For a relatively small subcontinent, Mexico and Central America have a surprising diversity of natural treasures. The white Caribbean beaches of the east coast contrast nicely with the volcanic sands of the west coast, with the Panama Canal conveniently connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. With its cloud forests, volcanoes, crater lakes, jungles and forested mountains, the interior of Central America puts on a show as well.
Even if you exclude Mexico, which many see as part of North America, Central America still has seven other wonderful nations to discover. As diverse and unique as each of these compact countries is, there are shared traditions in the spicy cuisine, Catholic religion, indigenous roots, Spanish language, colorful hand-woven clothing and of course the “mañana mañana” approach to life.
Before setting out, it’s handy to learn some basic Spanish first. Mexico City is great for this and so is Antigua in Guatemala, which has language schools and Western-style cafés lining its cobblestoned streets. Take a “chicken bus” to Lago de Atitlán, a massive volcanic crater lake surrounded by colorful villages.
Another good choice to ease yourself into things is Costa Rica. Traveling around this relatively peaceful, safe and modern tropical country is a breeze, even by bus. If zip lining or whitewater rafting don’t appeal, then enjoy the laid-back vibe along the Caribbean beaches of the Limón Province.
Got the hang of it? Then visit the Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá in Mexico and Tikal in Guatemala. For epic self-drive tours, check out Belize’s Hummingbird Highway and El Salvador’s Ruta de Flores. Real adventurers will be drawn to the jungle-clad Miskito Coast of Honduras and Nicaragua.
Don’t limit yourself to the mainland though. You’ve got to see the Great Blue Hole in Belize which, along with the islands of Bay Islands of Honduras and Bocas del Toro of Panama, is a scuba diver’s dream.
It’s easy to love the humble lifestyle, artistic flair and traditional customs of the spirited peoples of Mexico and Central America. This back-to-basics approach is all about “la pura vida,” living the good life.