Americas

Welcome to Americas.

The heart of North America beats through towering forests, undulating fields, high-plain deserts, pulsating metropolises and offbeat oases.

With turquoise seas and lush forests, magnificent Maya ruins, bustling markets and flourishing farms, Central America is packed with opportunities to chill out – or thrill out.

Andean peaks, Amazonian rainforest, Patagonian glaciers, Incan ruins, colonial towns, white-sand beaches and vertiginous nightlife: the wonders of South America set the stage for incredible adventures.

Americas

612577 The great American experience is about so many things: bluegrass and beaches, snow-covered peaks and redwood forests, restaurant-loving cities and big open skies.

Bright Lights, Big Cities

America is the birthplace of LA, Las Vegas, Chicago, Miami, Boston and New York City – each a brimming metropolis whose name alone conjures a million different notions of culture, cuisine and entertainment. Look more closely, and the American quilt unfurls in all its surprising variety: the eclectic music scene of Austin, the easygoing charms of antebellum Savannah, the eco-consciousness of free-spirited Portland, the magnificent waterfront of San Francisco and the captivating French Quarter of jazz-loving New Orleans. Each city adds its unique style to the grand patchwork that is America.

On the Road Again

This is a country of road trips and great open skies, where 4 million miles of highways lead past red-rock deserts, below towering mountain peaks and through fertile wheat fields that roll off toward the horizon. The sun-bleached hillsides of the Great Plains, the lush rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, the sultry swamplands of the South and the scenic country lanes of New England are a few fine starting points for the great American road trip. Veer off the interstate often to discover the bucolic 'blue highways' of lore.

Food-Loving Nation

On one evening in the US, thick barbecue ribs come piping hot at a Texas roadhouse, while chefs blend organic produce with Asian accents at award-winning West Coast restaurants. Locals get their fix of bagels and lox at a century-old deli in Manhattan's Upper West Side and, several states away, plump pancakes and fried eggs disappear under the clatter of cutlery at a 1950s-style diner. Steaming plates of lobster from a Maine pier, oysters and champagne from a California wine bar, Korean tacos out of a Portland food truck – these are just a few ways to dine à la Americana.

Cultural Behemoth

The USA has made tremendous contributions to the arts. Georgia O'Keeffe's wild landscapes, Robert Rauschenberg's surreal collages, Alexander Calder's elegant mobiles and Jackson Pollock's drip paintings have entered the vernacular of 20th-century art. Chicago and New York have become veritable drawing boards for the great architects of the modern era. And from the soulful blues born in the Mississippi Delta to the bluegrass of Appalachia and Detroit's Motown sound – plus jazz, funk, hip-hop, country, and rock and roll – America has invented sounds integral to modern music.

612577 Palm-fringed beaches, chili-spiced cuisine; steamy jungles, teeming cities; fiesta fireworks, Frida’s angst: Mexico conjures up diverse, vivid dreams. And the reality lives up to them.

An Outdoor Life

With steaming jungles, smoking, snowcapped volcanoes, cactus-strewn deserts and 10,000km of coast strung with sandy beaches and wildlife-rich lagoons, Mexico is an endless adventure for the senses and a place where life is lived largely in the open air. Take it easy dining alfresco beside a Pacific beach or strolling Guanajuato's colonial streets. Or get out and hike Oaxaca's mountain cloud forests or snorkel warm Caribbean reefs.

Art & Soul of a Nation

Mexico's pre-Hispanic civilizations built some of the world’s great archaeological monuments, including Teotihuacán’s towering pyramids and the exquisite Maya temples of Palenque. The Spanish colonial era left beautiful towns full of tree-shaded plazas and richly sculpted stone churches and mansions, while modern Mexico has seen a surge of great art from the likes of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Top-class museums and galleries document the country's fascinating history and its endless creative verve. Popular culture is just as vibrant, from the underground dance clubs and street art of Mexico City to the wonderful handicrafts of the indigenous population.

A Varied Palate

Travel in Mexico is what you make it and the country caters to all types of visitor. Stay in pampering resorts on the Riviera Maya, budget beach huts on the Pacific or colonial mansions in the highlands. Eat gourmet fusion food in chic city restaurants or equally delicious grandmothers' recipes at a busy market comedor (food stall). Getting from A to B is easy with comfortable buses running almost everywhere and an extensive domestic flight network.

Los Mexicanos

At the heart of your Mexican experience will be the Mexican people. A super-diverse crew, from Mexico City hipsters to the shy indigenous villagers of Chiapas, they’re renowned for their love of color and frequent fiestas, but they're also philosophical folk, to whom timetables are less important than simpatía (empathy). You'll rarely find Mexicans less than courteous. They’re more often positively charming, and know how to please guests. They might despair of ever being well governed, but they're fiercely proud of Mexico, their one-of-a-kind homeland with all its variety, tight-knit family networks, beautiful-ugly cities, deep-rooted traditions and agave-based liquors.

612577 Canada is more than its hulking-mountain, craggy-coast good looks: it also cooks extraordinary meals, rocks cool culture and unfurls wild, moose-spotting road trips.

The Great Outdoors

The globe's second-biggest country has an endless variety of landscapes. Sky-high mountains, glinting glaciers, spectral rainforests and remote beaches are all here, spread across six times zones. It's the backdrop for plenty of ah-inspiring moments – and for a big cast of local characters. That's big as in polar bears, grizzly bears, whales and, everyone's favorite, moose.The terrain also makes for a fantastic playground. Whether it's snowboarding Whistler's mountains, surfing Nova Scotia's swells or kayaking the white-frothed South Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories, adventures abound. There are gentler options, too, like strolling Vancouver's Stanley Park or swimming off Prince Edward Island's pink-sand beaches.

Captivating Cultures

Sip a café au lait and tear into a flaky croissant at a sidewalk bistro in Montréal; head to an Asian night market and slurp noodles in Vancouver; join a wild-fiddling Celtic party on Cape Breton Island; kayak between rainforest-cloaked Aboriginal villages on Haida Gwaii: Canada is incredibly diverse across its breadth and within its cities. You'll hear it in the music, see it in the arts and taste it in the cuisine.

Foodie Fare

Canada is a local food smorgasbord. If you grazed from west to east across the country, you'd fill your plate like this: wild salmon and velvety scallops in British Columbia, poutine (golden fries topped with gravy and cheese curds) in Québec, and lobster with a dab of melted butter in the Maritime provinces. Tastemakers may not tout Canadian food the way they do, say, Italian or French fare, so let's just call the distinctive seafood, piquant cheeses, and fresh, seasonal fruits and veggies our little secret. Ditto for the award-winning bold reds and crisp whites produced from the country's vine-striped valleys.

Artistic Flair

The arts are an integral part of Canada's cultural landscape. You'll find it from the International Fringe Theater Festival (the world's second-largest) in Edmonton to mega museums like Ottawa's National Gallery. Montreal's Jazz Festival and Toronto's star-studded Film Festival draw global crowds. And did you know Ontario's Stratford Festival is the continent's largest classical repertory theater? Even places you might not automatically think of – say, St John's or Woody Point – put on renowned shindigs (an avant-garde 'sound symposium' and a big-name writers festival, respectively).

612577 Timeworn but magnificent, dilapidated but dignified, fun yet maddeningly frustrating – Cuba is a country of indefinable magic.

Expect the Unexpected

Cuba is like a prince in a poor man’s coat: behind the sometimes shabby facades, gold dust lingers. It’s these rich dichotomies that make travel here the exciting, exhilarating roller-coaster ride it is. Trapped in a time warp and reeling from an economic embargo that has grated for more than half a century, this is a country where you can wave goodbye to everyday assumptions and expect the unexpected. If Cuba were a book, it would be James Joyce's Ulysses: layered, hard to grasp, frequently misunderstood, but – above all – a classic.

Historical Heritage

Bereft of modern interference, Cuba’s colonial cities haven’t changed much since musket-toting pirates stalked the Caribbean. The atmosphere and architecture is particularly stirring in Havana, Trinidad, Remedios and Camagüey where grandiose squares and cobbled streets tell erstwhile tales of opulence and intrigue. Yet, despite pockets of preservation, many buildings still lie ruined like aging dowagers waiting for a face-lift. With more funds, these heirlooms may yet rise again. Indeed, thanks to private investment, many of them have already been partially renovated, morphing into spectacular private homestays or retro-themed restaurants proudly showing off their weighty historical heritage.

The Perfect Time to Visit

There’s rarely been a better time to visit Cuba. Private enterprise is displaying the first buds of a creative spring, while the big-name brands from that well-known frenemy in the north have yet to dilute the cultural magic. As a result, the country is rife with experimentation. Here a free-spirited cafe where earnest students sit around debating Che Guevara's contribution to world revolution; there an avant-garde art studio where the furniture is as outlandish as the exhibits. From rural Viñales to urban Havana, it’s as if the whole country is slowly awakening from a deep slumber. Come now and ride the wave.

Beyond the Beaches

The vast majority of Cuba's tourists gravitate to the attractive arcs of white sand that pepper the country's north coast and offshore islands. But, explore beyond the beaches and you’re in a different domain, a land of fecund forests and crocodile-infested swamps, abandoned coffee plantations and rugged mountains as famous for their revolutionary folklore as their endemic species. Cuba, once observed German scientist Alexander von Humboldt, is a kind of Caribbean Galápagos where contradictory curiosities exist side by side. Get off the beaten path and seek them out.

612577 One of the world's most captivating places, Brazil is a country of powdery white-sand beaches, verdant rainforests and wild, rhythm-filled metropolises. Brazil's attractions extend from frozen-in-time colonial towns to otherworldly landscapes of red-rock canyons, thundering waterfalls and coral-fringed tropical islands. Then there's Brazil's biodiversity: legendary in scope, its diverse ecosystems boast the greatest collection of plant and animal species found anywhere on earth. There are countless places where you can spot iconic species in Brazil, including toucans, scarlet macaws, howler monkeys, capybara, pink dolphins, sea turtles and thousands of other living species.

Landscapes & Biodiversity

One of the world's most captivating places, Brazil is a country of powdery white-sand beaches, verdant rainforests and wild, rhythm-filled metropolises. Brazil's attractions extend from frozen-in-time colonial towns to otherworldly landscapes of red-rock canyons, thundering waterfalls and coral-fringed tropical islands. Add to that, Brazil's biodiversity: legendary in scope, its diverse ecosystems boast the greatest collection of plant and animal species found anywhere on earth. There are countless places where you can spot iconic species in Brazil, including toucans, scarlet macaws, howler monkeys, capybaras, pink dolphins, sea turtles and thousands of other living species.

Days of Adventure

Brazil offers big adventures for travelers with budgets large and small. There's horseback riding and wildlife-watching in the Pantanal, kayaking flooded forests in the Amazon, ascending rocky cliff tops to panoramic views, whale-watching off the coast, surfing stellar breaks off palm-fringed beaches and snorkeling crystal-clear rivers or coastal reefs – all are part of the great Brazilian experience. No less entrancing is the prospect of doing nothing, aside from sinking toes into warm sands and soaking up a glorious stretch of beach, with a caipirinha – Brazil's national cocktail – in hand.

Joie de Vivre

Brazil's most famous celebration, Carnaval, storms through the country's cities and towns with hip-shaking samba and frevo, dazzling costumes and parties that last until sun up, but Brazilians hardly limit their revelry to a few weeks of the year. Festas (festivals) happen throughout the year, and provide a window into Brazil's incredible diversity. The streets are carpeted with flowers during Ouro Preto's Semana Santa (Holy Week), while in the north, Bumba Meu Boi blends indigenous, African and Portuguese folklore. For a taste of the old world, hit Blumenau's beer- and schnitzel-loving Oktoberfest, the largest outside of Germany. Several cities, such as Recife, Fortaleza and Natal even host Carnaval at other times of year.

The Rhythms of Brazil

Wherever there's music, that carefree lust for life tends to appear – whether dancing with cariocas at Rio's atmospheric samba clubs or following powerful drumbeats through the streets of Salvador. There's the dancehall forró of the Northeast, twirling carimbó of the Amazon, scratch-skilled DJs of São Paulo and an endless variety of regional sounds that extends from the twangy country music of the sunbaked sertanejo to the hard-edged reggae of Maranhão.

612577 It's apparent why Argentina has long held travelers in awe: tango, beef, gauchos, fútbol, Patagonia, the Andes. The classics alone make a formidable wanderlust cocktail.

City Life

Arriving in Buenos Aires is like jumping aboard a moving train. Outside the taxi window, a blurred mosaic of a modern metropolis whizzes by, and then the street life appears – the cafes, the purple jacaranda flowers draped over the sidewalks (in spring!), and porteños (residents of Buenos Aires) in stylish clothing, walking purposefully past handsome early-20th-century stone facades. And it’s not just Buenos Aires that’s a stunner – Córdoba, Salta, Mendoza and Bariloche each have their unique personalities and unforgettable attractions, so don't miss them.

Natural Wonders

From mighty Iguazú Falls in the subtropical north to the thunderous, crackling advance of the Glaciar Perito Moreno in the south, Argentina is a vast natural wonderland. The country boasts some of the Andes’ highest peaks. It’s home to rich wetlands that rival Brazil’s famous Pantanal, mountains painted in rustic colors, deserts dotted with cacti, massive ice fields and arid steppes in Patagonia, cool lichen-clad Valdivian forests, Andean salt flats, a spectacular Lake District, penguins, flamingos, capybaras and more. All are stunning sights and adventures just waiting to be experienced.

Food & Drink

Satisfying that carnal craving for juicy steaks isn’t hard to do in the land that has perfected grilling wonderfully flavorful sides of beef. Parrillas (steak restaurants) are everywhere and will offer up any cut you can imagine. And if you're a fan of pizza and pasta, these Italian staples are ubiquitous as well. But there's more – in Buenos Aires you can experience a huge variety of ethnic cuisine, from Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern to Scandinavian. Down it all with that famous Argentine wine, and you'll be struggling to maintain your waistline.

Argentine Culture

Tango is possibly Argentina’s greatest contribution to the outside world, a steamy dance that’s been described as ‘making love in the vertical position.’ And what about fútbol (soccer)? Argentines are passionately devoted to this sport and, if you're a fan, experiencing a live match should definitely be on your itinerary. Add a distinctive Argentine take on literature, cinema, music and arts, and you have a rich, edgy culture – part Latin American and part European – that you can’t help but fall in love with.

612577 Soaring Andean summits, unspoiled Caribbean coast, enigmatic Amazon jungle, cryptic archaeological ruins and cobbled colonial communities. Colombia boasts all of South America's allure, and more.

Diverse Landscapes

Colombia's equatorial position affords it a diversity of landscapes matched by few countries. A slight tinkering in altitude takes you from sun-toasted Caribbean sands to coffee-strewn, emerald-green hilltops in the Zona Cafetera. Continue to climb and there's Bogotá, the bustling cradle of Colombia and third-highest capital city in the world. Throw in another few thousand meters and you find snowcapped peaks, high-altitude lakes and the eerie, unique vegetation of the páramo. The bottom drops out as the Andes give way to Los Llanos, a 550,000-sq-km swath of tropical grasslands shared with Venezuela, often called the Serengeti of South America.

Outdoor Adventures

Colombia's varied terrain is fertile ground for outdoor adventurers to dive, climb, raft, trek and soar. San Gil is the undisputed adventure capital, but Colombia boasts alfresco pleasures in all corners. Some of the continent's most iconic trekking is here, and is dramatically varied: Ciudad Perdida is a multiday jungle walk to the ancient ruins of the Tayrona civilization, while numerous ascents inside Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy place intrepid hikers among the highest reaches of the Andes. Providencia's world-class reef spells aquatic heaven for scuba divers, and whale-watchers on the Pacific coast can see majestic humpbacks in the wild.

Extraordinary Culture

A wealth of ancient civilizations left behind a fascinating spread of archaeological and cultural sites throughout Colombia. The one-time Tayrona capital, Ciudad Perdida, built between the 11th and 14th centuries, is one of the continent's most mysterious ancient cities, arguably second only to Machu Picchu. Even more shrouded in mystery is San Agustín, where more than 500 life-sized ancient sculpted statues of enigmatic origin dot the surrounding countryside. And then there's Tierradentro, where elaborate underground tombs scooped out by an unknown people add even more mystique to Colombia's past.

Colonial Charm

Led by Cartagena's extraordinarily preserved old city, Colombia offers an off-the-radar treasure trove of cinematic cobblestoned towns and villages that often feel bogged down in a different century, content to carry on as they have since the departure of the Spanish without a care in the world. Unweathered Barichara and happily sleepy Mompós feel like movie sets, impossibly unspoiled by modern progress; while whitewashed Villa de Leyva appears stuck in 16th-century quicksand. Colombia's panorama of postcard-perfect pueblos are among the best preserved on the continent.

612577 Peru is as complex as its most intricate and exquisite weavings. Festivals mark ancient rites, the urban vanguard beams innovation and nature brims with splendid diversity.

All Things Ancient

Visitors pilgrimage to the glorious Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, yet this feted site is just a flash in a 5000-year history of peoples. Explore the dusted remnants of Chan Chan, the largest pre-Columbian ruins in all the Americas. Fly over the puzzling geoglyphs etched into the arid earth at Nazca. Or venture into the rugged wilds that hem the stalwart fortress of Kuelap. Lima’s great museums reveal in full detail the sophistication, skill and passion of these lost civilizations. Visit remote communities and see how old ways live on. Immerse yourself, and you will leave Peru a little closer to the past.

Pleasure & the Palate

One existential question haunts all Peruvians: what to eat? Ceviche with slivers of fiery chili and corn, slow-simmered stews, velvety Amazonian chocolate – in the capital of Latin cooking, the choices dazzle. Great geographic and cultural diversity has brought ingredients ranging from highland tubers to tropical jungle fruits to a complex cuisine of Spanish, indigenous, African and Asian influence. The truth is, fusion existed here long before it came with airs. Explore the bounty of food markets. Sample grilled anticuchos (beef skewers) on the street corners and splurge a little on exquisite novoandina (Peruvian nouvelle cuisine).

Oh, Adventure

Giant sand dunes, chiseled peaks and Pacific breaks a few heartbeats away from the capital’s rush-hour traffic: from downtown Lima to smack-dab nowhere, this vast country translates to paradise for the active traveler. All the usual suspects – rafting, paragliding, zip lines and bike trails – are present. Spot scarlet macaws in the Amazon or catch the sunset over the dusty remnants of an ancient civilization. Take this big place in small bites and don't rush. Delays happen. Festivals can swallow you whole for days. And that’s when you realize: in Peru the adventure usually lies in getting there.

Life is a Carnival

Welcome to a place of mythical beliefs where ancient pageants unwind to the tune of booming brass bands. Peru's rich cultural heritage is never more real and visceral than when you are immersed streetside in the swirling madness of a festival. Deities of old are reincarnated as Christian saints, pilgrims climb mountains in the dead of night and icons are paraded through crowded plazas as once were the mummies of Inca rulers. History is potent here and still pulsing, and there is no better way to experience it.

612577 Scented by slow-roasted pork and sea breezes, and colored by swashbuckling history, this sun-washed medley of Spanish and American influences is a paradise-seeker's pleasure dome.

Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico

In early September 2017, Puerto Rico anxiously prepared for two catastrophic hurricanes that threatened its shores. Hurricane Irma came first, wrecking the islands of Culebra and Vieques and causing serious damage and flooding along the country’s northeastern coast. Just a week later, Hurricane Maria made a more direct impact, becoming the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in 89 years. While Maria's blow may have immobilized the island temporarily, Puerto Ricans continue to persevere as relief efforts mobilize and recovery begins. Borinquen has weathered many storms, and it will weather this one too.

Caribbean Beaches

Puerto Rico inspires Caribbean daydreams for good reason: it can satisfy both the lethargic beach bum and the budding big-wave surfer – all in a long weekend. Its coral reefs host a riot of fantastical fish and the shores shimmer like crushed pearls. On some beaches you'll have plenty of company. In other places like Vieques or Cabo Rojo you might have some of the world's best stretches of sand entirely to yourself. If the sands that rim the island tempt you to stay, you can opt for sizeable resorts or independent guesthouses for watching those seaside sunsets from your room.

Cultural Vibrancy

The island's culture is of the visceral kind. You'll need to search for it beyond the condo towers and congested roads, and sometimes it seems Puerto Rico does not wish to show outsiders its cultural magnitude. Then, suddenly, you'll smell it in the smoke arising from lechoneras (eateries specializing in suckling pig), or hear it in the intoxicating patters of salsa beats. You'll glimpse it as sunlight sparkles across coffee plantations, or in museums celebrating everything from failed revolution to classical European painting. Puerto Rican traditions have been shaped by generations of cultural synthesis, celebration and setback, and it emerges today as vivid and indomitable.

Happening History

Puerto Rico's present appears laid-back but its past brims with cannon fire and colonization, repression and revolt. Legend abounds: from San Juan's fortresses, scoured by siege, to the crumbling South Coast sugar refineries once powering the island's economy. European settlers built pretty plazas in harbor cities while political revolutionaries schemed rebellion in mountain villages. History enthusiasts can wander precolonial Taíno ruins or coffee haciendas. Even if your interest is scant, it's hard not to get immersed in Puerto Rico's tempestuous story in Old San Juan, where enticing echoes of bygone times – of colonists and swashbucklers and smugglers – reverberate still.

Forest Thrills

Even those who stick to the coast cannot escape the alluring shadow of Puerto Rico's thick forests, as knotted labyrinths of mangroves create crucial shoreside wildlife reserves and the green glint of the inland forested hills is rarely out of sight.The island's dense foliage invites a perpetual mystery to blanket it, as coqui frogs chant among giant tree ferns and roots reduce so-called roads to rubble. The forests here are internationally important, such as El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest in the US. A journey into them guarantees to awaken the adventurer within.

612577 Chile is nature on a colossal scale, but travel here is surprisingly easy if you don't rush it.

Meet A Land of Extremes

Preposterously thin and unreasonably long, Chile stretches from the belly of South America to its foot, reaching from the driest desert on earth to vast southern glacial fields. Diverse landscapes unfurl over a 4300km stretch: parched dunes, fertile valleys, volcanoes, ancient forests, massive glaciers and fjords. There's wonder in every detail and nature on a symphonic scale. For the traveler, it's boggling how so much has stayed intact for so long. The very human quest for development could imperil these treasures sooner than we think. Yet for now, Chile guards some of the most pristine parts of our planet, and they shouldn't be missed.

La Buena Onda

In Chile, close borders foster backyard intimacy. Bookended by the Andes and the Pacific, the country averages just 175km wide. No wonder you start greeting the same faces. Pause and it starts to feel like home. Perhaps it's because you've landed at the end of the continent, but one thing that stands out is hospitality. Buena onda (good vibes) means putting forth a welcoming attitude. Patagonians share round upon round of maté tea. The ritual of relating and relaxing is so integral to the fabric of local life, it’s hardly even noticed. But they do say one thing: stay and let your guard down.

Slow Adventure

In Chile, adventure is what happens on the way to having an adventure. Pedal the chunky gravel of the Carretera Austral and end up sharing ferries with SUVs and oxcarts, taking a wrong turn and finding heaven in an anonymous orchard. Serendipity takes over. Plans may be made, but try being just as open to experience. Locals never rush, so maybe you shouldn’t either. 'Those who hurry waste their time,' is the Patagonian saying that would serve well as a traveler's mantra.

Wine Culture

Before wine became an export commodity for the luxury set, humble casks had their place on every Chilean table. Grandparents tended backyard orchards. Now, Chile has become a worldwide producer catering to ever more sophisticated palates. Rich reds, crisp whites and floral rosés, there is a varietal that speaks to every mood and occasion. But at home, it's something different. Chileans embrace the concept of la buena mesa. It’s not about fancy. Beyond a good meal, it’s great company, the leisure of overlapping conversations with uncorkings, and the gaze that's met at the clink of two glasses. Salud!

612577 Centering yourself on a surfboard or yoga mat, descending bat-filled caves or misty volcanic peaks, hiking, biking or ziplining – your only limit is your return date.

The Peaceful Soul of Central America

If marketing experts could draw up an ideal destination, Costa Rica might be it. The 'rich coast' has earned its name and stands apart from its Central American neighbors on the cutting edge of so many trends: surfing, farm-to-table restaurants, and sustainable tourism. One of the world's most biodiverse countries, with half a million species – from insects to the giant anteaters that devour them – it also protects one-quarter of its wild lands through law. Developing infrastructure is balanced by green energy like wind and hydro, and while there's no standing army, you almost always feel safe.

Outdoor Adventures

Rainforest hikes and brisk high-altitude trails, rushing white-water rapids and warm-water, world-class surfing: Costa Rica offers a dizzying suite of outdoor adventures in every shape and size – from the squeal-inducing rush of a canopy zipline to a sun-dazed afternoon at the beach. National parks allow visitors to glimpse life in both rainforest and cloud forest, simmering volcanoes offer otherworldly vistas, and reliable surf breaks are suited to beginners and experts alike. Can’t decide? Don’t worry: given the country’s size, you can plan a relatively short trip that includes it all.

The Wild Life

Such wildlife abounds in Costa Rica as to seem almost cartoonish: keel-billed toucans ogle you from treetops and scarlet macaws raucously announce their flight plans. A keen eye will discern a sloth on a branch or the eyes of a caiman breaking the surface of a mangrove swamp, while alert ears will catch rustling leaves signaling a troop of white-faced capuchins or the haunting call of a howler monkey. Blue morpho butterflies flit amid orchid-festooned trees, while colorful tropical fish, sharks, rays, dolphins and whales thrive offshore – all as if in a conservationist’s dream.

The Pure Life

A recent study showed that many Costa Ricans live longer, healthier lives than people on the rest of the planet, and it all comes down to pura vida (pure life), a term you'll hear everywhere. Before you dismiss it as marketing banter (and it is a big marketing phrase), listen to how it's used. It means hello, goodbye, everything's cool, same to you. It never has a negative connotation. You may enter the country not believing it, but after a week you'll be saying it, too, unconsciously: pura vida, mai. Relax and enjoy the ride.

612577 Mysterious and often challenging, Central America’s most diverse country offers landscapes and experiences that have been captivating travelers for centuries.

Colonial Grandeur

Say what you like about the Spanish in Latin America, but you have to agree that they left behind some stunning architecture. From Antigua’s crumbling ruins to the stately cathedral in Guatemala City’s central plaza, there are plenty of opportunities to get snap-happy. In even the smallest towns you can find picturesque buildings – the small coastal town of Retalhuleu, for instance, has a charming central plaza – while larger coffee-boom towns such as Cobán and Quetzaltenango maintain vestiges of their glory days in their cathedrals, town halls and other public buildings.

The Timeless Maya

While many ask whatever happened to the Maya, the simple answer is nothing – they’re still here, and some traditions continue to thrive. If you’re interested in archaeology, the must-see sites include Tikal, Copán (in Honduras), and Guatemala City’s superb selection of museums.Living Maya culture can be witnessed in its 'pure' form in towns such as Rabinal and sacred sites such as Laguna Chicabal. And the Maya themselves? Well, they’re everywhere. But the most traditional villages are in the highlands – the Ixil Triangle is a good place to start.

Adventure Awaits

Active souls tend to find their agenda very full once they get to Guatemala. Stunning trekking routes through the jungles and up volcanoes, world-class white-water rafting, miles of caves to explore, and what seems like a zip line strung between every two trees in the country are just the beginning. Like to take things up a notch? How about paragliding into a volcanic crater at Lago de Atitlán? Or scuba diving in the same place? You might even luck onto some good swell on the Pacific coast. Or you could just find a hammock and languidly consider your options. Your call.

Natural Highs

With not even 2% of its landmass urbanized, it’s not surprising that Guatemala offers some superb natural scenery. National parks are few but impressive, particularly in the Petén region, and the lush canyons of the Río Dulce make for an unforgettable boat ride. The natural beauty of the volcano-ringed Lago de Atitlán has been captivating travelers for centuries, while the Verapaces are riddled with more caves than a spelunker could explore in a lifetime, and the swimming hole that launched a thousand postcards, Semuc Champey, just has to be seen to be believed.

612577 From clear turquoise seas to the coffee farms and cloud forests of Chiriquí, Panama can be as chilled out or as thrilling as you wish.

Endless Summer

With a spate of deserted islands, chilled Caribbean vibes on one side and monster Pacific swells on the other, Panama sits poised to deliver the best of beach life. And a whole other world begins at the water's edge. Seize it by scuba diving with whale sharks in the Pacific, snorkeling the rainbow reefs of Bocas del Toro or setting sail in the indigenous territory of Guna Yala, where virgin isles sport nary a footprint. Meanwhile surfers will be psyched to have world-class breaks all to themselves. Hello, paradise.

Cosmopolitan Panama

The dazzling blue coastline and shimmering skyscrapers say Miami, though many joke that you hear more English spoken in Panama. Panama City is culturally diverse and driven, rough-edged yet sophisticated. There's much that's new or improved. Central America's first subway is ready, the historic Casco district is renovated and a massive canal expansion nears completion. Take in the city's funky particulars. Pedal the coastal green space, explore the Casco or attend an avant-garde performance and you will realize this tropical capital isn't just about salsa: that's just the backbeat.

The Great Outdoors

In Panama, nature is all about discovery. Explore the ruins of Spanish forts on the Caribbean coast or boat deep into indigenous territories in a dugout canoe. Wildlife is incidental: a resplendent quetzal on the highland trail, an unruly troupe of screeching howler monkeys outside your cabin or a breaching whale that turns your ferry ride into an adrenaline-filled event. Adventure tourism means zipping through rainforest canopies, swimming alongside sea turtles or trekking to sublime cloud-forest vistas. One small tropical country with two long coasts makes for a pretty big playground.

Lost-World Adventure

You don't have to make it all the way to the Darién to get off the beaten path – though if you do, you've hit one of the most biodiverse spots on the planet. Go where the wild things are. Soak in the spray of towering waterfalls near highland Santa Fé. Visit one of Panama's seven indigenous groups through community tourism. Live out your castaway fantasies in the Guna Yala or idle on a wilderness beach in Península de Azuero. Howl back at the creatures sharing the canopy. Panama is as wild as you want it to be.