17 Best Places to Visit in Central America

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The best places to visit in Central America can vary widely based on your interests, however there are many highlights that cater to anyone who sets foot on the continent.

Love history? You’ll find yourself taking in colonial forts on the coast and mayan temples in the jungles.

Looking to relax? You’ll find the full spectrum of beaches, including both white and black sand. The continent is bordered by the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea.

Crave adventure? There is no shortage of hiking, white water rafting and kayaking adventures to be had.

Looking for wildlife? Central America is one of the best bird watching destinations in the world. Combine that with unique jungle dwelling animals, like sloths, and you’ll never be bored.

No matter how you choose to spend your time in Central America, you’ll find plenty of things to keep you entertained.

Be sure to check out our Ultimate Central America Guide

Best Places to Visit in Central America

1. Visit the Guatemalan Ruins of Tikal

The Gran Plaza at the archaeological site Tikal, Guatemala.

Central America travel itineraries can’t miss out on the opportunity to explore great Mayan archaeological sites; one of the best in the region can be found in Guatemala.

The ruins of Tikal are incredibly well-preserved but surrounded by jungle. Located in the far north, this is a place for history-loving adventurers.

Our favorite tours that includes Tikal in Guatemala:

2. Enjoy Lake Atitlan

Wooden pier at Lake Atitlan on the shore at Panajachel, Guatemala. With beautiful landscape scenery of volcanoes Toliman, Atitlan and San Pedro in the background.

Guatemala has started to make a name for itself in backpacking circles. One of your firm destinations in any Central America itinerary should be Lake Atitlan.

This high altitude lake is surrounded by volcanic peaks and makes for the perfect escape from the rest of the world.

You can spend your days practicing yoga or hiking from one small village to the next, or you can party your nights away at the backpacker hostels and bars – there’s something for everyone.

Our favorite tours that include Lake Atitlan in Guatemala:

3. Dive the Great Blue Hole of Belize

Blue hole Belize from Air Plane

Belize has emerged as one of the foremost diving and snorkeling destinations in Central America. The English-speaking country is quite different from the rest of the Spanish-influenced region.

One of Belize’s most astounding off-shore attractions is the Great Blue Hole, a huge circular reef that drops hundreds of meters to the ocean floor far below.

It’s brimming with marine life and is the perfect destination for snorkeling and diving.

Our favorite tours that include visiting the Great Blue Hole in Belize:

4. Explore El Salvador’s Ruta de las Flores

Mayan Pyramid of Tazumal

El Salvador often gets ignored on most Central America travel itineraries, which is a shame, because the country has so much to offer – from Mayan ruins to beautiful beaches.

One of the best destinations is the Ruta de las Flores, a collection of rural villages in the north that are home to local coffee plantations, great food festivals, and lots of wonderful nature.

Our favorite tours that include visiting El Salvador:

5. Scuba Dive Roatan

Landscape of a tropical blue ocean water and sandy beach in Roatan island.

Off the coast of Honduras, you can find Roatan, a beautiful Caribbean island known for its diving.

Roatan is one of the cheapest destinations in the world to learn how to scuba dive (here, and the nearby island of Utila).

Our favorite tours that includes Roatan, Honduras:

6. Go Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua

Volcano boarding activity in Nicaragua. Man in Cerro Negro volcano.

Nicaragua is becoming a popular adventure sports destination; one of the best things you can do here is volcano boarding.

At the Cerro Negro Volcano, you can surf your way down the black sands in style!

Our favorite tours that include Cerro Negro Volcano, Nicaragua:

7. Corn Islands

Beautiful caribbean island (Corn Islands) Nicaragua

If you’re looking to get off the beaten track when you travel to Central America, make the long, arduous journey to the Corn Islands.

Located off Nicaragua’s remote Mosquito Coast, these untouched islands are home to some of the world’s best scuba diving – but nobody knows about it yet!

Our favorite tours that includes visiting Nicaragua:

8. Lose Yourself in Costa Rica’s Monteverde Cloud Forest

Bridge in Rainforest - Costa Rica - Monteverde

Costa Rica is packed full of great natural sights and attractions, but if you only have time for one adventure, head to the Monteverde Cloud Forest.

This rainforest area is connected by swinging bridges high in the trees, where you’ll be immersed in the beautiful clouds that sit high in the foliage.

Our favorite tours that include the Monteverde Cloud Forest:

9. Cruise the Panama Canal

Panama Canal

A classic Central American stop is the Panama Canal, the famous waterway that connects the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean.

You can see this amazing engineering feat outside Panama City, or you can sign up for a cruise along the canal as a day trip.

The best way to see it, however, is to book a Central America cruise that transits the entire canal from the Caribbean to the Pacific.

Our favorite tours that includes the Panama Canal:

10. Island Hop Panama’s Bocas del Toro

Perfect beach with wooden path and palm trees on Bocas del Toro in Panama

One of the best places to visit in Central America, Panama’s Bocas del Toro is an archipelago packed full of white sand beaches, remote islands, and plenty of laid back tropical vibes.

You can snorkel and dive or just watch the waves lap against the sands as you sip cocktails on the shorefront.

11. Experience Island Time in Caye Caulker

hammocks in Caye Caulker - best places to visit in Central America

It’s all about island time when you visit Caye Caulker, Belize. There are some yummy local restaurants, white sand beaches and some fantastic snorkeling to be had here.

People come to this small island off the coast of Belize to slow down, but also take advantage of the close proximity of the Great Mayan Barrier Reef. It is one of the best places to access the Hol Chan Marine Park from.

12. Take On the Ring of Fire in Guatemala

Volcanoes in Guatemala

Embark on a trek that conquers the 7 major volcano summits in Guatemala dubbed the ring of Fire that make up the Western Backbone of the country.

This is one of the world’s Top 100 Travel Adventures, so it’s not for the light of heart.

13. Experience the Pacuare River in Costa Rica

Pacuare River in Costa Rica

Some of the best white water rafting in the world takes place on the Pacuare River in Costa Rica.

The best part of the river is rafted on a minimum 2 day/1 night trip that puts you up in a rustic jungle lodge for the night.

It is also possible to extend the stay in the jungle for any number of nights too. The river is best rafted when it is producing class III rapids.

14. Get Off the Beaten Path in Golfo Dulce

Hummingbird in Costa Rica

Located in Costa Rica, you’ll have to put in some work and planning to reach Golfo Dulce, as it’s quite off the beaten path, but you won’t regret it.

Not only is there spectacular bird watching here but you’ll also enjoy the company of dolphins when you’re on the water.

While it is possible to travel over land to Golfo Dulce, it is best experienced by booking a small ship Costa Rica cruise that includes it in their itinerary.

15. Visit Coiba National Park

Coiba National Park, Panama

Located in Panama, Coiba National Park offers so much beauty that even the Costa Ricans are jealous of it (true story!).

This park is the definition of pristine, featuring both mainland and island preserves to enjoy. For a day of sun and snorkeling, you’ll want to head to Granito de Oro.

16. Head for the Darien Gap

Embera Tribe in the Darien Gap, Panama

Easily one of the most notorious stretches of land on the planet, the Darien Gap is not a place for the faint of heart.

It serves as the most northern tip of the Amazon Rainforest and has played host to some of the most dangerous drug cartels in the world.

That aside, its pristine primary rainforest that is begging to be explored. One of the highlights from our visit was meeting the Embera Tribe and learning about their culture.

The best way to visit the Darien Gap is by joining a Panama cruise that includes a visit in their itinerary. It is also possible to visit by land, but operators are few and you need to accept rustic accommodation.

17. Visit the Portobelo Forts

Canon in Portobelo, Panama

As with most of Central and South America, Panama has a strong Spanish colonial history. This means you can find ruins and remnants dotted throughout the country.

Portobelo is no exception, offering one of the best-preserved forts in Central America. You can expect to see walls and buildings constructed from coral and plenty of canons.

Following the colonial history up and down the coast is one of the best things to do in Panama.

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About Lina Stock

Lina is an award-winning photographer and writer that has been exploring the world since 2001. She has traveled to 100 countries on all 7 continents. Member: SATW, NATJA, ATTA, ITWA

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1 thought on “17 Best Places to Visit in Central America”

  1. Okay so this list is a TREASURE. I literally just sent it to myself. I’ll be arriving to Guatemala with a friend mid-September and will stay there together till mid-October when she returns home to Argentina. But I remain free as a bird (carrying my job with me) to move around Central America indefinitely. Was thinking about going straight to Costa Rica cause a friend of mine lives there but you’ve just opened my eyes to take advantage of my being there for once! If my economy support me I swear I’ll try to visit every place on this list. THANK YOU


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