Often overshadowed by the USA and Mexico to the north, Brazil to the south and the Caribbean to the east, Central America is a holidaymaker’s dream. Carpeted in lush rainforests, surrounded by the blue waters of both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, and filled with captivating wildlife and fascinating Mayan ruins to explore, this part of the Americas is still relatively untapped. Get in on the secret with our selection of unforgettable Central American escapes, home to some of our best luxury retreats.
Best for diving: Belize
Sandwiched between Mexico and Guatemala is Belize, a holiday destination slowly growing in popularity with Americans in particular. Its dazzling barrier reefs are a big draw for scuba diving and snorkelling enthusiasts from around the world, and there’s also over 400 islands to explore. The Blue Hole is the country’s signature dive, where you’ll be taken past spectacular stalactite and stalagmite formations and a host of reef and bull sharks. Ambergris Cave is also a great choice – a marine park with colourful corals and several kinds of fish, including snapper, barracuda and jacks, flitting through the waters.
Best for history: Guatemala
Covered with glorious green rainforest is Guatemala, the Mayan heart of Central America, home to dozens of historical sites which date back thousands of years. Among the highlights are the colonial city of Antigua and the incredible ancient ruins of Tikal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which features five impressive temples. Also worth visiting are Zaculeu, the white city of the Mayans, and Yaxha, a park with over 500 structures, including impressive pyramids, which excellently preserve a culture that was alive and well up to around a thousand years ago.
Best for exploring: Panama
Since the Panama Canal was opened in 1914, Panama is best known for being a global shipping destination, though travelling along the canal also opens up a lot of other possibilities for the keen traveller. The canal is just 50 miles long, though the country also promises a lot of other great things to see and do; try canoeing up the Chagres river to Embera village, where you’ll witness the traditional music, dancing, crafts and foods of the ancient Embera tribe, exploring Casca Viejo, the oldest city in the Americas, or visiting a coffee plantation.
Best for beaches: Costa Rica
Set to a backdrop of towering volcanoes, Costa Rica is a truly beautiful country, with the pinnacle of its beauty lying in its beaches. With golden sands and year-warm waters, the beaches here are hard to beat. Manuel Antonio is one of the easiest to reach, nestled between jungles where monkeys and sloths roam, while Playa Uvita remains mostly untouched, with coconut trees growing on its edges and dolphins swimming and emerging freely from the waves.