You don’t have to be a history buff to have an appreciation for the stories, artifacts and structures that have helped to build a culture. Central America has a long, rich past dating back thousands of years, and many of these historic sites are open to the public. If you visit this corner of the world, you shouldn’t miss these incredible places.
- The Panama Canal
This waterway plays an essential role in connecting vessels sailing from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. This canal was successfully constructed between 1904 and 1914 after a long history of ideas, discussion and planning. It was built across 50 miles of the Panama Isthmus. The completion of this passage has had a major impact on trade routes across the world in the last century. One of the best ways to see the canal is on a Panama Canal cruise.
- Tikal National Park
The Mayan ruins of Tikal are located in Peten, Guatemala. This historic location is known as the largest and oldest of the Mayan cities that have been identified over the years. The city of Tikal is estimated to have been occupied from the 6th century BC until the 10th century AD and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.
- Stone Spheres
There are over 300 stone spheres, also known as petrospheres, located in Costa Rica. These stone structures are thought to be the work of the Diquis people, who existed from about 700 to 1530. While no one knows exactly why these mysterious stones were created, it has been hypothesized that they might represent the phases of the sun and the moon. The Costa Rican stone spheres and the surrounding settlements have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Copan Ruins
These ancient Mayan ruins are located in Honduras and were constructed between the years 400 and 800 AD. In the mid-1970s, archaeologists began to excavate the space, and even today, the area continues to be explored. These ruins are known for their fascinating hieroglyphs and distinctive structures. The Copan Ruins were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980.
- Joya de Ceren
This site, located in El Salvador, features the Mayan ruins of a farming community that dates back to the early 3rd century. This fascinating settlement was destroyed by the eruption of the nearby volcano, Loma Caldera, causing a comparison between this settlement and Pompeii, which was also destroyed by an erupting volcano. Joy de Ceren was given the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.
- Cathedral of Leon
The impressive Cathedral of Leon is located in Nicaragua and was consecrated by Pope Pius IX. Initially designed by an architect from Guatemala, the cathedral is known specifically for its eclectic design with major Gothic, Renaissance and Neoclassical influences. The building features multiple domes, tunnels, and cellars, many of which were made with resistance to earthquakes in mind. The historical significance of this structure includes the fact that the cathedral represents one of the oldest Catholic dioceses in the Americas.
- Huellas de Acahualinca
The Huellas de Acahualinca, known in English as the Ancient footprints of Acahualinca, is located in Nicaragua. The area is home to 2,000-year-old fossilized human tracks. The reason for these tracks is unknown, though there is speculation that the individuals were escaping from a volcanic eruption. Despite their discovery in the 1870s, major excavation of the area did not begin until the 1940s. Today, there is a museum featuring the footprints as well as artifacts from this site and other sites in Nicaragua.
The beautiful beaches and warm climate of this area are well known around the world and are a huge reason for the tourist industry being such a major part of the economy in Central America. That said, the long history of each of these varied, distinctive cultures is another aspect of these countries that is worth exploring and studying.