I’ve traveled throughout every country in Central America and can say only positive things. Although there are some countries I would like to return to and travel more of, I’ve compiled a list of my top 10 outdoor destinations in Central America that I would recommend seeing.
1. Semuc Champey, Guatemala
On one of my first real backpacking adventures, I made my way to Semuc Champey near the town of Lanquin in Guatemala. It’s a series of turquoise and green natural limestone bridges creating a cascade of pools flowing downwards. You can swim in the pools and jump off the rocks (double check the depth before you do – the water is so clear it’s deceiving how deep it may be). Beneath the pools is an underwater river as well as caves that you can visit.
2. Tikal, Guatemala
Also in Guatemala is the ancient Mayan citadel of Tikal tucked into the rainforest in El Peten. With temples over 70 metres high and the residential area spread out over more than 60 square kilometres, it was known as one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya. Today it has only been partially restored by the Guatemalan government and the University of Pennsylvania but it’s also known a UNESCO World Heritage Centre and the location for filming Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.
3. The Bay Islands, Honduras
I couldn’t decide whether I liked Roatan or Utila better when I visited the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras. Utila has more of a backpacker vibe while Roatan caters to cruise ships and tourists on holiday. The scuba diving on both islands is equally as great. Both islands can be reached by a ferry from the mainland however Roatan does have an airport directly linked to international flights from the United States.
4. Volcano Boarding, Nicaragua
One of the most extreme adventure activities you can do for only a couple dollars is based out of Leon, Nicaragua on the slopes of Cerro Negro volcano. It’s admittedly a little dangerous if you fall off your toboggan and scrape along the jagged and sharp volcanic rock, but the real thrill is in testing how fast you can slide down the slope. I hit a speed of more than 70 km/hr and was lucky not to fall off. I credit the many hours I spend tobogganing down hills during Canadian winters for my skills.
5. Surfing, Costa Rica
Take your pick for pristine beaches and wicked lefts and rights to surf along, particularly in the Nicoya Peninsula in coastal towns like Santa Teresa, Mal Pais, Tamarindo and Nosara. The Pacific offers some big swells and waves, particularly in the rainy season but you can also surf on the Caribbean side from November to May. Just be careful of strong currents.
6. Monteverde, Costa Rica
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve perched on Costa Rica’s continental divide is home to an astonishing number of animals, plants, birds and insects. It’s also a great location for hiking, hanging bridges and ziplining. If you’re lucky you might even catch a glimpse of the elusive quetzal bird.
7. San Blas Islands, Panama
The San Blas Islands in Panama are a bit of a secret for pristine white sand beaches, tiny islands and the definition of the word paradise. Most travelers use the islands as a way to travel between Central America and South America, getting around the inaccessible Darien Gap. But going out for a few days of leisure, snorkeling, suntanning and drinking rum is the perfect getaway if you’re in Panama. A bonus is staying in small wooden huts with only a few other travelers and the indigenous Kuna people who live among the 378 islands (only 49 are inhabited). This might be my favourite location in all of Central America.
8. El Tunco, El Salvador
El Salvador hasn’t experienced the same boom in tourism as many other countries in Central America and that’s why I liked it so much. The locals are still welcoming and genuine and the prices are lower than other countries. Surfing in the small town of El Tunco is also a great experience. The town is small, the atmosphere is friendly and the surf is great.
9. Bocas Del Toro Archipelago, Panama