You’ll witness some of the greatest biodiversity on the planet in Costa Rica. (Photo: Alamy)
Visiting Central America is akin to stepping into a whirlwind of colors, flavors and sounds. This string of countries is tied together like a garland of spectacular mountains, lakes and forests, and is also linked by a common history. But Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras and Panama each offer a wealth of opportunities to discover the enchanting and the new.
Boasting some of the greatest biodiversity on the planet — thanks to its blessed geography, temperate climate and extensive national parks system — Costa Rica has quickly become one of the most popular destinations in Latin America.
It is an unparalleled experience for nature lovers, as it offers a rich variety of places to discover, from calm beaches with crystal-clear waters and dormant volcanoes to lush rain forests teeming with wildlife. Tortuguero National Park, Arenal Volcano, Monteverde, Manuel Antonio National Park, Puerto Jiménez, Isla del Coco or Cerro Chirripó are just a few of the places that offer great hiking, eye-opening wildlife excursions and a wealth of water sports opportunities. Perfectly nestled within the impossibly verdant hills off of Playa Herradura, you couldn’t go wrong at Los Sueños Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort. It is the ideal place to delight in the waters of the Pacific or venture into the rain forest canopy and explore.
While nature in this country — whose national motto is Pura Vida (“pure” or “good living”) — reigns supreme, the nightlife is by no means endangered. The capital city of San José, along with Heredia, Escazú, Santa Ana, Jaco and Alajuela all entice visitors with wonderful nighttime offerings. Kick off an unforgettable night on the town starting with delightful cuisine and drinks at the Costa Rica Marriott Hotel San Jose, theCourtyard San Jose Airport Alajuela or the Courtyard San Jose Escazu.
For a purely Costa Rican experience, try whitewater rafting on the Pacuare River, immerse yourself in heritage and aromas while on a coffee tour at the Doka Estate or soar above the treetops on a zip-line adventure through Selvatura Park in Monteverde.
El Salvador offers plenty of options for a relaxing vacation or an exciting adventure. With a number of impressive archaeological sites that include the famed Joya de Cerén and Tazumal, those seeking a bit of history and culture can rest assured that this small country does not disappoint. Extensive beaches and bottomless lakes invite water lovers to spend all day outdoors, either relishing the myriad activities available or just sitting back and daydreaming by the shore. This is especially true for those who have embraced the surfer lifestyle — and its many fans. Surfers from all over travel to this part of the world because of the size and configuration of the waves.
Paseo El Carmen in Santa Tecla — a few miles from the capital city San Salvador — is a mecca of restaurants, bars and cafés. This hive of activity is so compact you can enjoy cultural evenings, live music, nightclubs and, of course, delicious food without having to ever travel too far. The Zona Rosa and the Colonia Escalón are two other districts in the capital that also feature great nighttime entertainment.
Visitors can buy just about any item from the most widely recognized brands at San Salvador’s modern malls. You can spend the day shopping and take your purchases back to your room at the Courtyard San Salvador, which is located in the exclusive neighborhood of La Gran Vía, one of the most dynamic and attractive shopping districts in the city.
With the Caribbean Sea to its north and east, and a small strip of coastline on the Gulf of Fonseca to the south, the Republic of Honduras is blessed with an overwhelming number of white sand beaches, which — along with its archaeological wonders and splendid colonial architecture — make the country a genuine treasure for the enterprising traveler.
Undoubtedly Honduras’ greatest draw is its sheer number of beautiful Caribbean beaches, which span more than 497 miles on crystal clear waters. Tela, Utila, Ceiba, the Bay Islands and Roatán, among many others, are small havens that invite relaxation and encourage water sports like scuba diving and snorkeling.
Visiting Copán, one of the wonders of Central America, is like taking an archeological journey into the region’s past. On the other hand, Yuscarán, Comayagua, Omoa, Trujillo, Gracias and Tegucigalpa — the Honduran capital — are thriving modern cities with well-preserved colonial structures of singular beauty.
If you want to get in touch with nature, Pico Bonito National Park — where the mighty Cangrejal river is located — is ideal for canoeing, kayaking or hiking through the jungle.
Picturesque villages like Valle de Ángeles and Santa Lucía are great places to buy wood and leather crafts, flowers and vegetables, and they are incredibly close to Tegucigalpa. With a little time, you can even reach the impressive Parque Nacional La Tigra — home to a number of species found nowhere else.
To complete your day of discovery, wind down your evening at the Winners Sports Bar inside the Tegucigalpa Marriott Hotel sipping a refreshing cocktail and taking in the live entertainment. Nearby, Café Paradiso is a cultural center where you can immerse yourself in a bohemian evening of live music and plenty of great books. In Tegu (as locals fondly refer to their capital) visitors can find an array of restaurants that range from international franchises like T.G.I. Friday’s and Taco Taco to local standouts such as Rojo, Verde y Ajo.
Panama is home to the marvel of engineering known as the Panama Canal, which allows safe and efficient passage for thousands of boats crossing between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans via the Caribbean Sea. While a visit to the canal is a must — especially the fascinating Miraflores locks, which can be observed in operation up close — nature lovers will be happy to know that they too will be filled with wonder in this narrow bridge of a country.
Panama mixes the excitement of a big city with the ecological spectacle that occurs at the crossroads where two continents and two oceans meet. The Casco Viejo — the old town sector of the capital, Panama City — has a magnificent colonial ambience that can easily be enjoyed on foot. A short drive away, a variety of restaurants that serve both national and international cuisine electrify the historic area that surrounds Calle Uruguay. And if you like gambling, you are in luck, as the Panama Marriott Hotel is home to one of the most frequented casinos in the country. The Causeway, a complex of four small islands that formerly held a U.S. military base, has numerous restaurants and nightclubs. Beyond the eateries and entertainment, the place is also perfect for a nice walk to enjoy the steady breeze that blows in from the sea.
Even within the city, the natural world is all around. In fact, this is a city surrounded by jungle. Travel from the Pacific to the Caribbean Sea in an hour and a half aboard the Panama Canal Railway. This service is not only a convenient form of travel, it is also a pleasant trip through beautifully unique landscapes.
Shopping is also a must in Panama. Some of the largest shopping centers in the country, and the region, include Albrook Mall, Multicentro Westland and Multiplaza. Spend the day picking up all sorts of items at extremely competitive prices just steps away from the Courtyard Panama Multiplaza Mall or the Courtyard Panama at Metromall Mall. At the Colon Free Trade Zone, you also have the opportunity to buy products while enjoying duty-free prices.