The seven small countries between North and South America might be easy to miss on a map; however, they offer a unique blend of cultures, ancient ruins, rainforests and vacation adventures. While there are many fascinating places in Central America that are certainly worth visiting, there are ten must-see places in this amazing part of the world.
1. Panama City, Panama
The most cosmopolitan capital in Central America, Panama City is a vibrant travel destination. A hub of international banking and trade, Panama City also has the colonial neighborhood of Casco Viejo with ruins and cobbled streets. The historical sites, restaurants and lodging in Panama City make this a must-see stop for any traveler to Central America.
Strung between two cloud forests, the corridor consisting of the Tico village of Santa Elena and the Quaker settlement of Monteverde is the place to view one of Central America’s most famous birds, the quetzal.
3. Arenal Route, Costa Rica
The Arenal Route from Ciudad Quesada to Arenal is a beautiful ride. With the backdrop of Volcán Platanar, the road winds through many quaint towns. If the weather cooperates, you can even see the smoking peak of Arenal in the distance.
4. Tikal, Guatemala
The most striking feature of Tikal in Guatamala is its steep-sided temples, more than 44 meters tall. But aside from this, Tikal also differs from other Mayan sites because it’s located deep in the jungle. Its plazas have been cleared of trees and its temples have been uncovered, yet you will find yourself beneath a dense canopy of rainforest, creating an experience not offered by any other Mayan site.
Even seasoned travelers will marvel at this magnificent expanse of Lago de Atitlán and at the picturesque villages along its shores. Fishermen occupy the lake’s surface, while indigenous women congregate along the banks to do their washing. Watching over it all, the volcanoes loom, giving the entire area a mysterious beauty.
6. Hummingbird Highway, Belize
Passing along the northern edges of the Maya Mountain range, Belize’s Hummingbird Highway offers visitors picture-perfect vistas. There are also reasons to stop along the way, including Herman’s Cave, where a guide will lead you through classic Maya ceremonial chambers containing calcified skeletons and artifacts. There’s also the Blue Hole, a 25ft-deep swimming hole that was formed when the roof caved in on one of the Sibun River’s underground tributaries.
7. Ruta de las Flores, El Salvador
Th 36km-long winding Ruta de las Flores through colonial towns is famed for gallery-hopping as well as more adventurous pursuits like mountain biking and hiking to the hidden waterfalls scattered throughout the Cordillera Apaneca. The ‘Flower Route’ is also home to the country’s first coffee plantations and a world-famous weekly food festival.
8. Bay Islands, Honduras
Honduras’s Bay Islands offer some of the best diving and snorkeling in Central America. Perched on the southern tip of the second largest barrier reef in the world, this spot offers amazing reef systems and abundant marine life.
9. Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua
Isla de Ometepe’s twin volcanoes rise out of Lago de Nicaragua. The island’s wide beaches, wildlife and archaeological sites earned it a spot on the 2006 preliminary list for the new Seven Natural Wonders of the World (though it did not make the final cut). Still, it’s a breathtaking site that should not be missed.
10. León, Nicaragua
The city of León has hosted some of Nicaragua’s most important political and artistic moments. Alive with energy, this city boasts exciting street scenes, gourmet eateries and lively nightlife.
Travelers to Central American will realize very quickly that there are few places on earth where they can find vibrant cities, active volcanoes, ancient Maya pyramids and lush tropical canopies in the same place.