Central America Highlights...
Despite her slender figure, you won’t be able to see and do everything that Central America has to offer on your first trip, and you’d be mad to try! Above all, this region oozes culture in abundance and offers an array of ways to interact with it and get really stuck in. You’ll also find a pleasing amount of adventure activities to get your heart racing and, of course, a fair share of lively booze-fuelled party towns. Compare Central America's highlights to Asia’s and Australasia’s ‘best bits’ to help you choose a region. Here are a few things you should try and cram into your itinerary:
ANCIENT MAYAN RUINS Feel small and insignificant as you gaze up at some magnificent Mayan ruins. Being the biggest, set deep in the jungle, and laying half unexcavated, popular Tikal in Guatemala grabs the headlines and gets the biggest ‘wows’. However, while mighty Tikal dwarfs them all, other equally intriguing Mayan sites can be found scattered throughout Central America – from the cliff-top ruins at Chichén Itza in Mexico to the hilly inland setting of Copán in Honduras, each has site had its own distinctive and enchanting appeal
CAYE CAULKER (Belize) Do as little as you like on this laidback Caribbean island of sand streets, airy beachfront shacks and friendly islanders. Watersports are the name of the game here where, if you can snap out of relaxation mode and stagger away from the chilled-out bars, you can find some world class diving and snorkelling in Belize’s awesome Blue Hole or cruise the perfect turquoise waters on a peaceful sailboat
CENOTÉ EXPLORATION (Mexico) Take diving to a different level – there’s simply very few places in the world where you can find a series of pitch black and flooded underground caverns to explore. It’s even rarer to find Cenotés that are so accessible to the ‘average backpacker’. You’ll find a range of snorkelling & diving options in Mexico’s hippie town of Tulum
VOLCANO HIKING & BOARDING (Guatemala, Nica & Costa Rica) Navigate foggy asteroid-like terrain, toast marsh mellows and sizzle steaks over flowing lava and red hot crevices – thankfully, it appears that the health & safety rules in Antigua are very relaxed so you can get up close and personal with one of nature’s most powerful beasts! If you want to take it to the extreme, why not surf down the side of a conical peak on a ‘volcano board’ in León (Nicaragua)
HOT SPRINGS Soothe your aching muscles, get wrinkly and stew in hot springs with a beer or two in the geothermal active countries of Guatemala and Costa Rica. Steer clear of the overdeveloped concrete ones that are targeted at package-holidaymakers, ask around and seek-out the real-deal. It’s pure relaxation
TOP NOTCH SPANISH SCHOOLS (Guatemala) Get to grips with the local lingo and interact with the Latino folk and enrol on a top-notch course for next to nothing. While the well-renowned and charming town of Antigua is the most popular place to train your tongue, other less-travelled towns like Quetzaltenango also offer good wallet-friendly Spanish schools – and without the distracting nightlife and outdoor activities of lively Antigua!
SALSA CLASSES Learn to swing your hips and impress the opposite sex in true Latino style! If you look hard enough and ask the locals, you can find quality little dancing outfits that offer one-to-one tuition
COLONIAL TOWNS Central America boasts some of the best well-preserved colonial towns in the world. From 16th century Granada and its colonial rival León in Nicaragua to the slightly less-travelled examples of Quetzaltenango in Guatemala and San Cristóbal de Las Casa in Mexico, they’re as interesting as they are varied. These enchanting towns will engage with even the most hardened culture-sceptic and slowdown the most hurried traveller
NATIONAL PARKS This compact region is blessed with an abundance of biodiversity and dense tropical forest and thankfully a lot of this is now protected. From Belize’s Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary to Costa Rica’s isolated Parque Nacional Totuguero, wherever you are in Central America you’ll have a unique opportunity to explore some stunning pockets of pristine natural beauty. Jungle walks reward you with the ‘symphony of the forest’, sightings of monkeys, birds, crocs and turtles and even rare glimpses of elusive big-cats
CANOPY ZIP LINING (Costa Rica) Attach yourself to over a kilometre of wire suspended high in the rainforest canopy, lift your legs and eagerly wait for a gentle push that’ll send you whizzing through the treetops at high speed before emerging from of the canopy to find yourself hundreds of feet in the air over deep gorges, fast-flowing rivers and magnificent waterfalls – welcome to Zip Lining! You’ll find these heart racing ‘zip-line’ tours in La Fortuna (Costa Rica)
BUDGET DIVING (Honduras) Get stalked by gangs of friendly sharks, swim with graceful manta rays, glide through schools of tropical fish and feast your eyes on vibrant coral reef – Central America offers some fantastic diving sites. From Belize’s impressive Caribbean Blue Hole to the prime Pacific dives sites just off Playa Tamarindo, you’ve got two coastlines and two mighty oceans to scuba dive in! Moreover, you’ll find the world's cheapest diving at the legendary shoe-stringer’s island of Utila – it doesn’t get cheaper than this
SURFING From the little known and laidback surf retreats along El Salvador’s coast to the crowded waves of San Juan del Sur, this region boasts some awesome breaks to ride. Whether you’re an eager beginner or a seasoned pro, the majority of beaches are awash with a friendly surf culture where it’d just be rude not to get involved!
BOCAS DEL TORO (Panama) Panamas premier hotspot is home to laidback locals and an upbeat traveller’s scene. Cracking nightlife is complemented by a fair share of activities on and off the shore and some funky backpacker digs – check out the innovative wooden ‘Aqua Lounge’ that extends over the sea and is reachable by boat from the ‘mainland’. In fact, Bocas del Toro is actually a small six-island archipelago, so if the hangovers get too much boat-it to the next island in search of seclusion! You’d be crazy to miss out
OFF-THE-BEATEN TRACK Despites its compact size, this region offers some superb opportunities to venture where fewer travellers go and reward yourself with authentic encounters with minority groups, untouched landscapes, wild and remote rainforest and barren beaches. The La Mosquitia region, stretching across the eastern parts of Honduras and Nica, offers primetime isolation and appealing challenges while pretty much the whole of El Salvador offers more manageable off-the-beaten track adventures for the slightly less-experienced
BEERS & SPIRITS Knock back the famous tipples of Mexico that include Sol, Corona and Tequila and discover some local treats such as Flor de Ca?a in Nicaragua as you delve deep into this fascinating and varied region. Forget buckets, they’re so Asia, drink your rum and coke from see-through bags with a straw – very handy for ‘on-the-bus’ drinking! After many rum induced hangovers, you’ll become quite the rum connoisseur!
FOOD Forget your American style Tex-Mex, drop into the local markets and snack at the food shacks to discover the real taste of Central America. There’s more than just ‘rice and beans’ or deep fried plantain! So travel your taste buds and stay away from the boring tourist-orientated eateries and embark on a grand flavour trail
BEACHES From the golden-sand beaches of Costa Rica and the popular strips in Mexico to El Salvador’s underrated black-sand beauties and the empty sands of the Corn Islands, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to beaches in Central America. You’ll come back the deepest shade of brown, no worries!