Because of its tropical climate, rugged terrain, and large forests, Central America is rich with waterways, lakes, and lagoons. Places with water afford some of the most amazing views in nature. You can just revel in the view and take lots of photos or get in on the action and go kayaking, snorkeling, swimming, fishing, or boating. Check out this list for the best lakes to visit in Central America.
Five Blues Lake National Park is centered on the gorgeous and intensely blue lake of its name. The name refers to different colors of blue in the water that are a result of light filtered through the rain forest. Aside from offering regular lake activities like swimming and boat tours, you can also explore its surroundings, which include limestone hills and caves. The park is also home to more than 200 bird species and about 20 mammal species. What you are less likely to see is a bunch of other humans; this park is relatively new and still under the radar, relatively speaking.
Atitlan Lake, known as the most beautiful lake in Guatemala, is a large body of water that formed centuries ago when a huge volcano collapsed. It is now surrounded by three newer but dormant volcanoes and 12 villages. Popular activities here include boat rides, jet skiing, diving, and swimming. Its location also offers lots of things to do, such as volcano climbing, partying in Panajachel, and visiting Mayan museums that are filled with artifacts found in its surroundings and even underwater.
You'll find Peten Itza Lake in the northern region of the country in the Peten Department. This is the second largest lake in Guatemala, and travelers visit the region to explore archaeological sites such as Tikal and El Mirador; there are at least 27 sites around the lake. The main city of the department is on a small island on the southern end of the lake, and its hotels offer amazing views of the lake, especially at sunset. Peten Itza is the principal water source or home to about 100 indigenous species that include crocodiles, jaguars, pumas, deer, parrots, toucans, and macaws.
Izabal Lake is the largest lake in Guatemala, and the largest river of the country drains into it. The main attraction here is taking a boat tour around the lake and into Rio Dulce, which goes from the lake to the Caribbean. The place is known for its mangroves and rich wildlife and is home to several species, including the manatee, jaguar, spider monkey, and howler monkey, along with many birds.
The well-preserved colonial Castillo de San Felipe de Lara can be reached by boat from the lake. Rio Dulce was one one of the main ports of Central America during the colonial period, and the fort was built to guard this lake against pirate attacks. There are also sunken ships nearby.
Lake Arenal is Costa Rica's largest lake, which is man-made. It is right at the foot of the active Arenal volcano. Here you can fish for rainbow bass (guapote) and find world-class windsurfing; the best time for this is March. You can also go on canopy tours and climb the volcano for amazing views and great opportunities for wildlife viewing.
Cano Negro is a shallow lake that is only around during the rainy months. In December when the rain stops, it starts shrinking, and by February it is gone. You will find it in the northern region of Costa Rica. It's an amazing place to visit for bird watchers during the second half of the year when flocks of ducks, herons, and other waterfowl gather there. It is so important for local and global wildlife that it has been designated a wetland of international importance under the RAMSAR convention. The best way to get to Cano Negro is on a boat on the Frio River.
Yojoa is the largest lake in Honduras. It formed within a depression that resulted from the formation of surrounding volcanoes, and the whole area is a volcanic field with craters. You can drive along one of its sides on a trip from Tegucigalpa to San Pedro Sula. The lake is a rest area where you can find restaurants offering fresh fish and gorgeous views of the water and the nearby mountains. Travelers who want to spend more time here can go fishing, go searching for one of the 400 bird species that live in the area, or check out the local plantations.
The Lagoon of Guaimoreto in Honduras is a small reservoir of fresh water that shelters bio-diverse flora and fauna of the area that is separated from the Caribbean Sea by a thin strip of land. Visitors can take a boat ride through its mangroves and wetlands while searching for local flora and fauna. You can also use a canoe or a kayak to explore the waterways or join the locals for a fishing adventure using traditional methods.
Coatepeque Lake called a crater lake, formed in a volcanic caldera. You'll find naturally heated hot springs and island in it with a Mayan site on it. You can take boat rides or go jet skiing, swimming, or kayaking on the lake. Restaurants offering stuffed tortillas and seafood are nearby if you need to refuel.
Lake Ilopango is also a crater lake; it's part of a volcanic complex and the second largest one in the country. Among the attributes that make it unique are its islands, filled with birds of different species, that can be reached on a boat tour. There are also what locals call sunken mountains. These are bumps of land that never reached the surface during the eruptions, and they are quite popular among divers.
Lake Guija straddles Guatemala and El Salvador, and it also has a volcanic origin and is surrounded by three volcanoes. The El Salvadoran side has several small islands where archaeologists have found pre-Columbian artifacts and ceramics. This site was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List in September 1992. Lake Guija is relatively uncrowded, but hotels and restaurants are being built around it.
Lake Nicaragua, also known as Lago de Nicaragua, is the largest lake in Central America. The lake's history includes Caribbean pirates who used it to assault the lakeside city of Granada. It is also home to Ometepe Island, which includes two volcanoes. Near Granada, you also find a group of islets, where many different bird species live. Taking a boat tour to this area is a fun option.
Gatun Lake is a large, man-made lake that was a result of the construction of the Panama Canal and the creation of the Gatun Dam. When the dam was built in 1913, this was the largest man-made lake in the world. The best way to explore it is by taking cruises of the Panama Canal. You can also take boat tours that get you closer to the wildlife and let you see parts of the lake that you can't view on a larger cruise.
Bayano Lake, in eastern Panama, is the second largest in the country. It is also man-made and was created in 1976 along with the construction of a dam. What makes it unique is that on its shores you can find a complex of three caves. During the rainy season, visitors can take boat tours deep into the caves. Don't be surprised if you run into a few of the bats that call the caves home on your boat tour. Bird watching, kayaking, and fishing are typical activities in the area.