Central America

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Central America
Central America

Delta Air Lines has Central America covered, welcoming passengers aboard its nonstop flights to Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. And indeed an increasing number of travelers are packing up and taking off to this close-by region shared by the seven countries that form a land bridge between North and South America. Although they collectively cover an area not even as large as the state of Texas, the destinations in Central America embrace a whole new world of the kinds of vacation experiences that people seek nowadays: adventurous, romantic, active, nature-oriented, cultural and involving.

Travelers who have been there, done that, find much of Central America to be staggeringly beautiful, with volcanoes rising dramatically from glittering lakes set in verdant landscapes. They are enchanted to discover pristine rainforests and cloud forests still sheltering towering pyramids that rise up from ancient Mayan ceremonial centers. Nature-loving visitors come again and again to train their binoculars on myriad technicolor birds, five species of spotted cats, and a bewildering variety of butterflies and orchids. Nature is no less brilliant beneath the seas, where moray eels, manatees, whale sharks and whales put on a show for divers and snorkelers. And travelers always remember that those Pacific or Caribbean beaches are never far from the cultural highs that charming colonial towns and cosmopolitan capital cities serve up with must-see museums, distinguished and delicious dining, ooh-and-ahh shopping, vibrant music and nightlife action.

And it’s good to know that Central America’s comfort levels keep soaring to new heights. While both business and leisure travelers are now well served by well-known luxury chain hotels in major gateway cities, it’s the wonderful lodges and resort hideaways in the mountains, near nature reserves and by the sea that capture the variety of their destinations and introduce new corners of the countries. Good service and farm-to-table cuisine are, of course, part of the pleasure of small inn stays.

In short, Central America is full of many-splendored places to be, and Delta looks forward to providing you with just the ticket to a successful business meeting and/or an adventurous, relaxing, culturally enriching, and fun-filled vacation, so fasten your seatbelts for takeoff, we’re heading south.



Belize City

While air and cruise travelers disembark in Belize City, most often they move on quickly to explore the attractions they came for: the reefs, ruins and rainforests. However, visitors will find that the capital is a lively town, distinguished by fine examples of Victorian houses with gingerbread trim.


The Great House, a lovely colonial-style boutique hotel, is a neighbor of the Radisson Fort George Hotel & Marina, the best luxury choice.


Calling all nature lovers to a trio of nature adventures: birdwatching; boating through a lagoon at Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary; hiking along the Belize River in the Community Baboon Sanctuary protecting the rare black howler monkey at Bermudian Landing; or bringing your binoculars to the Half Moon Caye National Monument, a marine reserve sanctuary for the red-footed booby. Covering 21,000 acres on the southern coast and accessed easily from Dangriga or Placencia, the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is the world’s first jaguar sanctuary, created to protect the country’s highest density of this elusive cat, as well as their smaller cousins, the puma and the endangered ocelot—joined by tapirs and tayras. Come here to walk the 18-mile network of trails, shower under waterfalls, tube down the river, and count bird species.


Belize’s Mayan treasury is huge—more than 600 known sites, many well excavated and accessible. Visit Lamanai, featuring three large pyramids, residential areas, and open plazas, set on the banks of the New River Lagoon. Lamanai visitor bonuses include great birdwatching and a room at the Lamanai Outpost Lodge.


Dive into the watery depths of the Barrier Reef where the ultimate experience lies way off the mainland at the Great Blue Hole, a 480-ft. depression that is 1,000 ft. in diameter with 200 ft. visibility.


Tailor-made for English-speaking visitors, Belize is the ultimate cultural exchange of a home stay with a traditional Maya family in the Toledo district; contact the Maya Village Homestay Network.

BEST TIME TO GO:  The dry (and high) season, late-November to May

FUN FACT: Thanks to many years as a British colony, English is spoken in Belize

GETTING THERE: Delta flies nonstop from Atlanta and Los Angeles to Belize City

ENTRY DOCUMENTS: Valid passport

CURRENCY: Belizean Dollar

MUST-TRY NATIVE FOOD: Hudut, whole fish or fish stew, served in coconut milk broth, is a specialty of the Garifuna people

BEST BUYS: Jade jewelry, paintings by local artists, and Marie Sharp’s hot sauce

INFORMATION PLEASE: Belize Tourist Board—travelbelize.org or belizenet.com





Delta’s new flights from Los Angeles and New York to Liberia reinforce the importance of Costa Rica’s Pacific attractions: long blond beaches with perfect surf, giant cattle ranches and national reserves of the Guanacaste province and the Nicoya Peninsula.


The eco-lodge Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge; boutique seaside hotels like Florblanca and Latitude 10; luxury resorts—take the all-inclusive Westin Playa Conchal Resort & Spa for one, Four Seasons Resort at Peninsula Papagayo for another, or JW Marriott Guanacaste with top golf and spa facilities.


Make yourself at home in an eco-friendly lodge and settle into the beauty of the 25,000-acre Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, located four hours from the capital in the Tilaran mountains of Guanacaste province. Experience the unique cloud forest environment on a guided hike in search of the resplendent quetzal, or go horseback riding or canopy touring. See the daily migration of Costa Rica’s largest population of scarlet macaws who make themselves at home in Carara National Park. You’ll never meet more monkeys, including the endangered squirrel species, in Manuel Antonio National Park, which is also home to sloths, toucans and macaws and is famous for its beautiful beaches, rainforest hiking, and canopy touring.


The golf scene stars a solid core of 18-hole championship courses, with Westin Playa Conchal Resort offering a 7,030-yard course designed by Robert Trent Jones; the Four Seasons Resort at Peninsula Papagayo with a signature Arnold Palmer course; and at Puntarenas at Los Sueños Marriott, designer Ted Robinson’s beautiful 6,698-yard La Iguana course. Costa Rica also offers great surfing along the Pacific Coast (March to late-November); the most popular centers are Tamarindo, Nosara and Malpais on the Nicoya Peninsula, Jaco (for beginners and intermediates), and Playa Hermosa. World-class sportfishing happens along the central and northern Pacific coastline where bill fish abound.


Unbeatable are the fresh seared tuna, Belgian French fries, big healthy salads and fresh fruit smoothies at Lola’s oeanside restaurant on Playa Avellanas.


San Jose

The nation’s capital, San Jose sits in a climate-friendly 3,805-ft. altitude in a lush valley in the Central Highlands, surrounded by coffee fincas and volcanoes. While business travelers make their headquarters in San Jose, the town also plays home-base to visitors for many close-by excursions to the rainforest and the coast.


There’s a wide choice: business guests seem quite at home at the Crowne Plaza Corobici, the hacienda-style Costa Rica Marriott Hotel and the more boutique and charming Hotel Le Bergerac, while every visitor’s special boutique treat is the Hotel Grano de Oro (yes, of restaurant fame). The Sheraton San Jose Hotel, Costa Rica, located in the trendy upscale suburb of Escazu, is also a good option for those who want to stay away from the city-center.


See Costa Rica’s most celebrated artists on display in the Costa Rican Art Museum in San Jose. The coffee culture serves up a strong brew with Costa Ricans, who treat visitors to excellent tours at the Cafe Britt and Doka Estate plantations. Pilgrims from all over Central America flock to Cartago for the Procession of the Miracles during the annual La Romeria on Aug. 2.


Arenal National Park, famous for the active Arenal Volcano, offers guided walks through the park and over lava flows. It’s also the hot destination for canyoning, canopy touring (aerial trams and ziplines), horseback riding, mountain biking and ATV touring, as well as windsurfing and kitesurfing on Lake Arenal. Whitewater rafting is a top draw for action aficionados. There are multi-day rafting trips offered on many rivers—the Pacuare, Corobici and Sarapiqui, and several rivers are nearby for a day’s outing from San Jose, including the Reventazon.


The crown jewel in Costa Rica’s scuba diving crown is Cocos Island, 300 miles west of the mainland.

BEST TIME TO GO: January to May, although the northern Pacific Coast is drier and popular most of the year

FUN FACT: Despite the small size, Costa Rica shelters 4 percent of the planet’s biodiversity and 3.5 percent of the world’s marine life

GETTING THERE: Delta flies from Atlanta to San Jose and from Atlanta, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and New York (JFK) to Liberia

ENTRY DOCUMENTS: Valid passport

CURRENCY: Costa Rican Colon

MUST-TRY NATIVE FOOD: Costa Rica offers a bonanza in tropical fruit: mangoes, papayas, pineapples, melons and bananas are most common, add in granadillas and maracuya (passion fruit) and others. Any and all make great smoothies

BEST BUYS: Reproductions of pre-Columbian gold jewelry, masks carved by the indigenous Boruca people, and wood crafts from salad bowls to the signature painted Costa Rican oxcarts. (Yes, they ship.)

INFORMATION PLEASE: Costa Rica Institute of Tourism—visitcostarica.com




San Salvador

San Salvador sits geographically in the middle of the country, making it easy for visitors to take off in many directions. But before you do, stay awhile to see the Metropolitan Cathedral, incorporating colorful murals by the country’s most famous 20th century artist, Fernando Llort, and the modernist Iglesia El Rosario, with interiors bathed in stained-glass-window light. Move on to the capital’s top-notch museums: the National Anthropology Museum David J. Guzman with excellent exhibits on the ancient Maya; or the Museum of Popular Art, highlighting regional folk art.


The capital further surprises its guests with a vibrant, tourist-friendly bar, restaurant, and live music scene in the Zona Rosa, whose closest international hotel pick is the Hilton Princess San Salvador, although the Sheraton Presidente San Salvador is not far away.


Take the road from San Salvador to Santa Ana and Cerro Verde National Park, with its orchid gardens and good local guides to lead you over a network of hiking trails; this is also a cloud forest haven for birds, with 127 recorded species, including 17 kinds of hummingbirds. Take time to explore and enjoy the waterfalls, streams and swimming holes in Parque Nacional El Imposible, El Salvador’s richest-in-wildlife national park.


Salvadoreans call Tazamul their finest Maya site. However, a less grand but more important and interesting find (and a UNESCO World Heritage site) is Joya de Ceren, a village that thrived 1,400 years ago before being buried intact around A.D. 600 in the ashes of a volcanic eruption. Among the structures on view are adobe houses, unearthed with household goods in place, and an excellent onsite museum.


Following a guided tour along the Ruta de la Paz trail to the towns of Perquin and Mozote provides unique insight into the troubled civil war history of the country.

November to April; December, the coldest month, is best of all

FUN FACT: Catch the world-class Punta Roca—perfectly shaped, long, fast and strong—and you are sitting atop the best surf wave in Central America

GETTING THERE: Delta flies from Atlanta to San Salvador

ENTRY DOCUMENTS: Valid passport


MUST-TRY NATIVE FOOD:  Pupusas (tortillas stuffed with cheese, beans, pork rinds and other fillings) served with hot sauce and curtido, a slightly spicy coleslaw

BEST BUYS: Local paintings, ceramics, hammocks, terrycloth towels and bathrobes

INFORMATION PLEASE: Ministry of Tourism of El Salvador—elsalvador.travel



Guatemala City

The front door to this Tennessee-sized country is Guatemala City, a cosmopolitan capital well-endowed with fine hotels and good restaurants, too. It also has a trio of excellent museums: the National Museum of Ethnology and Archaeology, the Ixchel Museum, honoring the country’s weaving traditions, and the Popol Vuh with artifacts that cover Guatemalan civilization from the pre-classic Maya period to the colonial era.

The best picks for Guatemala City are the Westin Camino Real and Real InterContinental.


More than 400 species of birds have been recorded in Tikal National Park, the jungle area that also embraces the famous ruins. Animals on display include coatis, agoutis, howler and spider monkeys; far more elusive are the jaguars and pumas. On the Caribbean coast at Livingston, nature lovers head for a river trip on the Rio Dulce, famous for its exotic birds and tropical flora. En-route is Lake Izabal, which shelters the manatee, and the Mario Dary Rivera Biotopo, home to the country’s national bird, the resplendent quetzal.


The oldest Spanish colonial city in the country, Antigua, has some of the finest examples of 16th and 17th century architecture: the Palace of the Captains General on the main plaza; the San Francisco Church, with fine frescoes; and the richly decorated La Merced Church. Weekly markets offer visitors primetime occasions to observe the local customs and costumes of Guatemala’s indigenous people. Chichicastenango is the supermarket of the Quiche Indians, held on Thursdays and Sundays, while around Lake Atitlan, the colorful Santiago Atitlan market takes place Sundays and Thursdays. A must-visit is Tikal, the grandest city-state of the Classic period (A.D. 300 to 900), reached via the airport at Flores. While archaeologists have identified more than 3,000 structures, every walking tour takes you to the heart of the site where two mighty temples face each other across the great Plaza, while other temple-pyramids rise through the surrounding rainforest.


In a land of fabulous traditional festivals, one cultural event to make note of is the Zela Music Festival in Quetzaltenango in late March/early April.

BEST TIME TO GO: November to May, and anytime there is a major traditional festival (Easter in Antigua, for example)

FUN FACT: The resplendent quetzal, whose feathers provided headdresses for Mayan kings

GETTING THERE: Delta flies from Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York (JFK) to Guatemala City

ENTRY DOCUMENTS: A valid passport for at least six months beyond arrival date


MUST-TRY NATIVE FOOD: Pollo en jocon (chicken in tomatillo-cilantro sauce) and pollo en pepian (chicken in tomato-pumpkin seed sauce)

BEST BUYS: Jade jewelry, wonderful weavings, embroideries, local paintings, wool blankets, wooden masks and carvings






Fly directly into Roatan, the largest of the Bay Islands, a pristine archipelago located 30 miles out from the mainland and covering about 92 sq. miles along the world’s second largest barrier reef. Diving facilities and snorkeling draw beginners and experts alike to Roatan, considered the Holy Grail of scuba diving. The most memorable dives sites are the Hole in the Wall, West End Wall, Spooky Channel and Mary’s Place.


Tee off on the island’s first golf course, Black Pearl, designed by Pete and Perry Dye and the centerpiece of Pristine Bay Resort. Other picks are Infinity Bay Beach Resort and Mayan Princess on West Bay, the island’s best beach.


We have to say: take a boat from Roatan to the Bay Island of Utila, and swim with the whale sharks that gather here from March to May and from August to October.


Punta Gorda was the first Garifuna settlement where a band of some 2,200 Caribs landed in 1797. Come here particularly for the Punta Gorda Festival (roughly April 8-12), which includes a re-enactment of the arrival of the first Caribs, a crowning of a Garifuna queen, and lots of music and dancing.


Top shop on Roatan is the Wave Gallery, with outstanding paintings, jewelry and crafts by Honduran artists.


Scarlet macaw.
Scarlet macaw.

San Pedro Sula

San Pedro Sula is the commercial capital of Honduras, and indeed, a long-stay town for business travelers, but of little interest for leisure vacationists who are always en-route to a more interesting elsewhere, such as the north coast and the Copan ruins.


The city has some good international hotels, tops is the Real InterContinental San Pedro Sula, and good restaurants—Don Udo’s—serving up excellent food, cool elegance and live music.


Mostly by boat, visitors explore the wetlands and mangroves at the Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge and the Punta Sal National Park. The land and marine ecosystems are home to several monkey species, manatees, crocodiles and birdlife galore. Birds also make themselves at home (240 recorded species) in the Lancetilla Botanical Gardens, the second largest botanical garden in the world and hosting more than 1,200 species of plants from four continents.


A 2-hour drive from San Pedro Sula, all international visitor roads lead to the royal Mayan complex of Copan, among the most spectacular Mayan city states in the Americas and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The main ceremonial center covers about 75 acres with pyramids, temples, ball courts and dozens of intricately carved stelae portraying those who ruled this great city between the fifth and the ninth centuries.


Park yourself in the deluxe Lodge at Pico Bonito, named after the country’s tallest mountain and largest wildlife-rich national park, then book an exciting whitewater rafting adventure on the Rio Cangrejal (rapids rated from Class II-IV).


And not a secret for long, but North Coast visitors have a just-opened place to hang their sombreros: the luxe and lovely Indura Beach & Golf Resort at Tela Bay.

Honduras' capital, Tegucigalpa.
Honduras’ capital, Tegucigalpa.


Surrounded on three sides by towering hills and located at an altitude that offers a comfortable climate, Tegucigalpa has a rich colonial atmosphere. The capital city (aka Teguce) sits at 3,000 ft. above sea level, its narrow streets twisting up and down hillsides and sheltering charming pockets of colonial architecture. Stop at the outstanding National Gallery of Art, formerly a 17th century convent, displaying works from prehistoric to colonial periods, as well as modern works of Honduran artists.


The Hotel Honduras Maya in the Colonia Palmira neighborhood is a favorite with business travelers, while the Hotel Portal del Angel is an upscale, classy boutique pick.


La Tigra National Park, outside the capital, offers hiking on well-maintained trails in both cloud forest and dry pine forest, with rivers and waterfalls along the way. With 350 recorded species, the park is the country’s best birdwatching spot—after Lago de Yojoa (375 species). Head out to remote and untouched La Mosquitia, sparsely inhabited by the Sumo, Pech and Miskito Indians; the most rewarding area to tour by native dugout, 4WD and bush plane is the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve—a UNESCO World Heritage site.


Outside Tegucigalpa are the charming old Spanish mining towns of Santa Lucia and Valle de Angeles, distinguished by craft shops, country-style restaurants, outdoor cafes and leafy cobbled plazas. Absolutely outstanding are the Semana Santa celebrations in nearby Comayagua.


For Honduran food in the capital, vote for La Cacerola, specializing in soups—three different Honduran or Latin American soup choices each day.

BEST TIME TO GO: In the mainland, its November to May; in Roatan, January to August

FUN FACT: The largest tract of virgin rainforest in Central America is La Mosquitia, the locale for the Paul Theroux best-seller books, “The Mosquito Coast,” made into a movie with Harrison Ford

GETTING THERE: Delta flies from Atlanta to Roatan, San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa

ENTRY DOCUMENTS: Valid passport

CURRENCY: Lempira (U.S. Dollar freely accepted on Roatan Island)

MUST-TRY NATIVE FOOD: Anafre (hotpot of refried beans and cheese fondue)

BEST BUYS: Hammocks, paintings, wood carvings, leather items, Lenca pottery

INFORMATION PLEASE: Honduras Tourism Institute—letsgohonduras.com





The cone of the Momotombo Volcano serves as a backdrop to Managua, located on the southern shore of Lake Managua. Things to see and do include a visit to the National Museum with a pre-Columbian collection, and the New Cathedral, a mosque-like Catholic church with 63 domes to let in the light that illuminates its stark interior.


Among Managua’s international hotels, Real InterContinental Metrocentro is a good choice and well located, although on a more boutique scale, you’ll find the Hotel Los Robles or the Estancia La Casona.


The Masaya Volcano, an easy 15-mile drive from the capital, is one of the most accessible volcanoes in the country. You’ll be enchanted by its multiple, smoldering craters that overlook Lake Masaya. All within Masaya National Park are numerous hiking trails and an excellent volcanology museum. If you’re staying in Granada, head for the Mombacho Volcano National Reserve, whose cloud forests are buried in orchids, and whose 16- to 17-platform canopy tours put you right up-close and personal with the birds.


Granada, less than an hour from the capital and a colonial gem of a town on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, boasts a main square framed by Moorish arcades. Don’t miss city views from the towers of La Merced church, the pre-Columbian treasures at Convento de San Francisco and Mio Museo, or a horse and carriage ride at sunset. North of the capital is Leon, a university town whose grandest architectural monument is the Catedral de la Asuncion, the largest religious colonial building—it took 100 years to build—in Central America.


Attention golfers: There’s a beautiful new 18-hole course, designed by David McLay Kidd, that meanders over forested and flowering hills to the sea at the new Mukul Resort & Spa, spread along the Emerald Coast.


Nicaragua has fine handicraft traditions, but the paintings produced by the artists living in the Solentiname Islands have made it into international art collections.

BEST TIME TO GO: November to April; December, just after the rainy season

FUN FACT: Nicaragua was the stage setting for both the 21st and 22nd seasons of the TV reality show, “Survivor,” based in the beach town of San Juan del Sur

GETTING THERE: Delta flies from Atlanta to Managua

ENTRY DOCUMENTS: Valid passport


MUST-TRY NATIVE FOOD: Steaks, the best in Central America

BEST BUYS: Many fine handicrafts including leatherwork, ceramics, hammocks and local paintings. The Masaya Market is rightly called Nicaragua’s capital of shopping

INFORMATION PLEASE: Nicaragua Tourism Board—visit-nicaragua.com




Panama City

For Central America’s most enjoyable capital the pick will certainly be Panama City, not only a fun place to be but one full of good hotels and casino action. Left over from earlier days is the colonial center called Casco Viejo, a UNESCO World Heritage site, while the Miraflores Locks offer a perfect perch from which to watch ships railed and lowered from lock to lock as they make the 50-mile transit between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

Along the harbor promenade, and overlooking the old and new quarters of the city, is Le Meridien Panama. The InterContinental Miramar Panama is also a top pick.

Soberania National Park, formed by the Panama Canal watershed, is the place to listen to howler monkeys, meet a sloth or two, and update your bird list. On Bocas del Toro, a booming—in an off-the-beaten-path way—destination, you’ll find four turtle-nesting species: hawksbill, green, loggerhead and leatherback, coming ashore between March and October. Go whale watching: in the Pearl Islands and the Gulf of Panama in June; around Playa Venao in the Azuero Peninsula from August to October; off Coiba Island and the Gulf of Chiriqui in September and October.

Chagres National Park
near Panama City is the place to explore the 16th century Fort San Lorenzo, also an excellent birding area. On excursions in the park, you meet the indigenous people, the Embera and the Wounaan, in their villages on the banks of the Chagres River. You meet these communities and their rich traditions also in Darien Province, the nation’s least developed region, when following a community-based ecotourism circuit called The Paradise Trail.

The finest polleras, the elaborate national costume of Panama, are fashioned in the town of Las Tablas in the Azuero Peninsula. In the most colorful of festivals, come November, hundreds of Panamanian ladies parade in a Fiesta de Polleras.


BEST TIME TO GO: Peak season (aka dry season) runs mid-December to mid-April; driest months on the Caribbean coast are February, March, September and October

FUN FACT: In 1928, adventurer Richard Halliburton swam the Panama Canal in 10 days

GETTING THERE: Delta flies from Atlanta to Panama City

ENTRY DOCUMENTS: Valid passport


MUST-TRY NATIVE FOOD: Ceviche, made with sea bass or shell fish, chopped onion and chili peppers marinated in lemon juice

BEST BUYS: Wonderful baskets and other straw items, balsa wood crafts, and the famous appliques called molas

INFORMATION PLEASE: Panama Tourism Authority—visitpanama.com




















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