Central America: where jungles whisper ancient secrets and beaches beckon with turquoise waves. Let’s explore the gems that together, make a tropical paradise like no other with this Central America travel guide.
So you’re thinking of a Central America trip? Lucky you. This region consists of seven fantastic countries, each with its own unique culture and choice of natural wonders.
Explore Guatemala’s bubbling volcanos, Belize’s breathtaking coral reefs, Honduras’ Mayan treasures or Costa Rica’s pristine coastline – if you want to live out your childhood dreams as an explorer, Central America is calling!
There’s one problem though. The sheer possibility of it all. From epic jungle adventures, to scenic towns and balmy islands – choosing where to go and what to do in Central America can be quite daunting…
Not anymore. This guide delves right into this captivating region: from the best places to visit to suggested hotels and little-known gems.
The best time to visit Central America is between November and April. This is the dry season for most regions, with temperature variations from country to country. You can explore sandy beaches, Mayan ruins and other landmarks comfortably.
Go between September and October, (rainy season), for waterfall hunting and rainforest tours.
Skyscanner: Find the cheapest flights and best times to fly.
Holiday Autos: Secure the best prices in car rental worldwide with 30,000 pick-up locations.
Omio: An online service for booking trains, buses, and flights worldwide.
Booking.com: Offers airport transfers and accommodation.
G Adventures: A go-to for multi-day expeditions, tours, or safaris.
Where to Stay
Costa Rica remains one of the best countries to visit in Central America for its natural beauty. Hop from one stunning beach to another, hike rainforests to your heart’s content and experience the pura vida lifestyle. Stay at the Royal Corin Resort.
From natural wonders to Mayan ruins, you can’t go wrong staying in Guatemala. Traverse up volcanoes, along lakes, and through rainforests; then embrace the local culture and flavours of Antigua. Stay at Good Hotel.
Belize is a beach haven for water babies. Think palm-fringed shores with white sands, snorkelling, diving, swimming and tanning. If that sounds like your groove, Belize is your top Central American destination. Stay at Belize Ocean Club.
Panama is the perfect Central America travel destination for those who love nature yet dream about the city skyline. See historical landmarks like Old Panama, escape to San Blas Islands or Boquette’s mountains – Panama is your oyster. Stay at JW Marriott.
Central America Visitor Guide: What to Do During Your Central America Trip
Top Things to Do
Enjoy the Relaxed Pace of Antigua, Guatemala
Antigua is a UNESCO World Heritage icon showcasing Spanish Colonial architecture at its best.
Explore Antigua’s serene streets filled with colourful, picturesque buildings – serving as the finest backdrops to fuel your social media pages. Make sure to stop by the Santa Catalina Arch and Iglesia de la Merced.
Climb Volcanoes in Guatemala
A large chain of volcanoes crosses Guatemala — and guess what? Some of these are hikable.
Acatenango Volcano is arguably the best volcano hike to consider; featuring cloud forests, grasslands and rich flora. Santa María Volcano, Pacaya and Fuego Volcano are also fantastic options.
Go Diving and Snorkelling in Caye Caulker, Belize
Head to a Caribbean island off the coast of Belize for some of the best diving and snorkelling in the world.
The sun-soaked shores offer a laid-back vibe – gorgeous sights and tranquil waters complete the picture. Head off on this seven-stop snorkelling tour.
Visit the Mayan Temples, Various Countries
If you’re fascinated by Mayan culture, don’t miss seeing their once-glorious temples up close.
Tikal in Guatemala should be top of your list – standing atop the ancient pyramids in the middle of the jungle, it’s an archaeological treasure.
Other must-visit Mayan Temples include Xunantunich and Altun Ha in Belize.
It’s the smallest national park in Costa Rica and the most popular, boasting pristine beaches, stunning scenery and diverse wildlife. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot sloths, iguanas, Squirrel Monkeys, and more.
Touch the Clouds at Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve, Costa Rica
Ever been to a cloud forest? Visit the magical Monteverde preserve and you’ll be able to say yes!
There’s much to see here, including the highest concentration of orchids, 100 mammal species, 400 bird species, remote beaches and more. Walking across the hanging bridges here is truly surreal.
Hike to Fortuna Waterfall, Costa Rica
If the great outdoors is calling your name, why not hike through lush, verdant forests to the majestic La Fortuna Waterfall in central Costa Rica?
The hike is 0.75 miles / 1.2 km round trip and takes about 45 minutes to complete — expect lots of stairs, though.
Show off Your Dancing Skills in the Azuero Peninsula, Panama
The Azuero Peninsula is famous for a few things: fishing, farming, cattle ranching and partying.
The locals here go all out during their annual carnival celebrations with costumes to humble Brazil, leaving you no choice but to join the festivities.
Visit San Jorge, Nicaragua, to be amidst lush forests, Instagram-worthy views, and live like the locals. This is where you’ll indulge in some of the finest Nicaraguan cuisine, alfresco-style while facing the ocean.
Rincón de la Vieja National Park, Costa Rica
The Rincón de la Vieja Volcano is grossly overlooked by many travellers thanks to the famous Arenal Volcano nearby. But don’t make this same mistake. This park boasts some of the most rewarding and challenging hikes, gorgeous waterfalls, sulphur hot springs, and volcanic mud deposits.
Bayano Caves, Panama
The Bayano Caves are one of Panama’s best-hidden treasures. Found in Lake Bayano, you’ll likely spot howler monkeys, birds, reptiles and even capybaras. Swim in the caves if you dare; regardless, staying dry is impossible with water flowing from the ceilings.
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Belize
Located in Belize, a trip to this hidden sanctuary is precisely what you need to unplug and unwind. Cockscomb Basin is the world’s first jaguar preserve, overflowing with cascading waterfalls, trails, vibrant flora, colourful insects and furry animals.
How to See the Best of Central America for Free
Travelling to Central America on a budget? Try these free activities. Do yourself a favour and visit the best beaches in Costa Rica.
Wandering historic Casco Viejo’s winding streets is a must if you’re in Panama. Then, go up Ancon Hill for breathtaking sweeps over the city for free.
Visit Guatemala’s iconic landmarks for free, too, including Arco de Santa Catalina, Hill of the Cross and Iglesia de la Merced.
Dishes to Try in Central America
Gallo Pinto: Fried rice, beans, veggies, and herbs alongside eggs or meat.
Fiambre: A traditional salad with up to 50 ingredients.
Casado: White rice, beans, meat and salad.
Tres leches cake: Moist sponge cake drenched in three types of milk.
Top Drinks in Central America
Horchata de morro: This drink is made with ground morro (jícaro) seeds and spices.