Best Central America countries to visit
Here are all the best countries in Central American and why you should visit them!
Central America is a gorgeous part of the world. Nestled in between the USA, the Caribbean islands, and South America, there is a wide range of different languages, landscapes, native traditions, and unique cultures. Spanish is the predominant language in Central America, though there are many indigenous communities that speak their own languages.
Though Central America isn’t very large in terms of landmass, it is rich in cultural and geographical diveristy. The countries are quite small, with the exception of Mexico. Each country has their own distinct way of life, and each country offers something different to travelers who stop by.
In this article, I’ll explore the best Central American countries to visit. The list of countries that make up Central America is up for debate, however. Some consider Central America to only include the seven countries of Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize, Costa Rica, and Panama.
Some consider Mexico to be part of Central America, and some consider it part of North America. Some consider Caribbean islands like Jamaica and the Dominican Republic to be part of Central America.
For this article, I won’t be including the Caribbean, but I will include Mexico. Though geographically, Mexico is part of North America, the culture and landscape of Mexico is similar to the other Central American countries. So without further adieu, here are the best Central American countries to visit (listed in no particular order).
Check our guide for traveling to Central America
Best Central America countries to visit
- Costa Rica
- El Salvador
Probably the most popular country to visit in Central America is Costa Rica. It has a reputation for being traveler-friendly, ex-pat friendly, safe, beautiful, and fun.
Full of jungles, beaches, waterfalls, volcanoes, wildlife, and lots of friendly locals, Costa Rica has everything a traveler in Central America could want. It is also one of the best Central American countries to visit in December, as that’s when the rainy season ends and the weather becomes perfect.
The only downsides to its popularity are that it can feel quite touristy in some places, and the cost of things are more expensive here than other Central American countries. But if you visit Costa Rica, you’ll realize the crowds of tourists and the slightly overpriced food is worth it.
It is truly an amazing country and no traveler will ever regret exploring the natural beauty of Costa Rica.
For those looking to volunteer, there are available Worldpackers work exchanges here to choose from! You can live in a eco lodge and learn about greenhouse and cultivations or immerse yourself in Costa Ricas's gastronomy by helping at a kitchen.
Learn some useful tips for your trip in "How to master solo travel in Costa Rica" and check When is the best time to visit Costa Rica.
Generally not that popular among tourists, El Salvador is surprisingly one of the best Central American countries to visit. El Salvador doesn’t have a great reputation due to the wars and violence that occurred there in the mid-late 1900s.
However, these conflicts are in the past and El Salvador is becoming more and more safe for tourists every year.
Because it is not super touristy, El Salvador is cheap and there are lots of amazing retreats and eco villages scattered around the small country. There is good surfing, lots of incredible nature, and many lodges and retreats that focus on yoga, meditation, and healthy living.
You can even volunteer at an eco village and work as a cook, photographer, gardener, teacher, and general maintenance volunteer or explore El Salvador with other volunteering positions.
Situated just below Mexico, Guatemala is a super diverse country. It has ancient ruins, highlands, volcanos, mountains, jungles, rainforests, lakes, beaches, cities, small towns, and so much more.
Guatemala also has a strong sense of Mayan culture. Many locals still live the way their ancestors did, and they wear traditional Mayan clothes. If you venture to small villages in Guatemala, you’ll find that many people actually speak their native languages instead of Spanish.
Popular things to do in Guatemala include lounging on Lake Atitlan, hiking Volcan Acatenango and other volcanoes, surfing on the coast, visiting natural pools in the jungle, exploring the Mayan ruins in the north, and exploring all the beautiful towns and cities.
Doing a work exchange in Guatemala is also a great way to learn about the local culture. You can be part of a hostel's team as a receptionist or work with a horse in a Guest House.
Is it safe to travel to Guatemala? In this article we give you the information you need to know before travelling.
Belize, a small and interesting country, is another one of the best Central American countries to visit. It is located on the Caribbean Coast, and therefore is sometimes considered a Caribbean nation in addition to a Central American one.
Belize is also very multicultural, with influences from all sorts of Caribbean nations, Latin American nations, and African nations.
Though it is small, Belize is home to so much cool stuff. There are Mayan ruins, lazy beach towns, tropical forests, and lots of mindblowing marine life. Belize is one of the best Central America countries to visit for diving and snorkeling, simply because the underwater world is so amazing and vibrant.
Some interesting work exchanges you could try in Belize include helping manage beehives, being a social media communicator, and working at an off grid jungle farm.
As the biggest and most well-known country in Central and North America, Mexico is just as amazing as people say it is. With plenty of famous museums, landmarks, ruins, and monuments, there is much to do here for history, architecture, and culture lovers.
And with a vast landscape that covers lots of different geographies, Mexico is one of the best Central American countries to visit for nature lovers. There is hiking, snorkeling, surfing, sailing, camping, fishing, rock climbing, and so much more.
Mexico is also one of the most popular countries for doing a Worldpackers work exchange. With 185 volunteer opportunities in Mexico, there is no shortage of cool experiences to try.
Full of cheap delicious food, warm and welcoming locals, and unique natural sights, Nicaragua is an up and coming destination in Central America.
Nicaragua is also arguably the best Central American country to visit for surfing. Because it is less touristy than Mexico or Costa Rica, you can often find stunning beaches with perfect surfing conditions and no other people there.
Other popular things to do in Nicaragua include sandboarding down volcanoes, visiting the gorgeous Ometepe Island, and partying and surfing in the fun backpacker town, San Juan Del Sur. There are also some cool work exchanges in Managua, Leon, and Granada, all of which are popular and scenic cities in Nicaragua.
Panama is another one of the best Central American countries to visit. This long, thin country acts as the gateway between Central America and South America, and is bordered by Costa Rica in the north and Colombia in the South.
Panama is known for its incredible biodiversity, though it often is overshadowed by Costa Rica in terms of tourism. Snorkeling, diving, white water rafting, hiking, and bird watching are all fun pastimes in Panama.
Some of the best places to visit in Panama include the beaches and islands of Bocas Del Toro, the mountains and coffee plantations of Boquete, the volcanoes, waterfalls, and rainforests of Anton Valley, and the skyscrapers and entertainment of Panama City.
There are many work exchanges in Panama for those who want to try volunteering!
Before you travel, make sure to read The 10 best things to do in Panama.
Last but not least on the list of best Central American countries to visit, is Honduras. With a pretty long Caribbean coastline, Honduras boasts some amazing marine life and diving sites.
So if you love snorkeling, diving, and exploring the underwater world, Honduras is a great place to visit. The country also has many national parks filled with wildlife and mountains that are great for hiking, though there are no volcanoes in Honduras.
There are also lots of cool archeological sites for those who love history. Honduras is not a super popular country to visit in Central America, but it does have a lot to offer.
To know more, don't miss out this guide about the best things to do in Honduras.
For those who want to live and work among locals, there are also Worldpackers work exchanges available in Honduras! You can learn permaculture with locals in a farm on a Caribbean Island or apply for a volunteering position in a beautiful fun hostel in Honduras as a bartender and live the experience of your life!
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