The Best Places to Visit in Central America

The Best Places to Visit in Central America

Although small, there are so many different places to visit and things to do in Central America. In this blog, I have narrowed down the best places to visit in Central America.These are places that I think every traveler should visit!

Central America is quickly becoming a popular place to travel, the 7 countries that make up this area offer diverse landscapes and unimaginable adventures. I spent nearly 3 months traveling around and I have chosen specific locations and experiences that are my favorite based on my personal experiences as well as what I have heard from other travelers.

Here is what I think are the best places to visit in Central America and why.

1. Acatenango Volcano, Guatemala

What is the Acatenango Volcano?

The Acatanango Volcano is a dormant volcano near the town of Antigua in Guatemala. Hiking this volcano is a once and a lifetime experience as from the top you get views of an active volcano named Fuego (Spanish for fire.) And by active, I mean lava spewing out of this volcano every 30 minutes or so!

Why is Acatenango one of the best places to visit in Central America?

Because it is the only place where you can get so close to an active volcano and watch it erupt all night long!

How do you get there?

Typically this experience is done on a tour, a one day hike to the top of Acatenango, one-night camping and enjoying the views, and then one day hiking back down. I never thought that in my lifetime I would witness a real volcano erupting before my eyes, but here I did – and it was incredible.

 

one of the best places to visit in Central America
The view of the volcano erupting from our campsite! Acatenango was easily on the of the best places to visit in South America.

The great thing about this hike is that it begins only one hour from the city of Antigua and booking is extremely easy and affordable! The whole trip only costs about $50 USD for the tour including transport to the base of the volcano from Antigua and back again, food, a guide, as well as a tent and mattress.

Booking the hike in Antigua upon arrival is easy and cheap. However, if you prefer to book in advance with a repuatble company, you can do so by clicking here!

Other good things to know

Hiking Acatenango was a challenging experience for sure, it isn’t an easy hike and the weather can be pretty harsh. Many travelers do not attempt this hike for that reason. Although it was somewhat difficult, I would encourage everyone to just do it – it was well worth the freezing night and the sore legs!

For a complete guide on the Acatenango Volcano hike, check out our blog here!

If you want to know how we survived this hike and read about our story, then click here!

hiking to the top of acatenango
Dan and I one the hike up Acatenango!
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2. Semuc Champey, Guatemala

What is Semic Champey?

Semuc Champey is a national park which boasts some amazing turquoise waterfalls and pools. Visitors can swim here or just walk around the national park and enjoy the scenery.

Why is Semuc Champey one of the best places to visit in South America?

Semuc Champey is an easy favorite on my list of the ‘best places to visit in Central America’. It truly has something for everyone.Looking for some sun and relaxing time? Then relax by the natural swimming pools. Looking for adventure? Hire a local guide and jump off bridges and explore the caves. Looking for some sightseeing? Hike up to the viewpoint and view the amazing falls from above.

Not to mention, it is absolutely beautiful!

the bird's eye view of semuc champey
The view of the pools at Semuc Champey from the viewing deck.

How do you get there?

Semuc Champey is close to a small town in Guatemala called Lanquin, which boasts its very own charm.

It is possible to stay in the town of Lanquin and a take a tour or local transport out to Semuc Champey for a day trip. Local transport is extremely cheap (only a couple dollars each way depending on your negotiating skills.

Click here to book a day trip to Semuc Champey from Lanquin.

You can get to Lanquin with the tourist shuttle buses (minivans) from almost anywhere in Guatemala. However, expect it to be a long drive (12 hours from Antigua) and very bumpy at that.

Other important information

Semuc Champey is open all year round, except for when it floods – which the locals say happens once a year during the wet season. The flooding happens after severe rainfall and will close the national park for a couple of days.

Besides the slim chance that you will be there when it floods, the wet season (May to October) is actually a great time to visit Semuc Champey as it is much less busy. When we were there, we pretty much had the entire park to ourselves!

For a complete guide to visiting Lanquin and Semuc Champey, check out our blog here!

semuc champey is one of the best places to visit in central america
Me, hanging out in the pools at Semuc Champey. Just look at how blue the water is!

3. San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

What is San Juan del Sur?

It is a well-known tourist town in Nicaragua located on the Pacific Coast.

What is San Juan del Sur one of the best places to visit in Central America?

San Juan del Sur first claimed its name to fame as a surfer spot as it has some of the best waves in Central America.

Now, this town is popular for all kinds of tourists as it has world famous sunsets, the best “pool crawl” in all of Central America, as well as various beaches to explore. Beautiful meals and accommodation come at budget prices and the friendly locals make this place feel like it could become your new home.

sunday fun in san juan del sur
“Sunday Funday Pool Crawl” draws a huge crowd every week. It is just one of the reasons that San Juan del Sur is one of the best places to visit in Central America.

How do you get there?

San Juan del Sur is easily accessible from the border with Costa Rica. In fact, if you are coming from Costa Rica then San Juan del Sur will likely be your first stop in Nicaragua. 

For all the information on crossing the border from Costa Rica to Nicaragua check out our blog here!

San Juan is also only a couple hours by bus from Granada or a short bus ride and ferry ride from Ometepe.

Other important information

San Juan del Sur can get very busy in the dry season (November to April) so you may need to book accommodation in advance especially if you want to secure one of the more affordable places.

Also, I highly recommend taking some surf lessons or joining a surf camp. San Juan del Sur has great waves for beginners and beaches that are less busy. It is where I learned to surf, I loved it!

Interested in surfing in San Juan del Sur? Read about our experience as beginner surfers in San Juan on our blog, here!

Learning to surf in San Juan del Sur
Daniel heading out to catch some waves!
READ  Things to do in San Juan del Sur – A Detailed Guide

4. Ometepe, Nicaragua

What is Ometepe?

When I first entered Nicaragua, I had no idea that there was a huge lake with an island right in the middle – an island made of two volcanoes! Ometepe is the name of that island.

Why is Ometepe one of the best places to visit in Central America?

Ometepe is definitely a unique destination, it’s unlike anywhere else in the world. There are various towns scattered around the island and each offers different activities and vibes.

Some of the best sunsets I have ever seen were on Ometepe! There is also an amazing waterfall to check out, natural springs, kayaking, and more.

To find out more about the things to do on Ometepe, check out our blog here!

ometepe is one of the best places to visit in Central America
An amazing sunset on Ometepe. The sunsets were this amazing every night – just another reason why Ometepe is one of the best places to visit in Central America.

How do you get there?

You must get a ferry from the mainland to Ometepe. The ferry leaves regularly from a town called San Jorge. Private transportation directly to the ferry terminal can easily be arranged at any hostel or hotel from San Juan del Sur, Granada, or Managua.

If you want to use local transportation then get a chicken bus to Rivas. From there you can try and catch another (much less frequent) bus to the ferry terminal or just pay a taxi driver a few dollars. The drive is only 5-10 minutes. 

Other important information

While Ometepe looks small, it actually isn’t and takes many hours to get all the way around it. That’s why choosing where to stay is very important on Ometepe Island. I suggest staying in a place called Balgue – it is a small authentic town but with a good central location.

For more information on where to stay on Ometepe island, check out our blog here!

the waterfall on ometepe island
This is the waterfall that you can visit on Ometepe Island.

5. Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

What is Puerto Viejo?

Another town recommendation, but this time in the amazing country of Costa Rica. Many budget travelers skip over Costa Rica due to its high price tag, but that would be a shame as Puerto Viejo is a gorgeous beachside town.

Why is Puerto Viejo one of the best places to visit in Central America?

Bike riding around all the different beaches made for an amazing way to spend a day. Not to mention the Puerto Viejo is next door to the Cahuita National Park, which is where I saw sloths, howler monkeys, snakes, coatis, and more all within a couple of hours!

Because of its beauty and wildlife, Puerto Viejo is easily one of the best places to visit in Central America.

sloths in Puerto Viejo
Puerto Viejo is animal-lovers paradise. How cute is this baby sloth?

How do you get there?

Puerto Viejo only a couple hours driving from the town of Bocas del Toro in Panama. This is a common route that most people take when traveling Central America.

Read our complete guide on getting to Puerto Viejo from Bocas del Toro here!

Other important information

The Jaguar Rescue Center is a great place to visit near Puerto Viejo. We almost didn’t go because 1) it isn’t in town, and 2) it costs $20USD. However, we ended up renting bikes and riding there and it was such a cool experience!

They rescue wild animals who are injured or sick and help heal them. The money goes towards the cause and includes a tour of the Center. I highly recommend visiting the Jaguar Rescue Center.

riding a bike in puerto viejo
Riding around the beaches of Puerto Viejo!
READ  Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica - Visitors Guide

Juayua, El Salvador

What is Juayua?

A very small town in the “Ruta de las Flores” region of El Salvador. Ruta de las Flores literally translates to Road of the Flowers. This area is famous for beautiful flowers along the roads that connect some pretty cute towns. Juayua is one of the most popular of the towns along the Ruta de las Flores.

Why is Juayua one of the best places to visit in Central America?

This small town is so quaint, beautiful, and authentic. Don’t expect to see many (if any) other tourists walking around town and expect locals to only speak Spanish.

Juayua has a famous food market every weekend which is consists of blocks and blocks of incredible (and cheap) food for sale.

Besides stuffing your face, some gorgeous waterfalls are only a twenty-minute walk from the town center. This is the most “off the beaten path” choice on my list of the best places to visit in Central America.

food market in juayua was one of the best places to visit in central america
Checking out the massive food market in Juayua

How do you get there?

Juayua is actually relatively close to the Guatemala border. It can be reached by bus from El Tunco, Santa Ana, or Antigua. For those traveling through El Salvador between Nicaragua and Guatemala, Juayua is a convenient place to stop for a couple of nights.

Other important information

While Juayua seemed very safe, there has been known to be robberies just outside the town on the way to the popular waterfall. For this reason, it is recommended that you hire a local guide to accompany you.

For more detailed information on Juayua, check out our blog here.

juayua is one of the best places to visit in the ruts de las flores
A cute church in the Ruta de las Flores

Hopefully, my list of the best places to visit in Central America is helpful in planning your trip! If you have any comments or questions drop us a line in the comments section. Of course, we didn’t go everywhere in Central America so if you went someone that deserves to be mentioned as one of the best places to visit in Central America, then let us know!

 

-Bailey

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