Must-Visit National Parks in Central America and Mexico

You might not think of Nation­al Parks when you think of Cen­tral Amer­i­ca and Mex­i­co, but the nar­row neck of land between the U.S. and South Amer­i­ca has an abun­dance of nat­ur­al trea­sure, des­ig­nat­ed as Nation­al Parks, wait­ing to be explored. In 2013, for­get about that relax­ing cruise you’ve been plan­ning and head south for an adven­ture.

Basaseachic Falls National Park (Mexico)Basaseachic Falls Nation­al Park (Mex­i­co)
Locat­ed in the north­ern state of Chi­huahua, Basaseachic Falls is only a 10-hour dri­ve from Tus­con, Ari­zona. To reach the falls, hike through a pine-oak for­est with dra­mat­ic moun­tain views to wit­ness the 807-ft cas­cade up close. Because of the park’s many dif­fer­ent ele­va­tions there are many micro-cli­mates that fos­ter an abun­dance of flo­ra and fau­na includ­ing the Texas-horned lizard.

Scorpion Reef (Alacarnes Reef) National Park (Mexico)Scor­pi­on Reef (Alacarnes Reef) Nation­al Park (Mex­i­co)
Plan­ning for your trip is the hard part. There are no fer­ries to take you there, and there’s no food and water wait­ing for you either. Scor­pi­on Reef is sit­u­at­ed 100-km , 4-hours by motor boat, from the town of Pro­gre­so in the Gulf of Mex­i­co. The reef is com­prised of 5 atolls, coral islands that form lagoons, and vis­i­tors can fish off shore, swim in the lagoons, dive to see sunken ships, check out the light­house or just relax on the beach­es.

Volcan Baru (Panama)Vol­can Baru (Pana­ma)
Hik­ing this inac­tive vol­cano is not for the faint of heart. The trop­i­cal heat is bru­tal and relent­less, and a guide is rec­om­mend­ed. But like all bru­tal hikes, the ben­e­fits out­weigh the costs. From the top on a clear day you can see both the Pacif­ic Ocean and the Caribbean. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the bril­liant­ly col­ored quet­zal bird on the way up.

Tikal (Guatemala)Tikal (Guatemala)
Although it was aban­doned at the col­lapse of the Mayan civ­i­liza­tion near 900 A.D., Tikal’s many ancient tem­ples and build­ings are well pre­served. The city of Tikal, cra­dle of the Mayan empire, cov­ers 10-square miles, so you should con­sid­er spend­ing more than a day explor­ing the ruins. Because Tikal is locat­ed in the heart of sub­trop­i­cal rain­for­est there will be many wildlife view­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties.

Cocos Island (Costa Rica)Cocos Island (Cos­ta Rica)
340 miles off the coast of Cos­ta Rica (Pacif­ic side) lies Cocos Island, a rain forest­ed island with amaz­ing div­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties. If see­ing whale sharks, ham­mer­head sharks, and giant man­tas through your scu­ba gog­gles is on your buck­et list you may need to start plan­ning your trip now.

Corcovado  (Costa Rica)Cor­co­v­a­do  (Cos­ta Rica)
Locat­ed on the Osa Penin­su­la, Cor­co­v­a­do Nation­al Park is one of the most bio­log­i­cal­ly diverse places on earth. Howler mon­keys, scar­let macaws, jaguars, jaguarundis, tapirs, and 3-toed sloths are just a few of the res­i­dents you might see at Cor­co­v­a­do.  Hik­ing is the main attrac­tion here and you can either go through the old growth wet forests, the trop­i­cal beach­es, or both. Hik­ing through the jun­gle may seem daunt­ing, so find­ing an out­fit­ter like Osa Adven­tu­ra, which guid­ed jun­gle tours and edu­ca­tion­al programs,might be a great way to explore the park.

Tortuguero (Costa Rica)Tor­tuguero (Cos­ta Rica)
Tor­tuguero is famous for its sea tur­tles as green, leatherback, and hawks­bill tur­tles nest here. To see the sea tur­tles come up on the shore to lay their eggs you must hire a guide to take you onto the beach at night. You can also go snor­kel­ing and scu­ba div­ing in the sys­tem behind the beach where you may see man­a­tees, rivers tur­tles and otters.