The best beaches of Central America
The best beaches of Central America
Central America is the skinny bit of land connecting North America with South America.
Caye Caulker, Belize – world-class snorkelling and diving
Laid-back coastal charm is Belize's middle name and the island of Caye Caulker epitomises the perfect Belize beach. On a typical day you'll snorkel the morning away, laze on the beach in the afternoon, then kick back at a beachside bar in the evening. Order a lobster and a local beer and watch the sunset – #caribbeanheaven.
Being on the world's second largest barrier reef, you can imagine the snorkelling here – it's ah-mazing. Colourful coral, tropical fish and manta rays will keep you company in the water. If you're a scuba diver, even better, as Caye Caulker is a jumping off point for some of the world's best diving including the famous Great Blue Hole.
El Cuco and Las Flores, El Salvador – surf's up
Bocas del Toro archipelago, Panama – wildlife watching
Bocas del Toro is an island chain off the coast of Panama in the Caribbean. If Caribbean accents alone aren't enough to get you there, maybe a picture of Bocas del Toro will – sunshine, white sand, clear blue waters and palm trees – places like this are what holiday fantasies are made of.
In the archipelago, Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park protects an area of forest, mangrove and water that is home to monkeys, sloths, crocodile, amphibians, lizards, loads of fish and sea turtles. It's the perfect place to combine wildlife watching with beach chilling.
Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica – swim with sea turtles
Costa Rica is a wilderness paradise that will have you in outdoorsy-eco-heaven. But for a dose of Caribbean charm – complete with palm-frond-roofed reggae bars on the beach – head for the laid-back town of Puerto Viejo.
Nature is never far away – as well as having glorious beach, Puerto Viejo is also the base for visiting Cahuita National Park. This huge protected area of rainforest and coral reef is a great place for snorkelling. You'll swim with barracuda, sea turtles and fish before heading back to shore to look out for toucans, macaws and monkeys.
Playa del Carmen, Mexico – snorkel in clear-water caves
One of Mexico's most popular coastal resort towns, it's easy to see why Playa del Carmen attracts travellers. Powdery white beaches, luminous blue water, thatched beach umbrellas and an endless supply of margaritas make this town a perfect beach pit-stop.
For some real adventure, go snorkelling in the unbelievably clear water of one of the cenotes. Some of these water-filled caves are open to the air and some are subterranean with stalagmites and stalactites creating a unique underground world. If you're into photography, the clear aqua water of the underground cenotes are a perfect photo op.
El Tunco, El Salvador – hang ten or hang out
A popular beach with local El Salvadorians and surfers, El Tunco is a bit of a one-horse town. A few quiet streets, some beachy shops and cafes and rollicking surf make it a great place to hang out.
In the daytime, grab a smoothie and take a seat on the black sand and pebble beach – or maybe take a stroll along the beach to explore the beach caves at low tide. Come evening, head to an on-the-beach bar for a cocktail and a pupusa – the local tortilla-style snack. El Tunco has everything you need for some quality beachside R&R.
The Baths, British Virgin Islands – explore boulder-studded swimming pools
The Baths is amazing spot on Virgin Gorda Island in the British Virgin Islands. It is a beautiful golden beach studded with absolutely huge volcanic boulders – the largest ones are up to 13 metres across. The boulders have created a sheltered series of sea pools ideal for swimming and snorkelling.
Wade into the sea and you'll find yourself amongst the boulders in watery, boulder-roofed caves. If you want to go further afield, follow the trail that clambers over rocks (sometimes using handrails and ladders) to Devil's Bay Beach. This glorious beach with strikingly bright water is great for snorkelling.
Santa Catalina, Panama – off the beaten track beach
A quiet and secluded fishing-village-turned-surf-town, Santa Catalina is an off the beaten track destination.
Set on the Pacific coast of Panama, Santa Catalina is a real chill out town with incredible surf breaks.
Take a surf lesson in the world-class breaks, go on a fishing trip, or perhaps head out to the nearby Coiba National Marine Park which has brilliant snorkelling, scuba diving, hiking and wildlife watching.
Roatan, Honduras – coral reef diving
Imagine an island over 70 kilometres long and less than 8 kilometres wide. That's Roatan. You are never more than five minutes from the coast. And what a coast it is. Roatan is set on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef – the second largest barrier reef in the world (after Australia's Great one). The island has beautiful beaches fringed with the coral reef, which makes it the perfect place for diving and snorkelling.
As well as beach, there's port towns, remote fishing villages, mangrove forests and wilderness. Plenty to explore on and off shore.
Mazunte, Mexico – yoga time or hammock time
This small, curving, pretty beach on Mexico's Pacific Coast is kinda quiet. Next to the quiet beach is a quiet town – there's a few yoga retreats, some cafes and the National Mexican Turtle Centre. All in all, there's not much going on here, so you're pretty much forced to relax.
Sip on a fresh juice, lie in a hammock, read a book, do some yoga, eat some tlayudas (the local tortilla snack) and visit the turtle centre. And that's about it. Pretty good, huh?