Ready for takeoff? This week Frequent Flier is heading to some of the top travel spots in diverse, affordable Central America. There is plenty to see and do in Central America, from charming colonial cities and beautiful beaches, to dazzling rain forests and volcanoes, but there are a few spots we’re particularly excited about.
Whether you’ve been to the area or have been hankering to visit, we’re sharing our top picks for where to go in the region and why.
With a population of just over 350,000, you’ll be amazed at how much this tiny Central American country has to offer. From San Ignacio, a great base for a few days of adventure in the jungle (if you’re the hiking, caving, canoeing and swimming-in-waterfalls type) to Tobacco Caye, which is no bigger than a postage stamp, but worth a night or two for the phenomenal snorkeling (it sits next to a reef) and the quiet, deserted island vibe. Caye Caulker, only a 45-minute ferry ride from Belize City, is full of options for water-based fun, and there are ample reasons to add Belize to your must-travel list. Not to mention that the predominantly English-speaking locals and the ease of travel make it easy to get comfortable and see a good chunk of the country on minimal time.
We were blown away by the diversity and depth of culture in this small but fascinating country. Friendly people, great food and enough to do to keep any type of traveler happy (from beach bums to adventure-seekers) — there’s really no reason not to check out El Salvador.
Learn how to surf, hike in the jungle and jump off waterfalls (if you dare). Enjoy the colonial charm of small but bustling cities (check out Suchitoto for a slower pace) and get lost amid the museums, galleries and restaurants of the surprisingly cosmopolitan capital San Salvador. Bonus: El Salvador is small, so you can conceivably see the whole country in roughly two weeks. It remains a budget-friendly destination, although more and more boutique hotels are opening all over the country for those who want to spend a bit more.
While it may not have the familiarity of Costa Rica or the cache of Panama, don’t discount Guatemala as a worthy addition to your list of potential vacation spots.
We started our Guatemalan adventure in Antigua, a charming colonial city ringed by three awe-inspiring volcanoes (one of which you can climb for a first-hand view of flowing lava). Next up was Coban, a sleepy town where blending in with the locals was easy and rewarding. From here be sure to take a day trip to stunning Semuc Champey, an impressive limestone formation (essentially a natural bridge) over a series of stepped crystal-clear aquamarine pools and waterfalls for some amazing swimming. Add in a visit to the gorgeous lake district and a day or two to admire wow-worthy Mayan site Tikal, and you have an unforgettable trip to an often-overlooked destination
We were instantly charmed by cute Copan, the first place we encountered in Honduras and the jumping-off point to visit the impressive Mayan ruins of the same name. While we could have spent much longer than three days sipping drinks in the wide array of open-air cafes and bars, and wandering the winding streets of Copan (stay at hip yet budget-friendly Hotel Via Via if you go), there are plenty of other things to see and do in this off-the-radar locale.
Head to dusty Gracias to climb Celaque Mountain, the highest peak in Honduras (it’s a grueling but rewarding climb). If undersea adventures and beaches are more your speed, make your way to the stunning Bay Islands and base yourself in tropical escape Utila. It may have a backpacker vibe, but it’s accessible for every type of traveler.
Steadily making its way onto more and more must-visit lists, Nicaragua is slowly starting to emerge as a worthwhile vacation destination. You can climb a volcano or ride down one (it looked too scary for us), wander gorgeous colonial cities (check out Leon or Granada), trek in the jungle or relax on a secluded island (get yourself to Little Corn Island if that’s what you crave).
Nicaragua really does have something to offer every travel taste, from families to groups to penny-pinching backpackers. Not to mention, it’s so close to El Salvador you can easily combine a visit to both, depending on how much time you have and what kind of trip you’re looking for.
Pack your bags and join us next time when Frequent Flier heads to fascinating Singapore.