DESTINATIONS THAT TOUR OPERATORS LOVE IN CENTRAL AMERICA
Ah Central America: a world of mystery and magic; of come-at-able locals with perpetual smiles and tropical birds so colourful they seem almost unreal. Ranging from the vine-dressed temples of Guatemala's Tikal to the salty fishing towns of the Panamanian Pacific coast, from the ambrosial sands of the Caribbean islands in Bocas del Toro and Belize to the endless surf streams of Mal Pais and Manzanillo in Costa Rica, there are plenty of reasons why tour operators simply love organizing trips to this bucket-list-busting corner of the globe.
Here, we'll take a look at some of the top spots on the Central American map for tour operators. Complete with smoking volcanic cones and roaring waterfalls, cities oozing colonial grandeur and lonely beaches on both the Caribbean and Pacific seas, there's bound to be something to tickle the wanderlust!
Nicoya Peninsular, Costa Rica
Rolling down from the volcanic highlands of Costa Rica's Guanacaste Province to meet the frothy waves of the Pacific Ocean, the lands of the Nicoya Peninsular are a veritable dream for travellers eager to see the wild tropical beauties that abound in the western half of Central America. Inland, there are the sweeping greens of the Diria National Park, home to primeval rainforests and swinging howler monkeys. Meanwhile, on the coast, the beaches run in arcs from the shining white hues of Playa Flamingo in the north to the palm-backed swells of Mal Pais in the south, where wave riders flock to catch surf at Santa Teresa and Playa El Carmen. And let's not forget the party-hungry hedonistic town of Tamarindo, where beach shacks bustle with mojitos well into the night – the perfect place to unwind after days of zip lining through the jungles or sea kayaking around the coast!
If Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsular has got the travel glands a-going, then be sure to take a look at our Coasting Costa package, which criss-crosses the region for seven whole days!
Bocas del Toro, Panama
A province all on its own in the north-western fringes of Panama, Bocas del Toro is the stuff of travel brochures. Its piece de resistance is surely that array of Caribbean isles, which pepper the coast here in a medley of turquoise bays and sun-reflecting lagoons, where multi-coloured tropical fish flit between the corals and rare manatees galumph close to the shore. The beaches are to-die-for too, with many tour operators choosing to head to the paradisiacal reaches of Red Frog Beach, where monkeys make the palm trees creak close by. But it's not all about relaxing and kicking-back, because Bocas can be about adventure too. Take the famous La Amistad International Park that occupies the backcountry, cascading down from the peaks of the Talamanca range in a mosaic of rare cloud forests. This is where you can trek to waterfalls, meet resplendent quetzals and pumas, and encounter traditional tribal villagers to boot.
If an adventure on the Panamanian Caribbean coast sounds like your cup of tea, then it's likely you'll love our all-new Bocas Breeze trip!
Largely untrodden and less-explored than its neighbours, Nicaragua occupies one seriously huge chunk of Central America. But for all its diversity and size, there's one small section of the country that remains the most popular of all: Rivas. This enticing department sits in the extreme south-west of the nation, between the banks of Lago de Nicaragua and the salty spray of the Pacific. That location gives it oodles to write home about. Just take the cloud-shrouded tops of Concepción Volcano, and the beautiful reaches of Ometepe Island. Then there's San Juan del Sur, nestled between the high cliffs of the coast with its curious rows of Victorian homes and rooftop pool parties, world-class surf and shiny golden beaches. Finally, Rivas sits within easy reach of two of Nica's best-loved cities: Managua – the wild and enthralling capital – and Granada, a patchwork of elegant colonial churches and ochre-hued Spanish cathedrals.
Fancy a bout of surf, volcano trekking and Spanish history? Be sure to check out LBW's Naturally Nica itinerary…
The Cordillera de Tilarán, Costa Rica
The Cordillera de Tilarán is one of the most-visited mountain ranges in all of Central America. The ancient volcanic peaks here are mainly famed for their duo of totemic ecotourism and adventure travel destinations: Monteverde and Arenal. The first of these is where tour operators take groups into some of the world's most endangered habitats, with treks through the mist-topped cloud forests and jungle walkways close to the town of Santa Elena top of the menu. There's also a fine backpacker infrastructure here, with cool guesthouses and beer bars bubbling with parties and travel chatter well into the humid nights! Arenal is where you'll discover the great pyramid volcano of the same name. Still occasionally piping out belches of smoke and ash into the air, the peak has created one of the best adventure playgrounds on the globe. Think whitewater rafting, river dips, hot springs, trekking and wildlife safaris through the verdant jungles!
If it’s the trails and peaks ofCosta Rica's Cordillera de Tilarán that you think suits you best, be sure to consider our Rockin' Rica itinerary!
A land of soaring summits and winding river ways, seemingly endless jungles, cloud forests and so much wildlife it'll make you afraid to blink for missing a three-toed sloth or howler monkey, Chiriquí is one of the real jewels of Panama. An immensely popular choice amongst tour operators putting together adventure travel itineraries in Central America, the region is home to the fabled City of Flowers: Boquete. This high-perched mountain town in the hills is surrounded by beautiful meadows and scented coffee plantations, and is a great jumping-off point for whitewater rafting and canyoning adventures along the courses of the Caldera River. But the pulls don't stop there for backpackers heading to Chiriquí. Along the coast there are countless deserted islands with Robinson Crusoe beaches, the 3,475-meter-high summit that crowns the Volcan Baru National Park (hike-able and awesome), the humpback whale pods and glowing coral gardens of the Chiriquí National Park, and the 10,000 shades of green that make up the legendary Fortuna Forest Reserve, where hummingbirds and uber-rare toucanets flit from left to right in the highland breezes.
If this wild section of Panama, its flowing rivers and mighty volcanos, has got you pining for the hills and Pacific, then be sure to check out our Panamania itinerary, which spends several nights in the region.
Of course, there are oodles of other hotspots in Central America that are beloved of tour operators. After all, we've not even mentioned the great temples of Tikal, or the upcoming surfer towns of El Salvador. So, if you think we've missed something special, we'd love to hear about it in the comments below!