11/22/2010 05:16 pm ET Updated Sep 19, 2011

10 Sights To See In Central America For First-Time Visitors

The green cufflinks between North and South America, these seven compact countries would be easy to skip on a map. Yet they represent a complex web of cultures, ancient ruins, tropical wildlife and adventure. For starters, try climbing lava-gurgling volcanoes with perfect cones that poke above the cloud line. Rambling jungle walks lead past Maya pyramids, through the dark canopy where pumas, sloths, howler monkeys and quetzals live. Surfing towns link the Pacific shoreline dot to dot, where waves rush gold-sand beaches. Diving is dirt cheap, and certification programs can lead even beginners before sea turtles and nurse sharks in a maze of coral reefs. Beyond the beaches, there are hidden Maya, Kuna and Miskito villages, haciendas turned language schools and the cobbled streets of beautiful Spanish-colonial towns, where vendors push squeaky carts of fresh corn or shaved ice.

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