Central America is a region of South America that begins with Colombia and Mexico, culminating in that spectacular S-bend. There’s little doubt about it. The Caribbean Sea and the wild Pacific offer some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, frothing surfs, and emerald-coast jungles populated with howler monkeys.
Whether you’re looking for a laid-back surfing spot, a remote island to channel your inner castaway, or a beer-sloshing party location on the Pacific Ocean, Central America’s finest coves and bays have you covered. Read on to learn more about the best beaches in Central America.
Santa Catalina, Panama
This long-forgotten fishing village on the Panamanian Pacific mostly focuses on the rifling right-hand point break of La Punta. It’s popular with surfers from April through October.
It’s still nothing more than a cluster of ramshackle fishing shacks and surf cottages. Tourist have begun flocking here in recent years. This is because it is surrounded by two long swaths of empty sand – Playa Arrimadero and Playa Santa Catalina.
And don’t forget to stop by Coiba Island, which lies across the strait. Here you can swim with manta and whale sharks at certain times of the year.
Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
The standout feature of the national park’s namesake, a tiny piece of tropical forest halfway up the Pacific coast of Puntarenas province, is Manuel Antonio.
The beach is entirely within the reserve, so you’ll need to trek for 30 minutes through sloth-infested woods with howler monkeys to get your dose of paradise. The park opens at 7 a.m., so arrive early to avoid delays.
With a kaleidoscopic of corals of the Belize Barrier Reef, part of the second-largest coral reef system in the world, Placencia is about as perfect a beach destination as you’ll find in Central America.
Despite its distance from Belize City (130 kilometers), it is quite quiet when compared to other areas of Ambergris Caye, which are more accessible. Traditional Garifuna fishing shacks line the coast and front soft sands that grow bent sabal palms and sea oats.
Punta Uvita, Costa Rica
One of the finest wonders on the Dominican Republic’s Punta Uvita isthmus beach. It’s also known as Whale Beach because it looks like a large whale tail splashing in the Pacific.
From Uvita Beach, you may walk its entire length at low tide to view the salt-washed rock reefs at the head. Also go to Hermosa and Ventanas beaches, where a cacophony of gnarled ficus trees and palms tumble into the sea.
Oh, and during the winter and spring months, it’s worth going whale viewing in Costa Ballena, where you can spot whales between December and March.
Isla Robeson, Panama
You don’t earn a name like Isla Robeson (Isla Robinson Crusoe in English) without having some of the finest beaches on the island.
Although the real location where Defoe’s hero is believed to have been stranded is at a distance of 4830 kilometers (3000 miles) in Chile. This little speck in the magnificent San Blas chain has all of the characteristics of a castaway site.
There’s just a handful of snorkeling reefs, an inland jungle stretch, and a powdery lip of white sand on the western shoreline.
Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
Throughout the Costa Rican wet season (May to August), waves pound Santa Teresa in carved wedges of Pacific water, even if it’s not a peak day. They’re what attracted surfers to this remote part of the Nicoya Peninsula in the late ’90s.
The secret is out. This former fishing town is now home to a plethora of yoga studios, bohemian surf camps, and even a growing number of Instagram-obsessed celebrities.
That being said, the 5km long (3 mile) playa has plenty of room for everyone, as well as some of the most dependable swells on this side of Hawaii.
Little Corn Island, Nicaragua
The twin Corn Islands, Little Corn and Big Corn – the latter of which is 43 miles off Nicaragua’s coast – offer a lovely pocket of the Caribbean that has yet to be taken over by multi-star hotels.
The white-sand beaches of Bonaire are far more popular. The island has two distinct parts, one inhabited and the other undeveloped, known as the Interior and Outer Islands. Both are small, with Little Corn being somewhat more untouched than its sister island; it has just one resort, the lovely cabanas that overlook Yemaya Reef.
Red Frog Beach, Panama
Red Frog is a small beach on Isla Bastimentos’ northern shore that, like its neighbors Playa Chica and Playa Nosara, would look fantastic on the cover of travel magazines. It’s bordered by an intricate jungle crammed with sea grapes and bending coconut palms above a wavy Caribbean Sea that goes from December through April.
Stay at the Red Frog Beach Island Resort if you’d want to walk inside your villa and see the daffodils-hued sandscape framed by your own infinity pool — it’s the closest hotel to the beach.
Playa Conchal, Costa Rica
Playa Conchal is the last beach in the tiara of beaches that begins in Brasilito, a tiny resort town on Guanacaste’s North Coast.
It’s not as white as black or as black as white sand, but it does have a characteristic shell rubble covering. It is sandwiched between the Punta Sabana headland’s rocks and a huge Westin hotel resort, which isn’t covered in either black or white sand.
This part of the Pacific has crystal clear waters, and at the northern end of the bay there’s excellent swimming and snorkeling to be had.
West Bay Beach, Honduras
On the northern coast of Honduras, near Cape Gracias a Dios, lies Watchers Caye. This is where Honduras does its best imitation of the Bahamas. It consistently tops lists of Central America’s finest beaches, and it’s difficult to disagree.
Come to West Bay for a relaxing getaway amid the azure Caribbean Sea. Soak up the sun on the glass-bottomed Coral Reef Explorer and view zebrafish and turtles in the surrounding seas. You can even zip around on Jet Skis and sip rum drinks on the sandy palapa bars. Now that certainly sounds pleasant!
La Flor, Nicaragua
The Playa La Flor beach is like the other dark-sand beaches that curve their way southwards from San Juan del Sur in southern Nicaragua. However, this one has a secret weapon: Olive Ridley turtles.
Come see one of the seven annual nesting events known as “arribadas”. These take place between July and January and turn the whole playa into a shifting mass of carapaces and egg nests.
Around seven weeks later, you may return to see new turtle life begin to take flight in order to complete the arduous migration into the Pacific.
Playa El Cuco, El Salvador
Playa El Cuco is the greatest beach in Central America, according to Salvadorans. It runs along the south coast of the country, parallel to the Gulf of Fonseca. It has dark black sand patches fringed by lanky palms and foaming waves and whitecaps breaking in front.
Rather, you come to Cuco for the fisherpeople’s calls in the early hours and zingy ceviche at the seafood restaurants. Although Cuco may become congested with visitors from San Miguel, you may always walk to Playa El Esterón in the east to get away from it all.
Playa Maderas – Nicaragua
Playa Maderas is a magical place where the good vibes are buzzing and the waves are consistent. Down the rough dirt roads north of San Juan del Sur, you’ll come to a rocky bay sandwiched between towering cliffs.
The wave is an A-frame that breaks to the right in the middle. Buy you don’t need a surfboard. There are plenty of sunsets to observe from bamboo beer shacks and zen-inducing yoga retreats like Buena Vista Surf Club on the menu as well.