Central America Travel: Variety is the Spice
Your Central America travel should be as eclectic as the cultures and landscapes freckling the region. To put it all together, get some help from the Web. You'll find sites dedicated to each of the region's seven countries, as well as advice and shared experiences from other travelers. Whether you prefer to keep your itinerary open-ended or you want to book everything in advance, the Web can enhance your experience of Central American tourism. We've selected some sites to help you get started.
In a word: vibrancy. Perhaps more well-known for its brutally war-torn past, Central America has emerged as an inexpensive, mostly peaceful place to explore. The region accommodates adventure seekers, surfers, backpacking culture fiends, families in need of rest and relaxation on sandy beaches, and just about anyone else you can imagine.
- Central America is a compact isthmus less than half as big as Mexico, but don't be fooled by its size: the region is brimming with culture and ecology. Although it may be tempting to include several countries in your agenda, take it easy. Leave yourself enough time to fully experience what you see, and to wander off the path a bit if the opportunity presents itself.
- If you want to take an eco-friendly vacation, the region is a valid choice. Ecotourism is popular in Costa Rica and is growing in Panama, particularly in Boquete. However, be aware that some tour groups use the phrase incorrectly as a marketing tool. Ecotourism should be sustainable, in that it should include the participation of the local population, be protective of the environment, and have fair economic return for the industry and its host community. Not every vacation package that involves nature can accurately be described as ecotourism.
- If you want an authentic travel experience, consider Nicaragua. Rampant poverty and the stigma attached to past civil war have prevented the country's tourism industry from reaching the level of other Central American countries, which is part of its charm.
- Many big-name guidebooks are accessible on the Web, and each has a distinct style. Check out a few to determine what you are most drawn to and comfortable with. We've selected online guidebooks for this section that best capture Central America's unique combination of flair and grit.
For general information about Central America ...
was started by backpackers and maintains an appreciation for traveling off the beaten path, with a nod to improvisation and spontaneity. You'll find rich details, woven with historical context and advice from seasoned travelers who have an intimate understanding of the region's energy and character.
introduces you to each Central American country in a quick, relaxed style. Be sure to check out the intriguing "Image Galleries." In addition, use the interactive map, catch up on history and culture, and consult the recommended attractions and events. You may want to read advice from other travelers in the "Thorn Tree" forum or the "Bluelist", which you can get to by scrolling to the very bottom of any page.
provides summaries of each country's history and economy, but the feature articles and photos are what make this guide so enticing. The interactive MapMachine
provides a variety of maps for a bird's eye view; check out the "Physical" map to get a sense of the topography in this region.
For countries or attractions that may be of interest ...
's focuses on travel to Belize, Costa Rica, and Guatemala. Mini-guides go beyond the typical, delving into each country's appealing quirks, such as Guatemala's Day of the Dead and Costa Rica's cloud forests.
's provides text-heavy travel information for Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Panama. The "Best of" section for each country may be especially helpful in narrowing your travel choices, if you want to create your own itinerary.
presents a list of the 20 best adventures in Belize, Costa Rica, and Honduras. The list is divided into "Mainstream" and "Off the Beaten Path"; click through any item on the list for more detail, and click the "Book it on GORP" icon to make reservations. Membership to the site is free and gives you access to daily newsletters and alerts of travel and gear deals.
For planned tours ...
Journey Latin America
is led by people who've lived or traveled extensively in Central and South America. The U.K.-based company offers a selection of planned holidays, and can help you plan a tailor-made trip. They also show you some of their favorite hotels, and share "Tales From the Road" (found on each individual country page) to give you a taste of each country.
outlines three possible travel itineraries: a two-week tour of rivers and beaches; two months along the surf circuit; and a one-year sampler, mixing archaeology with scuba diving. This article is helpful even if you have less travel time, as it points out a diverse selection of sites and attractions, cities, natural features, and routes to follow. The left sidebar includes past features and photo galleries on the region.
, in partnership with National Geographic, takes travelers through Costa Rica and Panama on the only passenger ship permitted to explore Barro Colorado Nature Monument. Traverse the Panama Canal with natives as your guides, as you explore off-the-beaten-path rivers, rainforests, and coastlines.
For ecotourism ...
is the global journal of practical ecotourism, and has a section about eco-travel in Central America. Click on links to each country in the region for feature articles about eco-friendly travel, natural features, and environmental issues.
National Geographic Adventure
has a number of full-length articles online, including this one about Costa Rica, where Central American ecotourism got started. Four adventurous excursions are discussed, as are tour companies, if you'd prefer to be led by a guide.
Political unrest and violence have largely subsided in Central America, but traveling the region ... read more »
You can fly in from the United States relatively easily and inexpensively. All seven countries have ... read more »
You don't have to rough it-but you can. Tourism is strong and growing across the region, which ... read more »
You can travel around the region cheaply, and there is a good chance that your ride will be ... read more »
The Web can give you a taste of a destination before you go, and one of the best ways to prepare ... read more »
Most Recent Guides