Tips for travel in C. America

Of the six Central American countries between Mexico and South America, I have traveled extensively in four: Honduras, Costa Rica, Belize, and Guatemala. The range of environments, from the second longest reef system in the world to deep, dark rain forests harboring some of the greatest biodiversity on the planet, is nothing short of dazzling.

Climate in Central America is more a function of location than time of year. While, in general, it tends to be rainier from May through November, there are arid areas that get little moisture and rainy areas that get much, throughout the year. Daytime temperatures range from the cool 70s in the mountains to hot, humid 90s in the coastal lowland forests. Countries are compact and main highways are decent, so you can journey through a number of climate zones in less than a day. Plan for hot and steamy forests as well as cool mountain evenings.

I have never had a problem with food or water in hotels, resorts, inns, lodges, or restaurants. Some areas are dicey in terms of security, so tour operators will recommend flying to remoter regions as opposed to driving there, especially at night. It is always a good idea to check the US State Department advisories before traveling (a full listing is on the Web at travel.state.gov/travel_warnings.html).

The Bay Islands of Honduras and the cays scattered about the barrier reef off Belize are launch points for some of the best diving and snorkeling on earth. Both countries also boast rain and cloud forests, which feature a range of exotic birds in strange shapes and stinging colors. Mayan Caribbean Tours (phone, in Honduras: 011-504-557-7638 or on the Web: www.mayancaribbean.hn) is a local operator that offers wonderful tours of Honduras.

The Cayo District of central Belize is also a bird-watcher's dream with everything from raptors to beautiful motmots and the aptly named resplendent quetzal. If you fancy butterflies, the iridescent blue morpho is prevalent throughout the region. The Mayan ruins at Copn in Honduras, and Altun Ha and Xunantunich in Belize are a must. The great Mayan site in Guatemala is Tikal, with a whole series of altars, structures bedecked with giant stone masks, and two giant pyramids.

Costa Rica has the best-developed tourism infrastructure in Central America. Its accommodations include major hotels and resorts, small inns, and jungle lodges. There are whitewater rafting, animal-watching treks, and canopy tours that will literally walk you, or swing you, through the treetops. A great introduction to the jungle world is a trip with Temptress Adventure cruises (800-336-8423, or temptresscruises.com). They ply the Pacific with guided shore excursions through the remarkable parks that line the entire coast.

Top professional tour operators, who offer knowledgeable local guides, are the only way to travel in this region. In addition to an intimate knowledge of the terrain, they know what areas are safe. My favorite among operators is Florida-based Holbrook Travel (800-451-7111, or www.holbrook travel.com), which has been conducting tours in Central America for a quarter century.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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