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Central America Bucket List: Best Places to Visit in Central America

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There are green places between South and North America, and though some people might miss out on these places on the map, they are a unique amalgamation of adventure, tropical wildlife, ancient ruins, and complex cultures. That’s right, I’m talking about the best places to visit in Central America.

If you are a first-time visitor, you must try visiting lava-gurgling volcanoes that look like perfect cones going above the line of clouds. There are Mayan pyramids and rambling forests around them, along with the wild canopy which is the house of quetzals, howler monkeys, sloths, and pumas. A trip to Central America might play havoc with your budget, so you can try looking for some special travel coupons such as an Expedia.com coupon code to save money.

Famous for its ancient ruins and breathtaking rainforests, Central America has become a popular destination for vacationers, adventurers, and every type of traveler. The seven unique countries that form Central America – Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama – are inexpensive and safe. There are travel deals and cheap tickets available that change almost on a daily basis. There is always something exciting and new for eager visitors, with many underrated sites and destinations to choose from while on a vacation.

There are so many places to visit in each of the countries of Central America that it can be hard to decide where you want to go. You can find amazing beaches, forests, lakes, colonial cities, active volcanoes, islands, caves, waterfalls, Mayan Ruins, and unique cultures.

How to Get to Central America

There are many ways to travel and visit the many countries and destinations of Central America. The most common ones are by land and by plane. But as we all know, the most comfortable way to get to Central America is by plane and this is a MUST if you have kids.

Traveling to Central America by Plane:

– You can expect entrance taxes from around $2-$20 depending on the country.
– It’s a common thing in the Central American airports to have to find the immigration office on your own and get your stamp.
– Visas are easy to get, you won’t need to get them before your trip or make long lines before your vacation starts.
– There are everyday flights at good prices from the US and regular flights from other major areas like Europe.
– In most the airports you can find transport services that you can arrange ahead, or your hotel can do it for you.

Getting to Central America by Bus:

– The easier and cheaper way to get into Central America by bus is from the United States.
– It is long-distance and you have to go across Mexico but you can get to Guatemala in one full day.
– You can also choose between doing a number of stops in the Mexican attractions that will be on your way.
– If Guatemala is not the country you had in mind for your vacation a good idea is to arrange a bus to take you to the country you want to visit before you get to the border.

As you can see these are two completely opposite options. If you are looking for relaxation, luxury, and resting, or maybe you just don’t have a lot of time plane is a must. If on the other hand, you want to do some exploring and to enjoy the sceneries and towns you will see on the way bus is your best choice.

Flight to Roatan, Honduras airport in Central America

How to Get Around Central America

This thin strip of land that connects North and South America is famous for its forests, beaches, biodiversity, and the ruins of ancient cultures. Although they are very similar, the cultures that you can find in each, offer particularities that make them unique. It is definitely worth spending some time exploring these 7 countries.

Knowing the best way for you to get around in a country can be a bit stressful, especially in Central America, where many roads are not very well taken care of.

Here are 4 options that you have for getting around in Central America:

1. Plane – You will not have any trouble finding an international airport, smaller local airports, and cheap airline tickets to many of the main destinations in Central America.

2. Bus – Big bus companies, where you have to get a ticker beforehand are the most recommended. They often offer international trips and cross country trips, and you will be comfortable. Buses from the public transportation system (chicken buses) are not recommended.

3. Taxi – You will find tons of taxis or smaller vehicles called Tuk Tuks that can take you to nearby destinations or around a large city.

4. Car – Many car rental companies don’t allow travelers to take cars outside of the country. But if you do good research, you might find larger, international companies that will make your life easier. Also, keep in mind that some of the roads might be in bad conditions or without proper signalization or lighting.

Places you can visit in Central America

Ancient Mayan Ruins in Central America

The region of Central America, designated as a subcontinent, is synonymous with the Mayan culture. Most of the significant sites of this ancient Mesoamerican civilization are located there. The largest of these – its buildings picturesquely situated in the deep jungles of Guatemala – is called Tikal. These partially excavated ruins are the most popular Mayan attraction in Central America, yet they maintain an atmosphere of peace and tranquility despite the hundreds of tourists.

Other underrated sites that are well worth the trip include one of the oldest Mayan settlements, the city of Pacbitun in Belize, and Copan in Honduras.

Adrenaline, adventure, and exploration

From surfing to repelling, rock climbing to hiking the ridges of active volcanoes, the countries of Central America are filled with opportunities for vacationers to indulge in a variety of enriching and exciting activities that are sure to satisfy one’s need for adventure and an adrenaline rush.

Vacationers can sail through the air suspended above the rainforest canopy on zip lines; a popular and thrilling activity offered in La Fortuna, Costa Rica. For the ultimate in the extreme, the daring and danger-seeking can hike the ridges and navigate the slopes of some of the world’s most active volcanoes in Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua.

León, Nicaragua, also offers a unique type of surfing completely with a ‘volcano board’.

For more traditional surfers, the dual coastlines of Central America offer ample opportunities to shoot the curl. Most of the beaches offer room to ride for surfers of all skill levels, from the busy waters of the town of San Juan del Sur to the quiet coast of El Salvador and its accompanying surf culture.

Guatemala

Tikal

If you want to have an adventure in the sharp-sided temples that go to the height of over 44m, then Tikal is the right place to visit. The temples of Tikal have mostly been uncovered, and some parts have been restored. You will notice a very peaceful aura along with animal noises to enhance the experience of the Mayan area.

Antigua

This is the last true colonial city in Central America. It is nested in the middle of three volcanoes and several mountains. It is a small and beautiful place; it looks like time stood still, with hotels of all kinds. This is one of the most relaxed and safe places in Guatemala.

It is a tiny eight-block square city with cobblestone streets, located 40 minutes away from Guatemala City. There are church ruins, beautiful parks, a variety of restaurants, horse carriage rides, free sightseeing, an informative bus tour, and tons of shops. All of these with the volcanoes as a background.

Belize

The Hummingbird Highway

As you pass through the citrus orchards edging along Maya Mountain range, you will notice the Hummingbird highway of Belize. There are many reasons why you must stop here, and the chief of them is a visit to St Herman’s Cave and Cave’s Branch. These places offer a touch of classic Mayan culture, where you can even see calcified skeletons.

Ambergris Caye

This is the largest island in Belize and is located in the Caribbean Sea. Over the last 30 years, it became a popular place for eco-tourists and everyone interested in practicing water sports in a beautiful setting.

The island is also part of one of the largest reefs in the world. Aside from white-sanded beaches, the island has mangrove swamps filled with wildlife. Add that to the fact that Belize is the only country in Central America where English is the official language.

Costa Rica

Arenal Route

If you have some time on your hands, take the Ciudad Quesada– Arenal area road. It is one stunning ride. The route will take you through lush green, river-rich areas, passing through quaint and prosperous towns decorated brightly with bougainvillea. You can see mini villages and coffee houses as you drive by, and the whole scenery will be like a child’s pop-up book.

Arenal

This is an area formed by an active volcano, forests, a huge lake, and a colorful, tiny town called La Fortuna. In the middle of all that beauty, you can enjoy zip-lining, hanging bridges, horseback riding, fishing in the lake, hikes to a waterfall, and volcano tours.

The place is packed with luxury hotels with great views and in the town, you can find restaurants, shops and pretty much any service you might need. Also, keep in mind that the best hotels are located closer to the lake. La Fortuna town on the other hand offers budget accommodations.

Honduras

Bay Islands

These are a group of small islands located off of the Caribbean coast of Honduras. Utila and Roatan is the most visited by travelers, but are not flooded by them yet. They are part of one of the largest coral reefs in the world.

This means tons of almost deserted, white-sanded beaches. The Bay Islands are known as one of the best places around Central America for diving, and snorkeling. It doesn’t really matter if you have experience or not. There are tours for all levels and ages. Cruising along the coast, searching for marine life, is another popular activity in the area.

These islands move to a reggae beat, and here you can find the best snorkeling and diving opportunities in Central America. Sitting comfortably on the southern side of the Mesoamerican Reef, this place is a dream-come-true for water lovers. And if you are fond of backpacking, you will love the cheap accommodation and the sand streets of Utila.

Salvador

Balsamo Coast

This tiny Central American country only has access to the pacific coast. El Balsamo Coast is formed by beaches like el Tunco and Sunzal that are pretty popular among surfers.

If you are looking for small waves to start with, or if you are an experienced surfer looking for great waves, this is the region you want to come to! The coast is filled with small shops where equipment and classes are being offered.

Nicaragua

Ometepe Island

Ometepe is the largest freshwater island in the world, located in the middle of the huge Nicaragua Lake. It is also the only one with two volcanoes.

This UNESCO Biosphere Preserve is home to a couple of eco-lodges that you can stay in and go on horseback riding tours to the volcanoes. To get there, you can take the ferry that leaves from San Jorge every day.

Panama City

Panama City is the most cosmopolitan area in Central America and is a gateway to the natural riches of the country. It is a lively destination in its own way. It is a place of international trade and banking and supports a stifling skyline of steel towers and shimmering glass. With the hottest nightspots and luxury cafés, it is a treat for people who look for an active nightlife.

Safety Tip for Traveling in Central America

Each region you travel to is a bit different when it comes to staying safe. Central America tends to have a reputation of being a not very safe place for travelers. But it’s all about taking a couple of precautions without getting paranoid.

1. How to avoid being the target of thieves:

•Leave any kind of jewelry and watches at home; you won’t need that, especially because most of the things to do in Central America involve adventures in the wild.
•Don’t carry purses, camera bags and phones (especially phones) out where everyone can see them, or carry them close to your body.
•Take along only as much cash as you need, and not all of it on only one pocket.
•At night stick to well-lighted and transited areas, and don’t walk alone at night.

2. Don’t let your passport ruin the fun: People in touristy areas are interested in stealing your passport. They can sell them for around $60, which, for the Central American standards, can mean a lot of money. That is why it is a good idea to leave your passport in the hotel safe, unless you are going to the bank, always carry a copy.

Let the Government know where you are traveling: The Us government has a travel registration feature. This allows you to register your full trip and emergency numbers with them and will be extremely helpful in case of an emergency. If you are not from the US ask the migratory office of your country, they might have it too.

4. Dress like a local: If you are a foreigner you will hardly look like a local. But you become less of a target if you dress like one of them instead of wearing the Hawaiian shirt. So avoid dressing like a tourist.

5. Women’s dressing code: In the mind of a great portion of men in Central America, if you are wearing a tiny skirt, short or top you don’t deserve to be respected. So leave that kind of clothes at home. This assures you will be safe and will get better treatment from everyone.

6. How to Keep Your Money Safe and Dry: Almost every destination in Central America involves water. Rivers, lakes, beaches, rainy forests, and the unexpected 5 minute rains proper from the tropical weather, be ready to get wet. Always carry a waterproof wallet for your documents, and plenty Ziploc bags to keep you wet clothes away from the dry ones.

7. Safe drinking water: The only country of the region where you can let your guard down with water is Costa Rica. In the rest of them make sure you only drink bottled or filtered water otherwise you probably will be drinking contaminated water.

8. Fooling Muggers: Anywhere you go in the world you will find muggers. They are so skilled that 90% of the time you won’t notice that you got stolen until you are back in the hotel. To fool them and keep your documents and money safe carry a wallet with $10 in $1 bills and a couple of useless pieces of paper in a visible place. The actual place where you should carry your important stuff is on a zipped or hidden pocket in your clothes, were you can see it.

9. The safe way of deciding what to eat:

•I’ll start by saying that you should look for vegetables or meat that has been boiled. Also, all vegetables that are peeled before eating tend to be safe, depending on how they were handled.
•Avoid eating uncooked or undercooked meat.
•You should also stay away from food that requires a lot of handling before serving.
•Be careful with street food stands; observe them for a while before buying anything from them to make sure they are handling food properly.

10. Pantyhose in the fight against crime: Take an old pantyhose, cut off a leg and put in it the money and documents you won’t need right away, and hide and put it where it’s not visible or away from things you will be using, do this before you leave for the airport.

 

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