Where to start? A Spanish language school is a great idea as you get to live like a local for a week, but more importantly after that you can actually speak some Spanish which you will find enormously helpful as you travel through these fascinating countries.
Guatemala – do visit the colonial city of Antigua which is filled with Spanish architecture, churches, monasteries and cobbled streets. Nearby is the beautiful Lake Atitlan – 128 sq km lake in a collapsed volcano cone. The unpronounceable Chichicastenango is famous for its huge indigenous market on a Thursday and Sunday – you can buy anything from local fruits and vegetables to embroidered cloths and hand carved wooden masks. Visit the world renowned Mayan ruins of Tikal which are in the Jungle unlike other sites such as Chichen Itza and Copan which have been cleared. See towering pyramids amongst the trees with howler monkeys, toucans and parrots all around, get there for sunrise – very dramatic, like being in an Indiana Jones movie.
Belize – The only English speaking country in Central America has the worlds 2nd largest barrier reef. Enjoy the laid back Caribbean life style on Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. There are more Mayan ruins at Altun Ha and Lamanai.
Honduras – Home to coastal wetlands, lagoons and more stunning tropical scenery – thankfully protected in numerous national parks and reserves. Naturally you will find even more famous Mayan ruins at Copan. The bay islands of Roatan and Utila offer white sandy beaches and possibly the cheapest place in the world to learn to scuba dive.
Costa Rica – The leader in nature and eco tourism in this region has lots of volunteer trips to help protect the leatherback turtles. Visit the rainforest and possibly spot the elusive jaguars in corcovada national park. Also home to some great white sand beaches. A destination that has a little bit of something for everybody.
There are great small group tours available encompassing as little or as much of the above as you would like or you can travel independently (you need your Spanish then!).
In general November to April are the best months to visit followed by June to September but just go when you can to this fascinating region. Flight connections usually work best via Los Angeles and then onto Panama City with COPA, a Star Alliance partner of Air New Zealand. There are also direct flights from LA to San Jose in Costa Rica with Avianca. We are now awaiting Air NZ to offer these fares via their new hub of Houston!