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Explore millennia-old Mayan temples in Belize, zip line through rain forests in Nicaragua, or simply soak up the sun on the sublime beaches of Costa Rica. Travel Impressions provides accommodations as unique as each of these idyllic Central American countries.

 

Belize

The most northern of the trio is Belize, which lies just south of Mexico on the southern Yucatan Peninsula. The perfect place to slip into the laid-back Central American lifestyle, Belize's beaches are seductive stretches of white sand and crystal-clear waters that include the world's second-largest barrier reef. On top of that, there's the former British colony's fascinating culture, a mix of Caribbean, Latin America and Britain, that adds to Belize's allure.

On Ambergris Caye, the reef's brilliantly-colored underwater world beckons for some of the most amazing snorkeling and scuba diving that you'll ever experience. The 25-mile long caye — pronounced “key” — is the largest of over 200 small islands that line the Belize coast. It's also home to luxury hotels such as Victoria House, whose infinity-edged pools are steps from a stunning beach.

Near the village of Placencia, a tropical chic atmosphere sets the mood at the Belize Ocean Club, which is well positioned for excursions into the jungle and days spent on the water snorkeling or scuba diving.

From here, you can take a guided tour to the Belize Zoo, home to more than 45 species native to Belize. You'll see some of the country’s beautiful cats, including jaguars, pumas and ocelots. The zoo is typically combined with a delightful visit to the Community Baboon Sanctuary to watch howler monkeys leap about in their natural habitat.

Another option is a tour into the countryside, past villages and farms, to the Mayan center of Altun Ha, used for nearly two millennia by Mayan priests. It's a relatively new discovery, unearthed about 50 years ago by a Canadian team that found a nine-and-three-quarter pound jade carving of the head of the sun god among the ruins.

Or, explore another captivating part of Belize by floating through caves by inner tube. Guides lead you on a jungle trail west of Belize City through dry caves before you hop into the tubes and glide through caverns used by Mayans for religious rites. Emerging, you'll find yourself in the sun-drenched rain forest.

Nicaragua

Nicaragua, Central America's largest country, offers tempting beaches and outdoor activities centered around soaring volcanoes and vast lakes.

The Pacific Coast village of San Juan del Sur is a major vacation spot, drawing more and more sun-worshipers amid a growth of luxurious resorts. Among them is Pelican Eyes Resort & Spa, which offers an inviting spa and a 41-foot sloop for guests to sail with a captain and crew. 

An ultra-luxurious and secluded option is Mukul, an Auberge Resort, ranked as a top resort in Central America. Furnishings, including up in romantic tree house accommodations, are locally made from Nicaraguan teak. Here, in the lap of luxury, you can unwind on a private beach, treat yourself to a massage or facial at the spa and play golf at an oceanfront 18-hole course. 

There are many options for activities around San Juan del Sur. One day tour features a walk up 100 steps to the towering Christ statue on a high hilltop. You can visit Las Nubes Adventure Park and ride an ATV to a panoramic point with views over the Pacific and Lake Nicaragua. End the afternoon with a thrilling ride through the rain forest canopy on a zip line with 10 platforms.

Nicaragua is more than its gorgeous beaches, however. Granada, on the shore of Lake Nicaragua, is a charming city, full of colonial buildings. A peaceful and romantic place to stay is Hotel Colonial close to the city's striking yellow-and-white cathedral and lush central park. It's an elegant sanctuary, full of warm colors and wood furnishings. Two swimming pools, each with pool bar, add to the relaxing vibe.

You can spend a lovely day taking a horse-drawn carriage ride of Granada and a tour exploring the islands that dot the huge lake. Another option is to hop on a four-wheel drive vehicle in the Mombacho Volcano Natural Reserve, exploring the cloud forest and coffee plantations that circle the Mombacho volcano. 

At the summit, take in the 360-degree panorama and walk the trail that curves around craters, while stopping at points for views over the lake and Granada. Here, too, you can glide through a cloud forest on a zip line that will be an unforgettable Nicaraguan experience.

Costa Rica

If you love the outdoors, the Central American country of Costa Rica is heaven. It's a small country (about the same size as West Virginia) but with a huge variety of landscapes. In fact, Costa Rica has 12 distinct ecological zones, more than in any other North American country. You'll find lush rain forests with monkeys and brilliantly-colored tropical birds, high volcanoes, natural hot springs and palm-studded Pacific and Caribbean coasts. 

On the Pacific side of the country, the northern region of Guanacaste alone has more than 400 miles of lush coast. You can make your base the Dreams Las Mareas Costa Rica resort, which has local décor, spacious suites and all-inclusive dining in a variety of restaurants. 

It's in an ideal location to explore, including on a trip to the picture postcard-perfect Arenal volcano. You'll walk around the volcano, which is active, as you'll see from its smoke swirling from its top, and across lava fields. At a nearby hot springs, you'll choose where to soak and unwind among 25 thermal pools of different temperatures, all set amid tropical flora and gushing waterfalls.

Or, spend a day at the Buena Vista Lodge & Adventure, nestled in a forest that features an exhilarating zip line where you whiz down 10 cables that cross the tropical landscape from 13 platforms. From the zip line, you'll glide down a 1,300-foot water slide. Guides then lead you to hot springs where you'll bask in an idyllic spot in the middle of a forest and surrounded by two rivers, a scene that will stay with you as a treasured memory from your Central American journey.  

Your Central American adventure is just a phone call away. Call your local AAA Travel Agent at 800-750-5386 and book your trip today!
 

(Traveler Spring 2018)

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