posted by Guest blogger - Matt Kepnes | 0 Comments
Central America has become one of the most new places for backpackers. As the region shakes off its torrid past, more and more people are coming here. When I first went in 2005, I found a region filled with older, 30+ travelers. Now, the region teems with intrepid people of all ages. I love this region of the world. The people are friendly, the food delicious (and sometimes spicy), there are tons of beautiful beaches, and jungles worth exploring. My top activities in Central America are:
Go Scuba Diving
The waters around Central America are home to many coral reefs and filled with fish of all colors and variety. Diving here is cheaper than in the Caribbean. Popular dive sites can be found in Panama, Honduras, and Belize. The cheapest place to learn is in Honduras.
First opened in 1914, the Panama Canal transports ships from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean, and vice versa. The canal has three sets of locks: Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks on the Pacific side and Gatun Locks on the Caribbean side. You can see the locks at Miraflores in Panama City or take a boat trip down the canal over the course of a couple of days.
Most people who come to Central America want to see at least some of the ruins of the Mayan Civilization. The most impressive of these sites is Tikal in Guatemala, where in the early morning before the crowds come you feel like Indiana Jones. Other popular sites include Copán in Honduras and San Andrés in El Salvador. Every country in the region has at least one ruin site that you should see.
Nicoya Coast, Costa Rica
One of the more popular regions of Costa Rica, it is riddled with quaint little towns and plenty of beaches. It is constantly sunny here. Some of the main attractions here include: Barra Honda National Park, Isla Tortuga, SCUBA diving, and driving along the coast. For towns, go relax in ultra low key Santa Theresa.
Trekking in the Rainforests
Much of the region is covered in vast, humid, and stunning rainforest and as a lover of all things jungle, I spend much of my time trekking around. The rainforests are filled with diverse wildlife including howler monkeys, jaguars, lizards and tropical birds. Moreover, you’ll find zip lines (flying foxes) in every country. My favorite jungles are in Costa Rica as well as Belize.
Caye Caulker, Belize
Speaking of Belize, this little island is quite popular with backpackers. It’s cheap, there is always a party going on, and you’ll find activities such snorkeling, diving, kayaking, and boat trips. After a day chilling at “the split,” make sure you also eat at Wish Willy's for amazing seafood and chicken.
Sail the San Blas Islands
This is probably the most popular thing to do in Panama outside of seeing the canal. Taking a day, or even a week long sailing trip throughout them can be super fun. These trips are popular with budget travelers and can be organized anywhere in the country. The islands you stop at are pretty rustic so if you’re looking to get away from it all in the Caribbean, here is your chance.
Dive the Blue Hole
This is considered the feature attraction of Belize. This near-perfect circular hole is approximately 1/4th a mile in diameter and 480ft deep. It’s really just a deep hole you dive down to see stalactite and limestone formations. The water is almost completely motionless and visibility is about 200 feet.
Corcovado National Park is on the remote Osa peninsula and, though more popular than it used to be, it’s still a very rugged, quiet, and off the beaten path. It’s my favorite region in the country. The area is not easy to get to but your efforts will be greatly rewarded with deserted beaches, wildlife, hiking, camping, and lots of marine life. It’s one of the best places in Costa Rica.
Considered one of the most well-preserved colonial cities in all of Central America, Antigua is a major travel spot. There are tons of pubs, restaurants, coffee shops, plenty of hostels, and even Spanish schools. Additionally, it is central to many other attractions in Guatemala.
Ometepe Island, Nicaragua
Located inside Nicaragua Lake, this is the largest freshwater lake island in the world. There is a plethora of restaurants, hotels, and even high-speed Internet on this island. Check out Cascada San Ramon, a beautiful four-hour hike to a waterfall. Most people come here for a few days to relax and do nothing.
Central America has everything you could want in a travel destination: cheap and delicious food, really friendly locals, a bit of edginess to it, beautiful and deserted beaches, culture, and lots of adventure. It’s an up and coming place and one best visited sooner rather than later.
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