10 Best Places to Visit in Central America
Central America is the thin section of land that links the North American continent with the South American continent. The region is made up of seven small, mostly tropical countries that would be easy to skip on a map. Yet they represent a complex mixture of cultures, ancient ruins, tropical wildlife, active volcanoes and great beaches.
Mexico is occasionally considered part of Central America due to the language and cultural heritage it shares with several of its southern neighbors. This list of best places to visit in Central America however, focuses only on the countries of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.
Map of Central America
© OpenStreetMap © MapTiler © Touropia
10. Leon, Nicaragua [SEE MAP]
permanently scatterbrained / Flickr
A thriving university town and one of the country’s oldest and largest cities, Leon is Nicaragua’s political and intellectual center. Situated along the Chiquito River northwest of the capital city, Managua, Leon is rich in Spanish colonial architecture as well as arts and culture, and teeming in students and backpackers.
Easily explored by walking and biking, Leon offers plenty of sightseeing opportunities. The city boasts more colonial churches than other Nicaraguan city, and visitors can tour several of these churches to admire artistic works and check out the tombs of important historical figures like that of the country’s most beloved poet, Rubén Darío. Among these churches is the Leon Cathedral, one of the largest in Central America. Other significant landmarks in Leon are Guadalupe Cemetery, Guadalupe Bridge and the Sutiava Rural House. Also known for its treasure trove of art, Leon has several museums, art centers and many public murals.
Located just a few miles inland of the Pacific Ocean, Leon is also home to popular beaches like Poneloya and Las Peñitas, which offer water activities and nightlife options. Just outside of the city, visitors can hire ruletos (trucks operating as buses) to the nearby volcanoes, rivers and mangrove forests to enjoy hiking, kayaking and wildlife viewing.
As a city that is host to students from all over the world, Leon features a variety of dining choices to suit every taste and budget. The market is a good place to find local dishes such as fried cheese, beans and rice, and cheese-stuffed plantains. Also plentiful are bars, clubs and dance halls throbbing with salsa dancing.
9. Copan [SEE MAP]
Josh Kellogg / Flickr
Once an important Mayan center of government, art, culture and astronomy, Copan today is a large complex consisting of two large pyramids, several plazas, a ball court and numerous stone temples, altars and stelae, which are famous for their hieroglyphics and intricate carvings that depict history, events, beliefs and customs of the ancient Mayans.
8. Arenal Volcano [SEE MAP]
Until the past few years, Arenal was the most active volcano in Costa Rica, and it’s frequent, small explosions once provided incredible shows of spewing lava. However, in 2010, Arenal’s cycle entered into a resting phase, putting an indeterminate pause on the eruptions. Nevertheless, the area surrounding Arenal still offers plenty of outstanding sights and exciting activities.
7. Granada, Nicaragua [SEE MAP]
Elemaki / Wikipedia
One of Nicaragua’s largest cities, Granada is also one of the country’s oldest and most historically important centers, featuring a wealth of Spanish history and well-preserved colonial architecture. Located in western Nicaragua along the shores of Lake Nicaragua, Granada offers tourists plenty to see and do from sightseeing to outdoor recreation and arts and culture.
A tour of the city center awards sights of multicolored colonial buildings, landmarks, old churches, a Spanish fort and a lively market buzzing with vendors selling produce and handicrafts. Museums and art galleries showcase the city’s history, art, culture and production of cigars and chocolate. Granada’s Central Park is a wide open green space with food kiosks where people can relax and enjoy picnics and outdoor recreation. Nearby Lake Nicaragua and its many islets offer fishing, swimming, boating, horseback riding and archaeological sites, while a little further out, volcanoes and rainforest offer hiking, canopy tours and wildlife viewing.
6. Panama City [SEE MAP]
dsasso / Flickr
Panama’s capital and largest city, Panama City, is a concentration of modern high-rise towers rising up from a surrounding tropical rainforest. A vibrant, cosmopolitan city made prosperous by the development of the Panama Canal, Panama City is one of the best places to visit in Central America. While a visit to the city’s most famous attraction, the Panama Canal, ranks at the top of most sightseeing itineraries, exploring the cobblestone streets and colonial buildings of the historic quarter, Casco Viejo, is also a must-do.
5. Antigua Guatemala [SEE MAP]
Set against the pictorial backdrop of three imposing volcanoes in the central highlands of Guatemala, the beautiful, old colonial town of Antigua is one of the country’s top tourist destinations. A major center for learning the Spanish language, Antigua provides a plethora of impressive sights and activities. Just a simple stroll through the city center awards views of spectacular architecture, historic churches and prominent landmarks like the Santa Catalina Arch.
4. Ambergris Caye [SEE MAP]
Adam Reeder / Wikipedia
The largest of Belize’s several hundred islands, Ambergris Caye is a dreamy, tropical place where shorts and flip-flops are the dress code, golf carts are the mode of transportation, and lazing away on sandy white beaches is the primary activity. A short plane flight or ferry ride from Belize City, Ambergris Caye is one of Belize’s top travel destinations because it presents the ultimate Caribbean getaway with classic beaches, world-class accommodations, fabulous dining and ultra relaxation.
3. Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve [SEE MAP]
celebdu / Flickr
Located in central Costa Rica, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is one of the country’s most coveted tourist destinations due to its astonishing natural beauty and abundance of activities including ziplining and canopy tours. The reserve however is most famous for its extraordinary biodiversity: Around 400 species of birds are found here, more than 100 species of mammals including howler and capuchin monkeys and 1,200 species of amphibians and reptiles. Along with the mega-diversity of wildlife, there are 2,500 species of plants, 420 of which are orchids.
2. Roatan [SEE MAP]
alfonsator / Flickr
A prominent scuba diving destination and cruise ship port-of-call, Roatan is the largest of the Bay Islands, off the east coast of Honduras. Surrounded by the second-largest barrier reef in the world, Roatan is a prime spot for diving and snorkeling. What’s more, the island’s beaches provide an array of activities from swimming to kayaking and dolphin watching.
1. Tikal [SEE MAP]
Located in the tropical rainforest of the Petén province in northern Guatemala, Tikal was one of the largest cities of the ancient Mayan civilization. Archaeologists estimate that, at its peak, Tikal’s population ranged from 50,000 to 100,000 inhabitants. Among the many Mayan sites in Central America, Tikal is perhaps the most breathtaking due to its jungle setting with impressive temples poking through the canopy. Visitors can climb to the top of a few of the pyramids and get panoramic views from above the treetops.
15 Best Places to Visit in Central America
There’s more to Latin American tourism than just all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean and Spring Break in Cancun.
The entire region of Central America has such a natural beauty for anyone to enjoy without breaking the bank.
The region’s packed with gorgeous beaches, rich wildlife, tropical rainforests, ruins from some of the world’s earliest civilizations, and year-round summertime climates. What more could you want?
Let’s explore the best places to visit in Central America:
1. Tikal and Copan – Guatemala
Source: flickr Tikal
These ancient cities of the Maya people are testimony to the rich civilization that dominated the region between 700 BC and 900 AD. While Maya ruins are scattered throughout the country, Tikal and Copan are the two major sites that remain intact.
The “Great Plaza” of Tikal is the most impressive structure, located centrally between ornate altars, ceremonial buildings, lavish dwellings, and the infamous ball court.
Fun fact: the ball games in ancient Maya times are thought to be the first sport throughout all of human history, dating back to 2500 BC. Archeologists have found ancient ball courts, like the one in Tikal, as far north as Arizona all the way down to Nicaragua and even in Cuba.
Though ancient native populations played the game for fun, it was also taken very seriously for ritual events and in disputes between communities (sounds kind of like soccer in modern-day Latin America). Under these circumstances, the captain of the losing team would often be executed or sacrificed.
2. Lake Atitlan – Guatemala
Source: flickr Lake Atitlan
This lake formed as a result of a volcanic explosion 85,000 years ago that spread volcanic ash all the way up to Florida.
The pressure from the volcano’s magma forced the surface ground to collapse, forming a hollow circle that soon filled up with water.
Today, the breathtaking site is home to small quaint villages and is an ideal stopping point for any backpacker.
This location is more for relaxation and taking a breather from all the adventure than it is for partying.
You can take in the serene beauty of the lake and volcanos by kayaking, hiking, biking, jet skiing, swimming, boating, or taking a cultural tour through the surrounding indigenous villages.
3. Dominical – Costa Rica
Source: flickr Dominical
This beach town is a surfer’s dream. With consistent ten-feet-high waves, hardly anyone does anything else.
But there are other options aside from taking surfing lessons from one of the countless surfing companies along the shore.
Dominical has gorgeous rainforests, waterfalls, and caves where you can go zip lining, horseback riding, hiking, enjoy a massage or even a yoga session.
You can also see whales 9 months out of the year. There are whale watching tours where you can see the only place in the Western Hemisphere where whales from the Northern and Southern Hemispheres meet.
This beach town is a perfect place to lay back in a hammock and relax off the beaten trail—since there are no paved roads, chain restaurants, or significant cultural sites here.
4. Corcovado – Costa Rica
Source: flickr Corcovado – Bird
National Geographic called Corcovado National Park the “most biologically intense place on Earth,” and they were definitely onto something.
It’s the crown jewel of Costa Rica’s national parks, with 103,290 acres of tropical rainforest, and home to 500 species of trees, 6,000 species of insects, 140 species of mammals, 400 species of birds, 116 species of amphibians and reptiles, and 40 species of fish.
There are also jaguars, sea turtles, sloths, and many species of monkeys.
So if you want to hike up your sleeves and explore the wildlife of the incredible Central American rainforests, you surely can’t miss Corcovado!
5. San Blas Islands – Panama
Source: flickr San Blas Island
Lonely Planet named San Blas the #3 tropical paradise in the world in 2011. This heavenly place of 365 islands is exactly what you picture when you think tropical paradise: white sand, crystal-clear waters, palm trees, and isolation.
Thanks to the Guna indigenous group who owns this region, big business and commercialization hasn’t been allowed in.
They have preserved the natural environment in all of its glory.
You won’t find any concrete, sky scrapers, or even wifi in this part of Panama, and it is bliss if you’re really trying to escape from reality for a few days (or weeks or years…you might just want to move there).
All the islands are very accessible to each other, so you can hop from one to the other by boat and enjoy sun bathing, snorkeling, kayaking, or sailing.
The Guna people are also very friendly, and happily offer tours of their villages to tourists.
You can explore their peaceful way of life that seems like it’s stuck in time, walking through their bamboo houses and swinging hammocks, all tucked in between the rainforest, waterfalls, and impeccable beaches.
6. Boquete – Panama
Source: flickr Boquete
Don’t forget to stop by this quiet mountain town deemed “The Land of Eternal Springtime.
” It contains the best known U.S. expat community in the world, so you can have fun and take a mental break from working on your Spanish skills.
Because of the many Americans in the area, you can find anything between hostels to luxury hotels with health spas.
In Boquete, you can go whitewater rafting, zip lining, rock climbing, enjoy the natural hot springs, go on an adventurous safari tour, visit the famous coffee plantations the region is known for, or visit the Baru Volcano, one of the only places in the world where you can see both the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean at the same time.
7. León – Nicaragua
Source: flickr León – Nicaragua
Discover the thriving college town of León, one of Nicaragua’s oldest cities, and the country’s political and cultural center.
León remains one of Central American’s main attractions for students as backpackers, as the city is draped in Spanish colonial architecture and pulsates with museums, art centers, public murals, and historic churches.
Savor the authentic flavors of Nicaragua’s local favorites: fried cheese, plantains, and the quintessential rice and beans.
And at night, muster up the courage to try León’s famous salsa dance clubs.
8. Granada – Nicaragua
Source: flickr Granada
One of the country’s largest cities and situated along the shores of Lake Nicaragua, Granada offers travelers plenty of variety from site-seeing to activities.
Take a stroll through this historic city, filled with brightly colored buildings remnant of Spanish colonialism, and explore the buzzing markets selling local goods and handicrafts.
And head to the banks of Lake Nicaragua for horseback riding and ancient archaeological sites.
9. Ambergris Caye – Belize
Source: flickr Ambergris Caye
In the only English-speaking country in Central America, tourists throughout the world can come to Belize and not have to stress over any language barrier.
In this dreamy island off the coast of Belize, relaxation is the modus operandi.
Swap out your slacks for shorts, turn in your professional-looking shoes for flip flops, and leave your stress back at home.
Ambergris Caye is the ultimate getaway for beach lovers looking to retreat from civilization.
Swim through the crystal-clear turquoise waters, bask under the warm Caribbean sun, and explore some of Belize’s exotic animals in the wildlife sanctuaries.
10. The Hummingbird Highway – Belize
Source: flickr The Hummingbird Highway
At the foot of the Maya Mountain range, the Hummingbird Highway in Belize directs tourists through some of the most jaw-dropping views in Central America.
The 55-mile-long highway winds through Belize’s jungles, citrus orchards, and impeccably picturesque villages, with gorgeous scenery at every turn.
And the road is not to be travelled in one sitting, but rather tourists should consider stopping along the way.
Visit Cave’s Branch along the Highway for cave tubing, or stop at St.
Herman’s Cave, where you can explore the huge caverns and classic Mayan artifacts with a guide.
And for the final touch, take a dive into the Blue Hole, a 25ft-deep sapphire-blue swimming hole off the Hummingbird Highway.
11. Roatán – Honduras
Source: flickr Roatán
The largest of the Bay Islands, Roatán is a prominent scuba diving destination in Central America.
Snorkelers and scuba divers flock from all over the globe to this spot in the Caribbean Sea, where the second-largest barrier reef in the world surrounds the island.
And for all those looking for their own slice of tropical paradise, Roatán features the region’s famous white sand beaches, turquoise waters, lush jungles, and exotic wildlife—without the mass tourism in the way.
Come relax in this Central American oasis, where pure bliss is just the natural state of mind.
12. Ruta de las Flores – El Salvador
Source: flickr A street in Ataco village on the Ruta de las Flores
Translated literally as “The Flower Route,” this beautiful trail through El Salvador is like meandering through the history of the country itself.
In a series of colonial and indigenous villages, La Ruta de las Flores captures the beautiful architecture and rich culture of the Salvadoran people.
Browse through local markets with handmade crafts, try El Salvador’s renowned coffee from the source, and relax for a lazy weekend with authentic Salvadoran cuisine.
If that’s too slow of a pace, you can also head to the Cordillera Apaneca, a volcanic mountain range with trails for mountain biking, horseback riding, and hiking.
And scattered throughout the Apaneca are stunning waterfalls.
13. Antigua – Guatemala
Source: flickr Antigua
Once the capital of the Spanish Empire in Central America (with Mexico City representing North America and Lima, Peru, and Buenos Aires, Argentina representing South America), the historic town of Antigua, Guatemala is a must-see destination for Central American travelers.
The enchanting Spanish architecture gives Antigua a quaint and romantic atmosphere.
Stroll through this beautiful, old town with historic landmarks dotted throughout.
Trek to Central Park, where you can lazily spend the day under the plush trees among the city’s monuments and fountains.
And for full panoramic views of Antigua, climb up to the Hill of the Cross and take in the vastness of the land.
14. Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve – Costa Rica
Source: flickr Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Located along the Tilarán mountain range in Costa Rica, this reserve is one of Costa Rica’s most coveted tourist destinations.
Around 400 species of birds, more than 100 species of mammals, 1,200 species of amphibians and reptiles, and 2,500 species of plants are all found at this mecca for biodiversity.
In order to fully experience nature at work, tourists can go ziplining, hiking, Sky Walking over suspension bridges, and take canopy tours over the tree tops at Monteverde.
In this majestic forest, you’re likely to come across wild pigs, moneys, porcupines, and many other wildlife species you may have never heard of.
15. Arenal Volcano – Costa Rica
Source: flickr Arenal Volcano
Up until 2010, Arenal was the most active volcano in Costa Rica.
Its frequent, small eruptions displayed glorious shows of spewing lava for onlookers to admire.
Now in its dormant phase, the explosions are indefinitely on hold.
Even so, the area surrounding the Arenal provides an enchanting backdrop for any Central American traveler.
Together with the dormant Chato Volcano, the Arenal Volcano makes up the Arenal Volcano National Park, inclusive with breath-taking lakes, rivers, mountains, and rainforests.
Venture into nature for whitewater rafting, mountain climbing, ziplining, canopy tours, caving, and waterfall rappelling.
And when you’re ready to relax from the day’s adrenaline, soak in the park’s natural hot springs created by the volcanic geothermal activity.
21 BEST Places to Visit in Central America
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Central America is one of the most exciting places to travel in the world. This tiny region really has it all including world-class beaches, iconic volcanoes, and vibrant culture.
But with so much to offer, it can be hard to know where the best places to visit in Central America are.
For that reason, I’ve written this blog. After spending a few months exploring Central America thoroughly, I’ve chosen the 21 best places to visit. These are the most unique and famous attractions in Central America that are sure to impress any traveler!
Note: I did not include Mexico on this list (some consider Mexico to be part of Central America and some do not.) For simplicity’s sake, I’ve focused on the 7 main countries that make up Central America. If you want more info on traveling to Mexico, we have that too!
Where are the Best Places to Visit in Central America?
This blog includes 21 specific destinations in Central America that I think every tourist should check out! The map above shows where exactly each destination sits geographically.
To me, it also shows a very clear travel route for those looking to plan their Central America itinerary! And just in case that’s what you’re looking for, I’ve written this blog in order so that someone traveling by land from Panama all the way to Belize!
Best Places to Visit in Panama
1. San Blas Islands
The San Blas Islands are so beautiful they have to be seen to be believed!
The San Blas Islands are at the top of most people’s Central America bucket-list. This group of tiny islands off the Caribbean Coast of Panama makes for the perfect island-hopping adventure! In fact, many people travel by boat from Colombia to Panama via the San Blas Islands.
However, you can also just go on a trip to the islands from Panama and return back to Panama. Tours from Panama City are also available. Just be sure to book a multi-day tour as you’re going to fall in love with island life and wish you never had to leave!
2. Panama City
Mirrador Cerro Cedro in Metropolitan National Park, Panama City
Panama City is the most modern city in Central America. With skyscrapers and luxury hotels as far as the eye can see, Panama City looks almost like a cross between Miami and Las Vegas. Spoil yourself and stay in one of Panama City’s most luxurious hotels on the strip for an extra special experience.
There is also a range of different things to do in Panama City, with my favorites being visiting the Panama Canal and just exploring the old part of town. Also, walk the Amador Causeway and enjoy dinner with a sunset over the ocean – it’s beautiful!
3. Bocas del Toro
The view of the main island in Bocas del toro, Isla Colon
Ah, Bocas! The tiny island on Panama’s Caribbean coast is famous for diving and snorkeling, incredible nightlife, and beaches! This tiny island is littered with backpacker hostels and small guesthouses but also presents a super relaxed vibe with few roads, and small speed boats being the only method of transport to get there.
There are lots of different things to do in Bocas del Toro, which is why so many spend so long there. You could easily spend a week at Bocas exploring different beaches, going to other islands, partying the night away, and of course, eating as much seafood as you want!
For people traveling Central America by land, Bocas is often their last stop in Panama on their way to Costa Rica. From Bocas, you can easily cross the Panama and Costa Rica border by land and make your way straight to Puerto Viejo.
Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica
4. Puerto Viejo
Riding on a beach in Puerto Viejo!
Puerto Viejo is a small town on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica. With lush jungle, amazing beaches, a wildlife rescue center, and vibrant nightlife, Puerto Viejo is easily one of the best places to visit in Central America.
Puerto Viejo is one of those destinations where you could easily spend weeks. There are tons of things to do in Puerto Viejo, however, simply relaxing at the beach can easily take up most of your time.
Whatever you do, be sure to visit the Jaguar Rescue Center. This non-profit organization rescues animals from the area and you can do a tour there that supports their efforts. If you’re lucky, you might see a jaguar or baby sloths (like I did!)
5. Cahuita National Park
We watched this family of monkeys for hours in Cahuita National Park.
Only 20 minutes from Puerto Viejo is Cahuita National Park. Here, you can walk a trail through the park along the coast and enjoy beautiful views of the coast and jungle.
When we last visited Cahuita National Park we saw tons of wildlife too (which is what the park is most famous for!) We saw Howler monkeys, a snake, a tarantula, and even coatis! With so many opportunities to see wildlife, this beautiful park is one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica.
You can visit the park on your own, but for the best chance of spotting wildlife, it’s best to book a guided tour. Guides carry binoculars and are pros at finding all of the unique wildlife in the park.
6. San Jose
Just one example of the greenery you can find in San Jose!
San Jose is the capital city of Costa Rica, and although not a beach destination, it is still worthwhile to visit. The huge range of things to do in San Jose makes exploring this city exciting and interesting! Drink craft beer, explore museums, join a city tour – you can definitely keep yourself busy for a few days in San Jose.
San Jose also has a large international airport which makes it a great place to start or end your travels in Central America.
7. Monteverde Cloud Forest
The forest is so beautiful!
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is a unique destination in Central America. Located in central Costa Rica, Monteverde is the country’s most famous cloud forest showcasing a misty jungle and a huge variety of wildlife.
Santa Elena is the name of the town closest to Monteverde Cloud Forest, and from here, you can actually explore a couple of different cloud forests in the area. The higher altitude of Santa Elena presents cooler temperatures and a nice escape from the typically hot beach towns in Costa Rica.
You can visit Monteverde and Santa Elena on a day trip from destinations such as San Jose. Or, if you have time, I suggest spending a couple of nights in the area. Hotel El Bosque is the cutest boutique hotel located only a few minutes from Monteverde. It is a peaceful nature retreat that I highly recommend!
8. Arenal National Park
What a view!
Arenal Volcano is a must-see destination in Central America and it makes up the majority of Arenal National Park. Arenal Volcano is considered one of the world’s most beautiful volcanos with its perfectly symmetrical cone shape.
At Arenal National Park you can walk the many hiking trails to enjoy views of the volcano, or even go to waterfalls such as La Fortuna. You can also join zip-lining tours or relax in natural hot springs (with volcano views of course!)
To visit Arenal Volcano, you can choose to either spend a couple of nights in the very small town of La Fortuna (my recommendation since there are lots of things to do in La Fortuna) or visit on a day trip from San Jose. Either way, you’ll love this beautiful landscape and it’ll likely be one of your favorite places in Central America too!
Best Places to Visit in Nicaragua
9. San Juan del Sur
Daniel, going for a sunset swim in San Juan del Sur!
San Juan del Sur is a picturesque beach town, and easily one of the most popular places for tourists to visit in Central America. As Nicaragua’s prime beach destination, luxury travelers, backpackers, and travelers in between all visit San Juan with hopes of living their best beach life.
Surfing in San Juan del Sur is one of the most popular activities. Beginners can take cheap surf lessons here or even join a multi-day surf camp (like we did!) Or advanced surfers can just head straight out, catching waves at different nearby beaches every single day.
But besides surfing, there are a few other fun things you can do in San Juan del Sur including hikes, parties, and so much more!
It’s honestly one of my personal favorite places in Central America, and somewhere I will definitely be returning to for an extended amount of time one day in the future!
Related read: We’ve been traveling pretty much non-stop for 3 years now. Find out how we afford long-term travel in our blog article!
10. Isla de Ometepe (Ometepe Island)
Relaxing on Ometepe Island with one amazing view!
Another top destination in Nicaragua is the stunning Ometepe Island. This island is actually located smack dab in the middle of Nicaragua, in the middle of a large lake! Ometepe Island is actually made of two volcanos, and the towns on the island are spread out around the perimeter of the volcanos.
There are lots of different towns and villages around the island, and therefore, choosing where to stay in Ometepe can be a little challenging. My top choice though is the small village of Balgue, where you stay at the eco-conscious Totoco Eco-lodge.
Balgue is located nearly in the middle of Ometepe Island and makes for the perfect base for exploring all of the different things to do on Ometepe. Rent a motorbike and explore waterfalls, natural swimming pools, beaches, cafes, and of course, sunset lookouts! If you dare, hike to the summit of one of the volcanos!
The view from the Cathedral of Granada.
Granada is the most vibrant city in Nicaragua, and as such, one of the top places to visit in Central America! Located in central Nicaragua, Granada offers a range of both natural and cultural experiences for tourists to enjoy.
My personal favorite out of all of the different things to do in Granada was visiting the Masaya Volcano. Seeing molten lava in person from the top of the volcano’s crater was a once in a lifetime experience!
Just on the outskirts of Granada, you’ll find another one of the best places to visit in Nicaragua, Apoyo Lagoon. Stay at Paradiso Hostel or Laguna Beach Club for a peaceful escape from the city for a couple of days while enjoying the large crater lake.
That’s me! Volcano boarding is the reason most people visit Leon.
Leon is likely Nicaragua’s most underrated city. People often skip it, and those who do visit, usually only stay for a day or two to do the famous volcano boarding. Sure, volcano boarding in Leon is an absolute blast (and you should do it), but there are a few other worthwhile things to do in Leon too!
Check out the Basilica Cathedral and walk on the roof! The views from up there are very cool, plus, just walking on a cathedral’s roof is pretty neat in itself.
Be sure to also go to the local market and eat lots of food! Leon has plenty of local restaurants, cafes, and pubs that you’re sure to enjoy.
Travel tip: After Leon, you can choose to visit Honduras or just go straight to El Salvador. Read our blog about getting from Nicaragua to El Salvador for all of the info!
Best Place to Visit in Honduras
Honduras is the least visited country in Central America. In fact, many travelers skip Honduras completely. With that said, Roatan has an international airport and you could easily fly there for a few days to experience one of the nicest islands in the Caribbean!
Roatan, Honduras is one of the best beach destinations in Central America. Located on the Caribbean Coast, Roatan is an island off Honduras’ northern coast that boasts crystal clear waters, amazing hotels, and restaurants, as well as incredible snorkeling and diving opportunities.
There are some all-inclusive resorts on Roatan that make for a great place to spoil yourself for a few days. Or for budget travelers, affordable guesthouses and hostels are also available.
Roatan is best reached by air. You can book direct flights to Roatan from various other places in Central America, making it a great little trip within your Central America travels!
Best Places to Visit in El Salvador
14. El Tunco
Heading into El Salvador from Honduras or Nicaragua, El Tunco is often where travelers first stop. While El Salvador is rumored to be unsafe and challenging to travel around, this couldn’t be further from the truth in the town of El Tunco. It’s a bustling tourist town complete with ex-pats who’ve called this place home for years.
In El Tunco you’ll find lots of amazing places to stay and things to do. Go surfing (it’s one of the best surf destinations in Central America), or simply just relax at the beach. This seaside town offers plenty of amazing restaurants to eat with views of the ocean, and its cobblestoned streets are filled with unique boutique shops and cafes.
15. Ruta de las Flores
Wandering the vibrant streets of Juayua, El Salvador.
After El Tunco, the next most popular tourist destination in El Salvador is the Ruta de las Flores. This name directly translates into “Road of the Flowers”- which is exactly what it is! The Ruta de las Flores is actually a small region in central El Salvador that consists of a handful of friendly and vibrant towns.
These towns are connected by one road which is famous for having blooming flowers all around it every spring. Seeing the flowers is the reason the area became famous, but it isn’t the only reason to visit today.
The town of Juayua stole my heart. Their weekend food market was to die for offering more food than I could possibly consume, and vibrant parades seemed to never end. From here, I was able to hike to waterfalls and stay at wonderful little guest houses.
Of course, there are other towns to explore on the Ruta de las Flores, and you can simply catch the local chicken bus to get from one town to the next (and check out the flowers along the way!) Concepción de Ataco and Apaneca are a couple of my other favorite towns and well worth a visit!
16. Santa Ana Volcano
The view from the top of Santa Ana Volcano!
As we make our way out of El Salvador towards Guatemala, there is one last stop that you definitely don’t want to miss. Santa Ana Volcano is one of Central America’s most gorgeous volcanos, and you can easily hike to the summit and back down in just a day!
Located in Cerro Verde National Park, Santa Ana Volcano is best accessed on a day trip from the city of Santa Ana. For this reason, you’ll likely need to book two nights in Santa Ana in order to spend a full day hiking Santa Ana Volcano. Otherwise, you can visit Santa Ana Volcano on a guided day trip from El Tunco or San Salvador.
Although somewhat steep, hiking to the top of Santa Ana promises amazing views of the surrounding landscapes as well as views into the blue lake of the volcano’s crater. One word of advice though, be sure to hike on a clear day as when there’s cloud cover, you might not see a thing!
Best Places to Visit in Guatemala
17. Acatenango Volcano
Our tour group at the summit for sunrise!
If you have time for only one hike while you’re in Central America, make it the hike up Acatenango Volcano! From the top of Acatenango Volcano, you can clearly watch Fuego Volcano erupt every couple of minutes. – it’s amazing to see!
The hike up Acatenango is usually done over two days on a guided tour where you spend the night camped up there. Tours depart from Antigua, Guatemala, and are really affordable.
Camping on Acatenango Volcano was a highlight of my Central America trip, and a must-do experience if you ask me! So, be sure to include it in your Guatemala itinerary!
18. Lake Atitlan
Boats are the main method of transport on Lake Atitlan.
Lake Atitlan is one of the most popular places to visit in Central America. This huge lake is nestled between volcanoes and surrounded by the most vibrant little towns you could imagine.
There are a ton of fun things to do in Lake Atitlan including hiking, yoga, kayaking in the lake, and so much more. Be sure to visit a few local restaurants, shop at the markets, and take in the stunning views as much as you can!
The only problem with visiting Lake Atitlan is deciding where to stay. With so many towns to choose from, it’s hard to know where to stay in Lake Atitlan. With that said, most tourists base themselves in San Maros, San Pedro, or Panajachel and explore the other towns on day trips.
19. Semuc Champey
Not a bad place for a swim!
Located in Guatemala, Semuc Champey is a national park that features the most amazing blue pools and waterfalls. Seriously, the water is bright turquoise and it’s stunning.
At Semuc Champey you can simply swim in the pools and relax. But don’t spend all of your time there, be sure to walk up to the viewpoint too! From a couple of hundred meters above, you get a unique vantage point to enjoy this natural attraction.
For something a little more exciting, join a caving tour in Semuc Champey!
There are a few places to stay in the jungle very close to Semuc Champey such as Utopia Eco Hostel and El Portal De Champey. Both of these are places to relax, disconnect, and enjoy nature.
Alternatively, you can stay in the small town of Lanquin which is located only about 40 minutes from Semuc Champey. Lanquin is tiny, but there are a few good hotels including Guayaha, and El Retiro is a good option for backpackers.
The main plaza at Tikal in Guatemala.
Tikal is one of the most impressive ancient ruins you can visit in Central America. Located in Guatemala not far from the Mexico border, Tikal is a Mayan ruin site that features five huge temples. One temple is actually 65 meters tall and is believed to be the tallest Mayan temple!
One of the things I like most about visiting Tikal is that in comparison to many other ruins around Central America and Mexico, it is not very busy. You can explore the ruins by walking through the jungle without seeing many other people around at all. In fact, you’ll likely spot wildlife including monkeys and toucans!
The best way to visit Tikal is on a guided day trip from the city of Flores. I recommend spending at least 2 nights there in order to enjoy all of the other things to do in Flores. This way, you can also do a sunrise tour to Tikal, which is the best time for views, peace and quiet, as well as spotting wildlife!
Best Place to Visit in Belize
While there are a few interesting places to visit in Belize, in this blog I’ve chosen to write about just one – Caye Caulker. It is the most popular destination in Belize and where most travelers visit.
21. Caye Caulker
Caye Caulker, Belize
Caye Caulker was my last stop in Central America before crossing the border to Tulum, Mexico. This tiny island is often the place travelers visit in Belize. It’s a sandy island with little to no roads, where the main method of transport is walking. You’ll find people cooking up lobster on BBQs lining the streets, friendly street dogs, bumping bars and restaurants, and possibly the friendliest locals you could ever meet.
Caye Caulker is somewhat like a dream and going on a dive trip here is world-class. In fact, this is the island on which you can access the famous Great Blue Hole. Alternatively, snorkel trips on Caye Calker are very popular.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the island life here and feel as though you never want to leave. Somewhere between the crystal clear waters and an endless supply of cocktails and seafood, Caye Calker becomes one of the best places to visit in all of Central America!
Before you go…
Thanks for reading our blog, and we hope you enjoy all of the amazing places to visit in Central America!
Thanks for reading my blog and I hope it helped you nail down some must-visit destinations in Central America for your upcoming trip. Of course, if you need more detailed info, then keep browsing around our blog – we have dozens of in-depth guides to the best places to visit in Central America.
But for now, check out a couple of these related blogs below, they are a great place to start: