The best books on Central America

Who am I?

Ryan Murdock is Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Outpost, Canada’s national travel magazine, and a weekly columnist for The Shift, an independent Maltese news portal. His feature articles have taken him across a remote stretch of Canada’s Northwest Territories on foot, into the Central Sahara in search of prehistoric rock art, and around Wales with a drug squad detective hunting for the real King Arthur.

I wrote...

Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America

By Ryan Murdock,

Book cover of Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America

What is my book about?

Vagabond Dreams explores the process of psychological and emotional change experienced by the traveller, set against the backdrop of a solo journey through Central America. No trip has the same impact of that first time you set out alone on the road. It mirrors The Hero’s Journey, but without grand heroism. This is a personal mythology, revealed by the self-imposed hardships of the road.

The Books I Picked & Why

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Around the Edge

By Peter Ford,

Book cover of Around the Edge: A Journey Amoung Pirates, Guerrillas, Former Cannibals And Turtle Fishermen Along the Miskito Coast

Why this book?

A journey on foot and by sea from Belize to Panama along the Mosquito Coast. Few roads penetrate this land of thick jungle, home to native Miskito, Rama, and Garifuna peoples, and at the time of his trip, rife with drug smugglers, CIA-sponsored rebels fighting the Sandinistas, and normal people living ordinary lives. It’s an unusual travel book about a little-known region, and it made me want to go there.

The Path Between the Seas

By David McCullough,

Book cover of The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914

Why this book?

This is the story of the men and women who battled landslides, yellow fever, and rugged geography to fulfill the 400-year-old dream of carving a navigable passageway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The story of the Panama Canal is history that reads like a thriller, rife with political intrigue, technological innovation, medical breakthroughs, and the creation of a new country. It’s a brick of a book, and you won’t be able to put it down.


By Joan Didion,

Book cover of Salvador

Why this book?

An account of El Salvador’s era of “disappearances” from one of the best non-fiction writers of her generation. Didion interviews the president, visits smoldering body dumps on the edge of San Salvador, and captures the atmosphere of revolution, civil strife, and Soviet-American rivalry that afflicted El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala in the 1980s. Essential reading for understanding the scars that continue to plague the region today.

Harry Morgan's Way

By Dudley Pope,

Book cover of Harry Morgan's Way: The Biography Of Sir Henry Morgan 1635-1688

Why this book?

Henry Morgan was the scourge of the Spanish Main. Riches were brought to Europe each year by a treasure fleet of heavily armed galleons that collected loot on the coast of Panama before setting sail for the old world. Morgan captured Spain’s coastal fort of Portobelo and did what none had done before — crossed the isthmus to sack Panama City. He would later become acting Governor of Jamaica, but his exploits as a privateer, ably told by naval historian Dudley Pope, cemented his legend.

Time Among the Maya

By Ronald Wright,

Book cover of Time Among the Maya: Travels in Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico

Why this book?

Far from being an extinct people swallowed by the jungle-like their famous temples, the Maya make up a significant percentage of the population of southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize, with vibrant ancient languages that are still spoken today. This beautifully written account of contemporary Maya culture will help you understand a remarkable people who explored the world through arithmetic and time.