Central America

Discover the Most Celebrated Natural Highlights of Central America

Laura Pattara

Laura Pattara  |  28 December 2017

Wilderness, wildlife and awe-inspiring scenery: the most celebrated natural highlights of Central America take you on a whirlwind journey of supreme beauty.

Renowned primarily for the flamboyant way it showcases its rich history and culture, Central America hides a phenomenal array of superlative natural attractions. So discover the most celebrated natural highlights of the region and come see for yourself why this, is one of the most interesting and unforgettable corners of our planet.

Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica

Costa Rica is an amazing introduction to Central America, particularly for those who want to combine wilderness with luxury eco-lodges, something for which the country is revered. Of all the highlights, which include the sensational Arenal Volcano, the spellbinding cloud forests of Monteverde and the amazing treasures of the Manuel Antonio National Park, the Tortuguero National Park reigns supreme. Remote and inaccessible by road, this luscious haven is one of the most precious turtle-nesting havens on our planet and the absolute highlight of the country’s Caribbean coast. Nestled between the sea and an enticing maze of canals and rivers, Tortuguero is best explored by boat and best visited either during times of mass nesting events (called arribadas) between March and October or mass hatchings, which occur from November to January. Some of the most coveted animals who live here include jaguars, several types of monkeys, a near infinite array of endemic birds, as well as three types of turtles: the leatherback, Green and Hawksbill. There are no roads to speak of, in Tortuguero, no cars, making this one of Central America’s remotest highlights. And perhaps…that’s what also makes it one of the most magnificent.

A truly unmissable addition to your Costa Rica tour.

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Copper Canyon, Mexico

Oftentimes dubbed Mexico’s’ Grand Canyon, Barranca del Cobre (Copper Canyon) is arguably the most outstanding natural highlight in Mexico. Found in the northern state of Chihuahua, right by the border with the US of A, Copper Canyon is  an active traveller’s paradise with a head spinning collection of hiking, horseback riding and biking routes that will appeal to adventurers who want more from their Mexican tour than simply startling beaches and breathtaking ancient Maya ruins. Not that there’s anything wrong with either of those. Deeper, larger and in many ways much more impressive than its northerly counterpart, Copper Canyon was carved by six rivers, which forced their way through the mineral-rich mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental range. Incredibly scenic train rides offer the less-active travellers plenty of sightseeing options as well, making this one of the most rewarding destinations of all. The Canyon’s proximity to the Pacific coast also makes for a great springboard for lesser-visited but equally-enchanting seaside haunts on the west coast of the country.

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Ambergris Caye, Belize

The laid-back vibe, the overwhelming coral reef (UNESCO listed since 1996), the collection of Maya ruins, as well as the country’s impressive array of wildlife and the simply sensational stretch of Caribbean coastline, make Belize one of the most comprehensive and rewarding all-in-one destinations in the whole continent. Yet what sets Belize apart is its collection of postcard-perfect islands, the most memorable of which is Ambergris Caye, which floats happily just off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, which the country shares with Mexico and Guatemala. Aside the heavenly charm of the island itself, Ambergris Caye hosts a large section of Belize’s barrier reef system, the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, a superlative  SCUBA diving and snorkelling destination. What we love about this island is that it also boasts quite an eclectic mix of attractions. When your skin gets all wrinkly from hours spent chasing reef sharks and rays on the reef, you can retrace the history of the island (from the days of the ancient Mayan traders to today’s fishing exports) in a small but interesting museum or set off for the day of fly fishing in search of barracuda and tarpon. A charming fishing village, seemingly lost in a time-warp, is the main base point from where to explore the island and can easily be considered a mysterious wonder in its own right. With this being the most bejewelled island in Belize, it’s a wonder the place has retained its incredibly relaxed outlook. But that says a lot about Belize overall. Plenty of water sports and a few choice resorts accommodate for every taste and budget, and a delectable Mexican influence – particularly in food and architecture – ought to lure you to the north of the island as well.

The perfect way to end a whirlwind tour of Belize? We think so too.

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Peninsula de Zapata, Cuba

Cuba is currently enjoying an absolute surge of interest from foreign travellers, thanks to the easing of embargos from the USA a couple of years. Irrespective of the political shenanigans right now, it matters little: people are coming to Cuba more than ever. An exciting and enigmatic country, Cuba boasts perhaps more enticement than all other Central American countries combined, mostly because much of it remains off the well-trodden tourist path. Yes, you probably know that Old Havana is a UNESCO architectural treasure that’s not to be missed. And you probably also know that you should include at least two days in historic Trinidad and Santiago on your tour of Cuba, before enjoying some idyllic R&R on one of Cuba’s world-famous beaches. But what you may not know that Cuba is home to one of the most wildlife-enriched biosphere reserves in all of Central America. The UNESCO-protected Zapata Peninsula National Park is an essentially uninhabited pocket of wilderness in southern Cuba, where wildlife lovers, and birdwatchers in particular, can lose themselves for days on end. Home to over half of 350-odd species of birds residing in Cuba, as well as manatees, crocodiles, turtle and fishing bats, Zapata is the largest wetland in Central America and, if that’s not enough, just off its shores you’ll discover some of the most glorious reef and cave diving in the whole region. Virtually unknown outside birdwatching circles, this pocket of remote paradise is accessible via a 3-hour drive from Havana.

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Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

A stupendous lake that gives Lake Titicaca a run for its money as far as spectacular setting is concerned, Lake Atitlan is Guatemala’s eminent natural highlight. An ancient volcanic caldera, Atitlan is framed by three picturesque volcanoes, verdant hills covered in wildflowers and a handful of delightful villages. Unsurprisingly, this is rated as one of the Latin America’s best expat meccas and has recently attracted a healthy number of alternative types, spawning the birth of yoga and wellness centres along the whole perimeter of the lake. Shopping for authentic artefacts and taking extensive hiking trips to San Pedro, Toliman and Atitlan volcanoes, as well as trekking through the luscious Mayan Highlands to soak up the views from yet another breathtaking viewpoint, are just some of the great activities on offer. Only three hours from Guatemala City, Lake Atitlan is, and should be considered, a prime destination in its own right, so stretch your tour of Guatemala to include a number of days here to do the place justice.

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Pico Bonito National Park, Honduras

Honduras may be best known for being home to Copan, the foremost Mayan archaeological site in all of Central America. And as worthy as Copan is to visit, its proximity to the Guatemalan border means many will simply hop over the border temporarily to visit it and then scoot back out again. What travesty! If you’re a lover of hidden secrets of startling beauty and rewarding destinations not blemished by hordes of tourists, then what you need to do is Stay. Right.Here.  The Pico Bonito National Park is simultaneously one of the best, and one of the least known, highlights of the whole region. This unspoilt paradise offers wildlife-watching galore, hiking aplenty and even a few choices for blissful luxury, a trifecta that’s hard to resist. Once here, you’ll probably wonder why the rest of the world has yet to discover this incredible place, although you’d need to look to Honduras’ troubled past for the answer. Mass tourism has yet to hit this country at full steam and if you go now, you’ll in the enviable position of having some of the best attributes of the whole region…all to yourself. With fantastic snorkelling  in turquoise waters just off its shores, rainforest hiking in its hinterland and over 500 different types of birds to see – an impressive and colourful array even if you’re not an enthusiast – you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more worthy contestant for ‘the most splendid surprise’ in all of Central America. Mountains, cloud forests, tropical jungles, waterfalls and remote natural swimming pools are just itching to be discovered. So, by all means, visit Copan on you tour of Honduras but if you choose to move on swiftly you’d be doing your host country, and yourself, a great disservice.

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Isla Ometepe, Nicaragua

Much like its northern neighbour, Nicaragua has also suffered from its long-held reputation as an unsafe destination due to long drawn-out social and political unrest. Yet the sterling upside of this unfortunate fact, is that as it rises from its troubled past to finally welcome international tourism to its shores, Nicaragua offers some of the most authentic and unspoilt travel experiences in all of Central America. The country is literally bursting at the seams with outstanding wilderness, none more impressive than that found on Ometepe Island. The literal offspring of two mighty volcanoes, Ometepe is incredibly scenic, both to look at and to look from. Floating happily in the heart of Lake Nicaragua, Ometepe is a twin-volcano island comprising Volcan Conception in the north and Volcan Maderas in the south. The two are connected by a slither of an isthmus, making transfers from north to south quite easy. Once here, your option for activities are bountiful. Volcano hiking, waterfall chasing, monkey spotting, beach combing and wonderful swimming in crystalline natural pools are the favoured activities here and there are also several water sports on offer, including kite-surfing and kayaking. Considering the island’s proximity to the mainland town of San Jorge, a visit to Ometepe should be considered an unmissable inclusion of a tour of Nicaragua.

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Bocas del Toro, Panama

The Panama Canal may be the most famous highlight of Panama  yet thanks to this feat of engineering, and the fact that the capital city is one of the most modern and avant-garde in Central America, the country’s natural attractions have become somewhat recluse in travelling circles. Yet for return visitors to Panama, the real treasure of the country lies just off its north-western Caribbean coastline.  Bocas del Toro, a collection of nine ridiculously beautiful islands attract divers, snorkelers and aquamarine sea lovers like moths to a campfire. A hub for eco-tourism and active pursuits, this stunning archipelago boasts an enticing West Indian influence and a mix of modernity and unspoilt wilderness that appeals to everyone. At Bocas del Toro, you can play Robinson Crusoe on the more remote and virginal islands and you can luxuriate in a comfortable hotel, cocktail in hand, lapping sea at your feet. To soak up the best of this fabulous maze of stunners, take a sailing tour, learn to surf, explore Isla San Cristobal on a horse and Isla Colon on a bicycle, discover the bat-filled caves at the Parque Nacional Marino Isla Bastimentos and do yourself a favour: snorkel or dive among Bocas del Toro’s celebrated coral reefs. Often dubbed the Galapagos of Central America, Panama’s diving hub is by far its most precious asset.

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Ready to plan a tour of Panama…and beyond? Then contact us and ask us how we can plan a bespoke tour of Central America to take in all your favourite highlights. 

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