The Gringo Trail is an itinerary that includes some of the most popular destinations for travelers in Latin America: Mexico, Central America, and South America. Just like the nickname "Gringos" for United States American and other foreign travelers in Latin America, the term can be somewhat derogatory, especially when used by die-hard travelers who steer clear of busy tourist attractions and well-trod destinations.
I understand where they're coming from. It's thrilling to venture off the beaten path. I've had some of my favorite adventures in remote locations -- but then again, I've also had adventures in some of Central America's most famous destinations. The thing is, the Latin American hotspots typically attributed to The Gringo Trail are popular for a reason. And even within them, you'll find unique neighborhoods and attractions other travelers overlook, just like any popular destination within the United States.
The Gringo Trail
Tikal is arguably the most impressive Mayan archaeological site in Central America. Located in Northern Belize's El Peten region, the ruins can take days to explore. Many travelers stay in the nearby village of Flores and shuttle to and from the Tikal ruins.
Antigua Guatemala is another of Guatemala's most popular destinations for tourists and backpackers: a colonial city cradled by volcanoes in Guatemala's highlands. It's said to be the most popular place to attend Spanish school in all of Latin America.
Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Located in the Guatemala Highlands, Lake Atitlan (Lago de Atitlan) is a volcano-ringed lake with a dozen Mayan villages on its banks.
The most popular villages for travelers are Panajachel and San Pedro La Laguna, though the quieter other villages are worth a visit.
Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, Belize
Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker are Caribbean islands off the coast of northern Belize, near the Belizean Barrier Reef. Ambergris Caye's largest settlement, San Pedro Town, is boisterous and offers tons to do, while smaller Caye Caulker boasts a more chilled-out, backpacker vibe. Both are great places for diving, snorkeling, and other water sports.
The Bay Islands, Honduras
The Honduran Bay Islands include Roatan, Utila, and Guanaja. Roatan is the largest and most popular for travelers; you can even book direct flights there from the United States. Utila is a favorite destination for backpackers and one of the cheapest places to obtain a PADI Scuba certification (it's where I got mine!). Guanaja and the Cayos Cochinos are much less traveled, but still lovely.
The Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
The Nicoya Peninsula on Costa Rica's Pacific Coast is home to a number of popular beaches. The beaches most often linked to The Gringo Trail are Playa Tamarindo (more touristy) and Playa Montezuma (with more of a surfer feel).
Playa Jaco, Costa Rica
Playa Jaco, on Costa Rica's Pacific coast, is extremely popular with surfers.
The beaches themselves aren't the nicest in Costa Rica, but the breaks are famous, and the village of Jaco is a lively spot for dining and nightlife.
Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
Located on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast, Puerto Viejo offers a more typically Caribbean -- though still uniquely Costa Rican -- flavor for travelers and backpackers. Though already less crowded than Costa Rica's Pacific Coast, even more remote beaches and villages are easy to get to from Puerto Viejo.
Bocas del Toro, Panama
Not far from the Costa Rican border on the Caribbean side, the Bocas del Toro Archipelago is increasingly popular with travelers, particularly Bocas Town on Isla Colon and Isla Bastimentos. The diving in Bocas del Toro is famously fantastic.
South American destinations on The Gringo Trail usually include the ancient archaeological sites of Machu Picchu, Peru, and Monte Verde, Chile.
Tip: One of the best ways to avoid tourists on The Gringo Trail is to travel in the off-season, or the Central America "rainy season". The timing varies from region to region. A few storms are certain, but it rarely rains enough to seriously impact your trip -- and the vegetation is much more vibrant!