Central America is bordered by Mexico to the north and Colombia to the south and is a big part of the Mesoamerican Biodiversity Hotspot. The region has a population of some 40 million people, spread across seven countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.
The entire area is packed with beautiful beaches, incredible wildlife, tropical rainforests, ancient ruins and bustling, vibrant cities. There’s also a grand mix of cultures in friendly colonial towns, delicious food, and more.
While increasingly gaining in popularity among avid travellers, it can be hard to know where to start with so many amazing places to see and things to do across the 7 countries. So, we’ve put together our top, must-see, places in Central America below.
The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest in the world. With over 100 different types of coral and 500 species of fish, sharks and turtles, the Reef is unmissable for scuba divers and snorkelers. For divers, the famous Blue Hole with underwater caves and walls is a must.
There’s more for adventure seekers too, with Belize’s sandy islands, ideal for kayaking, windsurfing, paddle-boarding, and more. Caye Caulker is one such island, combining dense forest and diverse wildlife, including over 500 bird species, with diving spots on the Belize Barrier Reef.
Famous for its sustainable tourism, by developing infrastructure using green energy, Costa Rica is also one of the world’s most biodiverse countries. There’s more than half a million species, making for incredible rainforest hikes, including stunning trails in the many National Parks & Reserves. Manuel Antonio National Park as well as Tortuguero National Park are two prime examples, with incredible biodiversity. You’ll find everything, from rainforests to swamps and from beaches to lagoons.
Arenal Volcano National Park is another of these, protected, areas. Known for its hot springs and the active Arenal Volcano -to which the Park owes its name- there’s also an abundance of wildlife, including jaguars and tree frogs.
Often, not much is known in terms of what El Salvador has to offer. Generally the country has a bad rep and top online search-terms can be summed up in some form of: is El Salvador safe to visit?
Yet this tiny Central American country has so much to offer: from world-class surfing, to awesome coffee plantations and colonial villages. One of the best ways to soak it all in, is the Ruta de las Flores. You’ll pass by a handful of picturesque towns, enjoy the delights of the local food, stroll through the local markets and learn everything about El Salvador’s famous coffee. You’ll lose count of the colourful flowers along your way if you travel between November and February.
You can add adventure to the experience by hiking and swimming in waterfalls, mountain-bike your way down scenic trails, and zip-line through lush forests.
Everything just seems to come together in Guatemala. While the ancient ruins of Tikal are the country’s most famous spot, Guatemala really has it all. There’s volcanoes, jungles and natural scenery, rural towns and villages, the old colonial capital of Antigua and the Maya-influenced lives of villagers in the highlands.
The deepest lake in Central America, Lake Atitlan is a natural beauty like no other. The lake has a magical vibe, surrounded by volcanoes, mountains and many waterside towns and villages. Where else can you paddle board, kayak, paraglide and scuba dive all in the same place?
Similar to El Salvador, Honduras has battled an image of insecurity, criminality and violence. However, Honduras is slowly beginning -and proving- that there is much more to do and see than its negative reputation implies. All the elements are there: from vast wildlife to ancient Mayan ruins, as well as National Parks and second-to-none diving spots in Utila and Roatan.
Still relatively unknown, the island of Utila is not to be missed. It’s tiny, by the way, at just 10km at its widest point. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for with spectacular marine life, corals, street food, its cosy and rustic town centre as well as the nightlife, with locals and foreigners interacting joyously.
Nicaragua is Central America’s biggest country. Known as the Land of Lakes and Volcanoes, its geography is incredibly diverse. Beaches, jungles and (underwater) caves all form part of the landscape, along with the lakes and volcanos which give the country its nickname.
Isla de Ometepe is perhaps the most well-known spot, with the island’s pair of majestic volcanic peaks soaring out of Lago de Nicaragua. It goes without saying then that volcano climbing is the big attraction, though the lush jungle with diverse wildlife, black sand beaches, freshwater pools and scattered archaeological sites are equally stunning.
Did you know Panama is the only country in the world where you can watch the sun rise over the Pacific Ocean and set over the Atlantic? Or that the country actually saw economic growth during the 2007-2009 global economic crisis?
Famous for its canal that carries the same name, there’s so much more Panama has to offer.
The capital, Panama City, is a bustling, cosmopolitan metropolis with tall sky scrapers, big malls and awesome nightlife. At the same time, the historic and charming Casco Viejo is full of narrow brick streets, stylish colonial houses as well as churches and plazas.
The National Parks of Coiba and Soberanía are full of mammal, bird, amphibian and reptile species. Boquete, a small town set in the highlands of Panama, is the top spot for adventure seekers. Besides delicious coffee plantations, there’s ample options for rafting, hiking, climbing nature viewing and more. Panama’s only volcano, Volcán Barú, is just 9 km away.
Ready to discover Central America? Check out or adventure travel experiences yourself now.