Located in the northern part of Guatemala, the most well-known of the destinations on this list is a six-square-mile site that encompasses one of the largest and most impressive ancient cities in the Mayan world. With 3,000 separate ruins, Tikal goes a long way toward eradicating the myth about the New World's supposed lack of history.

The centerpiece is the breathtaking Great Plaza, a set of gar- gantuan stone temples that surge more than 100 feet from the jungle floor.

"By far, this is the most memorable part of any trip I've taken in the last few years," a traveling Australian remarks as he watches the sunset from the top of a pyramid built at least 1,000 years ago.

Excavations suggest that at least 1,100 years of ceaseless construction took place at the site, so Tikal's enormity is part of its appeal. Three days are recommended for wandering through the otherworldly maze, but principle highlights can be covered in a long day. Lodges within the park provide the easiest and most efficient accommodations, as no vehicles are allowed inside Tikal National Park. Though not necessary, guide services can be arranged through each.

Tela and Roatan, Honduras
Before a feature article in National Geographic last year, few Americans had heard of the Garifuna people. Descendants of Caribbean slave populations, the Garifuna are now spread along the Central American coast in some 60 fishing villages between southern Belize and northeastern Honduras (pockets also exist in Guatemala and Nicaragua). Afrocentric Garifuna villages show up amid Central America's heavily Latinized culture like a lost Twilight Zone episode. Thick drum beats and lilting harmonies blast out of villages (and occasionally from urban clubs) late at night. Aromas of fried fish and bitter manioc, a tuber that is the basis of the Garifuna diet, drift from open-fire kitchens along the coast.