Central America is a narrow isthmus, or land bridge, connecting North and South America, stretching from the southern border of Mexico to the northern border of Colombia, and from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea. The area comprises seven mainly tropical countries -- Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama -- which are more similar in nature to South American countries.
Central America’s greatest assets and most popular tourist attractions are its national parks, cloud forests, beaches, verdant rainforests ripe with colorful vegetation and exotic wildlife, colonial history and ruins of Mayan civilizations, such as Tikal in Guatemala and Copan in Honduras. The local population is a mix of mestizos (Spanish/native peoples), indigenous tribes such as the Maya and those of European descent
Each Central American country has its own personality and attractions. Belize, for example, has the longest barrier reef in the hemisphere, and is known for its hundreds of islands, offering spectacular snorkel and dive locations. In Guatemala, weaving is a popular business and villagers’ hand-woven clothes are popular with visitors. Each indigenous village has its own unique pattern and color. Visitors to El Salvador are usually attracted by its scenic, unspoiled beaches and surfing, or its vibrant nightlife.
Honduras offers everything from lush jungles and breathtaking mountains to pristine beaches and clear turquoise waters. Ecotourism is a growing industry in Honduras, with scuba diving, river rafting and mountain treks. Nicaragua features the wonderful architecture of cities such as Leon and Granada, the largest rainforest north of the Amazon River, and the largest lake in Central America. Costa Rica is a popular nature travel destination, with a well-established system of national parks and protected areas, and a rich variety of flora and fauna. Panama is home to the spectacular Panama Canal, one of the largest and most complicated engineering projects ever undertaken, and also a rapidly growing tourism industry.
The region is also geologically active, with some 40 volcanoes, including Tajumulco volcano in Guatemala, which is the highest point in Central America, and the popular Arenal volcano in Costa Rica. These many volcanoes have fertilized the soil of Central America with important mineral nutrients, making this one of the richest areas of biodiversity in the world.
With a wide range of geography, from idyllic beaches to towering mountains, from rainforests to cloud forests, and centuries of history and culture, Central America offers virtually unlimited range of tourism options. Some of the highlights include the Cloud Forests of Panama in Boquete; Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, a volcanic lake surrounded by three volcanoes and one of the most beautiful spots in the world; Juayua and Suchitoto in El Salvador, Gracias and Comayagua in Honduras), and Nicaragua’s Granada -- the oldest colonial city in the Western Hemisphere.
Belize, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador also feature ancient Mayan ruins, and all seven countries offer spectacular beaches for swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving or just working on your tan.
Many airlines offer flights to airports throughout Central America. Every country in Central America accepts the U.S. dollar, in addition to its own currency. In Central America, you can often find cheap buys from gifts to personal necessities. And almost everything can be bargained for, except in upscale department stores.
Central America has a tropical climate with pronounced wet and dry seasons, although there are significant variations in weather patterns by region, elevation, proximity to the coast, and the moderating effects of the northeast trade winds off the Caribbean Sea.
In general, temperatures are slightly warmer inland, and cooler in the higher elevations. For most of Central America, the rainy season extends from May to October. Average high temperatures in the coastal regions in the summer range from 77º to 90º. In the winter, temperatures range from 70º to 75º, although temperatures can drop to 53º to 32º in the mountain regions. The best time to visit Central America is in the dry season, from October to May.
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