For those considering Central America for the first time, we offer a handy guide to six of the best Central American journeys. Discover the rainforest canopies of Costa Rica, snow-white beaches of Belize, old colonial towns of Guatemala and much more.
A breathtakingly beautiful country that is fast becoming one of the most sought-after destinations in Latin America. Plan a Guatemalan itinerary on a bespoke basis, using private vehicles and guides and ‘boutique-style’ hotels located in some amazingly beautiful settings. Choose from an astonishing array of attractions, including such icons as the Mayan ruins at Tikal, the World Heritage Listed city of Antigua and Lake Atitlan, the country’s scenic jewel.
Cross the border into neighbouring Belize and you will discover an equally extraordinary world of jungle-veiled ruins, jaguar preserves and unbroken coral reefs. Most visitors divide their time between the coast, most popularly at the reef protected Ambergris Caye, where we recommend Victoria House, a grand colonial residence located on a quiet stretch of beach, and the jungle, where Chan Chich , part of a privately owned, 250,000-acre nature reserve near Gallon Jug, and Chaa Creek, a secluded riverside lodge in the shadow of the Maya Mountains, are two of the best places to stay.
The best time to visit Guatemala and Belize is during the ‘dry’ season from December to April.
When Christopher Columbus came in 1502 he called it the ‘Rich Coast’, a term which could equally apply to the country’s lush, tropical vegetation or the gold jewellery worn by the local Indian inhabitants. Although gold is a lot thinner on the ground nowadays, the natural landscapes remain, with huge swathes protected as National Parks. Costa Rica’s statistics encompass 800 species of birdlife, 8,000 varieties of orchid and more than 10% of all butterfly species, bringing vivid splashes of colour to the jungles and cloud forests of the country’s volcanic interior. Costa Rica also has both a Caribbean and Pacific coastline and a history of peace and stability.
The best time to visit is from December to March.
Now at peace after decades of conflict, Nicaragua is the welcome addition to our Central American portfolio. It is a charmingly un-commercialised country with a rich indigenous culture, some of the oldest Spanish settlements in the Americas, vast inland seas, spectacular volcanic peaks and a tropical Pacific coastline. We are particularly happy to recommend the beachfront Morgan’s Rock Hacienda which is the flagship of Nicaragua’s burgeoning eco-tourism.
This year is the 100th anniversary of the building of the Canal, a feat still ranked as the most important engineering achievement in history. But there’s more to discover here than just the ‘big ditch’, including the rich tropical forests of the Soberania National Park, remote mountain villages and coffee plantations. For wonderful beaches we would suggest taking a short flight to the San Blas archipelago of some 400 palm-fringed Caribbean islands that are home to the indigenous Kuna tribe. The lithe serpentine geography of Panama is divided by its most famous attraction, the 80km-long Panama Canal, but there is so much more to discover here than just the ‘big ditch’ – the rich tropical forests of the Soberania National Park, remote mountain villages and coffee plantations hidden away in the country’s volcanic interior, and the San Blas Islands, an idyllic Caribbean archipelago of some 400 palm-fringed islands that are home to the indigenous Kuna tribe.
The best time to visit either Panama or Nicaragua is from December to March.
Most UK visitors focus on Cancun and the beach resorts to the south, with side trips to the Mayan archaeological sites within a day trip radius of the beach. Our approach is different; a journey from the Sierra Madre to Baja California, a route which will reveal some of Mexico’s most magnificent scenery and one of its most fascinating indigenous tribes, together with the delights of Baja California. From Mexico City you fly north to Chihuahua to board the Chihuahua al Pacifico train for a two-day 400-mile train journey that skirts the mile-deep Copper Canyons of the Sierra Madre, home to the Tarahumara Indians, then fly west to the tip of the Baja Peninsula for a three-night stay at a stylish boutique hotel.
The best time to visit is either Autumn (Sep/Oct) or Spring (Mar/Apr).
Nick Van Gruisen is Managing Director of The Ultimate Travel Company.