fallen by 92 percent since 2000.
Colombia is working hard to redeem itself, and tour groups are entering the rainforests once again to explore. The walled city of Cartegena is deemed safe — just stay inside and enjoy the more traditional Colombian hospitality amidst the cobblestoned streets and colorful buildings that date back to the 16th century. You can even enjoy the Caribbean Sea beaches from the city as well.
Travelers have caught on that Colombia is a place to be, with tourism in Colombia growing by more than 260 percent since 2002. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, travel to Colombia increased by nearly 10 percent in 2015 alone.
Area: 157,050 square miles
Population: 6.96 million
Number of Spanish Speakers: 6.05 million
Number of Visitors: 1.18 million
How Paraguay Compares
Until 1989, Paraguay was not a democratic country. [Insert scary South American dictator name here.] The corruption that came with democracy was embarrassing and reached the top. Two different presidents were indicted for corruption.
But fast-forward three decades, and the country is truly thriving. The landlocked nation is home to South America's second-largest river, the Paraguay River, and acre upon acre of rainforests that are filled with jungle wildlife and make ecological travel a driver for tourists.
Show them how it's done, Paraguay!
Area: 43,533 square miles
Population: 9.6 million
Number of Spanish Speakers: 9.3 million
Number of Visitors: 865,000
How Honduras Compares
In Spanish, Honduras translates into "great depths," and boy, does Honduras have depth.
It received this name from Christopher Columbus for the great depths in the waters off its coasts, translating into modern-day superb diving locales. The country is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second-largest coral reef in the world, and people come from around the world to explore the sea in Utila, Roatan and Guanaja.
On land, there are uncrowded stretches of sandy beaches, Mayan ruins and nature parks just ready and waiting.
Area: 42,426 square miles
Population: 11.34 million
Number of Spanish Speakers: 11 million
Number of Visitors: 4.8 million
How Cuba Compares
Apart from the long-standing ban on Americans traveling to Cuba that was only recently lifted (with many restrictions), you have a country that is stuck in time due to its politics. And that's a big part of its charm!
Here you can eat authentic Cuban food, salsa in the streets, swim in translucent aquamarine water and bring money to a grateful tourism industry that was once the jewel of the Caribbean. Plus, the classic cars from mid-century America slowly rolling down the streets in bold colors is hauntingly cool.
What's old is new again.
Capital: Mexico City
Area: 761,600 square miles
Population: 126.2 million
Number of Spanish Speakers: 119.89 million
Number of Visitors: 13 million
How Mexico Compares
One of the most popular destinations for American travelers is just south of the border in Mexico. Here, Cancun, the Riveria Maya and Puerto Vallarta are filled with all-inclusive resorts making a vacation simple: Eat, drink, enjoy the pools, water sports and nightly entertainment, and repeat.
Thankfully, there are also destinations near popular vacation spots that get you off the beaten path and give you a more authentic Mexican experience. One favorite is Riviera Nayarit outside of Puerto Vallarta, where Sayulita provides a Boho beach vibe.
And, if you skip the beach, Oaxaca is filled with ancient temples and is considered the gastronomic capital of Mexico. Mmm ... mole sauce!
Area: 2.625 square miles
Number of Spanish Speakers: N/A but most bilingual
Number of Visitors: 11 million
How Gibraltar Compares
Gibraltar, of the famed rock (pictured), is a territory of Britain, but its location off of Spain lends to its Spanish-speaking population.
Forget the British, who only want this land to control the entryway into the Mediterranean. This was the land of the Moors or Spaniards, and the evidence of both are found across the very small territory.
Another neat "attraction?" Gibraltar boasts the only population of wild monkeys in Europe. (But be careful, they like to steal from backpacks!)
Capital: Andorra la Vella
Area: 180.7 square miles
Number of Spanish Speakers: 53,904
Number of Visitors: 10 million
How Andorra Compares
It's small enough to fit inside of London three times, yet Andorra is filled with charm 10 times over.
Nestled between Spain and France, you'll find influences from both countries, including incredible food. Its Pyrennes Mountains location not only makes it the highest country capital in Europe, but it is also a skiing mecca with more than 180 miles of ski slopes.
Yes, it's secluded (there isn't an airport), but perhaps hiding away in the mountains with great food is why the country has one of the world's highest life expectancy rates?
Area: 115,831 square miles
Population: 1.07 million
Number of Spanish Speakers: 439,000
Number of Visitors: 7.1 million
How Philippines Compares
A fraction of the population of the Philippines speaks Spanish, but here's a fun fact: Spanish was the official language of the archipelagic nation until 1987, even though the people had won their independence back from the Spanish in 1565. Although the language was made unofficial, it is a voluntary and optional auxiliary language, and schools offer it as a subject. Still, its decline as a popular language is what keeps the Philippines out of the top 10.
But look at this picture! It alone is enough to highlight the pure awesomeness of the Philippines.
There are more than 7,600 islands that make up the country, and these are surrounded by beautiful aquamarine waters and topped with lush forests. Not only is it an outdoor lover's paradise, but its capital city is also a combination of modern skyscrapers coupled with colonial, baroque 16th-century architecture found within walled Old Manila.
Area: 42,042 square miles
Population: 17.25 million
Number of Spanish Speakers: 11.21 million
Number of Visitors: 1.78 million
How Guatemala Compares
Often overlooked as a destination perhaps due to its Latin American location, it shouldn't be. Guatemala is one of the best countries to visit in Central America.
Why? How about more than 30 volcanoes — including the tallest in Central America — three different World Heritage sites, some nice beaches and the lush, jungles surrounding Lake Atitlan.
All of this with fewer tourists than other nearby countries? Yes, please!
Capital: Buenos Aires
Area: 1.074 million square miles
Population: 44.49 million
Number of Spanish Speakers: 44.05 million
Number of Visitors: 5.5 million
How Argentina Compares
Argentina's expansive country provides nature and city settings, sharing awe-inspiring Patagonia with Chile and featuring South America's most-visited city, Buenos Aires.
Catch a feisty hot tango, sample some of the best steak of your life at a Churrasco Argentino Parrilla and soak in the energy of the business capital that is Buenos Aires. Then, leave the city behind to see the glaciers, mountain peaks and scores of wild penguins at the southernmost tip of South America.
Love, love, love!
Capital: Panama City
Area: 29,157 square miles
Population: 4.18 million
Number of Spanish Speakers: 3.88 million
Number of Visitors: 1.8 million
How Getty Images Compares
Panama's canal makes it easy for ships to sail between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans without having to travel around Cape Horn. This timesaver has made Panama a big player in the business world. (The canal itself generates a third of the country's economy!)
Because of this, Panama City is a thriving city of ex-pats. But Panama is so much more than its capital. The San Blas Islands, for one, are ripe for diving, snorkeling and sailing adventures.
Area: 8,867 square miles
Number of Spanish Speakers: 114,921
Number of Visitors: 503,177 million
How Belize Compares
Other Spanish-speaking countries get far more visitors than tiny Central American Belize. This is great news because it means those who go get the uninterrupted beauty of a country committed to its natural surroundings.
The Belize Barrier Reef and the Great Blue Hole beckon divers with some of the world's best underwater scenery. On land, the landscape is made up of jungle and beaches with nearly 1,000 Mayan sites sprinkled about the country.
But because Belize was a British colony for 200 years, its official language is actually English, so it can't be in the top five.
Area: 50,193 square miles
Population: 6.47 million
Number of Spanish Speakers: 5.81 million
Number of Visitors: 1.96 million
How Nicaragua Compares
Poor Nicaragua. It's really misunderstood. Blame a revolution during which the government was overthrown by a dictator.
For more than a century, the country was off-limits, and its people were poorly treated.
Nicaragua quietly made a comeback, and it's almost a shame to share the secret that this is a backpacker's heaven. Surfers love it, too, especially for its unique volcano surfing. That's right, you can ride down the side of an ancient volcano on the fine, graveled slopes of Cerro Negro.
Area: 292,260 square miles
Population: 18.73 million
Number of Spanish Speakers: 18.6 million
Number of Visitors: 4.32 million
How Chile Compares
It's proximity to Antarctica plus the towering Andes Mountains and otherworldly Patagonia make this country a stunner.
With Antarctic travel on the rise, people have been pleasantly surprised by their time in Chile, which includes checking out more than 80 geysers at El Tatio, walking about a moonscape-like desert known as Valle de la Luna, hiking on the active and snow-covered Villarica volcano and visiting Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of the continent.
Area: 496,200 square miles
Population: 31.99 million
Number of Spanish Speakers: 26.87 million
Number of Visitors: 4 million
How Peru Compares
What do you do when tourism increases 700 percent to your one-of-a-kind temple in the sky? Do you erect more hotels and turn it into a bigger-than-Disney attraction? Or do you put limitations on visitors?
The latter is exactly what Peru did in an attempt to save and preserve Machu Picchu. Since reaching 1.3 million visitors in 2013, the country has limited access to the site to 2,500 per day, tour groups must be 20 or fewer people, and just 500 permits for hikers are available. (More than half of the permits go to the guides and porters.)
Way to go, Peru!
4. Costa Rica
Capital: San Jose
Area: 19,730 square miles
Population: 4.99 million
Number of Spanish Speakers: 3.49 million
Number of Visitors: 1.7 million
How Costa Rica Compares
There are just five places in the world designated Blue Zones, and Costa Rica is one of them.
Blue Zones are places where people live the longest, and it's easy to see why Costa Ricans fare so well. It's literally a tropical paradise, and the people are active and live off the land and sea.
Gorgeous rainforests covering rolling hills, the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east ... no wonder so many want to visit (and often relocate to) this amazing country.
Area: 109,483 square miles
Population: 17.08 million
Number of Spanish Speakers: 15.88 million
Number of Visitors: 3 million
How Ecuador Compares
How can anyone complain about a country that cares for its environs the way Ecuador does? This country on the Equator is home to the world-famous Galapagos.
Charles Darwin developed his theories of evolution on these islands that are both in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. This place is about as pristine as you can get — no invasive species, no development, just a clean environment that is home to an array of wildlife.
We should be thanking the Ecuadorians for taking such good care of the islands.
Area: 68,037 square miles
Population: 3.45 million
Number of Spanish Speakers: 3.41 million
Number of Visitors: 3.9 million
How Uruguay Compares
It may be one of South America's smallest countries, but the humble people of Uruguay don't mind. Who needs the limelight when you're focused on caring for your people?
Not only is Uruguay the least corrupt of Latin American countries, but the country also sends more troops to support the United Nations than others, church and state are entirely separate, the government handed out free laptops to all of its students to improve education, and even one of its presidents was so humble he lived on a farm instead of a mansion and donated 90 percent of his salary to charity.
All we can say is ... wow!
Area: 195,364 square miles
Population: 46.94 million
Number of Spanish Speakers: 46.47 million
Number of Visitors: 83.7 million
How Spain Compares
Why wouldn't the place that started it all be the best Spanish-speaking country?
Spain is a fabulously beautiful country with delicious food and wine. And it offers so many choices of places to see and things to do. Will it be Barcelona's artistically inspired architecture, the cosmopolitan Madrid, the culture of Seville, the hiking trails in the mountains, a pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago, dancing until sunrise on the island of Ibiza?
Maybe the question should be what won't you do when you visit Spain.