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. 

 

Panama

 

 

Linking Central and South America, Panama boasts beautiful nature and pristine beaches. 


A country full of contrasts, visitors can experience the modern city, the impressive Panama Canal, jungle tours to remote mountain villages, Indian tribes and palm-fringed beaches.

 

Modern Panama is characterized by high-rise buildings, where hotels and shops outline the coastal city. Next to it sits the old town, where you can take a stroll through the old quarter to enjoy the colonial architecture and historic buildings.

 

 

The archipelago of San Blas is inhabited by the Kuna Yala tribe and belongs to the kingdom of the indigenous Kuna people. The tribe, which has kept its traditions in the modern world of Panama, live off agriculture and fishing. Kuna Yala is without doubt one of the least explored areas in the Caribbean.  

 

You can’t visit Panama without a trip to the narrowest point of the country, where the Canal cuts through the land. Here visitors can enjoy watching the big ships navigate through the Watergates. 

 

The country’s small islands and sheltered coral reefs will leave you blown away by the snorkelling, sailing and diving experiences on offer. 

 

Honduras

 

 

White beaches, turquoise waters, lush rainforests and fascinating ruins of the Mayan time - Honduras is a paradise for nature lovers and adventurers. 


The chain of islands with coral reefs and crystal clear water mean Honduras’ underwater world is described as the ‘rainforest of the sea’ and lures divers from around the world. 

 

Almost 50% of the country is covered with lush rainforest, which is only partially accessible. Home to one of the largest national parks, Honduras offers endless adventurous tours and activities, including whitewater rafting, jungle hikes and kayaking. 

 

The Mayan ruins in Copan are without doubt among the best preserved and most explored archaeological sites in the world. Here you can combine beautiful beaches with natural beauty and true Mayan history. 

 

El Salvador

 

 

Although El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America, it offers an abundance of attractions. Majestic volcanoes, enchanting lakes, archaeological richness and endless beaches are among the beauty found here. 


The waves are well known among surfers around the world. From quiet stretches of coastline to lively beaches, the country offers various entertainment and beautiful beach hotels.


Like many of its neighbours El Salvador is also home to a number of volcanoes. One of the most famous is Cerro Verde, whose crater is covered by a cloud forest with a high biodiversity of birds. The crater offers a breathtaking view of the country’s surroundings.

 

Working with the best destination management companies on the ground, Abbotts Travel can tailor-make fantastic itineraries upon request. 


Spend a fortnight between Costa Rica and Belize, take a sky tram over the rainforest, relax in the Four Seasons Hotel and enjoy a BBQ on a desert beach. Or indulge in 25 days and fully immerse yourself in the exuberant nature of the region; spending time in Guatemala, Belize and Costa Rica. See the active volcanoes from the comfort of a helicopter and enjoy the wonders of Mayan ancient civilisation. 

 

However, if you’re limited on time, eight days could give you a taste of the beautiful Nicaragua.  Explore Granada by bike, hike the Masaya volcano and enjoy a private boat experience on Cocibolca Lake. The luxury and privacy of this trip would make it the perfect honeymoon.


For further details, or to start designing your own itinerary contact us on info@abbottstravel.com or 020 8989 9445.

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