The Top National Parks in Central America

Mayan ruins of Tikal, Temple I, Guatemala

Matteo Colombo/Getty Images 

Central America is a relatively thin strip of land with an amazing location. It is close to the equator and has access to both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. These three factors combined resulted in emerald green tropical forests, tons of rivers, gorgeous beaches, lakes everywhere and amazing weather where it is spring almost all year long. It also resulted in a sanctuary where thousands of different animal species live.

To try to protect a part of all of this natural richness, local governments have declared many regions as national parks, reserves, and sanctuaries. Most of these are open to the public, and for a small fee, you can enjoy everything that the region has to offer. But with so many to choose from, how do you pick the ones you want to visit? Check out some of the best in the region to narrow down your choices.

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Volcan Baru National Park - Panama

River in the jungle on the volcan baru trail chiriqui panama

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This is an active volcano located in northern Panama, close to the border with Costa Rica. It is really high, so high that if you walk all the way up, near the crater, you will be able to see the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea on each side.

The volcano and surroundings were declared a national park in 1976, mainly to protect local wildlife. There are 250 species of birds, including the endangered Quetzal and five species of big cats.  

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Tikal National Park - Guatemala

Mayan ruins of Tikal, Temple I, Guatemala

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Tikal is in the northern department in of Guatemala called Petén. It was declared as Guatemala’s first national park in 1979, at the same time it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was created to guard one of the largest rain forests in the region and also to protect one of the largest and most important Mayan Archaeological sites that have been found.

In the park, aside from the plentiful and fun wildlife encounters, you will be able to check out the ruins of what once was one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya.  

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Arenal National Park - Costa Rica

Woman hiking the Arenal 1968 Trail, Costa Rica

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This park encompasses Arenal Volcano, which is a heavily active volcano. In the park, you will find Arenal Lake, part of a large hydroelectric project, Chato Volcano and a few miles of surrounding rain forest. It is dedicated to flora and fauna conservation.

This park is especially attractive for bird watchers with over 850 bird species living in it. But there are much more animal species, including endangered ones that you might come across while visiting the park.       

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Pacaya Volcano National Park - Guatemala

The Pacaya volcano in Guatemala

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Pacaya Volcano National Park is one of the few that wasn't specifically created to protect wildlife or fauna. This one includes the active Pacaya Volcano. Because it is always active at very small levels it has become a very popular touristic destination. When you visit the park you are able to hike up almost to the crater and on your way, you will walk just a couple of inches away from lava flows. Its last large eruption happened in 2010. 

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Cerro Azul de Copán National Park - Honduras

Scarlet macaws at the Mayan Ruins of Copan, Honduras

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This one is located close to the Guatemalan border and was created in 1987. The place is dotted with Mayan archaeological complexes. It is famous for being the place with the best preserved Mayan stelae found to this date, which is also where the longest hieroglyphic text was discovered in the Mayan world. It is definitely a cool place to visit.