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The 15 Best Places to Visit in Central America (Updated for 2024)

The 15 Best Places to Visit in Central America (Updated for 2024)

If you’re ready for the adventure of your life, check out the best places to visit in Central America. Our favorite spots range from Mesoamerica’s tropical coasts and ancient ruins to lush rainforests and charming villages with colonial history.

Follow our guide to the best places to visit in Central America to plan a fun-filled itinerary through Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama below.

15 of the Best Places to Visit in Central America

Adventure awaits in the colorfully vibrant lands of Central America. Snorkeling and diving, cloud forests, ancient Mayan ruins, and buzzing cities are all on the list of the best destinations across the region. 

If you’re ready for zip-lining, scenic hikes, captivating museums, sunny beach days, and a wide array of yummy regional food, you’ll love the diversity of Mesoamerica’s coolest countries. Let’s take a look at the 15 best places to visit! 

1. Antigua, Guatemala

Main road going through colorful red and blue and yellow homes with a yellow arch above the street at the end and the giant volcano in the background in Antigua, a top pick for the best places to visit in Central America


With 16th-century beginnings as the capital of Guatemala, a trip to Antigua is like stepping back in time. Ravaged by an 18th-century earthquake that turned monuments and buildings to rubble, much of the city stands in ruins that are fascinating to tour.

Spanish colonization influenced the architecture and design of the city, which boasts cobblestone streets, cathedral ruins, and quirky (but gorgeous) attractions like Hobbitenango, a complete replica of the Shire from the Lord of the Rings with its own pubs, restaurants, and overlooks. 

Visit the Jade Museum that showcases Guatemala’s rare jade variety and ChocoMuseo to learn about cocoa farming, take an educational coffee farm tour at De La Gente, and sample local food at Rincón Tipico or La Casa de las Mixtas. 

You’ll find ruins to explore at the Church of Santa Clara and Las Capuchinas convent, the impressive 17th-century Santa Catalina Arch on 5th Avenue, and the market (El Mercado) bustling with people, food, and crafts on busy Thursdays and Saturdays. 

Challenge yourself on an overnight hike up the Acatenango Volcano, where you’ll have great views of the Fuego Volcano constantly erupting below you — one of the best sights around.

Read Next: When to Visit Antigua in 2024 & Where to Stay in Antigua: Best Areas

2. Tulum, Mexico

A small number of tourists playing in the water below the ruins of Tulum, a top pick for must-visit places in Central America, and sun shining down from the deep blue sky above

Patryk Kosmider/Shutterstock

If Mayan ruins are at the top of your list for a Central American trip, look no further than Tulum. Sitting on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean shores of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Tulum encompasses incredible Mayan structures and the protected coasts, tropical forests, and wetlands of Sian Ka’an.

As an important city in Mayan history, Tulum served as a seaport and features amazingly preserved ruins that fascinate history buffs and casual observers alike. Set against the backdrop of the turquoise Caribbean and white, sandy shores, you’ll never forget a trip to Tulum.

Stone buildings thousands of years old still stand in the Tulum ruins, with special points of interest like the hilltop El Castillo, the Temple of the Descending (Diving) God,  Temple of the Frescoes, the House of Columns, and the Great Palace. 

After exploring the ruins with a guide, you can visit Tulum National Park. Check out mangroves and breathtaking, crystal-clear cenotes, or natural sinkholes filled with water, and lounge and swim at Tulum’s pristine beaches. 

Read Next: What a Trip to Tulum Costs in 2024 & The Best & Worst Times to Visit Tulum

3. San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Jesus statue towering over the beach and water below in one of the best places to visit in Central America, San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua


On Nicaragua’s southwestern Pacific coast sits the small surfer town of San Juan del Sur. Powerful waves crash on the shores, creating a hotspot for locals and travelers who want to catch big waves and have plenty of spots to catch a buzz afterward. 

The most iconic sight here, aside from huge waves and surfers on the water, is the 82′ tall Christ of Mercy statue that stands looking over the beaches and town from its clifftop perch on the northernmost seawall. You can hike up to it and take in panoramic views. 

Take shuttles to the many surf beaches around, like Playa Maderas, or rent a scooter with an attachment to carry your board and make your way to each beach on your own time. You’ll find quieter beaches with gentle surf around Playa Hermosa and Playa Marsella. 

Taste incredible Nicaraguan cuisine at La Lancha or The Beach House. Live music at restaurants and beach bars is standard, so be sure to check out El Social, Tuanis, or The Palms on weekend nights.

The town has a beachy backpacker vibe, filled with young tourists willing to rough it in exchange for incredible experiences and awe-inspiring scenery. If you’re into it, join in with Sunday Funday, a weekly pool crawl that’s known for being on the wild side!

4. Panama City, Panama

For a roundup of the best places to visit in Central America, the modern skyline of downtown Panama City towers over the roads and water below

Gualberto Becerra/Shutterstock

As the capital of Panama, Panama City is a bustling city filled with modern skyscrapers, stunning architecture, the renowned Panama Canal shipping and transportation hub, and vibrant culture that makes it one of our favorite places to visit in Central America. 

The eye-catching Biomuseo, with its tilted, geometric roof in primary and bright colors, sits on the Amador Causeway. The Neoclassical Palacio de Las Garzas (Heron’s Palace) sits in Casco Viejo, or Old Town, with 17th-century monasteries and cathedrals and colorful colonial buildings that line the cobblestone streets. 

The Old Town’s Plaza Mayor is the heart of the district, home to the Metropolitan Cathedral of Panama City and Church of San Jose. Wander the Museo del Canal for history on the Panama Canal, check out the Museo de la Mola for art and textiles, and snap a photo at the stone Arco Chato. 

Food and drink is abundant in the Old Quarter and in the modern city, with fresh seafood, authentic Panamanian cuisine, and tons of rooftop bars and coffee shops. Head to the Panama Canal to watch massive ships pass through at Miraflores Locks, then check out the Visitor’s Center onsite to learn about the importance of this shipping route and canal construction.

This city is particularly alluring for a visit for U.S. travelers because it’s so accessible from Miami (about 3 hours) and the country uses the U.S. dollar, making it easy to go as long as you have a passport. There’s a big expat community here for this reason! 

5. Caye Caulker, Belize

Pristine white sand beach meets the crystal-clear teal water in Caye Caulker, Belize, a top pick for the must-visit places to visit in Central America

Simon Dannhauer/Shutterstock

Just off the sunny coast of Belize, you’ll find Caye Caulker, a tiny 5-mile island that’s divided in two by the “Split,” the historic hand-dug channel that makes the area popular for swimming with its shallow, crystal-clear waters. It’s known for laid-back island vibes, diving spots, and tropical scenery. 

Caye Caulker Village in the south is where the action is, while the northern region is wild with dense mangrove forests, crocodiles, iguanas, and wading birds in the Caye Caulker Forest and Marine Reserve. The reserve is perfect for snorkeling and diving with water around 8′ deep teeming with fish and the Belize Barrier Reef further out.

From the northern end of the island, you’ll be able to spot Ambergris Caye’s distant San Pedro skyline across the ocean. Back in the Village, there are several restaurants and bars (mostly concentrated on the southern end of the island). 

The Lazy Lizard Bar & Grill is a local dining and live music hotspot near the Split where you can dine on tables in the water. Caribbean Colors Art Cafe offers a cool breakfast or lunch experience with colorful artwork displayed. 

You won’t need a car to get around this small island — just your feet, or a rented bike or golf cart. Spend your days on the beach or exploring the Forest Reserve, then hang out at the cafes, restaurants, and bars on the water in the evenings to meet locals and embrace the culture of the island. 

6. Roatan, Honduras

Gorgeous view of the endless white sand beach and clear water adjacent to a stunning resort in Roatan


Keep the Caribbean vibes going in Roatan, Honduras, a tropical port city where you can take amazing excursions like zip-lining through the jungle, seeing sloths and monkeys, snorkeling and diving on coral reefs, and touring iguana farms, chocolate factories, breweries, and more. 

Head to Daniel Johnson’s Monkey and Sloth Hangout for your chance to hold a sloth, see monkeys playing, and take excursions like horseback riding on the beach, snorkeling trips, ATV tours, and zip-lining through the jungle while iguanas climb trees around you. 

Roatan is synonymous with excitement and adventure, but you can also find spots to relax and unwind here on private beaches and serene stretches of sand less-crowded with tourists.

Head to Gumbalimba Preservation Park to interact with wildlife, swim, and explore. You’ll find tons of beachfront grills and bars with tasty Honduran and Caribbean cuisine, drinks, and live music at night. 

You can take fun tours around the island, like the Roatan Brewery Tour with samples and food included, The Roatan Chocolate Factory for classes, delicious chocolates, coffee, and sandwiches, and Arch’s Iguana and Marine Park. 

Check out Paradise Beach and West Bay Beach for awesome snorkeling right offshore, or head over to Little French Key to dive the colorful reefs and see amazing fish and marine life.

7. Monteverde, Costa Rica

For a roundup of Central America's best places to visit, a metal suspension bridge spans the valley below in the rainforest of Monteverde

J.L. Levy/Shutterstock

Known for its lush, high-altitude cloud forest (sometimes called “elfin woodlands“), Monteverde is one of Costa Rica’s natural gems and one of the best places to visit in Central America as a whole. It’s a joy to get out and explore a rainforest where the canopy meets the clouds overhead! 

Enchanted is the word to describe Monteverde Cloud Forest, where you can stroll wooden bridges suspending high in the trees, well-worn paths through the forest, and stop at scenic overlooks with views of the Cordillera de Tilarán mountain range.

Trees and downed logs are covered in moss and lichens with giant begonias and ferns growing along the forest floor, giving the cloud forest an otherworldly feel that you’ll never forget.

Monteverde is also a hub for adventure, with zip-lining, hanging bridges and gardens to explore at Selvatura Adventure Park, horseback riding and ATV tours, and excursions to chocolate and coffee farms in the lush hills and mountains. 

For a real treat, splurge on the San Lucas Treetop Dining Experience in the clouded canopy at sunset with a multi-course meal and wine pairings as you dine in an enclosed glass room. For an authentic experience, check out local “sodas,” or open-air restaurants, like La Amistad.

8. Copan Ruinas, Honduras

Copan Ruinas, Honduras, one of our favorite places to visit in Central America, pictured in the middle of the ball courts, part of the stunning Mayan ruins you'll find there, on a blue-sky day with a few clouds overhead

Diego Grandi/Shutterstock

The Mayan ruins at Copan Ruinas are among the best in Central America, including ancient alters, stone temples, massive rock slabs carved with hieroglyphs, or stelae, and scenic jungle surroundings in a secluded sanctuary that’s rarely visited. 

If you’ve been to popular ruins like Chichen Itza, you’ll be delighted to learn that Copan Ruinas are completely different because so few people come here. You might see 1-2 others walking the site while you’re here, which makes it a much more immersive experience. 

Situated in the mountains of Honduras near Guatemala, the 5th-century city of Copan can be explored by walking through its temple pyramids, towering structures, ancient carvings, and stunning stone staircases. 

Check out the Sculpture Museum on the grounds to learn about the hieroglyphs and temples of the ancient city, along with Mayan practices that once took place on this sacred ground. 

Just six minutes from the ruins, you can visit Macaw Mountain bird sanctuary with colorful macaws in a lush, botanic garden that looks and feels like heaven.  Check out Luna Jaguar Spa to take a dip in warm thermal springs, get a massage, or try a healing mud mask. 

Cafe Copan serves up some of the country’s best coffee, and check out The Tea & Chocolate Place for an educational tour with a lovely cup of tea and chocolate drinks enjoyed in a scenic setting. 

9. Granada, Nicaragua

Stunning view of the empty streets in Granada, Nicaragua, with its lampposts lining the streets and an orange church in the background

Granada, Nicaragua – January 2, 2017:One of the oldest colonial city in Nicaragua.Its colonial buildings in pastel shades, interesting history and relative safety make it an important tourism/Kanokratnok/Shutterstock

Granada, Nicaragua is one of Central America’s hidden gems with its impressive Spanish colonial architecture, amazing culinary scene, ample tours and excursions on the water, and bustling markets around downtown. 

The city’s Central Park is the hub of activity here, and you’ll appreciate touring the 16th-century Cathedral of Granada and old statues lining the San Francisco Convent and Museum. Take a horse-drawn carriage tour through Central Park! 

Head over to La Calzada for typical tourist activities and eats. A cigar factory here, Dona Elba, does daily demonstrations and has a shop onsite. The Chocolate Museum of Granada has a “bean to bar” class, free museum, and chocolate cocktail class.  

There’s a historic 18th-century fort built to fend off pirates, La Polvora Fortress, and kayaking, swimming, and boat tours around the Apoyo Lagoon Natural Reserve are absolutely breathtaking with the scenery.

You’ll find amazing restaurants serving Nicaraguan fare, like gallo pinto (beans and rice), tajadas (fried plantain slices), and vigoron (cabbage and yuca in a banana leaf) with tasty desserts, like pastel de tres leches. Check out El Garaje, Calzada, and Camellos while you’re in town! 

10. Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica

The mammoth Arenal volcano pictured towering over the jungle below with clouds overhead


This picturesque (and active) volcano is Costa Rica’s most famous, located in the stunning, jungly wilderness of Arenal Volcano National Park. Within the park, there are 2 volcanoes — Arenal and the much-smaller Chato — to explore and hike, hot springs, and abundant wildlife. 

Volcano hikes are the most popular thing to do in the park, and you can choose the type of guided tour you want — one with history, exploring the plants and wildlife around the base, or combining a volcano hike with nearby hot springs. 

Hot springs abound around the volcano, as the magma heats mineral waters nearby for a special treat to the senses. Los Perdidos Springs features 7 pools, while Las Lagunas has 12 pools that range from warm to hot.

Catch a glimpse of animals like howler monkeys, deer, snakes, and parrots while you’re in the park, and make plans for guided activities and excursions from tortilla making classes to waterfall canyoning and safari floats on the river and Lake Arenal. 

This is an ecotourism destination without lots of restaurants or shops around. You’ll have to head to the nearby city of La Fortuna for that, and fortunately, there are lots of great local eateries like Tiquicia Restaurant and Chifa La Familia Feliz to hit up.

11. Flores, Guatemala

Cobblestone streets of Flores, Guatemala, one of our favorite places to visit in Central America


Guatemala’s city of Flores is known for its proximity to the Yaxhá-Nakum-Naranjo National Park and  Tikal Mayan ruins, colonial architecture with cobblestone streets, and a good selection of restaurants and bars in town to unwind in the evenings. 

Your main point of interest will be the Tikal Mayan ruins, which feature some of the most impressive stone pyramids and stelae (carved rock slabs) of the Central American ruins.

The ruins will be a highlight of your visit and a must-see place on your trip! The site takes about 4 hours to tour, and it’s worth it to wake up early for a sunrise guided tour as you watch the sun come up over the monuments and structures of this ancient city of stone. 

Wandering through Flores, which is generally known as a tourist town or stopover point for the Tikal ruins, is a lot of fun and worth a few days in your Mesoamerican itinerary. From the great restaurants to the cool architecture and markets, Flores is truly charming.

Grab lunch or dinner at Los Amigos Restaurant, check out Achiote for international fare, or hit up Cool Beans Cafe for coffee, alcoholic drinks, and food as you dine outside overlooking Peten Itza lake.  

Actun Kan Municipal Regional Park is a neat cave with Mayan history as a sacred site just a mile outside of Flores that won’t leave you winded or feeling too squeezed. 

12. Bocas del Toro, Panama

Very unique over-water bungalow pictured in Bocas del Toro, a Caribbean destination and one of the best places to visit in Central America


Beaches, waterfalls, surfing, bird watching, and diving are just some of the activities sunny Bocas del Toro, Panama is known for. Sitting on Isla Colon in the Bocas Archipelago, this sun and sand destination is perfect for outdoor adventurers. 

Bocas del Toro, or Bocas Town, is the capital of Isla Colon and a highly developed town with lots of places to eat, drink, listen to live music, and embark on tours and excursions on the land and water. 

Beaches, like Starfish Beach and Bluff Beach, are nice to lounge on and make a great launch point for all kinds of water sports and adventures. You can surf, kayak, windsurf, paddle board, and more. 

Diving and snorkeling are awesome here, with underwater caves, mountains, and shipwrecks to explore along with marine life from colorful fish to dolphins and sharks.

Take hiking trails through the jungles to cascading waterfalls like Alto Chorro for incredible views and a chance to swim in the river. 

The Afro-Caribbean culture here is rich, and you’ll hear reggae, calypso, and dance hall music wherever you go. Try “yanny cake,” or coconut bread, along with regional dishes like sailfish and ackee, beef empanadas, and plantin tat empanadas with ripe plantains. 

13. La Granadilla, Nicaragua

Unique coffee plantation used to represent one of the best places to visit in Central America, Granadilla, Nicaragua

Nicaragua’s small village of La Granadilla sits among the country’s highlands, which give it the perfect environment to grow coffee beans, incredible panoramic views of the valleys and peaks surrounding it, and unique tourism options for curious travelers. 

Community tourism is a driving force in La Granadilla. The tiny village welcomes visitors with a range of tour packages that involve staying for a few days with guided trips to the area’s most scenic and historic spots. 

You’ll take a traditional Nicaraguan cooking class (and taste the yummy results!), bike trails to nearby villages through beautiful, forested paths, visit a coffee farm, hat maker, and beekeeper, take horseback rides, and ride in carts towed by oxen. 

For an immersive look at Nicaraguan culture and a chance to get involved in a small community that doesn’t feel modernized or too busy to welcome you, you can’t beat a trip to La Granadilla. 

14. La Ceiba, Honduras

Beautiful and empty port of La Ceiba, a top pick for places to visit in Central America, pictured with its long wooden boardwalk leading up to the downtown area

Quiony Navarro/Shutterstock

La Ceiba is sometimes overlooked as a destination because it’s usually the place travelers go to in order to visit more popular locations, like Roatan or Utila. Still, this port city boasts awesome reefs for diving, nearby national parks, and abundant tropical beauty and beaches.

It’s divided by the Cangrejal River and several lagoons with stunning views of Pico Bonito (Pretty Peak) mountains behind it. You can head to the Cuero y Salada Wildlife Refuge to explore mangroves on boat tours and see crocodiles and manatees swimming in the waters.

For a thrilling adventure, visit Pico Bonito National Park with its jaguars, colorful birds, and monkeys in a mountainous rainforest setting that’s not easily forgotten. Dive on the barrier reef for your chance to swim with dolphins, sharks, and rays among schools of tropical fish. 

Exploring the town is a lot of fun, with bustling street markets, buzzing restaurants and bars, and tour stations where you can arrange excursions and trips to the outdoor adventures that wait for you in the surrounding towns and Caribbean Sea.  

15. Leon, Nicaragua

Adventurous young woman in overalls pictured holding her arms above her head on the roof of the cathedral in Leon, a top pick for must-visit areas in Central America


Last but not least, Leon, Nicaragua is one of the coolest places to visit in Central America with its old European-style architecture, art galleries and museums, and an incredible city in ruins to explore. 

White-washed buildings and domed cathedrals are stunning to see in person around the main square. You can walk on top of the cathedral for awe-inspiring views of the Momotombo Volcano and Cerro Negro nearby. 

Food is delicious here, with casual to fine dining options scattered through the city. Art and history are a major part of the city, with lots of museums, galleries, and examples of Neoclassical and Baroque architecture to admire as you stroll through town. 

Visit the Ortíz Gurdián Foundation Art Center for Central America’s best collection of contemporary art and the weathered Revolution Museum to learn about the country’s past struggles and triumphs. 

Head to the 16th-century ruins of Leon Viejo, or the Old Town overlooking a lake, where you’ll be able to walk through one of Central America’s oldest Spanish settlements. See old cathedrals, a foundry, and military forts here in the shadow of Momotombo. 

Things to Consider

Central America’s beautifully diverse landscapes, cities, and villages make it such an awe-inspiring place to travel. You’ll be able to relax and enjoy your trip more when you keep the following pointers in mind! 

  • Always play it safe. Some countries and regions in Central America have safety concerns for travelers, especially solo or female travelers who aren’t familiar with the areas. Always check for travel advisories, rely on experienced and vetted guides when going out of tourist zones, and avoid going out alone at night. 
  • Prepare for the season. Much of Central America experiences warm weather year-round, with higher elevations in the mountains being the main exception. Still, seasonal changes in rainfall and hurricane risks make it important to lay out your travel dates and look ahead at forecasts to see what you can expect upon arrival. 
  • Learn some Spanish. Knowing some key words and phrases in the Spanish language will take you far when you travel to Central America, where Spanish is the official language and what you’ll see signs, menus, and more posted in when you’re here. Many locals in tourist areas will speak English, but it’s nice to be able to communicate in Spanish if you can! 

Frequently Asked Questions

Unique old building with a fountain in front and a brick walking path running the width of the building for a piece on the best places to visit in Central America

SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA – JANUARY 18: Night scene of the square in front of the famous National Theater of Costa Rica in San Jose in the night of Jan 18, 2015/Mihai-Bogdan Lazar/Shutterstock

Still have a few questions about the best places to visit in Central America? We’ve got you covered with answers to the most frequently asked questions from other curious travelers. 

What is the best Central American country to visit?

While Costa Rica usually takes the top spot on traveler’s lists, the best Central American country to visit is Nicaragua. It’s more affordable and offers the same stunning level of natural beauty, rainforest and volcano landscapes, gorgeous beaches, and medieval city ruins to explore.

Enjoy the surf and backpacker scene at San Juan del Sur, the Spanish colonial city of Granada, the tiny village of La Granadilla, and the white-washed cathedrals and medieval ruins in Leon while you venture across Nicaragua.

What is the safest place in Central America to visit?

The safest place in Central America to visit is Costa Rica, according to the most recent Global Peace Index (GPI) that factors in crime rates, political stability, and conflicts in regions around the world to find the safest and most dangerous countries.

Costa Rica offers a range of cool places to visit in Central America, like the Monteverde Cloud Forest and Arenal Volcano National Park, that you can enjoy without concerns about safety.

What is the most friendly country in Central America?

It’s hard to pinpoint the most friendly country in Central America since friendliness is subjective, but people from Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Guatemalans are known for their warm, welcoming attitudes toward tourists and are very friendly to encounter on your travels.

In general, you’ll find that most people across Central America are friendly, offering directions, suggestions on dining and outdoor recreation, and areas of town to avoid when you’re visiting the region.

Should I go to Costa Rica or Guatemala?

Costa Rica over Guatemala is usually the better choice if you can only visit one country in Central America. Costa Rica is easier to travel with more amenities, tourist destinations, and gorgeous scenery from rainforests and volcanoes to beaches and rivers.

Costa Rica has a large expat community and is ranked as being a safer country than Guatemala, making it the ideal choice if you’re not able to visit both countries.

Which is better, Belize or Costa Rica?

Belize is better than Costa Rica for water sports like snorkeling and diving, Mayan ruins, and accessible, calm beaches with gentle surf. Costa Rica wins out when it comes to rainforest adventures and ecotourism, terrain diversity, and outdoor recreation in general.

Costa Rica is generally more expensive to visit than Belize, but the difference isn’t huge. You’ll find a wide range of hotels, restaurants, bars, and attractions in both countries as well as friendly locals (many of whom speak English).

So, What’s the Best Place In Central America?

The best places to visit in Central America are as varied as the terrain and attractions in this scenic, historic region. From Antigua, Guatemala to Leon, Nicaragua, there’s no shortage of places to travel that will enrich your trip — and your life — with unique, cultural flair and beauty. 

Mayan ruins, cobblestone streets winding through Spanish colonial Old Towns, interesting museums and forts, and stunning tropical beaches and islands up and down the Caribbean and Pacific coasts make Central America one of our favorite places to visit. 

We have a feeling it’s about to be one of yours, too.