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Destination of the Month: Central America

July 1, 2017

 

Central America has so many choices, it will make your head spin. But don’t worry, we’re here to help. 


There are rainforests to hike, volcano peaks to climb, coral reefs to scuba dive, and colonial splendour to enjoy. You might not see everything in one trip, but you can certainly try. 


Seven nations comprise Central America: Costa Rica, Guatemala, Belize, Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras and El Salvador.


The region is located in the southernmost tip of North America.


Its forests are sparsely populated with mammals, generously populated with reptiles, and rich in birds and insects.


There’s no need to limit yourself to one location. Unlike intrepid explorer Levison Wood, we don’t expect you to trek 1800 miles across the region.

 

From Costa Rica, it’s a short flight to Nicaragua, for a more off-the-beaten-track experience. Or combine the culture and Mayan ruins of Guatemala with the nature and pristine beaches of Belize. 


We’ve put together an introduction to this beautiful region. Get ready, you’re about to be spoilt for choice.

Costa Rica

 

 

The world’s natural playground, and the happiest nation on earth


Breathtaking nature, fascinating wildlife and endless adventures to embark on. It’s easy to see why Costa Rica has continued to flourish as a destination over recent years. 


Bordering the Atlantic in the east, and the Pacific on the west, the country offers a contrast in cultures. The remote Caribbean coasts are brimming with wild vegetation, sandy beaches and coral reef. The pacific beaches are more developed, with towns that boast beautiful hotels and excellent restaurants. 


The dry and high season runs from December to April, and the green season (also the best time to see wildlife) lasts from May to November. Between the end of July and mid-October the green sea turtles come to Tortuguero for nesting.

 

 

Costa Rica is thought to have the highest density of biodiversity worldwide. While encompassing just one third of a percent of Earth’s landmass, it contains four percent of species thought to exist on the planet. 

 

Offering a wide variety of tours, visitors can hike along the national park trails or experience the rainforest through a Canopy Tour. Other activities include horseback riding along the beach, kayaking through mangroves or sailing the ocean. 

 

Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose, is situated in the heart of the country, making it the perfect gateway to the rest of the region. With direct flights from the UK, it’s never been easier to explore paradise. 

 

Sat within Costa Rica’s northern lowlands, the Arenal Volcano is covered with tropical rainforest. It’s a sightseer's dream and with an abundance of outdoor activities including rope climbing, hiking and riding along the volcano, it’s one to have on your bucket list. 

 

 

Famous for its sabanero (cowboy) culture, North Guanacaste has a mythical aura. Industrious and free-spirited, the region has a host of beautiful landscapes that go from tropical dry forest to white sandy beaches. Home to the most important nesting site for the leatherback turtle, Guanacaste is great for surfing, snorkelling and hiking through the popular National Park.

 

The natural beauty of Osa Peninsula arguably makes it the most beautiful region in Costa Rica. Declared ‘one of the most biologically intense places on earth’ by the National Geographic Magazine, the pristine rainforests have become the eco-tourism hotspot in the country. It’s also home to rare and endangered animals, including puma, jaguar and scarlet macaw. After spending some time here, you will see why the most commonly used phrase by Costa Ricans is Pura Vida, meaning ‘pure life’. 

 

Guatemala

 

 

A distinctive culture, rich history and the natural beauty of the land, has made Guatemala a country that offers much to those willing to step off the beaten track. 


From exploring Mayan heritage and colonial cities, to visiting active volcanoes and majestic rivers, Guatemala is full of surprises. 

 

 

Famous for the ruins of once great Mayan cities, millions of Maya people and their culture still remain vibrant. 

 

Chichicastenango is the most alluring spot for visitors, with a walkable town about three hours from Guatemala City.

 

On market days, you will see a flood of Mayans in their traditional clothing buying and selling goods. Mayan priests from far away head here to participate in ancient rites.

 

Among the world’s best-conserved colonial cities, Antigua is a town that makes you feel time might have stopped some 300 years ago. Nestled between active volcanoes and lush vegetation, the region fascinates visitors with colonial architecture, cobbled streets and enchanted gardens. More than 30 monastic orders called Antigua home, leaving stunning monasteries, convents and cathedrals in the town. 

 

 

The western area of the country is home to Lake Atitlán. The mountainous region is known for its indigenous traditions and folklore. The winding mountains, magical volcanoes and beautiful valleys, became the land of ethnic Mayan groups whose traditional indigenous culture continues to reign.

 

 

Considered one of the planet's life-lungs due to its exuberant vegetation, in Tikal, in the far north, you will experience some of the greatest archaeological wonders in the world. The famous Tikal Ruins, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, and its neighbouring ruins are monumental Classical Mayan archaeological cities. Their towering pyramids stretch beyond the highest jungle canopy, providing a mystical view of the area.

 

Belize

 

 

Home to the world’s second largest coral reef and a 200-mile shoreline, the exotic underwater world is Belize’s trademark. 


The cayes, forming the Belize Barrier Reef, consist of over 200 islands protecting 70 different species of corals and more than 400 species of fish. It’s a scuba diver’s dream. 

 

About as untouched as a place can be, you can have one foot in the ocean and the other in the jungle, with the northwest covered in wild rainforests. 

 

Brimming with exotic wildlife, mystical rivers and Mayan ruins, there’s lots to do and see here. From canoe tours down the Macal River, to exploring the Rio Frio while swimming in the natural pools, or spending time relaxing far away from it all on the remote southern beaches. 

 

 

Belize is home to the only pine forest in Central America, a stark contrast to the typical tropical forests. Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve covers nearly 300 square miles with lush green pines that slope down the mountain ranges and rest on the banks of the rivers.

 

Of all the cayes that float off the coast, the most popular is the Ambergris Caye. Despite being Belize’s prime tourist destination, it does not have a ‘touristy’ feel. There are no high-rise hotels, chain stores, or huge gaudy nightclubs. Instead, golf carts and barefooted people share the streets. 

 

At the Creole fishing village of Placencia, white sands dissolve into a clear-water world of unspoiled coral reefs, wild dolphins and exotic fish. The Placencia Lagoon is also an important breeding area for saltwater crocodiles, marine turtles and the rare and endangered manatees. 

 

Nicaragua

 

 

The largest country in Central America, Nicaragua is referred to as ‘the land of volcanoes and lakes’. 


Bordering Costa Rica, the close proximity has encouraged an increase in tourism between the countries. 

 

The most popular destination is the island of Ometepe. Sat in the middle of Central America’s largest freshwater lake, the Lago de Nicaragua, the island was formed by two volcanoes.

 

While the seemly endless supply of surf breaks on the beaches make it a popular spot for surfers, the Pacific side of Nicaragua is brimming with volcanoes ready to be explored. 

 

 

The country offers cultural activities, ranging from theatre to religious sites. In Managua, there are three theatres, each offering a unique ambience and venue for a variety of performances. 

 

The small colonial town of Granada, at the foot of the volcano Mombacho, offers a beautiful stroll through the colourful streets. You can admire the colonial architecture influenced by the Spaniards and the town's Cathedral, regarded as one of the most important colonial buildings in Central America. 

 

 

Nicaragua is full of historical buildings and attractions including the Cathedral of Leon, the colourful markets of Masaya and 78 national parks.

 

For those with a keenness for deep sea fishing, Nicaragua is considered to be the best spot in Central America. Golfers will also be in paradise with the famous Nejapa Golf and Country Club.