Explore Central America for your holiday or vacation! We’ve listed the top highlights for every country for your next Latin America tour!
The Best of Central America Travel is a collection of attractions spanning the length and width of the region and encompassing eight countries boasting diverse cultures, histories and incredible natural assets. From world-famous archaeological sites to dreamy SCUBA-diving and snorkelling hubs, stunning tropical rainforests, dramatic mountains, awe-inspiring archaeological sites and totally engaging and colourful cultures: Central America offers a world of travel delights.
Revered the world over for its magnificent barrier reef, Belize is a tropical paradise with few rivals and considered one of the world’s premier diving destinations. Yet aside from great underwater splendours (which really are as magnificent as everyone says) Belize hides a treasure trove of amazing archaeological sites. Ancient Mayan cities hidden in the heart of luscious jungles, world-class diving and a bevvy of sensational Caribbean beaches means you’ll find a side of Belize that’ll tickle all your fancies.
Top Highlights in Belize:
Belize Barrier Reef
This UNESCO-protected haven is the second-largest reef of its kind in the world and is the country’s foremost attraction. Base yourself on one of two most popular islands (Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker) and explore treasures like the famous Great Blue Hole, discovering the nearly endless array of unique marine species that live here.
Even if you’re not a fan of historical sites, you won’t be able to resist the sheer magnetism of Belize’s most famous archaeological sites, for here lie some of the most impressive Mayan ruins in all of Central America. Explore the western region of Belize, right near the border with Guatemala, and include visits to Caracol, Xunantunich and Lubaantun on your itinerary. This whole region comprises protected nature reserves so you can add a healthy dose of hiking, waterfall-chasing and wildlife-spotting along with your ancient-history lesson.
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
Recognised as the world’s top jaguar preserve, the park with the funny name is a maze of sensational wilderness trails, home to a wide array of unique wildlife. Initially established to help protect the mighty jaguar, Cockscomb has become the top destination for nature lovers, animal seekers and active travellers alike. A rustic and pristine destination, Cockscomb is in the southern half of Belize.
Belize tour ideas
The poster-child for sustainable tourism in Latin America, Costa Rica is one of the most diverse countries in the entire continent and renowned for its astonishing biodiversity. With its hive of adrenalin sports and active pursuits, the country is a magnet for young adventurers although the very modern infrastructure also makes it ideal for more mature visitors. No matter where you go to in Costa Rica, you’ll discover innumerable activities that’ll get you right into the thick of things and plenty of wildlife-spotting, hot thermal spa soaking, beach-bumming and seafood feasting if you prefer a more chilled-out vacation. Yet above all else, it’s the wildlife encounters in Costa Rica that make for unforgettable memories on Latin America tours.
Top Highlights in Costa Rica:
Arenal Volcano National Park
Costa Rica is home to over 200 volcanoes, five of which are active. Of these, Arenal is the most famous and, it must be said, the most picturesque.
Manuel Antonio National Park
Offering the two most revered highlights in the country (dreamy beaches and wildlife-brimming jungles) Manuel Antonio is the most visited park in the country.
Tortuguero National Park
One of the most remote and hard-to-reach reserves in the country, Tortuguero is one of the leading turtle nesting spots on the planet. You’ll need a few extra days in your itinerary if you want to include it on a tour of Costa Rica but this isolated corner of paradise is more than worth the effort.
Costa Rica tour ideas
Undoubtedly one of the most famous countries in Central America, Cuba is as coveted now as it’s ever been. With its enticing and complicated history, its vibrant culture and fantastic architecture, Cuba constantly tugs at the heartstring of both seasoned travellers and those planning a Latin America tour for the very first time. This is, by far, the most distinctive country in the region.
Top Highlights in Cuba:
As entrancing, eclectic and crazy as you always thought it would be, Havana is a fascinating and utterly unforgettable city. With its crumbling architectural treasures, its fabulous vintage cars and its intoxicating vibe, Havana makes for a fantastic intro to a tour of Cuba so make sure you have plenty of days to explore it at length.
Santiago de Cuba
Havana’s counterpart in the south is considered the true cultural capital of the country and you’ll discover a most distinctive vibe here. The finest musicians, best culinary specialities and most prominent historical sites are all found here, with the UNESCO-listed historical centre also offering abundant architectural gems. Santiago de Cuba was the birthplace of the Cuban Revolution and if you want to delve deeper into the history of the country, make sure to include a visit.
Pick a beach, any beach
Cuba’s history and culture tend to take centre stage for many guests on Latin America tours – rightly so – yet oftentimes people forget that this is, in fact, one of the most glorious tropical islands in the region. Fantastic and little-visited beaches abound in Cuba, both in the Caribbean south and Pacific north, so include a few days of R&R on a glistening beach to really soak up all the splendours of Cuba. Our favourite? We have a love-love relationship with Playa Jibacoa due to its proximity to Havana and collection of great resorts but there are certainly plenty of heavenly beaches to choose from.
Cuba tour ideas
One of Central America’s quietest achievers, Guatemala is a still-developing nation and, although home to some truly impressive attractions, is often overlooked by visitors, especially those planning Latin America torus for the first time. So why not buck the trend? This country is exceptionally ideal for organized tours, so you can rest easy knowing all the logistics are taken care of and you can be free to explore the highlights with peace of mind. What are those Guatemalan highlights, anyway? Just take a look…
Top Highlights in Guatemala:
As far as Mayan archaeological sites are concerned, you’d be hard-pressed to find a rival for Guatemala’s Tikal. The fact that the site is so extensive, so remote and so hidden among a maze of pristine jungle, certainly adds to the awe-inspiring impressions, yet what really stands out is the superb preservation of the many pyramids, temples and statues. Once home to an estimated 100,000 people, Tikal is an unmissable highlight of Central America travels.
Dotted with indigenous villages and framed by no less than three volcanic peaks, Atitlan is one the most picturesque lakes in the whole continent and one of Guatemala’s best cultural hubs. Come here to unplug, hike, rest and shop for hand-made crafts, all the while wondering how on earth this country has managed to fly way below the tourist radar for so long.
The other Antigua is not nearly as famous yet by all accounts, it certainly should be. The country’s UNESCO-listed colonial town is a feast for all the senses, not only because of the colourful and perfectly preserved architecture but also because of its location. Antigua is in the south of the country, right in the heart of its central highlands, and is framed by some of the most breathtaking volcanoes you’ll ever see.
Guatemala tour ideas
Revered as much for its natural attributes as for its historical treasures, Honduras is, much like Guatemala: a still-to-be-discovered Central American highlight, although its prominence has been quietly on the increase in the last few years. With its world-class diving, phenomenal wildlife and enticing culture, Honduras is a very impressive country for intrepid travellers so it’s not surprising to know that more and more Latin America tour guests are requesting at least a few days here.
Top Highlights in Honduras:
The most famous destination in Honduras, the Bay Islands – and Roatan in particular – are your epitome tropical paradise. With its pristine coral reef, amazing marine life and idyllic Caribbean climate, this year-round destination are revered by serious divers and snorkelers the world over.
The most prominent Mayan site in expert circles, Copan is astonishing in its detailed carvings and has revealed more about the mighty ancient empire than perhaps all the other archaeological sites combined. Copan may not be the largest Mayan site in Central America, nor the most famous but in many respects, it is the most impressive. If you had to pick just one to visit…make it this one.
The least known highlight of the country perfectly embodies its immense diversity and, for this reason alone, shouldn’t be missed. Fantastic hiking trails guide you to hidden waterfalls and lesser-known Mayan sites, past coffee plantations and natural hot springs. A smattering of lovely resorts around the lake’s edge means that you can include a few days’ relaxation here without hassle.
Honduras tour ideas
Whilst technically in the North American continent, Mexico resides at the very top of the list of the most popular Central American destinations and really can’t be considered anything but Latin. Whilst needing very little in terms of introduction, Mexico is actually as surprising as it is famous so if you think that sunny Cancun is all there is to know about this diverse and extensive country, you’ll be in for a mighty surprise.
Top Highlights in Mexico:
Capital cities are often overlooked by travellers and considered mere springboards from more rewarding experiences. Don’t make this mistake when heading to Mexico! Mexico City is, without a doubt, one of the most vibrant, artsy, picturesque and eclectic cities in Latin America and one of the country’s most surprising treasures. A vibrant nightlife, great shopping and fantastic culinary delights will kidnap you for days on end, so give this bustling hub the time it truly deserves.
The Sierra Madre Mountain Range can easily be described as Mexico’s most sensational natural highlight even though the great majority of visitors don’t even know it exists. Located in a remote region of northern Mexico, Copper Canyon is actually a maze of six deep canyons carved by six separate rivers. To say the sight is spectacular would be a colossal understatement. The best part? You can visit on a 700km rail journey that crosses no less than 20 canyons and is widely regarded as one of the world’s best rail journeys.
The pride and glory of the Yucatan Peninsula, Chichen Itza is Mexico’s best introduction to its ancient Mayan heritage. The most visited Mayan ruin in all of Central America, Chichen Itza is not just uber-famous because it’s easily visited from Cancun but also because it boasts some of the most arresting pyramids of all. An extensive complex of intricately carved structures, Chichen Itza is well worth braving the crowds.
Mexico tour ideas
From the most visited to the least visited: your whirlwind virtual journey through the Best of Central America Travel leaves no corner unexplored! Nicaragua is, indeed, the least-visited nation in the whole region yet this is primarily due to the country still wrestling with its painful history rather than a perceived lack of attractions. Tropical, exotic, authentic and varied, Nicaragua is a stellar place to explore, especially if you’re after an off-the-beaten-track stopover on your Latin America tour. Spectacular volcanoes, stunning beaches, dense jungles and incredible architecture are just the start of all that’s on offer.
Top Highlights in Nicaragua:
Home to some of the oldest colonial treasures in all of Central America, Granada is an architectural delight to explore at length. Conveniently found on the shores of our top highlight #2, Granada is that tropical Barcelona you’ve always dreamed about, minus the overwhelming European tourist crowds.
This impossibly picturesque tectonic lake is a vision to behold and the primary reason you ought to include Nicaragua on your Latin America tour itinerary. This is the largest lake in Central America and rivals Atitlan for sheer picturesque beauty. Aside from being the splendid backdrop for Granada, Lake Nicaragua is a hiker’s paradise and here you’ll discover steaming volcanic peaks and spectacular little islands. What’s more, Lake Nicaragua is just a short drive from the best stretch of Nicaraguan coastline. Which brings us to…
San Juan del Sure
The worst-kept secret in Latin American surfing circles, this southern Nicaraguan beach town is all about surf, sun and spectacular sea. Swim, surf, go turtle-nesting spotting at the right season and head off on sensational yacht tours.
Nicaragua tour ideas
Missing a few million bucks to hide in a Panamanian bank so thinking of skipping the country altogether? Think again! Panama is arguably one of the most misunderstood Central American countries of all, with this splendid place offering a great collection of attractions.
Top Highlights in Panama:
The historic quarter of modern and vibrant Panama City is one of Latin America’s most rewarding to explore on foot. With its spectacular waterfront setting and glorious architecture, not to mention great cafés and shops, it makes for a wonderful daytime sightseeing destination and a place where you can learn more about the country’s very interesting history. Head here after sunset, however, and you’ll discover a titillating nightlife most cities ten times the size would find hard to rival. Yet another stellar surprise and, yet again, one more reason to make your Central America travel plans as comprehensive as can be.
San Blas Island
Did you know that Panama boasts an astonishing archipelago comprising over 300 Caribbean islands? Well, now you do! Blinding white sands, crystalline waters and indigenous tribal villages make this one of Central America’s most hidden of secrets.
A century later and the Panama Canal is still considered one of the mankind’s greatest architectural feats. Sail it and see!
Panama tour ideas
At VivaExpeditions, we help you plan and enjoy unique and unforgettable journeys through Central America, including all the best highlights you want to see. So take the worry and work out of your next Latin America tour and let us do all the work! Visit our Central America tour page for more sensational inspiration and come discover how mesmerizing this corner of the world really is.