By Thomas Kohnstamm
updated 12:39 p.m. ET, Fri., May. 9, 2008
Central America, the spindly isthmus that spans the gap from the bottom of Mexico to the top of South America, was long known as home to a handful of bucolic Banana Republics offering coffee, toucans, a famous canal and not much else. As the Cold War-inspired political drama of the '80s gave way to the relative calm of the '90s, North Americans and Europeans travelers increasingly began to explore the pristine coastlines and rainforested interiors. Sexy was a word not frequently associated with Central America, but as the region blossomed from a backwater to the big-time its splendid natural beauty, sunny solitude and sun-ripened bodies make for some of the sexiest beaches in the world.
Yet, don’t expect exclusive beach clubs or the sexy sophistication of the French Riviera. Not even a high-end Caribbean island escape. In place of Prada swimwear, white-jacketed service and designer cocktails, you will find lightly populated beaches of visitors with no agenda beyond enjoying themselves and the rustic tropical scenery. Frequently the most complex beverage served on the beach requires hacking the top off of a green coconut with a machete.
The appeal of Central American beaches is an offbeat and organic sexiness that blends together visitors of varied ages and economic backgrounds.
These days there are many rivals for Central America’s hottest beaches. And it goes without saying that sultriness is at least somewhat in the eye, or heart, of the beholder. However, the beaches in this list stand out in terms of raw beauty, exotic draw and high potential for pleasure. They have all of the components to allow for a sexy, sensual experience and leave it up to you enjoy it on your own terms—whether that be swimming in the surf with new friends at sunset, whiling away the day in romantic privacy among the sand and palm trees, dancing at a torch-lit nighttime beach party or communing with capuchin monkeys, fluorescent green parakeets and your own hard-won solitude.
Slide show: The hottest beaches of Central America
The entry point for many into the region is Costa Rica. During the '90s, this small country was transformed into the main beach destination between Cancun and Copacabana. Aided by a welcoming local culture, unparalleled surf and breathtaking scenery, the travel boom arrived and never looked back. The country is also known for its enlightened conservation policies, stable democracy and some six decades without a standing army. With scores of first-rate beaches, Costa Rica claims the lion’s share of entries in this list. American businessman Matt Harbison, who lives in Mexico City and works all over Central America, argues, “from beach parties in Jacó to secluded coves up on the Nicoya Peninsula, you can’t really go wrong in Costa Rica.”
Long heralded as the Next Costa Rica, Panama is actually a more culturally diverse and, in some parts, cosmopolitan country with the driving forces of the Canal and bustling Panama City. It has two entries in the list, one on the English-speaking island of Bastimentos in the north and the other on the indigenous Kuna islands of San Blas in the south. Panama is brimming with surprises from secluded islets untouched by time to wooden Caribbean-style homes on stilts along delicious stretches of sand.
Heading back north, Honduras does not usually conjure an image of sexiness in the popular imagination—if the sleepy country conjures an image at all. Beyond international reputations, Honduras is a laidback place where it is easy to enjoy the cool, green mountains and long Caribbean coastline. The hottest beaches lie on the country’s Bay Islands and Cayos Cochinos that drift off the coast.
Bordering Mexico on the Caribbean coast, the tiny country of Belize is friendly and easygoing. From its famous dive spot at Blue Hole to the chilled-out Creole culture and the opportunity to skip from caye to caye, it has much to offer. Los Angeles resident and inveterate Central American traveler Aaron Davis points out that English-speaking Belize is “a great introduction to the region, with innumerable laidback beaches. Belize is an easy place to meet other travelers and locals.”
Neighboring Guatemala, recognized mainly for its indigenous culture, vibrant crafts markets and Mayan ruins, draws many travelers interested in cultural experiences and Spanish language classes. Beaches such as Monterrico are littered with bikini-clad Swedish students who are there to work on their Spanish—and their tans.
And let’s not forget little, dense El Salvador—once the site of some of the most brutal civil wars of the 1980s and the region’s true phoenix. The country has rehabilitated itself and is an increasingly popular emerging destination, with the sultry beach at Los Cobanos drawing the most avid sunbathers.
Go ahead and explore the super hot beaches in this list. There is definitely one to fit your desires and passions.