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I just returned from spending 2 months exploring Central America in hopes to find some amazing partners and interesting adventures to share with our clients. Firstly, I was caught by surprise as to how touristy and slightly Americanized it is in that region and that you had to work very hard to find something unique and authentic. So that said, I’m excited to share some of my insights and favorite things that I discovered in each country.
Exploring Central America – Costa Rica – Pura Vida!
Beautiful Costa Rica is well organized, safe, but very expensive. It’s also filled with expats – people from other Westernized countries in search of starting a stress free life in a tropical country. So if you have a more flexible budget and want the ease of feeling safe and secure this is the country for you. I didn’t get a chance to explore too much further than the Nosara region but if this is a country you want to visit, you will have no problems organizing a great trip! And in Nosara, we discovered such an incredible beach with amazing soft sand, fun waves to play in, and hardly any people. In addition, the nature-based tourism is well organized and there are plenty great options out there to pursue in the interior.
Nicaragua – Smoky Volcanoes and Rainforest Adventures
This is the country that we spent the most time in. It is very well travelled, especially in the young backpacker genre. They have well travelled, safe routes that people tend to frequent such as the Leon – Grenada – Ometepe – San Juan del Sur route. You will find frequent buses, tourist shuttles and VIP buses taking you to all of these well-traveled destinations. The people in Nicaragua are very used to tourists and backpackers so they tend to know where you are going before you even tell them!
Accommodations, food and travel are all at budget prices. However, if you want to do any sort of activity, they make it a bit challenging to do it on your own so they have options to purchase tours such as day trips to volcanoes, the famous ‘volcano boarding’ on Cerro Negro, trips to Lago de Apoyo, and so forth. That said, to find something more off the beaten track you have to spend some time planning, speaking Spanish really helps, and preparing yourself for a long bumpy journey.
We discovered a hidden gem in the southeastern corner of Nicaragua in the Indio Maiz Biosphere Reserve. After a 7 hour bus ride from Managua to San Carlos, a 3 hour boat ride to El Castillo, and an additional 1 ½ hour boat ride to Basecamp Bartola, we arrived in the rainforest. Basecamp Bartola is a community-based organization that protects the natural resources, promotes environmental education and earns an income through sustainable tourism.
They only allow 8 guests at a time to minimize their environmental impact and some of the activities include hiking through primary forest, horseback riding, evening excursions to witness the critters that come out at night, learning how to make chocolate, and fishing. You are situated right in the heart of the rainforest where you can observe the abundance of plants, animals and birds living in the tropical forest! It was a definite highlight of the trip and the guides are passionate and well-trained to making your experience unforgettable.
Honduras – Reefs, Forests and Ruins
Honduras is a bit rough around the edges since it has a bad rep for being a dangerous country to travel in. It is a bit politically unstable but if you use common sense and stay in touch with up to date travel info, it has some incredible opportunities to experience. We also discovered that since the interior is less traveled the locals are so helpful and you feel completely safe in the small rural communities.
Our first stop was to the island of Roatan, which is within close proximity to the MesoAmerican Barrier Reef – the second largest barrier reef in the world. So that means that it is one of the best locations in the world to go scuba diving and snorkeling. Apart from the dive aspect, Roatan is constantly striving to be an eco-friendly destination and it also has a strong wellness and sustainable living vibe making it a great location for a yoga retreat!
After spending some time chilling on the island, we decided to head to Lake Yojoa in the interior and that’s where we found out about the D & D Brewery. This is a great place to come and explore some of the forests, national parks and waterfalls Honduras has to offer. They encourage a variety of guided and self-guided experiences using D & D as the base, which offers a variety of budget travel accommodations. They also happen to have a great restaurant and brew their own beer!!
From Lake Yojoa we ventured to see some Mayan ruins in Copan, a quaint village in the highlands. There’s a great vibe to this little town and the ruins are worth the trip! If you are planning on heading to Guatemala or Belize this is a good point to travel from since it is so close to the border.
Belize – Jungle Lodges and Tours to the Mayan Underground
We were running short on time so we only got a chance to choose one place to stay in Belize and we decided upon going to Pooks Hill Lodge, a jungle eco-lodge situated on a forest reserve in the interior. The lodge provides higher end accommodation options that are still rustic in nature, along with excellent customer service and delicious food. They encourage you to explore their property and it is well known for its bird watching opportunities.
The lodge is situated in a tranquil setting in a forest surrounded by nearby local farms and communities and there are plenty of adventure activities to enjoy within close proximity such as cave tours, visiting Mayan ruins, bird watching excursions, and the famous Actun Tunichil Muknal cave – aka ATM.
The ATM cave is one of the most popular Mayan burial sites in Western Belize. The cave takes you deep into the Mayan underworld and contains remnants of skeletons, ceramics and stoneware left by the Maya. This is a real adventure tour since you trek through water almost the entire duration you’re in the cave, so you kind of feel like India Jones or an explorer going into the unknown. Visitors aren’t permitted to take photos on this tour in order to preserve the artifacts and the cave formations.
What makes staying at Pooks Hill special is that it is very close to the ATM site, so you have exclusive access to the cave tour first thing in the morning and beat the tourist crowds coming from other locations. It was another highlight of the trip and we highly recommended staying at Pooks Hill!
From Belize we traveled up to Mexico, in order to make it up to fly out of Cancun. There are plenty of bus options and this is a great option for better flight prices to and from Central America.
There you have it, my Central American highlights in a very condensed form. If you are interested in hearing more about my Central American journey and would like help planning your next adventure contact me at Amanda@travelroots.ca.
Photo credits: Linus Strandholm and Amanda Huculak.