Beautiful beaches, active volcanoes, vestiges of extinct civilizations, well preserved colonial cities, modern metropolises, villages forgotten in time. This part of the Earth, located between Colombia and Mexico, and between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, is home to some 43 million people distributed among seven countries that, together, cover an area smaller than the state of Texas or equivalent to that of Thailand or Spain. The diversity of its attractions, however, is ample enough to keep those interested in natural wonders, archeology, history, adventure sports or simply relaxing entertained for a long time.
Let’s be realistic in saying that, for most people, the full extent of Central America cannot (and should not) be covered in a single trip: keep in mind that this is not one of those regions to be visited in a hurry – chances are you will find it worthy or even necessary to stay a little longer somewhere to explore it properly, besides the fact that you may want to allow some margin for unforeseen events when working out the logistics in some areas. If I could offer a piece of advice, it would be to focus in one country or a few of them at a time. A reasonable way to do so is by splitting Central America in three circuits: south (Panama and Costa Rica), center (Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador) and north (Guatemala and Belize), allowing around two weeks for each one of them.
Panama City, San Jose (Costa Rica) and San Salvador (El Salvador) feature the main airports in the whole region, very well connected to the rest of the Americas, with a few direct flights to Europe. Guatemala City and San Pedro Sula (Honduras) are well served by regional airlines. Several bus companies also provide quality and reliable transportation on international routes connecting the Central American countries and even reaching Mexico. Domestically, within each country, most people rely on local buses: the most common ones use to be old school buses brought from the United States that presently offer an extremely inexpensive, if not fast at all, means of transportation. Known as chicken buses, these vehicles frequently have racks hanging from the ceiling to carry luggage (something to keep in mind on rainy days) and are at least an interesting way of getting in touch with the locals. When planning your itinerary, remember that it is not possible to drive between South and Central America, since there aren’t roads along the Darien Gap, in the border between Panama and Colombia – anyways, this region is completely off-limits to tourism due to high safety concerns. The only way to manage this crossing, apart from air travel, is taking a ferry, usually between Cartagena, in Colombia, and Colon, in Panama.
Some of the most popular touristic destinations in Central America are the Mayan ruins of Tikal (Guatemala) and Copán (Honduras). Antigua (Guatemala) and Granada (Nicaragua) are two amazing colonial cities. Nature lovers must visit Ometepe Island (Nicaragua), Volcán Barú National Park (Panama), Monteverde and Manuel Antonio (Costa Rica) and Semuc Champey (Guatemala). The Blue Hole (Belize) and Roatan (Honduras) are great for diving, while Bocas del Toro (Panama), Puerto Viejo de Talamanca (Costa Rica) and San Juan del Sur (Nicaragua) offer good options for surfers and beach goers alike. Besides, travelling though the little explored Miskitia region, in Honduras, or relaxing in small villages along the Flowers Route, in El Salvador, are nice alternatives out of the beaten track. Finally, crossing the Panama Canal, from one ocean to the other is an iconic and unforgettable experience – if, for any reason, that is not possible at least try and visit this wonder of the 20th century engineering.
DESTINATIONS IN CENTRAL AMERICA: