Welcome to Central America, where adventure sits side-by-side with food heaven, architectural and historic intrigue, ancient civilisation and modern metropolises, wildlife-laden rainforest canopies and a lust for life unlike anything you’ve ever encountered. On Central America cruise itineraries, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Panama jostle for time at the table, each offering up a more colourful lifestyle than the last in which to become a local if just for a day or two.
Grown up gap years are better by sea and a cruise to Central America holds all the experiences you’d expect from a region that intrigues and excites so many. The wildlife is astounding, from the cheeky sniggers of a capuchin monkey to the sea turtles exploring the coral reefs of Mexico alongside you and the inquisitive sharks that occupy world-famous dive sites – don’t worry, they’re harmless for the most part. Jump feet-first into cenotes, climb Mayan ruins, slip through the Panama Canal with inches to spare, fuel up on ceviche and wind down with mezcal. Central America was made for seasoned cruises with a longing to venture that little bit further and see that little bit more.
Oh how we love you Mexico. Free-spirited, bohemian, deliciously tasty, encouraging of our margaritas before lunch habit, days on Mexican islands hideaways are as close to heaven as we’ve ever found on earth. Beaches dance with both the Caribbean and Pacific seas, all golden sand and turquoise blues that are filled to the brim with striped marlin, rays, turtles and sharks.
Cabo San Lucas is the chicest address in town, hanging nonchalantly on the tip of the Baja California Peninsula. The boutiques could have come straight from Rodeo Drive, the scuba diving is superb and the lively Medano Beach is the beach club you’ve been seeing in your Mexican holiday dreams. The island of Cozumel is perhaps the most popular Mexican cruise port, a place that manages to combine authentic local neighbourhoods (and restaurants!) with excursions designed to show you the region in a day. Its Marine National Park with underwater statue installation is a highlight, best followed by some traditional Mayan food just feet from some of the many excavated and restored ruins in the area.
Guatemala’s largest cruise port, Puerto Quetzal is colourful, colonial gem. Sleepy streets give way to lively squares with market stalls laden with local delicacies and trinkets in abundance. Mayan history brings intrigue and depth, the temples of the Tikal complex reaching out of the rainforest in a stop-you-in-your-tracks moment. Along the shoreside of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala’s indigenous people demonstrate a life far removed from our own.
The most sustainable destination on earth is a biological treasure trove of flora and fauna, its unique species sitting in a world of their own. For the most part, Costa Rica remains untouched by mass tourism, an array of national parks and protected areas contributing almost a quarter of the entire country’s landmass. There are beaches too, glorious ones, and of course there is San Jose, Costa Rica’s intoxicating capital.
Shun the more popular South America to head off-piste in Centra America and you’ll be rewarded with rainforest rambles, mangrove discoveries, volcano hikes and dips in waters the colour of the Bombay Sapphire gin you’ll toast adventures with once back on board. Adrenaline junkies can whitewater raft; the lazy bones among us can lay, undisturbed for hours on sands edged with swaying palms and dotted with driftwood. Cast away on Playa Cocles or Playa Punta Uva, both easily accessible idylls located within an hour’s drive of Puerto Limon, or go rogue, hiring a boat to island’s blissfully marooned not to0 far by.
Tick a full transit of the Panama Canal off your bucket list. The marvel of modern day engineering is a Central America cruise highlight, your breath held as your ship slips through the manmade passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean with just millimetres to spare.
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