Central America consists of seven countries —  Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama — that form the southernmost tip of North America. The region is bordered by Mexico to the north, Colombia to the south, the Caribbean to the east, and the Pacific to the west, resulting in a unique blend of Indigenous, Spanish, and Afro-Caribbean influences.

Over the years, different areas of Central America have suffered from political unrest, economic troubles, and above average crime rates, causing many to avoid the region altogether. Here are just a few reasons why you should put Central America on your bucket list: 

1. Natural wonders unlike anywhere in the world

From white sand beaches to active volcanoes, Central America is an ideal region for nature lovers. If you’re looking for a beach bum vacation, head to Costa Rica and unplug on the near-deserted Tamarindo Beach or travel a bit further south and be amazed by Panama’s aptly-named Starfish Beach. 

If you love seeing wildlife in its natural habitat, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to do so in Costa Rica, which has a larger monkey population than humans! Head to the Caribbean Coast between the months of March and October to see Hawksbill sea turtles nesting and hatching or visit Manuel Antonio National Park to see three of the four monkey species that call Costa Rica home. 

2. Discover Indigenous and Afro-Latin cultures 

Central America was colonized by the Spanish, who used enslaved Africans for labor and exploited theIndigenous populations who already existed in the region. Regardless of which of these cultures you feel a kinship with, you’ll find plenty to dig into.

If ancient ruins are your thing, head to Tikal, a massive Mayan city shrouded in the northern jungles of Guatemala. Once you’re there, tack on a trip to nearby Copan, Honduras, where ancient Mayans built a “City of Kings.”

If you’re interested in Afro-Latin history and culture, you’ll find plenty to study in Panama, which has a history of African enslavement, but also attracted immigration from nearby Caribbean islands while the Panama Canal was being built in the early 20th century.

3. Adventure sports

Central America also offers plenty of options for adventurous travelers who want to get their pulses racing. Roast marshmallows on one of Guatemala’s active volcanoes or sleep on the crater overnight. Near Leon, Nicaragua, you can race down the Cerro Negro volcano slope on a simple wooden or metal board. 

Honduras offers lower than average prices on scuba diving excursions and numerous clear water beaches for snorkeling. You can go white water rafting on the Pacuare River in Costa Rica or surf the infamous waves of El Salvador’s Costa Del Sol beach.

4. Can’t beat the price 

With the exception of Costa Rica which tends to be a little more expensive, Central America gives you plenty of bang for your buck. The region attracts less tourism than their neighbors in the Caribbean and prices often reflect that. Haggling is common and smart budget travelers will find it easy to stretch their dollars. Head to El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, or Panama for cheat eats, accommodations, and tours. 

5. Tourism dollars help boost local economies 

One of the most effective ways to support struggling countries like Nicaragua and Honduras is to give them your tourism dollars. Check to see if there are any travel advisories and plan to avoid those areas. Travel can often be a useful tool in helping us understand the nuances of a destination that the news might gloss over.