6 absolutely fabulous reasons to visit Central America

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Central America has much to offer travellers yet is all too often overlooked by people planning their vacations.

In recent years the popularity of Costa Rica has grown markedly, especially among visitors from Canada and the United States. By contrast, relatively few people head to El Salvador at present.

With informed tour guides both countries can prove enjoyable destinations and give you fab insights into this multifaceted region.

So, why do we think adventure seeking travellers will enjoy visiting Central America?

You’ll leave feeling full of beans

Black beans served with rice form one of Central America’s staple dishes. Variations on the dish are served across the region.

“We eat beans and rice most days, and rice and beans the other days,” jokes Juve Sanchez Acuña, a tour guide in Costa Rica.

A traditional breakfast, please.
A traditional breakfast, please.

You’ll see gallo pinto beans served for breakfast, lunch and dinner yet it’s difficult to tire of the tasty dish. Depending upon the time of day you’ll see them accompanied by egg, salad or meat.

Enjoy them! May they put wind in your sails and fuel a fun trip. And, of course, there’s plenty of alternatives to choose from menus.

How about a juicy steak?
How about a juicy steak?

Coffee is really fresh

Italians might swear by their espressos but in Central America cups of filter coffee are served in most cafes and restaurants. It can’t get any fresher.

Bushes producing Arabica coffee thrive on terraced plantations at an elevation of between 800 and 1,800 metres above sea level. Volcanic soil, sunshine and plenty of water help ensure good growth.

You can see plantations at San Isidro de El General, around a 30-minute drive from San José, the capital of Costa Rica.

At Ahuachapán, in El Salvador, you can request a guided tour of the El Carmen coffee estate, and gain an understanding of the process of sorting, drying and storing beans for shipping to roasters around the world.

How do you like your coffee?
How do you like your coffee?

You’ll look out onto awe-inspiring landscapes

Diverse landscapes stand with relatively short driving distances of each other. If you enjoy walking and snapping photos you’ll be in your element.

Volcanoes jut from the earth like cones of rock. Cloud hangs low over dense jungle in rolling hills. Golden beaches are washed by the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean.

The Caribbean Sea at Manzanillo Beach near Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.
The Caribbean Sea at Manzanillo Beach near Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.

At Cahuita, in Costa Rica’s Limón Province, you can stroll under palm trees along the sand that looks like it’s just been prepped for a model shoot before pausing for a lunch featuring Creole-influenced cuisine.

In El Salvador’s Cerro Verde National Park it’s possible to follow walking trails and view the Izalco, Santa Ana and Cerro Verde volcanoes. Lake Coatepeque occupies the crater of a long extinct volcano.

How about a trek up these slopes?
How about a trek up these slopes?

The wildlife is, well, simply wild

Wildlife photographers and nature lovers with be blown away by the markedly varied fauna of the region.

When it comes to spotting birds and animals, Central America benefits from its geography. An isthmus between the vast landmasses of North and South America, it is home to animals that have migrated to the region from both continents.

A green iguana basking in the rainforest.
A green iguana basking in the rainforest.

Costa Rica has just 51,100 square kilometres of landmass yet you can see five per cent of the world’s biodiversity. You can gain an overview of the country’s wildlife in the LaPaz Waterfall Gardens.

A word of warning, don’t attempt to get too close to any of the pretty yellow snakes that might spot resting in the trees in the dense foliage of Central America. The beautiful golden eyelash viper (Bothriechis schlegelii) is known as the bocaracá, meaning the “mouth of death”. The snakes’ venom can prove deadly to humans.

Keep your eyes open for colourful but tiny tree frogs, green iguanas plus more than 900 bird species, including hornbills and humming birds.

The birds are amazing, mate.
The birds are amazing..

Adventure activities abound

If you become bored of scuba diving with excellent visibility and surfing in seawater whose temperature is usually in the high 20s, why not head inland?

Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui, in Costa Rica, offers a base for white water rafting over the rapids of the Sarapiqui River. Even beginners can give it a go, accompanied by the expert guides of rafting company Aguas Bravas. If you want to try something more challenging, head out onto either of the Pacuare or Reventazón Rivers, which are regarded as among the best in the world for rafting.

Paddle harder!
Paddle harder!

For an adrenalin-fuelled aerial view of the region join one of the multi-platform zip-lining tours of the jungle canopy led by Rainforest Adventures. Pull on a harness and a helmet to zip through the foliage.

Why walk when you can zip line?
Why walk when you can zip line?

You can explore Mayan heritage

The village of Joya de Cerén, in modern day El Salvador, was buried under ash when the Loma Caldera erupted in around 650AD. The ash preserved buildings, revealing insights into Mayan life that would otherwise have been lost. Quirkily, the site proves that rats did not inhabit Central America prior to the arrival of Spanish ships in the late 15th century.

Unsurprisingly, the Joya de Cerén has been compared to Pompeii in Italy.

Earth Mayan history at Joya de Ceren.
Unearth aspects of Mayan history at Joya de Cerén.

The tallest pyramid in El Salvador is at Tazumal, in the city of Chalchuapa. The site was excavated in the 1940s and the visitor centre by the stepped pyramid provides insights into the strategic importance of the site, approximately 30km from the border of Guatemala.

The Tazumal pyramid.
The Tazumal pyramid.

You can find more compelling reasons to visit Central America on the Visit Centro America website.

See the El Salvador Travel and Costa Rica websites for further information about both of the countries mentioned.

This post is written by Stuart Forster, the award-winning travel writer, whose personal food and travel blog is Go Eat Do.

Outdoor dining in Suchitoto, El Salvador.
Outdoor dining in Suchitoto, El Salvador.

One Comment

  1. Teresa Ward says:

    I must say you have very interesting content here. I return to your site regularly.

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