If you're looking for Classic monumental architecture, head to Guatemala, Belize, or Honduras. The creative Maya masons who constructed stone pyramids in these countries built them to last -- they've even survived the daily swarms of tourists who scamper all over them -- though it's not clear how long they can endure an existence unprotected by guide ropes. The most famous Maya ceremonial cities are Tikal in Guatemala, Tazumal in El Salvador, Copán in Honduras, and Caracol in Belize, but visitors can tour a host of other lesser sites around these countries.

A number of colonial buildings of any interest survive in the region, but many have succumbed to the ravages of time or were destroyed in major hurricanes. Guatemala and Nicaragua are perhaps most awash in architectural wonders. Antigua, Guatemala, is a fabulously preserved colonial city, as is Managua, Nicaragua. Many of these towns' colonial-era churches and buildings have survived several major earthquakes.

Clapboard houses built on stilts are the most typical architectural feature along the coast, and quite a few of these buildings, often painted in the pastel colors that are so popular throughout the Caribbean, can be seen around the region. Outside the coast and cities, much of the rest of the region's architecture is pretty plain. Most residential houses are simple concrete-block affairs, with zinc roofs.

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