Get to know the main cruise ports of Central America

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Shafik Meghji

Shafik Meghji

From vast barrier reefs to ancient Maya ruins, historic architecture to modern engineering marvels, stunning beaches to super-fresh seafood, the ports of Central America provide a wealth of attractions and experiences.

Getting to know cruise ports of Central America © Fotos 593 - Adobe Stock Image
Getting to know cruise ports of Central America © Fotos 593 - Adobe Stock Image

Getting to Central America: a great way to see these port cities and much, much more is on a voyage with Marella Cruises*. Itineraries include stops at Caribbean islands as well as Cruise & Stay options* to extend your trip.

Cartagena, Colombia

Yes, technically Colombia* is part of mainland South America, but this port city's location on the Caribbean coast means that it is often included in Central American cruise itineraries.

And Cartagena* is one of the most spectacular cities in the Americas, combining glorious architecture and tumultuous history with sensational food and kicking nightlife.

The highlight is the walled old town, an evocative collection of townhouses draped in bougainvillea, whitewashed churches and cobble-stone plazas that inspired Gabriel García Márquez to write Love in the Time of Cholera.

Colourful bar in the Getsemaní neigbourhood © S dosRemedios - Flickr Creative Commons
Colourful bar in the Getsemaní neigbourhood © S dosRemedios - Flickr Creative Commons

A short walk away, you'll find the characterful, street art-filled neighbourhood of Getsemaní, a hive of trendy restaurants, bars and guesthouses, and the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, a formidable hilltop fortress built in 1536.

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Colón, Panama

Founded as a railway terminus in the 1850s, the port of Colón* sits at the Atlantic entrance of the Panama Canal, Panama*.

The main attractions lie a short drive from the city: the canal's monumental Gatún Locks are great feats of engineering, raising and lowering ships more than 26 m (85 ft).

Ships passing in the Gatún Locks, Panama Canal © Solarisys - Adobe Stock Image
Ships passing in the Gatún Locks, Panama Canal © Solarisys - Adobe Stock Image

Meanwhile, the imposing 16th-century Fort San Lorenzo overlooks the mouth of the Charges River and was once attacked by legendary pirates such as Francis Drake and Henry Morgan.

Colón also has one of the world's largest duty-free areas, the Zona Libre. Although primarily aimed at wholesalers, tourists can pick up some bargains here, too.

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Puerto Limón, Costa Rica

A busy port that ships bananas, tropical fruits and coffee across the globe, Puerto Limón* receives relatively few travellers, but is a key gateway to Costa Rica*'s Caribbean coast.

The city has a large Afro-Costa Rican population, excellent food, best sampled at one of the economical joints at the main market, the Mercado Central, and a lively music scene.

It bursts into life in October when it hosts the country's biggest and best carnival, a raucous celebration known as the Día de las Culturas (Day of the Cultures).

Canoe safari in Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica © Kevin - Adobe Stock Image
Canoe safari in Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica © Kevin - Adobe Stock Image

Puerto Limón is also the jumping-off point for boat trips to the rainforests, mangroves and twisting waterways of Tortuguero National Park, famous for its nesting sea turtles, and lies within striking distance of an array of gorgeous beaches and popular surfing spots.

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Roatán, Honduras

The biggest of the Bay Islands, roughly 40 miles (65 km) off the coast of northern Honduras*, Roatán*'s coral reefs, translucent waters and abundant marine life make it a haven for snorkelling, diving, fishing and sailing.

Beyond the forgettable towns of Coxen Hole and French Harbour, the island is dotted with peaceful villages and sandy, palm-fringed beaches.

Palm-fringed beach on Roatán © M+M Photographers - Flickr Creative Commons
Palm-fringed beach on Roatán © M+M Photographers - Flickr Creative Commons

A fascinating cultural centre in the village of Punta Gorda provides an insight into Roatán's Garifuna communities, whose members have mixed African and indigenous heritage.

Like the distinctive form of creole English that is still widely spoken here, they are a reminder of the British colonial history of the Bay Islands.

Further east in Port Royal you'll find mangroves, patches of rainforest and the remains of an 18th-century British fort.

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Santo Tomás de Castilla, Guatemala

Strung around Amatique Bay on Guatemala*'s narrow Atlantic coastline, Santo Tomás de Castilla* is one of the busiest ports in Central America, both for cruise ships and commercial vessels.

Also known as Mátías de Gálvez, it was briefly part of a Belgian colony in the mid-19th century before becoming a key base for the Guatemalan Navy.

Beyond shops and seafood restaurants, there's relatively little to see and do in the town, but a host of attractions lie just a short hop away.

They include the picture-postcard beaches of Punta de Palma, located just round the headland, the exquisite carvings of the ancient Maya site of Quiriguá, and the town of Livingston, a centre of Garifuna culture and only accessible by boat.

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Don't miss: our complete guide to the cruise ports of the Caribbean islands.

Belize City, Belize

Spread across the banks of Haulover Creek where it meets the Caribbean Sea, Belize City* has a hectic vibe, but also a certain rough-and-ready charm.

The country's former capital has a varied cultural scene: the Museum of Belize provides a sweeping historical overview, while the Image Factory gallery showcases the work of leading contemporary artists.

Travellers One Barrel, the oldest rum distillery in Belize*, also offers enjoyable tours and tasting sessions.

Inviting bar on Caye Caulker, Belize © James Willamor - Flickr Creative Commons
Inviting bar on Caye Caulker, Belize © James Willamor - Flickr Creative Commons

Meanwhile, regular boats make the short hop across to the cayes and atolls strung along Belize's stunning barrier reef, the largest in the northern hemisphere and an ideal spot for snorkelling, diving and kayaking.

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Costa Maya, Mexico

At the southeastern corner of the Yucatán peninsula, the cruise port of Costa Maya* is within day-trip range of a host of historic sites and natural attractions.

Inland, the turquoise waters and forested shores of Laguna de Bacalar, the second largest lake in Mexico*, provide excellent swimming and birdwatching, while offshore the Banco Chinchorro coral atoll is a diving hotspot, rich in marine life as well as shipwrecks.

There are plenty of beaches and fishing spots nearby, too, though it's also worth venturing slightly further afield to the intriguing Maya and pre-Maya ruins of Río Bec.

Mayan ruins at Río Bec, Mexico © Witold Skrypczak - Alamy Stock Photo
Mayan ruins at Río Bec, Mexico © Witold Skrypczak - Alamy Stock Photo

This little-visited group of ancient pyramids, temples and residential complexes date back more than 2,000 years and is surrounded by dense jungle.

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Cozumel, Mexico

North of Costa Maya, just off the coast of the resort of Playa del Carmen, the island of Cozumel* is ringed with beaches and surrounded by a vast mosaic of coral reefs.

There are countless dive and snorkelling sites, with options suitable for all levels of experience, and you can spot hundreds of species of fish, including eagle rays, barracudas and whale sharks.

Although Cozumel has long been a major tourist destination, it is surprisingly easy to escape the crowds.

Beyond the bustling town of San Miguel and the popular beaches of the west coast, there are several Maya ruins scattered across the eastern and southern sections of the island.

These include a group of inter-linked temples at San Gervasio, a nature reserve that is also beloved by birdwatchers.

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Ready to set sail? Find your next great value adventure at sea with Marella Cruises and book your berth aboard today.

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More about Central America

  • Top deals & discounts
  • Central America weather overview
  • Central America climate averages by month
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  • Best time to go to Central America
  • Central America 5-day weather forecast

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Shafik Meghji

Shafik Meghji
Posted on Thursday 25th August 2022 in: Caribbean Central America Cruises Marella Cruises

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