In the narrow strip of land between Mexico and Colombia you find Central America. Long associated with drug smuggling and violence, the perception of the region is changing. The rise of fair trade coffee production throughout the region, the impressive biodiversity in Honduras and Costa Rica’s laudable use of primarily renewable energy are all encouraging people to visit. Tourists explore the mountains, volcanoes, lakes, forests and canyons. They indulge in the local cuisine and explore local customs. It is a region teeming with welcoming people, keen to spread their way of life to visitors and is becoming increasingly popular.
Relaxed, Caribbean and English-speaking, Belize is markedly different from the countries it borders. Popular among conservationists looking to preserve wildlife or perhaps spot a jaguar, Belize is tucked away on the Caribbean Sea. Jerk chicken and reggae music permeate the beachside settlements, where snorkelling and scuba diving are the order of the day on the world’s second largest barrier reef.
The 1959 revolution has left an indelible imprint on Cuba. Castro, socialism and Che Guevara remain etched onto the national consciousness, constitution and concrete facades. Once described to me as a ‘museo en vivo’ (a live museum), Cuba is an astounding place to visit, though at times frustrating from a travelling perspective. Long queues, poor infrastructure and a lack of resources can inhibit enjoyment, but a visit to Cuba is about experiencing another way of life. The cars and salsa of Havana, the colourful vibrancy of Trinidad, and the Viñales countryside are all a bonus.
Torn apart by civil war in the 1980s, Guatemala is still recovering, but successfully rebuilding to become one of the most visited countries in Central America. The natural beauty of Guatemala is plain for all to see, in the majestic water of Semuc Champey, the tranquil Lake Atitlan or the explosive attraction of numerous volcanoes. Visit the historical site of Tikal to understand some of the Mayan history, or spend time in Quetzaltenango to see how the way of life of these people continues to permeate Guatemalan society.