Central America’s seven countries plus Mexico’s Yucatán and Chiapas states equal 300-plus volcanoes, two expansive tropical coasts and one giant adventure playground. Paddle deep into indigenous territories in a dugout canoe, or explore the remains of coastal Spanish forts. Zip through rainforest canopies, swim alongside sea turtles or trek to sublime cloud-forest vistas. Everywhere you go, you’ll be accompanied by a wild cast of characters: a resplendent quetzal on the highland trail; an unruly troop of howler monkeys swinging through the canopy; and an unexpected, breaching whale right beside the ferry. Your adventures are limited only by your will.
The Maya civilizations sprawled from Mexico to Honduras, leaving behind ruins in five present-day countries where visitors can still step back and connect with an ancient and mysterious past. Explore the lost temples of Tikal, soaring above the Guatemalan jungle canopy. Investigate otherworldly Palenque and Tulum, perched above the crashing surf. See jaguars carved to life at Copán, and find out why Chichén Itzá is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Discover a culture that harks back 4000 years – the greatest pre-Columbian civilization – and still persists today.
Central America may take up less space than Texas, but its rich mix of people and cultures has created a diverse and dynamic society. With more than 20 Maya languages spoken, Guatemala is the region’s indigenous heartland. The Spanish left their mark throughout with gorgeous colonial plazas, fervent beauty contests and silent hours of siesta. African culture permeates the Caribbean coast, from the Congo rebel traditions to lip-smacking rondón seafood gumbo. And the last century brought the rest of the world – Asians, Europeans, North Americans – along with a coat of modernity that dressed up Panama City into a contemporary capital.
With chilled-out Caribbean vibes on one side and monster Pacific swells on the other, Central America is perched between the best of both beach worlds. From deserted playas to full-moon parties, this tiny region can deliver just about any sun-soaked experience that your inner beach bum desires. What’s more, there’s that magnificent, mysterious world that begins at the water’s edge. Seize it by scuba diving with whale sharks in Honduras, snorkeling the world’s second-largest coral reef in Belize, getting stoked on Costa Rica’s world-class surf breaks, or setting sail among Panama’s virgin isles. Hello, paradise.