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15 Best Places to Visit in Central America
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The entire region of Central America has such a natural beauty for anyone to enjoy without breaking the bank.
The region’s packed with gorgeous beaches, rich wildlife, tropical rainforests, ruins from some of the world’s earliest civilizations, and year-round summertime climates. What more could you want?
The largest city in Panama, Panama City is considered the most cosmopolitan capital in Central America. Located at the entrance to the Panama Canal, the city also is an international finance hub. With a mild climate and surrounded by rainforest, the city is a popular place to live for ex-pat retirees. This historic city has an old town filled with charming buildings as well as trendy restaurants and boutiques.
Located in the Caribbean Sea on the west coast of Panama, Bocas del Toro is an archipelago of six forested islands and numerous smaller uninhabited islets known for their laid-back vibe. The province’s capital city, Bocas del Toro on Isla Colon, is well worth a visit to see its historic Caribbean architecture. Numerous beaches offer white sands while water sports enthusiasts will find adventure in snorkeling, diving, fishing and sailing in the Caribbean.
Arenal is a volcano in Costa Rica’s northern lowlands that was active up until 2010. Although visitors won’t be able to see the volcano spewing ash and lava anymore, they’ll still be treated to stunning sights as they hike in the mountains or raft down the rivers. Arenal is one of Costa Rica’s most scenic and accessible attractions, a must on any visit here.
The Belize Barrier Reef is a 300 kilometer (190 miles) long section of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second largest coral reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It is popular for scuba diving and snorkeling and attracting almost half of all the tourists in Belize. The reef includes the Great Blue Hole, the most famous dive destination in all of Belize. The deeper one dives into this massive sinkhole the clearer the water and the array of bizarre stalactites and limestone formations become more complex and intense.
The Maya ruins of Xunantunich are located atop a ridge above the Mopan River near San Ignacio, within sight of the Guatemala border. Xunantunich has been around since at least 900 BC. The huge dark gray structures stand out against Belize’s blue skies, making for great photo ops. Previous visitors recommend wearing comfortable walking shoes and bringing lots of water.
Nestled in the tropical El Petén rainforests of northern Guatemala, Tikal is among the largest cities of the ancient Mayan civilization. At its peak, it had an estimated population between 100,000 and 200,000. Today, the ruins of its iconic pyramids, palaces, and religious structures—including the towering Temple IV, the tallest pre-Columbian structure in the Americas—are part of the UNESCO-listed 220-square-mile Tikal National Park. On a budget? Guatemala is also one of the most affordable vacation spots.
If private and picturesque describe your dream getaway, let us turn your attention to the San Blas Islands, an archipelago off the Caribbean coast of Panama. Of the approximately 365 isles and cays, only 49 are inhabited, the rest remain unaffected by the other trappings of modern life. The best way to see these remote treasures is to organize a day or week-long boat trip.
It's easy to fall in love with Granada: This historical city is distinguished by its well-preserved colonial architecture and cobblestone streets. Iglesia La Merced, originally built in 1539, still retains its baroque beauty thanks to meticulous restoration efforts. To the south, Mombacho Volcano Nature Reserve, Lake Nicaragua, and the Islets of Granada offer ample opportunities for exploration.
Peninsula Papagayo is paradise. Pure and simple. This 14,000-acre oasis in the northwest Guanacaste province is a center of ecotourism, famed for its lush rainforests, rocky coves, miles of pristine beaches, and warm Pacific waters. It's also home to the recently-renovated and ultra-luxurious Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo, the only Forbes five-star-rated property in Central and South America. Craving some adventure? Try zip-lining, surfing, or paddle boarding.
Situated in the highlands of southern Guatemala, Antigua is renowned as the best-preserved colonial city in the region and a hub of Spanish-language learning with dozens of dedicated schools and immersion programs. Its impressive architecture—baroque-style churches, plazas, and prominent 16th-century landmarks such as Santa Catalina Arch—is made even more stunning set against the awe-inspiring volcanic backdrop.
Roatán is located 40 miles off the northern coast of Honduras and is the largest of the Bay Islands. Ringed by the massive Mesoamerican Reef, it's renowned for its abundant marine life and is one of the premier snorkeling and scuba diving spots in the world. From zip-lining to exploring the botanical gardens, there's plenty to explore on land too.
Spanning nearly half of the Osa Peninsula, Corcovado National Park is one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet. It's home to 500 species of trees and an equally astounding variety of wildlife, including tapirs, jaguars, giant anteaters, harpy eagles, sloths, and largest population of scarlet macaws in Costa Rica. Nature lovers can embark on multi-day excursions to explore the lush rainforests, rivers, mangrove swamps, and beaches.
One of Nicaragua's oldest cities, as well as its political and intellectual center, León is brimming with history, culture, and architectural grandeur. From the colonial-era buildings to the awe-inspiring Basílica de la Asunción (the largest cathedral is the largest in Central America), its faded beauty knows no bounds. Museum and art galleries abound. The energy—youthful, dynamic, and deeply passionate—is contagious. And that's just part of the reason that Nicaragua is one of the fastest-growing tourism destinations in the world.
Belize's largest island, Ambergris Caye, is the crown jewel of its tourism industry. And its main draw is the Belize Barrier Reef. A quarter-mile offshore, it boasts some of the most magnificent snorkeling and dive sites in the world, including the protected Hol Chan Marine Reserve—just a 10-minute boat ride from the main town of San Pedro. The attitude is laid-back—golf carts are the preferred mode of transportation—and you can just as easily spend your days popping into Belizean art galleries and souvenir shops as you can lounging on the white sand.
Set on the southern tip of Costa Rica's Pacific coast, Santa Teresa has unspoiled beaches, surf breaks, consistent 80-degree temps, and laid-back vibe. Beyond riding the waves and soaking up some sun, vacationers can destress with ocean-view yoga classes and holistic spa treatments. Hungry? It's all about eating clean, a philosophy that comes to life through the many local seafood joints and fresh juice shops.