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)
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)
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)
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.
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)
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)
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 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.