This week we are following up our most memorable travel experiences in South America with some awesome travel experiences from Central America! Get ready to take notes because these experiences are also bucket list worthy…
Most Memorable Travel Experiences: Central America
1. Diving The Great Blue Hole Belize
A few years ago, I was invited to spend a few weeks working in Costa Rica with my boss so I decided to plan a backpacking trip through Central America. I realized quickly that scuba diving was a big attraction in the region, and having always had a curiosity for the sport and an affinity for the water, I quickly decided to get certified.
I signed myself up for the local class in March, diving in a cold Indiana quarry for my certifying dives. When I got to Belize, I found a tour company doing dives to the Great Blue Hole and signed up for a trip. I got to spend a day on a boat with about 12 other divers in one of the most beautiful locations for diving (especially from the aerial view). I was nervous about diving in the open ocean, but when I first slipped in the warm Belizean waters I realized it was going to be worlds different than diving in Indiana quarries – in the best of ways.
Following our guide, I swam around taking in the tranquility of being under water and the near silence it brings. The only noises were my constant breathing, which I was trying to keep slow and steady as we circled the cave walls of the Great Blue Hole, my nerves calming but never dissipating. It felt like I couldn’t get a full breath and the more I thought about it the more anxious I became. But there was one moment in the G.B.H that ironically wiped all worry from my mind: seeing tiger sharks swimming below us a hundred feet. I became laser focused on the wildlife around me and fell in love with diving over the course of the trip and I’m desperate to return.
2. Learning to dive in Utila, The Bay Islands, Honduras
Doing something new and challenging for the first time will always be a memorable travel experience. Diving in the Caribbean in one of the biggest and best reef systems in the world will always be one of my most memorable experiences of Central America and of my life.
I was worried initially about learning to dive as someone who doesn’t consider themselves a strong swimmer but as soon as we reached the incredible paradise island of Utila off the coast of mainland Honduras I realised very quickly I had nothing to fear. The diving hub of Utila, Honduras and The Bay Island in general are one of the cheapest and favoured places in the world to gain your PADI Open Water Dive Certification and that’s exactly what I did.
Captain Morgan’s Dive Centre, Utila became my home for a week and after a few days of studying, diving and then finally my free fun dives I was officially PADI Open Water Dive Certified. Trying something new is what travel experiences are about and that’s why Utila will always be a memorable destination for me.
Experience blissful island life in this Caribbean setting and come away with an unforgettable memorable travel experience and lifelong qualification.I also want to mention that during my dive experience I was also able to swim alongside a large pod of dolphins in the open Caribbean Sea. They randomly followed our boat from our dive locations and we were lucky enough to dip into the water for a swim with dolphins in their natural habitat. For me, diving in Utila became a once-in-a-life-time experience for more than one reason!
3. Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua
How many people can say they have spent a few days on a volcanic island in the centre of one of Latin Ameirca’s biggest lakes. Lake Nicaragua is the home to the incredible Isle de Ometep and from the second I knew it existed I was determined to visit the majestic island in the centre of a lake made entirely of two volcanos.
Reaching Ometepe by boat at sunset was a highlight of this experience. Have you ever seen a sunset on a lake? It’s pretty spectacular. Knowing you are on an island on a lake with land and then ocean also surrounding you. Moyagalpa is the main area of Isla de Ometepe and most of the tourist’s boats arrive here. The boats are staggered slow and unorganised which means the island is very rarely overcrowded by tourists.
Families host tourists in their homes and offer meals and tourists information of the island. Moped’s/scooters and push bikes are all available for renting along with quad bikes for locals and tourists alike to explore the island. During our stay we spent an entire day exploring the island and even found time to visit the nature reserve and butterfly Aviary of Chaco Verde, a bucket list option for a visit to Ometepe – watch out for the monkeys in the trees. Spending some time on such a captivating and unique island in the pure heart of Central America has become one of my fondest travel memories. Nicaragua as a whole offers endless adventure and Isla de Ometepe is simply a magnified version of that.
4. Exploring ancient Teotihuacan, Mexico
This for me is a real bucket list moment, although the ruins of Teotihuacan are not as well known or as popular as the other great ancient ruins in Mexico I still had my heart set on seeing them after seeing photos of the huge Pyramid of the Sun.
I had already spent some time in Mexico (around a week) before flying North to Mexico City to spend a few days in Mexico’s vast capital. I had already explored the ancient archaeological site of Chichen Itza from Merida in the Yucatan too, so when I arrived in Mexico City I knew straight away a trip to Teotihuacan was on the cards for me. After having such fond memories of the time I spent getting to and from Chichen Itza on public transport, rather than the popular tours most people take I decided to do the same for Teotihuacan. You can reach Teotihuacan easily by bus from Mexico City – be prepared for the maniacs on the road as Mexican driving is questionable at best let alone in a city of almost 9 million people. Depart early so you can get to the site in the morning. It’s big, hot and requires an element of physical fitness to navigate the wide Avenue of the Dead and the various large pyramids and structures on site.
The Pyramid of the Sun is by far the most inspiring structure on this mesoamerican site. The pyramid of the sun is the third largest pyramid in the world after two of the Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. This alone makes visiting this UNESCO world heritage site a very memorable travel experience. The sun is hot on site and the air can be thick due to the pollution around Mexico City bring plenty of water especially if you plan to climb to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun. I’d certainly recommend the climb for the views of the ancient site alone.
5. Hiking Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula
When I was 12 or 13 years old I saw Costa Rica in a surf film I was watching with my family and I was immediately drawn to it. It looked awesome! There were trees fill with monkeys, rivers filled with crocodiles, and massive sandy beaches! I longed to visit so I could explore the lush jungle, the beautiful beaches, and swim in the warm water. I suggested it for every family vacation only to be met with “Yeah, but everybody goes there, it’s probably crowded…” and other similarly lame excuses. But I’m nothing if not persistent, so 13 short years later I finally talked my family into taking that trip.
Always keen hikers, we planned a three day jungle trek through the heart of Corcovado National Park, located on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. We knew to expect lush, undisturbed jungle, tons of bugs, bird sightings, and the possibility of spotting animals like monkeys, Tapirs, or sloths if we were lucky. What we experienced was so much better than we could have imagined!
I would have been perfectly content if all we’d seen was the beautiful landscape, but as it happened, we saw almost every animal (or so it seemed) that lives in the Costa Rican jungle.
With the help of our guide we identified over 100 species of birds (some extremely rare), Anteaters, Coatis, a sleepy Tapir, a playful Ocelot, and all 5 species of monkeys that reside in the region. And this was just the animals! We also spotted countless species of ants, frogs, bats, and (my least favourite) poisonous snakes. It was a truly incredible journey. I saw so much wildlife—I was completely immersed in nature!
When I mention to people that I’ve visited Costa Rica they sometimes say things like “Did you go zip-lining? It’s such a great way to experience the jungle!” I’m sure it is, but another great way to experience the jungle is to get right in the thick of it! The scars from my bug bites are starting to fade (over a year later), but my memories never will!
Story by Janine from Janine in the World. Follow her adventures on Instagram.
Check out more memorable experiences from South America!