Central America is the original luxury destination with countries such as Belize, Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador and Cuba offering wonderful wildlife as well as unique cultural experiences. It’s convenient for both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. The region is fringed by pristine beaches.
It’s a nature-lover’s paradise where visitors can head to the rainforests of Nicaragua, the volcanic lakes of Guatemala as well as scuba diving and snorkelling the coral reefs of Belize.
The Belize Barrier Reef is the second-largest barrier reef in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site which is a 300 kilometre stretch of unbroken reef. Snorkelers and scuba divers will see rainbow coral, tropical fish, turtles, eels, stingrays as well as sharks.
For the culture buffs, Central America and neighbouring Mexico are rich with Mayan history – the Chichen Itza is one of the most famous sites in Mexico. Located in the Yucatan Peninsula, the Temple of Kukulcan dominates the ancient city. Another highlight in Mexico Ilk Kil Cenote, a deep swimming hole which the Mayans considered sacred. The ancient civilisation used the site for human sacrifices to the rain god, Chaac.
With shorelines to the east and dense jungle to the west, Belize is one of the most diverse countries in Central America. It is home to the second largest reef system in the world where cruisers who love to snorkel or scuba dive can see tropical fish, stingrays, turtles and sharks. In the jungle areas of Belize, you’ll see Mayan ruins including Caracol which is known for its towering pyramid. Also check out the Great Blue Hole which is a giant submarine sinkhole which is 318 metres across and 124 metres deep.
Belize is famous for its natural wonders, including the second longest barrier in the world. For snorkelers and scuba divers, it’s a paradise with lots of marine life to see. It’s also rich with lush tropical rainforests where visitors will see many local birds as well as exotic tropical fauna and flora. In the city, visit the Belize Zoo which displays over 170 animals. In Belize, the seafood is fantastic – try the red snapper or grouper.
Best for: History lovers and nature buffs.
Costa Rica is a rugged rainforested country with coastlines facing both the Caribbean and Pacific. It’s known for its stunning beaches and array of volcanoes. Roughly a quarter of Costa Rica is made up of protected jungle where cruisers can see wildlife such as spider monkeys as well as quetzal birds. One of the most famous sites is the Poas Volcano which is still active. It has erupted 40 times since 1928, with the last eruption in April 2017.
This city has some fascinating architecture and colourful open air markets. It’s a bit run down from the battering of numerous earthquakes but it’s one of the best places to visit to buy traditional souvenirs like wood carvings. Puerto Limon’s main attraction is the Paques Vargas, the main strip in the city which is lined with park benches and towering palms and tropical flowers.
Best for: Couples and nature buffs.
Puntarenas serves as the main town to reach the smaller islands of Costa Rica. Some of the highlights of this island include a canopy tour of the rain forest. Around 8 kilometres from Puntarenas is Playa San Isidro which is the first real beach of the central Pacific Coast. If you’re a surfer, there are some great beaches with awesome swells like Boca Barranca.
Best for: Families, nature buffs and active cruisers.
Cuba is famous for its sugar-white beaches as well as its tobacco fields which produce some of the world’s finest cigars. Known for its communist rule, visitors will see cars from the 1950s and colourful buildings lining the streets of Havana.
The world’s fascination with Cuba revolves around Havana which has some amazing architecture, preserved from life in the 1950s. Old Havana has cobbled plazas, castles, cathedrals and classical mansions which date to the heyday of the Spanish rule in the city. It’s a great city for exploration and is predominantly flat. Beyond the old city, discover the 20th century enclave of Vedado, which has hotels and nightclubs that look like they are straight from the 50s.
Best for: History buffs
Santiago de Cuba
The city played a pivotal role in the overthrowing of the Batista regime. The vibrant city is filled with buskers playing local music on every corner. Unlike other cities in Cuba, Santiago de Cuba has a distinct Caribbean flair from the influence of French planters and Haitians who settled in the last century. The city is home to some of Cuba’s oldest palaces and museums including the Casa de Diego Valazquez. For authentic cigars, visit the Casa de Habano where you can get some fine tobacco products.
Best for: History buffs
This small Central American nation is known for its great surf beaches and mountainous landscape. Here, cruisers will also find lovely coffee farms, rainforest as well as waterfalls. The capital of San Salvador is set against the dramatic backdrop of volcanoes and has beautiful churches and fascinating Spanish architecture. Nearby, Lake Ilopango sit in the crater of the volcano that devastated Mayan cities around 410 and 535 AD.
This beautiful and friendly down is a popular destination for travellers. While it’s not a major cruise port, there are still some big name lines which visit Acajutia. Los Cabanos Beach is the most popular beach in the town and is abundant with health reefs. It’s a famous diving spot and if you visit in summer, you can see some pros dive from 20 to 30 metre platforms. If you love fishing, it’s also a great place for open sea fishing.
Best for: Nature lovers
Located between the United States of America and Central America, Mexico has diverse landscapes of mountains, deserts and jungles. The country has some of the best preserved Mayan ruins including the ancient city of Chichen Itza. Cruisers will also find Spanish colonial-era towns and, in Mexico City, you’ll see some amazing museums and gourmet restaurants. Major cruise lines sail from ports like San Francisco and Los Angeles on the West Coast of the USA and its friendly locals, subtropical climate and currency exchange made it the most popular cruise destination in 2017.
Cabo San Lucas
Ships that arrive in Cabo San Lucas anchor offshore and tender passengers to the marina. The town is located at the tip of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula as is one of the most popular cruise destinations in the country. It has great weather, fantastic scenery and is a getaway location for the rich and famous. You’ll find lots of high-end hotels, exciting nightlife and lovely resort style restaurants. It’s a popular destination for water sport lovers. Best for: Everyone.
Cozumel is famous for its underwater sports. While there are quite a few beach clubs that offer to snorkel, the main attractions are the reefs offshore. The east side of the island is underdeveloped so cruisers will find pristine beach clubs that take you there. You might even find small blow holes and there will be a restaurant on the beach every few kilometres. It’s a great place for surfers as you’ll be able to find some beaches with big waves. Some of the nearby attractions include the Chankanaab National Park which has lovely walking trails where you will see iguanas. Visitors will also be able to see dolphins.
Best for: Nature lovers
It’s one of the most luxurious holiday sports in Mexico where cruisers will see a fusion between Mexican culture. Guests can see everything from bullfights to some of the finest resorts in the world. There is art and music around the entire city with live concerts often held by the beach. If you’re after something a little but more adventurous, you can try your hand at spearfishing. For those who love a drink, visit the town of Tequila which is a short drive away. You’ll see how farmers make the potent brew and see agave plant farms.
Best for: Everyone