Exploring Central America’s Top 5 Must-See Sites

  • Luca van Goor
  • 29 Jan 24

Central America is a treasure trove of natural beauty, ancient history and vibrant cultures. With so much to see, it’s hard to know where to start. To help you out, we’ve made a list of the top 5 must-see sites for any traveller looking to explore Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala or Cuba!

Arenal Volcano National Park, by Emily Fraser

Arenal Volcano National Park, by Emily Fraser



1: Chichén Itzá, Mexico

The most famous of the Yucatán Mayan sites, and perhaps also the most famous attraction in Mexico, the incredible Chichén Itzá has to be seen to be believed. Nestled in the heart of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, this UNESCO World Heritage-listed site is also classified as one of the Seven Wonders of the New World, a prestigious title fit for such an impressive site.

Amid the dense jungles of the Yucatán state, Chichén Itzá began emerging in the 6th century AD and by the 10th century it was a sprawling Maya city. This sacred city occupied an area of 10 square-kilometres and is said to have been a religious, military, political and commercial centre in its peak.

Consisting of pyramids and temples, the most famous sites of Chichén Itzá include:


El Castillo

El Castillo, also known as the Temple of Kukulcan, is the huge step-pyramid that dominates the centre of Chichén Itzá. This fascinating pyramid was built to reflect the Mayan astronomical year. Each pyramid side has 91 steps, with one final step at the top resulting in 365 steps in total. Plus, during the spring and autumn equinoxes, light and shadows combine to create a mesmerising pattern of triangles on the northern staircase, imitating the shape of a serpent.

Image credit: Marion Bunnik


Warriors’ Temple

Built between 800 and 1050 CE, this three-tiered pyramid earned its name through the rows of carved warriors and gift-bearers on its two sides. Adorned with around 200 intricate columns and sculptures, it’s thought that Warrior’s Temple served religious and administrative functions.

Image credit: Marion Bunnik


Gran Juego de Pelota

Translated as “The Great Ball Court”, this remarkable site is surrounded by temples and bounded by two parallel walls with stone rings cemented in the top middle part of each wall. It is believed, thanks to some carvings, that people used their elbows and knees to play a soccer-like game with a hard and bouncy rubber ball, aiming to get the ball through the ring. How the game was scored and won remain unclear but the sheer spectacle of this impressive game echoes through the ages.


Image credit: Marion Bunnik

2: Arenal Volcano National Park, Costa Rica

One of the most visited destinations of Costa Rica is Arenal Volcano National Park. Full of paths and trails, this epic national park is bursting with gorgeous native flora and fauna. It’s located in the heart of Costa Rica and covers more than 120 square kilometres of mostly rainforest., Here you’ll find two amazing volcanos, Mount Arenal (1,633m) and Chato (1,140m), towering over the vast landscape below. If you’re a bird enthusiast, you are in luck! There are more than 850 species of birds in the park, including the strikingly colourful Quetzal.

The most famous sites in Arenal Volcano National Park include:

Image credit: Emily Fraser

Mount Arenal

Mount Arenal is often considered the most picturesque volcano in Central America. It is known for its activity around the last couple of decades marked by regular eruptions, but it has sat dormant since 2010. At its base lies the stunning Lake Arenal, currently considered the largest lake in Costa Rica. With the volcano as a backdrop, you’ll want to make sure your cameras are charged, as the pictures taken here are nothing short of magnificent.

This captivating volcano has an active lava chamber inside, resulting in a dramatic background for the Tabacon Hot Springs.


Tabacon Hot Springs

Arenal Volcano National Park is home to one of the most beautiful hot springs in the world, the Tabacon Hot Springs. With its clear, flowing waterfalls and tropical ambiance, it’s a perfect escape for relaxation and experiencing the essence of nature. The numerous river pools range in temperatures from 25 to 40 and are impressively rich in minerals.


Chato Volcano

The Chato Volcano or “Cerro Chato” is Mount Arenal’s little brother. Although it isn’t a big volcano, it appears in almost every picture taken at Arenal Volcano National Park! It’s believed that Chato first erupted 38,000 years ago, however the volcano is inactive today. In its crater, you’ll find a beautiful turquoise coloured lagoon, surrounded by lush greenery.  

As you get on the plane back home, you’re carrying the echoes of the volcanoes, the peace of the hot springs, and the scenery of Chato’s lagoon. Ready for your next must-see destination?


3: Tikal National Park, Guatemala

In the middle of the jungle, you’ll find one of the most important cultural and historical sites of Guatemala, Tikal National Park. Tikal is an amazing example of Mayan art, architecture, and traditions, containing unique elements that represent the history of mythical and biographic data of the Mayas. But what makes this national park so special?

Image credit: Marion Bunnik



 Consisting of ruins from ancient pre-Columbian Maya cities, Tikal National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage-listed Site in 1979. The national park is so highly regarded that it is considered a national symbol of Guatemala, with it being declared a national monument in 1931 and a national park in 1955.  



Covered by jungle and abandoned by the Mayan civilization since the ninth century A.D., Tikal National Park is one of Guatemala’s greatest mysteries. It was established in around 900 B.C. and since its creation, the Maya’s developed it into a commercial and ceremonial hub. During this time Tikal was home to approximately 100,000 inhabitants!

Image credit: Marion Bunnik


As the archeologists continued their work exploring and uncovering Tikal, they admired and marveled at the sheer size of the Guatemalan jungle. After 13 years of dedicated excavation and the exploration of around 26 square kilometers of structures and temples, they revealed the amazing center of this Mayan civilisation. There is much more left to be unearthed as there’s more than 500 square kilometers of lush jungle surrounding this incredible site.


When you stroll around this archeological wonder, just remember it’s not just a walk, but rather a leap back in time.


Image credit: Marion Bunnik

Image credit: Marion Bunnik


4: Havana, Cuba

Picture yourself wandering around the heart of Cuba’s vibrant capital city, Havana – it’s a beautiful image, right? A city bursting with history and charm, every alleyway and square around the beautiful Old Havana tells a different story. In this maze complete with hidden cafes, lively markets, and colourful murals, you can experience traditional neighbourhoods and local marketplaces.

Doesn’t this sound like music to your ears? If this wasn’t enough to convince you, this is why Havana is in our top 5 must-see sites in Central America:

Image credit: Graham Meale

New & Old:

Troubled for many years by revolutionary conflict and severe poverty, Cuba opened its arms to tourism several years ago now. Havana or ‘La Habana’ in Spanish, is a city with a seamless blend of tradition and modernity. Old Havana is a relatively small neighbourhood in the city but is considered Havana’s ‘coolest’. Its narrow streets are full of antique bars and restaurants, boutique stays, and lovely artisanal shops.


People & Culture:

Cuba is a truly unique melting pot of Spanish, Caribbean, Native Indian, and African cultures, all blended together to create the Cuban way of life. Cubans or ‘Cubanos’ are very social, honest, loving, and friendly people. Despite their economic and political struggles, they are very proud of their culture and country, sharing their love with tourists, neighbours, and strangers alike.


Must-see sights:

When in Havana, Cuba, there are some sites that are totally unmissable! Some of these include:

·         Havana’s city center (UNESCO heritage-listed site)

·         Museum Capitanes Generales

·         Cayo Hueso neighborhood (modern Cuban life)

·         Agromercado local market

·         Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro

·         Playa del Este beach

·         Artistic area of Fusterland


And so much more! Havana is in a constant state of transformation, yet despite this, it’s home to a lovely culture where lively music never stops playing.

                   Image credit: Graham Meale

 Image credit: Honi Gibson


5: Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica

Monteverde or “Green Mountain” Cloud Forest is one of the most pristine cloud forests in the world. Described by National Geographic as ‘the jewel in the crown of cloud forest reserves’, Monteverde is a world of natural wonders, astonishing flora and fauna, and unforgettable hikes.  

Image credit: Ben Ostrower

However, not everything is exclusively rainforest! Here are our favourite things to do in the Monteverde Cloud Forest:



Hikes are popular, and depending on your skill level are often recommended, in Monteverde. An early morning walk will leave you amazed, witnessing the sheer amount of flora and fauna around the forest. There are also different distance options for you to choose from, with many short and llong paths to ready to be discovered.


Night Walks:

Night walks or night tours are a unique way to see the forest come to life. The best way of seeing wildlife in Monteverde is by night (with flashlights of course!). To give you an idea, Monteverde Cloud Forest is home to over 100 kinds of mammals, 120 amphibians and reptiles, and 500 birds. A lot of these can be seen easily at night, especially frogs, spiders, birds, snakes, and all kinds of insects.

Image credit: Zoe Francis


Suspension Bridges:

Embark on an adventure across a series of suspension bridges that offer a captivating bird’s-eye view of the immense Rainforest. There are eight bridges in total, each covering different parts of the rainforest, the longest bridge stretches an impressive 170 metres! This setting is the perfect opportunity to see wildlife as 90% of all organisms can be found here. Expect an unforgettable experience in the heart of nature.

The hiking opportunities, night walks, epic suspension bridges, wildlife and so much more, are just some of the reasons to explore this amazing Costa Rican cloud forest. ‘Green Mountain’ eagerly awaits you to see its beauty.


It’s true! A visit to this intoxicating region will leave you wanting more and more. But lucky enough, there’s plenty of must-see sites in Central America to keep you busy. Ready to discover these incredible locations for yourself?