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Take Your First Vacation in Central America

(Hi many thanks to Engage for Moments' Guest Travel Blogger Antonia Ong for writing the Travel Blog. However, please research when embarking on any journey, note the news as to where the safer regions are, and in general the places that you feel is safe for your travels and sightsee. Take necessary precautions when travelling and following itineraries.)


By Guest Travel Blogger Antonia Ong

Just as how Sun Wu Kong journeyed to the west with Xuanzang on the legendary pilgrimage to obtain Buddhist sutras, I embarked on my first Central America trip to explore this unfamiliar subregion of the Americas for a month at the end of April 2023.

Just Do It - Throw Out Your Worries and Objections

While Singaporeans are generally well travelled, Central America – typically describing the seven countries of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama – is less often a typical holiday destination for various reasons.

For one, the long flights to Central America can be daunting. You can choose to fly via Europe or the United States of America depending on where your first destination is. For me, since I started in Antigua, Guatemala, I chose to fly via Los Angeles.

Vacation days are also precious, and limited, for us. And once you invest 3 to 4 days to fly to and from Central America, you will likely want to spend more time and cover more sights and experiences. This should not stop you from cherry picking one or two countries as each has much to offer. For the uninitiated, my recommendations for first timers to Central America are Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Panama as they have better tourism infrastructure while offering a rich diversity of things to see and do.

Colorful street peddler by the iconic Santa Catalina Arch of Antiguar, Guatemala

Copán, an archeological site of an ancient Maya city of over two thousand years in Honduras is one of the most important sites in Mayan history and because of its well-preserved architecture was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. 

But don’t agonize over it. Regardless of which country/countries you choose, Central America has some of the world’s most sought-after destinations and unique experiences to offer everyone. The Maya ruins and colonial cities for history buffs, sloths and cloud forests for nature lovers, volcanos and white-water rapids for the adventure seekers, and beaches and great surfs for those that just want to chill. Pick any and I am sure you will have loads of fun.  

Be it nature walks, zip lining or white water rafting. Monteverde, Costa Rica, has much to offer nature and adventure seekers.

My Favorite Sights and Experience – And the Many That I Want to Return For

While I was fortunate to have spent a month there, starting in Guatemala, and moving south to Panama, there are still many unvisited places that I want to go back for.

For those of you still considering, here are some of my favorite sights and experiences.

Feeling peckish on the beach of El Cuco? Try one of these super big, juicy, and sweet mangoes. The locals must have a sweet tooth, because they will drizzle chocolate and jams on them!

§ Be captivated by the pastel and beautifully restored colonial Spanish baroque buildings of Antigua (Guatemala) and her equally colorful residents.

§ Relax and sample how locals enjoy the weekend at Playa El Cuco (El Salvador), a seaside village with smooth dark sand, calm waves, a long shoreline, and an incredibly relaxing atmosphere.

§ Transport yourself back in time in Granada (Nicaragua) amid the well-preserved architecture of what is one of the oldest cities in Central America.

§ Escape the heat and into the cloud forests of Monteverde (Costa Rica) where you can spot your first sloth encounter or zipline across valleys.

§ Vibe to the island life of Bocas del Toro (Panama) complete with Caribbean-style clapboard houses and translucent azure waters where you can snorkel and try to spot giant star fish and dolphins.

Lunch for the locals with the colorful, neoclassical facade of the Cathedral of Granada, Nicaragua, in the background.

§ Marvel at one of the world’s greatest marvels – the Panama Canal (Panama) which facilitates the 80km crossings for 14,500 vessels each year from Panama City on the Pacific side to Colón on the Atlantic side.

§ Get lost among the Maya ruins of Copán (Honduras) where human-sized carvings and hieroglyphics are scattered around what was one of the most important civilizations.

While spending a month in Central America is a luxury for most, there are many more places that I would like to have the opportunity to return to.

§ Soak in more sun and sea in La Isla Bonita (Belize), literally “the beautiful island” and snorkel over colorful reefs and among rich sea life of Ambergris Caye.

§ Live my Indiana Jones moment in Tikal (Guatemala) where a thriving Mayan metropolis rivaling Rome existed 1200 years ago.

§ Volcano-board down Cerro Negro, just outside of León (Nicaragua).

§ Escape to the “slow life” at Caye Caulker (Belize) where you can choose to just lie under a palm tree, or kayak in the Caribbean blue waters, or wander car-less streets with a rum punch in hand.

I could go on writing about the beauty of Central America, but really the next step is yours to take. Book that air ticket to anywhere in Central America, arm yourself with a few Spanish phrases and a healthy dose of adventure and curiosity.

About Antonia Ong

After over 20 years living the corporate life as a marketing, communications, and philanthropy professional mainly for technology and professional services organizations, Antonia Ong is enjoying her “gap year” experiencing local cultures. An avid traveler, whilst writing the article, she has just returned from Central and South Americas and embarked on her next adventure – a two-month overland camping trip to Africa.

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