central america

A first-timers guide to the top 10 experiences in Central America

The seven compact countries that makeup Central America represent a complex web of cultures, ancient ruins, tropical wildlife and adventure.

If you want to explore all that the region has to offer, here are the top 10 Central American experiences for first-timers.

10. Tikal, Guatemala

Certainly the most striking feature of Tikal is its steep-sided temples, but Tikal is different from Copán, Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, and most other great Mayan sites, because it is deep in the jungle.

Its many plazas have been cleared of trees and vines, its temples uncovered and partially restored, but as you walk from one building to another you pass beneath the dense canopy of rainforest.

Rich, loamy aromas of earth and vegetation, a peaceful air, and animal noises contribute to an experience not offered by other Mayan sites.

9. Lago de Atitlán, Guatemala

19th-century traveler and chronicler John L Stephens, writing in Incidents of Travel in Central America, called Lago de Atitlán 'the most magnificent spectacle we ever saw,' and he'd seen a lot.

Today even seasoned travelers marvel at the lake's rippling expanse and the villages that tumble down from green hills to its shores.

Fertile hills dot the landscape, and over everything loom the volcanoes, permeating the entire area with a mysterious beauty.

8. Ruta de las Flores, El Salvador

The wildflower of El Salvadoran tourism is a 36km-long winding trip through brightly colored colonial towns famed for lazy weekends of gastronomy and gallery-hopping…

as well as more adventurous pursuits like mountain biking, horseback riding and hiking to hidden waterfalls scattered throughout the glorious Cordillera Apaneca.

Home to the country’s first coffee plantations, some of its finest indigenous artisans and a famous weekly food festival, the ‘Flower Route’ anticipates El Salvador’s return to the traveler’s map.

7. The Hummingbird Highway, Belize

Passing through jungle and citrus orchard as it skirts the northern edges of the Maya Mountain range, Belize’s Hummingbird Highway offers a near-constant procession of postcard-perfect vistas.

Stop for a visit to Cave’s Branch for cave tubing and St. Herman's Cave, where, with a guide, you can explore its huge caverns and classic Maya ceremonial chambers.

There’s also the Blue Hole, a 25 foot-deep sapphire-blue swimming hole inside a 328 foot-wide cenote that was formed when the roof caved in on one of the Sibun River's underground tributaries.

Check out the guidebook to Central America