From seaside beach escapes to breathtaking ancient ruins and bustling cities to sleepy villages, these beautiful places in Central America will highlight some of the underrated and off the beaten path spots that should make your list.
If you’re a surf nut who loves idyllic, quiet beaches surrounded by a jungle forest, head to Santa Catalina on the Chiriqui Gulf of Panama. A little lacking in typical tourist trap amenities, the town of Santa Catalina is pleasantly off the map. With consistent, high quality surf (as well as world class scuba diving, sailing, boating, fishing, snorkeling, and access to the Coiba National Park), you will enjoy the seclusion and the natural beauty of this sleepy fishing town.
An ancient Mayan city nestled in the mountains; the gorgeous town of Copan deserves a stop when you are in Honduras. If you’re a history buff and enjoy learning about architecture, you will love the Copan Ruinas, the Mayan Ball Court, and the Hieroglyphic Staircase. If nature is your thing, visit the Macaw Mountain Bird Park and Nature Reserve.
A small village in Costa Rica, Uvita is a visual feast for the eyes and a breathtaking getaway. Found within the Marino Ballena National Park, this town is in the prime spot to watch the humpback whales that mate here every winter and spring. With more than 3 kilometers of pure white sand, the Uvita beach is great for swimming and will show you a magnificent sunset every night.
Ambergris Caye, the largest island in Belize, is a gorgeous getaway. On the island, you can do anything from visiting San Pedro, the only town on the island, to exploring a mangrove swamp and diving the Belize Barrier Reef or the exciting and unique Blue Hole – a deep circle of limestone brimming with marine life.
Hot sun, white sand, crystal clear waters – the surf town of Santa Teresa on the West Coast of Costa Rica is the perfect place to relax, lie back, and enjoy the small town pace. Surfers, yogis, and artists flock to this peaceful haven and enjoy a lovely mix of locals and tourists. In the day, explore Playa Hermosa, Santa Teresa, and Carmen beaches (whether you’re a surfing pro or wannabe, the surf is some of the best in the country), snorkel, stand up paddleboard, scuba dive, and kite-surf.
One of the oldest cities in Nicaragua, the city of Leon is also one of the most beautiful. Less touristy than Granada, this city is a mix of culture and proximity to gorgeous natural features which means that there will be something on the itinerary for everyone. Check out the colonial architecture as you stroll through the old streets, hit the Museo de Arte Fundacion Ortiz-Gurdian, stop by the Basilica Catedral de la Asuncion, and enjoy the closeness of the beaches.
With so much to see and do, a trip to Costa Rica isn’t complete without a stop in Monteverde. This small town in Puntarenas hosts the jaw dropping Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve which draws people every day from all over the world. Perched high atop Costa Rica’s continental divide, the constant clouds provide moisture that catches on the tall trees and falls to the plethora of organisms below, which makes for a truly beautiful and unique ecosystem full of plants, animals, birds, and insects.
San Pedro La Laguna is a small town on the gorgeous Lake Atitlan in the Highlands of Northern Guatemala. Dive into the volcanic lake for some swimming and rent a kayak or stand up paddleboard to explore the shoreline. Drive to the base of Indian Noise Mountain, hike the 30 minutes to the top in the dark, then sit back, relax, and take in the beautiful sunrise over the lake.
Warm year round and nestled into the shores of Lake Nicaragua, the gorgeous city of Granada draws travelers from all around the world. Historically, this city is one of the most important in the country both economically and politically as it was once used as a major commerce port. Visit the nearby dormant Mombacho volcano, sail on the lake, go zip lining, and enjoy the colorful, colonial architecture.
Semuc Champey is a collection of turquoise multi-level pools that sit on top of a natural limestone bridge smack in the middle of the Guatemalan jungle. You can visit the pools on your own, but save yourself a very stressful and bumpy drive and join a tour group (and get to meet some other travelers while you’re at it!)
Flores is an island on Lago Petén Itzá that is connected to Santa Elena on the mainland by a narrow causeway. There are so many reasons to visit this picturesque island – from its safe and relaxed small town vibe with narrow cobblestone streets and colonial buildings to its proximity to the ruins of Tikal and Ixpanpajul National Park, this would definitely make a unique addition to your Central American itinerary.