I'm leaving on a jet plane, don't know when I'll be back again.
December 4, 2006 5:11 AM   Subscribe

We're planning a ten-day jaunt in Central America. Recommendations for the best scenic, jungly country to visit?

My wife and I have traveled hither, thither and yon -- to undeveloped nations as well as developed -- but Central America has passed us by. To remedy this, we want to visit one of the Central American countries in February. But we're stymied as to which country best fits the bill.

Topping the wish list:
Leafy jungles with tropical wildlife.
Colonial architecture.
Tasty fish, shellfish and veggie dishes.
That "you're not in Kansas anymore" feeling.

Acceptable, but not deal killers:
Quiet beaches.

Thanks but no thanks:
Adventurous travel (eco-tourism, treks, etc.). (Nothing against these, but we're chillin' this time around).
Long plane and bus rides.
Noisy cities (if avoidable).

Preferably, we'd like to aim for a single country, and keep the in-country travel to a minimum. Right now, Honduras, Panama, and especially Guatemala seem like our best bets. Suggestions?
posted by Gordion Knott to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Costa Rica.
posted by mdonley at 5:23 AM on December 4, 2006

Belize. English is the official language. There are Maya ruins, a nice little zoo, and jungle. It has the second largest barrier reef in the world. Best beaches are out on the islands.
posted by squink at 6:00 AM on December 4, 2006

Honduras. I'm from there so I guess I'm biased, but it has all of the above and then some. Plus, it hasn't been hit by the gentile gringo wave yet, so it's beaches and landscapes are still more or less untouched. Of all the departments, I'd recommend Atlantida. It's pretty centrally located. There, San Pedro Sula and Tela are best for colonial architecture. Most of the little villages and towns along the coast have really nice, cheap hotels right on the beach. For Mayan ruins check out Copan and for rollicking jungle, check out Patuca or Rio Platano in La Mosquitia or the Bay Islands.

One drawback (for most any Central American country) is that there are long bus rides. An hour or more from San Pedro Sula to the coast and most of the day or a plane ride from Tegucigalpa to anywhere. Third world, albeit beautiful, country = no mass transit. There's really no avoiding it unless you stay in the city. And who wants to to that.
posted by chichimimizu at 6:09 AM on December 4, 2006

Tulum, Mexico has everything on your list except the Colonial architecture.
posted by mkultra at 7:42 AM on December 4, 2006

Belize blew my mind. I'm aching to go back. It's got the jungle, it's got the beach, it's got the ruins.

Here's a Flickr photo set of our trip, complete with photos of beach, photos of Maya ruins and photos of our trip to the rainforest.

Email's in my profile if you want details.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:21 AM on December 4, 2006

My sister had a great time in Guatemala. There's a lot to see, and lots of local color, so to speak. (Read: local religious festivals with people exploding eggs and setting themselves on fire)

Costa Rica, according to my sister (who worked there for a while), is relatively touristy. It is also full of lush amazingness, and it's generally considered one of the safer destinations for that area.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 8:32 AM on December 4, 2006

I loved Guatemala. The Tikal ruins, El Peten rainforest, and colonial city of Antigua were high points. However, I did have to endure some very long bus rides to get from Tikal to Antigua. Flores is another lovely town that is near Tikal.
posted by hashashin at 4:04 PM on December 4, 2006

I can't decide if I should recommend Costa Rica or Guatemala. Costa Rica is more prosperous and so has better infrastructure. Costa Rica has stunning scenery, amazing national parks and terrific beaches on both coasts. Guatemala is poorer and the beaches aren't much. But the culture is far richer, with a real Mayan feel to many of the smaller villages. And there is so much more history in Guatemala--both ancient and colonial.

If beaches are not important, I guess I would go for Guatemala. Spend most of your time in the mountainous central region, and fly to Tikal rather than endure the bus.
posted by LarryC at 5:16 PM on December 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

Well, Panama's got everything you're looking for - even if you stick just to the narrowest part of the isthmus, north to south, along the Panama Canal - you'll find the jungle, the architecture, the beaches. Panama City to Colon takes about an hour by train, and that gets you from one end of the Canal to the other, so no long rides. Portobelo near Colon has some neat ruins from as far back as Columbus's time.

I can't speak to any other country in Central America; Panama is what I know since my family is from there, and I spent my first year of uni there. But you won't go wrong if it's the country you end up picking - I hit everything on your list myself when I lived there.
posted by Melinika at 5:37 PM on December 4, 2006

Guatemala is simply amazing and stunning. I can't recommend it highly enough. From the lush jungle of the Peten region (home of Tikal), to the beautiful (and UN World Heritage site) of colonial Antique to the bohemian Lake Atilan - it's just a great county.
posted by Staggering Jack at 9:01 PM on December 4, 2006

Panama is a corrupt cesspit. I was litterally mugged by the police at gun point there. That was after seeing some chopped up dead bodies left in a ditch. It sucks.

On the other hand it was one of the most beautiful places I've been. I also met some of the kindest, gentlest people there and had great food. The bodies and police mugging though make me think that Panama is best left in my memories.

Nicaragua is a hidden gem.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:35 AM on December 5, 2006

Nicaragua seconded. Great and cheap.

Do you speak Spanish, though? Makes it a lot harder in many of these countries.
posted by jare2003 at 9:08 PM on December 6, 2006

(if you dont speak it, that is)
posted by jare2003 at 9:08 PM on December 6, 2006

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