We really couldn’t have asked for a better way to start our trip Around This World than Mexico and Central America. Over the course of four months and four days, we encountered countless beautiful beaches, lush jungles, rumbling volcanoes, vibrant cities, charming towns, friendly people, and delicious food. Except for our initial flight to Cancun, all travel was completed overland with buses and boats, covering some 4,650 miles through six countries. Believe it or not, there are still quite a few places we skipped and hope to visit sometime in the future, such as the Pacific Coast of Mexico, the Corn Islands in Nicaragua, and the San Blas Islands of Panama – not to mention two entire countries we skipped – Belize and El Salvador.
People often ask us questions like “What is your favorite country?” or “What was your favorite sight?” or “Where would you visit again?” These are incredibly hard questions to answer – every place really is different and there have been highlights and extraordinary things we’ll always remember from every place we’ve visited. That said, we’ve decided to look back on this first segment of our trip and round up our favorite places, activities, sights, foods and experiences.
- Yellow House Hostel, Antigua, Guatemala ($21/night)
This cozy hostel is super-clean, with really friendly staff, and includes an awesome breakfast. We enjoyed our room with private balcony overlooking a couple of the surrounding volcanoes.
- La Posada del Belssy, Copan Ruinas, Honduras ($15/night)
We would have happily paid double the rate they were charging for this comfortable, spotless hotel with private bath, cable TV, and rooftop swimming pool.
- Alton’s, Utila, Honduras ($7/night)
Waterfront accommodation was included while I was learning to dive here. While it was fairly basic, we liked it so much we decided to stay longer.
- Los Amigos Hostel, Flores, Guatemala ($10/night)
It was boiling hot in Flores, but our private treehouse at this funky backpackers hangout provided good ventilation. The hostel bar was also a fun place to cool off with a beer and meet other travelers.
- Posada del Cafeto, Xalapa, Mexico ($27/night)
While on the pricier end of this list, we enjoyed this boutique hotel in beautiful Xalapa. The rooms had lots of little details not normally found in this price range, along with a decent included breakfast.
Favorite Natural Wonders
- Semuc Champey, Guatemala (post)
This place turned out to be more of an adventure than we expected, between crawling through dark water-filled caves, to swinging off a gigantic rope swing, and jumping over small waterfalls into crystal-clear pools.
- Cenote X’Keken, Valladolid, Mexico
We explored a number of cenotes (undeground sinkholes) in the Yucatan. This was definitely our favorite – a brilliant ray of light shined down through a tiny opening at the top, illuminating a beautiful blue pool of water and jagged stalactites hanging from the ceiling.
- Sumidero Canyon, Mexico
This 1km deep canyon stretching 35-km through the state of Chiapas is simply stunning, with sheer vertical cliffs rising from the river running along bottom. In addition to the impressive landscape, wildlife abounds in the canyon – all of which can be observed screaming down the river on a speedboat.
- Zapatilla, Bocas del Toro, Panama
An uninhabited Caribbean island with perfect white sandy beaches? Hello!
- Cancun, Mexico
A “conventional” pick, yes, but it’s true – Cancun has a gorgeous beach. It doesn’t hurt that you can order cocktails while sitting under a palapa, either.
- Mummy Museum (Museo de las Momias), Guanajuato, Mexico
Heather insisted on visiting this macabre museum, which featured corpses exhumed from the local graveyard which have become naturally mummified, due to minerals in the surrounding soil.
- Anthropology Museum, Xalapa, Mexico
A fascinating museum focusing on the Olmec civilization that thrived in this area some 3,000 years ago, predating the Mayans and Aztecs.
Favorite Tour Guide
- Luis, Tikal Ruins, Guatemala
This tour rocked – over the course of nearly six hours, Luis really brought Tikal to life for us, explaining both the structures and Mayan customs as well as pointing out the surrounding wildlife.
- Zazil, Uxmal, Mexico
We were horrified when Zazil accidentally had her fingers slammed in the tour van’s sliding door, and thought for sure the tour would be canceled. Miraculously, she stuck her hand in a bag of ice and continued on throughout the day with a smile.
- Mexico City Cathedral, Mexico
The largest and oldest cathedral in the Americas, it is nothing short of breathtaking. Our favorite part was climbing to the top of the bell towers and walking along the roof, looking down to the Zocalo below.
- La Recoleccion, Antigua, Guatemala
Antigua was the capital of Guatemala (which at the time comprised most of Central America) for nearly 200 years, before a serious earthquake in the late 1700s destroyed most of its buildings, including this massive church and former convent. The scale is impressive and the chaotic, disheveled nature of its collapsed columns and walls lend a somber feeling to the place.
- Tikal, Guatemala (post)
The largest, and in our opinion, most impressive Mayan ruins, featuring towering pyramids, temples, palaces, and other complexes surrounded by thick jungle.
- Teotihuacan, Mexico
Another huge archeological site – this one from the Aztecs. Here we climbed The Pyramid of the Sun, which is the third largest in the world (after Cheop’s in Egypt and the unexcavated Pyramid of Cholula, Mexico which we also saw)
- Touring Cozumel Island with a Scooter, Mexico
There’s nothing like the freedom of wind rushing past your smiling face, skipping from place to place around a tropical paradise. It really was the perfect way to explore this beautiful island.
- Agua Caliente, Thermal Springs, Honduras
We were expecting some basic hot springs by the side of the road, but ended up spending the morning at a beautiful spa fed by refreshing natural sources.
Favorite Adventure Activities
- Learning to Dive, Utila, Honduras (post)
An activity I’ve always wanted to do, which will be something I can enjoy time and time again on this trip and in the future.
- Volcano Boarding at Cerro Negro, Nicaragua (post)
Truly a unique activity – sliding down an active volcano at breakneck speeds on a small wooden board.
- Whitewater Rafting, Costa Rica (post)
We were tired and achy by the end of the day, but glad we took on this difficult challenge.
Favorite Animal Encounters
- Turtles Nesting, Tortuguero, Costa Rica (post)
We consider ourselves extremely lucky to have been able to so closely observe this rare and amazing act.
- Holding Macaws, Copan Ruinas, Honduras
After our tour of this tropical bird sanctuary, we jumped on the opportunity to hold three different types of colorful Macaws.
Hands down our favorite country for food – delicious moles, spicy tacos, monstrous torta sandwiches, and so much more…
Our Spanish host mother’s delicious frijoles volteados (refried beans) probably added a few pounds to our mid-sections, but we’re not complaining!
Beautiful beaches, ancient ruins, old colonial towns, bustling cities, friendly people, and delicious food. We spent more than 6 weeks in this country and still don’t feel like we made a dent!
We had heard great things about Guatemala and luckily were not disappointed. In addition to great natural beauty, and rich cultural traditions, the relaxed pace of life in Lake Atitlan made us fall in love with this country.
- Guanajuato, Mexico
A beautiful old mining town, this city was picturesque and relaxing, while still offering plenty of the amenities you would find in a big city. It’s unique in the fact that it’s literally built on the sides of the surrounding mountains, with steep alleyways, tunnels, and colorful houses dotting the horizon.
- Mexico City, Mexico
While it’s an absolutely massive, heaving metropolis (the largest in the Americas), we were very impressed by this world-class city. We had a blast exploring the many great museums, tranquil parks, and abundant restaurants and only wish we had alloted additional time to see even more.
- Antigua, Guatemala
It’s no wonder this is the “most visited city in Central America”. While undoubtedly touristy and nowhere near off the beaten path, we’ll always treasure the nearly 2 weeks we spent in this picturesque colonial city, where we did an immersion Spanish program and explored the local area.