CENTRAL AMERICA TRAVEL GUIDE

Surrounded by the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, the slender land bridge of Central America runs from Mexico to South America and is made up of seven countries: Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.

Political and civil unrest in the 1980s kept most tourists away for decades (people never forget bad news), but now the area is becoming hotspot for travelers, surfers, luxury travelers, and even retirees.

Why?

Because Central America is beautiful, filled with history, affordable, and much safer than it used to be.

While there are still regions where you need to be vigilant, people have realized that it’s not the place the media makes it out to be. The region’s rainforests are filled with unexplored Mayan ruins and wildlife, its beaches are great for surfing, its reefs offer world-class diving, there’s a huge variety of flora and fauna here, and the cheap accommodation, food, and transport throughout the region make it a budget traveler’s dream.

I’m glad the collective consciousness is shifting and people are finally recognizing how amazing this area. I began my nomadic life traveling around Central America and whenever I return, I fall in love even more with the friendliness of the people, the tasty food, the weather, the history, and the beauty.

This travel guide to Central America will give you all the tips to help you plan your trip, stay safe, and save money in this underrated region of the world.

Top 5 Things to See and Do in Central America

1. Explore the volcanoes

This region is rich in volcanoes — both active and inactive. You can hike, take a horse up, and even roast marshmallows at Pacaya (Guatemala), known for frequently erupting in ash clouds. Poás (Costa Rica) is famous for its green volcano crater lake, Arenal has hiking trails, geothermal springs, a gorgeous rainforest area with waterfalls, ziplining tours and a plethora of wildlife. Masaya in Nicaragua is well known for its spectacular crater lava lake that you can visit at night to truly see the bubbling lava (coined ‘La Boca de Infierno’ (or ‘Mouth of Hell’). For adventure seekers, don’t miss trying some adrenaline-inducing sandboarding down Cerro Negro volcano in Nicaragua.

2. See Mayan ruins

Central America has many ruin sites. Tikal, in Guatemala, is an enormous national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site with centuries of Mayan history and archeology covered in lush vegetation and rare tropical wildlife. Copán in Honduras dates back to the 5th century and boasts intricate stelae, tunnels, a hieroglyphic stairway, and lush tropical vegetation filled with monkeys, sloths, parrots, and macaws. Meanwhile, Xunantunich is one of Belize’s most impressive and easily accessible Maya sites known for its scenic location in the middle of the jungle. Last but not least, San Andrés archeological site in El Salvador is the largest pre-hispanic ruins site in the country and includes pyramids and ancient plazas. The intricate wall carvings, imposing pyramids, and crumbling columns should not be missed. Prices vary but expect to spend around $20 USD for admission.

3. Relax on Caye Caulker, Belize

This little island is incredibly popular with backpackers. It’s less expensive than some of the larger islands in the country and has a relaxed atmosphere to it. There is something here for everyone and there is way more to do here than just lay out on the exquisite beaches (although this is definitely a place you could chill for a few days). However, it’s also a spectacular place to see the delicate ecosystems of Caye Caulker Forest Reserve, which is filled with rare tropical plants and marine life. Caye Caulker is also a great place to snorkel with nurse sharks, dive the Belize Barrier Reef or the Great Blue Hole, swim with gentle manatees, or just kayak around “The Split” in paradise. July is a great time to go because of their famous lobster festival, offering tasty lobster as well as lively beach parties.

4. See the Panama Canal

First opened in 1914, the Panama Canal is an 80-kilometer (50-mile) marvel of human labor and engineering. 13,000-14,000 ships cross between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean every single year thanks to the canal (nearly a million boats have crossed since its construction). The canal raises ships an impressive 27 meters (85 feet) using a complex lock system, so it takes 8-10 hours for each boat to cross. The Canal relies on three sets of locks: Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks on the Pacific side and Gatun Locks on the Caribbean side. The most common place to see the canal is at Miraflores Locks in Panama. Admission is $20 USD.

5. Trek through the rainforests

Much of Central America is covered in lush and humid rainforests. A popular way to see these is to take a canopy tour, where you’ll be suspended on a zip-line and glide over the tops of the trees. The rainforests are filled with howler monkeys, jaguars, lizards, tropical birds, and so much more. Check out Costa Rica’s Volcán Arenal or La Fortuna Zip lines for breathtaking scenic views. Or Guatemala’s Atitlán canopy tours, where you can zip right over the stunning blue lake below. Honduras’s remote paradise Roatán Island offers incredible zip line views of its perfect crystal coast before sunning on the beach too. Expect to pay $40-65 USD.

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