Caribbean water, excellent snorkeling and scuba diving; rain forests with exotic birds, frogs, monkeys and more; incredibly well-preserved pre-Columbian ruins and towering pyramids; quaint colonial plazas and cathedrals; smoggy, congested capital cities; colorful, bustling markets where vendors in traditional, hand woven clothes hawk everything from pig’s ears to embroidered t-shirts to pirated DVDs: Mexico and Central America have it all.
Central America, the little sliver of land connecting North America to South America, is about one fourth the size of Mexico and contains seven unique nations. Within this small space, live over 40 million inhabitants, most of which are mestizo, with a mixture of Hispanic and indigenous heritages – with the exception of English-speaking, Caribbean Belize. For the average tourist, this means that most of the attractions are relatively close together making for less travel time and more time to enjoy the destination.
Although the geography of all seven nations is relatively similar, the attractions, cultures and tourism infrastructure vary wildly, so choose wisely. Costa Rica tends to be the country that most tourists prefer when planning a trip to Central America, but rising crime rates in that country and the cultural richness, and virgin beauty of countries like Guatemala and Panama or even El Salvador are making many travelers reconsider other countries as preferred destinations. The international bus system and relatively inexpensive flight packages also make it fairly easy to cruise through all seven nations in a relatively short period of time.
Mexico, while often grouped with Central America, offers a completely different travel experience. Mexico tends to be more expensive than most of Central America, with the exception of Belize. Many parts of Mexico are highly commercialized for tourism, due in a large part to the proximity to the United States. If resort tourism is your style, the Yucatán offers some of the world’s finest. If you are more interested in a cultural, less touristy trip, Mexico’s Chiapas and southern mostly indigenous provinces are fascinating. The capital, Mexico City, is an incredible explosion of buildings, people, markets and cultural attractions like museums and pre-Colombian cities.