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When one thinks of Central America, a region that comprises a jumble of countries along a slim, rugged isthmus connecting the two colossal continents of North and South America, what might first come to mind is the jungle. Add its standing as a tropical dead-end zone to its tumultuous history of war, poverty, crime and corruption, and natural disasters and it's no wonder the region has often been overlooked as a travel destination. Yet in the past few years, Central America has finally begun to step out of the shade and into the sunlight. As more and more travelers head to the region, it's becoming recognized as a safe and adventurous getaway, one that just happens to have a sorry knack for getting bad press.

Now for some good press: The region has a diverse climate and geography that offers everything from sun-kissed Caribbean islands to lush cloud forests. It also has a rich native-Indian heritage, mixed with a history of ostentatious Spanish colonialism, both of which have led to a vibrant music-and-art scene that frequently spills out onto the streets in the form of festivals and parades. But perhaps the region's biggest asset is its friendly, kind-hearted people, who may not have much but insist of sharing it with others anyway.

It's also now easier and more comfortable than ever to travel around the region. In the past few years, as millions of visitors have discovered this gem of a destination, airline links have improved drastically and some first-rate ecolodges and mountain refuges have opened up. If you are no longer content with just a pool and beach, and want to climb volcanoes, hike through rainforests, visit towering Maya ruins, take Spanish classes, volunteer, and go scuba diving and surfing -- in addition to lounging by some stellar pools and beaches -- Central America will not disappoint.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.