Overshadowed by its more touristic Southern neighbor, Central America is often overlooked as a top travel destination. I was lucky enough to explore Central America and soon found I had stumbled upon a dark horse as far as holidays go. Here are my top 10 reasons why you should consider Central America for your next getaway.
Central America is certainly cheaper than the southern end of the Americas. With airlines flying direct from the US, you can often find yourself landing right in the heart of the continent for around $100.From here, it's easy to jump on the dirt-cheap 'chicken buses' to navigate your way around, allowing you to immerse yourself in the Central American culture which is still very much alive and well.
Central America has maintained a cultural richness which has been stripped away from much of South America. While it still hosts a bustling tourism industry, you're likely to find yourself the only foreigner aboard your chicken bus (live chickens included), alongside locals strumming guitars and friendly characters up for a chat in Español.
Speaking of Spanish, it will certainly be an advantage to have some grasp of the language here. If you don't get a chance to master Español, not to worry; you can always get by, but you will miss golden opportunities to interact with some outstandingly friendly and outlandish personalities en route.
The people of Central America are worth visiting in their own right. Friendliness abounds from Nicaragua to Belize; everyone here is up for a chat and happy to help out, from your taxi driver to the man working the 80-cent tortilla stand.
Your fellow tourists here are also of a different ilk. Not so much drawn to sightseeing and box-ticking, visitors to Central America tend to be in for the ride, soaking up the atmosphere and making friends with whomever stumbles across their path.
There are some world-renowned breaks along the Central American coast. From barrels in Costa Rica surrounded by sloth-filled trees, to El Tunco in El Salvador and San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua, you're guaranteed to find some serious, uncrowded swell. Anything from a beginner wave to something more serious like the unforgiving surf of Puerto Escondido can be found here.
The surfing in Central America is second perhaps only to the diving opportunities. The dive sites here are first class; if you know anything about diving, you're bound to have heard of the Blue Hole in Belize. Known for its huge drop off and stalactite formations, this is high on almost every serious divers' bucket list.
Just a short boat ride and a few buses across you will find yourself in Utila, Honduras, also known as one of the cheapest places in the world to get PADI certified, plus a majestic population of whale shark and bustling nightlife to boot.
The partying in Central America is epic. Land in San Pedro, Guatemala and you may find yourself partaking in the infamous 'clothing optional lake jumps', or head down to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, for the supposed 'biggest party in Central America' – Sunday Funday. Regardless of where you are, there's likely to be many excuses to party, particularly if you're visiting in festival season.
Once you're all partied out, there's always a retreat nearby for some much needed recovery. Among the most famous is San Marcos La Laguna in Guatemala – a yoga mecca set against the backdrop of Lake Atitlan. Including with the volcanic island of Ometepe in Nicaragua, there are yoga and holistic health retreats scattered throughout Central America, with endless ways to settle into meditation.
Volcanoes are hard to miss in Central America and why would you ever want to? There are a bunch of hikes to be had ranging from volcanic lagoons to camping on active volcanoes like Fuego in Guatemala. For the ultra adventurous, try your hand at volcano boarding – the ultimate natural exfoliant!
If you're tempted to camp on an active volcano, make sure you bring ingredients to make the most extreme s'mores of your life, roasted over hot lava.
The food in Central America definitely deserves a mention. Consisting largely of tortillas, rice and beans, eating here (much like everything else) can be done with minimal strain on your bank account. There are plenty of options to mix up the staple diet including western influences but, if you're on a budget, the local cuisine is excellent as is.
Central America is not so much about traveling to be 'a tourist'. While you can definitely occupy yourself with a plethora of activities, you're best to just sit back, go with the flow and let the region work its magic on you.