Central America is a fascinating region to travel where you can see spectacular beaches, visit ancient Aztec and Mayan temples and get close to exotic wildlife. Find amazing experiences and ideas for the best things to do if you would like to travel, go backpacking or take a gap year in Central America.
Activities, Trips, Tours & Things to Do in Central America
Travel to Central America
Travel to Central America with One World 365 and search our amazing activities and trips. View travel advice on our guide including tips for places to go, the best packages available and get information about costs, accommodation, transport, health and safety and how to visit Central America on a budget.
- Population: 42,000,000 (approx)
- Number of Countries in Central America: 7
- Largest City in Central America: Guatemala City, over 1 million people live here
- Continent Area: 500,000 km2 (approx)
- Languages: Spanish, English, Mayan + Local Languages
- Transport: There is a public and private bus service conecting the whole continent
Travelling & Backpacking in Central America
There are so many options available too which include seeing volcanoes and the Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica, visiting the Panama Canal and the relaxing Bocas del Toro Islands in Panama, seeing ruins in Mexico and Guatemala or going in search of culture and tradition in Cuba. Highlights include the ancient ruins in Mexico and travelling to Teotihuacan, a beautiful Mexican Mayan site with temples and pyramids in Belize is highly recommended.
On some trips you can go in search of the old Mayan civilisations and see spectacular ruins of Palenque, Chicken Itza and Copán. Our top recommendation is to see Tikal in Guatemala, lots of tour operators offer trips here and these are some of the best ruins in the world which are located deep in the jungle. Try to learn some basic Spanish phrases before arriving, this will really help you on your trip talking to local people, booking transport and accommodation and also random things like asking for directions.
Best Places to Visit in Central America
Here are some of the top destinations you should add to your itinerary:
- Tikal, Guatemala (Mayan ruins in tropic jungle)
- Antigua, Guatemala (pretty town with cobbled streets)
- Chickenitza, Mexico (ancient Mayan temple)
- Lake Atitlan, Guatemala (huge lake overshadowed by two huge volcanos)
- San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua (chilled out beach town, learn to surf!)
- Teotihuacan, Mexico (Mexican temples & pyramids)
- Bay Islands, Honduras
- Parque Nacional Corcovado, Costa Rica (watch wildlife)
- Caye Culker, Belize (paradise island)
Top Things to Do in Central America
- Seeing the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal in Guatemala, possibly the best ruins to explore in the world
- Climbing a volcano in Costa Rica
- Travelling down the East Coast of Mexico and going to see Chicken Itza temple site - truly spectacular!
- Kicking back and enjoying the laid back atmosphere in Nicaragua, learning to surf is recommended
- Lake Atitlán in Guatemala has an impressive setting
- The Parque Nacional Corcovado in Costa Rica is a bit off the beaten track but full of wildife and picture opportunities
- There are Maya ruins throughout this continent and taking a trip to the Copán Ruinas in Honduras is recommended
- Havana, Cuba where you can see a city untouched by modern globalisation
- Experience laid back Caribbean life in Bocas Del Toro, Panama
- Swimming with whale sharks
- Climb the ancient ruin of Tikal in Guatemala
- Go kayaking on the East Coast of Mexico
- Experience the thrill of a city
- Island surf in Belize
- Learn to surf in Nicaragua
- Go canopy walking in Costa Rica
Amazing Cities to Visit in Central America
- Antigua, Guatemala expect cobbled streets and one of the prettiest places to visit in the world
- Mexico City, this vast city is full of things to do and places to see including the ancient pryamids
- San José the capital of Costa Rica is a great city to be based, there is a modern shopping area and also lots of markets to explore
- Panama City, there are lots of archaeological sites to visit mixed in with modern shopping centres and buildings
- If you are looking to party or just enjoy a tourist base with the option to see more of the culture of this region, Playa Del Carmen has a great beach and is close to nearby ruins and temples
Beautiful Islands in Central America
- Caye Culker in Belize is spectacular
- Bay Islands, Honduras where you will find a laid back coastal vibe with lots of travellers
- Roatan, Honduras where this is crystal clear waters and a good mix of locals and international tourists
- You might not of heard of Isla de Ometepe but this is a freshwater lake island located in Nicaragua
- The San Blas Islands now has a thriving tourist economy located just of the North Eastern corner of Panama
Central America Travel Tips
Are you going travelling or backpacking in Central America? Check out our top tips below:
US dollars are accepted in most places although this might be more expensive than local currency. If you use local currency do not exchange on border crossing as this will be more expensive. Also try to get rid of local currency before leaving a country as sometimes it can be difficult to exchange afterwards.
Food and Drink
You will find tasty cuisine throughout this continent and food is great value for money. If you are not a big fan of local food which usually includes rice, beans and meat then there are more and more places which offer Western options like pizza, burgers and chips. In large cities in places like Mexico and Costa Rica you will find all the usual large fast food chains, try to at least sampling the local food first. Street food is very cheap, you can buy goods in local markets and there are also stalls at the side of a lot of streets and roads, a lot of the times you can eat for less than $1. If you are travelling by bus through this continent people will also sell you food which you can get out of the window, US dollars are accepted most places even on border crossings
Places to sleep are very cheap in Central America and there are lots of options. Panama, Costa Rica and Mexico are probably the most expensive countries to stay in, in places like San Jose or Panama City don't be surprised to pay over £15 per night for just a hostel dorm. Cheaper countries include Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador where you can stay for not much at all. Generally in this continent you will get a dorm bed for around £2 - £10 ($3 - $15 USD) whilst a private room is usually around £10 per night. If you are travelling with a friend or partner you might want to share a private room as this will work out cheaper. You can also stay in guesthouses which are locally run, this is especially true in places like Antigua, Guatemala.
Health & Safety
Central America is a safe continent to travel in but always stick to the beaten path and ask other travelles for advice and recommendations. You should have no problems when visiting places like Costa Rica, Panama and Cancun, these are very touristy destinations and there is a visable police presence. There are some instances of crime against international visitors in Mexico and its always advised to be vigalant, but please know these occurances are very rare. We recommend you avoid putting yourself in any situations like drinking too much then wandering around by yourself at night. In places like El Salvador and Mexico City be street smart and avoid flashing valuables and do not visit crime hotspots like the border town of Juarez which has problems with gangs and drugs.
Transport & How to Get Around
Internal flights can be quite expensive even by Western standards, if you are not on a budget and are only interested in seeing specific places this might be your best choice. There is good public transport system in Central America, local buses are really cheap, but don't expect a luxury trip though conditions can be uncomfortable for long journeys. You will usually find other tourists on public buses and generally speaking this is a safe way to travel.
If you are looking to travel by bus we recommend the Tika bus, this is a service which connects most countries in Central America and is cheap and flexible. On the Tika bus you will be able to travel throughout Central America, you can travel from Mexico down to Panama. The Tika bus is a step up from the public bus and has air conditioning, is safe, food is provided and it is also comfortable. At border crossings everything is taken care of by the on board guide. Some travellers also choose to hitch hike through this region, this is the cheapest way to travel but not always the safest. We would recommend sticking to the beaten path and taking public or private services.
Central America Travel Itinerary
Planning a short break on a budget to Central America? This region might look like a small continent on a map, but trust us there are so many countries and different experiences to be had. If you don't have months to spare and want to do more than just sitting on a beach we have some great recommendations. Our top two destinations you If you have some free time you might want to consider visiting Costa Rica, this country has everything like beaches, jungles, volcanoes but it is also the more expensive countries with Panama (still cheap for us though).
Costa Rica would be our best recommendation for a week break its a beautiful country & if you know basic Spanish you will be able to use public transport which is cheap from the capital San Jose to the beaches. There is tons to do for tourists! Another option is to fly to Cancun, head down the coast into Belize & Caye Culker (stunning) then visit the Tikal ruins in Guatemala which are spectacular and (then bus back to Cancun) this will take around a week too. You could fly to San Jose in CR then go up to the North to see volcanoes and cross into Nicaragua (San Juan Del Sur) is a popular place where there are beaches etc & this country is really cheap but more rustic than others.
Gap Year in Central America
Ever thought about the importance of travel? Regardless of the purpose of your journey, it brings a great exploration and meaning to your life. Traveling educates, relaxes and inspires. Taking out some time from your busy schedule and travel to some peaceful places give great relaxation and encouragement to mind. Travel is a way to explore your ideas and thoughts. It shakes up your world enough to make it more enthralling, fun and adventurous. Planning a gap year to Central America wil be the best decision you will ever make!
On a gap year in Central America you can expect diverse culture, countries might be located close together but all are very different, this continent is also one of the best value regions of the world to travel in. You will get to see amazing beaches, ancient, ruins, bustling cities, pretty little towns and also meet friendly people and sample the local tasty cuisine.
You can make a list of fun things that you want to do and then travel exciting places where you will discover ancient civilizations and incredible beaches. There are so many activities like swimming, photography, trekking, etc. If you book a gap year program you will usually be in a group or if you go solo you will be able to make friends along the way. The key to enjoying your gap year in Central America is to book rewarding traveling experiences that make you feel happy. Whatever your thing is, it's maybe time to give yourself to it. From exploring nature to bungee jumping, aim for experiences that will revitalize your passion and energy.
You can find hundreds of experiences which cater for everyone, you will travel in a group usually no more than 15 people. You could venture into mountains, interact and experience the ancient wisdom teachings, sacred art and deep ceremonial way of life of the very remote indigenous Indian tribe of the Huicholes (or the Wixarika in their native tongue):- who are believed to be the descendants of the Aztecs, and due to their incredible isolation are still living in most part, the way they have always lived for hundreds of years.
There are so many gap year placements in Central America, these include wildlife and marine based conservation / community programs, educational and teaching placements, medical / healthcare electives and more. There are short and long term structured gap year programs in Central America - summer programs are popular and most placements can be booked in advance. There are different opportunities which include helping saving sea turtles in Mexico and Costa Rica which are highly recommended.
Organised Central America gap year programs are a great way to travel especially if you don't speak good Spanish! You could start in Mexico, then travel south through Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicarague, Costa Rica and Panana. A lot of overland adventures in Central America include adventure sport activities and can be booked far in advance. This is a continent which offers so much and there are so many magical places to visit. Be open minded and embrace this continent and you will not be disappointed.
Central America Tours
In Central America you can experience breathtaking tourist sights, colonial architecture, ancient temples, beaches and jungles. Search and compare the best Central America tours from top rated local and international travel operators.
One World 365 features trips from some of the worlds leading travel operators who offer unique and rewarding experiences, you can find tailor made unique itineraries where you will get an authentic experience getting away from the tourist crowds. You will be able to explore countries which are diverse with wildlife, beauty and places to visit including spectacular beaches and islands.
Highlights include travelling the coast of Mexico, exploring the jungle and ancient ruins of Tikal in Guatemala and climbing volcanoes in Costa Rica. You will be able to sample the tasty local cuisine and get to see the bright colours and culture which makes this continent so attractive. Tours are a perfect way to mix with local people, practise your Spanish, visit in new places and discover why this continent is such a popular region to travel in.
Best Central America Tour Operators
Are you wondering what are the best Central America tour companies to book with are? On One World 365 you can search and compare trips from top rated Central America travel operators including Contiki and G Adventures. Thousands of people travel with these companies every year and they offer highly rated guided travel with positive feedback and reviews.
Central America Group Tours
Our travel are perfect if you are travelling solo, going backpacking and would like to meet other people and travel in a group. You will get to meet other international travellers and get taken to the best locations in the country with an experienced guide. Most trips are for 18-35 year olds and are popular due to meeting other people, getting day-to-day activities, hotel check-ins, selected meals, accommodation and also transport/guides included in the price. Don't worry if you are slightly older, most travel accept all ages.
Typical group sizes are around 8-18 travellers with an average of 12 but this can vary between the tour and operator.On most travel you will travel overland in a private small tour van. For day trips and excursions sometimes you will use public transport and sometimes use internal flights to allow you to see the highlights as quick as possible.
Central America Budget Tours
We have a selection of travel for all budgets, so whether you are looking to explore on the cheap or you have a bit more money to spend you will be able to find a trip to match your interests. Our website features lots of cheap travel allowing you to discover the highlights of the country and not break the bank.
Cycling Tours in Central America
If you are looking for an active adventure we recommend joining bike travel where you will be able to get off the tourist trail and escape the crowds and travel by road through of the most beautiful spots in Central America. This is a great way to experience the sights and sounds of Central America where you will meet the other people, get fit and have a lot of fun. During cycle trips you will get to see the colourful culture of this region, get close to exotic wild animals, see rainforests and volcanoes - this continent in amazing and has an abundance of nature.
Wildlife Tours in Central America
One of the most popular reasons to visit is to see exotic wildlife. These trips are incredible! You will get to see exotic wild animals like elephants and orangutans and get photos and memories to last a memory.
City & Day Tours
Short for time? Want to see the highlights as quick as possible? There are day travel available to book throughout the country. Popular options include city travel where a local guide will usually show you the sights. These types of travel can be booked as part of a group or you can spend a little extra and get a private tour. Some city travel are totally free but you might be expected to give a tip.
Central America Tour Reviews
If you have ever been on a tour in Central America and would like to write about your experience, review an organisation or share any recommendations please contact us.