Central America may be small but it certainly packs a lot in from perfect Caribbean beaches, impressive coral reefs and challenging mountains. There’s also Mayan pyramids, well-preserved 16th century colonial towns and of course a huge diversity of fascinating flora and fauna.
Central America is comprised of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama; perfect for adventure enthusiasts, wildlife devotees and history buffs alike. In fact the seven countries of South America boast an incredible biodiversity with an astonishing 7% of the world’s total biodiversity with incredible numbers of amphibians, mammals, reptiles, birds and plantlife.
Go diving and cave tubing in Belize’s Great Blue Hole
Experienced divers should venture out to the Great Blue Hole of Belize (pictured above), one of the deepest limestone ocean caves in the world (120 meters) which is a massive submarine sinkhole. Its entrance is the widest in the world: 300 meters in diameter. This natural wonder is part of the Lighthouse Reef atoll and located close to Ambergris Caye Island and about three hours boat ride away from the mainland. The area forms part of the Belize Barrier Reef, which is the longest in the Western Hemisphere.
There are several local diving operators that can take you out on the water, which is incredibly still while you take in the beauty of the stalactite formations and glimpse quiet sharks swimming nearby.
Beginner divers can go to the Caves Branch Archaeological Reserve around San Pedro for cave tubing through ancient Mayan underwater caves. There are specialist companies that offer packages for zip line riding and cave tubing through the jungle, as well as activities for the whole family. Many local operators are stationed along the coast and in the capital Belmopan. Belize is also the only Central American country that has English as its official language.
Explore active Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica
The Volcán Arenal is an active volcano which last erupted in 2012 and it is surrounded by an abundance of rare wildlife within dense rainforest. One of the best resorts near the volcano is Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort, located inside the Arenal Volcano National Park. July is the best time to go for great deals on rooms. This resort is within a short walk from natural thermal rivers that create waterfalls from one pool into another. It’s the perfect place to rest after rappelling down cliff faces on your hikes near the active volcano. Visitors can also try hiking and climbing in the local area and a local guide is recommended to guide you along the best routes. The Arenal Volcano is about 90km northwest of Costa Rica’s capital San José.
Surf and hike in El Salvador
The smallest country in Central America by area, El Salvador holds undiscovered gems that are only just beginning to become discovered. Punta Roca beach has been ranked as holding the ultimate right point surfing breaks in the world, and it is not as crowded as other popular surf destinations. When the waves are down, adventure through El Imposible National Park for the most challenging and beautifully wild treks in the country. The paths on these hikes are marked, and if you want a guide to lead you then some knowledge of Spanish will be important.
Explore the Mayan ruins of Guatemala
Guatemala is a former Mayan civilisation and visitors can try an unforgettable week of trekking through wild jungle to witness memorable views of the Ceibal ruins from a traditional cayuco boat, ride a pack-mule to Dos Pilas, camp at the Raxchilan ruins and finally conclude your trek at the great Tikal step pyramid, pictured above. It’s recommended to explore Tikal via Flores, the island city capital of Petén which offers a great starting point to access the incredible Tikal ruins.
If you fancy exploring more Mayan ruins and want to get off the beaten track head to Aguateca in Guatemala which has probably the best preserved Mayan ruins in the whole country.
Ride down the thrilling rapids of Rio Cangrejal River in Honduras
The Rio Cangrejal offers the best rafting journeys in Central America; there are sections of the river that are suitable for all skill levels from class two through class five. Even if you are a beginner, you can still easily spend several hours learning the basic techniques of kayaking or rafting as you prefer. The Cangrejal River sits alongside a lush rainforest beside the Pico Bonito National Park near to La Ceiba in Honduras.
Expert rafters and kayaking enthusiasts can tackle the top sections of the river for exciting drop-offs and other natural obstacles near the beautiful gorges of this wild jungle. Go somewhere between September and March for the best river conditions. La Ceiba and the capital Tegucigalpa has many tour operators that offer great deals for your trip.
Experience a dip in a volcanic lake at Laguna de Apoyo in Nicaragua
The Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve is near the coast of the biggest, landlocked lake in Nicaragua and is nearest to the city of Masaya. It’s a 700 foot deep lake, the deepest in the country, inside the crater of a dormant volcano; with mineral-rich volcanic sands and the nature reserve cover some 8,648 acres (43 sq. km).
Renting a kayak nearby allows you to further explore the many picturesque islands inside the neighboring Lago de Nicaragua Lake. Here you are guaranteed to encounter wild monkeys and plenty of exotic wildlife. Nicaragua is Central America’s largest country and the capital Managua, sits on Lake Managua.
Note – As of 9 September 2012 it is reported that San Cristobal Volcano in Nicaragua has been spewing ash and gas, causing thousands to be evacuated from their homes. If you plan on visiting the area in the near future, do check with your tour operator.
Discover the mountains of Boquete in Panama
The majestic Boquete Mountain range is home to some of the world’s best coffee plantations, strawberry farms, and is often called the “bread basket” of Panama. One of the best ways to venture into this lush area is with a specialist mountain safari tour company, which can provide 4×4 jeep tours and guided hikes to the 250 foot waterfalls. You can hike to the peak of the Volcan Baru, Hike the famous Hike the Quetzal Trail and try Whitewater River Rafting at various locations including the Chiriquí Viejo.
A nice perk is being able to sample coffee from the high elevation plantation farms along the way. Horseback riding is another option to explore the local area. No matter which way you travel, you will be stunned at the rich beauty of this precious area.