In Central America, nature is all about discovery. Explore the ruins of Spanish forts on the Caribbean coast or boat deep into indigenous territories in a dugout canoe. Wildlife is incidental: a resplendent quetzal on the highland trail, the unruly troupe of howler monkeys screeching through the canopy or the breaching whale that turns your ferry ride into an adrenaline event. Adventure tourism means zipping through rainforest canopies, swimming alongside sea turtles or trekking to sublime cloud forest vistas. Eight countries with 300-plus volcanoes and two long tropical coasts make for a pretty big playground.
With a culture that hearkens back 4000 years, the Maya are widely considered the greatest pre-Columbian civilization. Their territory sprawled from Mexico to Honduras, with ruins in five present-day Central American countries.
Central America may be the size of Texas, but its tapestry of cultures has created a diverse and dynamic society. With more than 20 Maya languages spoken, Guatemala is the region's true indigenous heartland, though traditions are held fast in many other groups throughout the region. The Spanish inked their stamp with gorgeous colonial plazas, fervent beauty contests and silent hours of siesta. African culture permeates many parts of the Caribbean coast, from Congo rebel traditions to Garifuna drumbeats. But the last century brought the rest of the world – including Asians, Europeans and North Americans, to further season the great mix. Cosmopolitan nightlife marks Panama City, where colonial charm now mingles with skyscrapers.