Despite occupying just a small slither of our planet, Central America is home to a multitude of breathtaking natural wonders that are worthy of international attention. From idyllic Carribean beaches to ominous volcanoes and everything in between, let’s take a look at the best natural highlights of this lush jungle region.
Surrounded by volcanoes, Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan has long inspired even the most seasoned traveler. Don’t believe us? Famous 19th-century travel writer John L. Stevens called it, “the most magnificent spectacle we ever saw,” while Lonely Planet reckons it’s “the closest thing to Eden on earth.”
Of Costa Rica’s plethora of pristine natural parks, Manuel Antonio gets our vote for the cream of the crop. Stunning sandy beaches lined by dense rainforest are all par for the course in this rich bio-diverse region.
A lagoon between two volcanoes on an island in a lake, Ojo de Agua’s location is exotic enough in itself. Yet it’s the crystal clear water of this picturesque natural pool that reels in the crowds, an immaculate natural setting best enjoyed with a coconut cocktail in hand.
Peering over the colonial city of Antigua is the ominous Pacaya, Central America’s most exciting volcano. Although the views from the top are bliss, it’s the constant stream of billowing smoke and molten lava that thrill brave travelers as they hike their way to the peak.
Although Costa Rica represents just 0.03% of earth’s landmass, it contains 5% of its biodiversity, much of which can be found within the Monteverde Cloud Forest. A thick layer of cloud permanently hovers above the forest’s upper canopy, blocking out the sun and ensuring a constant supply of life-creating moisture.
Mexico’s southern state of Yutican is full of stunning cenotes, the best of which is the world-famous Gran Cenote. Situated near the popular tourist town of Tulum, this stunning underwater cave complex is flush with exotic aquatic life.
The second largest reef system in the world, many travelers rate the Belize Barrier Reef higher than its big brother in Australia. Marine life abounds in this bio-diverse region, with ample opportunity to swim with turtles, nurse sharks and countless fish among the technicolored coral.
Beginning with an enormous explosion in 1968, the seemingly endless eruptions of the Arenal Volcano spewed great clouds of ash over the country and sent cascading rivers of molten rock down to the lush farmland below. Thankfully, she’s been sleeping peacefully since 2010 and has become a favorite among hikers.
Belize’s spectacular Actun Tunichil Muknal Caves are rightfully one of the most popular attractions in the country. Best left to the true adventurer, they can only be reached by trekking into the jungle, swimming across a river and scrambling through some narrow underground passageways.
Few ocean sights are as impressive, or as eerie, as Belize’s Great Blue Hole. Diving into this enormous underwater cavern is like entering another world, a realm teeming with an abundance of ocean life amid the huge limestone columns that are suspended between the cave walls.
If you’re into tropical island idylls, what could be more stunning than Panama’s San Blas islands? Dotted along the Caribbean coast are 365 tiny coconut islands that form an archipelago of coral reefs, shipwrecks and pristine sandy beaches.
Many travelers skip El Salvador due to misconceptions about violence in this post-civil war state. Yet the country is relatively safe and it would be a real shame for nature lovers to miss the epic Cerro Verde National Park, a land of lush rainforest and towering volcanoes filled with crystalline crater lakes.
An idyllic island off the coast of Honduras, Roatan is renowned for its postcard-perfect beaches fringed by tall palm trees that gently sway in the Carribean breeze. But it’s what lies underneath that constitutes a true natural wonder, a thriving marine reserve with world-class diving opportunities.
Bocas del Toro has become an important tourism hub for its consistently good surf breaks and picturesque white sandy beaches. An army of water taxis ferry travelers between the best stretches of sand, while plenty of quality bars and restaurants keep holidaymakers entertained in the evenings.
This cluster of tiered pools above a natural limestone bridge is perhaps the most spectacular sight in Guatemala. Although it may be hard to reach, its clear turquoise water and lush greenery make the trip entirely worthwhile.