A Guide To The Best Family Vacation Central America –With Kids

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Last Updated on July 28, 2021 by worldoftravelswithkids

Central America is not the first place that springs to mind for a family vacation destination.  However, it is perfect for the adventurous travel family who are looking for amazing history, old-world cities, well preserved indigenous cultures, and truly stunning scenery! A Central America family vacation should be on your list.

As papa traveler’s family is in Nicaragua, we have been blessed to travel around Central America with Kids – and before kids too, as backpackers.  For countries we haven’t visited with kids, we called on some of our fellow family travel bloggers for their thoughts on why specific countries – like Panama, Guatemala, and Belize – make great destinations for a family holiday.

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Adrenaline Filled Activities In Nicaragua For Active Families
Riding with littlies at Catarinam, Nicaragua

 Why Is Central America A Good Family Vacation Destination

There are not too many places on this earth that nature has crammed so much natural beauty into such a small strip of land than Central America.  Bathed by the tropical waters of the Pacific Ocean on one side and by the crystal warm waters of the Caribbean Sea on the other, Central America boasts one of the most breathtaking coastlines on the planet.  Squeezed in between these two coastlines you’ll be awed by another spectacular landscape filled with mountains, volcanoes, waterfalls, and surrounded by lush rainforests, lakes, and rivers teeming with some of the most exotic wildlife you can imagine.

To all that, throw in countless ancient archaeological sites of past intriguing civilizations.  That along with a warm (though humid) climate virtually all year round, and it is no wonder that taking a family vacation Central America is one of the wisest choices anyone can make.  For photography enthusiasts, make sure you have enough space on your memory cards.  You won’t know when to stop clicking!

Ideas For A Great Central America Family Vacation

Mumma and Papa spent a lot of time exploring Central America prior to kids.  Spending a lot of time in Panama, Honduras, and Guatemala, as well as Papa’s home country of Nicaragua and visiting friends over the border in Costa Rica.

We truly believe that Central American holidays are a great idea with or without kids.  Don’t just take our word for it.  Read on to see the highlights of the amazing countries that make up Central America.

Kids meeting the locals in Panama City

Panama

We visited Panama with our kids when they were 3.5 and 6.  Our two weeks in the country were wonderful!  Panama is an excellent introduction to a Central America family vacation and new travelers to the region because it balances a unique culture with tourist-friendly infrastructure.  Most of the roads are well-paved, the medical system is robust, and its international status thanks to the Panama Canal means you’ll always be able to find someone who speaks your language if your Spanish is a little rusty. 

At the same time, Panama offers a wonderful range of activities for all types of travelers.  You can experience urban highlights in Panama City, mountain adventures in Boquete, and remote beaches along the Caribbean coast.  One of the highlights of our visit was learning about the “Monkey Islands” that was created as a byproduct of the Canal expansion project.  It was a great complement to seeing the Canal itself.

I recommend giving yourself enough time to explore several parts of Panama.  There’s so much more than just the Canal!  The mountainous terrain can make drive times longer than they appear on a map and internal flights can be very affordable, so it’s worth considering different transportation options for your visit.  We used Uber (with our own car seats) in Panama City, flew to Boquete and rented a car there, and then used a shuttle van to go to Bocas del Toro.

Melissa from The Family Voyage 

central american holidays

Belize 

Belize is an incredible destination.  It is an amazing place to bring kids as there is an adventure around every corner.  You can expect to find lush jungles, rain forests, aqua blue water with white sand beaches, and some of the best diving spots in the world.  

One place you won’t want to miss is San Pedro.  It is just a short one-hour ferry trip and it is home to the world-renowned barrier reef.  It is also a great place to have some relaxing beach time with the kids.

A couple of hours west of Belize City is the lovely town of San Ignacio. It was one of my favorite places in Belize as it had many activities that were suitable for our three-year-old.  

Another place the kids will love is AJAW.  Here you can learn how to turn raw cacao beans into drinking chocolate.  It is run by an adorable family and right in the center.  They get the kids involved and the best part is the warm chocolate drink at the end.

When you are traveling in Central America with kids, the last thing on your mind is long excursions.  When it comes to Mayan Ruins Cahal Pech is on the smaller side.  However, this makes it the perfect size for younger kids.  It is only a few minutes from San Ignacio town which means it is just a quick trip there and back.

If you are traveling alone or as a couple then public transport is fine.  We traveled with a baby and a toddler and looking back a car would have made our trip a lot better.  There is so much to do in Central America for kids, and in particular, Belize.  That’s why we believe Belize makes the best family vacations in Central America destination list. 

Karen, Travel Mad Mum 

central american holidays

Guatemala

Guatemala is one of the lesser-visited countries in Central America.  However, it is often ranked as one of the best countries in the region for a family vacation Central America.  Its natural beauty, indigenous culture, and historic sites will fascinate anyone visiting Guatemala with kids

The Guatemalan culture is welcoming and warm and the people are known for being very family-oriented and kid-friendly.  It is also much more affordable to visit than some of the other Central American countries like Costa Rica.  

Although most visitors to Guatemala flock to the historic and beautiful town of Antigua, which lies just outside Guatemala City, the eastern portion of the country is the most interesting area of the country.  Eastern Guatemala is home to the largest archeological sites in the Americas.  A must-visit in eastern Guatemala, Tikal National Park is truly a sight to behold!  Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tikal National Park is filled with pyramids, temples, Mayan artifacts, and the most well-preserved, impressive ruins in the world. 

Surrounded by a lush jungle, the remote, only about 10 to 15 percent of the ancient Mayan city of Tikal has been excavated or unearthed.  For visitors to this massive national park, this may be hard to believe because the portions that are visible will leave you in awe. 

Of course, to experience the eastern portion of Guatemala, it does require either a long bus ride or a rental car. A rental car is typically the better option when traveling with kids. While personal safety is an important factor to consider when traveling in Central America, or anywhere for that matter, the drive to Tikal is not one that is considered dangerous or risky. 
 
If you decide to stick closer to Antigua, be sure to check out the chocolate museum in the town, ChocoMuseo, where you can learn to make your own chocolate and take it home as a souvenir. It’s a great and delicious activity for the entire family.

 Melissa from Parenthood and Passports

Costa Rica

Beautiful, green Costa Rica is committed to the environment and peace; they don’t have an army at all.  When you meet the laid-back Ticos you better understand what grabs travelers about this beautiful country and makes it an easy place to have family adventure holidays.

Due to its stability and safety among the more volatile Central American nations, Costa Rica has long been a popular spot for expats and retirees to seek the sunshine and a more affordable way of life.   As a result, the tourist infrastructure in Costa Rica is excellent.  This is why it is another destination we whole absolutely recommend it for families with small children.   The best way to have a seamless holiday is to book a Costa Rica family vacation planner. 

central american holidays
Papa on Playa Tamarindo

Costa Rica is also quite small.  Setting out from the capital San Jose you have beaches and rainforest in every direction.  On our own bucket list is Tortuguero National Park where you can see turtle hatchlings (in season), walk in the National Park or travel in the canals.

If you have older kids and want to get some rafting in, why not check out Sarapiqui as well as spending some time at the Jungle Research center there.

Next time we visit Costa Rica we also plan to spend a few days around La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano, before heading to the coast at either Tamarindo (very popular) or Manuel Antonio National Park.  In short, allow yourself some time to experience ‘Pura Vida.’

central american holidays
Enjoying Pura Vida in Costa Rica

Below are our some of our favorite resources for planning in this region. Click on each one to view the current price.

best family vacations central america
Stepping back in time in Nicaragua.

Nicaragua

We debated on whether to include Nicaragua on this list of family adventure holidays; but if you are looking for adventure Nicaragua can seriously offer you some unique perspectives.  From the Colonial cities of Granada and Leon, to the twin volcano island of Ometepe and the untouristed coast around San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua offers seriously authentic travel experiences.

Our full destination guide on Nicaragua is found here.

** Note – Nicaragua had a lot of civil unrest during 2018.  This was the reason we were unsure about including it!  So – before doing much research about a trip to Nicaragua – check the latest safety warnings!

Below are our some of our favorite resources for planning in this region. Click on each one to view the current price.

Mexico

What is there not to love about Mexico with kids?  To be honest, we’ve only visited with a babe who was 4 months old.  However,  its easy access to the United States means cheap and quick flights to a whole other world.  You can brush up on your Spanish in an immersion experience.  Or, perhaps you’d prefer to live it up at an all-inclusive resort?  Mexico really has something for every family.

Ironically, we had a week booked in Mexico City for 2020.  It didn’t happen due to Covid.  However, we were excited to visit Teotihuacan and the Frida Kahlo Museum.  We also were excited to get a feel for this vast, vibrant country.  We’ve got family we’d love to visit in Mexico!  It’s definitely on the cards that we will get a longer stay in soon.

High on our Mexico family travel bucket list is a visit to the Cenotes which look so beautiful.  I was delighted to find an amazing review of a range of touristy – and non-touristy Cenotes visited by a family with a range of kids (like we have).  Definitely take a look at the Best Cenotes in Mexico with Kids.  Mexico makes a great Central American holidays destination.

best family vacations central america

What Are The Highlights Of A Central America Family Vacation

Where does one begin?  Central American holidays have virtually everything for the entire family!  For those who love exploring underwater, the entire coastline on both sides is a sheer paradise with crystal blue water brimming with amazing sea life no matter where you look.  The Belize Barrier Reef forms part of the world’s second-largest barrier reef.  A trip to the famous Great Blue Hole is an absolute must for your holiday in Central America.

Kayaking, surfing, fishing, snorkeling, frolicking in shallow clear waters of sheltered beaches, or just plain lazing in the sun, or dozing on a hammock under a shady palm, a holiday in Central America with kids, will most certainly be a memorable experience for the whole family.  

But Central America has so much more to offer.  One day you’re swimming with dolphins and the next you could be on a guided tour in the middle of a rainforest, home to many unusual animals, such as jaguars, tapirs, pumas, sloths, and howler monkeys, while myriad species of exotic birds such as toucans and macaws regularly fly above your heads.  Ziplining or taking a canopy tour through the jungle and sky walking over suspension bridges will simply blow your mind. 

If all this doesn’t do it for you, there are more natural wonders to behold.  Central America has numerous volcanoes in close proximity.  Summiting a volcano and witnessing live lava flowing, while feeling the earth gurgling beneath your feet, is not something you will ever forget.

Then of course, for the history buffs (or parents world-schooling!),  the hundreds of ancient Mayan ruins scattered across Central America, will leave you in awe.  Enormous ancient pyramids, sophisticated temples adorned with intricate carvings and drawings, are everywhere.  Most have not yet been fully understood and remain mysteries to this day.

Yes, all this could be discovered and enjoyed in such close proximity, and even within one country!  Budgets that cater to everyone’s pockets.  From hiring luxury villas and all-inclusive resorts with all the amenities on your doorstep to simple eco-lodges nestled in amongst nature.  Are all easily accessible for the best family vacation in Central America you could ever experience.

best family vacations central america

Is It Safe To Travel To Central America With Kids

This is of course, the million-dollar question.  The quick answer is yes.  But then, as in all foreign cities and places, we all need to practice a little travel savvy.  We wouldn’t wander around after dark in isolated places in our own countries.  So why would we do that anyplace else?  We do hear of politically or gang-related crime in Central America from time to time.  However it is usually in the major cities, and rarely in the main tourist areas.  As crime does vary from country to country, getting some local advice from your accommodation provider or tour guide, will certainly be helpful and keep you safe during your vacation.

But let us not forget that there may be other possible hazards we could experience while on holiday in any foreign country.  You’ll probably feel more scared when crossing a suspension bridge, or zipping through a forest canopy, than walking around anywhere in Central America.  The ocean itself also needs to be respected.  Although most coastal waters are calm warm and clear, great care still must be taken, especially with small children.

A Guide To The Best Family Vacation Central America –With Kids
Our kids enjoying the swimming pool with their grandmother – Granada, Nicaragua

What Is The Best Season For Central American Holidays

The best time for a family vacation in Central America is definitely during the dry months.  They are from December through to March/April.  That is not to say that the rainy season is a no-go period.  September and October can bring some heavy downpours flooding rivers and affecting adjacent roads nearby.  But most of the rain comes down in the afternoons.  This allows you to head to the beach or the jungle early in the morning, and be back in your lodge before the heavens open.  Two advantages of the rainy season are fewer tourists and great accommodation deals. 

The northern parts of Central America, such as Guatemala and Honduras, do get hit by hurricanes.  Consider avoiding these countries during the wet months, particularly if you are visiting Central America with kids.

Temperatures in the region usually remain pretty constant throughout the year.  They average around the higher 20s to lower 30s, C – with extremely high humidity.  However, they can drop to -15° C in the higher mountainous areas.  Being prepared for hot humid weather is an important consideration for a Central America family vacation.  Shorts, t-shirts, bathing suits, hats, and sunscreen are mostly what you need to pack, as well as a rain jacket and a good pair of hiking shoes.

Although a few words of Spanish would be good to know, most hotel staff, tour guides, etc. speak English.  Visitors from predominantly English-speaking countries such as the USA, Canada, United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, will feel welcomed.  The strong currencies from these countries will also be a real bonus. 

If you are wondering where to take that well-deserved family vacation, where everyone from grannies to toddlers can thoroughly enjoy their break, you need to look no further than Central America. Remember, Central America is for kids too.

A Guide To The Best Family Vacation Central America –With Kids

Want More Central American Holidays Information

Looking for more information to plan your Central America family vacation?  Family Friendly Hotels in Granada, Nicaragua is packed with great recommendations about family-freindly accommodations in Granada, Nicaragua.  If you are looking to get the kiddos involved, then Fun Facts About Nicaragua For Kids is a great post to read together.

If you plan on heading on to South America, or just want more information read our A Guide To The Best Family Vacation South America – With Kids.

Conclusion – Why Family Vacations In Central America Are A GREAT Idea

Ok, we admit that Central America might not be the best choice for the first time you take a family holiday with the kids.  However, for experienced travelers who like to get off the beaten track, Central America offers so much!  With the Central Americans loving kids and in general being helpful and friendly, you will often find a pair of hands to help.  We think you should at least consider a family vacation Central America!

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About Us

Hi! We are a multicultural family from Peru, Nicaragua & Australia. We believe adventures can be global – and local – and are one part of our sustainable lifestyle, and raising children who are global eco-citizens.