Central America has been labeled as one of the most dangerous regions in the world for several years now, which has slowed tourism in much of the area. While this is clearly because a few cities have high homicide rates, it does not mean the whole region is a dangerous killing zone that cannot be traveled safely and extensively.
Climb Mayan ruins in Belize
Belize has a number of extraordinary Mayan ruins, which you can actually climb and explore at will. Most other pre-Hispanic ruins in the Western Hemisphere are off limits for such activities.
Belize is always a good start for those traveling Central America, as it is close for many in the United States and the official language is English.
Head out to the coast and you will find beautiful Caribbean beaches with extremely affordable prices for lodging.
Guatemala has one of the best colonial towns in the Western Hemisphere
Guatemala City may get a bad rap because of gang violence, but only 45 minutes away is Antigua, one of the best colonial towns in the Western Hemisphere. Visiting the town of Antigua is like taking a step into the past. Bars, restaurants, and hotels line up the narrow and colorful cobblestone streets. Travelers can book rooms for under $40 and eat the local cuisine on a major budget.
When the sun sets there are plenty of bars to drink the night away in this cobblestone town. There are a number of bars and restaurants ran by ex-pats who would be glad to show you the ropes of the area.
Peaceful colonial towns in Honduras are rarely visited by foreigners
Honduras has a number of colonial towns which information is hard to find in books and online. If flying into the capital of Tegucigalpa, the colonial city of Santa Lucia is only 10 miles away. While you can find a few of the hotels online, there are a number of small places that you can walk up to and get a room for $20 a night.
While citizens of the larger cities often take off for the colonial towns on holidays and weekends, they are largely untouched by foreign travelers. This is not because of crime, as it is almost non-existent in towns like Santa Lucia and Valle de Angels.
Hone your skills on one of El Salvador’s epic surfing beaches
El Salvador is quickly becoming a surf hot spot because of its year round surfing conditions. If you are not into surfing, most beaches offer a variety of other water sports to entertain travelers.
You can easily catch a cheap bus from neighboring Honduras and head to El Salvador, the smallest nation in Latin American. San Salvador has a horrible rap for its infamous MS-13 gang, but the city actually falls below Detroit and New Orleans as far as murder rate.
Visit Nicaragua before everyone else does
Nicaragua is one of the least visited nations in the Western Hemisphere. The reason is not exactly clear, but mostly because the tourism sector is largely undeveloped. Nicaragua annually ranks as one of the safest nations in all of Latin America.
Managua, the capital, has limited things for travelers to see because of a series of earthquakes which destroyed the historical area of the city, but travel to one of the neighboring colonial cities can be made quick and easy.
Granada, a mere 45 minutes ride from the capital, was founded in 1524 and was the first European city on the mainland of the Americas. The city has maintained much of its colonial structures and offers a great pedestrian only avenue full of bars and restaurants. Hotel rooms can be found for under $35 and the city is rarely flooded with tourists.
If you want to head south towards the border of Costa Rica, San Juan del Sur offers a beachside setting for surfers and backpackers.
Do some class IV white water rafting under a volcano in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is the most visited Central American nation for travelers, as it has had a developed tourism industry for some time. Many are familiar with the capital, San Jose, and the nations many eco-tourism spots and beaches. More recently, travelers are heading northwest of the capital to white water raft at the Arenal Volcano National Park.
The park is about three hours northwest of San Jose. A number of tour groups offer different levels of white water rafting not far from the Arenal Volcano. For thrill seekers, try the level IV rafting on Rio Balsa.
Party in Panama 1600’s style
Panama has a lot to explore outside of the capital, like beachside villages and the Panamanian rainforest, but plenty of action can be found in the city itself. The city just finished a modern metro system, which makes traveling the large city much easier. While this is the most expensive city in Central America, budget travel can be done as it can anywhere.
Casco Viejo, the colonial portion of the city that was founded in 1673, has been revamped in recent years and is becoming a nightlife hotspot. Part of the area was bombed by the United States while going after the former dictator Noriega, but much of the original city is still intact.
Panama actually uses the U.S. dollar as currency, but English is not as widespread as it used to be when the canal was under American control.
Panama is also a great gateway to South America as short and affordable flights can be found to Colombia and neighboring nations.