Our Favorite Luxury Hotels In Central America

Although more famous for budget travel and backpacking, more and more high-end hotels are opening in Central America. Here are some of our favorite luxury hotels in Central America you should check out in 2020. 

Central America isn’t the first place on the bucket list of luxury travelers. The region doesn’t find itself talked about in the same breath as the neighboring Caribbean islands of Saint Barts and the Caymans.

You won’t find many super-yachts owned by oligarchs and tech billionaires moored in Central American marinas. In fact, you won’t find many marinas.

It’s just never been that type of place.

Because of regional politics that made Central America synonymous with poverty, crime, civil unrest, and war, most travelers to the region have been backpackers.

Like Southeast Asia, Central America is big on hostels and cheap travel on public transport. It’s been that way for decades. They used to call it the Gringo Trail.

But perceptions can deceive. Central America has a growing luxury tourism market.

Costa Rica in recent years has made a concerted effort to attract a more well-heeled type of tourist.

It’s the most developed country in the region for tourism and no longer such a backpacker’s playground. Sure, budget travelers still come but they don’t find so much of the “budget” in “budget travel” in the Land of Pura Vida.

Other countries in Central America see Costa Rica and decide they’d like some of those luxury tourist dollars, too.

And as the region has stabilized over the past 20 years or so, we’ve seen various Central American countries start to cater to high-end tourism. With pristine tropical beaches and stunning natural scenery stuffed full of volcanoes, rainforests, and mountains, it’s not surprising.

If the region had never experienced its past turmoils, I’m convinced that by now it would be competing with places like Dubai for that luxury vacation market. It’s a zillion times more beautiful than Dubai, that’s for sure.

So what makes a luxury hotel? It’s a conversation we recently had in our office. Does luxury mean expensive? Or does it mean the best?

Oftentimes, “expensive” and “the best” overlap so much to be almost one and the same. After all, people pay more for the best, right? Better service, better amenities and so on. That’s why you have business class on planes.

In tourism, we throw the word “luxury” about too much to describe “expensive”. I prefer to think of luxury as an experience, as a feeling that you’re getting the best there is. That doesn’t necessarily mean 800-count Egyptian cotton sheets and personal jacuzzis. It could mean a sense of peace or tranquility. It could mean a perfect meal. Things like that don’t need to cost a fortune.

So if you’re considering a luxury vacation in Central America, where would you stay? What are the most luxurious hotels in the region right now? We don’t mean the most expensive hotels, although the most luxurious hotels in Central America (like anywhere) won’t be the cheapest. We mean places that offer the most comfort, pleasure, and happiness. Places that go the extra mile to give their guests the perfect travel experience.

Below please find our favorite luxury hotels in Central America.

Jicaro Island Ecolodge, Nicaragua

 

 
 
 
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Located on a unique private island in Lake Nicaragua, Jicaro offers guests an ultra-exclusive experience of seclusion and oneness with nature.

Villa Buena Onda, Costa Rica

 

 
 
 
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This tiny adult-only hotel in the hills above Playas del Coco offers probably the best service in the country, pound for pound. Guests here come away feeling like they’ve truly relaxed.

The Four Seasons, Costa Rica

 

 
 
 
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The Four Seasons Costa Rica offers a truly five-star experience to more than match the brand. Once you add in the spectacular setting on Guanacaste’s Papagayo Peninsula, you could have one of the best hotels in the world on your hands.

Nayara Springs, Costa Rica

 

 
 
 
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Nayara Springs offers adult-only eco-luxury with the emphasis on luxury. Surrounded by rainforest, each private villa comes with its own volcanic, hot-spring-fed private plunge pool.

The Bristol, Panama

 

 
 
 
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An award-winning business hotel in the heart of Panama City, Panama‘s Financial District. If you like the finer things in life, you’ll love this place.

Isla Palenque, Panama

 

 
 
 
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Set on its own private island in the Gulf of Chiriqui, this boutique resort offers more beaches than rooms. You’ll find five rooms here and 11 beaches. That means you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a pristine, tropical beach all to yourself.

Mango Creek Lodge, Honduras

 

 
 
 
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This might not be the last word in opulent luxury on the island of Roatan, Honduras, but it is a pretty damn new perfect place for lovers of seclusion and romance. And if you love sustainability, diving, and snorkeling too, you’ve come to the right place.

Las Flores, El Salvador

 

 
 
 
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If you’re a surfer looking for the finer things in life, then El Salvador‘s Las Flores Resort in El Cuco is for you. This boutique, architectural little gem sits on a cliff above the ocean and offers a great take on barefoot beach luxury.

Casa Palopo, Guatemala

 

 
 
 
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Lake Atitlan is famous for its backpacker vibe and culture. But a place this beautiful will always attract high-end tourists, too. And Casa Palopo is perfect for them. One of the best boutique hotels in Guatemala if not the whole of Central America.

La Lancha, Guatemala

 

 
 
 
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One of Francis Ford Coppola’s exclusive Hideways hotels, La Lancha sits in the rainforest above the shores of Lake Peten Itza, offering easy access to the Mayan ruins of Tikal.

Palacio de Doña Leonor, Guatemala

 

 
 
 
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In a region full of Spanish colonial towns, Antigua could be the crowning glory of them all. The Palacio de Doña Leonor is an exquisitely restored 16-century mansion set in the center of town, off the Parque Central.

Turtle Inn, Belize

 

 
 
 
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Another Coppola property, Turtle Inn is in the south of Belize, within cycling distance of the beach town of Placencia. The individual beachfront cottages offer a perfect private Caribbean getaway.

Copal Tree Lodge, Belize

 

 
 
 
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This rainforest lodge near Punta Gorda in southern Belize is famous for top-notch service, exceptional food, and the sounds of howler monkeys in the nearby canopy waking you up each morning. True jungle eco-luxury.

Cayo Espanto, Belize

 

 
 
 
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If you like the idea of vacationing like a billionaire on a private island, then Cayo Espanto off the coast of Belize between the mainland and Ambergris Caye offers the perfect opportunity. Made up of five villas on the Caribbean, this place attracts the likes of Leonardo di Caprio.

The above hotels represent, to us at least, the best in luxury in Central America.

Each place defines itself on the experience it offers its guests. For Central America, they’re probably at the top-end price-wise, although not necessarily THE most expensive hotels.

And although Costa Rica, Belize, and Panama are no longer super cheap destinations like the other Central American countries, you’ll still find the best hotels in these countries to be less than elsewhere.

What’s your favorite luxury hotel in Central America?

James Dyde is the editor of CentralAmerica.com. He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.