Central America & the Caribbean Tours and Travel Guide
Central America & the Caribbean Attractions & 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 Central American 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, you can also hike, climb mountains, go cycling, 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.
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 stop for Caribbean cruises, 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 group tour, custom travel planner, or small-ship cruise makes a lot of sense in deciding where to go and what to see and do.
Top 5 National Parks in Central America
1. Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica
Considered one of the worlds most biodiverse national parks, it contains 13 different ecosystems from swamps to coastal marine to rain forest and more. This is a backpacker’s favorite who are looking for off the beaten path adventures such as camping, hiking and camping
2. Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica
Although it is small, this national park is the most visited in the country because it contains a wealth of fauna inhabited around 180 different bird species and 100 different species of mammals.
3. Cerro Verde National Park, El Salvador
This is any hiking enthusiasts dream park. With many trails that lead to different volcanoes, lakes and gardens bedecked with some of the rarest species of plants and trees.
4. Masaya Volcano National Park, Nicaragua
Masaya Volcano National Park is the biggest park in Nicaragua and home to two twin volcanoes, five craters and an abundance of wildlife such as coyotes, monkeys, deers and more.
5. Darien National Park, Panama
Park of the UNESCO world heritage site, Darien National Park exemplifies biodiversity with a variety of habitats, indigenous communities and wildlife. It bridges two continents of the world and stands as one of the largest, untouched jungles in Central America.
Caribbean Adventure Travel
Adventure travel in the Caribbean is fat more than relaxing in pristine waters. The following are some activities that are the epitome of fun, active and adrenaline pumping that you cannot miss.
1. Hiking in Central America: there are an abundance of hikes you can do that is worth the walk in this region. Whether its is mountains in Dominica or Jamaica, getting to the top reveals a spectacular view overlooking the ocean, towns and raw natural beauty of the region.
2. Scuba Diving: The Caribbean is probably the most sought after destination for observing a wealth of marine life. Travel to the Cayman Islands or the Bahamas to swim next to hammerhead sharks, humpback whales and more.
3. Sailing: A sun soaked sailing trip is the perfect escape from everyday life. Some of the best places are Grenada, Antigua, British Virgin Islands and Guadeloupe.
4. Surfing: Barbados, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic are some of the best places to surf for any kind of experienced surfer, from baby waves to monstrous ones.
5. Snorkeling: perhaps the most popular, easy and mesmerizing activity, snorkeling anywhere in the Caribbean is a unique experience. Curacao, Bonaire and the Bahamas are some of the best places to immerse yourself in marine life.
6. Caribbean Bike Tours: these are really popular in the Caribbean. It can be for an hour or an all day adventure. Either way, bike tours are a great way to explore the island you are staying with knowledgeable guides that will let you get to know the place in a more intimate and active way.
Top 10 Beaches in Central America
1. Playa Gigante, Nicaragua
Gigante is almost every traveler’s favorite beach town in Nicaragua for a reason. It has one of the most beautiful views of the ocean in the world and also with extremely high quality surfing ground. Playa Amarillo is the best beach to visit with great surf waves that range from experienced to learners, as well as white sands and very little touristy traps since the island only consists of about 300 locals.
2. Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
If you’re looking for a world class surfing destination in Costa Rica, you have found it. Although it is a very small beach village, it has gained a lot of attraction over the years through tourists and booming businesses that have transformed the white sandy beach into a top-notch paradise for anybody looking to surf, hike, horseback ride and more.
3. Varadero beach, Cuba
A picturesque beach straight out of a postcard. The Varadero in Cuba is a 20km spread of blonde sand that is more on the touristy side as far as beaches go. However, you can’t blame it.
All the luxurious hotels, hammock hostels and restaurants are brimming with people that have come from all over the world to see the turiouse blue water stretch towards the horizon with white sands and plenty of water activities that keep this place fun and lively.
4. Bavaro Beach, Dominican Republic
Bavaro beach is breathtaking. Many tourists go for the soft white sand, hardly any crowds around and the clear blue sea that is constantly warmed by the sun. What more could you want?
5. Pink Sands Beach, Bahamas
Pale pink sands are contrasted with deep, blue waters that attract travelers everywhere interested in snorkeling, diving and other water sports. It is extremely beautiful and many are blown away by the dreamy view.
6. Malmok Beach, Aruba
This isolated, rocky beach has one of the most crystal clear waters in the world. There are many secluded bays and hidden gems of rocky terraces that make this the best getaway for anyone looking for a more quiet escape to snorkel, sail or simply relax.
7. Seven Mile Beach, Cayman Islands
An expansive beauty, the Seven Mile beach is known as one of the ultimate beach getaways when traveling to the Caribbean. The sparkling waters and fine, sugar sand beaches is spectacular for any sunset chaser, surfer, parasailer and a must see for any beach lover out there.
8. Placencia, Belize
This emerald beach located in the south of Belize is a tropical paradise. It is a small fishing village bordered on one side by a lagoon and the other with the Caribbean Sea. Perhaps the most popular destination in the country, Placencia stands as a mecca for water activities such as diving, snorkeling, fishing and more.
9. San Blas Islands, Panama
San Blas islands are one of the most desired places to see in Panama. If this one isn’t on your bucket list, you are missing out on a destination that has a lot of things many travelers want in a beach escape: crystal waters, archipelago of beaches, forests, white sand, diverse marine life, an open indigenous culture and globetrotters from all over the world to meet.
10. Roatan, Honduras
Known for their reef diving, Roatan is a good vacation site whether you are a luxurious cruise passenger to a backpacker on a budget.
Central American Cuisine
The cuisine in Central America is seafood rich, utilizing many spices and fresh fruit. Here are 10 Can’t Miss Caribbean dishes!
1. Jamaican Patties
This golden, fluffy patty is showcased at almost any Caribbean restaurant, especially in Jamaica where it is stuffed with beef, onion, garlic and aromatic herbs.
2. Jerk Chicken
This Jamaican barbeque favorite is probably the most well known dish to come out of Caribbean cuisine. Juicy, hearty and rubbed with a balance of lemon, cayenne, cinnamon, thyme, sugar and other spices, it is usually eaten with rice, plantains and vegetables.
3. Torta Cubanas
The legacy of cuban sandwiches is known worldwide, and although you can get it in the states and North America, having one made in the Caribbean itself is another thing. You can’t go wrong with a torta cubana, and your first bite into the ham, grilled pineapples, polvoron, turkey, chorizo and onions will make it hard not to have one everyday.
Fresh, fried plantains give any dish a Caribbean spin. These sweet crispy fruits are crowd pleasers whether they are served as sides or desserts, savory or sweet.
These are fried dough balls packed with garlic, onion, cumin and other strong spices with chutney on the side. In Trinidad, you are bound to find some in any restaurant, local home, and in any birthday or big events!
6. Rum Cake
The Caribbean islands are most famous for their delicious rum cakes. If you have visited and hadn’t tried the booze filled dessert, you’re doing your trip all wrong. Infusing different flavors of coconut, pineapple, vanilla, almond, rum and more, rum cake is the go to after meal snack morning, day and night.
7. Anegada Lobster
Anegada, considered the Caribbean capital for lobster, you can expect almost every restaurant to serve a huge portion of fresh lobster with lime and garlic butter.
8. Barbados Flying Fish
Flying fish is a delicacy in the Caribbean, especially in Barbados where it is their national dish. Fried and fresh, it is usually served with a side of cou-cou, okra and topped with a spicy sauce.
9. Antiguan Breakfast
Antiguan breakfast is filling, savory and made up of so many things that would make your mouth water on sight: salted fish, plantains, avocado, eggs and chopped up veggies. A perfect meal to start your day right!
10. Guyanese Pepper pot
Think jambalaya when you think of this Caribbean stew that mixes all great flavors of bold spices, beef, potatoes, eggplant, okra and squash. It is traditionally served with rice and is the national dish of Guyana for a reason - it is an all around favorite!
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