If you have been following my articles for a year you probably know that my favorite way of getting from one place to another while traveling is by car (whenever possible). It allows my family and me to truly enjoy the ride and stop whenever we want to. There are no schedules and no rushing through things to meet an itinerary.
We live in Guatemala and have been exploring the region for years. Because of that, we have already discovered a lot of fun routes for a family road trip in Central America. If you have been to the region you know that the roads aren't at their best but they are still doable and the views can be amazing.
We still feel like there is a lot of exploring to do but keep reading to learn about my favorite ones so far.
Managua, Masaya and Granada - Nicaragua
This adventure starts in the Capital city of Nicaragua, Managua. Aside from the regular attractions that you find in any major city such as museums, historic buildings, monuments, cultural centers and stadiums, Managua also has swimming on the beaches of a huge lake, as well as four smaller crater lakes or lagoons within city limits.
Take at least three days to do some exploring in Managua before you move on to Granada. As you drive, make sure to stop at Masaya Volcano National Park. It is located only 30 to 45 minutes from Managua depending on traffic.
It became Nicaragua´s first National Park in 1979. It is also the largest one so far. What makes it unique is the volcano in it. It is one of the few places around the world where you can literally drive up to the main crater. The parking lot is only a couple of meters away from its border.
There are a couple of tiny hills around it that work as lookout points from where you can take a look inside. It is safe to visit because all it does is release gas from its five craters.
This volcano is quite young with around 2,500 years of existence.
After a day enjoying the volcano and learning more about it in its visitor’s center, you can get back in your car and continue driving towards Granada.
Granada is among the top three largest cities in Nicaragua and one of the most popular among visitors. It attracts travelers because of the colonial style of its buildings and the colors they are painted with. Historically this is a sister city to Antigua in Guatemala.
From its early years, its privileged position in the region made it a target for constant invasions from the English, the French, the Dutch, and even pirates for many years. This led to the unique blend of cultures that you see in locals now.
But it is much more than just another pretty place to relax in. It is surrounded by gorgeous forests where you can go hiking or zip lining. The Mombacho Volcano is also nearby and climbing to its crater offers great views. You can learn a lot about the history of the place by visiting its six churches, exploring their tourist center, getting lost in the markets, checking out the museums, and going for a boat ride in one of the world’s largest freshwater lakes in the world (Lake Nicaragua).
It is also a good idea to take at least three days to explore Granada.
From La Antigua to the Highlands - Guatemala
This trip starts in Antigua Guatemala. This is one of the last colonial cities in Central America, to me one of the best preserved. This was the country’s third capital and is packed with restaurants hotels, art galleries, markets, and church ruins every couple of blocks. You will also be able to find tons of tiny parks to chill out in.
If you want to do something more adventurous, go out to its surrounding villages where there are activities such as canopy tours, explore a winery, mountain biking, and coffee tours.
The city is also surrounded by 3 volcanoes and you can climb all three of them.
Stay in one of its colonial style hotels for a couple of nights before you move on to Quetzaltenango (Xela). This is the second largest city in the country and is located in the Guatemalan highlands.
To get to it you have to leave Antigua through RN-14 highway up to where it meets with Interamericana Highway at a town called El Tejar. Make a turn to your left and then keep driving through Interamericana Highway for three and a half hours.
Along the way, you can also take a detour to the indigenous town of Chichicastenango. In it, you will find the largest market in the country and possibly in Central America.
Aside from having a beautiful central park, cathedral, and theater, the city is mainly known among visitors for its parties and its Spanish schools. While in Xela take some time to stay at the park and visit the Casa de la Cultura museum.
It is also a good place to stay at if you are looking for a home-base to explore the surrounding volcanoes and indigenous villages of the region.
Once you have had enough from Xela go back to the road and head to Huehuetenango. They are located only one and a half hours away. In Huehue you find buildings from the 1800s like the theater, the city hall, the cathedral and others each with a rich history. Another must-visit in the area is the Mayan archaeological site called Zaculeu. Aside from seeing the old buildings, there is a museum where you learn all about its history.
If you are a coffee drinker, don’t miss the Coffee Museum ad Huehue. Aside from learning about how coffee is grown, harvested and prepared, you get to try some of the best coffee in the region.
Your last stop is Todos Santos, an hour away from Huehuetenango. It is located on a mountain range and it reaches elevations of 2500 meters.
This is one of the best places in the country to learn about how the Maya culture has evolved over the years. It has a population of descendants from the Mayas that used to live here before Europeans arrived.
San Salvador, Suchitoto and Balsamo Coast - El Salvador
One of my favorite routes to drive through in El Salvador is the one that leaves San Salvador, passes through Suchitoto, and takes you to the Balsamo Coast.
Start at El Salvador’s capital city. I know that not a lot of travelers see it as one of the places that you must visit during your adventure along Central America. However, I suggest taking some time to explore what it has to offer. There are beautiful monuments and historic buildings that are worth checking out.
If you are flying into El Salvador, your plane will definitely land here so take some time to experience what it has to offer. It will surprise you.
Because it is such a small country, places aren’t very far from each other. Suchitoto is only an hour drive away from the capital city. To get there take CA 1W highway and then Suchitoto Highway.
Suchitoto is yet another small town that has managed to maintain its colonial style. When you come here look for a hotel on a high point so you get views of the nearby lake.
This is a cool place to relax as you walk through its streets, try some pupusas and spend some time at the Central Plaza. After you get to know the town head over to the lake and hire a boat tour at the visitor’s center and ask your guide to take you to bird island.
It is a tiny island that tons and tons of birds call home.
After you've spent at least a night in Suchitoto, hop on your car and drive for two hours towards Balsamo Coast.
This is a strip of land with a length of about 25km that goes from Puerto la Libertad to el Zonte Beach. Those are all black sanded beaches with amazing waves. In fact, the region is one of the best spots in all of Central America for surfing.
If you are a beginner it is a good idea to stay in Playa Sunzal. But if you are already an experienced surfer and searching for some excitement, head over to Punta Roca in La Libertad.
But even non-surfers can have ton of fun in the area. There are also activities such as hiking, fishing, partying, and horseback riding. Plus, there is no shortage of restaurants.
Tegucigalpa, La Ceiba and Roatan - Honduras
This adventure starts in Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras. Just as it happens with San Salvador a lot of people tend to pass on it and move on to some other destination. But this is a city with 400 years of history. It has tons of things to offer. Some of the most popular attractions in it are: The paths of Parque La Leona, Parque El Picacho (get a bird’s eye view of the city), Museo Para La Identidad Nacional and ancient artifacts and the archaeology Museum.
Another cool place to visit is St. Michaels Cathedral.
After a couple of days of exploring the city, it's time to move on to La Ceiba. To get there you have to do a six-hour ride through the N-15 and RN-15 highways.
La Ceiba is so popular among travelers that it was nicknamed the "Eco-Tourism Capital of Honduras". Just by hearing that you get the idea that this is a place you must visit. Among the many fun activities that make it popular are: its active nightlife, white sanded Caribbean beaches, a mountain range and a river. Those last three options provide tons of opportunities for adventures like hiking, wildlife watching, class II - IV rafting and other water sports such as diving.
If you have the time spend at least a week here seeing everything it has to offer.
Then catch a ferry and head over to Roatan Island. It only takes about an hour and a half. While you wait, take the chance to enjoy the gorgeous views of the Caribbean Sea.
Once you get to Roatan the first thing you should do after settling into your hotel is to get a cocktail and enjoy the gorgeous beaches.
The next day you can go searching for one of the many companies that offer snorkeling and diving tours among the archipelago. This will allow you to see all sorts of colorful creatures.
NOTE: Keep in mind that the time estimates mentioned above can vary depending on traffic and the amount of stops you make along the way.
There are just a few of my favorite but there are tons of other routes that offer amazing views and will take you to some of the most amazing places you can think of.