Whether you’re planning to travel around Central America for a week, a month or like us nearly a year, you’ll slowly find out that along the way there are a lot of places you’ll end up calling paradise.
Climb the top of an active volcano, discover ancient Mayan ruins, snorkel among beautiful coral reefs, loose yourself in the sound of music and the list could go on for the next century!
Nonetheless, after wandering those lands for a while we realised that some of the experiences we had were so unique that somehow they had to be shared with other fellow travelers.
Therefore, here follows a selection of the top 15 unmissable experiences in Central America, we believe should sit on top of everybody’s bucket list.
15 Unmissable Central America Experiences
1. Snorkel Over the Hol-Chan Channel (Caye Caulker, Belize)
Just a short boat ride from the backpacker island of Caye Caulker, the Hol-Chan channel site for snorkeling is nothing but one of the few gaps in the second longest coral reefs in the world.
The site is part of the Hol-Chan Marine Reserve, a place where you can see tons of colourful fish, manta-rays, turtles, sting-rays and even nurse sharks. Let’s not forget that this is also one of the few places around the globe where you can swim with sea-cows.
2. Trek & Camp on the Maribio Volcanoes Chain (Léon, Nicaragua)
Start with sand-boarding on the black sand of the Cerro Negro, then climb & camp on the top of El Hoyo and finish off by cooling down inside the Laguna de Apoposca.
This DYI (do it yourself) two-day trek is probably one of the most rewarding and affordable treks you’ll ever do in Nicaragua (and likely of Central America!). Being able to see different landscapes over such a short period of time is something to be dreamed of.
3. Travel Back in Time on Tiger Island (Amapala, Honduras)
Pirates stories, a laid-back fishing town and a volcano from which you can see the coast of three countries: welcome to Tiger Island.
This off-the-beaten-track destination found just off the pacific coast of Honduras is the perfect spot for all those wishing to disconnect from the world. Relax, relax & relax, that’s the motto. But hey, if you’re lucky, you might even find the hidden treasure everybody has been trying to find for the past century!
4. Enjoy Village-Hopping on the Ruta de las Flores (El Salvador)
Starting from Sonsonate, the route (also known as Road of Flowers) brings you through a number of gorgeous villages, each with its own particularity and unique architectural beauty, to finish off in the biggest coffee trade-centre of the country Ahuachapan.
Village-hopping, nature hiking, coffee tours, tasting local gastronomy, discovering old forgotten traditions and much more.. this is Ruta de Las Flores!
5. Sail the San Blas Island (San Blas, Panama)
Just off the north-east coast of Panama, these beautiful pristine islands are the perfect destination to spend a few days inside a caribbean postcard. Featuring white beaches, crystal-clear waters and great snorkelling you can’t go wrong!
But did you know that all islands are independently managed by the indigenous Gunas people? So on top of enjoying all this you could also help them preserve this little tucked-away heaven. Packed the snorkel yet ?
6. See the Volcano Santiaguito Erupting from Atop the Volcano Santa Maria (Xela, Guatemala)
What if we told you that there’s a volcano you can climb and from the top see another smaller volcano erupting underneath you literally every day? Sounds good huh?
And the good bit is that you can do this hike completely by yourself! The volcano Santa Maria is well-connected to Xela and in just a single day can be climbed up and down but make sure to start the hike as early as possible (4-5am) so that you’ll be able to see the daily morning eruption of the Santiaguito!
7. Learn to Surf in Playa Grande (Tamarindo, Costa Rica)
Ever dreamed about learning how to surf? Well, the small oceanside city of Tamarindo located in the Peninsula of Nicoya is the right place for you.
The surf community here is strong and the sport is pretty much taught from beginner to professional level. Playa Grande, Playa Tamarindo, Playa Avellana, Playa Flamingo and Witch’s Rock are the top 10 beaches in the country where to find the always much looked after surfer-friendly waves. What are you waiting for then?
8. Visit the only Jaguar Reserve in the World (Cockscomb Basin, Belize)
Getting to this place alone will be a unique trip but being able to spend a couple of days inside this hidden off-the-beaten-track reserve will be an adventure.
For just a small entrance fee, you can spend as much time as you want wandering the hiking trails in search for tapirs, monkeys, colourful birds and if you’re lucky even jaguars. Should you not see much? Then get your soul relieved and set off for the Tiger Fern trail to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the sunrise over the lushest Belizean jungle.
9. Relax on the Beaches of Bocas del Toro (Bocas del Toro, Panama)
Beaches, clear waters and caribbean islands. Sounds like a cliché right? These group of islands just off the coast of Boquete offer the right ambience for everybody looking to relax and drink a beer by the beach while enjoying the sunset. And what’s best is that you can literally just pick the island you like, book it and you’re set to go!
10. Kayak Inside a Crater (Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua)
The crater lake, also know as Laguna de Apoyo, is the right place to go for those looking to get away from the sounds and noises of the bustling city of Granada.
Around the Laguna there’s a great variety of activities ranging from tours for hiking gurus, walk for bird lovers and extreme sport for adventure junkies but here the real deal is kayak. Just set off to the center of the crater and take in the breathtaking views!
11. Watch the Sunrise from Atop the Indian Nose (Lake Atitlan, Guatemala)
Make basecamp in San Juan and start you hike at 3am toward the Indian Nose, a relatively small mountain peak located just on the shores of Lake Atitlan.
Even though its peak still belongs to two different communities (that’s how they make you pay two entrance tickets!) being on the top when the first rays of light wake up the sleepy towns and turn the surface of the lake into a bright pink is something out of this world! Short hike for a great reward: good morning Lake Atitlan!
12. Wander the Copan Ruinas (Copan Ruinas, Honduras)
Awesome well-preserved ruins, great avian wildlife and a pretty small town just on the border with Guatemala: this is Copan Ruinas!
The ruins themselves should deserve all the attention but conservation efforts made in the last decades are bringing in more and more people willing to see the elusive Red Macaws that fly here to mate all-year round.
13. See the Green Water of Santa Ana Crater (Santa Ana, El Salvador)
Being able to appreciate such natural beauty with so little effort feels like cheating! The Santa Ana volcano is located just next to the city of Santa Ana and can be reached by a short bus ride.
Once near the top, another 30min of guided tour will get you to the top of the volcano which overlooks the emerald-green waters of its crater. What a sight!
14. Walk, Swim & cCliff Jump Inside a Canyon (Somoto Canyon, Nicaragua)
This newly discovered Canyon is still far from being a destination for mass tourism but its name is growing fast over the backpacker community passing through Nicaragua.
Being able to sleep right on the edge of the Canyon and take a tour inside it for just a couple of bucks is something to be dreamed of. On top of that, the Canyon offers trails of all difficulties so that everybody can go back with some great memories; whether you fancy walking, walking & swimming or walking/swimming and cliff-jumping just let your guide know. You’ll be in safe hands!
15. Dance at the Garifuna Festival (Dangriga, Belize)
On the 19th of November a.k.a. the Garifuna Day, the whole of Belize lights up into one of the biggest country-wide festivals you’ll ever see.
In order to celebrate the arrival of the Garifuna population back in the days, every single Belizean (and tourist willing to follow the vibe) will go out on the road and party as hard as they can for three days at the sound of reggae rhythm. Make sure not to miss this unique event happening in Dangriga and Hopkins but do head to the first city to enjoy a relatively tourist-free festival. As the local Supa G. singer says “Don’t call my phone on the 19th morning” !