In recent years, Central America has managed to shake off its previous image as a political trouble spot and has blossomed into an eminently inviting destination. Thanks to its extraordinary natural riches, the region has been able to capitalize on the popularity of ecotourism, which has become the mainstay of the Costa Rican economy in particular. Between the Caribbean and Pacific coasts lies a tract of tropical forest that teems with an amazing profusion of exotic animals, birds, butterflies and flowers. The area also contains remarkable Mayan ruins, evocative remnants of its fascinating pre-Columbian culture. Belize, Guatemala and Costa Rica already offer sophisticated lodges; doubtless Honduras and Panama will soon follow suit. Where political instability once made travel seem more than a little daunting, today’s visitors are welcomed by generally charming and easygoing inhabitants. Nicaragua in particular seems to be on the brink of a new era, having opted for democratic governments and the kind of upscale ecotourism one associates with Belize and Costa Rica. Much of the region is staggeringly beautiful, with immense volcanoes rising from glittering lakes set into a rich and verdant landscape. Beneath the volcanic cones stand elegant and unspoiled Spanish colonial cities such as Antigua in Guatemala and Granada in Nicaragua. To the north, in remote jungles that extend across the Guatemalan border into Mexico, lies the former heartland of the Maya, the most remarkable of pre-Columbian peoples. Today, the vast ruins of Tikal (as well as numerous other cities, many still half-buried in vegetation) comprise an extraordinary and enigmatic archaeological legacy. Considered by naturalists to be a “hot spot” of biological diversity, Central America’s jungles are home to spectacular birds such as the quetzal and the toucan; five species of spotted cats, including the magnificent jaguar; and a bewildering variety of butterflies, some the size of small plates! Though the region offers only a limited number of hotels and lodges suitable for Andrew Harper members, we are pleased to recommend several delightful properties in truly magical settings.

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