Bucket List Essentials From Mexico to Panama

03 OCT 2016
by: Taylor Choi | posted in: Adventure, Travel, Bucket List | comments: 1
Can you name every country between Mexico and Panama? Hint: there are eight countries in total, and we've already told you two of them! To the south of Mexico you have Central America, a region that includes Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.

With 7% of the world's biodiversity, the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, ruins from two ancient civilizations and natural wonders like waterfalls and volcanoes, it would take a lifetime to explore all that this region has to offer. So we have compiled a bucket list of essential things that you can't miss. Stay tuned as we release new items each week, all summer long!

1. Kayaking the Panama Canal in Panama


It's the moment you've all been waiting for - #1 on our bucket list goes to kayaking the Panama Canal. Embark on this tour for a kayaking experience you (literally) cannot get anywhere else.
The Panama Canal is much more than just a waterway built to transport vessels from one ocean to other. There are vast zones of tropical forests, national parks, and native flora and fauna. There are endless channels to explore, which can be done in an expedition kayak. Kayaking through the Panama Canal allows you to see all that it has to offer - search for wildlife throughout your journey and see the impressive Miraflores and Pedro Miguel locks. You can even go to its shores, which are covered in tropical forests.

A feat of modern engineering, the Panama Canal is a sight to behold. It's even better when you can explore it on a kayak - don't miss out on this opportunity to experience history and adventure.

Good for: Families, groups, couples, individuals

Best time to visit: Mid-December to May, when the weather is fairly dry.

Things to look out for: Look out for monkeys in the trees of the forest!

2. Scuba Dive in Belize's Great Blue Hole


Marine conservationist Jacques Cousteau ranked the Great Blue Hole in Belize as one of the top 10 diving locations in the world, so it's a must for our bucket list. A submarine sinkhole over 400 feet deep, this natural wonder provides an unparalleled diving experience.

Dive into the water to meet several different species of fish, sharks, and corals. Since it was once a cave, there are also plenty of stalactites and other natural formations to explore, which makes this one of the most unique open water dives in the Americas. This dive is perfect for recreational scuba divers and scuba enthusiasts alike! If you're not a certified scuba diver, no worries - you can go snorkeling and see just as many amazing things. And if you don't want to get wet, you can charter a plane or a helicopter to fly over this natural wonder and get an aerial perspective.

Travelers come from far and wide just to see the Great Blue Hole, so you know it'll be worthwhile!

Good for: Groups, couples, individuals

Best time to visit: Late November-April, during the dry season.

Things to look out for: Spectacular coral formations are scattered throughout, so keep an eye out!

3. Cave Tubing in Belize


Cave tubing is an incredibly unique and popular experience in Belize. It involves floating down a river that has carved a path through the Earth, creating a cave in the process. Not only will cave tubing allow you to learn about the rich history of the area, but you will encounter magnificent natural cave features along the way.

Belize offers a wide variety of caves to explore and go tubing through. Nohoch Che'en is an archaeological reserve consisting of a network of limestone caves. Barton Creek Cave is a single-passage stream cave, which makes it perfect for cave tubing. At Jaguar Cave, you'll zipline off a suspended platform right to the cave's entrance, where you'll enter the water to start your tubing adventure.

There are many different caves nestled into Belize's beautiful landscape, all of which are worthy of exploring. No matter which cave you decide go tubing through, you're guaranteed to have an amazing time.

Good for: Families, groups, couples, individuals

Best time to visit: December-March, during the dry season.

Things to look out for: Some caves still have ancient artifacts and cultural remains left by the Maya.

4. Coffee Tour in Guatemala


This coffee tour in Antigua, Guatemala is perfect for coffee lovers, but is also fun and educational for non-drinkers as well. Learn how your morning cup of joe is made from seed to cup on these tours.

You can travel to a coffee farm, where an experienced guide will teach you the history behind it. Tour the entire plantation to see the mills in action, leaving you with a deeper appreciation of how much labor goes into your single cup of coffee. You can even taste the different types of Guatemalan coffee during a professional cupping tour, or try your hand at latte art. You can also visit a 100% organic coffee farm in Panajachel to see how organic coffee is farmed and processed.

On your trip to Guatemala, taking this ecotour is a must for your bucket list. Learning how an everyday item is made and processed enlightens, educates, and is fun for everyone!

Good for: Families, groups, couples, individuals

Best time to visit: May-November, during the off season

Things to look out for: Special trees grown between the coffee plants to provide them with shade

5. Volcano Board Cerro Negro Volcano in Nicaragua


I bet you've never boarded down a volcano before - well, here's your chance! Board down the Cerro Negro Volcano in Leon, Nicaragua, the most popular location for volcano boarding in Central America.

To volcano board, you have to hike up the volcano first - the views and thrill of gliding down are definitely worth the hike. For a spectacular ride down the volcano, riders will put on protective jumpsuits and cruise down the black sand slopes. Go at your own pace - you can take a more tranquil descent or rip down at a speed of almost 60 miles per hour!

The beautiful city of Leon is where you'll discover some of the most amazing volcanoes, including Cerro Negro. Volcano boarding is the perfect way to surround yourself by nature, but have some fun while you're doing it.

Good for: Families, groups, individuals, couples

Best time to visit: December-February, when the dry season is less severe

Things to look out for: The volcano will occasionally spew ash from the top of the cone, so watch out!

6. White Water Rafting in Costa Rica

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When you're in Costa Rica, white water rafting is one of the most popular activities to do and gets your heart racing. With numerous rivers to raft on, you can easily cross this one off your bucket list!

White water rafting on the Balsa River is good for first-timers. You'll navigate rapids like "Congo Loco" and "Rock around the Croc" - this is a Class II/III trip, which means the rapids are less intense. The Savegre River is also popular for beginners, but offers some excitement as you cruise down the river. For a Class III/IV experience, the Sarapiqui River will propel you through rapids like "The Terminator" and "Dos Locos." You'll also get great views of the lush rainforest on your trip down the river. The Chorro River will take you through drops and and steep runs on Class IV/V rapids - you'll also navigate through a narrow canyon and see the impressive rock walls and cliffs.

White water rafting is the perfect opportunity to see the rivers, jungles, and mountains of Costa Rica while also maneuvering around rapids and rocks. No matter which river you choose, you're in for the adventure of a lifetime.

Good for: Families, groups, couples

Best time to visit: May-November, when the rivers are up due to the rainy season

Things to look out for: Wildlife in the jungle along the river bank

7. Scuba Dive Utila in Honduras

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If you've ever been remotely interested in scuba diving, Utila is the place to go. A small island in Honduras, the dive sites are world-famous. It is the smallest of the Bay Islands in a region that includes the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second-largest in the world.

There are roughly 60 different dive sites scattered throughout Utila, so finding one that's perfect for you isn't hard - caves and multiple wrecks sites are like hidden treasures you can find on your dive. Since Utila borders the reef, there are numerous fish and coral species you can see on your dive. The wide variety of sites is great for beginner and expert scuba divers alike - you can even get certified and learn the basics on a Discover Scuba Diving course on the island.

Located off the mainland, Utila is the perfect place for an uncrowded scuba diving trip. The island prides itself on its local flavor, so after your dive, immerse yourself in the culture of Honduras.

Good for: Families, groups, beginners, experts

Best time to visit: March-September

Things to look out for: Whale sharks like to migrate through Utila, so keep an eye out and you might spot one!

8. Hanging Bridges and Canopy Tour in Costa Rica

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The hanging bridges of Costa Rica allow you to tour the forests from above - the trail is suspended miles above the forest ground. If that's not enough thrill for you, canopy tours allow you to zip through the rainforest for the experience of a lifetime.

The Arenal Hanging Bridges in La Fortuna are an environmental project that spans two miles, allowing you to see the rainforest from a bird's eye view. Perfect for bird watchers and nature lovers, the trail is relatively smooth - great for kids! You can also walk across the Monteverde Hanging Bridges, where you can hike through the cloud forest canopy. After taking a leisurely walk through the bridges, try a canopy tour, where you'll zipline through the rainforest. You'll have amazing views of the surrounding mountains and rivers as you fly like a bird through the air.

Whether you decide to go at your own pace on the hanging bridges or fly through the forest on cables, you're guaranteed amazing views and the experience of a lifetime.

Good for: Families, couples, groups, individuals

Best time to visit: May-November, during the rainy season. You may get wet, but the forest will be a beautiful, brilliant green!

Things to look out for: Look for an incredible view of the Arenal volcano on your hike

9. See the Arch of Cabo San Lucas in Mexico

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The Arch of Cabo San Lucas is a distinctive rock formation located at the southern tip of Cabo - it's over three stories tall and was formed by massive erosion. Nestled in the Sea of Cortez, the Arch is the perfect place for many different water activities.

Stand up paddle boarding is a traveler favorite at the Arch - you can also snorkel in the open waters, which is home to tropical fish and marine birds. Take a glass bottom kayak into the sea, which enables you to see all the marine life right underneath you. When you need a break, lay out on Lovers Beach and bask in the warm tropical sun.

Going to see the Arch is perfect for families - kayaking, snorkeling, and stand up paddle boarding allow everyone in the family to enjoy themselves! The clear waters and warm breeze are the ideal environment for some fun in the sun.

Good for: Families, couples, individuals, groups

Best time to visit: May-June, when tourist season has died down, but storms have not yet hit the coast.

Things to look out for: Look out for the sea lion colony near the Arch!

10. Snorkel Shark Ray Alley in Belize


Shark Ray Alley in Belize is the perfect halfway point on our bucket list. Fishermen used to clean their fishing nets in this area, attracting nurse sharks and rays looking for a free snack. Now they permanently inhabit the area, making it the perfect snorkeling site.

Shark Ray Alley is part of the greater Hol Chan Marine Reserve, a protected area that's home to a large abundance of marine life - it's one of the most popular sites to snorkel in Belize. You'll ride out on a boat to Shark Ray Alley, where friendly rays will swim right up to you. Once you're snorkeling, the nurse sharks will come out to play and the manta rays will glide around you in the clear water. It's the perfect place to swim and experience the marine life in their natural habitat.

Snorkeling at Shark Ray Alley is a must when you're in Belize. Snorkeling in the clear water among friendly sharks and playful rays is an experience you'll regret you hadn't done sooner.

Good for: Families, groups, beginners, experts

Best time to visit: Late November to mid-April is during the peak dry season

Things to look out for: If you're lucky, you might be able to see loggerhead turtles!

11. Whale Watching in Panama

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Every year, several thousand humpback whales travel down to the warmer waters of Panama to mate or give birth. As a result, it's the perfect time to hop on a whale watching cruise and witness them in their natural habitat.

The Pearl Islands are considered one of the best places in the world to go whale watching - it's the perfect weekend getaway trip if you're staying in Panama City. Isla Tobaga, or the Island of Flowers, is also a popular destination for whale watching. This small volcanic island, also just 12 miles out from Panama City, offers beautiful views away from all the hustle and bustle of city life.

Witnessing these majestic creatures migrate south is a wonderful experience, and Panama is a great place to do it. Wherever you see them, you're guaranteed to be filled with awe and a deeper appreciation for the ocean's greatest mammal.

Good for: Families, couples, groups, individuals

Best time to visit: June-October

Things to look out for: While you're out looking for whales, you might spot some dolphins too!

12. Swim with Whale Sharks in Mexico

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Whale sharks are a slow-moving, filter feeding shark - they're the biggest fish in the world! These gentle giants don't pose any significant threat to humans, so they're fun to swim with as you explore the ocean.

Mexico is a popular destination to swim with whale sharks since they like to inhabit warm, tropical waters. Try snorkeling with the sharks in their natural habitat near Baja California. Snorkeling hin this area helps the Whale Shark Conservation Project, which dedicates its efforts to the conservation of whale sharks. You can also encounter these magnificent creatures in Riviera Maya, where they gather in greater numbers than anywhere else.

You don't have to be a daredevil to swim with whale sharks; it can be a great family adventure, too! Swimming alongside these giant sharks is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so it definitely had to have a place on our bucket list.

Good for: Families, groups, individuals, couples

Best time to visit: October-March is whale shark season

Things to look out for: The Riviera Maya is home to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second-longest barrier reef in the world.

13. Temples of Tikal in Guatemala

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The most famous ruins in Guatemala, Tikal is a must for our bucket list - it was the capital of a state that became one of the most powerful kingdoms of the Maya. Known for its temples that tower over the plaza, these ruins are part of Tikal National Park, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

The Grand Plaza is the most recognized place of the site, and is surrounded by Temples I and II. There are five temples in total, and they all stand over 100 feet tall. Temple IV is actually over 200 feet tall, making it the tallest pre-Columbian structure in the Americas. Climb these towers and take in the beauty of the park from great heights. Exploring these ancient ruins in its entirety usually takes a full day (or longer), especially if you decide to visit any of the surrounding attractions.

Many people also travel to Tikal from San Ignacio, Belize just to see the impressive architecture that has withheld the tests of time. No matter where you're coming from, this site is definitely worth seeing.

Good for: Families, groups, individuals, couples

Best time to visit: November-April, when there's less rain.

Things to look out for: Look out for parrots, toucans, and monkeys in the jungle!

14. Cerro Verde National Park in El Salvador

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Cerro Verde National Park, or Parque Nacional Los Volcanes to the locals, is a large national park in El Salvador. It includes three volcanoes within hiking distance: Cerro Verde, Izalco, and Santa Ana. Together, they form a breathtaking landscape unlike any other.

There are different ways to explore these volcanoes, but the best way is by hiking. Izalco was formed in 1770, and has continuous flaring eruptions, granting it the nickname "Lighthouse of the Pacific." This trek can be tough, and is better for more experienced hikers. Cerro Verde volcano is extinct, its last eruption over 2500 years ago. However, it is home to the "dwarf forest,"where you can find low-lying bushes and giant agaves on your hike — you'll also get a great panoramic view of Izalco. Santa Ana, also called Ilamatepec, is the tallest volcano in El Salvador. It has four craters, one of which held a lagoon until its most recent eruption in 2005. Venture up to one of the craters for a picturesque view of the other volcanoes and the nature surrounding it.

A mere 40 miles from El Salvador's capital lies a national treasure — three volcanoes that offer magnificent views of the beautiful countryside is a must for our (and another other traveler's) bucket list.

Good for: Couples, individuals, groups

Best time to visit: December-April, right after rainy season has ended and the landscape is lush and green.

Things to look out for: The cloud forest on top of Cerro Verde's crater is one of the few in El Salvador!

15. Horseback Ride Cristóbal Island in Panama

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Cristóbal Island, or Isla San Cristóbal, is one of the many islands that makes up the Bocas del Toro archipelago in Panama. Translated, its name means "Christopher's Island," after famous explorer Christopher Columbus.

Horseback riding is a great activity for venturing around the island — ride through the heart of the jungle to one of the vistas overlooking the ocean and other islands. You can also ride through grassy meadows to the local villages and visit the artisan stores with crafts made by the native Ngöbe people.

This quaint little island is perfect for experiencing nature's landscapes — and what better way to do this than on the back of a horse? Whether you spend one day or a whole weekend on the island, we guarantee you'll be glad you went.

Good for: Families, couples, individuals, groups

Best time to visit: December-April, after the most tourist-heavy month (November) and visibility isn't interrupted by rain.

Things to look out for: Look out for cacao trees and howler monkeys in the jungle!

16. Volcano Hike in Guatemala


With over 20 different volcanoes located in Guatemala, hiking up at least one of them is a must for our bucket list. Guatemala is home to three active volcanoes, all of which continue to spew ash and lava from their tops periodically.

Santa Maria volcano is active, but has not explosively erupted since 1902, when a large blast created a crater that's been building up lava flows and domes. You can hike to the summit of this majestic volcano at sunrise and take in the incredible views. Neighboring Santa Maria is Volcan Santiaguito; if you're lucky, you might even see a small eruption! Pacaya volcano is a popular destination for more non-experienced hikers — climb to the peak and see bright red flowing lava for the ultimate volcanic experience.

A volcano hike in Guatemala is a great trip for anyone looking to get in touch with their adventurous side. Take a break from the bustling city life and trek up to the peaks for beautiful views painted by nature. This adventure is perfect for clearing your mind and getting some air in your lungs.

Good for: Couples, individuals, groups

Best time to visit: End of January-April when tourist season has died down. This is during the dry season, meaning blue skies and sunshine.

Things to look out for: Toast marshmallows on the steam vents for a mid-hike treat!

17. Cano Island in Costa Rica

Cano Island Costa Rica

Cano Island is located off the west coast of Costa Rica and is encompassed within a massive Pacific Ocean current, making it one of the best places to see a diversity of marine life that you'd rarely see anywhere else. Located about an hour and a half by boat from the Osa Peninsula, the Island is easily accessible from Drake Bay or Uvita.

We recommend scuba diving these rich waters to experience the best that Cano Island has to offer. And if you aren't scuba certified, it is easy to complete a PADI Open Water Course, even if you have no prior experience. You can read everything you need to know about getting certified in this blog post. You can also go snorkeling at Cano Island and have an equally awesome adventure!

This remote island may be small, but it is teeming with ocean creatures, coral beds, and less-crowded beaches. A protected national park and biological reserve, Cano Island is the perfect destination for anyone that wants to get away from touristy beaches and explore a beautiful, tropical island largely untouched by human hands.

Good for: Families, couples, groups, individuals

Best time to visit: July through February is migration season for whales, so you might catch sight of a humpback whale on your way to the Island during this season!

Things to look out for: White tip reef sharks, large schools of fish, a variety of rays, moray eels and more!

18. La Fortuna Waterfall in Costa Rica


In the midst of dense forest greenery lies the La Fortuna Waterfall in Costa Rica. This waterfall is located at the base of the dormant Chato Volcano and is fed by the Tenorio River, which spills over a 229 foot cliff to form this natural marvel.

You can take a day trip to La Fortuna Waterfall as part of a guided hike, horseback riding tour, or even as part of a combo tour that includes zip lining, canyoning and more. And after you visit, be sure to check out nearby Arenal Volcano and all that it has to offer.

Admission to the Waterfall is $11 USD for adults and $5 for children under the age of 12, and there are facilities and bathrooms available for guests. For added safety, there is also a lifeguard on duty. To get to the falls, you must hike down 400+ steps along a staircase built into the hillside. The hike, although steep, is worth the view — plus, you can cool off with a swim under the falls!

Good for: Families, groups, couples, individuals

Best time to visit: Late April to November is the rainy season, meaning there are less tourists, cheaper hotels and more water pouring over the Falls!

Things to look out for: Keep an eye out for a colorful toucan or one of the sloths that call this area home.

19. Lake Atitlán in Guatemala


In the Western highlands of Guatemala lies Lake Atitlán, a stunning volcanic lake, the deepest one in all of Central America. The lake is shaped by the steep cliffs that surround it, and by three volcanoes on its south side, two of which are still active. But don't worry, Volcano Atitlán has not erupted since 1853, and Volcano San Pedro, the shortest and most-climbed volcano, has not erupted since ancient times.

To experience this natural wonder, you can kayak in the Lake's sparkling waters, mountain bike along the trails around the lake, or for the more adventurous at heart, paraglide over the lake and experience the sensation of soaring among the volcanoes!

The lake is also ringed by small villages, including Panajachel, which is the most-visited town and a transport hub for visitors. These villages are still influenced by Maya culture, and traditional dress is still worn. You can take a guided tour of the area or venture out on your own to experience the culture and local flavor.

Good for: Families, groups, couples, individuals.

Best time to visit: Late October to early November, when the landscape is lush from winter rains and there are fewer tourists.

Things to look out for: Try taking a launcha (taxi boat), for a unique way of getting around the area.

 20. Tulum Ruins in Mexico


Tulum is ruined city in the Yucatan Peninsula that was one of the last cities ever built and inhabited by the great Maya civilization. This well-preserved site is particularly famous for being perched on top of a cliff that overlooks the beautiful, turquoise Caribbean Sea. And while it's a popular tourist attraction, Tulum is significantly less crowded than Mexico's other famous Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza and Teotihuacan.

To explore the ruins, travelers can take guided tours around the site and explore the surrounding caves and caverns. You should also try snorkeling in the nearby cenotes, which are crystal clear pools of fresh water that lead deep into underwater caves. Or, if you're looking for something a bit more relaxing, you can simply lay out on the great beaches below the ruins.

Tulum is a great destination on its own, but it is also an easy day-trip for those who prefer to stay in Cancun or Playa del Carmen. So no matter where you stay, make sure that this ancient, beachfront Maya attraction is on your bucket list!

Good for: Families, couples, groups, individuals.

Best time to visit: Between November and January, after hurricane season has passed.

Things to look out for: Huge iguanas & a great beach below the ruins (bring your swim suits!)
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