The Countries of Central America !

 

Check out a short description of each country :

 

Costa Rica   The Wilderness Paradise

Description ?  The prime eco-tourism destination in Central America, Costa Rica boost 25% of its territory under National Parks or Wildlife Refuges, 9 active volcanoes and 5% of all life forms on earth. 

Why go there ?  Play Indiana Jones in the jungle or cloud forest / Play Tarzan above the canopy / Watch a volcanic eruption / Listen to some of the 850 species of birds / Snorkel toward colorful fishes / Surf the best wave in Central America / Wind surf a huge lake / Get wet on a class V river / Horse ride toward a waterfall

Drawbacks ?  The higher cost to visit / The tourist crowd during high season / The high entrance fees / The difficulty & cost to reach some national parks / The lack of cultural attractions / The wait at the bus stations

Cultural Highlights ?  Not much here... Possibly the Caribbean culture found on the North Coast with Creole cuisine, dominos games and reggae atmosphere...

Natural Highlights ? The eruption of Volcano Arenal, the most active and studied volcano in the area / The beaches of P.N. Manuel Antonio, home of big lizards and monkeys / The "perfect wave" of Puerto Viejo / Any big colorful bird / The wilderness of Corcovado N.P. meaning lots of wildlife-spotting opportunities / Kayaking Tortuguero, one of the most important green sea turtle nesting area (between July & October)

How long ?  Two weeks for a basic tour. One more week for adventures in the remote parks. 

Budget ?  $15 per day in the low season, $20 minimum in the peak season. Plus the entrance fees. 

Visa ?  Not necessary. 90 days on arrival for most westerners. 

When to go ?  During the low (or "green") season in April (after Eastern), May or November. June, September & October also possible but more rain. 

 

Guatemala   The Natural Maya World

Description ? With its colonial past, colorful markets, impressive ruins, noisy jungles, smoking volcanoes and more than half of its population from Maya's origin, Guatemala is the natural and cultural reference of the area as well as the backpacker's favorite.

Why go there ? Discover the Maya World : temples, villages, markets, costumes, music & traditions / Climb volcanoes / Relax by a lake / Walk the cobbled streets of a colonial town / Study Spanish / Listen to colorful birds or howler monkeys / Participate to a fiesta / Take it easy in a piece of the Caribbean / Bargain for souvenirs

Drawbacks ? The tourists & students crowd / The safety issues : Guatemala is the most dangerous country in the area, with a number of horrors stories (often heard but fortunately rarely experienced) / The usual poverty of the Indians / The need to bargain real hard for souvenirs / The 'extranjero' special prices and some cheating on travelers / The combination of dusty roads plus speedy vehicles

Cultural Highlights ? The impressive Maya temples of Tikal, set in a luxurious jungle / The other sets of temples : Quirigua, Ceibal, etc. / The charming colonial city of Antigua / The other pieces of colonial architectures, usually around the towns' plaza / The facade of a painted church / Any good Spanish school / Any colorful market / Watching a religious procession or celebration, the best being during Santa Semana

Natural Highlights ? Spot birds flying over the canopy or a wild animal leaving a temple at Tikal / Boat or walk peaceful Lake Atitlan / Climb any of the 33 volcanoes, although active Pacaya is a favorite /  Trekk any of the 44 legally protected areas (an additional 60 natural reserves are in consideration) / The mountainous scenery of the Central Highlands / Swim in Semuc Champney, near Lanquin, a series of pools and waterfalls / Relax by the hot waterfall near El Estor / Visit a coffee plantation 

How long ? There are a lot of things to see & experience so less than three weeks would be a pity. Five to seven weeks would be better to have a good tour and meet the people.

Budget ? Guatemala is the cheapest country in the area. Around $8 per day if avoiding any luxury (incl. beer). 

Visa ? Not necessary. 90 days on arrival for most westerners.

When to go ? The "land of eternal spring" can be visited year-round. Half a million tourists are showing up in Antigua for Santa Semana (Eastern) but prices in most places aren't affected by the high season.

 

 

Honduras   A dive in authenticity

Description ? With its cobbled villages, national parks, huge waterfalls, colonial cities and local smiles, Honduras would offer a relaxed alternative to more popular Guatemala. Most people however come here for its busy Mayan ruins and diving opportunities. 

Why go there ? Sharpen your discovery of the Maya world with very delicate ruins / Become a certified diver at the cheapest  price in the whole area / Take it easy on a sandy beach / Snorkel among colorful fishes / Eat tons of free mango / Party all night among backpackers / Then get off the tourist-track and see no foreigner for a week / Trek national parks on your own /     

Drawbacks ? The safety issues and lack of smiles on the North coast / The backpacking crowd and lack of authenticity on Utila island  / The lack of Indian settlements and traditions / The cost to visit the attractions, when paying the "tourist" price / The possible whole-day rain on the north coast plus the heat & humidity in the lowlands / All those "not-yet-open" or "not-easy-to-access" parks

Cultural Highlights ? The delicate Maya ruins of Copan / The colonial sights & colorful markets in the cities / The laid back atmosphere of a Garifuna village / The carnival of La Ceiba (one week in May) / 

Natural Highlights ? Spotting a ray manta or whale shark around the Bay Islands / Spotting a quetzal in a national park / The 373 species of birds in Lago de Yojoa and the 43 meters high waterfall nearby / Kayak around the mangrove / Descend class III or IV rapids

How long ? One week for the islands and the dives. Another two or three weeks for the rest of the country. 

Budget ? Around US$10 per day if avoiding any luxury or the expensive islands. 

Visa ? Not necessary. 30 days on arrival for most westerners. Easily extendable. 

When to go ? Year-round, except on the north coast which can be overflooded by water between October & November (Hurricanes season). The islands and beaches' towns are also more expensive when overflooded by tourists (holidays and carnival times).  

 

Nicaragua   The relaxing charm

Description ?  With a good mix of colonial towns, wildness, beaches and local hospitality, Nicaragua is one of the most relaxing and enjoyable country in the area. 

Why go there ?  Wander around the splendid colonial towns, visiting the many churches along the way / Party with the local students / Surf big waves / Enjoy a sandy beach on your own / Spot howler monkeys in a cloud forest / Swim in a lake at the top of a volcano / Stuff yourself with pastries or mangos / Relax and get your energy back 

Drawbacks ?  The need to cross Managua, the dangerous capital / The costs while changing money means that you need to carry some US$ banknotes / The entry and exit taxes for a total of US$9 / The humidity, temperature, higher cost, lack of transports and insects of the Atlantic Coast / The need to leave one day...

Cultural Highlights ?  There aren't any major cultural sights but the two colonial cities of Leon and Granada boosts a fair number of charming structures and a few museums / The complex ethnicity of the Atlantic Coast

Natural Highlights ? The deserted wild beach of Poneloya / The sight of the two Ometepe's volcanoes rising from the waters of huge lago de Nicaragua / The foggy lake at the top of Volcan Maderas at 1345m / The surf spots near San Juan del Sur / Hiking near the mountain town of Matagalpa / The jungle wilderness of the Atlantic Coast 

How long ?  Two weeks for a relaxed tour of the main attractions. Another few weeks for an adventure around Bluefields ?

Budget ?  $10 per day or less if eating in basic restaurant.

Visa ?  Not necessary. 90 days on arrival for most westerners. 

When to go ?  From the weather or touristy point of views, on-the-track Nicaragua can basically be visited year-round !

 


Panama   Crossroads of the World

Description ?  Panama is a world of contrasts, a connection between the Americas, a synthesis between modernism & tradition, Indians & bankers in traditional costumes, natural retreats & shopping centers.

Why go there ?  Admire the triumph of men ingenuity at the Canal / Shop to save or save to shop / Meet colorful Indians, either in or outside of their natural habitat / Get away from the tourist crowd / Discover sandy or underwater paradises / Breathe fresh air and cool down in the mountains 

Drawbacks ?  The slightly higher cost of accomodation / The ridiculous cost of some resorts near Panama City / The airport's related costs (taxi or departure tax) / The safety issues in the cities / The lack of safe land connection with South America / The obvious exploitation & misery of the Indians in some parts

Cultural Highlights ?  Watching a huge vessel as it passes the locks from one ocean to the other / The charming colonial San Felipe district, a UNESCO world heritage site / The traditions & authenticity of the Kuna people in Eastern Panama

Natural Highlights ? The white sand, blue water & multi-colored coral reefs of Bocas Del Toro Archipelago / The fresh air, wild torrent, coffee plantations, amazing gardens and volcano of Boquete area / The wilderness of San Blas Archipelago / The many surf spots

How long ?  One week for the central parts (minimum requirement), one week for the San Blas adventure and one week for additional discoveries ?

Budget ?  $15 per day or less if eating in basic comida.

Visa ?  Necessary for a few Anglo-Saxon nationalities in theory but usually suppressed in practice 

When to go ?  Outside of the busy season between December & April : Panama is not too affected yet by tourism (except maybe Bocas del Toro) but Costa Rica is...