Central America's best tours: Belize, Panama and beyond

If it’s volcanoes, colonial towns, Mayan ruins and abundant nature you’re after, head to Central America. From Belize to Panama, Guatemala to Nicaragua, adventure is guaranteed...

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1. Step back in time in Nicaragua

Horse-drawn wagon in Granada (Dreamstime)

Horse-drawn wagon in Granada (Dreamstime)

Visit the rural backwaters and remote Caribbean islands of Nicaragua on this off-the-beaten-track adventure with Journey Latin America.

This trip is designed to take you to the parts of Nicaragua few people get to see. You’ll wander through forgotten Spanish towns, clamber over frontier forts and stroll on the sands of an English-speaking Caribbean island, caught in a time warp.

Decades of civil war, geological and economic instability kept this part of Nicaragua off the tourist map, but now this is one of Latin America's rising stars for in-the-know travellers. 

Trip: Cotinga: Off The Beaten Track Nicaragua

Who: Journey Latin America

Type: Small group

When: Flexible departures throughout the year

How long: 18 days

How much: From £2,775 (inc. flights)

2. Expect the unexpected in El Salvador

Sunset at Playa El Cuco, El Salvador (Dreamstime)

Sunset at Playa El Cuco, El Salvador (Dreamstime)

Discover what everyone else is missing out on as you uncover the best of El Salvador with Intrepid. Tucked quietly between Guatemala and Honduras, El Salvador offers a treasure trove of experiences for the intrepid traveller.

El Tunco is a laidback surf hub known only to the hardiest of surfers. The lush nature reserves near Ahuachapan are teeming with flora and fauna but not the crowds.

Anywhere else in Central America, the whitewashed village of Suchitoto would be overrun with tourists. Consider this trip an introduction to your next new favourite country.

Trip: Best Of El Salvador

Who: Intrepid

Type: Small group

When: Jan to Jul & Oct to Dec

How long: Eight days

How much: From £630 (exc. flights)

3. Birdwatching and beaches in Panama

A blue-gray tanager in Panama (Dreamstime)

A blue-gray tanager in Panama (Dreamstime)

Stay in Panama’s best birding lodges and walk the magnificent Quetzal Trail on this birdwatching and beaches holiday with Audley.

Two of the best birding spots are close to Panama City, so after exploring the city and witnessing the enormous Miraflores Locks in action on the Panama Canal, you’ll head to the famous Canopy Lodge and Canopy Tower as well as El Valle. A short flight will take you to David and the Quetzal Trail.

Your final stop is Punta Caracol in the Bocas del Toro archipelago where a few days of kayaking, snorkelling, fishing and relaxing awaits.

Trip: Birdwatching & Bocas Del Toro In Panama

Who: Audley

Type: Tailor-made

When: Flexible departures throughout the year

How long: 15 days

How much: From £6,525 (inc. flights)

4. Snorkel the world’s other great barrier reef off Roatán

Young girl discovers a conch shell in Roatán (Dreamstime)

Young girl discovers a conch shell in Roatán (Dreamstime)

Explore the northern hemisphere's longest barrier reef while enjoying a laid back Caribbean lifestyle on this eight-day snorkelling holiday with Dive Worldwide.

Roatán sits off Honduras’ Caribbean coast and is renowned for its warm waters and vibrant reefs. Colourful coral and unique eel gardens are just offshore, and your home on the island, the family-run Anthony's Key Resort, is the perfect tropical retreat. 

Everything is in place for a snorkelling holiday adventure you’ll never forget.

Trip: Snorkel Roatán

Who: Dive Worldwide

Type: Small group

When: Jan to Dec (except Oct)

How long: 10 days

How much: From £1,745 (inc. flights)

5. Get active in Costa Rica

Canyoning in Costa Rica (G Adventures)

Canyoning in Costa Rica (G Adventures)

Experience the incredible diversity of Costa Rica and get your adrenaline pumping on this action-packed tour of the country with G Adventures.

This trip has been specifically designed for people who are big on adventure but short on time. You’ll whitewater raft along pristine rivers, zip wire through jungle canopies and trek through rain forest in search of wildlife and a spectacular waterfall to cool down under.

At the end of the day, a thermal spring or tropical beach awaits, ready to recharge your batteries for another day of unforgettable adventure.

Trip: Costa Rica Quest

Who: G Adventures

Type: Small group

When: Regular departures throughout the year

How long: Nine days

How much: From £615 (exc. flights)

6. Explore the ancient lands of the Maya

Mayan ruins in Copán (Dreamstime)

Mayan ruins in Copán (Dreamstime)

Discover Honduras’ impressive Mayan past on this 14-day adventure through the jungles, rivers and highlands of Central America with Explore.

Your journey begins in Copán, a major astronomical site in Mayan times and arguably Honduras’ most important location.

After visiting the country’s Caribbean coast, you’ll cross into Guatemala, visiting Tikal, the most impressive Mayan city of all, and then venturing into the misty reaches of the Guatemalan highlands.

Trip: Guatemala: Land Of The Maya

Who: Explore

Type: Small group

When:  Jan, Mar & Oct

How long: 15 days

How much: £1,685 (exc. flights)

7. Temples and beaches in Belize

Time to relax in Belize (Dreamstime)

Time to relax in Belize (Dreamstime)

Discover Central America’s recently unearthed Mayan ruins, spot wildlife on river trips into the untouched jungle and snorkel coral reefs in azure Caribbean waters, on this epic 14-day tour through Belize - with Rainbow Tours.

Starting in the Cayo District, you’ll explore cave systems and Mayan ruins before heading deeper into the jungle to Lamanai, an ancient ruin that looks like it came straight out of Indiana Jones.

You’ll enjoy a series of guided nature walks before ‘retiring’ to your beachfront hotel in Placencia, where you can swim and snorkel, or trek in the nearby Cockscomb Jaguar Reserve.

Trip: Belize Mayan Discovery & Beach

Who: Rainbow Tours

Type: Tailor-made

When: Flexible departures throughout the year

How long: 14 days

How much: £4,495 (inc. flights)

8. Experience culture and nature in Nicaragua and El Salvador

Iglesia de la Recolección in Leon, Nicaragua (Dreamstime)

Iglesia de la Recolección in Leon, Nicaragua (Dreamstime)

Experience a unique mix of history, culture and nature in Nicaragua and El Salvador on this 15-day adventure with TravelLocal.

Culture is abundant in both countries, especially in the colonial towns Granada, León, Suchitoto and Ataco. You’ll see how recent history has shaped Nicaragua and visit ancient sites in El Salvador.

But it is the variety and scale of nature that astounds here. Lakes, volcanoes and beaches abound, and with many tourists heading straight to Costa Rica, you’ll have them pretty much to yourself.

Trip: Nicaragua & El Salvador: A Mix Of Culture And Nature

Who: TravelLocal

When: Flexible dates throughout the year

How long: 15 days

How much: £2,260 (exc. flights)

9. Guatemala from every angle

Colonial Antigua in Guatemala (Dreamstime)

Colonial Antigua in Guatemala (Dreamstime)

Pick coffee in misty highlands, experience unique Caribbean cultures and discover jungle-clad ruins on this diverse tour through the many faces of Guatemala with Wild Frontier. 

You’ll experience highland village life in the Ixil Triangle as well as vibrant musical ceremonies with the Garifuna on the Caribbean coast.

Add in the breathtaking beauty of Lake Atitlán, the Rio Dulce and a boat ride to the remote Mayan ruins of Aguateca - and you will have experienced the very best that Guatemala has to offer.

Trip: Guatemala: Tikal & Beyond

Who: Wild Frontiers

Type: Small group

When: Mar, Nov & Dec

How long: 15 nights

How much: £2,363 (exc. flights)

Note: This article was updated in early September 2019. For up-to-date travel advice for Central America please consult the Foreign Office's official travel advice

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