Central America comprises the countries of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.
The region boasts 8% of the world’s biodiversity within an area which occupies just 1% of the world’s surface.
There are 15 places in Central America which have been declared World Heritage sites by UNESCO.
The Central American terrain is very mountainous, with around 100 active volcanoes.
Central America is bathed by both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, and is home to the world’s second largest barrier reef.
The region is rich in ethnic cultures, with 25 different native groups living alongside the creole and mestizoI population.
The region has some of the best sites in the Maya World, proof of the existence of indigenous peoples more than 2000 years ago, particularly in Belize, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
The official language of Central America is Spanish, except in Belize where the official language is English.
The region has a warm climate all year round, with two distinct seasons: winter or rainy season (from May to November) and summer or dry season (from December to April). Temperatures in mountain areas are slightly lower.
Getting to Central America: Iberia Airlines has flights from Madrid to Costa Rica and Guatemala and a new flight from Madrid to San Salvador and Madrid to Panama. Continental Airlines flies from Milan to Roatan (Honduras). First Choice/Thomson Airways has a new direct flight from London Gatwick to Liberia (Costa Rica). KLM has direct flights from Amsterdam to Panama. Lufthansa flies daily from Frankfurt to San Salvador via Miami.
Getting around within the region: TACA’s regional business unit operates about 150 flights per day with a fleet of 30 propeller aircrafts, with a capacity of 12 to 50 seats per plane. These flights provide services to small and medium destinations from Cancun, and Mexico in the North all throughout the San Blas Islands of Panama in the South.
To help visitors make the most of their time in the region, the Central America Tourism Agency (CATA) and the Ministries of Tourism of each of the countries suggest the following specific routes or recommended itineraries:-
The Colonial and Volcanic Trail – is a multi-destination tourist itinerary that runs through Central America along the ancient “Camino Real” built by the Spanish over existing Indian trails, parallel and transverse to the volcanic mountains of the Pacific Coast.
Between the two main ‘entrance gates’ to the route at Antigua Guatemala and Panama, visitors will be able to discover the most important colonial towns in the region such as Panama’s Old Quarter, Cartago, Liberia, Granada, León, Comayagua, Gracias, Colosuca, Santa Rosa de Copán, Suchitoto and La Antigua Guatemala, and admire the characteristic architecture as well as the local handicrafts and traditional gastronomy.
A string of majestic volcanoes runs along the Pacific coast, parallel to the trail, offering a unique landscape in which one can enjoy adventure sports including mountaineering, kayaking, rafting and horse riding, or more relaxed activities such as hiking and cycling.
Belize –Many cruise lines choose to include a stop to enjoy the pristine beaches on the coast of Belize in their itineraries. Belize is becoming increasingly popular as a honey moon destination as well as for nature lovers. It is also an ideal destination for divers, who can explore the world’s second barrier reef and encounter species such as the whale shark. Visitors can now enjoy the same exuberant nature that so impressed Coppola, staying at one of three luxurious eco-hotels run by the Coppola family: two in Belize – Blancaneux Lodge in the Maya Mountains and Turtle Inn in Plasencia – and one in neighbouring Guatemala (La Lancha in the rainforest above the shores of Peten Lake).
Costa Rica – Luxury sailing. Discover a new way of exploring Costa Rica, from the comfort of a 115 metre long luxury vessel. Star Clippers has introduced two new seven-night round trips from Costa Rica aboard Star Flyer, taking in Panama and Nicaragua respectively. Aimed at comfort-loving passengers who also look for a bit of adventure.
The Costa Rica – Nicaragua itinerary calls at Puerto Caldera, Coco beach, Santa Rosa National Park, Samara, Puerto Carrillo, Curu Nature Reserve and Islas Tortugas in Costa Rica and San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua. The Costa Rica – Panama seven-night tour visits Puerto Caldera, Golfito, Isla del Caño, Drake’s Bay, Quepos, Curu Nature Reserve and Islas Tortugas in Costa Rica, and Isla Coiba in Panamá.
El Salvador – The Peace Trail: ‘La Ruta de la Paz’explores an area in the north-east of the country, bordering with Honduras. It visits places that once witnessed the horrors of the civil war and now are once again peaceful spots where travellers can enjoy rivers and waterfalls, or outdoor activities like hiking or mountain biking, while they also get the opportunity to learn about the country’s recent history and local indigenous culture and traditions. All tourism services are provided by the local community.
Highlights include the town of Perquin, founded by Lenca tribes, the cave paintings in the Espiritu Santo grottos, the Sapo River for its crystal clear waters, or the town of Cacaopera with its historic centre and Winakirika Museum of local traditions.
Guatemala – ‘Mayan People’ The ‘Pueblos Mayas’ ethnic tourism programme includes three tourist routes that provide visitors with a true insight into the Mayan culture, and how this survives today: the Mayan Universe Route, the Mayan Calendar Route and the Mayan Duality Route. All services and products in the three new routes are provided by members of the country’s large indigenous Mayan community.
Besides exploring some of the main archaeological sites and sacred places, visitors also have the opportunity to learn about Mayan food, clothes, crafts, spiritual ceremonies and traditions. The routes run through areas where there is a big Mayan population such as Sacatepéquez, Chimaltenango, Totonicapán, Quiché, Huehuetenango, Sololá, Retalhuleu, Quetzaltenango, Alta Verapaz and Baja Verapaz.
Honduras – Lenca Trail: ‘La Ruta Lenca’ is an itinerary along towns and villages where the traditions of the indigenous Lenca tribes (predecessors of the Maya) are still preserved. It stretches from the Maya ruins of Copan in the west to the colonial town of Comayagua in the east, with the towns of Santa Rosa de Copan and Gracias amongst other highlights. One of the main itineraries to follow is the “Colosuca” circuit which encompasses the communities of the main Lenca towns around Lempira.
Nicaragua – The Water Route: ‘La Ruta del Agua’ follows the San Juan River in the south of the country, bordering with Costa Rica. The route starts in the Solentiname Archipelago on Lake Nicaragua, home to a primitive art community which was founded by Father Ernesto Cardenal, the famous priest and poet from the Sandinista era who developed his own Gospel and ‘Farmers Mass’ while living on the islands.