With the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east, it is hardly surprising that Central America is home to some of the most outstanding beaches in the Northern Hemisphere. From powder soft, white sand to coarse, black volcanic ash, the beaches here range vastly in topography but never in beauty and with the endless sunshine that beats down on this part of the world, you’re guaranteed a good time. So, lather yourself in tanning lotion, grab your towel and prepare yourself for a day of sun-soaking, sea-splashing, sand-suffused fun as you make your way through our list of top ten beach destinations in Central America.
Isla Mujeres, Mexico
While most people tend to visit Isla Mujeres as a side trip from Cancun, there are definitely a number of compelling reasons why this habit should be flipped around. Isla Mujeres is cleaner, quieter and a lot more beautiful than Cancun and the beaches are utterly pristine. The sparkling blue water is also perfect for snorkelling and diving and when the sun goes down the gentle buzz of the island carries on through the night.
The Split, Belize
While this is technically not really a beach, it deserves to be mentioned on this list because it serves the same function. Situated at one end of the Belizean island of Caye Caulker, the Split consists of a long wooden decking, usually covered in sunbathers, which extends out over the water and makes a great platform for jumping (or somersaulting) into the deep, warm sea. There is a shallow section of water here as well, where less confident swimmers can splash about and soak up the sun. Behind all of this is the Lazy Lizard, a bar which plies visitors with beverages all day long and pumps out fresh Reggaeton beats.
El Tunco, El Salvador
El Salvador is unlikely to be the first place you would think to go for a beach getaway, but believe it or not, the two-street town of El Tunco is guaranteed to captivate you. Don’t expect galleries and cultural exhibitions – El Tunco is all about taking it slow and relaxing in the sun with a beer in one hand and a pupusa in the other. During the day give surfing a go or check out the caves, and in the evenings watch the sunset from the comfort of the warm rocky beach.
Monterrico is a little rough around the edges and relatively over-looked by beach-tourism development, and that’s exactly why we love it. Guatemala isn’t renowned for its beaches but this little gem of a town not only has a gorgeous black sand beach, it has also retained all of its cultural identity. Being here really gives you a taste of the real Guatemala as most of the people that flock here at the weekends are domestic travellers. It may not be the most pristine beach spot in Central America but if you need a break from the inland highlights of Guatemala then Monterrico is ideal.
Known as the number one SCUBA hotspot in the world, Utila is a tropical paradise filled with people of all ages, from all over the world, gathered together to worship the sea and everything in it. While most of the island is fringed with dive shop decking, if you head out of the main part of the island you suddenly come across a perfect palm-lined, white-sand beach where you can spend the day lolling about in the sun. There are a few bars and cafes dotted along the dirt track that borders the beach so you need never leave.
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
San Juan del Sur alternates between an oasis of beauty and tranquillity and party central, depending on the positioning of the sun. By day the streets are filled with travellers browsing the markets and boutiques, sipping ice cold smoothies and leisurely soaking up the sunshine. Once the sun goes down, however, the town transforms into a whole different world, accompanied by a heavy beat and plenty of drinks. Beach bars and clubs allow visitors to take advantage of the vast, clean expanse of sandy goodness at all hours of the day.
Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
The ultimate Caribbean utopia, Puerto Viejo will reel you in and never let you go. The pace of life is slow here, as with most beach towns, and everyone is perfectly happy just to wander leisurely through the wide streets topping up their tan and sipping ice cold coconuts. The beach here is to die for as well. Peppered with palm trees, the dazzling white sand leads down to the impossibly perfect turquoise water, where travellers and locals alike engage in a bit of floating in the blissful sunshine.
Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Often nicknamed Tama-gringo, this beach resort is a big hit with foreigners who flock here throughout the year to make the most of the magnificent beach and its turbulent water. Surfers line the beach, either waiting for a decent wave or offering lessons to hopeful visitors, while sun-bathers spread themselves out on the warm sand in order to perfect their golden glow. There is no shortage of things to do here either, from bars to shops to adventure tours – there is always something going on. They even have a casino if you’re feeling lucky.
Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
Possibly the most beautiful national park in the world, Manuel Antonio is an absolute must for beach-lovers venturing through Central America. The pristine white sand and sparkling blue water is picture perfect and the absolute embodiment of the word ‘paradise’. Within the park itself you can expect to see all kinds of exciting wildlife as well as some truly breathtaking scenery as the lush, dense jungle stretches out in front of you.
Isla Bastimentos, Panama
A tiny, car-free island, which is as beautiful as it is peaceful, Isla Bastimentos holds the key to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Virtually untouched by humanity, the Wizard and Red Frog beaches stretch out invitingly in front of the coconut palms that fill the jungle, beckoning you to come and sink your feet into the soft golden sand. The current is strong here and there aren’t usually many other people around so be wary in the water. Bear that in mind and you’re likely to have the best beach experience of your life.
Have you been to a beach in Central America that you think belongs on this list? Let us know in the comments section below or head to our website to check out our full range of tours to Central America with beach time included.