Where to go in Central America

Oct 8th, 2011, 05:21 AM
  #1  
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Where to go in Central America

Hi, This is my first time posting on this forum although I am a regular on the South America and Asia forums. We have travelled fairly extensively in South America and Asia but never in Central America and could really do with some guidance on this region. We are planning a trip of around one month in Dec/January and have just started researching potential locations.

We always travel independently and have basic Spanish language skills only. Happy to use public transport wherever possible and to rent a car and drive ourselves around. We usually stay in small B&Bs hostals etc. rather than big hotels. Our interests are varied and include historical sites, local culture, nature, cities, scuba diving etc. beaches are ok for a few days but are not the main focus. Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, Panama are amongst our initial thoughts. I appreciate that christmas and new year are busy times but we are hoping that by staying in smaller palces this will not be too much of a problem.

Any thoughts on which country or countries would be top of your list for a first time visitor and specific unmissable places to the region would be much appreciated.

many thanks
crellston is offline  
Oct 8th, 2011, 05:44 AM
  #2  
 
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Hi Crellston go a lot CA has some super locations

centralamerica.com

Xmas/Jan are high season...

Might consider Guatemala City via LON MIA

spirit.com aa.com lots of great properties there

witll be less crowded than CR or Belize but beautiful.

aroundantigua.com quintadelasflores.com first

Might check out visit Fiesta Santo Tomas where they have

the famous Voladores in Chichicastenango it time

then www.lacasadelmundo.com Aititlan then up to

www.jaguartikal.com or Hotel La Lancha on up to Belize

cavesbranch.com robertsgrove.com vixtoria-house.com

Head then down through Honduras thebusschedule.com

To Copan Yat Balam Roatan anthonyskey.com my fav there

Ticabus.com down to www.hotelcolonialgranada.com then into

Costa Rica tabacon.com arenal.net hotelvillacaletas.com

manuelantoniopark.com www.lookout-inn.com in the Osa

or bosquedelcabo.com more $ then cross to Panama

lasolasresort.com Boquete Panama City gamboaresort.com

Yandup Island in Kuna Yala very exotic if time.

Fly out of PTY copaair.com or back up to SJO.

My cheapest best air deals are always with spirit.com there.

Happy Travels!
qwovadis is offline  
Oct 8th, 2011, 05:53 AM
  #3  
 
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victoria-house.com sorry for typo best property in Ambergris

for me at great pricepoint for upscale...

Really forgot to talk about rental car...

Too risky expensive for me anywhere but costa rica.

Plates mark you for scams theft everywhere

mapache.com wild-rider.com a couple of good ones

but you cannot cross borders so I usually just bus

Deluxe Bus best for me generally everywhere...

insuremytrip.com Patriot best for me usually

Like in SA they run in gangs sometimes on the buses

Little old ladies wanting to befriend me and share cabs

are the sneakiest... I politely say "No Gracias" my fav words
qwovadis is offline  
Oct 8th, 2011, 07:38 AM
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If diving is a priority, I'd eliminate Costa Rica, and possibly Panama. Either Belize or Honduras.

Belize is English speaking, although most people also speak Spanish. It's considered the most expensive destination in Central America. However, there are numerous reasonable options for lodging and food.

I enjoyed Panama City, although we were only there for a few days. Also really enjoyed the San Blas/Kuna Yala islands. Very rustic, the village life is fascinating. We did some good snorkeling there as well.

It's been almost 10 years since I've been to Costa Rica, there is absolutely stunning scenery, but suspect it's become too busy for me. I really didn't care for San Jose.
JeanH is offline  
Oct 8th, 2011, 09:10 AM
  #5  
 
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No question, I'd start in Guatemala and then head to either Belize or Honduras for blue water time. I'd spend a week or 10 days in the western highlands, then head to Flores/Tikal for a few nights and onto Belize, or head to Copán in western Honduras and on to the Bay Islands.

Loads of photos with trip report links on the main page of each collection. Let me know if there's more I can do to help. Happy trails!
http://www.flickr.com/photos/staceyholeman/collections
hopefulist is offline  
Oct 8th, 2011, 09:50 AM
  #6  
RAC
 
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Yucatan Peninsula plus maybe Chiapas could have everything you want. You can dive not only off the coast, but also in cenotes (caves filled with water). Chichen Itza, Coba, Uxmal, Ek Balam, Tulum and Calakmul are the major Mayan sites. There are some good wildlife birding sites, but for rainforest activities you'd want to head inland to Chiapas, where you could not only explore the Lacandon rain forest, but also the Mayan sites of Palenque, Bonampak, and Yaxchilan.

If you have an unlimited budget, you could dive Isla Coco which is technically part of Costa Rica. Supposed to be one of the best dive spots on earth, but that's because of its remoteness.

The itineraries people mentioned above--Belize plus staying inside Tikal national park in Guatemala, or Copan plus Bay Islands plus Pico Bonito/ other rainforest areas of Northern Honduras are also excellent suggestions. You have many great options.
RAC is offline  
Oct 8th, 2011, 04:29 PM
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I love Costa Rica, but for what you're looking for, I'd go to Belize. It has a lot more in the way of historical sites, and also some of the best snorkeling and diving in the world. Do not miss Hol Chan if you go. And like mentioned above, head over to Tikal in Guatemala. We did it as a day trip and it was great. It's nice to do a split between jungle and beach areas; we did the San Ignacio area and then Ambergris and loved both - Chaa Creek and Victoria House. Got a good deal on Luxury Link. Lots of other more affordable places too. It's gorgeous. Food is very good as well. Wildlife isn't as good as CR, but we did see some monkeys, wild turkeys, aracaris and things of that nature.
volcanogirl is offline  
Oct 9th, 2011, 08:10 AM
  #8  
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Wow! Thanks so much for the great information everyone. It is much appreciated. Certainly a lot to thinks about. i have been trying to source flights from the UK which currently seem v. expensive, no doubt because we are aiming to travel over the xmas period! I guess I am trying to decide between travelling to a number of countries as suggested by some of you or, making use of my new Fodors Mexico guide (a reward for being quoted on the Africa forum!) and just staying in Mexico.
crellston is offline  
Oct 9th, 2011, 09:18 AM
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I'd like to tag along on this post.

My wife and I have 5-6 days without kids in mid-January. We want to go somewhere in CA or Mexico without kids. We have been to Costa Rica 4 times and, although we love the country and the people, and want to explore some place new (although we have not been to Osa Peninsula or Drake Bay yet). We've love to hike, raft, zipline, etc., but like doing it in "local luxury" (no four seasons for us) with good local food. We loved Verana outside of Puerto Vallarta (although scorpions in the room were a bit scary). Also loved xandari, makanda, finca rosa blanca, and peace lodge in CR. Lodge to lodge hike to Macchu Pichu is on my bucket list, but I don't think mid-January is the time to do it. Thinking about Guatemala or Belize (perhaps one of the Coppola lodges) or returning to CR for Basque del Cabo or Lapa Rios. I am OCD when researching, so am going crazy. PLEASE HELP!!
jdp867 is offline  
Oct 9th, 2011, 12:47 PM
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Crellston - We enjoyed 2 trips to the Yucatán in 2010, 2 weeks in June and a week after Christmas. You can see our photos and blogs and read our trip reports at the link below. Happy trails!
http://www.flickr.com/photos/staceyholeman/collections
hopefulist is offline  
Oct 9th, 2011, 02:20 PM
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jdp867--

You may want to look at The Lodge at Pico Bonito in Honduras. It's supposed to be fantastic for wildlife and hiking, and provides access to great rafting (the Cangrejal) and snorkeling/scuba (Cayos Cochinos) while providing very comfortable lodging and supposedly great food. I can't vouch for it personally--yet (spending my 40th birthday there in 2012).
RAC is offline  
Oct 9th, 2011, 02:38 PM
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I meant to add that Mahogany Hall is another Belize property that gets great reviews. We haven't tried that one yet, but it looks wonderful, especially if you like a smaller B&B feel.
volcanogirl is offline  
Oct 11th, 2011, 08:33 AM
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I have to weigh in here, as I think folks quickly overlook Panama. As DH says, it's Costa Rica without the commercialism.

We spent one of our best holidays with our kids in the rather rustic backpacker town of Bocas Del Toro. We rented a perfectly equipped surfer's house on the water with a dock.

We found quite impressive cuisine, inexpensive excursions and about as much nightlife as we wanted.

Bocas Del Toro is a great little walking town, with a sand main street, restaurants, bars, hotels built out over the water and a very laid-back ambience. It's in a hurricane-free zone and we found the snorkeling to be some of the best we've ever experienced because it is rather unspoiled. It's certainly off the beaten path and NOT CANCUN.

Hiking is better on the mainland and you can check one place off your list - If you hike Volcan Baru, because of its height, you can see east two west - from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It was breathtaking and unforgettable.

Do some searches and let us know if you have questions. We're happy to help.
Continental_Drifter is offline  
Oct 11th, 2011, 06:19 PM
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Crellston - remember you from the Asia board - which I cruised last year and planned a fabulous trip to SEA with help from you and others. .

I've been to Mexico, Panama, and Costa Rica- several times each. They are ALL wonderful. You would enjoy any singularly or in combination. (i've not been to Belize) But, to me, Costa Rica is DEFINITELY about nature. And we love it because we love hiking/birding. Not a particularly diverse or interesting culture though - relative to some others. NATURE is terrific! Panama has equally great hiking, birding, animals - but also a modern interesting, lovelier capital. And a more diverse culture. And the canal - which is way more interesting than you might imagine. BUT Mexico (of course it's much, much larger than either CR or Pan) has all of that PLUS so much more - ancient ruins, wonderful and interesting food, an amazing capital city, great music - music and dancing in the zocalo (square) of cities on weekends, art. . .. . . color.. . beautiful architecture. . . really terrific museums AND nice beach areas (and that's only a very moderate interest of ours too when traveling. . .
glover is offline  
Oct 12th, 2011, 12:07 AM
  #15  
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Hi Glover (glad you enjoyed your SEA trip!)- Having just received my Fodors Mexico guide I am inclined toward Mexico mainly for the reasons you outline and maybe leaving Belize CR etc. for another trip at a less expensive time of year. The problem I have at the moment is the extortionate cost of flights from the UK in Dec/Jan.

With this in mid, rather than flying into Mexico City I am looking at flying in and out of Cancun but moving on from there asap as it does seem to be major party town. Is this a good idea or would we be missing out on a lot in Mexico City? We would then restrict our travelling to the Yucatan and maybe a side trips to Ooxaca & Veracruz.

BTW hopefulist I am being heavily influenced by your Word of Mouth quote on page one of the guide book!!
crellston is offline  
Oct 12th, 2011, 05:52 AM
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Cool! Which guidebook?
hopefulist is offline  
Oct 12th, 2011, 06:07 AM
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Oh! I just reread the thread and it appears you mean the Mexico one - I wasn't aware of that. Looks like I have a free book coming!
hopefulist is offline  
Oct 12th, 2011, 06:09 AM
  #18  
RAC
 
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Crellston:

You can also fly into/out of different cities. For example, our itinerary for February is:

Fly into Villahermosa (transfer to Palenque)
4 nights Palenque
1 night Merida or Campeche
4 nights Tulum
Fly back out of Cancun
RAC is offline  
Oct 12th, 2011, 06:10 AM
  #19  
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That said, I would not be keen on flying into Mexico City if you're looking to wind up in the Yucatan. Mexico is a HUGE country, and ground transport between Mexico City and Cancun is really not an option unless you like spending a lot of time in a bus.
RAC is offline  
Oct 12th, 2011, 09:00 AM
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Also lots of violence in certain parts of Mexico these days so choose your spots wisely. My husband's company has severely restricted their travel to Mexico this year. Seems to be mostly in the border areas.
volcanogirl is offline  

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