Central America: Explore a Multi-Destination Holiday Richin Captivating Culture and Indigenous Heritage

Monday 05th Feb 2024 |

Exploring the astonishing natural beauty of Central America and marvelling at its biodiversity is, without a doubt, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. However, there is also another fascinating and little-explored aspect of this fantastic region: its Indigenous people and ethnic groups.

Whether it’s discovering the descendants of the Maya in the North, or exploring the shy Kuna, the Emberá of Panama, the Mosquitos, Mayagnas, Ramas and Ulwas in Nicaragua in the South, learning about the incredible history of the indigenous peoples and ethnic groups of Central America promises an enriching cultural holiday. Travelling through Central America and meeting these ancestral people, including the Nahuapipil, Cacaoperas, Mayas and Lencas of El Salvador and the Garifuna, Lencas and Maya-Chorti of Honduras, will enable travellers to learn more about the important fundamental role these communities played in the cultural identity of the Central American nations.

Where to Experience the Ancient Maya Civilisation

The vast Maya territory stretched from the Yucatan in Mexico to paradise-like Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. The Maya were skilled farmers and developed advanced irrigation and terracing systems, growing essential products such as the cocoa bean which is considered sacred by the Maya community and was once considered more valuable than gold. Visitors can admire the complex Mayan writing system in the archaeological remains they left us. They were astronomers, and their observatories are proof of this through the accurate calendar they created.

Their historic remains are silent evidence of their cultural significance. In Guatemala, in the lush jungle of the Petén, is the Archaeological Park of Tikal and Yaxhá, impressive Mayan architectural complexes. Another site is Quiriguá with its spectacular stelae, tall, sculptured stone monuments.

Belize has many Mayan sites, including Caracol, the largest Mayan site in the country, Xunantunich and Lamanai, which is reached by a beautiful jungle cruise. If you are in Belize, take the cacao tour, which includes a walk through the dense jungle, ending your experience by learning how to roast and grind the cacao seed, just as the Mayans did. A visit to Joya de Cerén, also known as the Pompeii of Central America, is a must in El Salvador. An ancient Mayan village covered and preserved by volcanic ash and discovered in the last century.

The Diverse Heritage of Other Indigenous Peoples of Central America

The Pipils, like other indigenous groups, inhabited El Salvador. A holiday highlight is Panchimalco, a quiet and calm town where you can visit its beautiful colonial church and enjoy its delicious aromatic coffee. El Salvador is currently working to rescue the Nahuatl language, which is flourishing thanks to the enthusiasm of its young people. So, you too can take a Nahuat language class.

The Lenca people are descended from the Mayas and live in Honduras and El Salvador, primarily concentrated in Honduras. The Honduran “Lenca Route” includes several destinations, such as Ciudad de la Paz and Santa Rosa de Copán. It is important to note that the Honduran government, through the Ministry of Tourism, are working on a project to rescue the Lenca cultural heritage.

Travellers to Nicaragua, must pay a visit to Catarina, San Juan de Oriente, and the pottery workshops. Another recommended visit is to the “Comunidad Indígena de Subtiaba” in León. The Subtiaba are descendants of the Maribios. In the Atlantic area of the country, there are also Mosquitos, Mayagnas, Ulwas and Ramas.

The Guna, Ngäbe-Buglé, Emberá, Wounaan, Bribri, Bokota and Naso Tjërdi are seven indigenous people of Panama. The Guna, known as Kuna, inhabit the beautiful San Blas archipelago in the Caribbean Sea. Visiting this community is simply outstanding. The beautiful molas, embroidered by the hard-working Kuna women, are a must. The Kuna women’s attire also includes colourful beads that adorn their legs and forearms and a gold nose ring.

The Ngäbe are concentrated in Bocas del Toro, Chiriquí, and Veraguas. Another group that stands out are the Emberá, who live in the province of Darién. There are organised visits to the Emberá villages, where you can learn about their culture and traditional medicine, buy handicrafts, and taste their traditional foods. The drawings they make on their skin using jagua, which is as powerful as henna and achiote, are striking. Dare to get a tattoo; it only lasts seven days on the skin.

The Garifuna People

The Garifuna people are descendants of Africans and indigenous people of the Caribbean and live mainly in Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. The truth is that no one can resist these people’s vibrant rhythm and characteristic punta music. Their language, music, and dance have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

For more information on Central America, visit www.visitcentroamérica.com.