Central America’s largest lake is a remarkable place to visit on its own, but the shape of Ometepe Island sets it apart even more. Two volcanoes merged by eruptions over the years have created an amazing ensemble in Lake Nicaragua. To get a sense of their scale—and sensational photo opportunities—hike to Maderas, the greener and more forgiving of the two peaks. It can also be relaxing to know that this is the sleep of the two volcanoes.
Details Seven nights’ B&B from £1,895 pp including flights and transfers (coxandkings.co.uk)
There are 19 active volcanoes in Nicaragua, although none are perhaps more satisfying (or easier to access) than Masaya, just outside the capital Managua. Its last eruption, in 2008, upset the belly of this beast, forcing its lava lake higher into the caldera, making it visible from the ledge. Tours are best at dusk when the light from inside the volcano rises into the sky. Want to get closer? Travel north to Cerro Negro and you can hike to the top and then sandboard back down.
Details Twelve nights B&B from £3,935 pp including flights and transfers (audleytravel.com)
3. Visit Tikal in Guatemala
When the controversial Seven Modern Wonders of the World were announced in 2006, the inclusion of Chichen Itza sparked concern around the world. Anyone who has visited Tikal in Guatemala was even more confused – these Mayan ruins attract fewer tourists than their Mexican cousins despite being an even more spectacular experience. The wild character of this ancient bastion, combined with its extraordinary architecture, makes it arguably the most sensational complex of ruins in Latin America after Machu Picchu. A vast and prosperous city 1,500 years ago, Tikal is now barely reclaimed from the jungle.
Details Eleven night B&B from £959 pp (gadventures.com). Fly to Guatemala City
Cenote Cristalino in Mexico
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4. Swim in cenotes in Mexico
There’s no shortage of cut-and-paste tourism on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, but confident swimmers should ditch the beaches of Playa Del Carmen and seek out the ethereal cenotes instead. These remarkable underground rivers offer some of the clearest water in the world, making them particularly suitable for underwater photography. Natural sinkholes found throughout the region, cenotes were considered sacred springs of fresh water by the Maya. Thousands have been discovered around the Yucatan, with particularly high numbers in limestone around the city of Mérida and the beautiful Mayan port of Tulum.
Details Thirteen nights’ B&B from £5,995 pp including flights and transfers (abercrombie kent.co.uk)
5. Explore the Panamanian Islands
Panama City and its canal are so developed that it is easy to forget that the country has so much more to offer. While the continent’s jungles are home to extraordinary wildlife, the San Blas Islands promise a unique trip to Central America. This narrow archipelago belongs to the Guna people, who have occupied the idyllic islands for centuries and now offer a singular experience with exceptional snorkeling and the chance to learn something about their culture.
Details Twelve nights B&B from £3,158 pp including flights and transfers (journeylatinamerica.co.uk)
Blue striped snapper in Costa Rica
6. Diving on Cocos Island in Costa Rica
The country’s most remote national park is also its best dive site. It is aimed at experienced divers, who will be rewarded with the sight of sharks, yellowfin tuna, sailfish and schools of kaleidoscopic fish. Part of the recently expanded Cocos Marine Reserve, the islands and their pristine waters have hopefully been protected for future generations as well. On this onboard trip, you begin with a night at a boutique hotel near Mantas Beach. It includes seven days of diving and two night dives.
Details Eleven nights full board from £4,720 pp (responsibletravel.com). Fly to San Jose
A gray whale bursts into Baja California, Mexico
7. Meet gray whales in Mexico
For cetacean fans, watching any type of whale is magical, but experiencing Baja California is something very special. Gray whales are up to 50 feet long and weigh up to 40 tons – and still aren’t the largest whale species. They are, however, probably the most curious. Nowhere is this more evident than off Baja, where these gentle giants are known to approach tourist boats, allowing you to come face to face with them.
Details Ten night B&B from £5,300 pp (scottdunn.com). Fly to La Paz, Mexico
A macaw in Costa Rica
8. Spot macaws in Costa Rica
Located in the extreme southwest of Costa Rica, Corcovado is undoubtedly the wildest national park in the country. Huge tapirs and three species of monkey lurk in the jungle, and even visitors with no interest in birdwatching will love the extraordinary avian variety. Several high-end lodges are scattered around the park; all offer excursions. Best is to sail around the west coast to reach the deeper parts of the jungle. The most notable birds are the hoarse scarlet macaws, which are often heard before their red feathers are seen.
Details Nine nights full board from £2,947 pp including flights and transfers (journeylatinamerica.co.uk)
9. Cross the Panama Canal
Few engineering feats have changed the world of travel and commerce as much as the opening of the Panama Canal. Boats would no longer need to take the long and dangerous route around Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America. Today, the canal continues to handle a colossal amount of ocean traffic and offers history buffs the chance to navigate its famous waters en route to Costa Rica from Colombia. On this trip, after leaving the beautiful colonial city of Cartagena on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, the ship will cross Panama and head to the Pacific where you will visit the verdant Pacific coast of Panama and Costa Rica.
Details Thirteen nights full board from £7,996 pp (auroraexpeditions.co.uk). Fly to Cartagena
Cerro Verde National Park in El Salvador
10. Visit Pompeii in El Salvador
It’s perhaps no surprise that volcano-laden Central America has its own version of Pompeii. In often overlooked El Salvador, the town of Joya de Ceren dates back over 1,400 years when it was simultaneously preserved and destroyed by an eruption of the Laguna Caldera volcano. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it has 18 structures, most of which were discovered by accident during the construction of nearby grain silos. In addition to the historical tour, you will visit Cerro Verde National Park – yes, this green mountain is also a volcano.
Details Twenty nights full board from £4,585 pp (wildfrontiers travel.com). Fly to Granada, Nicaragua
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