Beach in Belize, safest countries in central america

7 Best Places to Visit in Central America in 2024

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Central America is one of the top destinations in the world for ecotourism, and the best places to visit in Central America immerse you in the natural environment. If you love the outdoors, you’ll have a blast exploring the volcanoes of Guatemala, the wildlife of Costa Rica, the beaches of Panama, and beyond.

Moreover, this region has a rich Mesoamerican history, with historic Mayan ruins in Belize, Honduras, and other Central American countries. The biodiversity here is astounding, with hundreds of unique species, rare, endemic animals, and lush vegetation.

It’s hard to choose the best vacation spot in Central America, so in this guide, I’ll share the most noteworthy cities, attractions, and natural areas. Before I do though, I suggest getting a policy from one of the best travel insurance companies, so you’re covered in case you get injured or sick.

Also, if you want to stay connected during your trip for things like email or Google Maps, check out the Holafly eSIM. We use it whenever we travel and it has options for Central America, so I highly recommend it if you need internet while traveling.

1. Costa Rica, the best place in Central America to visit for outdoor enthusiasts

Costa Rica is one of the best destinations in Central America thanks to its wealth of attractions and interesting sights. It’s also one of the safest places in Central America, although I still recommend getting travel insurance for Costa Rica so you’re covered in case anything happens.

Outdoor enthusiasts will never run out of things to do here, from hiking and ziplining to rafting and snorkeling. Whale-watching in Costa Rica is also a must-do. We took this excursion and would do it again in a heartbeat.

If you want to see more Central American wildlife, head to Tortuguero National Park, an incredible protected area and refuge for the green turtle. This canoe tour will help you discover the biodiversity of the park while you explore the channels of Tortuguero.

Costa Rica, best central america vacation spots

1. Costa Rica, the best place in Central America to visit for outdoor enthusiasts

As one of the best countries in Central America for ecotourism, Costa Rica has amazing natural areas for you to explore. Manuel Antonio National Park is full of rainforests, beautiful bird species, and animals like sloths and the endangered Titi monkey. It’s a small park, but you’ll get the most out of your visit by taking this tour.

For something a bit different, check out the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve, a subtropical rainforest with low-hanging moisture. This guided tour offers magical experiences like ziplining through the mist-shrouded canopy, walking across impressive suspension bridges, and visiting a lush butterfly garden.

You also can’t miss the Arenal Volcano, a 5,350-foot-tall active stratovolcano. Take a hike around the mountain to see the beautiful surroundings and the nearby geothermal hot springs. Finally, this country is full of scenic beaches, so head to the shores of Guanacaste for the best beaches in Costa Rica.

We have a full guide to plan your trip to Costa Rica, so check it out and we will help you in every step. I’ve also written an article on where to stay in Costa Rica, you will find great resorts, but these are three of my favorite hotels:

2. Guatemala, the best place to visit in Central America for culture

Guatemala is one of the best countries in Central America, full of Mayan ruins, stunning landscapes, and cities rich in culture. One of its most famous sites is Tikal National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the largest archaeological sites of the pre-Columbian Maya. To take in the full scope of this place, I recommend this day tour to see the main temples and plazas.

These ruins are one of the most beautiful places in Central America, and about an hour south, you can see the natural beauty of Lake Petén Itzá. Travel further south, and you’ll find Lake Atitlán, Guatemala’s most famous lake and the deepest lake in Central America. This day trip will take you to the legendary watering hole as well as several lakeside towns like Panajachel and Chichicastenango, which is known for its bustling outdoor market.

Guatemala, best places to visit in central america

2. Guatemala, the best place to visit in Central America for culture

Another wonderful attraction and swimming spot is the Semuc Champey Natural Monument, a natural limestone bridge with a series of turquoise pools. Of course, you can’t miss your chance to visit Guatemala’s magnificent volcanoes. Hiking up the Pacaya Volcano to its sulfuric summit is quite an experience, and as you climb, you’ll spot small eruptions and lava flows while enjoying views of the Agua, Fuego, and Acatenango volcanoes.

Finally, some of the best cities in Central America are in Guatemala, including the capital of Guatemala City, Quetzaltenango, and the old capital of Antigua. The latter is a popular departure point for many tours, although this guided walk through the city is super interesting and highlights Antigua’s Baroque-influenced architecture.

3. Belize, the best place to visit in Central America for incredible landscapes

Belize may be one of the smaller countries, but it can’t be missing from your tour through Central America. This place has it all, from ancient Mayan temples to outdoor activities and some of the best beaches in Central America.

Mainland Belize is home to incredible ruins like those at Lamanai. A hub for Mesoamerican civilization, this site has imposing structures like the Mask Temple, Jaguar Temple, and High Temple. Nearby, you can see the striking pyramid temples of Altun Ha, including the 52-foot-tall Temple of the Masonry Altars.

Belize, central american coastal country

3. Belize, the best place to visit in Central America for incredible landscapes

It’s also worth taking a day trip further south to the Caracol Ruins. Located in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve, this lowland Mayan city boasts old plazas, ruins, and gorgeous waterfall and hot spring trails. Another interesting excursion is this one to Xunantunich, a historic Mayan archaeological complex with over 25 structures and ceremonial centerpieces. Along the same lines, this cave tour goes to Actun Tunichil Muknal, a sacred site that was used by the Maya for sacrifices, bloodletting, and other ritualistic services.

Besides its rich historical value, Belize is one of the safest places in Central America, and a haven for divers. Off the coast, the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System is an incredible habitat for sea turtles, sharks, manatees, and other marine life. A declared UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s home to the Great Blue Hole, a giant sinkhole measuring nearly 1,050 feet across and over 400 feet deep.

For an unforgettable snorkeling session, do this excursion, which explores the Hol Chan marine reserve and its coral reef. The tour departs from Caye Caulker, a small island with lovely beaches. Its larger neighbor, Ambergris Caye, is ideal for watersports, while the Placencia Peninsula in southern Belize is perfect for beach bums.

4. Panama, the best place to visit in Central America for a holiday

Linking Central and South America, Panama is best known for the Panama Canal, a 51-mile artificial waterway and a top tourist attraction in Central America. This tour is a great introduction to the canal, its pirate history, and the old forts in the area. Another interesting option is this canal cruise to see the famous Miraflores Locks, Pedro Miguel Locks, and the Bridge of the Americas.

You can see lots more historic and cultural sites in the capital, Panama City, which is home to museums, open-air markets, and a waterfront promenade along the canal. This walking tour shows you all the highlights, including the old town, the national theater, and “El Tornillo,” a corkscrew-shaped skyscraper. Moreover, the Panama Canal spills into Lake Gatun, which is filled with small islets like Monkey Island, where you can meet wild monkeys and other critters.

Panama, best central america

4. Panama, the best place to visit in Central America for a holiday

On the other hand, the San Blas Islands off the north coast of Panama are worth visiting, too. It’s a hotspot for water activities, so I suggest taking this day trip to enjoy paddleboarding and snorkeling along the seabed. You’ll also get to taste the fresh tropical fruits and mingle with the friendly locals.

In addition, the northwestern province of Bocas del Toro contains gorgeous beaches, a biodiverse rainforest, and vibrant nightlife. To the south, the mountain town of Boquete is known for its coffee plantations and ancient petroglyphs, so it’s a wonderful hidden gem.

Finally, off the southwestern coast of Panama, there are some of the most beautiful places in Central America, like Coiba Island. It’s home to Coiba National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with over 1,000 square miles of forests, beaches, coral reefs, and mangroves that protect several species of whales, dolphins, and other marine creatures.

5. Nicaragua, the best place in Central America to visit for an exciting vacation

Nicaragua is one of the cheapest Central American countries, and the perfect place for outdoorsy types since the landscape is dotted with volcanoes and coastal biosphere reserves.

The southwestern region of Nicaragua is a hub for geothermal activity, and one of the most exciting spots is the Masaya Volcano, which is made of several calderas and craters. For the best experience, I recommend taking a night tour to see the glowing lava and to learn more about Masaya’s impact on the country’s landscape.

To the east of Masaya, you’ll find the Mombacho Volcano, a stratovolcano that last erupted in 1570. Mombacho stands out for its otherworldly cloud forest and rare endemic species. The best way to explore it is with this guided hike to the summit, which passes craters, red-eyed frogs, and other natural wonders.

Nicaragua, best central america countries to visit

5. Nicaragua, the best place in Central America to visit for an exciting vacation

Without a doubt, Nicaragua has some of the best volcano tours in Central America, so I also suggest this excursion to Cerro Negro. You’ll enjoy a scenic hike, then volcano board down the ash-covered hill before visiting León, a city known for its huge Baroque cathedral.

Between the Masaya and Mombacho volcanoes, sits Lake Nicaragua, which contains over 360 small islands. These Islets of Granada were formed by the Mombacho eruption, and they aren’t the only geological formations in the lake. The two volcanoes also formed Ometepe Island, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. This day trip from Granada explores the island’s native flora and fauna and includes a traditional meal and beach visit.

Speaking of Granada, it’s among Nicaragua’s most interesting cities, thanks to its colonial history, cultural institutions, and old structures. It’s not far from the Apoyo Lagoon Natural Reserve, a tropical dry forest with over 500 plant and tree species, hundreds of bird species, and a variety of animals like white-faced capuchin monkeys and jaguarundis.

6. Honduras, another one of the best places to visit in Central America

Honduras is a unique place to visit in Central America, and while it’s not the safest country, you’ll be fine if you stay in the touristy areas.

One of those is Roatán Island, an island paradise with beautiful cays and mangrove forests. There is also a marine park here that protects the ancient coral reef, making it an amazing destination in Central America for snorkeling and diving tours.

Moreover, this half-day tour provides an overview of Roatán, its beaches, and its suspension bridges. If you’re an animal lover, this excursion to Roatán’s monkey and sloth sanctuary is a must-do.

Honduras, best snorkeling central america

6. Honduras, another one of the best places to visit in Central America

Next to Roatán, you’ll find Utila, another island with great diving spots and hiking trails. It’s also worth mentioning Cayos Cochinos, two small islets off the coast of La Ceiba where you can see the ultra-rare pink boa. If you’re around La Ceiba, check out Pico Bonito National Park or the Lancetilla Botanical Gardens, one of the largest botanical gardens in Latin America.

To the east, the Rio Plátano Biosphere Reserve is notable for its UNESCO World Heritage Site status, Mesoamerican archaeological sites, and vast array of fauna. To the west, Lake Yojoa is the largest lake in Honduras, with lava flows and volcanic craters dating back to the Pleistocene and Holocene eras.

Finally, all the way west, by the Guatemala border, there are the famous Copán Ruins. This relic of Mayan civilization is a must-see in Central America and full of monuments, plazas, palaces, and pyramids. There’s a lot to see here, so consider booking a hotel by the ruins. That way, you can also take this day trip from Copán to the Luna Jaguar hot springs.

7. El Salvador, the best place in Central America to visit for a unique experience

Lastly, a visit to Central America isn’t complete without seeing El Salvador. Spend some time in the capital city of San Salvador, either on your own or with this half-day tour. Among the city’s highlights, the Metropolitan Cathedral, Plaza El Salvador del Mundo, the National Palace, and the nearby crater lake of Ilopango stand out.

About 1.5 hours west of San Salvador, the breathtaking landscape of the Santa Ana Volcano is waiting. You can take a guided hike to enjoy the largest volcano in the country and its green crater lagoon. Nearby, the Izalco Volcano is known as the “Lighthouse of the Pacific” thanks to its high elevation of 6,400 feet. If you can’t decide, this volcano tour includes the Santa Ana and Izalco volcanoes, as well as Cerro Verde National Park. You’ll also see the Joya de Cerén Archaeological Site, which contains ancient Mayan remains and is known as the Pompeii of the Americas.

El Salvador, best place to visit in central america

7. El Salvador, the best place in Central America to visit for a unique experience

There are more pre-Columbian ruins in the area, such as the pyramids of San Andrés that date back to 900 B.C. The ancient city of Cihuatán was a major Mayan hub and still has old ceramic effigies and ceremonial structures. Tazumal is another cool place in Central America with ancient metal artifacts, pyramid temples, and chacmool sculptures.

In addition to history and culture, El Salvador has countless natural wonders. The huge crater lake of Coatepeque and the waterfalls of Tamanique are both prime hiking spots. Just 45 minutes from the capital, Boquerón National Park offers guided hikes through the volcanic scenery.

To the southwest, El Imposible National Park is another park with lush tropical vegetation and biodiversity. If you’re in the area, consider doing the Ruta de las Flores, which goes through several picturesque villages and local towns.

Now that you know the best places to visit in Central America, all that’s left is to plan your trip. Maybe it’s easier with these travel discounts!

Of course, don’t hesitate to leave me a comment below if you have questions about this guide, or if you want to share your favorite place in Central America.

Hopefully, this list of Central American countries helped you, and I know that whichever one you choose, you’ll have an amazing time. Stay safe and have a fantastic trip!

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CHIEF ADVENTURER, TRAVEL GURU, AND MASTER PLANNER AT CAPTURE THE ATLAS
Hey there, I'm Ascen, your personal trip planner on a mission to help you craft the most incredible adventure of your life. While I'm based in Las Vegas, you won't find me there often. As a full-time traveler, I'm always on the go, exploring new destinations and capturing the world through my lens. From the enchanting shores of Almeria, Spain, where I grew up, to the far reaches of the globe, I'm here to provide you with detailed travel guides and practical tips to make your trip planning a breeze. Find out more about me here.
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3 replies on “7 Best Places to Visit in Central America in 2024

  1. Geoff says:

    Hi, I love your write up! Any recommendations for a rough itinerary for 2 weeks in Central America and a desire to visit at least 2 other countries besides Costa Rica?

    Not sure if we should fly between some countries, or drive between others, or which ones to pick. I truly appreciate any feedback!

    • Capture the Atlas says:

      That is a very personal opinion, but if you are going to be traveling only for 2 weeks, I would spend the two weeks in Costa Rica and still you won’t have time to see the most important attractions there.

    • Kat says:

      I agree with Costa Rica suggestion. There are some restrictions but you can still move around freely and entry requirements are not terrible. I would say that 2 weeks is enough if you don’t spend too much time in the capital. Suggested itenerary: San Jose – La Fortuna, Puerto Viejo, Drive back to San Jose for a night and then head to Pacific Coast. You can fly regional plane to save time. On Pacific: Uvita, Santa Teresa, and Nosara. Don’t bother with Jaco or Tamarindo. Good luck.

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