Insider's View


Central America

The latest insider information on Central America from our recent discussion with Jennifer Rakowski.

Q: How would you describe the region of Central America for visitors who haven’t been there?

The Central America region is the natural bridge between North and South America which contains a high concentration of the world’s biodiversity. It is noted for lush verdant rain forests teeming with wildlife and flora, active volcanos, rich history and culture — both ancient and modern — Mayan and Spanish ruins, barrier reefs and dual oceans. The region’s practice of sustainability, with Costa Rica as its leader, protects all these natural wonders and promotes positive and enriching travel.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is an oasis of calm and an ecotourism heaven. Whether you are looking for a city full of nightlife, adventure in the jungle or relaxation on the white sand beaches — this country has something appealing to every kind of person looking for an ideal vacation destination.


Belize is a country full of history, exotic nature and adventure. Whether it is visiting the Mayan temples or experiencing the natural wonders of the Belize Barrier Reef, we can customize a package to fit your needs.


Panama is a hidden treasure in Central America. The footprints of thousands of years, the world’s most important land bridge and an area rich in nature await you. For those seeking flora and fauna, experiencing the unchanged culture of seven indigenous tribes or enjoying the vibrant metropolis of Panama City, you will not be disappointed.


Nicaragua and its unparalleled natural beauty is further enriched by its strong cultural heritage and legacy of warm and friendly hospitality. Nicaragua’s multi-ethnic and multi-lingual people take great pride in their culture and their country, and welcome visitors with open arms.

Q: When is the best time to visit and why?

The countries in the region generally follow a pattern of High Season, from Dec 15-April 30 and Green Season thereafter. The High Season is dryer while the Green Season is enjoyed for its tropical afternoon rains which brings active animal life and full and lush foliage. Prices generally drop 10-20% during the Green Season.

Q: What are the top sights, hidden gems and activities in the region?

Visitors can expect an abundance of adventure activities for all levels of expertise from a gentle stroll on hanging bridges overlooking the rain forest to rappelling down a waterfall. Or, learn about the history of the region by touring a Colonial city, visiting a coffee plantation or taking a boat ride through the Panama Canal locks. These would be considered the top sights and hidden gems:

Costa Rica

  • Arenal Volcano, Cloud Forests, Guanacaste beaches
  • Hidden Gems — Manual Antonio where the rain forest meets the sea, Tortuguero, Osa Penninsula


  • The three cities, Panama Canal, Embera Indigenous village, white sand beaches
  • Hidden Gems — Gamboa rain forest district, Boquette cloud forest, Valle De Anton, Bocos del Toro Archipelago


  • Great Barrier reef by Ambergris Island, Mayan ruins in the Cayo District, Rain forests
  • Hidden Gems — Belize zoo, the Blue hole, ATM caving to see the Maya princess, whale sharks in Placencia/Hopkins


  • Granada Colonial City and markets, Masaya Volcano, unspoiled beaches, Giant Lakes
  • Hidden Gems — Islitas in the lake, Rum factory, Leon Spanish ruins, secluded beaches

Q: How would you describe the people and the culture?

The Central American is mostly Spanish speaking with the exception of Belize which is English speaking. In Costa Rica, there is a high concentration of people in the tourism industry that are bilingual. The people are incredibly friendly and proud of their country. They welcome tourism with open arms. The generosity and attention to service is easily seen in all the destinations. Each region’s traditions include special dances, music, foods with a Latin or Indigenous flair. With little to no crime encountered with travelers, these Central American countries offer safe travels for tourists exploring.

Q: What are some cultural etiquettes visitors should be aware of?

As the practice of Sustainability is prevalent in all the countries, the etiquette follows the program.

  • With wildlife, travelers are requested not to touch nor feed the animals.
  • Observe and enjoy is the local practice.
  • Do no harm.
  • Do not pick flowers or take home anything from nature that is not sold in stores.
  • Gratuities are widely accepted and expected for good service.
  • Remember 10% is already included with meals.

Q: What foods would you recommend people try?

  • Ceviche
  • Patacones
  • Gallo Pinto
  • Fresh guacamole
  • Corvina (sea Bass)
  • Heart of Palm salad
  • Tres leches custard

Q: Can you describe your most unique culinary tour?

You can experience the local flavors of all destinations by "going local". We highly recommend dining out as there are so many fantastic local options in all the countries.

One option for a culinary tour is Costa Rica — Dining meets adventure through the tropical forests. This tour combines adventure activities with fine dining in distinctive restaurants.

The tour includes a private meet and greet in San Jose followed by:

  • An overnight stay at the one of the leading local boutique properties, Grano De Oro. Dine at their famous restaurant featuring the expertise of their French chef Francis Canal who fuses local Costa Rica delights with traditional French style mastery.
  • Zip line into the Nest, an elevated dining platform high in the trees where you will dine on local fresh flavors like balsamic sea bass and tantalizing fresh made ginger ice cream.
  • Enjoy two nights at the Arenal Naraya Resort in your private villa with plunge pool. Dine at Sushi Amor where the chef designs rolls with a Costa Rican twist. Enjoy the delightful wine and tapas bar.
  • Dine at the famous ceviche bar at the new Andaz Resort where your personal ceviche chef will create your dish before your eyes to your taste buds. Enjoy the small plates and the mixology of the Chao Pescao Restaurant. Designed cocktails and juices for every palate will be paired with a delightful tasting menu.
  • Adventure activities include volcano hiking, waterfall rappel, zip lining, paddle boarding and kayaking.

Q: In your opinion, where is the best scenery views and why is it the best?

Costa Rica

Sunset at the Villa Caletas Amphitheater with lush vistas of the rainforest, Pacific Ocean, soothing tunes and delightful surroundings.


Partial Transit through the canal underneath the Centennial Bridge, a beautiful transition of old and new cultures with rainforest at your fingertips.


Helicopter aerial view of the Blue Hole, a large marine sinkhole that seems perfect yet unique in nature.


Afternoon coffee by the Granada Cathedral, the beautiful canary yellow colonial church with a bustling square in the background.

Whale shark. | Placencia, Belize

Vacation Side Travel

Steven Talbott
Vacation Side Travel

533 Church St Ste #278
Nashville, TN 37219

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