If you’re wanted to visit an exotic beach locale without spending a lot of travel hours from the United States and you’re looking for alternatives to Mexico, consider going a little farther south to Central America. Surprisingly there are a lot of flight options without the hefty price tag for flights to Europe or South Pacific. I’ve been to all seven countries in Central America, recently checking off El Salvador and Panama. Here are five of my favorite places in Central America that are safe with options for families, adventure focused, island vibes seeker, and solo traveler or digital nomad. I’m even sharing my favorite urban adventure destination in Central America.
While staying at Los Sueños Resort in Costa Rica, I did a live segment for Great Day Colorado on KWGN Channel 2 in Denver. In the segment I shared with the show host and my friend Chris Tomer destinations in Central America that are safe with a mix of adventure and tranquility. In the segment we only had time to chat about three places in Costa Rica, Belize, and Honduras.
Luxury in Costa Rica
For a vacation in Central America that feels like a luxury resort in the United States, book at Los Sueños Resort and Marina in Costa Rica. It has all the amenities you’re used to in the U.S. and English is widely spoken. Costa Rica is considered one of the safest countries in Central America and the world. Los Sueños is a fishing destination and has some of the best sport fishing in the world. Definitely book a half day or full day fishing excursion. In the resort there’s a variety of accommodations for various budgets ranging from condos, a Marriott hotel, and vacation homes. My friend Mike Hardy has lived in Los Sueños for over two decades. I highly recommend using is company HRG Properties and Rentals to book you stay and excursions. I had them book ATVing, sunset experience, monkey mangrove tour, and my transfer to airport. Everything was top notch!
Bay Stay in Belize
Belize is also gaining popularity with American travelers. I’ve been multiple times and prefer to stay at Orchid Bay. It’s on the mainland in the Corozal District in northern Belize. I found it after a friend moved from Denver to there. Caye Caulker and San Pedro on Ambergris Caye are great too but there is the potential to miss connection on Tropic Air or ferry. Orchid Bay is an interesting 2 hour drive from the airport and they can arrange airport transport for you. While most of Belize is very safe, limit time in Belize City, especially at night. If you have to stay a night in Belize City, I recommend the Best Western Belize Biltmore for a safe option. Orchid Bay is a slice of paradise on the edge of a marine biosphere. I love to stay in one of their thatched roof cabanas, but they also have condos and home rentals. There are over 200 varieties of wild orchids on the property along with numerous birds and wildlife. The bay is serene and the Tradewinds restaurant and bar can get quite lively in the evenings. Their ceviche is fabulous! Orchid Bay offers a variety of excursions. I’ve done several. Check out posts on snorkeling in a UNESCO World Heritage Site, New River boat tour to Lamanai Maya Ruins, and discovering hurricane history on a walking tour in Corozal. For a jungle experience, head to San Ignacio where you can go cave tubing and take a day trip to the Corazol Ruins including taking a dip at Rio on Pools and hiking to a big waterfall.
Island Fun in Honduras
For an island destination head to Roatan, Honduras. You can fly directly from Houston, Denver, and other U.S. cities to the island 35 miles off of mainland Honduras. Because of the distance from the mainland, Roatan and the Bay Islands have very little crime in a country plagued with violent gang activity. I spent a week in Roatan solo and with friends staying in multiple accommodations and exploring a big portion of the island. For the itinerary, check out post How to Spend a Week in Roatan. For lively beach fun, spend time in West Bay. You can easily take a water taxi between West Bay and West End, a mile-long village filled with dive shops, restaurants, and boutique accommodations. Sandy Bay is a little more serene and my favorite accommodations in Roatan are at Puerta Azul. There’s excellent snorkeling, even from the beaches at West Bay, West End, and Sandy Bay. Head to Daniel Johnson’s Sloth and Monkey Hangout for a fun outing to see monkeys, sloths, and other animals. You can also book snorkeling as part of your visit. Roatan and the Bay Islands are a destination I look forward to visiting again.
Best for Solo Traveler (and Biggest Surprise)
Playa El Tunco has some of the best surfing in Central America and the world. When I went to El Salvador on a solo trip, multiple people told me I was crazy and asked if it was safe. I stayed at Balancé Surf and Yoga Resort. The wonderful boutique resort is owned by Americans. One of owners lived in Golden for 11 years and is a well-known yoga instructor. I arranged two tours to hike to a waterfall and to Tazumal Ruins through Balance and had a great time my guide. Did I feel safe? Yes! El Salvador has become a safer country to visit in recent years and the international tourism sector is rapidly growing. I had the best sleep in ages while at Balance and took some time to slow down and relax including walks on the beach and yoga classes. This is one place on my radar to return to soon.
Best Urban Adventure in Central America
Panama City, Panama is a fabulous mix of old and new. It has a large expat community and easy to visit. You can even do an extended layover in Panama City as part of a trip in Central or South America. I did two nights in between time in El Salvador and Costa Rica. Stay in the lively, artsy, and colorful Casco Viejo (Old City). It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s safe to wander the streets of the Old City and enjoy its fabulous architecture and historic sites. I stayed at Tántalo Hotel, partly because of its rooftop bar. I arranged a guide for a day through the hotel so I could the Panama Canal, which is a must. My guide Bustos also took me to Gamboa Rainforest Reserve where I was about to get on the Gatun Lake and Panama Canal boat tour. After seeing the ships go through the locks, it was incredible to be on a boat in the canal.
Author Jennifer Broome has visited all 7 countries in Central America.