If you’re looking for a new destination for a winter or early spring cruise, consider Central America. The peak season runs from November through April, providing a welcome respite from winter’s cold.
Many cruises to this region focus on the Panama Canal, the 50-mile ship canal that cuts through a slender isthmus between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Since it first opened in 1914, the canal and its three locks have been one of the world’s most vital trade routes. It’s an engineering wonder that provides a scenic interlude for cruise travelers as well. Today’s larger cruise ships skirt through the locks with very little room to spare, floating through the Chagres River and Gatun Lake – surrounded by tropical wilderness – as they make their way to the other side.
As compelling as the Panama Canal is, there’s much more to see on a cruise of Central America. There are a variety of departure ports – including Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle – to choose from. Cruise lengths range from seven to 14 nights or more, with the longer cruises including port calls in the Western Caribbean, the Mexican Rivera and along the West Coast of the U.S.
In Central America, your ship might call on ports in Guatemala, Costa Rica and Nicaragua in addition to Panama. Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala, is a gateway to that country’s rich Mayan heritage. Sights worth seeing include beautiful Lake Atitlan, formed long ago in the crater of a collapsed volcano; and the region’s many coffee plantations.
Costa Rica is a small country – about the size of West Virginia – but it has one of the most diverse ecologies on earth. The port town of Puntarenas is an international tourist destination, with a fabulous beach fronted by a wide walkway lined with shops and restaurants. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can ride a horse through a nearby rainforest, try some whitewater rafting or glide through the treetops on a zipline.
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, is a scenic fishing village on the Pacific coast that also welcomes cruise ships. There are lovely white sand beaches to enjoy: or, take a side trip to the nearby city of Granada, founded by conquistadors in 1524. This historic spot on the shore of Lake Nicaragua features colorful colonial building and monuments.
For more information about cruising Central America, talk with your personal cruise expert.