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.
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.
This a very frequent question, but the answer depends on the type of traveler.
There are 4 viable options to evaluate:
Here is my recommendation list of “the most attractive countries” to visit:
Mother Nature´s Best Kept Secret.
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.
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.
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.
Land of Lakes and Volcanoes. Pristine nature, paradisiacal beaches, active volcanoes, crater lagoons, and colonial cities create a unique mix.
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.
Essential. Costa Rica is the country for nature and luxury lovers. It has nature reserves which are key to the world´s biodiversity conservation.
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 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.
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.
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.
The most colorful and folkloric town in Nicaragua is Masaya. Hand-made wooden, leather, and cotton products as clothing, shoes, bags, decorations, and souvenirs fill the Masaya Market as well as traditional meals and beverages. Add an ounce of adventure by visiting an active volcano standing right in front of the lava lake at its crater.
If you are a history lover, León is your place to explore in one day. León city was once the capital of Nicaragua and today is one of the most important cities in the country. It has 2 World Heritage by UNESCO, the largest Cathedral of Central America, active volcanoes, the first university of the country and more.