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Top Central America & the Caribbean Experiences

Snorkeling in Belize

Climbing the Mayan Pyramids

Cruising down the Panama Canal

Walking back in time in Old Havana

Relaxing on Caribbean beaches

Surfing Central America’s top surf spots

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Top Central America & the Caribbean Attractions

British Virgin Islands

Panama City

Havana

Arenal Volcano

Mayan Ruins

Antigua

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Central America & the Caribbean Attractions And Landmarks Guide

Central America and the Caribbean are mainland North America’s closest overseas  tropical destinations. Those in the eastern and southern regions of the U.S. are especially close, but it’s northeasterners, in particular, who welcome warm-weather vacations in wintertime.

So with the Caribbean, in particular, the first image that comes to mind is a tropical beach, perhaps with you sitting on it downing a rum punch. But there’s much more to explore in this region.

Experience History and Much More

Start with centuries of history --  from the Mayan temples of Guatemala to the Spanish colonial ruins of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic (the “New World’s” first city, dating from Columbus’ second voyage), to the imposing fortresses facing the sea in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the old city of Havana, Cuba.  

You can tour historic pirate havens in Jamaica and elsewhere, learn about traditional rum making, and hear the horrific stories of the slave trade that brought thousands of Africans here in chains to work the sugar cane fields.

And while there are plenty of ways to get your exercise along the beaches -- windsurfing and kite-surfing in the Dominican Republic among them -- you can also hikeclimb mountainsride mountain bikes, photograph tropical birds, go scuba diving or snorkeling among tropical reefs, take a whale-watching trip, go zip-lining through the tree-tops of a lush forest, tour old rum distilleries, discover distinctive architecture, or just enjoy the views on a sightseeing trip among islands and nations of Spanish, French, British, Dutch, and African cultural heritages.

Central America

While the southern side of Central America borders the Pacific Ocean, the northern side lies along the Caribbean, and generally tends to be somewhat more tropical, with warmer waters. The region has seen its share of civil strife in the past half century, and some high-crime areas  remain, but there are islands of stability.

The two most prominent Central American countries for visitors are Costa Rica and Panama, with Belize coming up fast. Costa Rica packs a wallop for its small size, with both Caribbean and Pacific coastal areas, rainforests and desert-like regions, volcanoes and wildlife. Costa Rica may be best known for its rainforest birding expeditions and its seven active volcanoes, including Irazu and Arenal -- which has erupted several times this century. But the country itself is stable and peaceful.

Panama, of course, is home to the Panama Canal, currently being widened to accommodate larger ships. A tour to Panama might include a day trip on the canal in a small ship (“Panama Canal” big-ship cruises usually don’t go all the way through the canal itself). Beyond the canal are rainforests occupied by indigenous tribes, jungle lodges for wildlife viewing and trekking, and the modern capital of Panama City.

Beyond Costa Rica and Panama

Belize, which shares part of the world’s second-longest tropical coral reef, is made for snorkeling and scuba diving, and also boasts Mayan ruins, while Guatemala is best known for Tikal, a pre-Columbian Mayan temple and World Heritage Site, as well as its volcanoes and natural beauty.

Honduras includes the island of Roatan, which has become a major Caribbean cruise ship stop, while Nicaragua -- the largest country in Central America -- is packed with impressive volcanoes and rainforests, but is sparsely visited. Tiny El Salvador also has volcanoes, lakes, forests, and a great Pacific surfing coast, but has been plagued by high crime and gang violence. Still, many adventurous travelers experience safe trips there and love it.

With an area this size, a tour, individual travel planner, or small-ship cruise makes a lot of sense in deciding where to go and what to see and do. Stride can help narrow the field for you and get you started on your adventures in the Caribbean and Central America. 

Related Guides

Countries:

BelizeCosta RicaCubaGuatemalaPanamaDominican RepublicHondurasNicaraguaEl-salvador 

Attractions:          

Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica; Roatan, Honduras; Panama City, Panama; Granada, Nicaragua; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Ocho Rios, Jamaica; and Many More.

Top Activities:    

 Scuba diving & SnorkelingSailing CruisesYoga, Meditation & WellnessKayaking & Canoeing & Nature Sightseeing.

 

Central America & the Caribbean Tour Reviews - Summary

4.7 out of 5

100%

recommend

6,568 Reviews

Excellent 4,787 Great 1,663 Average 9 Disappointing 1 Terrible 3

Rating Details

Value
4.7 Guide
4.7 Activities
4.7 Lodging
4.7 Transportation
4.7 Meals
4.7

Absolutely Brilliant trip

Discover Costa Rica

5.0 August 2017 Exodus Travels Recommend: Yes The title of this holiday is Discover Costa Rica, and that is exactly what it
delivers. During the break, you get to experience the beauty and the wide
diversity of the country from Mangroves on the Caribbean coast, to volcanic
regions to rain forests, cloud forests and beach resorts on the Pacific
coast.
For me, the best part of the trip was Tortuguero on the north east, Caribbean
coast. We stayed in La Laguna lodge which, although fairly rustic was
nevertheless very comfortable and crammed with opportunities to see various
forms of the beautiful wildlife to be found in Costa Rica from wading birds
to sloths, to raptors, frogs and howler monkeys and many many more.
Other areas such as Monte Verde cloud forest, and Esquinas Lodge were also
extremely beautiful and interesting places.


Our leader was Guillermo Arrieta who was absolutely outstanding. His
knowledge of and passion for his country, it's wildlife, industry and beauty
was palpable. His attention to detail to ensure that every member of our
group got everything they wanted from this holiday was superb.
I can honestly say that having experienced many other group leaders with
other high quality travel companies, Guillermo is by far the best.


Take plenty of memory cards for your camera (my wife and I took in excess of
10,000 pictures!), good quality waterproofs (it is a rain frost after all and
it certainly doesn't disappoint!), good quality binoculars and stout but
comfortable walking shoes.


This was the first time my wife and I have been with Exodus, but it certainly
will not be the last. The group size was 16 which was about right, enabling
everyone to get to know everyone else so that by the end of the trip, we were
all good friends. Having been with other quality organisations who have much
bigger groups we found we didn't get to know people as well and of course
getting on and off coaches and other transport became frustrating. No such
problems here!
This holiday is described as leisurely. However there was a fair bit of
walking, often uphill, and sometimes quite steep and at higher altitudes than
we're normally used to but we never found it to be unattainable and it was
always done at a sensible, leisurely pace. But be prepared!
The journeys between destinations can be long and sometimes on bumpy roads
but there are plenty of stops for comfort breaks and to stretch legs etc so
they do not become arduous.


Read more

Contrasting regions of Costa Rica

Discover Costa Rica

5.0 August 2017 Exodus Travels Recommend: Yes This was a really good and varied introduction to the country, taking in both
the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, and a number of types of forest in between.
We saw a wide variety of birdlife, flora and fauna and enjoyed the different
types of accommodation, all of which were very good or excellent in different
ways. The food was generally first class and served with a smile by friendly
and helpful staff. The visits to a village school and a local cheesemaker on
the final day were both interesting and enjoyable, in spite of our misgivings
beforehand about this sort of activity when we saw it in the notes.
Even though we aren't avid bird watchers, the sight of six scarlet macaws
circling, playing and landing in the trees as we watched them from the
roadside (spotted by our driver en route), and the early morning trip from
the excellent hotel at Savegre during which we saw beautiful quetzals were
two of the best moments of the trip. Seeing a crab-eating racoon crunching
its way through a large dead crab outside our cabin at Tortuguero was also a
highlight.


Katia was an enthusiastic, informative and helpful guide. She was happy to
tackle any topic thrown at her. She and the driver, Juan Jose, formed an
excellent team and it was nice that they joined us for meals etc. She also
organised and led, with Juan Jose when the bus was needed, a number of extra
walks and trips over and above the activities contained in the trip notes.
Nothing was too much trouble for her, to the extent that, after the tour was
over and we stayed longer on our own in San Jose, she contacted us to tell us
that our plans for a visit needed amendment because of a change in the timing
of a local festival.


We couldn't understand why dollars are recommended. Everything is priced in
colones, apart from the trips in Exodus' trip notes, and if you use dollars
in shops and restaurants, you not only get your change in colones but you
also tend to get a poor exchange rate. We had no trouble at all in using
colones.
We travelled with BA direct to San Jose, so had an extra day before and a
couple afterwards on our own in the capital to fit in with flight times. It
was good to have time to acclimatise before the trip proper started and to
wind down and do some exploring at both ends of the trip. We felt we saw a
bit more of Costan Rican life as a result than we otherwise would have. Our
criticism of the trip would have been that you see very little of the towns
and villages of the country. The Presidente Hotel in San Jose is excellently
situated, well appointed and with a good breakfast and staff and there is a
great little bar in the street just to the left of the hotel where you can
unwind with a beer among the locals.


Read more

Discover Costa Rica Tour was Wondeful

Discover Costa Rica

5.0 August 2017 Exodus Travels Recommend: Yes We chose this tour because it visits areas of Costa Rica that a lot of tours
don't reach. Having returned home and reflected on the experience we could
not have made a better choice. Every lodge or hotel we stayed in was
perfectly placed, comfortable and relaxing. Where food was included it was
always good to excellent. The gardens surrounding all the accommodations were
wonderful, with birds, mammals, frogs and reptiles as well as beautiful
flowers providing fantastic photo opportunities.

Coming home with such a great feeling about the trip would not have been
possible without the company of such a lovely group of people. All 14 of our
fellow travellers were great company and got along without any problems.
However, without a great tour guide, holidays can fail to achieve the magical
tour that we had. Johnny Villalobos was tremendous and went out of his way
make sure we saw everything we possibly could in the time available. I have
said more about him below.

We loved every part of this tour and we are so glad that we chose this tour
over all the others that were available.
Seeing at least three quetzal birds when we knew the chances of seeing any
might only be 50:50. I was not prepared for just how beautiful they are.


Johnny Villalobos was probably the best tour leader I have experienced. His
knowledge of wildlife and all elements of Costa Rican history was phenomenal;
to top it off he arranged a 50th anniversary surprise for one of the couples
which included a cake and presents which was an emotional moment for
everyone. He went above and beyond the normal expectations for a tour guide
and should be considered for tour guide of the year.


We were able to pay for almost everything on credit cards, even tiny amounts.
Using credit cards that charge no fees meant we could buy anything in the
most effective way. The rest of the time $US were accepted everywhere.
Sterling is not always accepted even just for converting to Colones.

Be prepared for high humidity, especially at Esquinas Lodge. The humidity
everywhere makes drying washing difficult despite the high temperatures.


Consider staying a bit longer to see other parts of the country around the
San Jose hinterland. We went on a day trip that included Irazu volcano and
wished we could have done more, such as visiting the Poas volcano


Read more

Really superb trip--highly recommended!

Cuba: Havana Weekend Getaway

5.0 July 2017 Discover Corps Recommend: Yes This trip was really superb, starting with the folks like Alex in the San Diego office to our tour guide in Havana, Orelvis (a perfect gentleman if there ever was one--and he seemed to know absolutely EVERYTHING about Havana), and our driver, Boris (who was an extremely safe driver, and the SUV that was our transportation was a practically new Honda), and our friendly hostess at the casa particular (B&B).

But at breakfast at the casa particular, keep in mind the CDC guidelines for healthy travel: cook it, boil it, peel it (yourself) or FORGET IT. So the bowl of fruit and the fruit juices? Pass them up in favor of coffee and toast. I know that sounds boring, but after I got home, I ended up in the hospital emergency room for dehydration due to e-coli--my fault for not following the CDC guidelines.

Also, to get up to my room at the casa particular, I had to climb a narrow, curved marble staircase--I took extra care not to fall either on the way up or on the way down.

The activities and attractions were first rate (but you must keep in mind that you're on "Cuban time," and not everything runs like a Swiss train). From the Hemingway house to the canon ceremony (which I loved even though it was a substitution for another event that was unexpectedly closed) to the jazz club (again, we went to one jazz club that for some reason didn't work out, but no problem--Orelvis took us to another jazz club recommended by his supervisor in Havana) to the art museum to the Malecon to the outdoor terrace at the Hotel Nacional and more, it was amazing how much we saw of Havana in about 72 hours.

There were only four people on the trip, and that was both a good thing and a bad thing--good because each of us received a great deal of attention from Orelvis and bad because two of the four didn't want to follow the itinerary and often went off on their own and then kept the rest of us waiting for them to return (highly frustrating--finally Boris said, "the schedule is the schedule," and we stopped catering to them). One of them spoke fluent Spanish--good for her--but I did wish that Orelvis had curtailed the lengthy conversations that she initiated with him, which the rest of us could not understand.

Two of my favorite activities were ones that I arranged myself: attending the world-class ballet at the gorgeously restored el Gran Teatro and then taking a yellow 1950 Chevrolet convertible with an Italian driver, who was an absolute hoot, back to the casa particular.

And the food at the private restaurants known as paladars was first rate. We even had lunch at one that Anthony Bourdain recently featured on his CNN travel show "Parts Unknown."

Just a small word of caution: sometimes there wasn't enough bottled water in the SUV in which we were riding, especially when we were dropped off at the casa particular at night. Make sure that you have plenty of bottled water with you at all times. (The CDC even recommends that you brush your teeth with bottled water.)

I also wish I had brought another pair of shoes with me because with all of the walking in the heat of the Cuban sun, my feet swelled. Fortunately, I had brought some Band-Aids with me, which helped cushion the sore spots.

I highly recommend this trip--to my way of thinking, it's much better than taking a cruise ship that only docks in Havana for one or two nights--and the "Havana Weekend Getaway" is the most popular trip to Cuba that is offered by Discover Corps, as I learned from Orelvis.
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Horrible disgusting company

Volcano Adventure – Antigua to San José

1.0 June 2017 G Adventures Recommend: No My tour guide organized a robbery where all my money and passport were stolen and then I was ditched for more than a month alone with nom money or documents in Honduras. G Adventures says "it's not their fault. No refund, no compensation. I wrote a bad review and was blocked. So immature. Disgusted. Read more
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