Whether you’re an out and out beach bum, a jungle lover with a penchant for the world’s more curious creatures (we’re talking lazy sloths, tree frogs so bright they bring on hallucinations and multicoloured tropical birds), a culture vulture pining for pre-Columbian ruins, or a surfer eager to hit some seriously legendary swells, Central America is certain not to disappoint. Just check out this selection of the region’s seven top bucket list destinations.
Monteverde, Costa Rica
An ecotourist’s, adrenaline junkie’s and animal lover’s dream come true, Monteverde sits perched high amidst the volcanic ridges and gnarled ancient trees of the Cordillera de Tilarán. The domain of jaguars and illustrious plumed quetzals, tapirs and otherworldly bare necked umbrellabirds, the region of misttopped cloud forests is certainly one for the bucket list. We regularly tour here on our Rockin’ Rica itinerary, offering travelers the chance to get primitive with some Tarzan swings and ziplines though the primeval woods and hiking excursions over the swinging rope bridges, not to mention parties with the other wildlife-seeking backpackers of nearby Santa Elena.
The clip clop of horse and carts mingles with the local Tico chatter amidst the gorgeous Spanish style streets of Granada; a city proudly clinging to the title of the oldest colonial urban area in Central America. We're here multiple times a year with our Naturally Nica tour groups, offering backpackers the chance to wander between the colourful cathedrals and churches, the earthy little pueblo homes, the palm spotted plazas and the green parks that fringe their way along the coast of Mesoamerica’s largest lake. Oh, and volcanos are never too far away either – this is Nicaragua after all!
Lichen-spotted, temple-topped Tikal is one of the undisputed jewels of Guatemala. Left over from the golden age of the mysterious Mayan civilisation, it pops up from the thick rainforests on the edge of its very own biosphere reserve (roamed by the likes of jaguars, ocelots and elusive pumas!). Stepped temples and ancient altarpieces dominate the site, rising to almost 50 meters with the steep stairs and enigmatic serpent motifs of the grand Tikal Temple I. Rarely has a UNESCO World Heritage Site title been quite as deserved!
Bocas Del Toro, Panama
The Caribbean paradise you’ve been dreaming of since first folding those Hawaiian shirts and flip flops into the backpack, Bocas Del Toro makes its home above the crystalline shore waters of the Panamanian east coast. Saltwashed timber water taxis purr over the soft swells here, flitting between the rickety stilt villages along the shore, while the fruity smells of jambalaya and the sounds of merengue twist and turn around the laidback streets of the town. There are countless hidden coves and coral gardens to explore, We're proud of our awesome all nighter in Bocas that rival even the Full Moon Parties of Southeast Asia!
Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
A land of salty surf shacks and waxed-up longboards, perpetual board shorts, reggaeton straight out of Kingston and tans so brown they reflect the coconuts on the palm blooms above, Puerto Viejo is the veritable king pin of the Costa Rican Pacific. In the day, travelers kick back on the boulder strewn beaches, watch (or ride if they dare) the rollers of Salsa Brava (some of the most legendary left-torighters in Central America), and wander sun splashed coastal rainforests where sloths swing in the canopies. Night time, meanwhile, means more pisco sours and mojitos than you can shake a puck of Mr. Zog's Sex Wax at! You’ve been warned.
Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Surfers and snowbirds come by their droves to the sunkissed sand strips of Tamarindo, arching its way along the beautiful Pacific stretches of Costa Rica’s western shore. Famed primarily for the reliable swells of spots like Avellanas and Playa Negra, the whole town is now a bona fide backpacker’s dream, complete with more yoga retreats, detox getaways and – just to balance things out gringo drinking dives than you can get through in a week. What’s more, Tamarindo is prime for exploring the wild coastal reaches of Guanacaste province too, where sloths are a common sight in the waxy tree boughs above!
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
San Juan del Sur is Nica’s beach retreat extraordinaire. A place to sooth the muscles after arduous volcano conquering treks or lengthy walking tours through the colonial beauties of Granada, the curiously Georgian styled town comes complete with rooftop pools and a beautiful bend of its very own Pacific sand. Surfing is a big draw, with the easygoing swells here perfect for beginners (hence our introductory lessons on that Naturally Nica itinerary), while partying by the waterside and sipping rum powered cocktails is part and parcel too!
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