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Central America Cruises

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Central America

With fantastic weather, lush tropical landscapes, colourful wildlife and rich local cultures, the countries of Central America are a fantastic cruise destination.

Made up of seven countries - Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama - the region of Central America is diverse and yet somewhat similar, due to the countries’ shared Latin American background. In terms of cruise holidays, destinations in southern Mexico are also often included in this list, such as a stop off on the gorgeous island of Cozumel.

Map - main ports in Central America

Central America is often overlooked as a cruise destination in its own right. This is due mainly to the alluring sites and experiences to be found in North and South America, the popular Caribbean to the east and exotic Galapagos islands to the west. As a result, unfortunately Central America is often seen more as a transitional stage of a cruise journey, be it hugging the coasts from north to south or transiting the legendary Panama Canal.

Just like the Panama Canal, Central America is far more than simply a means to an end, with a fantastically diverse range of hidden gems just waiting for you to discover. Many journey to Central America as part of a grand world cruise, while others discover the eastern coast as part of a Caribbean fly cruise from Miami and Fort Lauderdale, or trailing the western shorelines between LA and South America to spot migratory whales.

Alternatively, you could cruise Central America and beyond as part of a tailor-made cruise and stay package to explore deeper Central America and beyond. This kind of holiday could take you to discover Mayan ruins, go white-water rafting, or see the tropical rainforests and their diverse wildlife.

Examples of the vibrant animals you could see in their natural habitat throughout Central America include birds such as parrots, macaws, toucans, and hummingbirds, while capuchin monkeys and sloths hang about in the trees. Harder to spot are other little creatures such as rainbow-coloured tree frogs and giant creepy-crawlies, with new species being discovered all the time.

When to visit Central America

The most popular time to visit Central America is during the region’s dry season between November and May. The rainy season is typically from June to October.

The temperature throughout Central America remains consistent at around 27°C throughout the year, but usually peaks in April. Despite the general wet and dry seasonality, there could be several weeks of gorgeous sunshine during the rainy season, while there could equally be a sudden outbreak of showers during the dry period- usually in the afternoon. There will be differences throughout depending on your exact geological location too, with higher terrain and the breezy coastal areas remaining cooler.

This pleasant dry season attracts the majority of Central America’s tourism seasonally. As a result, demand for accommodation and places get booked up quite fast. On the other hand, the rainy season sees a dramatic fall in numbers, as well as prices, but note that some attractions and businesses may close during this window due to a lack of demand.

Meanwhile, especially if sailing in a smaller ship or yacht, August to November is the perfect time to enjoy whale-spotting in Central America. Right in the middle of the whales’ migratory path along the west coast of the Americas - from the Antarctic waters to the Arctic and Alaskan breeding grounds - Central America is perfectly situated for seeing all manner of species such as Humpback, Pilot, Killer, Sei and Beaked whales, as well as various dolphins. On land, Osa Peninsular in Costa Rica is a favourite spot for whale-watchers to survey the open ocean and view these majestic creatures too.

Annual Events

As with most Latin American destinations, the countries of Central America host numerous events and fiestas throughout the year that attract visitors. Many of these are religious festivals, while others hark back to the region’s indigenous traditions of the pre-colonial era.

Events taking place in Central America throughout the year include Semana Santa in Guatemala, and El Salvador’s Fiestas Patronales de San Salvador. There is also a popular annual surfing championship held in Costa Rica.

Semana Santa, Guatemala

Semana Santa, in the holy week of Easter, is arguably the biggest religious festival throughout Latin America. Most places host re-enactments of Jesus carrying the cross along with processions through the streets, and of course music and dancing providing a carnival atmosphere. Antigua in Guatemala plays host to one of the most popular Semana Santa celebrations, covering the city in floral decorations and purple clothing from Ash Wednesday.

Fiestas Patronales de San Salvador, El Salvador

This festival begins at 4am on 4th August throughout El Salvador, with each town and city celebrating their local virgin saint. The early start begins with bands playing music throughout the early hours into the rest of the day for a jovial fiesta that’s great for a variety of live music.

What to do and see in Central America

Little French Key is an idyllic island off the coast of Honduras. Here you can swim in the crystal-blue waters, soak up the sun on the warm white sands, and then take a cable car up over the beach for breath-taking views around this tropical paradise.

On the Mexican island of Cozumel in the eastern-most corner, you will find a popular cruise destination loved for its beautiful beaches which are right by the port. At a private beach nearby you can snorkel, scuba dive, and swim with dolphins. Those not wanting to get wet, however, can opt for a jeep ride into the jungle or take a trip in a submarine to take in the views in comfort.

With its Caribbean-style atmosphere, in Belize City you can explore the streets of the former capital of British Honduras. Take a guided tour, soak up the culture and try the local food. You can go on a number of exciting excursions outside the city too such as walking through a monkey sanctuary, cave tubing, or taking in the iconic Mayan pyramids.

Puntarenas is an idyllic little peninsular with beautiful beaches and a sea life sanctuary right next to the cruise port. If you want to journey further out into Costa Rica’s surrounding area, you can take an excursion to a butterfly garden where you walk through the treetops on amazing suspended bridges, go horse-back riding through the dramatic scenery, zip-line over a waterfall, or take a tour of a coffee plantation.

Of course, the famous Panama Canal is a highlight of many Central American cruises, from Colón on the north coast to Panama City itself in the south. In Colón you will find a fantastic free-trade mall which is perfect for shopaholics, and an abandoned colonial fort village for history fans. Meanwhile, in the capital, there are eccentrically designed skyscrapers creating a quirky skyline in contrast to the colonial old city district which is now a world heritage site.

During your transit through Panama Canal, you will see scenic banks of tropical rainforest and rugged landscapes which stand proudly in contrast to the unbelievable feats of engineering works that tamed it. Opening up the essential trade and travel route between the vast oceans, examples of these awe-inspiring man-made works include 85-foot-high locks carrying cruise ships onwards and upwards in a jaw-dropping spectacle.

Popular ports in Central America

Cruise lines that visit Central America

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