5 fabulous dance and music styles from Latin American

There is something intoxicating about Latin American music and dance. Here, we explore some of the most emblematic styles from the region.
Samba costume during carnaval street parade in Brazil. Photo: SBratock/Shutterstock
Samba costume during carnaval street parade in Brazil. Photo: SBratock/Shutterstock

Latin American music and dance is sexy, sensual, and stirring. From sizzling salsa in Cuba to the intensity of Argentina’s tango, a trip to Latin America is guaranteed to get your hips swaying. If delving into the region’s music and dance is enough to whet your appetite for a visit, we’ve paired each country or area with a trip to get you started. Our local experts are knowledgeable about all coronavirus measures and restrictions still in place, so you can check the latest situation with them and book your travels in total confidence. 

1. Cuba

Salsa is a way of life across much of Latin America, where every country champions its own brand. On the Caribbean island-nation of Cuba, salsa is danced to Afro-Cuban beats and has a more urban feel than many other forms of the dance. Here, music blasts from street corners and wafts from rooftop restaurants, and you’re never far from an impromptu salsa session. Give it a go yourself by booking onto Insight Guides’ Salsa Cubana trip or Cuba: A Feast for the Senses.   

Salsa dancers. Photo: Ioana Catalina E/Shutterstock    

2. Mexico 

Mariachi music is one of the most famous sounds in Mexico – and is almost universally associated with the country beyond its borders. Think of Mexican music, and chances are you’ll picture a large Mariachi band in full costume (charro suits, cowboy attire from Jalisco), wielding trumpets, guitars, violins, a vihuela, and a guitarron (both relations of the guitar). Mariachi bands gained popularity in the late 1700s or early 1800s, though trumpets only joined the ensemble in the early 20th century. The music is commonly played at important life events and celebrations throughout the country. If you want to hear Mexican music on home turf, listen to Mariachi in Mexico City on our Discovering Central Mexico tour, or discover the tones of Chiapas by booking onto Mexico’s Churros and Chiapas

Two Mariachis in Mexico. Photo: Chuck Rausin/Shutterstock

3. Argentina and Chile

In Argentina and Chile, the tango is an important part of today’s culture and yesterday’s heritage. The dance is best characterized as a dialogue between partners – it takes two to tango, after all. Though the tango routines popularized on the big screen are usually choreographed, in the tango salóns of Buenos Aires or milongas in Chile, all the dancing is improvised. Tango music was developed by European immigrants and African slave populations in Argentina and Uruguay in the late 18th and 19th centuries, and most ensembles feature the guitar, bandoneón, piano, violin, flute, and double bass. 

To tango like a pro book onto Argentina: Tango and Glaciers, or if you want to see both countries, select Argentina and Chile: Dazzling Cities and Magical Landscapes

Argentine tango dancers. Photo: Bonnie BC/Shutterstock

4. Brazil

In Brazil, it all starts with samba. The sound and dance of the country’s carnival (Rio’s being the biggest in the world), samba is intrinsically linked to the Brazilian identity. Both a music genre and a dance, samba is famous for its fast steps, swinging hips and the hypnotic rhythms that ring out from steel drums. Samba arrived in Brazil via the Central African slave trade; the very name derives from the Bantu word “semba”, meaning “a man inviting a woman to dance”. Of course, the transported music and dance style mixed with a whole range of influences on Brazilian shores to become what it is today. 

At carnival time, when celebrations erupt around the country to mark the start of Lent, Samba schools lead the parades, their dancers and drummers bedecked in dazzling costumes of bright feathers and glittering sequins. 

To visit Brazil and see the samba up close – when it is safe to do so, of course – book onto Brazilian Beaches: Copacabana, Botafogo and more or Breathtaking Brazil: Rio, Beaches and Waterfalls. Few fail to fall under the country’s spell. 

5. Peru

History runs deep in Peru, famous around the world for its once-mighty Incan Empire and the lofty ruins of Machu Picchu. Naturally, there are a range of traditional folklore music and dance styles offered by this bewitchingly beautiful Andean land. Cultural influences that have helped shape Peru’s folklore music include the wind instruments of the Andes (think: flutes or panpipes), percussion and rhythms from Africa, and stringed instruments and harmonies imported from Europe. Most folkloric music in Peru has an accompanying dance, from huayno to la Marinera, festejo to inga, and different dances are specific to various regions around the country. Dancers frequently don gorgeous, colorful, and hand-embroidered costumes. Discover Peru’s history and culture on Insight Guides’ The Andes to the Amazon: Peru Explored or A Hidden Gem in Peru; the latter takes in some of the country’s less-visited spots.   

Marinera dancers in front of the cathedral in Lima Peru. Photo: Carlos E. Santa Maria/Shutterstock

If you love music and dance, Latin America seems made for you. Whether you’re watching the experts strut their stuff or taking your own dancing shoes out for a spin, these gems will leave you breathless.