Holidays to Central America: an Overview

Sandwiched between two hugely charismatic continents, Central America more than holds its own. Indeed, this relatively small area, stretching from Mexico (pedants - please forgive us for not including so Latin a country in North America) in the north to Panama at the junction with South America is anything but stuck in the middle, with a personality all its own and so vibrant that those who spend time there can't wait to go back.

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The biggest draw, both geographically and metaphorically, is undeniably magical Mexico, home to idyllic beaches, beguiling cities, extraordinary Mayan culture, a national cuisine that recently earned UNESCO World Heritage status and much, much more.

Mexico remains an all-time Original Travel favourite, and central to Central America's charm, but the region as a whole appeals to the full spectrum of visitors from honeymooners to families, with divers, foodies, culture vultures, adventurers, wildlife buffs and watersports fans in between.

On the subject of favourites, like any decent parents we hate to admit to having any, but for a flavour of the best Central America has to offer, here are a few of the best bits. Mexico doesn't have a complete Mayan monopoly, with Tikal in Guatemala among the very finest sites. Likewise, the colonial cities of Antigua Guatemala and Old Havana are a match for Mexico's finest.

Wildlife also features heavily, with Costa Rica known as one of the most biodiverse places on earth, and Belize a dive destination of note thanks to the second largest reef system in the world. Above the waves (depending on your aptitude) Central America is also a superb surfing and kite-surfing destination, with Costa Rica as the standout destination. Back on dry land there are a whole heap of fun activities to keep adventurous types and families busy, from zip wiring and riding to volcano treks around the region's many active peaks. A raft of seriously romantic boutique hotels across Central America means this is also a great honeymoon destination.

As you can see, there's plenty going on, but the magic sauce that makes the whole place even more delicious is the local population. There's a laidback charm to Central Americans - best summed up by Costa Rica's pura vida or 'pure life' philosophy - that's highly infectious. This is a region that had more than its fair share of troubles in the 80s and 90s - they deserve the peace and (relative) prosperity that have followed, and visitors will also be richly rewarded.


Top picks for Central America

Mexican chillies

Gastronomy in Oaxaca

Oaxaca & Chiapas

Mexican cuisine was recently granted UNESCO World Heritage status, making this the first national cuisine to merit such exalted eminence. We’re yet to hear how the French have reacted to this slight, but while we wait, head to Mexico’s epicurean epicentre, Oaxaca.

What to do

Teotihuacan Ruins

Teotihuacan Pyramids

Mexico City

Near to Mexico City lies the unmissable - and enormous - pre-Aztec site of San Juan Teotihuacán.

What to do

Idyllic island near Belize

Belize

Central America

Formerly British Honduras, Belize is a country defined by various cultures, languages, and ethnic groups including descendants of the Mayans, whose civilisation dominated this region for centuries.

Where to go

Mural, Mexico City

Art Tours in Mexico City

Mexico City

As the birthplace of the legendary feminist artist Frida Kahlo, there is understandably a vibrant and creative artistic presence within Mexico City. The city is peppered with galleries and workshops, and new examples of street art appear almost daily.

What to do

Salsa ingredients, Mexico

Gastronomy in Mexico City

Mexico City

Mexican cuisine was added to the intangible UNESCO World Heritage list back in 2010, therefore it seems only right that whilst exploring the capital city, one should indulge in all manner of Mexican gastronomic delights.

What to do

El Mangroove

El Mangroove

Peninsula Papagayo

El Mangroove is set in the middle of a natural mangrove forest, right on the beachfront; chic yet relaxed, modern yet down-to-earth, with service that is friendly and personal.

Where to stay

Colourful Head Masks in Guatemala

Guatemala

Central America

One of the more 'original' destinations on the Original Travel books, Guatemala is a near perfect distillation of all that's so alluring about Central America - Mayan ruins, fascinating culture, beautiful scenery, intriguing cities and an all important sense of authenticity.

Where to go

Day of the Dead, Mexico

Day of the Dead Celebrations

Oaxaca & Chiapas

The Day of the Dead festival takes place from Halloween until the night of the 2nd November, and this most Mexican of events is best experienced in Oaxaca.

What to do

Mexico City Tour

Historical Mexico City

Mexico City

Mexico has a history almost as colourful as its fabrics, art and cuisine, and the capital city has played a vital role over the years, through rapid growth and Aztec-Spaniard rebellions.

What to do

View across Largecerro Verde National Park

El Salvador

Central America

Sitting between Guatemala and Honduras on Central America’s western coast, El Salvador is the regions smallest and least visited country. Ravaged by civil war throughout the 1980’s, El Salvador fared little better during the 90’s, when a spate of gang violence gripped the country. However despite its unfortunate recent history, El Salvador is slowly gaining tourists’ trust, and rightly so.

Where to go

Classic car, Havana

Cuba

Central America

Incomparable Cuba is on the cusp of big changes. Head there before the magic is gone forever.

Where to go

La Cocotera

La Cocotera

El Salvador

Bordered by the warm Pacific Ocean on one side and a peaceful estuary on the other, La Cocotera is one of the best properties in El Salvador and a great place to head to if you’re looking to escape the crowds so often found lining many Central American beaches.

Where to stay

Conception Volcano

Nicaragua

Central America

New favourite Nicaragua, bordered by Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south, is the largest country in the region and famous for its natural attractions including comic book conical volcanoes, tropical forests and the ‘inland sea’ of Lake Nicaragua.

Where to go

Yaxhilan and Bonampak

Yaxchilan & Bonampak

Oaxaca & Chiapas

Gaining access to the Yaxchilan site is notoriously difficult, meaning very few visitors make the trip. However we have had a word with our Mexican friends, and have managed to pull a few strings…

What to do

Costa Rican landscape

Costa Rica

Central America

Costa Rica is a picture perfect and pocket-sized country with two beautiful coastlines separated by a spine of extremely active volcanoes.

Where to go

Pyramids in Honduras

Honduras

Central America

The world is pretty much split into people who know nothing about Honduras, and those that have vaguely heard of Copan – one of the finest Mayan cities in all of Central America.

Where to go

Rancho Humo pool at night

Rancho Humo Estancia

Guanacaste & the Nicoya Peninsula

A nature lovers dream, Rancho Humo Estancia is off the well worn path in Costa Rica, located in the small town of Puerto Humo on the Nicoya Peninsula.

Where to stay

Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort

Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort

Peninsula Papagayo

The Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort is located on the Pacific coast of north-west Costa Rica in the scenic region of dry tropical forest, volcanic peaks and the sapphire blue waters of Culebra Bay. Infinity pools, locally-inspired interiors and a treetop spa - this is five-star eco-luxury at its best.

Where to stay

Four Seasons Costa Rica Peninsula Papagayo

Four Seasons Costa Rica Peninsula Papagayo

Peninsula Papagayo

The 2,400-acre Papagayo Peninsula is part of a giant, government-backed development project on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. One day it will be peppered with resorts, but for the moment the Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo has this shore almost to itself, occupying its finest location.

Where to stay

Panama Hats

Panama

Central America

The crumbling colonial Casco Viejo is a delight to wander around on foot, and of course, seeing the canal in action is something not to be missed.

Where to go

Los Almendros de San Lorenzo

Los Almendros de San Lorenzo

El Salvador

Just under an hour’s drive from San Salvador, Los Almendros de San Lorenzo is a boutique hotel housed in an old colonial hacienda in the heart of Suchitoto. The building has been lovingly restored by a Salvadorean architect, and the mix of local modern and antique colonial art lend an air of true authenticity to this property.

Where to stay

Arenas del Mar

Arenas del Mar

Manuel Antonio & the Central Pacific Coast

If one phrase describes Arenas del Mar it’s ‘sustainable luxury’. Costa Rica already has a fine reputation for this sort of thing, but Arenas walks the 5* walk with admirably carbon neutral footprints.

Where to stay

Alta Gracia

Alta Gracia

Manuel Antonio & the Central Pacific Coast

Sitting in the mountains of Perez Zeledon inland from the Central Pacific Coast, Alta Gracia is a new luxury spa hotel that opened in June 2015.

Where to stay

Mexican crafts

Arts & Crafts in Oaxaca

Oaxaca & Chiapas

Forget the food (OK, ignore that) - Oaxaca is also Mexico’s craft capital. We can arrange visits to artisanal villages such as Teotitlan del Valle where you will see local craftsmen in action and learn how they weave carpets using natural plant and animal dyes to create the unmistakably colourful Oaxacan patterns. The town also specialises in making hand-made beeswax candles and decorative paper flowers.

What to do

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