Find out which are the best countries to visit in Central America for food, culture, history and nature
Central America is becoming increasingly popular, and, whatever your age, is well worth considering as part of any gap year or holiday of a lifetime. But which countries should you visit and which activities should you do? Fear not, here is our Best For guide to help you decide.
Best for Food
Real Mexican food is fairly different to what is served over here. It is lighter, hotter and fresher for a start. A trip to a traditional cantina is a must. Basic 1940s decor, rows of cigars lined up on the counter and bottles of tequila behind the bar and institute regulars sat playing dominoes in the corner. Sample sopa Azteca (chicken, avocado, cheese, chilli and tortillas) or torta de pavo (turkey with nutty chocolaty mole sauce and bread) washed down with a cerveza or two. For a more far-out choice, you could also brave grasshoppers, crickets or even rattlesnake.
Best for Culture
Kuna Yala, Panama
The Kuna Indians are one of the most independent indigenous ethnic groups in Central America and also the most striking. Women wear colourful costumes, gold nose rings and headscarves. Visiting this archipelago also is a wonderful opportunity to experience the Caribbean prior to development as no non-Kunas are allowed to build here. Even tourists have to follow certain guidelines including being accompanied by a local guide to many spots. However this only adds to the enjoyment as you’ll find pristine beaches you otherwise may not have found, you may be introduced to fellow Kuna Indians or invited to a religious ceremony or for a meal to a relatives house.
Best for History
Tikal National Park, Guatemala
Massive historic site, filled with ancient Mayan ruins in Northern Guatemala. Many mounds have been left untouched and conserved rather than restored to capture a more authentic feel to the park. There are hundreds of temples here to explore and some good trails to take you round some of the major temples. Head up one of the staircases of the largest temples at sunrise and watch the sun break over the dense jungle canopy below and parakeets burst into colour through the trees. A real Raiders of the Lost Ark experience.
Best for nature
Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica
Apart from the beautiful scenery, not to mention the gorgeous beaches and friendly people, the abundance of wildlife in Costa Rica is the real draw. Turtles are the major attraction but Costa Rica is also home to howler monkeys, vivid coloured frogs, toucans, jaguars, dolphins and sharks. Costa Rica is so small that the chance of sighting not one but perhaps all of the above is quite high. Much of Costa Rica is rainforest that spills out onto sandy beaches giving an incredible array of choice of where to explore. For the best chance of sighting turtles head to Tortuguero National Park from June to September but please remember to treat them with respect, try not to use flash photography or get too close and to really assist their continued survival find out about supporting local marine conservation groups.
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