Which Countries Should You Visit In Central America?

Although they run along a similar theme, the countries of Central America are surprisingly diverse. To give you an idea, here is our super quick guide to the countries of Central America and the countries you might consider visiting.

The Countries of Central America (Photo Credit: <a href="http://www.wikipedia.org/">Wikipedia</a>)

The Countries of Central America (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

BELIZE

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San Pedro Beach in Ambergris Caye, Belize (Photo Credit: Adam Reeder)

Belize is one of the most  popular countries for tourists in Central America, being home to the second largest coral reef system in the world draws crowds. Unsurprisingly then, the major of tourists attractions here are based around the water and nearby islands (referred to as ‘Cayes’, some inhabited – most not). The cayes are great for getting a taste of the Caribbean, chilling on sandy beaches and venturing out to explore the beautiful reefs and marine life. The ‘Great Blue Hole‘ lies here, which pops up when people start talking about the greatest natural wonders of the world.

Head inland for a completely separate range of attractions. For a small county, Belize offers good diversity and inland you will find activities based around cave and river networks and Mayan ruins (for Mayan artifacts in a cave see here). Belize is sparsely populated which has allowed for  large tracts of jungle to be kept intact – allowing for an impressive diversity of wildlife (amongst the best in Central America).

To emphasis the countries diversity, peoples of many backgrounds call Belize home, including Creoles, Mayans, Mennonites, Chinese business owners, and North American expats all living in this small country. Belize is especially popular with  North American tourists who fly down for the week (popular in part because English is the official language). This popularity means tours can be expensive. Read more about travel tips or things to do in Belize.

Great for: People who like exploring nature, either the  underwater variety or amongst the jungle and for people that like chilling on sandy Caribbean islands.

 

PANAMA

Panama_Skyline

Panama City Skyline

Panama is arguably the most overlooked country in Central America by tourists, the reputation of Costa Rica draws tourists north of the border. Great for exploring beautiful beaches, uninhabited tropical islands, unique Indigenous cultures and the best skyline in Central America. One of the more unappreciated countries in the region. Panama has great diversity of wildlife (especially birds) and excellent Caribbean islands to explore. As it was put to us, the attractions of Panama remain a little more hidden and you will need to try harder to discover them than in some other Central American countries. In Panama we enjoyed a good mix of history, nature,   culture and city life.  For those looking for equally beautiful forest to Costa Rica, but with less crowds and gringos (and less tour options), consider Panama. Panama is a little more developed than other Central American countries, but at the same time as a rugged side (home to the infamous Darien Gap). The country also has a ridiculous number of bird species, if you are into the sort of thing. Panama City itself is a little congested and crowded but does offers a few choice attractions (the Panama Canal is close by). Read more about travel tips or things to do in Panama in our post.

Great for: Exploring sandy Caribbean Islands and indigenous cultures (or just the San Blas where you can do both at the same time).

 

COSTA RICA

La Fortuna Waterfall, Costa Rica

La Fortuna Waterfall, Costa Rica

Costa Rica draws by far the biggest crowds of any Central American country. Tourism is the name of the game here and every corner of the country has something to please the tourist. Costa Rica has an impressive record of protecting  its environment, much of the country is covered is stunning forests and there is a truly amazing diversity of animals that call the county home. Some forests are teeming with wildlife. Virtually all tourist attractions are of the nature/outdoorsy variety, often with some adventure or adrenaline pumping action thrown in. Adventure tours are very popular in Costa Rica and can be found all over the country.

Costa Rica is also the most expensive country to visit and your money won’t go as far as in other countries. This might not be a problem for tourists that only have a short opportunity to take a vacation, as the amount of activities on offer is unbeatable.  The country is one of the safest in the region, the locals are friendly and many speak excellent English. Read more about travel tips or things to do in Costa Rica.

Great for: Doing  nature and adventure based activities and seeing a great diversity of wildlife.

 

NICARAGUA

View overlooking Granada, Nicaragua

View overlooking Granada, Nicaragua

Nicaragua is an increasingly popular place for people to visit. The country is becoming people with tourists seeking a cheaper, less touristy and more real/rustic experience than it’s southern neighbor (Costa Rica). And it is sound logic. Often visited by people seeking a cheaper or less touristy equivalent to  Costa Rica. Cheap and a host of outdoorsy activities to do (climbing  volcanoes, surfing, SCUBA etc). Throw in some nice old colonial Spanish towns. Is a hip place to visit right now, popular by tourists seeking a more cheaper, less touristy and more rustic or real travel experience than Costa Rica.The north of the country is popular people with that want explore volcanoes (including hiking up them and boarding back down). Often  visited by people seeking a cheaper or less touristy equivalent to  Costa Rica. Cheap and a host of outdoorsy activities to do (climbing  volcanoes, surfing, scuba etc). Nice colonial Spanish towns and good  cigars. Tourists seem to have discovered Nicaragua and enjoying it. Read more about travel tips or things to do in Nicaragua.

Great for: Old Spanish colonial towns, cheap travels and adventures on volcanoes

 

HONDURAS

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One of the countries listed here which is least explored by tourists. Honduras offers on a small number of sites which tourists normally visit (Copan Ruins and The Bay Islands Islands, with stops over in some of the larger cities). Head away from these places and you will see few tourists, but chances of running into troubles rising considerably also (in our experience). The northern beaches of Honduras form the fringe of the Caribbean. Similar to Belize, a great place to get a taste for Caribbean culture if your trip doesn’t include a trip to one of the islands. Similarly the most northerly parts of Honduras form part of the second largest Barrier Reef in the world. Amongst the cheapest scuba diving in the world. Home to one of our favorite spots in Central America (Utila). Read more about travel tips or things to do in Honduras.

Great for: Mayan ruins, white water rafting, SCUBA Diving, snorkeling… and  saying you have visited the city with the highest homicide rate in the world (is that a thing?).

 

EL SALVADOR

Sunset on El Tunco, El Salvador

Sunset on El Tunco, El Salvador

El Salvador is a bit off the tourist trail with no clear locations that all tourists are likely to visit. The fact that it is a bit off the tourist track is an attraction in unto itself. The visitors that do make it mostly head to the small laid-back surfing  towns which dot the coastline. The one place in country where you are sure to find tourists gathering is on it’s eastern beaches, seems to draws surfers from far and wide- there is little to do but surf (or attempt to) in the towns. The capital is more attractive than other Central American capitals. Easy and cheap to get around on Chicken bus network (small country and most routes lead to Santa Ana or San Salvador). Volcanoes, beaches, coffee and civil war history popular with other tourists are amongst the most popular destinations for tourists. Semi-ridiculous number of volcanoes for such a small country which can also be visited. Good place to do touristy things with the locals, and not other gringo tourists. Read more about travel tips or things to do in El Salvador.

Great for: Getting off the tourist trail and visiting laid-back surfing towns.

 

GUATEMALA

La Merced Church, Antigua, Guatemala

La Merced Church, Antigua, Guatemala

Another popular country to  visit. Good for people wanting to check out Mayan culture (both current and historical). Also has the highest rated attraction in  Central America on TripAdvisor (Antigua, old Spanish town). Has  something like 30 volcanoes so it is almost mandatory to visit a volcano  when you visit. Learning Spanish and  enjoying some great coffee are also popular. Guatemala and in particular Antigua is a popular place to learn Spanish. Extensive Mayan culture means Guatemala should be high up on list of places to go in central America. Guatemala is also home to the number one destination in Central America according to Trip Adivsor – the town of Antigua (this either means you should definitely check it out or definitely avoid it, your choice depending on what type of traveller you are). Many  backpackers don’t like Antigua too much, considering it overly pricey touristy and a little dull.  At the same  you can’t deny it is a pretty place with some great Volcanoes nearby. Worth checking out to see what changes mass tourism and ex-pats brings to a place. We liked Antigua, maybe because we covered it fairly early on in our trip. Read more about travel tips or things to do in Guatemala.

Great for: Checking out the world of the modern day Mayans and hiking up and down some amazing volcanoes.

 

YUCATAN PENINSULA (Mexico)

Playa Del Carmen Beach, Mexico

Playa Del Carmen Beach, Mexico

And finally Mexico, not technically apart of Central America but included here because it is often included in any trip to the region. The Yucatán Peninsula is home to some of the most beautiful beaches you might ever see  and plenty of great water-sports (on, under and above the water). Everyone that visits Mexico seems to have good things to say about it, so odds are – you will too. The food is tasty, beaches beautiful, there is a strong culture and diverse landscapes – essentially there is plenty to see and do. Read more about travel tips or things to do on the Yucatán Peninsula in our post.

Great for: For beautiful beaches, great food, SCUBA Diving or snorkeling and  swimming with Whale Sharks

 

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