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Best Things to Do in Central America per Country

Central America is a real gem, packed with lively culture, greenery for days, and a past that’s just full of stories. This region has something for everyone: thrill-seekers, history nerds, or those who just want to relax and unwind. So let’s dive into the top things to do in Central America, the ones that are unique and a must-do!

Whether you want to hike to the top of a volcano or visit an ancient Mayan site, let’s dive into some top-notch things you can do in each of the seven countries that form Central America, based on my own personal recommendations.

Experiences you can’t miss in Central America

Tikal pyramid Mundo Perdido

Explore the Ancient Ruins of Tikal

the great blue hole

Visit Belize’s Great Blue Hole

street in antigua guatemala

Wander the Streets of Antigua, Guatemala

two guys sitting on top of Acatenango volcano

Hike Acatenango Volcano

san juan del sur nicaragua

Surf in El Salvador

a large boat with containers docked in miraflores dock panama canals

Visit the Panama Canal

sunset on ometepe island in nicaragua

Visit Nicaragua’s Ometepe Island

pupusas el salvador

Try Pupusas in El Salvador

a kid and a man on a kayak in front of some boats in rio dulce guatemal

Cruise the Rio Dulce in Guatemala

manuel antonio sign costa rica

Sunset at Costa Rica’s Manuel Antonio National Park

woman on a hanging bridge in monteverde costa rica

 Zip-line Through Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica

kid sitting on a tree near lake atitlan

Explore Guatemala’s Lago de Atitlán

people at the top of cerro negro nicaragua

Volcano-board in Cerro Negro, Nicaragua

woman in front of arenal volcano in costa rica

Visit Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica

a man diving in glover reef

Dive Belize’s Underwater World

Best Activities in Central America by Country

In this section, I’ll be giving you the highlights of some of the best things you can do while exploring each of the seven countries that make up Central America.

Of course, there’s plenty more to see and do in each one, but I’ve got you covered with a list of the most popular and recommended activities.

Belize

Belize, a gem tucked on Central America’s eastern coast, is a melting pot of cultures. It’s got a bit of everything, from Maya and Creole to Garifuna and Mestizo, making it the only country in the region to speak English.

But it’s not just about the people. Nature outdid itself here too. Belize boasts an epic coral reef system, second only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef! So, this small country situated between Mexico and Guatemala is quite the package; it has a lot of amazing activities to do:

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Explore the ancient Maya ruins

Belize was once part of the Maya civilization, which flourished in the region from about 2000 BC to 900 AD. Today, you can visit some of the impressive archaeological sites that showcase the achievements and mysteries of this ancient culture.

Some of the most famous ones are:

  • Caracol was the largest Maya city in Belize and one of the most powerful in the region.
  • Xunantunich features a majestic pyramid that rises above the jungle.
  • Lamanai is located on the banks of the New River and has a unique mix of Maya, Spanish, and British influences.
caracol maya ruins in belize

Snorkel or dive in the Belize Barrier Reef

Belize is an absolute dream for snorkelers and divers. The coral reef systems here are incredibly diverse and bursting with vibrant colors. It’s truly a paradise for anyone who loves exploring the underwater world.

The Belize Barrier Reef is a massive 300-kilometer stretch along the coast of Belize. It’s actually part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, which happens to be the largest in the Western Hemisphere.

There are so many different types of fish, coral, sponges, sea turtles, sharks, rays, dolphins, and other animals that call the reef their home.

You can explore the reef at various locations, like:

  • Hol Chan Marine Reserve is a protected area that has four zones with different habitats and wildlife.
  • Shark Ray Alley, a popular spot to swim with nurse sharks and stingrays
  • The Great Blue Hole is a giant sinkhole that is about 300 meters (984 feet) across and 125 meters (410 feet) deep and is considered one of the most amazing dive sites in Central America and the world.
woman a kid on a boat in a snorkeling tour in ambergris caye in belize

Costa Rica

Costa Rica shares borders with Nicaragua and Panama, and it’s famous for its motto, “pura vida,” which reflects a culture of happiness, peace, and sustainability.

It’s amazing how this country has such a wide variety of different species and green areas, considering how small it is compared to the rest of the world.

There are a total of 31 national parks, 34 wildlife refuges, 11 wetlands, 15 forest reserves, and biological reserves in the country, covering approximately 25% of its territory.

Experience the biodiversity of the rainforest

Costa Rica is a dream destination for nature lovers, as it has some of the most diverse and beautiful rainforests in the world.

You can experience the rainforest in different ways, like hiking, zip-lining, canopy tours, birdwatching, wildlife spotting, and more.

Some of the most popular places to visit are:

  • Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is a high-altitude forest that has a misty and magical atmosphere and is home to thousands of different birds, mammals, and species of plants.
  • Corcovado National Park is one of the most biologically intense places on Earth and has 13 different ecosystems, including a lowland rainforest, mangrove swamp, beach, and lagoon.
  • Tortuguero National Park, a network of canals, rivers, and lakes that is a haven for wildlife, especially sea turtles, which nest on the beaches from July to October.
beach in corcovado national park costa rica

Enjoy adventure sports and ecotourism

It’s also a paradise for adventure seekers, as it offers a bunch of activities that will get your adrenaline pumping and your heart racing.

You can enjoy adventure sports and ecotourism in different settings, like volcanoes, rivers, waterfalls, beaches, and more. Some of the most popular activities are rafting, kayaking, surfing, fishing, scuba diving, snorkeling, and a lot more.

Some of the most popular places to visit are:

  • Arenal Volcano is an active volcano that has hot springs, waterfalls, and lava flows.
  • The Pacuare River is one of the best rivers for rafting in the world and has class III and IV rapids.
  • Manuel Antonio National Park, a stunning coastal park that has white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and lush forests.
woman doing horseback riding costa rica

El Salvador

El Salvador is a country in Central America that borders Guatemala and Honduras. It is the smallest and most densely populated country, with a population of about 6.5 million people.

It is recognized for its rich culture, which includes influences from the Pipil, Lenca, Maya, Spanish, African, and other ethnic groups. It is also avowed for its natural beauty, which includes volcanoes, lakes, rivers, beaches, and forests.

Surf the waves of the Pacific coast

El Salvador is a hotspot for surfers, as it has some of the best waves in the world. The Pacific coast of El Salvador has about 300 kilometers (186 miles) of shoreline, with consistent swells, warm water, and uncrowded spots.

You can surf all year round, but the best season is from March to October when the waves are bigger and more powerful.

Some of the most famous surf spots are:

  • El Sunzal, a long and smooth right-point break that is suitable for all levels
  • El Zonte, which is a short and fast right-point break, is ideal for intermediate and advanced surfers.
  • San Juan del Sur is a nice beach town close to several surf breaks.
woman near the beach san juan del sur nicaragua

Discover the colonial charm of Suchitoto

Suchitoto is a town in the north of El Salvador that preserves the colonial architecture and culture of the country.

It is a place where you can enjoy the tranquility and beauty of the cobblestone streets, white-washed houses, colorful murals, and historic churches.

Additionally, you can go to Lake Suchitlán, a nearby man-made lake that serves as a habitat for numerous fish and birds.

You can take a boat tour, kayak, fish on the lake, or hike around the surrounding hills and waterfalls.

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Guatemala

Guatemala is a country in Central America that borders Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. It is the most populous country in the region, with a population of about 17 million people.

It is acclaimed for its rich and diverse culture, which includes influences from the Maya, Spanish, African, and other ethnic groups.

Also, Guatemala is recognized for its natural beauty, which includes volcanoes, lakes, rivers, caves, and forests.

Climb the active volcanoes

Guatemala has 37 volcanoes, of which three are active: Pacaya, Fuego, and Santa Maria. Climbing these volcanoes is a thrilling and rewarding experience, as you can witness the power and beauty of nature.

You can see the lava flows, the ash clouds, the craters, and the panoramic views of the landscape.

Also, you’ll be able to camp on some of the volcanoes, like Acatenango, which is next to Fuego and offers a spectacular view of its eruptions at night.

If you’re interested, you can climb the volcanoes with a guide who will hook you up with the necessary gear and safety instructions.

woman and kids next to a horse while hiking pacaya volcano

Visit the colorful markets and villages

Guatemala is a country that is full of color and life, especially in its markets and villages. You can find a variety of products, such as fruits, vegetables, flowers, textiles, handicrafts, and more, as well as interact with the locals, who are friendly and welcoming.

You can also admire the traditional costumes and customs of the different ethnic groups, like the Maya, who have their own languages, beliefs, and rituals.

Some of the most famous markets and villages are:

Chichicastenango market guatemala

Honduras

Honduras is a country in Central America that borders Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. It is celebrated for its diverse culture, which includes influences from the Maya, Lenca, Garifuna, Mestizo, and other ethnic groups.

It is also renowned for its natural beauty, which includes mountains, valleys, rivers, waterfalls, beaches, and islands.

Relax on the Caribbean islands of Roatán and Utila

Honduras has some of the most beautiful and pristine islands in the Caribbean, especially Roatán and Utila, which are part of the Bay Islands archipelago.

These islands are a paradise for beach lovers, as they have white sand, turquoise water, palm trees, and coral reefs. You can relax on the beach, swim, snorkel, dive, kayak, sail, or fish on the islands, or explore the charming towns and villages that have a laid-back and friendly atmosphere.

You can also enjoy the nightlife and culture of the islands, which have a mix of influences from the British, Spanish, African, and Garifuna people.

a kid on a dock in roatan bay island honduras

Discover the history and culture of the Lenca people

The Lenca people are one of the indigenous groups of Honduras who have a rich and ancient history and culture.

They live mainly in the western and central regions of the country, where they have preserved their traditions, languages, and customs. You can find out about the history and culture of the Lenca people by visiting some of the places where they have left their mark, like:

  • The archaeological site of Los Naranjos has a museum that displays the artifacts and sculptures of the Lenca civilization.
  • The town of La Esperanza, which is the cultural capital of the Lenca people, has a festival that celebrates their heritage and crafts.
  • The Town of Gracias is a colonial town that dates back to colonization times.
lenca pottery los naranjos museum

Nicaragua

Nicaragua borders Honduras and Costa Rica, and it is noted for its revolutionary history, which has shaped its politics, culture, and identity.

It is also acclaimed for its natural beauty, which includes lakes, volcanoes, islands, beaches, and forests.

Experience the nightlife and culture of Granada

One of the oldest and most beautiful cities in Nicaragua, Granada has a colonial charm, with colorful buildings, churches, museums, and monuments.

It is also a lively and vibrant city, with a variety of bars, restaurants, cafes, and clubs that offer music, dancing, and entertainment. You can experience the nightlife and culture of Granada by walking along the pedestrian street of La Calzada, which is lined with shops, art galleries, and street performers.

Visiting Central Park is another good option, which is the main square of the city and has a cathedral, a fountain, and a cultural center.

Also, make sure to enjoy the views of Lake Nicaragua and the Mombacho Volcano from the Malecón, which is a waterfront promenade that has a park, a marina, and a market.

sunset in granada nicaragua

Kayak or canoe in Lake Nicaragua

Lake Nicaragua is the largest lake in Central America and the 19th largest in the world. It has a surface area of about 8,264 square kilometers (3,191 square miles) and a depth of about 26 meters (85 feet).

It is also a unique lake, as it has freshwater sharks, which are rare and endangered, and volcanic islands, which are scenic and diverse.

You can kayak or canoe in Lake Nicaragua and explore its islands, such as:

  • Ometepe, the largest island in the lake has two volcanoes, Concepción and Maderas, and a biosphere reserve that has wildlife, waterfalls, and a lot more.
  • The Solentiname Archipelago is a group of 36 islands that have a tropical forest, a national park, and a community of artists and artisans.
lake nicaragua view of volcano

Panama

Panama is a country in Central America that borders Costa Rica and Colombia. It is celebrated for its strategic location, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans through the Panama Canal.

It is also noted for its diverse culture, which includes influences from the Spanish, African, Indigenous, European, Asian, and other ethnic groups. It is also recognized for its natural beauty, which includes mountains, rainforests, islands, beaches, and wildlife.

Marvel at the engineering feat of the Panama Canal

The Panama Canal is one of the most impressive and important engineering projects in history. It is a 77-kilometer (48-mile) waterway that allows ships to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, saving time, money, and fuel.

The canal was built by the United States between 1904 and 1914. It also has an artificial lake, Lake Gatun, which is one of the largest man-made lakes in the world and provides water for the operation of the canal.

You can marvel at the engineering feat of the Panama Canal by visiting some of the attractions, like:

  • Miraflores Visitor Center, which has a museum, a theater, and a viewing platform that overlooks the Miraflores Locks.
  • The Agua Clara Visitor Center has a similar facility that overlooks the Agua Clara Locks, which are part of the new expansion of the canal that was completed in 2016.
  • Panama Canal Railway is a scenic train ride that follows the route of the canal and offers views of the rainforest, the lake, and the ships.
a large boat with containers docked in miraflores dock panama canals

Explore the pristine beaches and islands of San Blas

San Blas is a group of around 365 islands situated on the beautiful Caribbean coast of the country. They’re part of the autonomous territory of the Guna people, who belong to one of the indigenous groups in Panama. The Gunas have their own unique culture, language, and laws.

They are a paradise for beach lovers, as they have white sand, crystal-clear water, coconut trees, and coral reefs. You can walk around the pristine beaches, explore the islands of San Blas by taking a boat tour, and do activities like snorkeling, diving, fishing, or relaxing on the hammocks.

You can also visit some of the Guna villages, where you can learn about their traditions, crafts, and way of life.

palm trees and boat near the beach in san blas inslands panama

Why Activities in Central America?

Central America is one of the most underrated spots for adventure and outdoor activities. There is so much to explore here, and I promise you won’t regret it.

As a traveler, you will find a place thriving with life and activities!

  • There’s a lot of interesting history, culture, and breathtaking natural beauty to explore.
  • It’s a widely diverse region; you can find anything from ancient civilizations to colonial heritage, and indigenous communities to modern cities.
  • It’s home to a mix of different ecosystems, from coral reefs and rainforests to volcanoes and lakes. It’s like nature’s own theme park!
  • There’s an unlimited amount of things to do. You can chill out on the beach (both Pacific and Caribbean), go snorkeling, hike in the mountains, or explore the ruins.
  • It is also a region that is affordable, accessible, and friendly.
  • You can easily and safely travel between countries, enjoying local hospitality and authentic flavors and sounds.

Looking for More Inspiration?

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Tips

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Places

For more travel ideas to add to your bucket list, check out the best places to visit in Central America.

Food

Central America has a huge variety of food, check out the guide to the top 10 dishes in Central America.

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Last Updated on February 15, 2024

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