10 spectacular adventure holidays in Central America
1. Hike Nicaragua’s Ometepe Island
The largest lake in Central America is a remarkable place to visit in its own right, but the shape of Ometepe Island sets it even further apart. Two volcanoes fused together by eruptions over the years have created an astonishing set piece in Lake Nicaragua. For a sense of just how massive they are — and sensational photo opportunities — hike up Maderas, the greener and more forgiving of the two peaks. It may also be relaxing to know that it’s the dormant of the two volcanos.
Details Seven nights’ B&B from £1,895pp, including flights and transfers (coxandkings.co.uk)
Masaya in Nicaragua
2. See Nicaragua’s volcanoes
There are 19 active volcanoes in Nicaragua, although perhaps none is more satisfying (or easier to access) than Masaya, just outside the capital city Managua. Its last eruption, in 2008, upset the belly of this beast, forcing its lava lake further up the caldera, making it visible from the rim. Tours are best at dusk when the light from inside the volcano soars into the sky. Want to get closer? Travel north to Cerro Negro and you can hike to the top, then sandboard back down.
Details Twelve nights’ B&B from £3,935pp, including flights and transfers (audleytravel.com)
Tikal in Guatemala
3. Visit Tikal in Guatemala
When the controversial Seven Modern Wonders of the World were announced in 2006, there was global head-scratching over the inclusion of Chichen Itza. Anyone who has visited Tikal in Guatemala was even more confused — these Mayan ruins get fewer tourists than their Mexican cousins despite offering an even more spectacular experience. The wildness of this former stronghold, coupled with its extraordinary architecture, makes it arguably Latin America’s most sensational ruin complex after Machu Picchu. A vast, thriving city 1,500 years ago, Tikal is today only just reclaimed from the jungle.
Details Eleven nights’ B&B from £959pp (gadventures.com). Fly to Guatemala City
Cenote Cristalino in Mexico
4. Swim the cenotes in Mexico
There’s no shortage of copy-and-paste tourism on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, but confident swimmers should ditch the beaches of Playa Del Carmen and seek out the ethereal cenotes instead. These remarkable underground rivers offer some of the clearest water in the world, making them especially good for underwater photography. Natural sinkholes that are found region-wide, the cenotes were regarded as sacred sources of fresh water by the Mayans. Thousands have been discovered around the Yucatan, with an especially high number in the limestone around the city of Merida and the beautiful Mayan port of Tulum.
Details Thirteen nights’ B&B from £5,995pp, including flights and transfers (abercrombie kent.co.uk)
San Blas Islands
5. Explore Panamanian islands
So developed is Panama City and its canal that it can be easy to forget that the wider country has much more to offer. While the jungles of the mainland are home to extraordinary amounts of wildlife, the San Blas Islands promise a trip unlike any other in Central America. This narrow archipelago belongs to the Guna people, who have occupied the idyllic islands for centuries and now offer a singular experience with outstanding snorkelling and the chance to learn something of their culture.
Details Twelve nights’ B&B from £3,158pp, including flights and transfers (journeylatinamerica.co.uk)
Bluestripe snapper in Costa Rica
6. Dive Cocos Island in Costa Rica
The country’s most remote national park is also its best diving location. It’s one for experienced divers, who will be rewarded with the sight of sharks, yellowfin tuna, sailfish and kaleidoscopic shoals of fish. Part of the recently expanded Cocos Marine Reserve, the islands and their pure waters have, it is hoped, been protected for future generations too. On this live-aboard trip, you start with a night in a boutique hotel by Mantas Beach. It includes seven days’ diving and two night dives.
Details Eleven nights’ full board from £4,720pp (responsibletravel.com). Fly to San Jose
A grey whale breaching in Baja California, Mexico
7. Meet grey whales in Mexico
For fans of cetaceans, watching any type of whale is magical, but the experience in Baja California is something extra special. Grey whales grow up to 50ft in length and weigh as much as 40 tonnes — and are still not the largest whale species. They are, however, probably the most curious. Nowhere is this more evident than off Baja, where these gentle giants are known to approach tourist boats, allowing you to come eye to eye with them.
Details Ten nights’ B&B from £5,300pp (scottdunn.com). Fly to La Paz, Mexico
A macaw in Costa Rica
8. Spot macaws in Costa Rica
Dangling off the far southwest of Costa Rica, Corcovado is arguably the nation’s wildest national park. Huge tapirs and three species of monkey lurk in the jungle, and even visitors with no interest in birding will love the extraordinary avian variety. Several high-end lodges are dotted around the park’s borders; all of them offer excursions. The best involve sailing around the west coast to reach the deepest parts of the jungle. The most conspicuous of the birds are the raucous scarlet macaws, which are often heard before their red feathers are seen.
Details Nine nights’ full board from £2,947pp, including flights and transfers (journeylatinamerica.co.uk)
The Panama Canal
LISA STRACHAN/GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO
9. Transit the Panama Canal
Few feats of engineering so comprehensively changed the world of travel and trade as the opening of the Panama Canal. No longer would boats need to take the long and dangerous route around Cape Horn at South America’s southern tip. Today the canal continues to service a colossal amount of ocean-going traffic, and gives history-lovers the chance to sail its famous waters en route to Costa Rica from Colombia. On this trip, having departed the gorgeous colonial city of Cartagena on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, the ship will pass through Panama and out into the Pacific where you will tour the riotously green Pacific coast of Panama and Costa Rica.
Details Thirteen nights’ full board from £7,996pp (auroraexpeditions.co.uk). Fly to Cartagena
Cerro Verde National Park in El Salvador
10. Visit El Salvador’s Pompeii
It perhaps shouldn’t be surprising that volcano-laden Central America has its own version of Pompeii. In often-overlooked El Salvador, the town of Joya de Ceren dates back more than 1,400 years when it was simultaneously preserved and destroyed by an eruption of the Laguna Caldera volcano. Now a Unesco World Heritage Site, it has 18 structures, most of which were discovered by accident when nearby grain silos were being built. As well as the historic tour, you’ll visit the Cerro Verde National Park — yes, this green mountain is also a volcano.
Details Twenty nights’ full board from £4,585pp (wildfrontiers travel.com). Fly to Granada, Nicaragua
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