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Diversity and color define the countries of Central America and the Caribbean—from quetzals of Costa Rica’s rainforests and sunsets over Guatemala’s Pacaya Volcano to rumba music wafting through Cuban streets and markets displaying bright fabrics crafted by indigenous people.
Its beauty arises from this mix of untouched wilderness and culture molded by some of the greatest empires and civilizations. For thousands of years before the appearance of Europeans, ancient civilizations like the Mayas and Aztecs controlled vast swaths of land, creating ingenious systems of record keeping, transportation, and communication. But in the 15th century, the arrival of Spanish conquistadors reshaped the region’s culture, introducing Spanish as the predominant language and Catholicism as the most influential religion.
But the remnants of these past empires still remain, with sprawling complexes of ruins spread throughout Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize and at times still hidden beneath the jungle. Lush green covers much of the area, ranging from jungle to rainforest and running up against mountain peaks, volcanic landscapes, and both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. With monkeys calling from treetops, colorful fish swimming through coral reefs in cerulean sea, and exotic birds gliding above stone ruins, Central America’s collection of landscapes supports some of the world’s greatest biodiversity—ready to be witnessed.
And across the water lies the Caribbean islands, humming with their music, spirit, and tropical heat. In Cuba especially, charm reigns and time seems to stand still as antique cars line the roads, sun lights up the white-sand beaches, and people dance in the streets.
Despite the political and social upheaval that has marked the area throughout much of its history, its identity is still preserved. And it’s the confluence of and conflict between the traditional and the modern that has created the Central America that flourishes today.