I recently spent two weeks making my way through four countries in Central America. We started off in the Dominican Republic then headed onto Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. I’d never visited any part of Central America so was super excited to explore what these countries had to offer.
This blog post will take you through each of the different countries we visited and places you should visit along the way! I couldn’t recommend a trip like this more, it’s such a beautiful part of the world and very easy to travel between countries too!
First stop: Dominican Republic
Hotel Melia– An all inclusive hotel located in Punta Cana (the most popular part of the island) with an adults only section called ‘The Level’ it has it’s very own private pool and three restaurants that over look the beach. There’s also 14 restaurants onsite, as well as multiple swimming pools as part of your all inclusive deal.
Hotel Nicolás de Ovando– Located within the old town of Santa Domingo with the same charm as the buildings that surround it. The pool area is something out of a 1950s travel book and is a great place for photos in the morning.
Scape Park– An adventure park where you can Zip Line as well as jump into a beautiful cenote amongst other activities.
Punta Cana Reserve Ecologica– Beautiful gardens in Punta Cana, filled with indigenous trees, the trail itself takes around 1 hour 20 mins and along the way there are natural blue pools that you can swim in. The pools and gardens weren’t crowded at all and at some points we were the only people swimming. If you’re lucky enough you’ll also notice a couple of turtles swim by.
Restaurant Bachata Rosa, Punta Cana– A themed restaurant filled with flowers, the food was great and the atmosphere and music were exactly as you’d expect from a restaurant owned by Dominican singer-songwriter Juan Luis Guerra.
Coco Bongo– A fun-filled night club with a live show that runs from 11pm until 3am, if you’re looking for a nightclub with a difference in Punta Cana you’ll definitely find it here. Be prepared to dance and drink the night away and get into the real Dominican spirit.
Island of Saona– It’s a really popular excursion, but as the island is a national park there are no hotels, so it’s just sand beaches, huts and sun loungers. We took a speed boat out, stopping at a natural pool, which if you’re lucky you’ll spot some of the starfish that still live in the area. We then headed to Saona for a chilled out afternoon with some added music and dancing. You can buy the package from your hotel which also includes lunch, we arrived at around 11am and our catamaran didn’t leave until 3pm. It’s a really relaxing day and if you’re looking for a little bit of turquoise sea paradise, this is the place!
Casa de Campo– As well as three full size gold courses and luxury accommodation, the Altos of Chavón is a beautiful art school built in the 70s designed by Dominican architect, Jose Antonio Caro, and Italian master designer and cinematographer, Roberto Coppa nestled within the resort. It’s an eclectic mix of European architecture where you’ll find a fully functioning chapel and amazing view of the river, restaurants and a stone amphi theatre! Would definitely recommend taking a visit to walk around take photos and hopefully catch the dancers and musicians who were there the day we came! Minitas Beach Club at Casa de Campo is a beautiful place to relax and have lunch. Definitely try the local drink with ice, mint and lemon, it will instantly refresh you.
Playa de Blanca, Punta Cana– A beach club with great food and a still lagoon-like sea boarding the beach. Good food, atmosphere, somewhere you’d definitely like the spend the afternoon.
Santo Domingo walking tour, beginning at the Columbus Palace– Columbus palace is a perfect place to start a walking tour around the town at sunset. The buildings are so colourful and makes you feel like you’re almost in Cuba; the old town is actually also sometimes used a movie set backdrop for just that too. As you walk the streets you’ll find the first ever hospital to be built in the Americas, as it was the first place Christopher Columbus discovered when he arrived. The Old town is still surrounded by it’s original boundary wall and watch the sunset over at the many bars around the town too.
Why would you visit?– White sandy beaches, sunshine and fun spirited people, an ultimate holiday destination where you can have everything catered for you.
Second Stop: Panama
Central Hotel Panama – This hotel has great views over Casco Viejo from their rooftop pool. It’s located right in the centre of the newly refurbished old town, which is the perfect place to explore this beautifully refurbished part of town.
Hacienda Los Molinos Hotel, Boquete– A hotel is a series of villas with a unique view of the volcano and offers some of the tastiest food I tried in Panama.
Explore Casco Viejo (especially at sunset)- Take a walk around this part of town during golden hour and watch the light dance on the old and newly refurbished buildings. The walk way next to the French Embassy will also provide a beautiful view over the ocean as well as an incredible view of the business part of the city’s skyline.
Boquete, Chiriquí– Catch a quick 40 minute plane to the mountainous town of Boquete. It’s a beautiful country town with amazing views of Volcano Barú and great local businesses offering a range of activities. You’ll need to hire or catch a car from the airport to head up, but might be best to enquire with anyone organising any activities for you while you visit.
Boquete Tree Trek Mountain Resort– We didn’t stay here but went on the canopy zip lining course and then hiked up over the suspension bridges. The last bridge takes you up by a waterfall and then dappled trail is such a peaceful place to walk. There’s also a coffee tour and lunch available too. The area is famous for Geisha coffee which is a very light roast coffee with almost a tea like quality that’s very popular in Japan.
Boquete Brewing Company– Great craft beer, food truck and live music. We met the owner James who gave us a tour of the brewery. They now brew over 30 recipes, have a great playlist, atmosphere and definitely somewhere you’d love to spend the evening. Try their Smash beer, it was my favourite!
Gamboa Rainforest Monkey Island Boat Tour– This is a great place to stop on the way to visit the Panama Canal centre, you can grab a bbq lunch and watch the wildlife on the lake and then after head onto one of the boats to spot some monkeys
Gamboa Sloth Sanctuary and Wildlife Centre– This is the first place I saw a sloth in real life. The centre rescues orphaned sloths as well as other animals. Here you can visit them and talk to the people that work with them daily, it’s a really cute experience and very close to where the boat tour happens.
Panama Canal Visitor Centre– You can visit the centre that celebrates this famous canal and watch the many cargo ships pass through the locks which are the gateway from Asia to Europe, it’s an amazing piece of engineering and so interesting to learn about.
Emberá Querá Community– One of my favourite excursions in Panama was to visit this indigenous community. You catch a dug out canoe along the river and then are hosted for a morning by the community. They introduce you to their way of life, how they utilise and learn from the nature that surrounds them and even join in some traditional dancing too! Such beautiful and welcoming people to meet.
Biomuseo – This recently refurbished museum was a beautiful surprise. Celebrating the bio diversity of Panama and beyond, it’s a beautifully presented museum with great interactive exhibits and super knowledgeable guides. The building itself is also a site to see!
En La Fonda – A restaurant filled with traditional Panamanian memorabilia with a menu to match! A great place to visit and try some traditional dishes and lap up good music and fun.
Why Visit? A great mix of modern and traditional architecture in one city, Casco Viejo is filled with roof top bars and hidden away restaurants combined with original monasteries. It’s a beautiful place to explore with the Boquete mountains being a highlight for me!
Third Stop- Costa Rica
Hotel Auténtico– A good base hotel near San Jose airport, we stayed here on the first and last night. It has everything you need and they will even provide you with a packed breakfast if you’re leaving early the next morning.
Trogón Lodge– In the most beautiful countryside location, this group of lodges encourages you to go offline and embrace your surroundings. The lodge can organise excursions and hikes or provide a place to recharge (don’t worry if you really need wifi, it’s in the restaurant).
Irazú Volcano– Our first activity in Costa Rica! A dormant volcano with a brilliant blue crater due to the rain water that’s collected there. Head up to the higher viewing platform to have an amazing view of your surroundings and literally have your head above the clouds.
Dota Coffee Farm– This place farms its own coffee beans, as well as processes beans from all over Costa Rica. You can take part in a really interesting tour that will take you from field to factory and show you the three ways they finally create the ‘golden bean’ ready for roasting.
Boruca Community– This was a really special experience, we visited one of the homes of a family in the Boruca community. They taught us about the history of their culture, beliefs and the history of their community. One of the things they’re known for are the brightly coloured masks that are worn every new years eve to celebrate the spirits that surround them. You instantly feel welcomed and at home, so after a home cooked lunch we met the women of the family. They took us through traditional methods of preparing cotton for weaving but also creating the masks, which traditionally was a man’s job.
Manuel Antonio National Park– (TIP: Get here early) One of the main attractions for tourists visiting San Jose as it’s only about an hour and a half away and is a stunning National Park filled with all the wildlife you’d come to see plus the added bonus of white sandy beaches. They close the park when it reaches capacity, so I would suggest getting here early, because as we were leaving at around 1pm, they turned people arriving away.
Rio Tarcoles Crocodile Boat– We took a boat ride out at sunset to visit the crocodiles. It was a pretty awesome experience and coupled with the beautiful light it was the perfect way to end the day. This company do not feed the crocodiles and cause as little disruption to them as possible, a couple came up to the boat which was amazing to see this impressive animal up close.
Why Visit? I fell in love with Costa Rica, a country that’s created tourism around it’s natural habitats that becomes part of it not fights against. There were so many more places to explore and I could not recommend hiring a car and exploring this country more. There were so many places along the way where we stopped to take photos of this beautiful country!
Fourth Stop: Nicaragua
Hotel Granada– This stunning hotel is right in the centre of Granada. As you explore it’s hacienda style layout, you’ll discover a full size pool and even a ballroom.
Hotel La Perla, Leon– The accommodation surrounds a colonial style courtyard in which your dinner and breakfast are served. Each room has a rocking chair outside with a communal balcony that either looks out towards the town or onto the courtyard itself.
Granada Choco Museo– Get ready of a high energy free tour of their boutique chocolate museum, learning how they make chocolate from the bean itself to liquors, teas, and traditional chocolate bars.
Volcano Mombacho– You can walk along a dappled trail around the crater of this volcano. It has epic views from each of the four view points on the edge of the trail, as well as an amazing tunnel that was created from an avalanche.
Valentine Lopez Cermanic Workshop– Using traditional methods these ceramic artisans create exquisite pieces of pottery. They’ll take you through the process from clay to pot and I can guarantee you’ll leave with a souvenir or 5 too!
Masaya Volcano– In my opinion this was one of the best locations we visited on the whole trip. Visit just before sunset and watch the glow of the lava from the crater get stronger and stronger. It’s an unforgettable experience.
Leon Cathedral– This is the biggest cathedral in Central America. You can also climb up to the roof and see a view of the city and surrounding six volcanoes. Leon town centre is also a great place to do a walking tour from too.
Sand Boarding Cerro Negro Volcano– This was such a different way to explore a volcano. It’s around an hour hike up, however the incline isn’t too steep so doesn’t feel too harsh. The views from the top are amazing and you can see exactly where the lava flowed to from the last eruption. The actual sand boarding is super fun and easy to control how fast you slide down too!
Why Visit? To experience the unique landscapes of Nicaragua from the expansive lakes, traditional towns and epic volcanoes, this country has a lot to offer, especially for the thrill seeking traveller.
Central America surprised me in so many ways. Each country had it’s unique experiences to offer from the sun and sand of Domincan republic, appeal of old and new architecture in Panama, natural habitats to explore in Costa Rica and epic volcano landscape of Nicaragua. If someone asked me if I’d do the same route again, I’d jump at the chance, there’s so much more to see and I feel like we only touched the surface!
Thanks to Centro America for inviting me on the trip! This post is sponsored, however all of the thoughts and opinions are my own.