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Guatemala Articles, Research, & Resource Guides

If you’re here to learn about Guatemala, you’ve found the right place! We’ve written dozens of articles and guides about investing and living in Guatemala.

Whether you’re interested in learning about the different cities in Guatemala, residency or investment laws, we’ve got you covered. There isn’t much about Guatemala that you won’t find here.

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If you’re looking for property in Guatemala to buy or rent, head over to our Guatemala Real Estate page.

Expats thinking outside the box means finding destinations that can offer a combination of adventure and the challenge of living in a different environment. The Latin Tropics have a number of locations that can offer both an adventurous lifestyle and the opportunity to step outside your comfort zone.

The list below contains locations that range from rustic, provincial places, where you can immerse yourself in a new culture, to regions where high adrenaline activities are the theme of the day. These unique spots are not just for visiting but, for those who dare to try something different, places where even the most adventurous expats can find long-term fulfillment.

Locales for Expats Thinking Outside the Box

The list below is by no means exhaustive. However, these destinations are great examples of places where you can find more than just your run-of-the-mill expat hotspot.

expats thinking outside the box


Boca Chica Island, Panama

For those looking to escape from the 24/2/7/365 rush of modern urban communities, Boca Chica, Panama is the perfect getaway. This 400-acre private island, just a mile off the Panamanian coast and six miles from the town of the same name, combines natural beauty, world-class sport fishing, snorkeling and diving, and tremendous investment potential.

Boca Chica’s close proximity to Enrique Malek International Airport in David makes it easy to access this lush tropical oasis.  Once experienced, it is easy to see that Boca Chica is a desirable place for relocation.

expats thinking outside the box


Crucita, Ecuador

Adrenaline junkies who are looking for a place that combines high energy sports with the ambiance of a small tropical fishing village will find that rare blend in Crucita, Ecuador. This beachside town has become known as a premier destination for paragliding and hang gliding with stretches of open beaches, constant Pacific breezes, and a number of businesses that cater to “gliders.”

Given the small population (12,000) and rustic beach lifestyle, Crucita may be the ideal spot for adventurers who are looking for the magic of that “endless summer” without the tourist-centric atmosphere that many beach towns have. More than just a place to visit and play, Crucita has potential for investment while maintaining the irresistible draw of being a location where high-flyers can spread their wings.

santa teresa costa rica

Zanzabar Photography

Santa Teresa/Mal Pais, Costa Rica

Nestled on the southern tip of Costa Rica’s Nicoya peninsula, Santa Teresa (and the surrounding region of Mal Pais) has become a haven for those expats seeking a life less cluttered. The region around Santa Teresa has become a go-to spot for surfers from all over the world seeking to find that perfect wave without the over-development that marks so many beach communities in the region. Surf camps and shops are plentiful; there are even two surf camps – Chica Surf Adventures and Pura Vida Adventures – that are for women only.

The perfect balance to the high-energy world of surfing, the region has also become home to a growing number of yoga retreats and alternative health spas. Close proximity to the first national park in Costa Rica, Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve and Curu Wildlife Refuge, provides special opportunities to experience a wealth of biodiversity.

Needless to say, this symbiotic merging of meditation, natural wonders, and adrenaline sports has made the Mal Pais region a popular place to visit and play. While there is an increasing push to develop more contemporary living in Santa Teresa, it is still possible to live there and immerse yourself in the eclectic ambiance of rustic small villages where the spirit of “pura vida” remains alive and well.

expats thinking outside the box

Paul Krawczuk

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Nature lovers could ask for no better place to live than the Galapagos Islands, off the coast of Ecuador. While the Galapagos archipelago is made up of 19 islands, only five are inhabited: Baltra, Floreana, Isabela, San Cristobal, and Santa Cruz. The largest city, Puerto Ayora, home to about 10,000 people, is located on Santa Cruz.

Long admired as one of the premier destinations for wildlife viewing, this group of islands is home to various types of plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth. The few villages and towns scattered throughout the archipelago are rustic settlements that are reminiscent of an earlier, less complicated time.

Living in a location that is unsullied by modern construction, surrounded by a unique and biodiverse environment, seeped in historical relevance, is what a move to the Galapagos Islands promises. More than just a place to visit, these islands can be a retreat from the modern world like no other place on Earth.

expats thinking outside the box

Luis Penados

Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Labeled by such figures as Aldous Huxley and Alexander Von as being the most beautiful lake in the world, the highlands area of Lake Atitlán, Guatemala has become a favorite for expats looking for a unique destination off the beaten path. Located in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas mountain range, the Lake Atitlán area has a cooler, less tropical climate that may appeal to expats who find the heat along the coast less inviting.

The nine villages that surround the lake offer both a rustic lifestyle and a chance to become immersed in the local Mayan culture like nowhere else in the region. Being able to see and experience Mayan culture, not just as a tourist presentation, but as a way of daily life, is a profound experience that cannot be had in many places in the world.

Less developed than other parts of Guatemala, this region holds great investment potential for those who are intrepid enough to create their own version of a Latin Tropics escape. Balancing growth while maintaining the special cultural vibe of the region is a focus of the area’s residents, and it shows.

expats thinking outside the box

Bernard Dupont

Sanctuary Belize, Belize

Nestled between Mexico and Guatemala, the tiny country of Belize melds a unique blend of eco-lifestyles, adventures on land and sea, and Mayan ruins. Formally known as British Honduras, Belize is unique in that it is the only Latin Tropic country where English is the official language.

Belize offers a diverse selection of things to see, do and experience. Numerous Mayan ruins await those who wish to see the remnants of this amazing culture up close and personal. For those looking for aquatic adventures, the Belize Barrier Reef is the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere and second-largest in the world behind Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Sanctuary Belize has become a unique experiment combining eco-tourism and a “green” lifestyle on its 14,000 acre location. Having the opportunity to live green in the tropics while enjoying the natural beauty of Belize is certainly an exciting option for expats looking for something more than just an oceanfront existence.

Dare to Think Outside the Box

One of the best parts of the expat experience is discovering new vistas and new ways of living that can take you beyond the life you had before. Visiting these locations (or others that peak your interest) can be the first step to leaving your comfort zone to find your own road less traveled.

There are a number of destinations that can be included in a list of the healthiest places in the Latin Tropics. The abundance of fresh foods, a more relaxed pace of daily living, and the tropical climate are just some of the features that have made the region a long-time favorite destination for retirees and other expats looking for a better quality of life.

This compelling combination has dramatically increased the interest of U.S. residents in finding alternative approaches to their current living arrangements. It is not just the locations themselves, but the qualities and opportunities that can be found there, that promise an overall healthier lifestyle – both on the physical and the emotional levels.

What Makes the Healthiest Places in the Latin Tropics Special

There are a number of qualities that the healthiest places in the Latin Tropics all seem to share. Below is a list of these factors that contribute to the wellbeing of locals and expats alike.

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

Finding fresh produce in the tropics can be as easy as taking a short walk or drive to one of the countless roadside stands or weekly farmers’ markets that are a fixture of life in these countries.  The wide variety of locally grown products is not only less expensive but makes it far more convenient to prepare meals from scratch – leading to another element that makes life in the tropics a healthy alternative: diet.

healthiest places in the latin tropics

Geoff Baker

Healthier Diets

There is certainly a much smaller emphasis on pre-packaged or “fast” food in the Latin Tropics. As a result, more meals are prepared fresh, instead of out of a container or microwavable box.

Additionally, there is not as much emphasis on red meat in the region, the preferred protein sources being poultry or fish. These kinds of diets have been shown to be healthier in terms of reducing fat and cholesterol.

Better Climate

Having more sunlight, warmer temperatures and less extremes in climate (i.e., winter cold to summer heat in a short period) has shown to be more conducive to better health. Aside from the physical benefits of Vitamin D, the abundance of sunlight also helps combat Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Appropriately abbreviated as SAD, this type of depression brought on during the shorter periods of daylight during the winter months impacts roughly three million adults yearly. Given that daylight hours only vary about fifteen minutes during the seasons, life under the tropical sun is emotionally healthy as well as physically healthy.

Less Stressful Pace of Living

If there is one thing that is the hallmark of the Latin Tropics, it is the slower, more relaxed pace of life.  The stress of facing crowded streets, time clocks, and the omnipresent “noise” of the 24/7/365 connected world is replaced by the far more tranquil natural rhythms of the ocean, tropical rain forests, and small villages.

While the slower pace of getting things done (such as repairs or building projects) can take some getting used to, the physical benefits are worth the extra time spent.  It can truly be said that, in terms of daily living, you do without doing and it all gets done.

More Active Lifestyle

One of the most important features that all these locations share is a more active physical lifestyle. Warm weather is more conducive to outdoor activities that can range from merely walking to more strenuous forms such as swimming, surfing, and other sports.

The Top Five Healthiest Places in the Latin Tropics

Here is a list of the top five healthiest places in the Latin Tropics. While each one has its own unique characteristics, they all share qualities that make them desirable of destinations for those seeking to find their own personal “fountain of youth.”

healthiest places in the latin tropics


5. Volcán/Boquete, Panama

Located in the Chiriquí province of Panama, the Volcán/Boquete area boasts access to an abundance of fresh produce, herbs, and coffee and is known as the “breadbasket of Panama.” The moderate temperatures, low humidity (thanks to being 4000 feet above sea level), and a tranquil sense of wellbeing, all contribute to a more active lifestyle.

The region also can claim longer life spans for its residents than the rest of Panama. Boquete has been singled out by AARP magazine as one of the top places to retire in the entire world.

4. Playa Gigante, Nicaragua

This rustic fishing village on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua is rapidly becoming a mecca for a growing number of alternative health and yoga spas. With a very laid-back lifestyle, ready access to fresh fish and produce, and natural beauty of one of the country’s ecological centers, healthy living in Playa Gigante comes easily.

healthiest places in the latin tropics

Jon Hurd

3. Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Aside from its breathtaking vistas, Lake Atitlán, Guatemala is becoming recognized as a place for retirees seeking a healthier lifestyle. With some of the best weather anywhere, the rich Mayan culture (still very much in existence), abundant fresh produce, and a variety of outdoor activities to enjoy, Lake Atitlán’s popularity as both a tourist destination and a retirement location continues to grow.

healthiest places in the latin tropics

Presidencia de la República del Ecuador

2. Vilcabamba, Ecuador

It may come as a surprise to many that Vilcabamba, Ecuador is included in this list. Located in what is has become known as the “Valley of Longevity,” local residents claim to reach life expectancies well past 100 years.

While there is no hard evidence to support this claim, the mild climate, abundant fresh air (no pollution), low animal fat diets, and active lifestyle certainly are positive factors for healthier living. The natural beauty and relaxed pace of life in the valley also contribute to the growth of Vilcabamba as a top retirement destination.

healthiest places in the latin tropics

Carlos Adampol Galindo

1. Nicoya Peninsula/Nosara, Costa Rica

Featured in the book, The Blue Zones, the Nicoya Peninsula – and Nosara in particular – has become the best known of top healthy places in the Latin Tropics. The ready access to fresh produce and seafood combined with a more relaxed outdoor lifestyle has created an environment where longer life spans are the rule, not the exception.

Healthier diets and more physical activity seem to be only part of Nosara’s secret. The growing number of alternative therapies, such as meditation and yoga, create an atmosphere where life can be embraced as opposed to just being lived.

Finding That Longer, Healthier Life Path in Paradise

Visiting the locations mentioned above (or others in the region) could be the first step to discovering what the healthiest places in the Latin Tropics could offer as a lifestyle choice. Learning where and what resonates with you is a great place to begin your quest for a healthier, happier existence.

For many seniors moving abroad, learning the truth about assisted living in the tropics can be an important first step in the decision process. In fact, it may come as a pleasant surprise that retiring abroad and living in a community that provides care and assistance are not necessarily choices that exclude one another.

Nearly one million Americans of retirement age have moved beyond the borders of the United States. As more and more “baby boomers” reach that life milestone, the demand for facilities and communities that can offer the services required by an aging population will also increase.

the truth about assisted living in the tropics

Kristopher Schultz

Assisted Living in Paradise Is a Viable Option

With rising medical costs, a volatile market, and general uncertainty about the future, it comes as no surprise that more and more Americans of retirement age are choosing the Latin American tropics as their preferred destination. With many countries actively promoting programs that can benefit seniors, the truth about assisted living in the tropics is that it is a viable choice for both retirees and their aging parents.

There are a number of compelling reasons to make such a move. The lower overall cost of living, improved access to high quality medical care, and the more relaxed lifestyle are just some of the features that should make the expat option a strong consideration as a way to spend your senior years.

the truth about assisted living in the tropics

Danny Kim

Latin Locations That Offer Assisted Living

Below are examples of four countries that offer high-quality assisted living in the tropics. Each of these locations provides the opportunity for a full and vibrant retirement combined with the individualized care some seniors need.


Mexico has been a retirement destination for Americans for many years. With the median cost of long-term care in the U.S. averaging over $43,000 per year, it is not surprising that may retirees are exploring the options that the land south of the border can provide for retirees and their aging parents.

One of the most popular regions is the Lake Chapala area. As one of the largest expat communities in the world, there are a number of facilities that cost half (or less) what similar residences in the U.S. cost.

Seniors would find the Lake Chapala locations very similar to high-end retirement settings in the U.S. Offering clean, comfortable residences, amenities like swimming pools, access to medical professionals and even hospice services at a fraction of the cost, it is little wonder that baby boomers are looking to the region as a long-term option for themselves and their aging parents.

With close proximity to the United States, a familiarity with the culture, plus fresh food and quality medical care, the potential that Mexico has for seniors is undeniable.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica was the first Central American country to initiate programs geared towards attracting retirees. Once qualified as a “pensionado,” retirees can sign up for the country’s social security program, which includes full coverage for things like hospitalization and prescriptions.

As the Central and Pacific zones of Costa Rica become more developed, the rising number of expats also will increase the demand for retirement centers that can provide a high quality of life at a more affordable rate. Seniors will be pleasantly surprised to discover that living “la Pura Vida” is more than just an unreachable dream.

Many visitors to the country ultimately decide to relocate there upon retirement. Whether your choice is an independent living center or a community where 24-hour onsite assistance is available, the cost is still far less than equivalent operations in the States.

the truth about assisted living in the tropics



Interest in Guatemala as a retirement option has grown dramatically recently. The area around Lake Atitlan has seen the development of modern assisted living communities where the lower price tag is not reflected in the high quality of the residences there.

The term “assisted living” has a somewhat different meaning in Guatemala. Instead of a dedicated community, assisted living means, literally, hiring someone, or a number of people, to clean, cook, and care for a person.

This cost for one full-time care provider may run as little as $150 to $300 per month. Even on a fixed income of $1200 per month, for example, this can allow a senior who needs assisted care to still enjoy life in a tropical paradise.


Panama is rapidly overtaking Costa Rica as the premier retirement destination in Central America. First world amenities, greatly improved infrastructure, and many discounts available for seniors have proven to be a magnet for older Americans looking to find a tropical retirement location.

While there are a number of options for retirees who are independent and looking for communities that cater to that population, the number of assisted living facilities is still quite small. However, with the continued influx of foreign investment, the potential for growth in this area is promising.

Is Tropical Assisted Living for You?

Discovering the truth about assisted living in the tropics opens the doors to infinite possibilities. Moving to paradise may just be the best way to make those golden years truly golden.

Guatemala is a growing retirement destination that shouldn’t be ignored. Each year, more and more expats are looking towards Central America in search of the perfect retirement destination, and with stunning scenic beauty and an “eternal spring-like” climate in the mountains, it isn’t hard to see why.

But with so many breathtaking reasons to retire to Guatemala we’ve pared it down to 7 of the most important reasons to retire to this hidden gem in Central America.

Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan – Wojtek Ogrodowczyk

1) A low cost of living

Like many places in Central America, the cost of living in Guatemala is quite low, which allows expats to enjoy a comfortable life without having to stretch their pensions thin in order to do so.

Depending on the pace of life desired, most expats coming to Guatemala choose to settle down in either Guatemala City, the colonial town of Antigua, or on the serene shores of Lake Atitlan. Each spot is unique and has something special to offer depending on your personal taste.

The largest of the three, prices in Guatemala City will be a little higher (although still much lower than back home in the U.S.). Here, a fully furnished two bedroom apartment can be rented for $500-700 per month and a three bedroom house anywhere from $1,200-2,000.

Of course, if the city life isn’t for you, the cobbled streets of historical Antigua might be more up your alley. Rent prices in Antigua are roughly 20% lower than in Guatemala City, but prices will shift depending on where in town you choose to live.

And if you are seeking small town serenity, the indigenous villages of Lake Atitlan have homes to rent for $500 a month and up.

Keep in mind, these prices are for homes that meet western standards and if you don’t mind living like the locals (no washer/dryer, cable or hot water), you can rent a home in Guatemala for significantly lower.

All in all, a couple can live comfortably in Guatemala for anywhere between $1,200 and $1,500 a month, and this will include housing, food, entertainment, transportation, utilities and even maid, handyman or gardening services if you so choose.

Live in Guatemala

United Nations Photo

2) Live among the Maya

Mayan culture is still alive and flourishing in Guatemala today, and–if you choose to make it your home–you will see local Mayan citizens dressed in their traditional, colorful Mayan garb on a daily basis.

There remain to this day, more than 10 million people scattered throughout Central America who were raised with a Mayan language as their native tongue.

And despite the fact that they were largely converted to Christianity when the Spanish invaded, many of the Maya hold on to their beliefs and continue to follow the teachings of their shamans.

3) Immerse yourself in history

Guatemala is rich with history that can be experienced from the Maya-inhabited highlands to the colonial streets of Antigua.

With something to explore around every corner, the town of Antigua will take you back in time. Founded in the early 16th century, many of the town’s most significant monuments have been preserved as ruins, and Antigua today acts as a snapshot, perfectly capturing the Spanish colonial architecture of the past.

Moving away from Antigua, the Tikal National Park is home to one of the largest Mayan archaeological preserves in Central America.

Inhabited by the Maya from 6th century BC to 10th century AD, these haunting ruins provide visitors with the rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of what Mayan life and culture was like in ancient times.

Guatemala Retirement

Photo: Viva Team

4) Lakeside life

Another thing that is attracting expats to Guatemala, is picturesque Lake Atitlan. Icy blue Lake Atitlan is the deepest lake in Central America and is set against a mountainous backdrop of three volcanoes.

Nestled in the Guatemalan highlands, many expats seek out the surrounding villages of Lake Atitlan to experience small town life in a majestic mountain setting.

Considered by many to be the most beautiful lake on the planet, residents of Lake Atitlan spend their days hiking the winding trails, interacting with the local Maya and watching the sun set over the water as they stretch out in a hammock.

Photo: Guillero Mogg

Guillero Mogg

5) Don’t forget the beaches

Even though Guatemala has both Caribbean and Pacific coasts, the beaches of Guatemala don’t receive the recognition that they deserve.

Monterrico Beach can be found on the Pacific coast and has gained popularity due to the sea turtle conservation efforts that take place on its shores. Each week newly hatched sea turtles are released onto the black sanded beach as they begin their fight to the sea.

Iztapa Beach is prime for sail fishing, and some of the fishing companies even have accommodations available directly on the beach.

If you’re a surfer, head to either Sipacate or Tilapa to find perfect waves that aren’t yet packed with other surfers. And if you crave the white sand beaches of the Caribbean, palm tree-surrounded Playa Blanco definitely lives up to its name.

6) Close to home

For many expats, one of the most attractive things about retiring to Guatemala is the short travel time to and from the U.S. Many American expats want nothing more than to retire in a tropical climate at a low cost, but that doesn’t mean they want to endure a long, gruelling plane ride in order to get there.

Sharing a border with Mexico, Guatemala provides expats with the best of both worlds. A tropical haven, not yet choked with tourists, conveniently located close to home.

7) Visa options

For those thinking of retiring to Guatemala, the Guatemalan government now offers a Pensionado program, a permanent residency that will allow anyone to live in Guatemala indefinitely.

A Cedula (national identity card) will allow the Pensionado expat to open a Guatemalan bank account without having to show their passport.

The application process will take 7 to 10 days and is strictly for retired or disabled individuals. A monthly income of $1000 per individual and $1200 per couple is required and this income cannot come from an employer. You can however be self-employed or generate the money from private investments.

Although five years is standard, you can apply for Guatemalan citizenship after two years of residency.

Is Guatemala for you?

A beautiful country not yet congested with tourists like other Central American countries, Guatemala is proving to be the perfect retirement spot for many expats.

So before you make the decision to make Guatemala your new home, take some time to explore the country and everything it has to offer you. Experience Guatemala City, soak in the historic beauty of Antigua, and relax on the shores of Lake Atitlan as you search for the ideal spot to settle down.

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala has long been heralded as one of the most stunning lake vistas on the planet. Luminaries such as Aldous Huxley and Alexander Von Humboldt have labeled it as the most beautiful lake in the world.

The communities around Lake Atitlan have steadily gained popularity, among both tourists and expats looking for a unique destination off the beaten path. The nine lakeside communities that surround the lake have undeveloped potential waiting for those adventurous enough to take a closer look.

lake atitlan guatemala


5 Truths That May Surprise You About Lake Atitlan Guatemala

There are some important facts about Lake Atitlan Guatemala that will dramatically impact how you view the potential of this highland community as a place to live and invest. The top five of these truths are listed below (in no particular order of importance).

Atitlan Is Easy to Access

Located in the highlands of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas mountain range, the pace of life in and around Lake Atitlan is certainly far less hectic than other, more populous locations. However, in spite of what may at first appear to be a remote location, the area is a short two and a half hour drive from Guatemala City. The international airport there is continuing to expand the number of international flights that will connect Guatemala with many U.S. and European cities.

After arriving in the lake region, getting to the various villages that make up the Atitlan, Guatemala community is accomplished by taking one of the many lanchas (small boats) that can be found at the docks. These water-going “buses” have no regular schedule but, generally, can be expected to run on the half hour. This local mode of commuting is both inexpensive and a great way to immerse yourself in the culture of “Lago Atitlan.”

Not Cheap, But Affordable

The truth is that real estate in Lake Atitlan Guatemala is affordable. This is not to say that it is cheap, however. Articles that make claims about living in this tropical paradise for $500/month, for example, are truly overblown.

For example, a modern apartment, utilities, groceries, some modest entertainment, transportation and miscellaneous expenses for two people could run in the $1,400 to $1,500 per month range. While this is certainly less than other Latin American locations, such as Playa del Carmen in Mexico, living lakeside still requires some budget considerations.

lake atitlan

Nathalie Verwilghen

It Isn’t Crime-Free

Like any other area, the truth is that there is crime in Atitlan.  After all, it is still Guatemala. While generally safe for expats and tourists, taking simple precautions (locking your doors, keeping valuables in a strong box, safe, or locked room, avoiding areas known for criminal activity, etc.) can certainly reduce the likelihood of become a victim.

As Guatemala continues to emerge as a growth opportunity, the disparity of wealth does lead to problems. However, this is no different than the situation in many American cities. Being aware of this simple truth can help make your Atitlan adventures safer and more enjoyable.

There Are Many Opportunities and Options For Investing And Living In The Atitlan Area

The several communities that border Lake Atitlan have great potential for those entrepreneurs looking to purchase land to either develop or hold as an investment in their portfolio. Additionally, there are turnkey properties that expats can immediately occupy.  The variety of locations surround the lake range from modern to authentic. Here are some examples of what’s currently available.

  • 3 bedrooms waterfront with car access – Located in the magical community of Santa Cruz La Laguna, on the north side of the lake, this all concrete house sits on a .75 acre lot with 200 feet of waterfront views and a caretaker’s house. The large windows make enjoying the beauty of Lake Atitlan a comfortable proposition. Fully furnished, the large master bedroom contains a king-size bed with ample closet space. The well appointed kitchen has modern appliances and plenty of pantry space. The second floor mezzanine can be an additional bedroom or den area. The $325.000 asking price also includes a 30 year, renewable, government lease contract.
  • 3 bedrooms near the center of town – The community of Panajachel is the most visited community on Lake Atitlan and is the transportation hub for all the smaller lakeside communities that surround it. Priced at $165,000, these brand new three bedroom houses are just a block from the main pier to San Pedro, within walking distance to restaurants and tourist attractions. The design is ideal for a family retreat or a rental property for those who are seeking a second home in Latin America. Owner financing is possible during the pre-building stage (50% down, $5,000 per month for ten months, with the balance on delivery).
  • Vacant lots for development or investment – The smaller, more rustic lakeside villages also provide an opportunity to purchase lots for development or holding for a later investment. The growing number of expats and tourists coming to Guatemala, and the highlands in particular, are providing a viable growth market and a wealth of opportunities for those with enough foresight to get in on the ground floor.
lake atitlan guatemala

Michael Swigart

It Has 9 Completely Distinct Villages

In addition to the principal hub city of Panajachel, there are nine other villages that are located around and across Lake Atitlan. Each of these smaller towns have their own distinct flavor.  San Marcos La Laguna, for example  has the reputation of being a quiet community focused on meditation; San Pedro La Laguna is at the other end of the spectrum with a laid-back kind of vibe favored by the backpacker crowd.

San Antonio Palopo and Santa Catarina Palopo are authentic Mayan communities perfect for anyone wishing to immerse themselves in that timeless lifestyle. Similarly, Santiago Atitlan, the largest town on Lake Atitlan is famous for its Maximón shrine (blending Mayan and Catholic traditions). San Juan is becoming known for the stunning natural dyed fabrics made there.

And for those just looking to get away from it all while being surrounded by inspiring natural beauty and solitude, the villages of Santa Cruz la Laguna, San Lucas Toliman and Tzununa are the epitome of a magical highland, lakeside escape. Having so many options is a surprising and welcome truth about Atitlan

The Most Important Truth About Atitlan

Perhaps the single most important truth about Atitlan is that the region is definitely in the growth stage. The rich, vibrant Mayan culture of Guatemala is alive and thriving in Atitlan. Primarily consisting of two Mayan tribes-the  Tz’utujil and Kaqchikel- this ancient cultural heritage is part of daily life in several of the smaller communities around the lake.

Being able to see and experience Mayan culture, not just as a tourist presentation, but as a way of daily life, is a profound experience that cannot be had in many places in the world. The moderate highland climate only adds to the ambiance of the region.

Combine that with the natural beauty, great climate, unique cultural blend all make this Guatemalan destination a place that must be seen and experienced firsthand to appreciate the potential for prosperity that it holds long term.


Antigua Guatemala could rightly be called “the heart of Guatemala.” Once the capital city of the Kingdom of Guatemala, this historic and cultural center has undergone a renaissance as foreign investors and expats have discovered both the beauty and potential of this highland community.

Colonial era buildings, designed in the Spanish Baroque style, blend with modern construction to form a unique duality that is difficult to equal anywhere else in Latin America. The type, style, and location of properties available for purchase can suit almost every taste and budget.

antigua guatemala

David Amsler

The Magnetism of Antigua Guatemala

There is a sense of being someplace special when walking along the centuries’ old cobblestone streets of Antigua Guatemala. After all, for 230 years, this city was the seat of Spanish power throughout much of Latin America. Below are some of the elements that add to the magnetism of Antigua.

History Told Through Stunning Architecture

Antigua has been recognized as one of the best examples of Spanish colonial town planning.  The large amount of 17th and 18th century structures exhibiting the influence of the Italian Renaissance design that line the streets of the old city are a prime reason why Antigua was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Amazing Climate

Antigua has often been referred to as “The City of Eternal Spring.” With temperatures averaging in the 70s, there is little need for either air conditioning or heating; the obvious economic benefit in lower energy costs is an attractive benefit for budget-conscious expats with fixed incomes.

A Strong Cultural Connection

As the cultural center of the Captaincy-General of the Kingdom of Guatemala (which included Honduras, Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and El Salvador), Antigua has retained much of the ambiance of those bygone times. The city is known for having the largest celebrations and processions during Lent and Easter in the entire Western Hemisphere.

Additionally, there are always events such as live music concerts, festivals, and various religious celebrations, as well as many free events, that make it easy to become immersed in the essence of the community.

Natural Beauty Is Close at Hand

For nature lovers, the surrounding area provides many opportunities to explore and experience the bounty of the highlands. Hiking enthusiasts will enjoy the challenge of scaling the three volcanoes close by. One, Acatenanago, is over 13,000 feet high and has options for overnight treks in order to experience the sunrise in a breathtaking setting.

Antigua is famed throughout Latin America for its chocolate products. There are classes and tours that can satisfy even the most dedicated “chocoholic” and explain how this sweet substance is made. There are also coffee plantation tours for caffeine aficionados.

antigua guatemala

Christopher William Adach

Why Consider Antigua?

There are a number of reasons to consider Antigua Guatemala, both as an investment location and as a possible expat retreat. One of the major reasons is the growing number of residences that are on the market at this time.

Antigua’s increasing popularity as a vacation and/or tourist destination has made investing in rental properties an attractive proposition. The type of properties available can range from colonial homes that can be restored in the central part of town, to modern residences with up-to-date amenities outside the city center.

There are also lots where you can build a home to suit your personal needs and requirements. Alternatively, buying the property and holding it as an investment also promises a good return on your initial outlay as the need for housing continues to grow.

Perhaps the best reason to consider Antigua as a place to live and invest is the fact that prices are still affordable. Being away from the congestion of Guatemala City (and the higher prices for homes), but still close enough to be accessible, has created a real estate market that is desirable but still reasonable from a pricing perspective.

The Digital City

For all its historical importance, Antigua has become a modern community with the kind of amenities one would expect from an established and growing metropolitan area. For expats who want to have the comforts found in U.S. cities combined with a tropical destination, Antigua should be on the short list of places to consider.

One important example of Antigua’s status as a 21st century location is the fact that it has become the first “Digital City” in Latin America. The ZONA WIFI (wifi zone) will permit free wifi access within the four corners of the Plaza Mayor (Main Plaza) of La Antigua Guatemala.

Not only does this make Antigua the first municipality to offer such free access in Latin America, this initiative puts this highland city ahead of many U.S. cities in offering a way for residents to stay “connected.”

antigua guatemala

Christopher William Adach

Is Antigua Guatemala Right for Me?

Learning about Guatemala in general is a great place to start in deciding whether to move or invest there. Using internet resources, interacting with social media to learn what others have discovered (good and bad), and asking questions can provide a context about what life would be like there.

From that point, narrowing your inquiries to Antigua will fill in the rest of the picture. As you work through the process, make a list of the positive and negative points that you have identified and see which list is longer.

One important item to factor into this potentially life-changing decision is the budget that you have to work with. Understanding your monetary resources at this stage can help clarify decisions on where to live and how much to spend later on – and to avoid “buyer’s remorse.”

Perhaps the most important step that needs to be taken is to actually visit Antigua for yourself; perhaps take more than one visit to see firsthand the possibilities that this colonial town has to offer. There is no substitute for actually being there and experiencing the “soul” of this unique community.

Once you have done your “due diligence,” the answer to the question “Is Antigua Guatemala right for me?” will become clear. Use your senses, and listen to your heart; Antigua is there to experience and enjoy.

One of the biggest considerations for expats seeking to buy their retirement or getaway home in Latin America is the taxes on real estate. Comparing property taxes of the most popular destinations for expats is an important step to deciding the best location for your tropical retreat.

Once the decision is made to become an expat, finding a home in paradise will involve some research. Looking at the unique qualities of each country and the properties available is a great way to begin your journey.

Property Taxes

Tropical House in Paradise

Comparing Property Taxes in Latin America Country by Country

Countries in Latin America have widely different approaches as to what real property should be taxed and when. Similarly, the calculations of property taxes can be confusing for expats trying to choose which location might be a good fit for their budget.

What follows is a brief overview, by country, of the tax structure for real property. This comparison will also include any taxes imposed at the time of sale or transfer of title as well as when payment of these assessments are due.

Property Taxes



Belize has a fairly straightforward approach to property taxes. For residential property, the tax rate will be between 1% and 1.5% of the value as set by the Department of Natural Resources. These are payable each year by April 1st at any Lands Department office. When looking for your Belizean retreat, making this calculation is easy.

Residents in Belize City can take advantage of a 10% discount if taxes are paid by March 31st There is a 25% discount on property taxes for Senior Citizens (over 65) that certainly is a great incentive for expat retirees.

Investors and developers of large plots of undeveloped land (parcels over 300 acres) are subject to a Speculation Tax. This tax is computed based on 5% of the undeveloped value of the property.

When a title is transferred, a transfer tax is collected as part of the buying process. There is no tax for values under $10,000; for values in excess of that amount, the tax is a flat 5%.

Property Taxes

Didier Baertschiger

Costa Rica

For all of the attention and growth that Costa Rica has experienced in the last decade, property taxes still remain as some of the lowest anywhere, including the U.S. The tax rate is 0.25% of the registered property valued as determined by the local governments or municipalities.

Some of the very large and high-end properties have been subject to a luxury tax based on such items as size, custom furnishings, and fixtures. These rates are still surprisingly low; in 2013 it was estimated that that this tax was in the range of 0.1% to .25% of property value.

Changes to the transfer tax of 1.5% may impact some buyers. While the percentage has stayed the same, the basis for the calculation (property value) cannot be less than the highest recorded fiscal value. Fortunately, this amount will usually be less than the market price of the parcel. With low tax rates, finding your home in the land of Pura Vida is still a great option.

Property Taxes



Ecuador has some of the lowest property taxes in Latin America. The tax rates are progressive from 0.025% to 0.5% of the value as assessed by municipal officials.

These values are considerably lower than the purchase price – often by as much as 25% to 75%. As a result, it is rare to pay over $400 in annual taxes.

There are also deductions and discounts that can appeal to expats. Homeowners over the age of 65 only have to pay half the amount of the tax assessed.

Additionally, deductions for mortgages to purchase or improve the property are possible. Ranging between 20% and 40%, these must be requested and cannot exceed 50% of the value of the property. Ecuadorian real estate may provide some of the most affordable options in the region.

Property Taxes


El Salvador

El Salvador is unique in that there is no property tax assessed for owning real estate. Although there is no annual assessment, when property is transferred, a transfer tax is triggered.

The tax, paid as part of the buying and selling process, equals 3% of the value over $28,571.43 of the purchase price. Non-residents also are subject to a 25% capital gains tax when selling property unless the sale occurs within three years of taking possession of the property.

The El Salvadoran government is considering a tax reform package that would include a tax on property that does not have any productive function except for private leisure or recreation. This “luxury tax” would be assessed at the rate of 1% of the value over $350,000 even if the property has not been developed.

Whether or not this tax will be enacted is uncertain. Regardless, the great majority of expats will not be impacted because of the high dollar threshold of the assessment. Low prices enhance the attractiveness of the selection of properties available.

Property Taxes

Stefano Ravalli


Guatemala uses the cadastral value of real property to calculate the tax owed. The word “cadastral” refers to the extent, value of, or ownership of real property and is used widely throughout Central America.

Taxes are calculated in local currency (the Guatemalan quetzal) by local authorities.  When converted to U.S. dollars, it becomes apparent that these are quite reasonable for the great majority of expat residents. Below is a chart showing the tax rates:


Up to 2 million (US$255,428) 0%
2 million – 20 million (US$2,554,278) 0.20%
20 million – 70 million (US$8,939,975) 0.60%
Over 70 million (US$8,939,975) 0.90%
Source: Global Property Guide

As can be seen, there is no property tax owed on properties valued under $255,428. The taxes are due annually and are paid to local municipalities where the property is located. Searching for properties under this dollar amount may be easier than you might imagine.

Property Taxes

Chamo Estudio


Honduras has one of the few property tax laws that permit 12 monthly payments instead of just a single annual amount. The tax rate itself is based on value assessed by the municipality and can be calculated at $3.50 per every $1,000 of assessed value.

For example, a property value at $100,000 would have a yearly tax of $350.00. Spread out over twelve monthly payments, each installment would be for $29.16. Buying property in Honduras with the ability to spread out yearly taxes is an attractive prospect.

As a result of new tax reforms that went into effect on January 1, 2014,  property transfers carried out by nonresidents are now subject to an increased 4% (previously 2%) withholding tax over the transfer value to be withheld by the acquiring party.

One important feature of the Honduras tax scheme is the incentive program for projects or plans that would increase tourism to Roatan. Under this program, property taxes may be given a 20 year exemption. This is a powerful incentive for investors looking for a location to develop and build.

Property Taxes

Chris Goldberg


Mexico was the first Latin American country to attract expats. The older expat enclaves, such as Puerto Vallarta, have demonstrated the potential for living and investing in Central and South America. Mexico still has a great selection of properties and lots to interest expat buyers.

Property taxes in Mexico vary from state to state. Each state’s tax department sets the assessed value and the tax rate can range from 0.05% to 1.2%, depending on the property location.  Other variables such as whether the lot is improved, if there is poor access, and if it is only used seasonally also factor into the assessment.

The assessment itself is done at the time of sale or transfer and will remain the same until the property is sold again. The taxes are due at the beginning of the year although the tax amounts are not available until mid-January of the year they are due. Since tax bills are not sent out, it is up to the property owner to go to the tax office with a previous bill to obtain the current one.

Payments can be made in six installments during the first ten days of every second month; ( i.e. January, March, May, July, September, and November). Failure to pay the taxes when due can result in steep penalties; in some cases as high as 3% for every month the payment is past due.

Mexico also charges an acquisition tax on every transfer of real property regardless of whether it is through a sale, donation, trust, or other method. The rates can range from 2% to 3.3%, again varying by state and is owed as part of the transfer process.

Property Taxes

Daniel Fajardo Valenti


Nicaragua has, perhaps, the easiest property tax scheme in Latin America.  The tax is a flat 1% and are calculated at 80% of the cadastral value of the property (land, buildings, and permanent improvements) as assessed by the local office.

In the city of Managua, the calculation is slightly different. There the figure is based on 80% of the cadastral value LESS 40,000 Nicaraguan Cordobas (NIO); roughly equaling $1,624 in U.S. dollars.

Since there is no up-to-date national registry for property values, property taxes are less important than in other locations. With a lack of proper records, many small communities do not even collect the taxes which has led some to view paying them as a voluntary, rather than mandatory, act. Many of these smaller towns and villages have attractive and unique properties that are worth a look.

There is a 30% capital gains tax assessed on property sales. Again, this is based on the land value and not the sale price.

Property Taxes

Bocas Del Toro


Panama is unique among the countries in the region in that the property taxes are national and are collected by the Ministry of Economics and Finance. The tax rate is a maximum 2.1% and is based on the assessed value – usually the declared value in the original sale documents. Expats are increasingly interested in the homes and lots available here and the possibilities that Panama offers new arrivals.

The calculation is based on the value of the land plus the declared value of any improvements made. If a transaction is made for an amount in excess of this amount, that will automatically increase the value of the property for tax purposes. Payments can be made in three installments: April 30th, August 31st, and December 31st.

Property taxes are graduated depending on the assessed value. Below is a chart showing this breakdown: Value of the property                                     Property Tax Rate US$ 0.00 up to US$ 30K (exempted)                    0% US$ 30K up to US$ 50K                                        1.75% US$ 50K up to US$ 75K                                        1.95% US$ 75K and above                                               2.10%

Condominiums, however, use a slightly different formula:

Property Tax Rate for Condos:

Value of the property                                 Property Tax Rate US$ 0.00 up to US$ 30K (exempted)             0% US$ 30K up to US$ 100K                             0.75% US$ 100K and above                                    1.0%

The 20 year exemption on property taxes that was so attractive to investors ended in 2009. That program has been replaced by a revised set of exemptions:

  • 15 years Up to US$ 100,000.00
  • 10 years From US$ 100,000.00 to US$ 250,000.00
  • 5 years Above US$ 250,000.00
  • Commercial Use/Non-residential improvements have 10 year exoneration regardless of the property value

Lastly, Panama does have a transfer that is the greater of a) 2% of the total sale price or; b) the declared value of the parcel plus the value of improvements plus 5% for each year the property was owned.

A Brief Note on U.S. Property Taxes – Paradise Is Cheaper!!

While the various property tax schemes throughout these tropical locations may seem confusing, there is one important element to keep in mind:  U.S. property taxes are higher!!!

22 of the 50 states have median property taxes in excess of 1%. New Jersey is the highest at 1.89%. When combined with other property-related taxes and fees, the overall cost of property ownership far outstrips most of the Central and South American locations expats desire. In a very real sense, paradise is cheaper and living there is easier now than ever before.

Viva Tropical Radio

Viva Tropical Radio

Josh and Park have experienced many different colorful situations over the years while scouting out real estate investments. Join them today for a podcast recount as murder confessions, 300 lb. tunas, and 9mm Berettas all make appearances when they retell some of their stories from the road.

Maybe the greatest job in the world, Park and Josh reminisce about some of their most memorable days while exploring the far reaches of Central America in their search for the best real estate can offer.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • How to get the right boat for scouting
  • Why bodyguards make fun scouts
  • Where you can reel in a 300 lb. tuna

And much more.

Listen to the show

You can listen to the show using the player above or grab it and listen on the go via one of the following options:

The Show Notes

A “bucket list” is a collection of places to see and things to do before you die. There are so many once-in-a-lifetime activities to engage in and places to visit throughout Central America that could, literally, fill many bucket lists. Yet there are some that are truly must-see locations and unique adventures that make the Central America Bucket List one that everyone should try and check off.


central america bucket list

Kenneth Garcia

The Central America Bucket List – a blend of history, culture, nature, wildlife, and adventure

If you’ve ever wanted to explore ancient ruins, immerse yourself in a totally different culture, stand in awe of a natural piece of beauty, get up close and personal with creatures of the jungle or try something new like zip-lining or deep-sea fishing, you have already created your ownCentral American Bucket list.

The places and activities that are listed below are not in any particular order of importance or priority. All should be seen and experienced regardless and truly appreciated for the wonders that they are; they may even inspire you to create your own list as well.

Central America Bucket List

Tikal, Guatemala

Mayan Ruins – Tulum, Mexico and Tikal, Guatemala

The Mayan Civilization has long held a fascination for many people. Viewing the towering pyramids and intricate ruins can make memories that last a lifetime. Two of the best known locations that embody this vanished culture are the ruins in Tikal, Guatemala and Tulum, Mexico. Separated by only 600 kilometers, these two iconic locations symbolized the height and power of the Mayan culture.

Visiting the imposing Temple of the Jaguar in Tikal or the majestic and well preserved “City of the Sun” in Tulum, Mexico can be an awe-inspiring reminder of how important enjoying each day is and that nothing is eternal. With nearby airport access to both sites, such in the Mayan Riveria,  the Central American Bucket List items are ones that everyone should see and experience.

Central America Bucket List

Arenal Volcano

The Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica

Of all the volcanoes throughout Central America, none is more majestic than Volcan Arenal in Costa Rica. Still active (although quiet of late), this imposing and beautiful mountain towers over the surrounding region, including Lake Arenal, at a height of 5,437 feet and is easily accessible from nearby San Jose.

central america bucket list


Lake Nicaragua

This is the biggest lake in Central America and the 19th largest in the world. Easily reached from Managua, this fresh water wonder boasts something that most fresh-water bodies of water lack: sharks. The bull sharks of Lake Nicaragua can grow up to 11 feet in length; encountering one of these predators certainly falls under the category of “Well, there’s something you don’t see every day”.

central america bucket list


Whitewater rafting on the Pacuare River, Costa Rica

Ranked as one of the top ten whitewater rafting locations in the world, the Pacuare River can provide the kind of adrenalin-filled adventure that should be a part of everyone’s bucket list. Combining the stunning beauty of the area with the heart-stopping class III and IV rapids, this river adventure is truly a ride for the ages.

central america bucket list

Guillén Pérez

Meet a Mayan Shaman

With all of the recent attention paid to the Mayan Calendar and the mysticism surrounding it, the opportunity to meet and interact with a genuine Mayan Shaman could be a life-changing experience. Practitioners of this ancient spiritual craft can be found in Belize, Honduras and Guatemala and are more than ready to share their wisdom and provide a unique insight in the Mayan World.

central america bucket list


Tour the Panama Canal

Since its completion in 1914, the Panama Canal has been the major waterway between the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans, fulfilling the dream envisioned for centuries. Modern tours through the Canal provide a special opportunity to view this engineering marvel and follow in the footsteps of explorers from the mists of history who had searched for this passage.

central america bucket list

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

The Galapagos Archipelago

Darwin’s visit to this group of islands, part of modern-day Ecuador, and filled with a vast collection of unique and endemic species, led him to develop his theory of evolution and natural selection. Following Darwin’s path will permit visitors the chance to discover penguins, giant tortoises, and many other creatures that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

central america bucket list

Tony Mendez

Whale watching in Costa Rica

The humpback whales migrate along the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica from between August and October every year. Being able to see these leviathans of the deep in their element is a magical and moving sight and should be a part of every bucket list.

central america bucket list

Stephen Johnson

Ambergris Caye – home to the second largest coral reef system in the world

The coral reef along Ambergris Caye, Belize, is second in size only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Being much more accessible than the great “Down Under” this unique and fragile ecosystem is worthy of a special place on the list.

Central America Bucket List

Peace Garden Toucan

Have a toucan on your arm – the Peace Garden at La Paz, Costa Rica

Everyone has seen these colorful, comical birds but have you ever had one on your arm? At the Peace Garden, La Paz, Costa Rica, getting up close and personal with these multi-colored creatures is easier than you might imagine and certainly something that is not an everyday occurrence.

central america bucket list

Steven Depolo

Rainforest adventures – zip-lining, hiking, waterfalls, and animals

Central America has wonderful opportunities to visit rainforests throughout the region. Zip-lining, hiking to secluded waterfalls, horseback rides through the jungle and seeing exotic birds, monkeys, sloths, and many other creatures in their natural state makes this a true bucket list item to be experienced and treasured.

central america bucket list

Johnathan Nightingale

Monteverde Cloud Forest – home of the Resplendent Quetzal

Perhaps the best know cloud forest in the world, the Monteverde Cloud Forest has a charming and rare resident–the Resplendent Quetzal. Discovering this regal bird in the stunning backdrop of a cloud forest is a special treat that should be included in any bucket list. Stand on the Continental Divide with one foot on the Caribbean side and the other on the Pacific-something that can’t be done any place else.


central america bucket list

Ari Bronstein

Deep sea fishing

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a blue marlin on the end of your line, fighting you every step of the way? Deep Sea Fishing in Costa can fulfill this “bucket list” wish; tuna, wahoo, sailfish and, or course, the mighty Marlin are all there waiting for the right angler and the right moment–a moment that can be yours.

central america bucket list

Steven Gerner

A sea turtle haven – Tortugero, Costa Rica

For the nature lover, visiting the spawning and hatching ground for sea turtles can be a special item on a bucket list. Tortugero, on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica is the place where green, leatherback, and the rare hawkbill turtles can be seen nesting and hatching in the cycle of life. The National Park is also home to jaguars, tapirs, macaws, and monkeys.

central america bucket list

Elena G.

The haunted island of San Lucas, Costa Rica

If paranormal investigation is part of your bucket list, the former prison island of San Lucas, Costa Rica will fulfill this desire. Long known as a haunted location, San Lucas has been featured on television and on numerous sites about ghost hunting. Bring your recorders and cameras and see if you can capture the spirits said to still remain there.

central america bucket list

Lee Shaver

The Central America Bucket List – getting there is easy

Central America is readily accessible from the U.S. and Europe. Regularly scheduled flights to and from major jumping off points such as San Jose, Costa Rica, Panama City, Panama, Managua, Nicaragua, and Guayaquil, Ecuador–to name but a few–make getting to those bucket list locations convenient and affordable.

There are many tours and travel packages that are available that can be tailored to meet every desire and wallet size. Exploring and experiencing the wonders of Central America has never been easier.

The Central America Bucket List – living there is easy as well

As you explore, check off, and add items on your particular “Central America bucket list” you may discover that the best way to do and see everything is to actually live in Central America. With so many options available–from lots, homes, apartments, condos, and even commercial properties–living in Central America can be a desirable alternative to traveling and can place you in the heart of the experiences and adventures of a lifetime.

The best Central America hikes are certainly not your average walk in the park. For those who seek the “road less traveled” Central America is the place to visit and explore. Lush jungles, hidden waterfalls, breathtaking mountain vistas and untapped natural beauty make this part of the world a veritable hiker’s dream.

best central america hikes

Wood Buildings-Cusuco National Park

Best Central America Hikes – Many Choices from Mild to Wild

You don’t have to be a hard-core experienced trekker to enjoy the wonders of hiking in Central America. There are many options throughout the region ranging from downhill jungle paths to rugged volcano trails and everything in between. The only hard part might be having to make a choice between the wonderful and diverse locations of the best Central America hikes.

Cusuco National Park, Honduras

If hiking along lush jungle paths, seeking out hidden waterfalls, and discovering exotic animals in their natural state sounds like your kind of adventure, then Cusuco National Park in Honduras is certainly the place for you. The primal force of Pulhapanzak Waterfall with its 140 foot drop, the mystery of the Taulabe Caves, and rich biodiversity of the jungle itself make this one of the best Central America hikes.

Chimborazo Circuit, Ecuador

On the other end of the hiking spectrum is Chimborazo Circuit in Ecuador. This multi-day experience along the “avenue of the volcanoes” is home to several peaks above 16,400 feet including mighty Chimborazo whose 20,564 height makes it the farthest point from the Earth’s surface at the Earth’s center.

Camping in tents, exploring glaciers and local villages, and become immersed in the culture and lifestyle of the Andean highlands are just some of the reasons that make this one of the best Central America hikes.

best central america hikes

The Quetzal Trail, Panama

The Quetzal Trail, Panama

Panama’s foremost day hiking trail is the Quetzal Trail. Winding through the Volcán Barú National Park along the northeastern side of the volcano, this jungle path is home to its namesake, the stunning Resplendent Quetzal.

The trail is mostly a downhill trek through unspoiled primary jungle from Cerra Punta to the village of Boquete. Travelers can actually have their luggage sent ahead from Cerra Punta to their next lodging in Boquete which is just another feature making this one of the best Central America hikes.

best central america hikes

Miguel Vieira

Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

If true biodiversity is what you are looking for in a hiking experience, the Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica is the perfect destination.

From empty beaches along the Pacific Ocean, lush coastal forests filled with exotic jungle life such as monkeys, sloths, and the elusive jaguar with flocks of scarlet macaws in the trees, Corcovado may be one of the most unique and special hiking locations on Earth. With a ranger station that welcomes campers, Corcovado is clearly one of the best Central America hikes.

Maribos Volcanic Range, Nicaragua

Imagine hiking 21 volcanoes in seven days! The Maribos Volcanic range near Leon, Nicaragua can provide just that kind of adventure. With trails that can vary in difficulty depending on your preference and skill level, the Maribos Range, including the daunting Momotombo Volcano is just the kind of challenge hikers love to embrace, making another of the best Central America hikes.

Best Central America hikes

Arenal Volcano

Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica

For sheer beauty, the Arenal Volcano and the surrounding area in Costa Rica is nearly impossible to beat. With a huge reservoir, a 2900-hectare national park, numerous accessible trails running through cloud and rain forests that surround it, hiking Arenal is definitely a must-do as part of the best Central America hikes.

Lake Atitlan Volcanoes, Guatemala

The three volcanoes that surround Lake Atitlan in Guatemala provide a variety of hiking adventures in one of the most picturesque locations in the world.

The tallest of the three, Atitlan (11,601 ft.) offers an 8 hour trek to a summit that provides a stunning view of the Pacific Coast; San Pedro (9,906 ft.) will allow those who make the 4 hour climb a chance to view and discover plants and animals rarely seen elsewhere; Toliman (10,358 ft.) has a forest area near the summit for camping. Having three different hiking choices in one location is unique among the best Central America hikes.

Best Central America Hikes

Monteverde Cloud Forest

Monteverde/St. Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, Costa Rica

No list of the best Central America hikes would be complete without including the Monteverde/St. Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. Filled with numerous trails that are well maintained and easy to navigate, Monteverde offers unparalleled natural beauty, a chance to see flora and fauna that are both unusual and rare including the Resplendent Quetzal.  Lodging choices nearby complete a near perfect picture of nature hiking at its finest.

Guanacaste National Park, Belize

This 50 acre preserve is a birdwatcher’s paradise and another of the best Central America hikes. Located in the center of Belize, just 2 miles from the capital city of Belmopan, the small size and easy access makes it convenient for casual nature hikes as well as the opportunity to enjoy both the natural features, in terms of exotic plants and animals, and the cultural aspects of life in Belize today along with its Mayan past.

best central america hikes

Brian B.

Pico Bonito Park, Honduras

Meaning ‘beautiful peak”, Pico Bonito is definitely a hike for those with expedition experience and a love of adventure. The over 300 species of birds, jaguars, pumas, and the every present howler monkeys make this journey one that is not easily forgotten and clearly, one of the best Central America hikes.

Pirre Mountain, Panama

The hike to the summit of Pirre Mountain, Panama follows a challenging jungle trail in one of the country’s most remote regions. Monkeys, sloths, exotic birds, and a great collection of trees and flowers make this difficult trek more than worth the effort and certainly worthy of being considered one of the best Central American hikes.

Get Close to the Best Central America Hikes

With some many choices for hiking adventures throughout Central America, the best way to experience them all is to find your own “base camp” to allow you to visit and explore on your schedule. Finding places to live, short term, long term, or even purchase is easier than you might imagine and just a mouse-click away. Let your trek start now!

Viva Tropical Radio

Viva Tropical Radio

This week I talked to Phil Flanagan, world traveler and overland expert. Phil sourced and converted a European van to travel the world for less than $18,000 USD. He then proceeded to drive across Europe, Asia, North America, then South America for the ensuing 5-6 years.

In this episode Phil teaches you how to do it too, where to find a car, and his minimalistic approach to maximum travel experience. Phil and partner Angie were able to to travel this way for $50 a day, including food for both of them, maintenance, gas, and everything else.


Phil and Angie in Kyrgysztan

In this episode, we discuss:

  • How to build your own overland vehicle for only $18,000 USD
  • Learn what vans make the best choices
  • What to consider before you buy your overland vehicle
  • How to avoid the “extortion highway” in Honduras
  • The incredible rewards just waiting for you on the road

And much more.

Listen to the show

You can listen to the show using the player above or grab it and listen on the go via one of the following options:

The Show Notes

Phil Flanagan has his own travel site that you can see here

When planning a visit to or an excursion from your home in Central America, there are probably a lot of activities that come to mind. You could relax by the beach, visit an ancient colonial city, sail out for some great fishing or scuba diving opportunities, or a whole host of other adventures.

But for a truly one-of-a-kind experience, we recommend you give one of Central America’s many volcanoes a go. Hiking to the peak of some of these amazing natural landmarks is a great way to see the region from a whole new vantage point, get your adrenaline rushing, and build your collection of tropical expat bragging rights.

Due to its high concentration of active and dormant volcanoes, you won’t have to travel far from where you live or plan to visit in order to find a volcano to climb. Here are a few of our favorites and the features that make each of them so intriguing.

central america volcanos

Jono Hey

Tajumulco, Guatemala

For travelers that are just starting to explore the wilder side of traveling with volcano tours, Tajumulco is a great place to start. As one of the highest mountains in Guatemala, it is a great hike. Although it is a high mountain, it is not nearly as high as many of the other volcanoes throughout Central America.

This volcano is also a great option for travelers who are wary of hiking a volcano. It has not erupted in many years, and has had the least amount of eruptions out of all of the volcanoes in Central America.

This volcano is a great place to start because it has not erupted in years, it is a lower height mountain and it is an easy hike even for beginners. The altitude adjustment is the worst part of the hike, and it will often be started overnight to ease the complications of altitude adjustment.

Hikers can even expect to take a bus up the volcano for a small part of the hike. This is a great volcano to visit for first-time volcano hikers and experienced volcano travelers alike.

central america volcano


Massaya, Nicaragua

If you are a traveler who wants a more unique volcanic experience, the Massaya volcano is the place to be. It is one of the only active volcanoes in Central America that is safe for visitors to view. It is not a typical volcano – it does not spew lava, but is constantly spitting out fumes from the top.

Visitors can drive to the very top of the volcano to look into the top of the volcano. The most popular place to see in is the largest of the volcanic craters. While it is a somewhat safe journey, it is still a good idea for novice volcano viewers to take someone who is more experienced. There are various tour services that help people get the most out of their Massaya experience.

One thing to note when it comes to the Massaya volcano is that it may not be what visitors have expected. When people picture a volcano, they picture a cone shaped mountain figure. The Massaya is not cone shaped, but has a flat top to it. It is more of a mound than a mountain.

Many visitors also expect to see molten lava in the volcano when they look in. Visitors who are expecting lava may be disappointed if they go during the daytime. Due to the fumes that are constantly rising from the volcano, lava can usually only be seen at night.

central america volcano

The Rohit

Arenal, Costa Rica

The national park located in Arenal has plenty to offer its visitors. With everything from ATV rides to canopy rides high above the park and tours through the relaxing hot springs, there is something for everyone. All of this is possible due to the volcano that stands above the park and is a constant reminder of why these things are there.

This volcano is an active one and was one of the only active volcanoes in Central America for many years. Due to the fact that it is an active volcano, visitors are not able to access the rim of the volcano.

While it is not possible to visit the rim of the volcano, visitors will not be disappointed with the amount of activities they can do from the base of the volcano. The park offers daily tours around the base, offers canopy rides to get a unique view of the volcano and guided tours into the geothermal springs where guests can soak after a day filled with activity.

central america volcano

Monty VanderBilt

Cerro Negro, Nicaragua

For the more adventurous volcano explorer, Cerro Negro offers the ultimate volcano experience. The lower elevation of this volcano, which stands right at 2,000 feet, makes it much easier to hike. Cerro Negro is also made up of volcanic sand on one side, making it the ideal volcano for volcano boarding.

This extreme sport is done through the use of a wooden board and can only be accomplished when on volcanic sand. Boarders start toward the top of the volcano and ride their volcano board down to the base of Cerro Negro. This can only be accomplished on volcanoes that have lower elevations, and on ones that do not have steep incline.

While this volcano may not be the most popular one in Nicaragua, it has a very different offering than the Massaya. It is a newer volcano that does not have quite the same history as the others in Central America – it’s only around 150 years old.

Although it is not as old as some of the others in the area, it is possibly one of the most active. Since it was discovered until the turn of the century, it erupted 20 times. It has not erupted since 1999 and is considered to be moderately safe.

Pacaya, Guatemala

Travelers that are looking for some of the best views from a volcano can greatly benefit from the Pacaya in Guatemala. It is an active volcano that hikers can enjoy. It is a taller volcano, at 8,000 feet. While the Pacaya is tall, it is a somewhat easy hike.

It will take most of the day to hike and hikers must be sure that the volcano is at a safe point when they are deciding to hike. Since it is active, there are many things that could compromise the safety of hikers. It last erupted 2 years ago, but there has not been much lava seen in between its eruptions. Choosing to visit this volcano may be for some of the most daring hikers, but it is sure to give some of the best views possible.

Whether you choose one of these or any number of other volcanoes to climb in Central America, make sure your adventure is one that’s well-suited for your health and fitness level. Hire a guide where recommended, and make sure to always use common sense for the sake of your safety.

Oh, and take lots of photos! Anyone can snap a great pic of a Pacific Coast sunset while vacationing in the tropics. Not everyone can say they took that photo from 8,000 feet atop an active volcano!