best beaches in central america

5 Best Beaches in Central America that are Better (and cheaper!) than the Caribbean

The best beaches in Central America are closer than you think.

With summer travel plans firmly in place, this is the time of year I begin thinking about holiday travel. The week between Christmas and New Years is notoriously the most expensive and crowded week of the year in beach destinations around the world. Accommodations, flights and even activities all come with “festive season” price tags.

If you’re looking to get away over the holidays, check out some of these destinations in Central America where you can enjoy warm weather, clear Caribbean water, and time to relax with your family all at a fraction of the cost of a Caribbean island vacation. Plus, it’s becoming easier and cheaper than ever to book direct flights into hub cities like Panama City, Panama, San Jose, Costa Rica and Managua, Nicaragua. (And make sure you avoid baggage fees by packing a good carry-on.)

Here are a few of the best beaches in Central America:

Bocas del Toro Panama

Thanks to its remote location, Bocas del Toro is still relatively undeveloped when compared to other areas in Central America. While it may be a little rough around the edges, this also means that travel to Bocas del Toro is still relatively inexpensive– making it easily one of the best beaches in Central America.

bocas del toro with kids

Here are a few great family-friendly hotels in Bocas del Toro. Prices at the Red Frog Lodge, for example, start at only $53 per person per night. So all you need is good beach towel.

The Corn Islands Nicaragua

Located about 70km offshore in the Caribbean waters of Nicaragua, the Corn Islands feature beautifully remote horseshoe bays. Here you’ll find a Creole population living in colorful wooden houses and a thriving lobster fishing industry.

best beaches in central america

You can find rooms on Little Corn island for a low as $20 per night or a casita at the Casa Iguana for only $75 per night.

For more on the Corn Islands, check our this comprehensive Little Corn Islands Travel Guide.

Puerto Viejo Costa Rica 

Not too long ago, the only travelers to the sleepy seaside settlement of Puerto Viejo were avid surfers. While this is no longer the case, Puerto Viejo has retained it’s charm and laid-back attitude.

best beaches in central america

A string of Caribbean beaches, rainforest fruit farms and even a jaguar rescue center keep the entire family happy entertained during your stay.

At Pachamama, one of the jungle eco-lodges in Puerto Viejo, you can book a villa for a family of for less than $200 per night even in peak season.

Punta Gorda Belize

While Placencia and the Caribbean coast of Belize most certainly do get crowded, particularly doing holiday seasons, the unpretentious southern town of Punta Gorda remains blissfully low key year round.

Though it lacks the beaches of Placencia, there are plenty of docks from which to take a dip with your snorkel gear in the Gulf of Honduras’ blue waters. Becoming increasingly popular for expats looking to live internationally, PG also boasts a good variety of mid-priced guesthouses, hotels and B&Bs.

best beaches in central america

Head to the town center’s park on Wednesday, Saturday and, to a lesser extent, Monday and Friday to enjoy market mornings, when villagers from the mostly Maya settlements of southern Toledo come to town to buy, sell and barbecue around the central park. (You’ll want to bring a compact reusable bag to carry your goodies.)

Book a stay at the Belcampo Lodge, also a working farm with suites large enough for the entire family to spread out. Rates for the suites start at $380 per night.

Lake Atitlan Guatemala

Lake Atitlán is widely considered as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Aldous Huxley famously compared it to Italy’s Lake Como… “Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing.

If you’re looking to get off the beaten path, and explore beyond a traditional Caribbean experience, consider Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. It may be lesser known, but it’s still one of the best beaches in Central America!

best beaches in central america

Inspired by nature and created from volcanic stone, adobe and palm our spacious lakeside suites are individually appointed with comfortable hand hewn king beds, fine linens, intricate woven textiles and indigenous antiques, Laguna Lodge offers excellent value for money at $345 per night for a family of four (kids must be 13 or older).

What other amazing, and inexpensive, Central American beaches would you add to the list?