I travelled Central America a couple years ago and it was a marvelous unforgettable experience which I can't find enough adjectives to fully describe but I'm absolutely sure I'll forever be thankful for. I did my travels smoothly thanks to the help of Lonely Planet's Central America on a Shoestring Travel Guide and with approximately $800.00 to $1000.00 US dollars. The article, Lonely Planet's Top 10 Spots in Central America is great but since not all the places that I personally loved the best are mentioned in the article, I owe it to myself and everyone to include two more locations which should have also been mentioned. These spots are Caye Caulker, Belize and San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. Thus, this post will be named Top 12 spots in Central America. Enjoy reading.
Adapted from Lonely Planet's Top 10 Spots In Central America.
The green links between North and South America, these seven compact countries would be easy to skip on a map. Yet they represent a complex web of cultures, ancient ruins, tropical wildlife and adventure.
Beyond the beaches, there are hidden Maya, Kuna and Miskito villages, haciendas turned language schools and the cobbled streets of beautiful Spanish-colonial towns, where vendors push squeaky carts of fresh corn or shaved ice.
Certainly the most striking feature of Tikal is its steep-sided temples, rising to heights of more than 44 meters. But Tikal is different from Copán, Chichén Itzá, Uxmal and most other great Mayan sites, because it is fairly deep in the jungle. Its many plazas have been cleared of trees and vines, its temples are uncovered and partially restored, but as you walk from one building to another you pass beneath the dense canopy of rainforest. Rich, loamy aromas of earth and vegetation, a peaceful air and animal noises contribute to an experience not offered by other Mayan sites.
|Lake Atitlan at dusk|
Nineteenth-century traveller and chronicler John L Stephens, writing in Incidents of Travel in Central America, called Lago de Atitlán "the most magnificent spectacle we ever saw", and he had been around a bit. Today even seasoned travellers marvel at the lake's rippling expanse and the villages that tumble down from green hills to its shores. Fishermen in rustic crafts ply the lake's aquamarine surface, while indigenous women in multi-coloured outfits do their washing by the banks where trees burst into bloom. Fertile hills dot the landscape, and over everything loom the volcanoes, permeating the entire area with a mysterious beauty.
|Humming Bird highway - Andres Madrigal|
Passing through jungle and citrus orchards as it skirts the northern edges of the Maya Mountain range, Belize's Hummingbird Highway offers a near constant procession of postcard-perfect vistas. There are also plenty of reasons to stop along the way, chief among these being a visit to Cave's Branch for cave tubing and St Herman's Cave, where, with a guide, you can explore its huge caverns and classic Maya ceremonial chambers containing calcified skeletons and artefacts. There is also the Blue Hole, a 25-foot-deep sapphire-blue swimming hole inside a 328-foot-wide cenote that was formed when the roof caved in on one of the Sibun River's underground tributaries.
|Ruta de las Flores, El Salvador|
The wildflower of El Salvadoran tourism is a 36km-long winding trip through brightly coloured colonial towns famed for lazy weekends of gastronomy and gallery-hopping, as well as more adventurous pursuits like mountain biking, horseback riding and hiking to hidden waterfalls scattered throughout the glorious Cordillera Apaneca. Home to the country's first coffee plantations, some of its finest indigenous artisans and a world-famous weekly food festival, the "Flower Route" anticipates El Salvador's return to the traveller's map.
|Colorful Reef Scene, Bay Islands|
Honduras's Bay Islands move to a lyrical reggae beat and offer some of the best diving and snorkelling in Central America. Perched on the southern terminus of the Mesoamerican Reef - the second largest barrier reef in the world - this is a water-lovers dream, with amazing reef systems and enough marine life to keep divers and snorkelers busy for days on end. Backpackers and indie travellers will love the sand streets and cheap accommodations of Utila, while mainstream Roatán - the most visited of the islands - appeals to an older crowd, families and folks looking for a bit more on the creature-comfort scale.
|Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua|
6. Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua
Isla de Ometepe's twin volcanic peaks, rising up out of Lago de Nicaragua, have captured the imagination of everyone from pre-colonial Aztec descendents (who thought they had found the Promised Land) to Mark Twain (who waxed lyrical about it in his book Travels with Mr Brown) to the surprisingly few travellers who make it out here. The island's fertile volcanic soil, clean waters, wide beaches, wildlife population, archaeological sites and dramatic profile landed it on the 2006 shortlist for the new Seven Natural Wonders of the World (though it did not make the final cut; www.new7wonders.com/en/).
|The Guardian - Lion Of Leon|
A hotbed of intellectualism, revolution and independence, the city has played host to some of Nicaragua's most important political and artistic moments. Buzzing with energy and, at times, drop dead gorgeous (in a crumbling colonial kind of way), León is a city of awe-inspiring churches and cathedrals, fabulous art collections, stunning streetscapes, cosmopolitan eateries and all-week, walk-everywhere happening nightlife. Not as polished as its age-old rival Granada, many people love it precisely for its rough, exciting edges.
|Monte Verde Cloud Forest Reserve, Costa Rica|
This slim corridor of civilization, which consists of the Tico village of Santa Elena and the Quaker settlement of Monteverde, is strung between two lovingly preserved cloud forests. A 1983 feature article in National Geographic described this unique landscape, and subsequently billed the area as the place to view one of Central America's most famous birds - the resplendent quetzal. Since then, the cloud forests near Monteverde and Santa Elena have become Costa Rica's premier destination for everyone from budget backpackers to well-heeled retirees. Indeed, this is a place where you can be inspired about the possibility of a world where organic farming and alternative energy sources help to salvage the fine mess we have made of the planet.
|Arenal Volcano at Night|
If you have a little time, take the road from Ciudad Quesada to the Arenal area - you are in for one beautiful ride. With the backdrop of Volcán Platanar behind you, the road winding through this green, river-rich agrarian region passes through prosperous, quaint towns bright with bougainvillea. In front of you, if the weather cooperates, the smoking peak of Arenal will loom in the distance. Past La Fortuna, the paved road hugs the north bank of Laguna de Arenal. On either side of the road, up the green slope and down on the lake side, turnouts and driveways for lovely inns, kooky ersatz Austrian mini-villages, hip coffee houses and eccentric galleries appear invitingly like pictures in a pop-up book. Heading back around the western edge of the lake, you will pass through the lakeside Nuevo Arenal and down to the pleasant mountain town of Tilarán before descending back toward the Interamericana.
The most cosmopolitan capital in Central America, Panama City is both a gateway to the country's natural riches and a vibrant destination in its own right. A hub of international banking and trade, Panama City sports a sultry skyline of shimmering glass and steel towers reminiscent of Miami. The colonial neighbourhood of Casco Viejo is a dilapidated peninsula with ruins and cobbled streets reminiscent of old Havana. After the city elite fled to live in skyscrapers, decades passed with Casco Viejo crumbling on the edge of the sea. Recently, artists and small businesses are moving back in and renovations are abundant. With luxury lofts, cafes and the hottest nightspots arriving, the Casco is approaching full-swing revival.
|The Split, Caye Caulker|
It is no secret that Belize is renown for having the world's second largest Barrier Reef after Australia and the largest in the western hemisphere - therefore, when fellow snorkeling and scuba enthusiast want to experience the best coral and aquatic life at an affordable price, they visit Caye Caulker. Belize's Caye Caulker was once a small fishing village and has slowly adapted to host a rare combination of rural, laid back charm and comfortable amenities that has very little resemblance to the more populated Caribbean hot spots (for example the more popular nearby island resort ambiance of Ambergris Caye, San Pedro). Caye Caulker might not be for everyone but if you are comfortable with having rustic accommodation, local food and drinks, taking small tours, being in walking distance to everywhere in the island, and are ready for the official 'Go Slow' island pace - you'll fall in love with this place.
|San Juan del Sur's Horse-shoe Cove|
San Juan del Sur was a destination that I ran into by accident. Leaving Granada, I had planned to go directly to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica but after hearing the stories from fellow travellers of how amazing the town and the beaches were, I followed my gut and took a detour. At first I was a bit frightened since before arriving we were on a desolate rocky road, but shortly before entering the town, the taxi took a turn and to my relief, there was beautiful small picturesque town settled next to a horse-shoe cove beach. The food, the culture and the nightlife in San Juan del Sur is truly spectacular and there are a wide variety of activities such as the best surfing, fishing, sailing or just sunbathing on the beautiful beaches. This was a perfect soothing place to relax and replenish my strengths.
Have any questions? Hit me up Lorenzo Gonzalez.
All the photos used are courtesy of the linked websites.
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