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Central America

The seven countries of Central America are embracing tourism – which means a ‘new world’ of natural wonders, pristine coasts, dynamic cities, colonial towns and Mayan culture, says Adam Coulter

for the past 20 years has enjoyed political stability and steady tourism growth. The region comprises seven countries


that connect Mexico to South America – in a thin arc about 1,500kms long – with the Pacific to the west and the Caribbean to the east. Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panama are a wonderful mix of Mayan culture and stunning natural beauty, with breathtaking landscapes of smouldering volcanoes and untouched coasts, mixed in with vibrant cities and perfectly preserved colonial towns. This year is a particularly good time to

sell Central America as all eyes are on it in the build-up to the end of the Mayan Year on December 21, 2012. The three countries with Mayan connections, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, are planning a series of events that will culminate in a spectacular series of celebrations on the big day itself. With Mexico and El Salvador, the three countries launched the Ruta Maestra Mundo Maya earlier this year, which connects more than 70 Mayan sites in the five countries, accessible by land, air or sea ( Also, this year has been declared the

Year of Sustainable Tourism in Central America, making this a main focus area for promoting the destination (both as a

40 May 2012 •

entral America has had a long and turbulent history, beset with civil wars and coups, but

region and each individual country). In the UK the region is well

represented by the Central America Tourism Authority (CATA), which runs a focused marketing campaign and promotes the annual Central America Tourism Market, which this year takes place in Honduras (October 2-6). Central America is still very much a

niche tourism destination for UK visitors, partly due to a lack of knowledge of the area, but also because there are still no direct flights. Last year it saw a small rise in British visitors, from 98,294 in 2010 to 99,926, with El Salvador and Nicaragua experiencing the biggest growth. Overall, Central America received a

total of 11,969,430 foreign visitors in 2011, an increase of one per cent over 2010. This year – due to the Mayan activity – should see a further increase.

What’s New Panama sees the bulk of new hotel openings this year, including Trump Ocean Club (www. and the Panamera (www.waldorfastoria. com), and by contrast, a 60-room boutique-style Grace Panama (www. In Costa Rica La Kukula Lodge

( is a new eco-development in Costa Rica’s Caribbean jungle, just a few hundred metres from the white-sand beaches of

Puerto Limon and Playa Chiquita. Iberia added a fifth weekly flight between Madrid and Panama in January. Juan Santamaria Airport in San Jose,

Costa Rica, completed a three-year refurbishment programme last October. A new $43m terminal has opened in Liberia, Guanacaste, Costa Rica. A new airport is being built on the

island of Ometepe, Nicaragua, which should be open by this summer.

Tourism Talk PILAR CANO

Director, Central America Tourism Authority “We saw an increase in

European visitors last year and expect that trend to continue this year as we continue to promote Central America in the main European markets. “There are two additional reasons to

visit this year: those interested in the Mayan culture will find many special events in Guatemala, Honduras and Belize in the run-up to December 21, which marks the beginning of a new era in the Mayan calendar. “Besides exploring amazing

archaeological sites, visitors can actually meet, even stay with, members of the Mayan community and take part in their everyday activities and their rituals. “2012 is also the Year of Sustainable

Tourism in Central America, so we are promoting existing and new initiatives that help preserve the region’s natural

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