Central America is a fascinating region of the world brimming with wonders that are often too overlooked.

Given how mainstream and easily accessible Mexico is compared to some Central American countries, our southern neighbor casts a big shadow that is difficult to escape.

While Costa Rica, and even Belize, have become popular secondary beach escapes, the 3 fastest growing countries in Central America may surprise you.

Home to only 7 countries, the bigger names have taken a backseat for the time being while these 3 nations surge in popularity.

3) Guatemala

Mexico’s neighbor to the east, Guatemala, is not nearly as well known as a beach destination despite its beautiful coastline.

In fact, the media does a huge disservice to this beautiful, culturally rich country.

You have probably heard “Guatemala” more in the news in the midst of the immigration crisis than you have about it being an awesome getaway.

guatamala flag at historic site in guatamala city

We’ll focus on the latter, as Guatemala can stand out on its own as the highlight of your itinerary despite negative press.

Jam-packed with delightful small towns, stunning nature, historic sites, and rich culture, this super cheap country of nearly 18 million residents is a gem.

But why the sudden popularity? The latest report shows an expected spike of 52% in tourism.

While many tourists will arrive in the concrete jungle of Guatemala City, more travelers are discovering the best way to experience this country is to go off-path.

busy street in xela guatemala

Sure, the popular Colonial town of Antigua is great to visit, but there’s no doubt it’s touristy.

Going on an adventure and immersing yourself in some of Central America’s most stunning sites, like gorgeous lakes, volcanic hikes, and the impressive Mayan ruins of Tikal National Park, will leave you speechless.

And when you need a city break, consider the mountainous city of Quetzaltenango – often referred as “Xela”.

The country’s second-biggest city is one of the most culturally rich cities in Central America. You won’t stand out like a sore thumb as much as you’d expect, given how many travelers come here to learn Spanish.

2) Nicaragua

tourist on swing in Ometepe island nicaragua

Let’s get this out of the way – Nicaragua’s political structure may be off-putting to some travelers as the country doesn’t exactly lay out a ‘Welcome’ mat.

That being said, with reports of an expected surge of a whopping 152% in tourism, it seems travelers are flocking here with dirty shoes.

Nicaragua is insanely beautiful and doesn’t get the credit it should because…well… politics.

Backpackers have long been falling in love with this country, and that still holds true today as the popular Spanish colonial town of Granada, which is a hub for solo travelers and digital nomads.

Like Guatemala, you’ll want to go outside the capital city for the best experiences, as Managua isn’t much of a tourist destination.

drone view of corn islands nicaragua

Many travelers set their sights on the gorgeous island of Ometepe and the bucket list-worthy Corn Islands.

The latter is a blip in the Caribbean Sea, while Ometepe is in the middle of a lake surrounded by postcard-perfect scenery.

Nicaragua is also home to lush jungles, volcano hikes, and the breathtaking San Ramon Waterfall.

But to experience local culture, the best may be the historic city of Leon, which is lined with charming streets and cathedrals and unmatched food in Central America.

1) El Salvador

volcano in el salvador

Despite its fair share of controversies, El Salvador reigns supreme as the fastest-growing and trendiest destination in Central America.

The smallest country in Central America has taken the road less traveled to get here, which oddly enough seems fitting since solo travelers love to take the famous chicken buses to get around.

El Salvador has made headlines worldwide for its controversial methods of significantly lowering crime levels.

However, as formerly one of the most dangerous countries in the world, travelers now feel safe exploring its vast wonders.

With delightful small towns and stunningly beautiful nature ranging from volcanic hikes to a highly underrated coastline and surfer’s paradise, it’s El Salvador’s time to shine.

coatepeque lake in el salvador

This beautiful nation has become more well known as the only country with Bitcoin as their official currency rather than being a tourist destination.

Surely, with a staggering 152% surge in tourism, the narrative is shifting.

The dark days appear over as a ‘no-go zone’, and even TikTok has helped put El Salvador on the map with the viral rainbow slide at the Picnic Steak House.

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