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Central America is a traveler’s gold mine with so many small, yet incredibly diverse nations packed closely together. It also provides a dream trip for any shutterbug. This part of the world is full of rich history, untouched rainforests and idyllic beaches. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a volcano erupting! The possibilities for photographers are endless. I’ve done some extensive traveling in the region and have come up with a list of some of my favorite spots that should end up on any photographer’s itinerary. I’ve included a few of these for their unmatched pristine beauty and others for their cultural significance.

Tikal National Park

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In hot and steamy northern Guatemala near the city of Flores, Tikal National Park quickly became one of my favorite places in the world. The park is full of incredibly well preserved Mayan temples dating back thousands of years and set in a beautiful jungle, full of monkeys and other exotic wildlife. Imagine sitting above the jungle, perched on top of an ancient Mayan temple and catching the sun rising over the rainforest with other temples piercing the tree canopy to the sound of howler monkey’s roaring in the distance. If this isn’t one of your dream photographic settings already, it should be.

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Granada, Nicaragua

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Granada is a beautiful city and one of Nicaragua’s biggest draws for tourists. It’s kept a strong colonial feel, due in big part to the fantastic preservation of the historical buildings in the city center. A highlight for me was climbing the bell tower of the Iglesia de la Merced and watching the sun set over the city, giving the old colonial buildings a stunning glow. The city itself is full of fantastic photographic opportunities, but within an hour of Granada there are a handful of not to be missed locations for photos. One of my favorites was the Masaya volcano, which is continually spewing smoke and gases into the sky in a massive pit that is known only as the gate to hell. You can even hike around some extinct volcano craters and get some truly mesmerizing shots. I also recommend taking a boat tour of Granada’s isletas – a series of hundreds of small yet beautifully photogenic islands located in Lake Nicaragua.

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Tenorio National Park, Costa Rica

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I wasn’t sure what planet I was on while walking through this incredible park in Costa Rica. The big draw in the park is where two small and colorless rivers join to form the Rio Celeste. Here, at this meeting point, the water changes colors into a gorgeous light blue. You can watch it happen right in front of your eyes. It’s incredible and not to be missed. There’s also a couple stops along the hiking trails that you cannot ignore – the blue lagoon and a beautiful waterfall – both of which provide postcard worthy images. This is a hidden gem in Costa Rica that is slightly off the beaten tourist path, but a place I highly recommend taking the time to visit.

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Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

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No list of great Central American spots is complete without at least one beach. It’s hard to narrow it down, but the beaches within the national park in Manuel Antonio are – for lack of a better word – perfect. Not to mention, you can get within inches of some friendly monkeys and sloths in the park. Whether you want the photos or just to spend a day relaxing on the beach, Manuel Antonio is a must for anyone in Costa Rica.

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Chichen Itza (Near Cancun, Mexico)

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I wasn’t a huge fan of Cancun, but right outside of the bustling tourist town lies one of the new Seven Wonders of the World – Chichen Itza. Yes, like Tikal, it is another site of Mayan ruins. It’s full of some incredible structures like the Kulkulkan. Walking through the area transports you back thousands of years, and some of the well preserved ornate Mayan decorations provide some cool, yet challenging opportunities for photos.

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La Fortuna, Costa Rica

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Famous for the nearby Arenal volcano, La Fortuna actually has a lot more to offer for adventurous travelers and photographers. The highlight of La Fortuna for me was a hike up the Cerro Chato, which navigates through some steep rainforest terrain on the side of an extinct volcano. Amazing views along the way will give you plenty of photo breaks, but the main reward waiting for you at the summit is the old volcanic crater which is now a thermally heated green colored lagoon. If you catch the weather right, you might see some jaw dropping views of the Arenal volcano from the top of the Cerro Chato. I’ll never forget the moment the clouds cleared and Arenal suddenly appeared, seemingly right in front of me. Have your camera ready, because you never know how long the moment will last! The plant life on the way up the hike presents some great macro photos as well!

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