So, which is actually the best country to visit in Central America?
If it’s your first time in Latin America you’re may be asking the following:
Where do I start my trip?
How long do I stay?
Which is the best country to visit?
When is the best time to travel?
As daft as it sounds, back when I first landed in Guatemala in 2014, I was asking myself those exact same questions.
If you were wondering the same or you just need some ideas, keep reading, as I’m going to do my best to show you what I have learned after over 4 years of non-stop backpacking in and around Central America and the Caribbean.
Best country to visit in Central America
After backpacking Central America I came to the conclusion that asking myself which is the best country to visit in Central America is the wrong question.
Let me explain:
With Central America been as unpredictable as it is, a better question to ask is:
Which are the best places to visit in Central America?
You see, Central America as a subcontinent is small enough to be able to navigate around in a short period of time. You can literally cross the border of all countries without lifting both feet off the ground.
Sounds amazing right?
Keep reading and I promise you’ll quickly see why I’m presenting you with this smart travel way of thinking; that I have so positively nurtured over the years.
My central america itinerary
Being an avid traveller in Latin America doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve been to every country.
I promise you, they’re all on my list, and, at the time of writing this, there’s a few places that I’m still itching to see.
I found Guatemala to be one of my favourite Central American countries.
So, now let’s look at the all the countries together and see what each has to offer for somebody thinking of backpacking Central America.
Usually I book a one-way ticket, pick up my backpack and head for the road.
If you’re familiar with my style of travel, by now, you know I don’t just engage in random travel but, if you’ve got the time, and resources, why not?
I say, choosing not to visit countries solely on their crime rate is, well, bananas.
In other words, it could see you missing out on some of the most beautiful countries in Central America just for the sake of some fiddled statistics.
Still willing to take this risk…
Which countries are in Central America?
The reason why, in my case, was because, in comparison to other regions in Latin America, Central America is relatively small.
Although I did a lot of research on to find out which was the best country in Central America, I found myself crossing border anyway, purely because it was so easy. I started my first trip by learning Spanish in Antigua Guatemala.
Trust me, by focusing on landmarks rather than countries, you’ll naturally have a magnificent adventure, and feel like you’re seeing more of the best places each country has to offer.
Below shows the countries in Central America with the most tourism in 2016:
In my opinion every country in Central America has things worth your time for seeing and experiencing.
This is why I say not get too fixated on any one country, because you can easily cross borders to get to see some of the great landmarks in the world.
Just like the ones I’m going to list below, let the fun begin:
Famous for: Beaches, Archaeology Tours, Birdwatching, Eco Tours, Nature parks Cocao.
Best places to see in Belize: Ambergris Caye > Caye Caulker > Xunantunich > Great Blue Hole
Whether it’s soaking up the sun in Ambergris Caye or exploring Mayan ruins. You can switch between dense jungles, paradise beaches and the famous Belize Barrier Reef. The marine life is astonishing if you’re into scuba diving.
Like the sound of eco tourism and cacao ceremonies? You may find a likeminded crowd down at the Belize chocolate festival usually held in May.
Famous for: Nature & Parks, Tropical fruit, Coffee, Rainforests, Diving.
Best places to see in Honduras: Copan > Roatan > Tela > Lake Yoja > Trujillo > Punta Gorda
Honduras is seen as one of the less visited countries in Central America. There are some very popular places which make up a large percentage of tourist which include Copan and Roatan.
🇸🇻 El Salvador
Famous for: Volcanos, Lakes, Textiles, Surfing, Hiking ,Pupusa’s.
Best places to see in El Salvador: Tazumal Ruins > San Andrés > La Ruta de Las Flores >El Tunco
Know as the smallest country in Central America but the one that packs the most punch – believe me.
It has much more to offer that it’s Pupusa’s that all well know throughout all Central America. Visit, to see for yourself, it’s easily accessible from Nicaragua.
Famous for: Island beaches, Rum, Coffee, Volcanos, Cigars.
Best places to see in Nicaragua: Leon > Granada > Ometepe > San Juan del Sur > Corn Islands
Whether interested in Cigars Tourism soaking up the sun on a secluded beach, eco-tourism on an sacred island you’ll find Nicaragua has something for you.
Grenada should not be missed to really get an idea of life in Nicaragua, noted for it’s Spanish architecture.
Famous for: Mayan Artefacts, Coffee, Textiles, Culture, Ruins, Lakes, Jungle, Tribes.
Best places to see in Guatamala: Tikal > Antigua > Flores > Xela > Lake Atitlán > Livingston
Guatemala is know as one of the most culturally rich countries as all. You’ll not be disappointed by the wealth of history and culture it has to offer.
Almost the perfect place to learn Spanish in the world and a beginner backpacker’s dream – check out these places to visit in Guatemala for more inspiration.
Guatemala beaches however, are not so famous! But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Check out places like Monterrico or Champerico on the pacific coast for more beach ideas.
Famous for: Chocolate, Sailing, Culture, Biodiversity, Hiking, Snorkelling.
Best places to see in Panama: Panama City > San Blas Islands > Panama viejo > Bocas del Toro
Panama was once part of Colombia and now sits just above the line with South America. More than just skyscrapers and a canal, it has some indigenous cultures that are totally unique to the land Panama.
Make sure you check out Casco Viejo district to learn more about the country’s history
🇨🇷 Costa Rica
Famous for: Beaches, Biodiversity, Tropical fruits, Birdwatching, Eco Tourism.
Best places to see in Costa Rica: Arenal Volcano > San José > Tamarindo > Quepos > Cocos Island
An absolute gringo’s paradise for some, and home to the happiest people in the world for many others.
There’s so many amazing things to do in Costa Rica right now.
I saw some of the most enticing beaches and pure white squeaky sand whilst backpacking Costa Rica.
The wildlife is incredible and you’ll find some of the most rarest animals know to man.
Best places to visit in central america
So, now we’re fully aware of the countries in Central America (excluding the Caribbean islands), let’s look at some popular things to do in Central America which may help you plan your trip in a more meaningful way.
- Tikal, Guatemala
- Ruta de las Flores, El Salvador
- Bay Islands, Honduras
- Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua
- Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
- Great Blue Hole, Belize
- Casco Viejo, Panama
Now you know some of the best places to visit in Central America, let’s see if you can decide where to start your trip.
I recommend starting from the bottom if you can. I found that Costa Rica and Panama (located at the bottom) to be the most expensive part of Central America.
That way, as you start moving up, you’ll get smarter and wiser with pricing. Meaning, you’ll not have to watch your spending so much as the prices do change quite drastically.
Best time to go to Central America
What will it take to get you backpacking Central America? Don’t let the weather put you off. Central America is hot and humid, sometimes.
I always try to position myself near to a lake at some point during my adventure to catch the breeze.
Lakes are spectacular in Central America. Check out Atitlán, Petén Itzá and Izabal a 3 that will take your breath away if you get chance to visit them.
It’s known to be the dry season from January to April. Then from May the rain can become really heavy but sunny spells are normal.
Between June and November you can expect to feel the backlash of the hurricanes that usually strike around the Caribbean between June and November.
💡 Smart Travel Tip
It’s also worth nothing that prices usually rise between Christmas and Easter due to the influx of tourism.
Safest place to travel in central america
Based on the list above, one of the safest places to travel in Central America and a great starting point for beginners would be Costa Rica.
Looking for something more culturally challenging then I’d say Guatemala for an interesting mix of safety and adventure.
Check out my Smart Travel book, Antigua is one of the first places I recommend for backpacking Central America for the first time.
Best country in Central America
If you’re interested in adventure travel, Central America is a great place to start. Just find yourself one of the many cheap flights and get going.
Depending on your unique set of interests, this article should have given you a better idea of which particular country in Central America suits you the best.
Still undecided? You can always read one of my more specific travel guides to help you learn more about the countries in Central America.
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