Snorkeling

Isla Holbox, Mexico An offbeat Gulf island surrounded by sea turtles, manta rays and barracuda.

Utila, Honduras For the ultimate snorkeling experience seek out the gargantuan whale shark in the big blue.

Belize Mile upon mile of the Western hemisphere's finest reef makes Belize a snorkeling paradise.

Parque Nacional Coiba, Panama It's not easy to get here, but this marine park offers pristine conditions.

Crater Azul, Guatemala A fresh spring-fed tributary so clear you feel like you're in a fish tank.

Playa Manzanillo, Costa Rica In September and October this Caribbean beach has the best snorkeling in the country.

Mahahual, Mexico Banco Chinchorro is the top snorkel site in this related Caribbean escape.

Hiking

Volcán Mombacho, Nicaragua Accessible cloud forest with great hiking and even better birdwatching.

Parque Internacional La Amistad, Panama True wilderness hiking, accessible via the highlands or Caribbean coast.

Parque Nacional Cusuco, Honduras Dramatic and mountainous: trails are laced with giant ferns, dwarf forest and hidden quetzals.

Parque Nacional Chirripó, Costa Rica Climbing to the top of Cerro Chirripó is a thrilling, chilling adventure.

Volcán Tajumulco, Guatemala Central America’s highest point is a relatively easy climb (especially if you camp overnight).

Juayúa, El Salvador Perfect for day hikes to coffee plantations and waterfalls with friendly local guides.

Wildlife Watching

Península de Osa, Costa Rica Monkeys and macaws, sloths and snakes – wildlife is prolific around the Osa.

Isla Bastimentos, Panama From July to August, loggerhead, hawksbill, green and leatherback turtles hatch on the north shore.

The Moskitia, Honduras Wetlands, savanna and tropical forest – the best place for searching for jaguar and tapir.

Monterrico, Guatemala Save a turtle, spot a whale or go birdwatching from this Pacific village.

Playa El Cuco, El Salvador Baby turtles hatch in the dry season as dolphin pods and eagles watch.

Parque Nacional Tortuguero, Costa Rica On late-night adventures, watch turtles lay eggs in the sands of this wildlife-rich park.

Scuba Diving

Roatán, Honduras Outstanding wall dives at the Cayman trench edge feature corals and prolific sea life.

The Blue Hole, Belize This deep blue sinkhole has you swimming under stalactites with bull sharks and hammerheads.

Isla Cozumel, Mexico The famed reefs, particularly Palancar Shallows and El Cielo, beckon diving aficionados.

Isla del Caño, Costa Rica Sea turtles and humpback whales make this a popular destination for dive trips.

Lago de Atitlán, Guatemala Journey to charming Santa Cruz La Laguna for the rare opportunity to dive a high-altitude mountain lake.

Corn Islands, Nicaragua Excellent cave and reef dives in crystal-clear Caribbean waters.

Parque Dos Ojos, Mexico One of the best cenotes around Tulum for underwater exploration.

Off the Beaten Track

Pearl Keys, Nicaragua Live out your shipwreck fantasies beneath coconut palms on these tiny, idyllic Caribbean islands.

Bahía de Jiquilisco, El Salvador Pounding surf, lush mangroves, fishing villages and a biosphere offer Survivor-style wonder.

The Darién, Panama Steeped in indigenous culture and exotic wildlife, this remote province is wild and pristine.

Mal País, Costa Rica The Nicoya Peninsula’s southern tip offers pristine beaches, blood-pumping surf and good vibes.

La Campa, Honduras A lovely heartland pueblo (village); zipline over canyons, find authentic ceramics and hike the highlands.

Tilapita, Guatemala A one-hotel Pacific beach town where the pace of life slows waaay down.

Crooked Tree, Belize A real gem for nature lovers and seekers of a peaceful rural community in a beautiful setting.

El Mirador, Guatemala In a remote corner of the Petén jungle, this late-Preclassic metropolis contains the largest Maya pyramid.

Calakmul, Mexico Remote Maya ruins surrounded by teeming rainforest in Campeche.

Colonial Cities

Antigua, Guatemala A riot of cobblestone streetscapes, crumbling ruins and noble churches.

Granada, Nicaragua This wonderfully preserved colonial showpiece lays on the charm from the moment you arrive.

Suchitoto, El Salvador A picture-book, historic town littered with art galleries. Festivals reign most weekends.

Casco Viejo, Panama City Great for night owls: underground bars, brew pubs, wine bars and live-music venues.

Comayagua, Honduras Relaxed and prosperous, with a historic core of elegant churches and buildings.

Mérida, Mexico The colonial-era centro histórico is one of the largest in the Americas.

Surfing

Dominical, Costa Rica Bring your board: you may never want to leave this easygoing hippie haunt.

Santa Catalina, Panama No souvenir shops in this dusty village – it’s all about world-class waves.

Pavones, Costa Rica Surfers flock here to catch one of the longest left breaks on Earth.

Playa Hermosa, Nicaragua Charge the waves and hang out in one of the best beach hostels around.

Las Flores, El Salvador Tucked into the untrodden east and as good as anywhere in Latin America.

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica Ride the legendary Salsa Brava wave; in December it gets up to 7m.

Punta Mango, El Salvador Access the famed break by boat from Las Flores or El Cuco.

Playa Maderas, Nicaragua This prime surf hangout offers one of the country's best beach breaks.

Ruins

Tikal, Guatemala This regional superstar is totally worth a visit for its soaring, jungle-shrouded temples.

Chichén Itzá, Mexico The massive El Castilo pyramid will wow you, especially during equinox.

Copán, Honduras An exquisite temple acropolis with some of the most intricate Maya carvings anywhere.

Tulum, Mexico Maya ruins perched atop a cliff offer jaw-dropping views of the Caribbean down below.

Caracol, Belize The view from the top of the Ka'ana pyramid alone is worth the journey.

Tazumal, El Salvador The country’s most impressive Maya ruins were once the site of human sacrifices.

Panamá Viejo, Panama This 16th-century city’s ruins have been spruced up with walkways and a super new museum.

Altun Ha, Belize The Maya ruins that inspired Belikin Beer labels and the nation's banknotes.

Palenque, Mexico Surrounded by lush jungle, these ruins are among Mexico's most impressive.

Volcanoes

Volcán Rincón de la Vieja, Costa Rica Trails lead to fumaroles, soothing springs, bubbling mud pots and a sputtering volcancito.

Volcán Masaya, Nicaragua Watching red lava bubble in the crater at night.

Pacaya, Guatemala An easy day trip from Antigua, this smoking, lava-dribbling peak is a hikers’ favorite.

Volcán Barú, Panama Steep, foggy and muddy – but the top lets you view both oceans at once.

Volcán Poás, Costa Rica It's never been easier to peer into the crater of an active volcano.

El Salvador The land of volcanoes: Santa Ana is the largest; and conical-shaped Izalco the most dramatic.

Volcán Arenal, Costa Rica The fireworks show is no longer, but Arenal still boasts a gorgeous cone and myriad hot springs.

Beaches

Guna Yala, Panama Known for perfect – and plentiful – postage-stamp islets with turquoise waters.

Playa Norte, Mexico This gorgeous, swimmable, fine-sand jewel is sometimes called Mexico's most beautiful beach.

Playa Grande, Costa Rica Warm water, powerful waves and sea turtles nesting in the sand.

West Bay, Honduras A classic, white-sand Caribbean beach with the added bounty of a coral reef offshore.

Little Corn Island, Nicaragua Brilliant turquoise waters meet snow-white sand in secluded coves on this enchanted isle.

Placencia, Belize A popular and beautiful 16-mile (26km) stretch of Caribbean sand.

Playa El Tunco, El Salvador Chill out on black-sand beaches with pro surfers and local revelers.

Playa Blanca, Guatemala Take a boat from Lívingston to reach this beauty on Amatique Bay.