I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel across Central America in a group for almost three weeks, experiencing a whistle-stop volcano trail of the more unusual and scenic areas of the sub-continent.
Our journey began in the small town of Antigua in Guatemala, a country known for its vibrant wildlife and incredible colours. Although I arrived fairly late at night, all of the shops and stalls were still open and the area seemed to be fairly unaffected by tourism, with modest buildings of a pale red colour and the locals continuing to go about their own business. Travelling through the winding hills to our next location in Honduras, it became clear that I was going to be treated to some dramatic and breathtaking scenery along the way, as well as wildlife: hundreds of species of beautiful butterflies populate the countryside of Latin America.
The town of Copan in Honduras was similar to Antigua in the sense that it wasn’t particularly tourist-orientated: we were the only group of visitors around that I saw. It is definitely poorer than Antigua, with more uneven pavements and you can see a lot of people eating on the streets. The history of the town is full of character. I visited the local ruins and they are astonishing pieces of architecture considering their age: just the fact that they have survived this long says something. The site’s tropical forest setting abundant with macaws and toucans also makes for an enjoyable visit.
My next, and probably favourite, visit was the idyllic Bay Island of Roatan, located on the Caribbean coast. Whilst retaining its Latin charm with salsa bars and its local cuisine of baleadas (a tortilla wrap containing chicken, cream cheese, refried beans and egg), the Honduran island definitely echoes Caribbean traits of palm trees, gorgeous sunsets and local seafood eaten on lazy, rasta-music filled evenings. There is plenty to do on the island too, from snorkelling to banana boating, and there is a fabulous dolphin show by well cared-for animals.
Unfortunately I was required to tear myself away from paradise in order to travel to the country of Nicaragua, where my adrenaline-laced adventures began. We quickly stopped off in Leon at Volcano Cerro Negro to hike up one side, and, well, slide down the other. The hike was difficult but the views from the top were stunning and make for excellent photos if you can manage to keep the ash out of your camera. Volcano boarding down was a lot quicker and more fun than the hike – but I wouldn’t want to do it very often as I got dirt even in my ears!
Granada, Nicaragua’s sister town to Antigua, was the next location of choice and indeed had a striking resemblance to the town in Guatemala. We visited the Isletas de Granada on a boat tour, went to Monkey Island and fed the spider monkeys, and ate a lot of local fruit like mango and passion fruit. The sight of active volcano Mombacho towering above us was also impressive.
[pullquote style=”left” quote=”dark”]I equally knew no Spanish, communication was limited. I did learn though that they live simply, each family member pulls their weight regardless of age, they eat fantastic food and manners go a long way, no matter the language.
Onwards to our final destination of Costa Rica, we made our last Nicaraguan stop at the island of Ometepe, the world’s largest island in the middle of a freshwater lake. The visit included a home stay, and it was really interesting to see how the locals go about their everyday lives. The family I stayed with knew no English and as I equally knew no Spanish, communication was limited. I did learn though that they live simply, each family member pulls their weight regardless of age, they eat fantastic food and manners go a long way, no matter the language. We swam in the Ojo de Agua natural springs and we were taken on a cultural tour of the island, visiting nature reserves to see flora and fauna.
Suddenly the end of the trip was in sight as we hit the adventure-capital of the world, Costa Rica. The foliage is a lot denser there than the other countries I toured, reminding me that I was coming ever-closer to South America and the Amazon. Approaching the unique cloud forest of Monteverde our group had to mentally prepare ourselves for the adventures ahead, which for myself included superman zip lining, an extreme Tarzan swing and the highest bungee jump in Latin America. The morning was intense and required a lot of courage, but the whole thing was ultimately worth it and the views were incredible.
I also went on a coffee and chocolate tour in Monteverde, where a guide showed us the meticulous processes behind each product. We were allowed to sample the coffee and chocolate too, which was delicious, and I even saw a sloth or two! We then moved on to our tour guide’s home town La Fortuna for the last part of our adventure, where he helped us catch fish in a river and took us to see the local volcano, Arenal. The following day involved kayaking on Lake Arenal in the morning with a haunting backdrop of the volcano, and in the afternoon I attempted canyoneering. Canyoneering involves waterfall rappelling (abseiling down waterfalls) and is one of the most challenging things I have ever done in my life – not mentally, but physically, as getting the technique correct to bounce down a 250ft waterfall is pretty difficult.
We visited the local hot springs in the evening, which did wonders for our aching muscles. Our final activity of the trip was one we had all been really looking forward to – white water rafting! The instructors were fantastic: we went on the more challenging rapids so it was tricky at times but they really geared up the teamwork and spirit, which left our group on a high at the end of the tour. I departed San Jose airport after a night out in the city, which was totally different to the quiet towns I had stayed at over the course of the 17 days.
If you’re looking for an action-packed trip which gives you a variety of every type of holiday you could have – scenic, beach, adventure, YOLO – then Central America is the place to head to, as it has it all. It is yet to be over-polluted with tourism (in fact it is even untouched, in some places) and the beautiful scenery actually makes you grateful to be able to drive through it for a few hours and experience it in all its glory. From blood-pumping adrenaline to surreal volcanic scenery, the Spanish “pura vida” lifestyle will find its way into you and refuse to leave for a long time.