Our research is editorially independent but we may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Central America is the strip of land that connects North America and South America, but for travelers, it is so much more than just that. This region consists of seven countries: Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. And a majority of the landscape covered in mountains, rain forests, and beaches along the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Whether you are exploring this region for the first time or have some travel experience in the area, make sure these top Central American destinations are on your travel bucket list.
Copan was once an important place for government affairs, art, and culture during the Mayan civilization. You can step back in history to explore the ruins of large pyramids, temples, altars, and plazas when you visit Copan today. Make sure to take note of the hieroglyphics and stone carvings that are still visible among the ruins.
For divers, a trip to Roatan is a definite must-do when visiting Central America. Located in the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras, this premium scuba diving destination is surrounded by a large barrier reef. Other popular water sport activities in the Roatan area include snorkeling, kayaking, and dolphin watching. There’s also a collection of alluring resorts in Roatan for when you need to recharge.
Ometepe is an island that was formed by two volcanoes in Nicaragua, with twin peaks rising tall above Lake Nicaragua. Around the volcano, there are sandy beaches, archeological sites, and lots of wildlife habitats to explore. Make sure to check out the ancient petroglyphs that are scattered around the area to tell the stories of inhabitants who once called this place home.
Visit the Chiquibul Forest Reserve, Belize’s largest national park, to check out the longest known cave system in Central America. This cave includes impressive underground passages and cave chambers that are the largest ones discovered in the Western Hemisphere. While you’re in the area, make sure to also visit Caracol, which is a historically significant Mayan ruins site. One of the pyramids here stands 136 feet tall, making it the tallest structure in the entire country.
The country of Belize is actually made up of many islands, and one of the best to visit is Ambergris Caye. This is the Central American place to go if lounging on a sandy beach in the sunshine sounds like a dream vacation to you. Over the years, it has become a famous getaway spot with luxurious accommodations and restaurants. You can easily reach this island from Belize City via ferry or a short plane ride.
One of the most popular places to visit in El Salvador is Joya de Cerén. This was a settlement established around 600 AD that was destroyed by an eruption of Loma Caldera. No human remains were found at the settlement, and historians believe that an earthquake may have caused inhabitants to evacuate before the volcano erupted. You can take a short drive from San Salvador to visit this site and learn about the history on a guided tour.
Surfers flock to El Salvador’s Punta Roca because it is one of the best right point breaks in the world. Surfers from all over Central America come here to take advantage of the wave conditions, making it an exciting and busy destination. Even if you’ve never touched a board before, you can take a lesson and rent a board to see for yourself what the locals are talking about. It’s an easy day trip from San Salvador – just 40 minutes away!
The Arenal area is one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica. This volcano was once one of the most active in the country, but has entered into a resting phase and is now safe to explore. Rent bicycles from a local shop in town and pedal around the rain forest roads for spectacular views of the natural habitats and geological wonders. The tourism industry is booming around Arenal, so it’s easy to find an eco-lodge, guided tours, and local cuisine within your schedule and budget.
Antigua is another great place to visit in Guatemala in the central highlands. Architecture lovers will absolutely enjoy walking through the streets of Antigua to study the intricate designs and take in historic landmarks and churches along the way.
An underrated vacation destination, Granada is a historic and culturally significant city in Nicaragua that’s worth a visit during your time in Central America. You can learn a lot about Spanish history and architecture while strolling through the streets of Granada. And similar to many major cities, you can also find plenty of sightseeing, art, culture, and recreation to keep you busy all day long.
A trip to Guatemala wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Tikal. Located in northern Guatemala, this was a large city of the Mayan civilization that was tucked away in a tropical rainforest. The scenery around Tikal is unforgettable, with ancient peaks peering between tropical trees and never-ending forest. If you’re up for a little exercise, climb to the top of the pyramids to snap panoramic views from the top.
Another must-see spot in Costa Rica is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. This is a popular destination for canopy tours and zip-lining, so it’s perfect for thrill-seekers and adventure lovers. There are hundreds of species of birds living here, as well as howler and capuchin monkeys. Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture a few shots of these creatures in their native habitat among luscious flora and fauna.
Around the world, the nation of Panama is famous for its legendary Panama Canal. This is Panama City’s most popular attraction, but there are plenty of other things to see and do in the city as well. It’s a very cosmopolitan city full of history and culture that’s consistently ranked one of the best places to visit in Central America.
Casco Viejo is a historic district in Panama City that was settled in the 1600s and was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1997. The city was originally built on a peninsula that isolated by the sea with a defensive system of walls. Today, the main sites to visit are La Catedral Metropolitana, El Palacio de las Garzas, and several historic churches and museums.