5. Central America is a Dangerous Region
How is it that the name “Central America” conjures up thoughts of violence and suffering for a visitor even before their arrival? It is all due to what has been depicted in the news. Yes, there are gangs that have caused violence in recent years, but this gang violence is relatively focused on turf and drug wars between other rival gangs and foreigners only become involved by random association. According to the U.S. State Department, “Most travelers to Central America experience no safety or security problems … U.S. citizens have not been singled out by reason of their nationality.” Just as one would do in certain areas of New York City, common sense should be used in the same way for Central America. In addition, each country takes special precautions to protect its tourists. Belize, El Salvador, Panama and Guatemala each include the presence of a specially trained tourism police force, while Nicaragua and Costa Rica are the safest in the region with their own lightly armed police. El Salvador even offers additional protection by the National Civilian Police (PCN), which is one of the best forces in Central America.
4. Civil Wars are Still Fought in Central America
Civil war has been one of the most damaging aspects when rehabilitating the image of Central America. For far too long, these wars have drawn on with graphic scenes of mass violence and suffering. Fortunately, there are no more civil wars being fought in Central America. Belize avoided the civil war that engulfed the rest of the region, but the other countries were not so fortunate. Guatemala’s war lasted from 1960 to 1996, while El Salvador’s conflict occurred from 1980 to 1992. Nicaragua has a long history of struggle due to dictatorship and both civil and Contra wars that lasted well into the 1980s. The Costa Rican Civil War occurred for only 44 days in 1948 but it was the bloodiest event in the country’s history. Panama has also seen its share of violence from the Columbian Civil War that was primarily fought there as well as a military dictatorship that ended after the U.S. invasion in 1989. In a positive light, visitors who know about a country’s turbulent past before arriving can experience the culture in a much deeper and more personal way.
3. There are No Luxury Hotels in Central America
Not long ago, Central America was basically a lush, primitive region that focused only on cash crops such as bananas and coffee, which helped to form many of its densely packed urban areas. But that has changed dramatically, especially due to the rise of tourism. Today, each Central American country boasts many luxury hotels, offering some of the best lodging in the world. Located on the northwestern Pacific Coast of Costa Rica is the luxurious Four Seasons Resort at Peninsula Papagayo. It includes everything a guest would need from ocean-view rooms that spill down a coastal hillside onto a private beach to world-class spas and championship-level golf courses. For a luxury stay in Belize, there is the Ka’ana Boutique Resort, which was a 2011 finalist on not one but two of Condé Nast Johansens’ prestigious Central American lists: “Most Excellent Romantic Hideaway” and “Most Excellent Service.” The rest of the countries each include an InterContinental Hotel, one of the top luxury hotel chains in the world. Honduras actually includes two of them (San Pedro Sula, and Tegucigalpa) while the others are located in the capital cities of Managua in Nicaragua, Guatemala City in Guatemala, and San Salvador in El Salvador.
2. Central America is Expensive
Mass tourism can raise the price of anything from a small drink to a hotel guest room, but unlike other popular international tourist destinations, Central America can be different. Yes, there are luxury hotels in Costa Rica that can cost more than $1,000 per night and expensive tours that range from eco-adventures to sightseeing charter flights. But the rest of the countries offer some incredible bargains. Popular destinations in Nicaragua such as Granada, León and San Juan del Sur provide luxury hotels for less than $100 a night while locations in Honduras such as Roatán or Guatemala’s Panajachel or Antigua go for even less. In addition, the exchange rates (despite the falling U.S. dollar) are still very reasonable and visitors can easily find bargains when it comes to anything from dining to excursions. So, make sure to comparison shop, because if you can still find travel deals in expensive cities such as London and Paris, you can certainly find them in Central America.
1. There is Nothing to See in Central America
For those who believe that Central America offers nothing to see, they are badly mistaken. In fact, each country includes a wide array of unique destinations with some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. Belize includes at least two spectacular locations: Caracol, the largest Mayan site in the country and the legendary Great Blue Hole, which is approximately 1,000 feet wide and more than 400 feet deep. Guatemala includes the former capital and colonial city of Antigua, whose historic remains stand as a testament to nature’s power of destruction. But its most beautiful location is Lake Atitlán, which has been compared to Lake Garda in Italy except for one major difference: it has three dormant volcanoes looming on its horizon.
Honduras offers the amazing Copán Ruins, which are one of the best preserved Mayan cities in Central America while Nicaragua includes one of the oldest Spanish colonial cities in Central America: Granada. The country also consists of 21 volcanoes along with the Isla de Ometepe, one of the largest lake islands in the world. If volcanoes are representative of Nicaragua, then Costa Rica is known for its more than two dozen national parks that include everything from breathtaking crater lakes and lush, tropical rainforests to some of the most active volcanoes in the world. El Salvador, the smallest of the Central American countries, is often the most overlooked. But its Pacific Coast beaches are some of the best in the region, and the country has earned the reputation of being one of the surfing capitals of the world. Finally, the country of Panama is not only known for its famous canal, but its Coiba National Park is a haven for divers and explorers who come to enjoy its 38 islands.