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Travel + Leisure Awards Central America

Costa Rica Shines in Central America’s Showing at Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards 2024

Costa Rica recently led Central America’s performance in one of the travel industry’s most prestigious awards. This article highlights the region’s top-rated resorts, city hotels, destination spas, and favorite islands as voted for by readers in the 2024 Travel + Leisure Awards.

Central America has made a strong showing in Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards for 2024, with Costa Rica leading the charge. The country, already designated Travel + Leisure’s Destination of the Year for 2024, dominated the “Top 10 Favorite Resorts in Central America” category, claiming seven out of ten spots.

Costa Rica’s excellence extended to the global stage, with two hotels also ranking in the “Best 100 Hotels in the World” list. Panama also joined the world-class ranks with a property in that list. Below, we’ll look at all the categories that included Central American hotels, spas, and destinations to see exactly how they fared. These awards, based on reader surveys, evaluate hotels, resorts, spas, islands, and other travel-related categories worldwide.

Best 100 Hotels in the World in 2024

Travel + Leisure readers rate hotels on facilities, location, service, food, and overall value. For the 2024 awards, properties in 38 countries made the top 100 hotels list. Although Central America had just three hotels in a list dominated by India and Southeast Asia (with the number one spot going to the Oberoi Rajvilas in India), that’s notable for a small, developing region. With two hotels (both out of the Nayara stable) from Costa Rica and one from Panama, here’s how they placed in the top 100:

  1. Nayara Tented Camp, Arenal, Costa Rica (joint 57th in the world with the Auberge Collection Hotel Jerome in Aspen, Colorado)
  2. Nayara Springs, Arenal, Costa Rica (68th in the world)
  3. Sofitel Legend Casco Viejo, Panama City, Panama (98th in the world)

Top 10 Favorite Resorts in Central America in 2024

This category focuses exclusively on Central American properties, allowing for direct comparison within the region. Costa Rica dominated, securing seven out of the ten spots, underscoring its strong position in the regional luxury tourism market. Belize and Honduras also made appearances, demonstrating the diversity of high-quality resorts across Central America. These rankings reflect reader preferences for properties that offer exceptional service, amenities, and experiences in desirable locations.

  1. Nayara Tented Camp, Arenal, Costa Rica
  2. Nayara Springs, Arenal, Costa Rica
  3. Hotel Belmar, Monteverde, Costa Rica
  4. Nayara Gardens, Arenal, Costa Rica
  5. Blancaneaux Lodge, Cayo District, Belize
  6. Hacienda AltaGracia, San Isidro, Costa Rica
  7. Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort, Hopkins Village, Belize
  8. Amor Arenal, Arenal, Costa Rica
  9. Rio Celeste Hideaway, Tenorio National Park, Costa Rica
  10. Kimpton Grand Roatán Resort, Roatán, Honduras

Top 10 Favorite City Hotels in Central and South America in 2024

It’s fair to say that Central America isn’t famous for the beauty and vibrancy of its cities. People come to the region for beaches, nature, eco-tourism, and rainforests rather than to explore urban areas. While we have some beautiful colonial towns in Central America, apart from perhaps Panama City, there’s really not much to rival the large, exciting cities of South America like Rio and Buenos Aires.

City hotels are judged on their ability to provide luxury, convenience, and unique experiences in urban settings. They cater to both business and leisure travelers, requiring a diverse range of services and amenities. In this category, Central America has one offering; the Sofitel Legend in Panama City’s Casco Viejo, which also made it into the Top 100 Hotels in the World. The Sofitel came third on the list, behind two hotels in Cusco, Peru. Hotels in Santiago (Chile), São Paulo (Brazil), Bogotá (Colombia), Lima (Peru), and Cartagena (Colombia) also made the top ten.

Top 3 Favorite Destination Spas (outside the United States) in 2024

Travel + Leisure split this category into two groups: 18 in the United States and three for the rest of the world. Readers evaluated these spas based on facilities, treatments, programs, and overall ability to provide rejuvenation and relaxation.

Of the three spas outside the United States, the winner was in Mexico, while Costa Rica’s most famous hot springs resort, the Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa in Arenal, came second. The third international spa is on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. Costa Rica’s presence in this list highlights its growing reputation in the wellness tourism sector.

Top 5 Favorite Islands in Mexico and Central/South America of 2024

This is the final category featuring Central American destinations in the Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards. Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye in Belize secured the 2nd and 3rd spots respectively, with Honduras’ Roatán Island rounding out the top five. Only the Galápagos Islands and Mexico’s Isla Mujeres are outside Central America.

Readers evaluated these islands based on natural beauty, beaches, activities, accommodations, food, and overall visitor experience. Central America’s strong showing in this category demonstrates the region’s competitiveness in beach and marine tourism:

  1. Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
  2. Caye Caulker, Belize
  3. Ambergris Caye, Belize
  4. Isla Mujeres, Mexico
  5. Roatán, Honduras

Final Thoughts and Takeaway

The 2024 Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards highlight several Central American destinations across various categories. While Costa Rica received the most recognition, Belize, Panama, and Honduras also made noteworthy appearances.

These awards provide valuable insights for the travel industry, investors, and policymakers in Central America. They highlight areas of strength, like Costa Rica’s luxury eco-resort sector, while also pointing to potential areas for development, such as making its cities more attractive to tourists.

However, it’s important to note that these awards reflect the preferences of Travel + Leisure readers and may not represent the full spectrum of tourism in Central America. Budget and mid-range options, which make up a significant portion of the region’s tourism offerings, are not captured in these luxury-focused awards. As the global tourism industry continues to recover and evolve post-pandemic, these insights can help Central American destinations position themselves effectively in the international market, particularly in the luxury and experience-focused sectors.

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

James Dyde

James Dyde

James Dyde is a British immigrant to Costa Rica and the editor of this website. He has lived in Central America since 2000 and retains a deep love for the region. He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.