Traveling Central America


Deciding which country or region will be your next destination could be a little complicated and requires some destination research. I decided to write a few tips for those thinking about traveling to Central America.

What to expect from Central America?

In my experience working in the tourism industry, talking with travelers, private and public institutions, I am well aware that around the globe people see Central America as a dangerous, poor and uncertain region.

I am taking this opportunity to be honest with all travelers:
Central America lived times of civil wars, coup d'etat, guerrillas, and revolutions in the years 1940s–1990s. The constant political instability during those years kept away the economic development, leading to recession and depression. As a consequence of all the turmoil, the region lives in high levels of poverty. Additionally, political and economic instability have been the fixed variables to create violence and uncertainty in the region.

Nevertheless, that era has finished. Despite the tragic history of these countries, nowadays, peace and a kind of stability have made their way in since the 1990s. From then on, international investment has been increasing in generating revenue and employment in the countries, and among them, tourism has been growing as a key to their economy.

Nowadays, traveling Central America lets you enjoy natural beauties that were kept hidden for decades. You will discover guerilla stories combined with native traditions, and modern life.

Which countries should I visit?

This a very frequent question, but the answer depends on the type of traveler.

There are 4 viable options to evaluate:

  • Visiting all the region as a multi-destination excursion in one trip. This is a 20-25-day excursion in which you travel from Belize up to Panama, exploring the highlights of each country. If you want to take advantage of your long haul flight, this might be your option.
  • Visiting the northern triangle of Central America, crossing borders from Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador. These countries have geographic and cultural similarities. It is a trip focused on the Mayan Civilization-ruins and archeology-, volcanoes and jungles.
  • Visiting the southern triangle of Central America, crossing borders of Nicaragua-Costa Rica-Panama. These are more tropical countries, with loud music, vivid colors, and beautiful sunset beaches. The trip is focused on adventures in natural reserves, mountains, volcanoes, and lakes, ending the journey either at the Pacific Coast or Caribbean beaches.
    - My recommendation, visit one country at a time. This way you enjoy the singularity of each country going deeper into its traditions, history, highlights, and off the road sites.

Here is my recommendation list of “the most attractive countries” to visit:

Belize

Mother Nature´s Best Kept Secret.

Photo by Fum Bally

Photo by Fum Bally

The country is known for adventure and ecotourism. Belize has the world´s second-largest coral reef barrier, the largest cave system in Central America, more than 450 cays, vast humid jungles and nature reserves. It is a perfect destination for fishing, surfing, cave rafting, paddle boarding, and other aquatic activities.

If you are a nature-adventure lover, you should visit Mount Pine Ridge Forest Reserve and Barton Creek Cave with their waterfalls, caves, and wildlife.

Caracol is a must if you are more into Mayan archeology.

Finally, if you are in for aquatic adventures, Blue Hole is an impressive natural monument with a coral reef that you do not want to miss on your trip.

Guatemala

Heart of the Mayan World. One of the largest and strongest Mesoamerican Civilizations is the Maya. As of today, their culture is alive and impresses its visitors. Guatemala was first established as the capital of Central America. It is the land of coffee, chocolate, jade, rum, and textiles.

Tikal. Photo by Bosa Tours

Tikal. Photo by Bosa Tours

If you want an enrichment archeological trip, you must visit the National Park of Tikal; add a little adventure by visiting “El Mirador” and Yaxha, both in Petén. You can also combine them with Quiriguá in Izabal and Iximché, a sacred place in Chimaltenango.

If adventure is your word, you should try hiking some volcanoes. The most visited is Pacaya with 2,552 meters height; it is an easy hike where you can see lava coming down its slopes. A challenging option is “Volcán de Fuego”, an active volcano of 3,763 meters height, or even more challenging, the highest volcano of Central America, Tajumulco with its 4,222 meters height.

Some emblematic places are Antigua, Atitlán, Chichicastenango , and Chimaltenango.

Nicaragua

Land of Lakes and Volcanoes. Pristine nature, paradisiacal beaches, active volcanoes, crater lagoons, and colonial cities create a unique mix.

Momotombo Volcano, Nicaragua. Photo by Bosa Tours

Momotombo Volcano, Nicaragua. Photo by Bosa Tours

Traveling throughout Nicaragua does not take many days since sites are close enough to visit them in a few days. In one day, you can be standing on the roof of Central America´s largest Cathedral, sandboarding the youngest active volcano of the region, enjoying a Pacific Coast beach, and lodging in the colonial city of León.

Later, lush vegetation, a hike in an active volcano and another hike in an extinct volcano, a tropical tan on the shores of a lake that looks like an ocean; you definitely should visit the biggest island on a fresh-water lake, Ometepe Island. A paradise.

Costa Rica

Essential. Costa Rica is the country for nature and luxury lovers. It has nature reserves which are key to the world´s biodiversity conservation.

Photo by Atanas Malamov

Photo by Atanas Malamov

Among the most recommended sites is Manuel Antonio National Park, where you can live adrenaline, nature, and beach. Corcovado National Park is one of the most important biological places in the world. Tortuguero and Marino Ballena, both located on the shores of the coast, are impressive marine reserves.

The beaches of Guanacaste, Costa Rica, are famous for being among the top 5 surfing beaches in the world.

Panama

Panama Surprises. Get inspired visiting the human monument that led to a huge commercial impulse in the world, the Panama Canal. Listen to the stories describing what it took to build it, read the facts and be in wonder about how this canal changed the world.

Photo by Angel Silva

Photo by Angel Silva

Additionally, National Parks close to the capital include Chagres, Camino de Cruces, Cerro Ancón, among others with humid and dry forests.

You cannot leave Panama without experiencing the best of its Caribbean beaches where you can do whale or dolphin watching, snorkeling, diving or fishing. Visit Bocas del Toro or Los Santos.

What should I consider for a Central American excursion?

  • A good journey in Central America should last from 10 to 17 days approx.
  • If you decide to visit more than one country at once, choose the countries that suit your traveling profile and check their visa and vaccine requirements at their government websites.
  • If your excursion includes more than one country, be aware you will have to take land transfer connections or regional flights, cross land borders.
  • The official language in all countries -except in Belize- is Spanish. A high percentage of their inhabitants speak English, especially in the tourism industry.

Finally, my greatest recommendation for all travelers:

Do not travel on your own. If you truly want to make out the most of your excursion, investment, and time, hire a Travel Agency at your home country. They will advise you, create a personalized and safe trip. You wouldn't have to worry about land transfers, hotel quality or getting lost at the destination!

There is also the option to book your excursion with a Central American tour operator through their website, just make sure the company is legally registered and licensed by its national tourism board.

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Written by BosaTours
Hi! My name is Elizabeth. I run a Central American Tour Operator, write articles, and coach young people. Bosa Tours & Travel is a Tour Operator that truly believes in showing to the world the authenticity of the Central American countries. We take travelers to discover the roots of our traditions and culture while enjoying captivating natural landscapes and meeting the locals. With excellence, passion, and personalized service including 24/7 phone monitoring, day by day travelers live a unique journey, they live the Bosa Family experience.

Thoughts? Questions?

See also

Tours and activities

Artisans of Antigua Guatemala Day Tour

This tour takes you to the villages surrounding Antigua Guatemala to live Mayan traditions. Learn about artistic textiles, jade production, chocolate, and antique towns.

Atitlán Lake & Locals, Guatemala daytour

Described by travelers as one of the most beautiful lakes in Central America surrounded by an impressive landscape formed by 3 volcanoes and 11 Mayan villages.