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Central America - February 2002

The Mayan Ruins in Copan and a journey by bus through Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.

Travel Page | Map & History | 1-10 | 11-20

Our route through Central America GuatemalaEl SalvadorHondurasNicaragua Costa Rica Panama

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Guatemala back to the top | Guatemala pages
Guatemala is a country gathering its wits after thirty-odd years of insane civil war. It offers Central America in concentrate form: its volcanoes are the highest and most active, its Mayan ruins the most impressive, its earthquakes the most devastating and its history of repression decidedly world-class. Guatemala is the Mayan heartland of Central America, though the government has both touted and tortured the Maya - sticking pictures of them on its tourist brochures while sticking guns in their faces. Despite this, indigenous Guatemalan culture is alive and well, in the ancient ruins of Tikal, the Mayan/Catholic rituals of Chichicastenango and the blazing colors of everyday Mayan dress.

El Salvador back to the top | El Salvador pages
Salvador's name still evokes images of the brutal civil war fought throughout the 1980s in the tangle of mountains and farmlands that quilt the smallest country in Central America. The war, however, is over and the most turbulent aspect of El Salvador today is thankfully just its volcanic landscape.
Unlike its neighbors, El Salvador is not geared to independent travelers. What it does offer is a whole new experience of watching a country strive to redefine itself. Organizations from the US, Europe and Australia are helping to rebuild El Salvador through programs devoted to education, agricultural reform, reforestation, human rights and health care. Participating in these developments and talking to the locals about their experiences and hopes is one of the most productive ways to visit.

Honduras back to the top | Honduras pages
Honduras was the original banana republic and is still one of the least developed and industrialized countries in Central America. Despite its turbulent political history, the poor cousin of the region has barely registered on the Western radar, apart from its short role in the 1980s as a breeding ground for US covert operations. The slow pace, natural beauty and low-profile tourism make it particularly appealing to travelers (well-armed with insect repellent) who enjoy getting off the beaten track. However, the country was devastated by one of the strongest hurricanes of the 20th century - Hurricane Mitch in October 1998. Thanks to international relief efforts, much of the infrastructure has now been repaired and tourism has returned to pre-Mitch levels.

Nicaragua back to the top
Nicaragua is best known not for its landscape or cultural treasures, but for the 1979 Sandinista revolution and subsequent Contra war, in which the people rose up in hope only to be derailed by US-orchestrated interference. The Sandinistas are no longer in power and the prevailing economic ideology, dictated by the likes of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), involves widespread privatization and deregulation. This high-speed 'structural adjustment' has reduced inflation, provided ready cash for the business elite and left much of the rest of the country unemployed or in a state of sticker shock.
The good news is that throughout this period human rights have largely been respected and the country's battles are now confined to the political arena. Nicaragua is a fascinating destination for those travelers who shun seeing 'sights,' have an awareness of history and enjoy getting to know a country on a grassroots level.

Costa Rica back to the top | Costa Rica pages
Costa Rica is Central America's special jewel. It has a reputation for being an oasis of calm among its turbulent neighbors, but there's more to Costa Rica than a stable status quo. The country's natural attractions, wildlife and reputation for enlightened conservation draw tourists from all over the world, and the ticos know it. Successive governments have made a real effort to preserve the country's image as an ecotourism heaven, making Costa Rica one of the best places to experience the tropics naturally and with minimal impact.
But if trudging through knee-deep streams for hours on end to catch a glimpse of some lazy three-toed tree-hanger isn't your idea of a good time, don't write Costa Rica off as a waste of 51,100 sq km (19,929 sq mi). Not surprisingly for a country which is mostly coastline, Costa Rica has some of the region's best surfing, beaches galore and a climate that encourages slothfulness in all species.

Panama back to the top | Panama pages
Panama has a cosmopolitan capital city, incredible rainforest and some of the finest snorkeling, birding and deep-sea fishing in the world, so it's hard to figure out why travelers tend to steer clear of this country or just whiz through. It may have something to do with the fact that Panama is known internationally for its canal, the 1989 US invasion and the name it donated to a style of headgear, but this does it no justice. The reality is a proud prosperous nation that honors its seven Indian tribes and its rich Spanish legacy and embraces visitors so enthusiastically that it's difficult to leave without feeling that you're in on a secret that the rest of the traveling world will one day uncover.

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Last modified: January 12, 2003
Rudy Nikkel. All Rights Reserved.