Countdown of the best sights in Central America

“Ruin fatigue” is a real thing, especially when you’re travelling through Central America. Luckily, we are seasoned experts in knowing how to avoid this (completely non-fatal, made up and ridiculous) condition. Our trips strike the perfect balance between ruins and…well, all the other amazing stuff Central America has to offer. Get your history hit at Chichen Itza, Tikal and Copan then mix it up with activities like hiking, kayaking, whitewater rafting, diving, snorkeling and plenty of salsa dancing. Wash it all down with a mojito and a plate of seafood, and you’ve got the perfect prescription for an unforgettable journey. 

 

10. Whitewater rafting on the Pacuare River, Costa Rica

    People whitewater rafting on the Pacuare River

    There’s a particular face that everyone makes at some point during their whitewater rafting adventure. It’s a cross between pure, unbridled joy and sheer terror; and it generally occurs at the exact moment you become airborne while a spray of crystal clear water slaps you across the face. It’s exhilarating, thrilling and pretty unforgettable. If you’re going to try whitewater rafting anywhere, Pacuare River is the place. Set among cascading waterfalls and lush rainforest, the warm water is ideal for first-timers. During the calmer moments keep your eyes peeled for jaguars, toucans, ocelots and monkeys.

     

    Break down some of the myths of travelling in Costa Rica

     

    Trip Name Days From NZD
    Raft, Snorkel & Kayak in Costa Rica

    8

    $2,069

    Raft, Snorkel, Kayak & Hike in Costa Rica

    18

    $4,781

     

      9. Volcan Arenal, Costa Rica

      Smoke emerging from Volcan Arenal, Costa Rica

      For a volcanic experience of epic magma-tude, you can’t go past Volcan Arenal in Costa Rica (that pun was so good we’re not even sorry). For 30 years its perfect cone glowed brightly in the darkness, spewing lava and throwing out enormous boulders that could be seen for miles. But the 1633-metre beast has been dormant since 2010. While the volcano itself is incredible, we’re pretty stoked about the number of thermal springs that have sprung up as a result. After a tough day of living the dream there’s nothing quite like slipping into a hot, lava-heated pool surrounded by lush foliage and birdsong. 

       

      Read more about Volcan Arenal - Family holidays

       

      Trip Name Days From NZD
      Classic Costa Rica

      15

      $2,025

      Costa Rica Experience

      9

      $1,470

      Costa Rica Express

      9

      $2,235

       

      8. Copan, Honduras 

        Temple ruins, Copan

        As far as ruins go, the ones at Copan are pretty darn impressive. For starters, the inscription on the Hieroglyphic Stairway is the longest inscribed text in the Maya region (don’t try and read it all in one sitting). Excavations of the site didn’t begin until 1975 and more than 4,500 structures have already been unearthed. For something different (and kinda spooky) we recommend venturing into the tunnels under the Acropolis. As for the town itself, Copan has got you covered with breakfast (try the kebabs with pineapple), baths (Luna Jaguar Natural Hot Springs and Spa) and beats (live music at Don Tono Bar y Restaurante).

         

         

         

        Trip Name Days From NZD
        Guatemala & Beyond

        9

        $1,285

        El Salvador Explorer

        10

        $1,517

         

        7. Antigua, Guatemala

          Antigua, Guatemala

          Coffee all day, salsa all night and a never-ending supply of chocolate in between. Antigua is super chilled (except if you overdo it on the tastings during your coffee plantation tour) and many of our trips offer an extended stay here so that you can soak it all in. If you’re feeling too slim and trim from all that horrid hiking, it might be wise to swing past the ChocoMuseo (chocolate museum) in your spare time. An earthquake destroyed much of this Spanish colonial city in 1773, and while there are still ruins to be found it’s also a city punctuated by cobbletsones, convents, arches, fountains and buildings in photogenic hues of blue, pink, and yellow. 
          water taxi.

           

          Looking or a chilled vibe? Head to Antigua

           

          Trip Name Days From NZD
          Best of Guatemala & Mexico

          13

          $1,795

          Central American Journey

          17

          $1,912

          Guatemala & Beyond

          9

          $1,285

          El Salvador Explorer

          10

          $1,517

           

          6. Ambergris Caye, Belize

          Fish swimming in the coral reef, Belize

          When Hurricane Hattie hit this island in 1961 she caused The Split, a channel that divides the island into two halves. Most of the action occurs south of the split, but we use the term “action” pretty loosely. Life slows down to a crawl here, and the days are so long that you can fit in a bunch of activities and still be on time for Happy Hour. Snorkel and dive in the Belize Barrier Reef. Snap photos of the pastel-coloured houses along the shore. Explore the Caye Caulker Forest Reserve. Then chill out with a bucket of beers at sunset on The Split itself.

           

          Need more reasons to visit Belize? Read on

           

          Trip Name Days From NZD
          Best of Guatemala & Mexico

          13

          $1,795

          Mayan Encounter

          17

          $1,708

          Land of Belize

          8

          $1,315

           

          5. Montverde Cloud Forest

          Suspension bridge in the Montverde Cloud Forest

          What Am I? I’m home to 2,000 plant species, 400 bird species and 100 mammal species. You can view me by foot, bike, suspension bridge or zip line. My name sounds like something out of an Enid Blyton book. I am… the Monteverde Cloud Forest! Established in 1951 as a small wildlife sanctuary, it’s now internationally renowned for its conservation contributions and scientific researches. It’s also one of the few places where you can find all six species of the cat family – jaguars, ocelots, pumas, oncillas, margays and jaguarundis. 

           

          Here are some tips on how to spot sloths at Montverde Cloud Forest

           

          Trip Name Days From NZD
          Classic Costa Rica

          15

          $2,025

          Costa Rica Experience

          9

          $1,470

          Costa Rica Express

          9

          $2,235

          Nicaragua & Costa Rica

          10

          $1,130

           

          4. Lake Atitlan

          Man looking out across Lake Atitlan

          Sure, it holds the slightly boring title of “Deepest Lake in Central America”, but Lake Atitlan is also ridiculously pretty. Could it be the bursts of colour from women in their traditional dress who come to do their washing? Is it the mesmerising lake, which turns a different shade of blue every hour? Or is it the enormous volcanoes looming overhead, wearing clouds like halos and standing shoulder to shoulder in a show of volcanic solidarity? Walk or take a boat to explore the surrounding villages, each with its own vibe and signature traditional dress. 

           

          Here are some of our experiences at Lake Atitlan and the surrounding region

           

          Trip Name Days From NZD
          Mayan Encounter

          17

          $1,708

          Mexico & Guatemala Highlights

          13

          $1,780

           

          3. Tikal

          Ruins in the middle of the jungle in Tikal

          Unfortunately, this ancient Mayan city won’t giggle if you poke it, but a visit to Tikal will still put a smile on your face (Tikal/tickle…get it?!). This was one of the largest Mayan cities that ever existed and there are still thousands of ruins yet to be excavated. Huge granite temples dominate the site, and you can take a guided tour or get a bird’s eye view while riding the zip-line. Speaking of birds, there are over 300 species of our feathered friends living in Tikal National Park. Camp just outside this mysterious city, and fall asleep under a canopy of stars with the sounds of the jungle as your soundtrack.

           

          Tikal - one of our 52 top experiences of 2017

           

          Trip Name Days From NZD
          Best of Guatemala & Mexico

          13

          $1,795

          Mayan Encounter

          17

          $1,708

          Land of Belize

          8

          $1,315

           

          2. Havana City

          Vintage car riving down busy street in Havana

          There’s so much to do here, it’ll leave your head spinning. Let your body join the fun with a twirl around the dance floor during an informal salsa class. Take the local experience even further and check out a baseball game (Oct-Apr), swing past the mansion-turned-perfume-laboratory at Habana 1791 or grab a guava pastry from one of the vendors along the Malecon. Part of Cuba’s allure is that it’s a developing country, so things don’t always go according to plan. Power cuts, cold showers and a lack of credit card machines should all be seen as part of the adventure. Roll with with the punches and you’ll be Havana blast in no time (yeah, we went there).

           

          The curious thing about Havana 

           

           

          Trip Name Days From NZD
          Beautiful Cuba

          8

          $2,345

          Best of Cuba Reverse

          15

          $2,575

          Cuba on a shoestring

          8

          $1,300

          Western Cuba

          7

          $1,219

           

          1. Chichen Itza

          Chichen Itza

          If you like your Mayan ruins with a touch of disco, then you’ve come to the right place. Set on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, this ancient city comes alive at sunset with a (slightly kitsch but entirely unmissable) sound and light show. The site is dominated by El Castillo, a massive pyramid with 91 steps running along each of its four sides. During the spring and autumn equinoxes, stone serpents appear to crawl down the pyramid in a pretty impressive optical illusion. Archaeologists have found 13 ball courts in Chichen Itza where they played the Mesoamerican ballgame (a bit like racquetball, apparently). So it appears the Mayans were, quite literally, total ballers.

           

           

          Trip Name Days From NZD
          Mexico Unplugged

          15

          $1,568

          Mexico & Guatemala Highlights

          13

          $1,780

          Best of Mexico

          15

          $4,700

           
           
           

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