Central America & the Caribbean - Best Tours & Trips 2019
While technically part of the North American continent, Central America and the Caribbean Sea are a region (or regions) apart from the rest. Like some major Caribbean islands -- including Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico -- Central America has mixed Spanish and native heritage, while the Caribbean islands also display African, French, Dutch, British and even Danish influences. Besides large cruise ships, a variety o ... Read More
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Relaxed A lot of free time, with very few inclusions. Ideal for independent and/or low-key travelers and cruisers.
Full on For those looking to maximize their sight seeing time. You thrive on a packed day’s schedule from 8 am to 6pm, with some (but limited) free time. Most activities and meals included.
Mixed You will have solid amounts of both free time and structured time with some activities and meals included.
Group Tour Groups are between 25-60 people, typically ~30-40. Usually there will be many opportunities to split off and enjoy meals and excursions in smaller groups. This is the most economical way to travel, saving up to 40% versus booking the same itinerary yourself.
Small Group Tour Small groups are usually defined as between 10 and 24 travelers, often less. If you're the kind of person who enjoys more intimate experiences and personal service this is a good choice. All else being equal you will pay a premium for this style vs a larger group tour.
River Cruise These vessels are smaller than most ocean cruisers, limiting which amenties are available. Passenger counts can vary. One of the biggest advantages of a river cruise is the ability to dock at smaller ports and local villages.
Small Ship Cruise Small ship cruises usually have a max passenger count of 500. The primary purpose of these trips is to spend time off the vessel in local ports (e.g. Mediterranean) or experiencing nature (e.g Galapagos or Antarctica). Cabins can vary from budget to luxury.
Private Guided Private tours give you the undivided attention of a guide, and often involve special access to sites and unique experiences not available to larger groups. This is a great option for families, couples, and small friend groups. Expect to pay a bit more for the extra service.
Self Guided / Independent Tour A travel company plans your itinerary and arranges all the logistics including lodging, local activities, and transportantion. You have the flexibility of a solo trip while still getting the convience and time savings of expert planning. Get 90% of the benefits of a tour, without a guide.
Vacation / Holiday Package Similar to a self guided tour, this usually involves a home base, such as a hotel or resort, with packaged activities and day tours as a part of the stay.
Large Ship Cruise This is the "floating city" experience, with multiple ways to enjoy your vacation aboard the ship as much as on land. Ships are multiple floors, provide several activities, culinary, and shopping options. They often make fewer stops and have less time available for shore excursions.
Camping Typically involves most nights sleeping in tents (sometimes permanent tented sites) or in rustic cabins and lodges.
Basic - 2 star You'll stay in no-frills, but clean and comfortable, hotels or guesthouses. A 'Basic' trip might also involve a few nights of camping.
Value - 3 star Mid-range budget with accommodations ranging from comfortable lodges, guesthouses, and homestays to three star hotels.
Premium - 4 star 3 to 4 star western hotel equivalents. While not all lodging will be 'luxury' they will be quite comfortable by western standards.
Luxury - 5 star The highest level of comfort and service. All accomodations are in four or five star hotels, boutique lodges or high-end homestays.
Price Per Day
Very Easy Minimal walking - motor vehicles available for all major parts of trip.
Easy Normal generally flat walking in urban or suburban environments.
Moderate Walking or physical activity half to most of day - no carrying equipment.
Strenuous All or most of day hiking or biking, hills included.
Extreme Very challenging all day hiking and backpacking carrying significant equipment.
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Rivers & Seas
Cities & Attractions
Good for Singles Trips that specifically cater to travelers looking to meet other singles.
No Single Supplement Trips where single supplement is usually not required for solo travelers.
Flights & Transport
Continents & Regions
- Visit the Arenal Hanging Bridges, a complex of suspended bridges and trails through a beautiful rain forest
- Cherish the moments in river rafting
- Explore Manuel Antonio National Park
- Hike through the trails in the Arenal Volcano National Park
- Live surrounded by idyllic beaches, upbeat Caribbean music, and friendly local communities
- Explore the tropical countryside by hiking to rural villages, snorkeling over the clear Caribbean Sea
- Uncovering pristine beaches set amongst lush mountain landscapes
- Visit an ecological park where you can explore cool swimming holes and even zip-line through the rainforest
- View Arenal Volcano
- Visit Tortuguero National Park, Sarapiquí, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
- Oh Mayan, Central America, what a land. A palace of mysterious ruins, active volcanoes, idyllic beaches and emerald jungles. Get a taste of seven different countries on an epic Latin adventure that takes in the sights and offers a whole heap of optional activities too.
- Eat your way through arty Oaxaca. Mole, mezcal and chocolate for dinner? Delicioso!
- Chichen Itza is one the New Seven Wonders of the World and it's not hard to see why – strolling around these ancient Mayan ruins feels pretty amazing.
- There's nothing quite like staying with a local family to really experience a place. You'll be feasting at breakfast and dinner, and improving your Spanish with the locals in San Jorge La Laguna in no time.
- There are loads of sides to Central America and you’ll get a taste of so many - slumbering on the sands of Playa del Carmen, gazing at the pyramids of Tikal or haggling in the markets of Chichicastenango.
- Travel to El Salvador and back in time in the colonial town of Suchitoto. Then summon your best beach bum/inner surfie with the beautiful black-sand beaches and surf of El Cuco and El Tunco.
- Stay at a unique, luxury Basecamp on Southwest Caye, a remote 13 acre island. Sleep in comfortable tent-walled cabanas and dine on fresh seafood, tropical fruit and local fare.
- Kayak or SUP around this pristine group of tropical islands set within a turquoise lagoon.
- Snorkel some of Glover’s 700 patch reefs in its thriving coral reef system
- Fly fish for bonefish or tarpon on the saltwater flats and adjoining deep waters...and from time to time we offer special departures with a guest fly fishing guide/instructor!
- Venture inland for a Mayan cave hike/float through lush rainforest and a specially arranged nocturnal viewing at the Belize Zoo.
Explore Silver Bank: The region of the Silver Bank was one of the shipping routes that were the lifelines of the Spanish Empire. In September 1641, the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de la Pura y Limpia Concepcion set sail from Havana, Cuba, laden with treasure. A week later, she was nearly destroyed by a hurricane and began a month-long trek to Puerto Rico for repairs. But just short of the goal, the Concepcion struck a shallow reef and began to sink, losing 300 passengers and crew and a fortune in silver that inspired the reef’s name.
Enjoy watching the Wildlife: Humpback Whales: Humpback whales are extravagant creatures, ranging from 40-50 feet in length and weighing in at 35-40 tons. They derive their name from the distinctive high humping of their back when they dive and also from the pronounced hump at the leading edge of their dorsal fin. Watch in awe as the whales put on a show, slapping their wing-like pectoral fins on the surface of the sea, lobtailing, breaching, spyhopping and peduncle throws.
- Cruise the canals of Tortuguero National Park
- Visit Tortuguero National Park, a wildlife centre near Sarapiquí, Arenal National Park, Manuel Antonio National Park
- A true “people-to-people” experience with cultural exchanges such as visits with artists, musical performances, and local organizations
- Riding in American Vintage Automobiles (Havana)
- Home of Ernest Hemingway (Havana)
- Cigar Factory (Havana)
- Casa Fuster (Havana)
- Bay of Pigs Museum (Giron)
- Walking Tour of Trinidad
- Bici-Taxi Tour of Camaguey
- Beaches of Guardalavaca (Holguin)
- Meeting Local Fishermen (Gibara)
- This adventure showcases the best the country has to offer
- Unique cultural immersion of this beautiful country
- Get unique access to areas rarely seen by tourists with your own private guide
- Experience Kayak or take a cruise onan island
- Explore a hidden gem of a coastal town
- Discover Nicaragua
- Visit Tortuguero Village
- See the Arenal Volcano
- Explore Monteverde Cloud Forest
- Visit to Curi-Cancha Forest Reserve
- See the Oxcart Factory in Sarchi
- Experience the only guided lodge to lodge paddling and snorkeling journey in Belize.
- Visit small islands that see fewer visitors: Tobacco Caye, Southwater Caye and Billy Hawk Caye
- Explore the uninhabited islands, coral reefs, mangroves and abundant marine life by sea kayak, kayak sail, snorkel or Stand Up Paddleboard.
- Travel inland to the savannah of the Tropical Education Center; forest cabanas and interpretive trails
- Enjoy an arranged nocturnal tour of the Belize Zoo – a great introduction to local ecology and wildlife.
- Explore and stay on remote and renowned Lighthouse Reef Atoll
- Spend four nights in a tent-walled cabana at our all-inclusive Adventure Basecamp on Half Moon Caye, a protected island managed by the Belize Audubon Society and home to 4000 red-footed boobies!
- Snorkel ‘the Aquarium,’ as well as Jacques Cousteau’s legendary Blue Hole.
- Stay overnight at Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, with early morning bird and wildlife viewing on a boat tour of the Crooked Tree lagoon.
- Enjoy additional service of airport pickup, accommodation and dinner with your group on your ‘day 0’ plus accommodation in Belize City at the end of your trip
- Discover the diversity of indigenous birds and wildlife at Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary on a boat tour of Crooked Tree Lagoons.
- Check out Crooked Tree, one of Belize’s oldest Creole settlements
- Journey to the ancient Mayan ruins of Lamanai and Altun Ha.
- Explore and stay on remote and renowned Lighthouse Reef Atoll, with four nights in a tent-walled cabana at our all-inclusive Adventure Basecamp on Half Moon Caye.
- Paddle and snorkel ‘the Aquarium,’ as well as Jacques Cousteau’s legendary Blue Hole.
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Top Central America & the Caribbean Experiences
Going snorkeling in the bright blue waters of Belize
Walking among Mayan Pyramids in Tikal, Guatemala
Riding a small boat on the Panama Canal after visiting an indigenous tribe in the rainforest.
Walking around Old Havana, Cuba, to see Hemingway haunts and 1950s-era American cars, still running.
Surfing Central America’s top surf spots
Central America & the Caribbean Trip Reviews
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 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 hike, climb mountains, ride 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.
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.
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.
All Central America & the Caribbean tours, river cruises, expedition cruises, and adventure trips. Find the best guided trips and expert planned vacation and holiday packages. Average rating of 4.7 for all Central America & the Caribbean trips.