The Best Destinations Rick Steves Recommends For An Eye-Opening Trip To Central America

While Rick Steves has focused much of his career in the travel industry around Europe, he truly is a global citizen who enjoys exploring other regions as well. Sometimes, Steves travels not to relax on a beach, but to gain a greater understanding of another part of the world. With this in mind, he recommends that you challenge yourself while traveling. Central America is the perfect region to do just that. For Steves, particularly eye-opening destinations in Central America include the capital cities of Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Mexico City.

On his website, Steves acknowledges that "Nicaragua and El Salvador are not the most enjoyable places to visit." However, decades of travel allowed him to witness changes in countries all over the world. Ever the optimist, the differences Steves has noticed in Central America since his first trip in 1988 have shown him that places with ongoing struggles are still worth a visit because of the educational opportunities. He learned that while their societal issues are not black and white or easily solvable, "you can't help but fly home from Central America rooting for its beautiful people."

Managua showcases the real Central America

"If you want a meaningful trip to Central America, consider Managua over Mazatlán," Rick Steves asserts on his website. Mazatlán is a resort town, meaning it does not capture what Central America is really like. Nicaragua's capital of Managua, on the other hand, removes the rose-tinted resort glasses. This city features beautiful historic buildings like the National Palace and the Santiago of Managua Cathedral. However, political unrest in the 1970s and 1980s led to violence and a slumped economy.

Now in the 21st century, Steves blogged that public safety is still an issue for Managua. Children beg in the streets and there are only "small islands of safety clustered around malls and fancy hotels." Wealthy tourists booking such hotels and using taxis will likely have a better time here given that safety often comes with higher costs, even in countries without high crime rates. Steves stayed at the Hotel Europeo, but did not limit his time to the capital. The smaller and more calm town of Granada blends historic buildings leftover from Nicaragua's time as a Spanish colony with lakeside relaxation. Perhaps Granada can help you balance the good and not-so-good of the country if you make a trip to Nicaragua.

Mexico City is safer than the country's border regions

San Salvador is the capital of El Salvador. This city features unique, towering structures like the Christ of Peace Monument and the Metropolitan Cathedral. While a civil war shook the country in the 1980s and poverty still looms, Statista considers El Salvador to be safer than Nicaragua and other nearby countries. San Salvador feels a world away from much of the planet, but Steves explained in a blog post that he discovered common ground in how Salvadorans show their patriotism similarly to how people do in his home country of the United States.

Perhaps the most well-known of Steves' Central American recommendations is Mexico City, a vibrant destination for art lovers with an overall "wonderful energy," as he described. History buffs will love its extensive Aztec ruins as well. Thankfully, Mexico City does not experience as much violent crime as the regions closer to the border. But as always, travelers should stay aware of their surroundings. If you want to gain new perspectives, but are uneasy about visiting a region struggling with crime and poverty, consider going with an educational tour company. Even those averse to guided tours should experience this type of tour at least once.