Best Places to Visit in Central America | 18 Family-Friendly Destinations

Hunting down family-friendly locations can be challenging, especially when you’re planning to leave the country. You have so many things to get in order before you head out, but the most important is determining a destination.

Luckily, there are many family friendly destinations in Central America to choose from that are fun and safe for children. So, if you’re planning a family vacation to Central America, we’ve compiled a list of the best places to visit in Central America for families.

This list includes 18 of the best destinations in Central America to visit with kids, plus, recommendations on what to do and where to stay in each of the best Central America places to visit.  

person ziplining Costa Rica - one of the most family friendly destinations in Central America
Central America offers everything from adventure activities, like ziplining, to relaxing beach vacations.

What Countries are in Central America?

Central America is a narrow strip of land connecting North America and South America. While technically part of North America, the countries that make up Central America have such a unique culture and history that differs from the North American countries of Canada, United States and Mexico.

Although often referred to as Latin America, which typically includes Mexico and much of South America, as well, Central America specifically is limited to the countries of Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.

18 Incredible Central America Places to Visit  

Although the countries in Central America have a lot in common, they also vary significantly in some ways.

Depending on the type of family vacation to Central America you are looking for, here is a quick look at the destination that might be right for you.

  • Best Central American country for adventure-seekers: Costa Rica
  • Best place to visit in Central America for beaches: Belize Cayes
  • Best Central America destinations for history and culture: Guatemala
  • Least visited Central American country: El Salvador 
  • Best place to visit in Central America on a cruise: Roatan, Honduras 
  • Most posh Central America destination: Panama City, Panama 
  • Best place to visit in Central America for an all-inclusive vacation: Guanacaste Costa Rica

Best Places to Visit in Central America

From adventurous family members to ones who want a more laid-back vacation, you can find something that suits everyone in these Central America destinations.

1. Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Guatemala's Lake Atitlan - one of the most relaxing and scenic places to visit in Central America.
Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan is one of the most relaxing and scenic places to visit in Central America. | Marco Antonio Reyes from Pixabay

Lake Atitlan is a must-see, formed naturally by an eruption of a volcano. It used to be full of Maya villages, but now, you still have all the natural landscapes to enjoy.

Families should visit this lake, considered the most beautiful in the world and one of the great wonders. The lake is also safe to swim in, so it can be great for a family excursion.

Visiting a lake may also teach your older children about a lakeside ecosystem and help them get more interested in one close to home. They might choose to learn more and care about the water quality at home or get involved in a volunteer program.

Where to stay in Lake Atitlan

2: Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica

One of the best places to visit in Central America - the Arenal Volcano shrouded in clouds is a top destination in Costa Rica with kids
The Arenal Volcano Shrouded In Clouds. Image By Dawn Meyer From Pixabay

The Arenal Volcano is not only one of Costa Rica’s most recognizable landmarks, the area surrounding the dormant volcanic mountain is an adventure-lover’s dream destination.

From some of the best ziplining in Costa Rica, to waterfalls and natural hot springs to guided hanging bridge tours in Costa Rica’s rainforests, families will have an exciting time exploring the Arenal Rainforest and surrounding area.

Be sure to book a stay at one of the hotels with hot springs near La Fortuna, so you can relax in the evening after a day filled with adventure and activity.

Your family will love every minute of the day from the moment you wake up to the majestic views of the volcano shrouded in clouds to the second they lay their heads down in an eco-friendly, sustainable lodge.

Where to stay near Arenal, Costa Rica 

3. San Pedro, Belize

A sign for secret beach in Ambergris Caye Belize one of the best Central America places to visit
Secret Beach, One Of The Most Popular Places To Visit On Ambergris Caye. Photo By Meritt Thomas On Unsplash

You need to visit San Pedro if you want a laid-back destination where golf carts and bicycles are the primary modes of transportation around the town and the island.

The island of Ambergris Caye, which is home to San Pedro, is world-renowned for its barrier reef and is one of the best places to go diving in Belize. Spending time on the beach or at a beach resort with a pool will be nothing but relaxing for you.

It’s an excellent place to start a Central American family vacation. There are plenty of adventures, restaurants, and fun things to do in San Pedro, Belize to keep your family occupied. 

The island’s calm, warm, shallow water makes it an ideal destination in Central America to visit for families. And if visiting Belize with kids, San Pedro will certainly be a highlight!

Where to stay in San Pedro Belize

4. Granada, Nicaragua

Colonial building in Granada Nicaragua
Granada Nicaragua is colorful and famous for its colonial buildings. | Image by Lukáš Jančička from Pixabay

Colors abound in this famous colonial town of Nicaragua. Your children will love to take in the bright hues of different buildings and churches.

From Granada, you can also see the natural beauties of Nicaragua, like lakes and volcanoes, just a day trip away.

The food in Granada is delicious, and if you stay for a while, you can rent one of the houses on the tiny islands.

This location is one of the best places in Central America to visit if you want to prioritize making memories with the ones you love by taking in the beautiful sights of Central America.

Where to stay in Granada, Nicaragua 

5. Monkey Island, Panama

This island gets its name from the white-faced monkeys that inhabit it. It’s a prominent tourist spot, so it would be perfect for kids who want to see new animals. Arrive early in the morning and you should be able to get the whole experience.

Your kids can learn more about monkeys and how they can benefit the ecosystem around them.

The boat ride to get to Monkey Island might take a while, so bring something to keep the kids distracted from the potentially long journey.

You can easily take a boat ride to Monkey Island as a day trip from Panama City.

Book a day trip to Monkey Island and the Panama Canal. 

6. Guanacaste, Costa Rica

a beach at sunset in Guanacaste Costa Rica
Guanacaste, Costa Rica is known for its many beautiful beaches.

The region of Guanacaste in Costa Rica is best known for its beaches and posh, all-inclusive resorts. It is one of the best places in Central America for an all-inclusive, stress-free vacation.

If visiting Costa Rica with kids, plan to spend at least a few days in Guanacaste to enjoy some relaxing beach time. Book a beach hopping excursion to see some of the country’s black sand, white sand, and even pink sand beaches. 

If you want to venture away from the shore, Guanacaste is also home to Llanos de Cortes, one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful waterfalls and natural swimming holes. The small pool beneath this stunning waterfall is shallow enough that children can easily swim.

Llanos de Cortes can easily be reached on a guided tour, or a self-guided adventure if you rent a car and plan to drive around Costa Rica.  

Where to stay in Guanacaste, Costa Rica 

7. Panama City, Panama

skyscrapers in Panama City along the waterfront
Panama City is one of the best places to visit in Central America if you are looking for a safe and vibrant, modern city. | Yosi Britran from Unsplash

Panama City can be both an educational and fun destination for your family. You can take in some old Spanish architecture in the cobblestoned historic center of Casco Viejo, or enjoy the various stores and rich dining experiences in the luxurious Marbella district.

The city is one of the most modern and cosmopolitan places to visit in Central America, with high rises, posh hotels and trendy restaurants.

Of course, one of the country’s main tourist attractions, the Panama Canal is just a 15 minute drive from downtown. Built by the US in 1914, the famous canal connects the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans cutting through the isthmus of Panama as a means of making Maritime trade safer and more efficient. 

You can also find natural environments around Panama City, which means it’s the perfect destination for anyone who doesn’t know where else to go in Central America. You’ll see nothing but fantastic views when you visit.

It’s a great destination to take a family to because it has so many things to do. 

Where to stay in Panama City, Panama 

8. Pacaya Volcano, Guatemala

Pacaya volcano is a national park that offers an up-close look into the lava flows that run through it. It’s close to the country’s largest city, Guatemala City, and about an hour away from Antigua, the tourism hub for the country, making it easy to explore upon arriving in Guatemala.

The Pacaya Volcano is active, meaning you must be careful around it, and is one of the few active volcanoes in the world you can actually climb.

Your family should be safe around the volcano, but your knowledgeable guide will share the fascinating history of Pacaya, as well as teach you about proper evacuation methods and how lava travels faster in some terrains.

It might be a great adventure to take older kids on as long as they can understand the dangers around it.

Book a guided tour to Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala 

9. Suchitoto, El Salvador

Suchitoto El Salvador seen through trees
Suchitoto is one of the lesser known destinations in Central America, but is still well worth visiting. | Photo by Erick Chevez from Unsplash

Suchitoto is a delight, as it’s overflowing with cultural flair. Many people dress like cowboys here and there’s plenty to do to keep your kids occupied. You can stumble upon one of the many tours offered in this quaint lakeside town or enjoy some of the museum attractions.

If you want to dive into El Salvadorian history, Suchitoto is the place to be — it was a crucial place in the Salvadorian civil war back in the 1980s.

You can see things both natural and human-made in this city, so it’s worth a look if you plan on visiting El Salvador.

Where to stay in Suchitoto, El Salvador 

10. Tikal National Park, Guatemala

Father and toddler walking in front of a pyramid in Tikal National Park
Tikal National Park is a fascinating look at ancient history and Maya culture.

One of the best places to visit in the Peten Province of Guatemala, the Tikal National Park is an awesome place to visit in Guatemala with kids. The lush vegetation of the jungle can draw your family in, as can the opportunity to see wildlife.

This national park contains the Tikal ruins, one of the most important ruins in Maya culture.

These ruins include stone carvings and intricate inscriptions. While you can easily get to Tikal from San Ignacio, Belize as a day trip, if you’re eager to absorb more of Maya culture, spend at least one night inside Tikal National Park. It is a must-see!

You would have to cross the Belize-Guatemala border, which can be tricky to navigate, the Tikal ruins are well worth the trip! 

Be forewarned though, exploring Tikal requires a lot of walking!

Being out in nature and walking around can also give you several health benefits though, like lessening symptoms of depression or helping digestion, so take your time and enjoy this UNESCO World Heritage Site and the exercise you’ll get while exploring it!

Where to stay near Tikal National Park, Guatemala 

11. Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua Guatemala
Antigua, Guatemala is one of the best places in Central America to feel immersed in culture and history. | Photo by Victor Hugo Cardenas

The historic city of Antigua is perhaps the most popular city for tourism in Guatemala. The Spanish colonial town is surrounded by volcanoes and renowned for its colorful buildings.

Once the colonial capital city, Antigua was destroyed by an earthquake in 1773, and the capital was moved to Guatemala City. 

For centuries, Antigua has maintained its colonial charm and has a relatively low population.

It’s a wonderful place to immerse yourself in Maya culture and learn about the history of Guatemala, or even immerse yourself in the Spanish language, one of the top languages for travel you should try to learn.

Where to stay in Antigua, Guatemala 

12. Caracol, Belize

Caracol Is The Largest Mayan Ruins Site In Belize, And Makes For A Fun Day Trip From San Ignacio. | Photo by Ronald Plett from Pexels

The Maya ruins in Belize are fascinating places full of history. If anyone in your family wants to learn more about the days gone by, visiting the ancient city of Caracol is perfect. The largest ruins in Belize, Caracol is an easy day trip from San Ignacio.

Most day trips to Caracol also include stops at other popular tourist spots in the country, like Rio Frio Cave and Rio On Pools.

With only 10 percent of Caracol unearthed, researchers estimate that much of the city is yet to be discovered. Archaeological work is still ongoing, so it remains to be seen what else researched will unearth in this ancient city.

Book a day trip to Caracol from San Ignacio 

13. Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Costa Rica

A suspension bridge in Monteverde Cloud Forest
Hanging bridge tours in Monteverde Cloud Forest are one of the biggest draws to this popular Central America destination. | Photo by Leslie Cross from Unsplash

The Monteverde Cloud Forest is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Central America.

Spanning more than 10,000 acres, the forest reserve draws roughly 70,000 visitors each year who come to see the colorful assortment of flora and fauna in a dream-like forest almost always covered in clouds.

Similar to Arenal, Monteverde is a popular destination for ziplining and hanging bridge tours.  

Where to stay in the Monteverde Cloud Forest

14. Macaw Mountain, Honduras

If you’re in Honduras, visit Macaw Mountain before your vacation passes you by.

The nature reserve features several species of birds that will delight your entire family. You’ll have a great time learning more about the different types of birds and how they came to the park through means of rescue. 

The park, which has been taking care of abandoned parrots and macaws since the 1980s, is run entirely on donations, so you can also contribute to the good cause after your visit.

Where to stay near Macaw Mountain, Honduras 

15. Caye Caulker, Belize

A table with a straw unbrella on a beach in Caye Caulker Belize
Caye Caulker is a diving destination popular with those seeking a low-key beach vacation. | Photo by Elizabeth St. Gonzales from Pixabay

Just a short boat ride from Ambergris Caye and San Pedro, Caye Caulker is often considered the most laid back of all the Belize islands. To get to Caye Caulker, you’ll ride a boat from Belize City for about an hour.

It’s one of the greatest island destinations in Belize, featuring fantastic shopping opportunities and an exciting diversity of aquatic species.

It’s also home to the second-largest barrier reef in the world for adventurous travelers and is often a popular destination for diving enthusiasts, as well as European tourists, so you’ll likely find some crowds year-round. 

Spring is the most popular season to visit, so if you’re looking for a private beach destination, consider making it your vacation destination during a different season of the year.

Where to stay in Caye Caulker, Belize

16: Roatan, Honduras

West Bay Beach in Roatan Honduras
West Bay Beach in Roatan Honduras is one of the best places to visit in Central America on a cruise or if you are looking for a relaxing beach vacation. | Photo by Chalo Garcia from Unsplash

Roatan, Honduras is one of the best Caribbean islands for families, and an easy destination in Honduras to visit. The island is a popular stop for many Caribbean cruises, and is known as one of the best dive spots in the Caribbean.

Like many other places in Central America, Roatan boasts gorgeous white sand beaches, jungles, and crystal clear water filled with colorful fish – perfect for kids learning to snorkel for the first time.

Spend some time at West Bay Beach and enjoy the low-key vibes that the island is known for.  

Where to stay in Roatan, Honduras

17. San Ignacio, Belize

Rio Frio Cave outside San Ignacio Belize
Rio Frio Cave is just one of the many natural attractions located near San Ignacio Belize.

Located in western Belize, in the Cayo District, San Ignacio is a popular place in Central America if you are looking to explore the jungles and Mayan ruins the Belize is known for.

There are a lot of things to do in San Ignacio and the surrounding area.

Many people visiting the area choose to stay in one of the incredible jungle lodges located just outside the city. But you’ll find no shortage of caves, waterfalls, and ruins, like Cahal Pech and Xunantunich, just a short distance from the city, if you have rented a car and plan to drive in Belize.

San Ignacio’s sister town — Santa Elena — is connected to it by a suspension bridge. After visiting the ruins, you can explore all the local areas with your family. These ruins are also by a river, giving you plenty of beautiful sights to take in while you experience history.

Where to stay in San Ignacio, Belize 

18: San Jose, Costa Rica

The whole country of Costa Rica is perfect for sightseeing and has several opportunities for families looking for something to do.

If your family loves adventure, you can try a whitewater rafting tour, which will show you the beautiful views of Costa Rica you can’t see anywhere else, thanks to traveling by waterway. You can also take on other fun adventures, like horseback riding or snorkeling.

If you’re looking for a place to start your adventure in Costa Rica with kids, choose San Jose. While San Jose is often overlooked As the capital city of Costa Rica, it has much to offer and can occupy your time before you tackle the activities that involve the country’s beautiful nature.

It has several museums that could interest families with kids of all ages, like the art and children’s museums. It also has several zoos that can keep a child’s attention and teach them more about the animals in the area.

Where to stay in San Jose, Costa Rica 

Conclusion | Choose Your Central American Destination Wisely

While not every destination has everything, you should be able to find a little something that everyone likes in these 18 best places to visit in Central America. Sit down with your family and plan out your vacation carefully — you should be able to find something that works for everyone.

Whatever destination you choose, remember you’ll make beautiful memories as a family – and fall in love with Central America.

Have a suggestion or a question about any of these best places to visit in Central America? We’d love to hear from you! Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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About the Author of this Guide to the Best Places to Visit in Central America: Cora Gold is the Editor in Chief of women’s lifestyle magazine, Revivalist. She loves to write about travel, family and adventure. Follow Cora on LinkedIn and Twitter

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