Ultimate Central America Trip Notes

Ultimate Central America

Last Modified: 03 Feb 2016
Ultimate Central America
Trip code: QVRRC
Validity: 01 Jan 2016 to 31 Dec 2016
Enjoy a Central American odyssey on an adventure that will take you from Mexico’s capital to the home of the Panama Canal. Get acquainted with local cultures, spectacular landscapes and fascinating histories as you explore a wealth of ancient ruins, unusual wildlife, unique underwater worlds and idyllic Caribbean beaches. Get to know the friendly locals and discover why Central America is an adventurer's delight on this epic overland adventure from Mexico to Panama City.
Table of Contents
StyleTippingEmergency contact
ThemesDeparture taxEmergency funds
Is this trip right for you?Important notesVisas
Why we love itGroup sizeIssues on your trip
MapYour fellow travellersWhat to take
ItinerarySingle travellersHealth
Also available to purchaseAccommodationSafety
We also recommendMeals introductionTravel insurance
Itinerary disclaimerMealsResponsible Travel
Culture shock rating TransportA couple of rules
Physical ratingGroup leaderThe Intrepid Foundation
Included activitiesJoining point Carbon offset
Optional activitiesArrival complicationsFeedback
Money ExchangeFinish point
Spending moneyFinish point instructions
To save you money and the hassle of booking multiple trips, this journey is a combination of some of our most popular adventures so your leader and the composition of your group may change.
Style
Basix
  • Our Basix style trips are designed for travellers who want exceptional value, plenty of free time and having the flexibility to choose where and how their time and money is spent. By working plenty of free time into the itineraries and keeping many of the activities optional, we aim to make travel possible for those on even the most slender of budgets. After all, why pay for an activity or excursion you wouldn’t otherwise be interested in? Or a level of comfort you don’t require? As a wise person probably once said, a bed's just a bed when there's exploring to be done.
Themes
Overland
Is this trip right for you?
- This trip involves some long travel days, including two overnight buses. The 14-hour journey from El Cuco to Granada includes a boat trip across the Gulf of Fonseca and several hours in a minivan. Although this can be tiresome, it's a great opportunity to sit back, enjoy the passing scenery and to bond with your fellow travellers. This is a real Central American adventure, after all.
- This trip also includes some travel by local transport, which can be basic and challenging, but is also a fantastic way to rub shoulders with the locals and get under the skin of a place.
- As this trip covers destinations across seven countries, you'll need to make several border crossings. While these are usually straightforward, please prepare to be patient.
- Central America is tropical, so expect a hot and humid climate. Make sure you protect yourself from the sun, wear comfortable, light clothing and stay hydrated - especially when out on walking tours.
- Conditions during your homestay in San Jorge La Laguna are basic. Your room will consist of a couple of beds with clean bedding, and the bathroom will most likely be shared with the rest of the family. Hearty home-cooked breakfast and dinner will be served during your stay, which can be a lot more basic than what you're used to. However, corn, rice and beans are very filling.
- Try to learn as many Spanish words as you can. Locals are very friendly, but also shy, so you'll need to make plenty of effort to break the ice. Attempting to communicate in Spanish is a great way of showing you care.
- There are many opportunities to get active on this adventure. Some of the the optional activities, especially the volcano hikes, require a moderate level of fitness and sturdy walking shoes. If you'd prefer to take it easy, however, there are plenty of other things you can do instead.
Why we love it
- Discover Central America, a land of mysterious Mayan ruins, active volcanoes, idyllic beaches and emerald jungles. See the sights and engage in a wide range of optional activities across eight different countries on this epic Latin adventure.
- Whether its slumbering on the sands of Playa del Carmen, gazing at the pyramids of Tikal or haggling in the markets of Chichicastenango, you'll experience multiple sides of Central America.
- You've never seen true colour until you've been to a Mexican market. Practice your bargaining skills, snap some photos and pick up traditional handicrafts at the markets in multiple destinations.
- Chichen Itza is one the New Seven Wonders of the World. It's not hard to see why - strolling around the ancient Mayan ruins feels pretty wondrous.
- A homestay in San Jorge La Laguna invites you to connect with a local family. Sit down for breakfast and dinner with your hosts and work on improving your Spanish.
- Experience an El Salvador of the past in the colonial town of Suchitoto, before savouring the blissful present on the black-sand beaches along its Pacific Coast.
- Hike, cycle or zip-line through the steamy cloud forests of Monteverde in Costa Rica. Get up close to nature among the hundreds of mammal, bird and plant species that call this place home.
- Dial the relaxation up a notch in Bocas del Toro, Panama, spending several nights on Isla Bastimentos. There may be no roads or cars here, but there are plenty of mangroves, turtles and white sandy beaches
Map

Itinerary
Day 1 Mexico City
Bienvenidos! Welcome to Mexico. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting today at 6 pm. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask reception where it will take place. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader.
Modern meets ancient in Mexico City - one of the world's largest urban centres. Although crowded and smoggy, D.F. (Distrito Federal) offers a great variety of museums, galleries and architecture, along with exciting nightlife and delicious street food. If you arrive into the city early, head to the Zocalo, the city's huge central square, to see Aztec ruins and colonial architecture or relax in one of the many parks, plazas or gardens.
Optional Activities
  • Mexico City - Teotihuacan archaeological site (inc. transport, entrance and guide) - USD50
  • Mexico City - National Palace and Diego Rivera murals - Free
  • Mexico City - Metropolitan Cathedral - Free
  • Mexico City - Templo Mayor (Archaeological Site and Museum) - USD5
  • Mexico City - Palace of Fine Arts (Bellas Artes) - USD5
  • Mexico City - Museum of Anthropology - USD6
  • Mexico City - Bosque de Chapultepec & Natural History Museum - USD5
  • Mexico City - Frida Kahlo Museum - USD8
  • Mexico City - Estadio Azteca football match (ticket price depends on the game) - USD30
  • Mexico City - Mariachis in Garibaldi Square (entry is free, price to hire a band for 2-3 songs) - USD8
  • Mexico City - Floating Gardens of Xochimilco and boat tour - USD45
  • Mexico City - Torre Latino 360° lookout - USD5
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 2 Mexico City
This morning your leader will take you on an orientation walk around the city, followed by a free afternoon. If you like art, the Friday Kahlo Museum is a must-see. Another fascinating activities is a boat tour through the canal district of Xochimilco.
Alternatively, you can choose to take an optional day trip to the archaeological ruins of Teotihuacan, 50 kilometres out of the city. Founded in the 1st century AD, Teotihuacan was once the capital city of the Aztecs. The city reached its peak in AD 500, when its influence extended down to Guatemala and as far north as present-day Texas. A local guide will lead you down 'The Avenue of the Dead', pointing out the historic Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon. You'll also visit the religious landmark of the Virgen de Guadalupe.
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 3 Puebla
This morning and most of the afternoon are free to continue exploring Mexico City. Later in the afternoon, take a taxi to the bus station and catch a local two-and-a-half hour bus to Puebla. Please make sure you bring bottled water and snacks for the journey.
Local buses in Mexico aren’t the colourful school buses you’ll see in other areas of Central America. Most of the buses we use in Mexico are comfortable coach-style vehicles, with a bathroom and seats for all passengers. Local buses tend blast the air conditioning so remember to pack a jacket in case you get cold.
Optional Activities
  • Puebla - Santo Domingo Church and Rosary Chapel - Free
  • Puebla - Visit to Cholula - USD15
  • Puebla - Lucha Libre show (ticket price depends on seating area) - USD15
  • Puebla - Museum of Art - USD5
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 4 Puebla
Today is free to discover Puebla at your leisure. Although a rapidly growing city, Puebla features many well-maintained colonial churches and buildings. Two good examples are the Santa Domingo Church and Rosary Chapel. Head to the markets to brush up on your bargaining skills and pick up some hand-painted tiles or other handicrafts. If you're looking for something more active, go for a hike near one of the area's looming volcanoes. After a day sightseeing and shopping, why not try some mole Poblano, a dish native to Puebla and famous all over Mexico? You could even try making it yourself during an optional cooking class.
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 5 Oaxaca
Today travel by local bus to Oaxaca (approximately five hours). You'll have two full free days here. Your leader will provide ideas for activities and help you to make the most of your time. A beautiful old colonial town, Oaxaca is full of graceful arcades and colourful markets. The markets are populated by descendents of the Zapotec and Mixtec Indians selling colourful woven blankets and shawls. Oaxaca is also known for its arts scene, including folk art, fine art and dance. Explore the narrow, cobbled streets or simply sit in the square drinking mescal as the world goes by. Your hotel is within walking distance of Oaxaca's nightlife hot spots.
Optional Activities
  • Oaxaca - Monte Alban Ruins - USD10
  • Oaxaca - Full-day tour inc. Mitla Ruins, Hierve el Agua and mezcal distillery - USD45
  • Oaxaca - Santo Domingo Cultural Centre - USD8
  • Oaxaca - Cooking class - USD80
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Days 6-7 Oaxaca
Spend the next two days exploring Oaxaca. Perhaps visit the spectacular mountain top temples of Monte Alban just outside the city. Monte Alban was inhabited for 1,500 years by the Olmec, Zapotec and Mixtec peoples, and is an outstanding example of a pre-Columbian ceremonial centre. The settlement's terraces, dams, canals and pyramids were literally carved out of the mountain. Alternatively, you could take a day tour out to the nearby Mitla Ruins, the mineral springs of Hierve el Agua and a mezcal distillery. Back in town, why not whip up something delicious at a cooking class?
On the evening of Day 7, take a first-class overnight bus to San Cristobal del las Casas (approximately 13 hours in total). First-class buses in Mexico are quite comfortable. They are equipped with toilets and reclining seats with plenty of leg room. They are always air-conditioned, so make sure you take a light jumper with you as it may get cold on board.
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt), Overnight bus (1 nt)
Days 8-9 San Cristobal de las Casas
Arrive into San Cristobal early in the morning. Check-in at the hotel isn't usually until midday, so if you can't check in on arrival, leave your luggage and start exploring San Cristobal. Today and tomorrow are at your leisure. As always, your group leader will help you arrange to take part optional activities.
With its winding cobblestone streets and colonial architecture, San Cristobal de las Casas maintains an old-world feel mixed with strong pre-hispanic roots. The surrounding villages are home to Tzotzil and Tzeltal groups who maintain their tribal origins through their traditional costumes and customs. You might like to explore the villages by mountain bike. If you take a day trip to San Juan Chamula, make sure to visit the church. The floor is covered with pine needles and the air is heavy with incense. Shamans come here to carry out cleansings with firewater, ancient prayer and chickens. There are also markets selling colourful handicrafts. Another option is a day trip to Sumidero Canyon. Back in town, wander to a local cafe and try an 'elote', a traditional highland corn snack.
Optional Activities
  • San Cristobal de las Casas - Mayan villages tour inc. San Juan Chamula - USD20
  • San Cristobal de las Casas - Sumidero Canyon (inc. transport) - USD30
  • San Cristobal de las Casas - Mountain bike tour - USD40
  • San Cristobal de las Casas - Amber Museum - USD6
  • San Cristobal de las Casas - Jade Museum - USD5
  • San Cristobal de las Casas - Museum of Typical Costumes - USD4
Accommodation
Hotel (2 nts)
Day 10 Palenque
Today travel along a windy road for six hours by local bus to Palenque. Once you've arrived, the afternoon is free for you to relax or explore. Situated in hot jungle, Palenque is the jumping off point to the nearby Mayan ruins of the same name. You'll have tomorrow to check them out.
Optional Activities
  • Palenque - Guided tour of Palenque Ruins - USD60
  • Palenque - Jungle Trail tour - USD15
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 11 Palenque/Overnight bus
Today you have the chance to visit the ruins of Palenque. Situated on a hilltop, the ruins date back to 600 AD and are some of the most impressive Mayan relics in Mexico. As you walk among the temples, listen out for the eerie calls of howler monkeys echoing from the jungle. There are many ruins which are still un-excavated and remain hidden in the forest. You can opt to take a guided tour of the ruins or through the surrounding jungle.
This evening, transfer to the bus station and board an overnight bus to Merida. The journey should take around eight to nine hours in total.
Accommodation
Overnight bus (1 nt)
Days 12-13 Merida
Early this morning arrive into the historic town of Merida. Founded in 1542, Merida still retains much of its old-world charm. Wander through the Old Town, check out some museums and stroll the city streets, which are alive with art and culture. Hang out in the green and shady Plaza Grande, with the 16th-century cathedral on one side and City Hall, State Government Palace and Casa Mantejo on the others. For a taste of Merida's 19th-century glory, go for a walk along the mansion-lined Paseo de Montejo. Mornings are the best time to visit the outdoor markets, where you can stock up on hammocks and Mayan replicas. This is also a great place to sample local food specialities, such as 'cochinita pibil' or the extremely spicy El Yucateco hot sauce.
Merida is the gateway to the Maya ruins of Uxmal. A tour of the ruins includes transport and a local guide. Little is known about the site's origins but it is thought the city was founded around 500 AD. Much of the site is decorated with masks of the rain god Chac. You can also visit a nearby bird sanctuary or a variety of other ruins. Merida's locals love dancing. Every Sunday the town's streets are transformed into an open-air dance floor, with salsa and merengue bands providing the music.
Optional Activities
  • Merida - Uxmal Ruins tour (inc. transport and guide) - USD45
  • Merida - Cuzama cenotes tour (inc. transport and guide) - USD45
  • Merida - Celestún Bird Sanctuary (entrance and transport) - USD50
  • Merida - Guided city tour - USD15
  • Merida - Dzibilchaltun Ruins tour - USD70
  • Merida - Contemporary Art Museum - USD5
Accommodation
Hotel (2 nts)
Day 14 Chichen Itza/Playa del Carmen
Today, travel to Playa del Carmen, stopping en route for an included visit to the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. Recently named one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza contains both Toltec and Mayan ruins lying alongside each other. The famous El Castillo pyramid dominates the site. There is also a large ball court where games used to be held. Nearby, excavations of the Well of Sacrifice offered up treasures of jade, copper and gold as well as many human and animal bones. The group will spend two to three hours at Chichen Itza before continuing on for three-and-a-half hours to Playa.
Blessed with azure waters, powdery beaches and a European feel, Playa del Carmen is a resort city close to Cancun but with less of a party atmosphere.
Included Activities
  • Chichen Itza - Entrance
Optional Activities
  • Chichen Itza - Guided tour - USD80
  • Playa del Carmen - Dos Ojos Cenote snorkelling tour - USD80
  • Playa del Carmen - Bike rental (per day) - USD10
  • Playa del Carmen - Ferry to Cozumel - USD28
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 15 Playa del Carmen
Today is a free day to enjoy as you like. Spend your time snorkelling among the mangroves, diving in underground caverns or strolling along the white sands. In the evenings kick back and watch the waves with a margarita. For adventures further afield take a ferry across the turquoise seas to Cozumel, an island famous for its reef diving.
As this is a combination trip, your group leader and the composition of your group may change at this location. There will be a group meeting to discuss the next stage of your itinerary and you're welcome to attend, as this is a great chance to meet your new fellow travellers.
Optional Activities
  • Playa del Carmen - Dos Ojos Cenote snorkelling tour - USD80
  • Playa del Carmen - Cenote Ikil - USD6
  • Playa del Carmen - Bike rental (per day) - USD10
  • Playa del Carmen - Ferry to Cozumel - USD28
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 16 Tulum
Travel south today by local bus to Tulum, which should take around an hour and a half. Tulum is a beach paradise on the Caribbean coast, where you can spend your time relaxing on the beach or strolling along the white sands. For a taste of Mayan architecture, take an optional visit of the ruins of Tulum. These ruins sit atop a cliff amid palm fringed and white sand beaches. You can even go for a swim within its ancient walls. In the evening, use the opportunity to kick back and watch the waves with a margarita.
Optional Activities
  • Tulum - Entrance to ruins - USD10
  • Tulum - Akumal Bay snorkelling tour - USD35
  • Tulum - Snorkel rental (per day) - USD12
  • Tulum - Bike rental (per day) - USD10
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 17 Tulum
Today is free to relax, take part in optional activities and to generally do as you wish. Perhaps start your morning by renting a bike and cycling around the area - this is a great way to cover a lot of ground in a short time. There's also the option of heading to Akumal Bay for a snorkelling tour of the bay.
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 18 Caye Caulker
Leave Mexico behind today and head south to Belize. Be prepared for a long day of travel on the road, as the total driving time including the border crossing will take around eight hours. Travel by minivan to the border at Chetumal and then continue onto Belize City by private minibus. Once in Belize City take a water taxi to Caye Caulker, which takes around an hour. The Belize Cayes are a group of islands that are a short boat ride away from the coast. There are a number of these islands to choose from, but we base ourselves on Caye Caulker as this is one of the more popular islands with travellers.
On arrival there won't be too much time to explore, so perhaps go for an evening stroll to get your bearings of the immediate vicinity.
Optional Activities
  • Caye Caulker - Guided snorkelling trip (half day) - USD35
  • Caye Caulker - Guided snorkelling trip (full day) - USD70
  • Caye Caulker - Sunset sail - USD37
  • Caye Caulker - Manatee tour - USD60
  • Caye Caulker - Sea kayaking (half day) - USD25
  • Caye Caulker - Stand up paddle board rental (per hour) - USD22
  • Caye Caulker - Bike rental (per day) - USD15
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 19 Caye Caulker
Today is free to explore. From Caye Caulker, it's possible to arrange day trips to other Cayes, to the best reefs for diving, or simply to take a local boat out to the reef of Caulker itself. Each island has its own particular character, but all of them have the unmistakeable Caribbean pace and charm. Belize is the only English speaking country in Central America, which will make chatting with locals much easier. There's also plenty of optional activities to keep you entertained during your time here.
Relax on the beach or head out to Hol Chan Marine Reserve, home to the magnificent Blue Hole and the world's second longest barrier reef. Snorkel among the colorful corals and see tropical fish, sharks and manta rays. You could also choose to go manatee spotting. These huge peaceful creatures are often called sea cows and are quite curious to meet their visitors.
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 20 Caye Caulker
Enjoy another day of exploration on Caye Caulker. If you're interested in sampling local cuisine, Caye Caulker is famous for its lobster. Not the cheapest meal you'll ever buy, but delicious nonetheless. Always make sure that you respect the season: the lobsters can only be caught between June 15th and February 15th. Some of the best meals on the island are cooked on the road side. How about some grilled shrimp and a lovely rum and coke made with the local fire water?
In the evenings, look out for the world famous island icon of 'Jolly Roger' - who has some of the best street food out here. There's also the 'cake lady' who comes out every afternoon with a trolley-full of freshly baked cakes for sale.
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 21 San Ignacio
Today travel by local bus through the forested hills of the highlands to San Ignacio, which should take around three hours. The local buses in Belize are a little more basic than in Mexico but this is a great opportunity to mix with Belizeans and get a feel for local life. Get ready for stop and go on the journey, as there are very few official bus stops in Belize and the bus will keep stopping to pick up passengers. On arrival, the rest of your day is free.
Optional Activities
  • San Ignacio - Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM Cave - inc. transport, guide and lunch) - USD105
  • San Ignacio - Xunantunich Ruins - USD10
  • San Ignacio - River tubing - USD95
  • San Ignacio - Mountain Pine Ridge day trip (inc. transport and guide) - USD80
  • San Ignacio - Butterfly Farm - USD10
  • San Ignacio - Cahal Pech Ruins - USD10
  • San Ignacio - Caracol Ruins (inc. transport and guide) - USD80
  • San Ignacio - Barton Creek canoe trip - USD80
  • San Ignacio - Iguana Conservation Project - USD9
  • San Ignacio - Bicycle rental (per hour) - USD4
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 22 San Ignacio
You have a full day at your leisure to discover San Ignacio. This beautiful town is surrounded by fast flowing rivers, waterfalls and Mayan ruins, making the ideal base to explore the region. One of the optional activities here is a day trip to Xunantunich, an impressive Mayan ceremonial centre located with panoramic views over the countryside. The east side of one of the temples has a unique stucco frieze and the central plaza has three carved stelae. Getting to the site is half the fun, as you'll need to take a hand-cranked ferry to cross the river.
The cave of Actun Tunichil Muknal is a living museum of Mayan relics, where you'll have to wade through water until you reach the Mayan ceremonial site. Here you'll find ceramic pots and crystallised skeletons, preserved by the natural processes of the cave for over 1,400 years. Other options to fill in your time in San Ignacio include a day trip to the Mountain Pine Ridge area to visit waterfalls and warm swimming holes, as well as a huge cave system, the butterfly garden, canoeing or river tubing.
In the late afternoon and at night, many little street barbecue stalls open, and serve huge portions. Give it a try, sit down next to the road, chat with the locals and enjoy a juicy chicken leg.
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 23 Tikal
Continue your adventure by collective minibus across the border into Guatemala, and then onto Tikal National Park (approximately four hours in total). Towering above the jungle of the Tikal National Park, the five granite temples of Tikal are an imposing sight and one of the most magnificent Mayan ruins. Hidden in the jungle growth is a maze of smaller structures waiting to be explored. The energetic can climb to the top of the ruins for spectacular views over the canopy and you may even spot toucans, macaws and other colourful birds. While here, you have the option of taking a guided tour of the area or scale the canopies and explore by zip-line.
Tonight, set up the tents along with sleeping mattresses and camp under the stars by this majestic Mayan site. There are also basic shared bathrooms and showers at camp.
Included Activities
  • Tikal National Park - Entrance
Optional Activities
  • Tikal - Guided private tour - USD40
  • Tikal - Zipline tour - USD45
Accommodation
Camping (with facilities) (1 nt)
Day 24 Rio Dulce
If you haven't already had enough of Tikal, you have the option to visit the site again this morning (entrance fee not included). Afterwards, continue onto the town of Flores on Lake Peten Itza, where there's time for you to grab some lunch and explore the town. Leaving Flores behind, jump on a local bus and head towards Rio Dulce, which takes around five hours. On arrival in Rio Dulce, transfer to the hotel by boat. The easiest way to get back into town is also by boat, which can be organised through the hotel, or take a short walk enjoying the jungle.
Your hotel is located a short distance from town in a spot right on the river. This is a great place to simply relax on the deck overlooking the water, with reasonably priced meals served in the hotel restaurant. A highlight for many guests is the 'Casa Natural' - an open-air accommodation with screened-in rooms, shared bathrooms and a lounge looking out to the surrounding jungle.
Optional Activities
  • Rio Dulce - Boat trip to Livingston - USD30
  • Rio Dulce - Natural hot springs - USD20
  • Rio Dulce - San Felipe Fort - USD1
  • Rio Dulce - Quirigua Ruins - USD30
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 25 Rio Dulce
Use your free day here taking advantage of the optional activities to get out and about. Follow the local trend and go boating on the lake, take a tour to spot the protected manatees or travel up the river on a lancha to the thermal hot springs. For more land based adventure, hike through the jungle-strewn trails of the Chocon-Machacas Natural Reserve, or travel to Livingston to explore the San Felipe fort.
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 26 Antigua
Say goodbye to Rio Dulce today and travel by local bus to the city of Antigua, which should take between eight and nine hours. You'll spend the night here, before heading to Lake Atitlan tomorrow. You won't spend too much time in Antigua today, but you should still go out for a stroll and try tamales - a local dish usually prepared traditionally on weekends and served in a corn leaf. You could also give the pepian a try, which is a meal that consists of a rich dark sauce served with vegetables and meat (usually chicken). The best value food you'll find is next to the artisan market that's close to the bus station.
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 27 Chichicastenango/San Jorge La Laguna
Start the day by travelling by private minibus to the famous market in Chichicastenango, taking approximately two and a half hours. Home to perhaps the most colourful market in the country, on Thursdays and Sundays locals come from the surrounding villages to sell their wares, and the streets are lined with stalls offering multi-coloured textiles and fresh produce. After visiting Chichi head towards San Jorge La Laguna, a small Maya village overlooking Lake Atitlan, which should take an hour and a half.
Arriving in San Jorge La Laguna, meet your host family for tonight's homestay. The group may be split in twos or threes, depending on the group size. Locals in San Jorge La Laguna are both very friendly and very shy. In order to make the most of this experience, it may take a bit of effort from your side to break the ice first. Learn as many Spanish words as you can and get ready for some serious hand language signals.
Houses in San Jorge La Laguna are very basic. Your room may only consist of a couple of beds with clean bedding, and the bathroom will most likely be outside your room and shared with the rest of the family. The mother of the family will cook dinner and breakfast for you. Meals can be very basic but filling, consisting of corn, rice and beans. You may want to stack up some snacks in Antigua.
Included Activities
  • Chichicastenango Market
Accommodation
Homestay (1 nt)
Day 28 Panajachel
Say farewell to your host family this morning, as you move to the neighbouring town of Panajachel. Located on Lake Atitlan with distant volcanoes looming in the background, Panajachel has a thriving market, good eateries and many water-based activities to enjoy. Why not go for a swim, hike to San Pedro volcano or kayak on the lake? The surrounding area is dotted with villages, which can be reached on foot or by boat. Watch women weaving at Santa Catarina Palopo or explore the colourful markets of Santiago Atitlan. Your whole day is free to take part in optional activities.
Optional Activities
  • Panajachel - San Pedro Volcano hike - USD65
  • Panajachel - Lake and villages tour - USD30
  • Panajachel - Mountain bike tour - USD50
  • Panajachel - Kayak rental (per hour) - USD6
  • Panajachel - Bike rental (per day) - USD10
  • Panajachel - Zipline ride - USD45
  • Panajachel - Water taxi to Santiago, San Pedro or San Juan - USD8
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 29 Antigua
Hit the road back to Antigua by private minibus today, which takes around three hours. In 1773 the city was destroyed by an earthquake, but many of the colonial buildings have been carefully restored and the architecture from its glory days can still be seen. Walk through the quiet cobblestone streets and past heavy carved-wood entrances. There are many fascinating markets and museums to explore, or hire a mountain bike and ride through the countryside if you fancy something more active. The views of mountain peaks and deep valleys, covered in lush vegetation provide an amazing backdrop. The rest of the day is free to do as you wish here.
Optional Activities
  • Antigua - Chocolate-making workshop at ChocoMuseo - USD24
  • Antigua - Bike tour - USD30
  • Antigua - Santiago Zamora village tour - USD10
  • Antigua - Coffee/Macadamia nut plantation tour - USD45
  • Antigua - Salsa lessons (per hour) - USD7
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 30 Antigua
Enjoy a free day exploring the city. Perhaps check out the ChocoMuseo located on 4th Street West, two blocks away from central park. Learn all about chocolate, its history and nutritional values and you may be lucky enough to get a sample bag of chocolates at the end of the tour. Otherwise, grab a coffee from one of the many coffee shops in central park and just sit back, relax and enjoy Antigua's city vibe. If you want to learn more about the famous Guatemalan coffee, you can go on a coffee tour, visit the plantations, do some coffee tasting and even buy some to take home. If you're into salsa dancing or if you'd like to learn some moves, Antigua is the place to be. Many dancing schools offer hourly lessons so you'll be able to perfect your moves.
As this is a combination trip, your group leader and the composition of your group may change at this location. There will be a group meeting to discuss the next stage of your itinerary and you're welcome to attend, as this is a great chance to meet your new fellow travellers.
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 31 Copan
Today travel by private minibus to Copan in Honduras. The six-hour drive will take you through the wild countryside of eastern Guatemala. Copan is a charming town set into lush surroundings. On arrival, perhaps take a stroll through the cobbled streets and check out the central plaza. You might even like to make an optional visit to the nearby natural hot springs.
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 32 Suchitoto
This morning you may like to pay an optional visit to the Mayan ruins of Copan. These World Heritage-listed ruins are the southernmost of the great Mayan sites for which Central America is famous. Unique because of the 21 stelae (columns) that have been discovered here, they also feature temples, excavated vaults and huge faces carved into the walls. As you stroll past ancient monuments, statues and staircases, it's hard not to wonder at the mysterious disappearance of such a creative civilisation.
Later, cross the border into El Salvador and head south for six hours to Suchitoto. A beautiful colonial town with colourful houses and cobbled streets, Suchitoto is a world away from modern El Salvador.
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 33 Suchitoto
Today is free to enjoy a range of optional activities around the area. The town of Suchitoto overlooks the Embalse Cerron Grande. Also known as Lago Suchitlan, this freshwater lake is a haven for migrating birds, particularly falcons and hawks. You might like to take a boat or kayaking tour of the lake. Alternatively, you could go for a hike in the nearby Cinquera rainforest, or explore the impressive Mayan ruins of Cihuatan. You can even take a tour of the Guazapa Volcano; whether this ancient volcano is still active or not remains a mystery.
Optional Activities
  • Suchitoto - Lake Suchitlan boat tour - USD20
  • Suchitoto - Cinquera Forest hike - USD5
  • Suchitoto - Guazapa Volcano tour - USD60
  • Suchitoto - Cihuatan Ruins - USD3
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 34 El Tunco
Heading south today, pass through the capital of San Salvador on your way to the laid-back surf village of El Tunco. El Tunco is known for its unique black-sand beaches and good nightlife, and is a great place to relax. In the evening, perhaps head to a local restaurant to fill your belly with some delicious pupusas, traditional Salvadorian corn pockets stuffed with cheese, pork and refried beans.
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 35 El Cuco
Head east along the Pacific coast to coastal El Cuco today. There are some great dark-sand beaches close to town, including the beautiful Playa El Esteron and Playa Las Flores, one of the best surf spots in the country. In the evening, perhaps enjoy a seafood dinner along the water, or check out El Salvador's first microbrewery at Intipuca Beach. You'll be spending the next two nights in a beautiful and extensive eco-resort, dedicated to promoting a greener lifestyle in harmony with the local sea turtle, bird, lizard and marine populations.
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 36 El Cuco
Today is free to explore the beautiful coastal scenery around El Cuco. If you feel like getting active, you can kayak among mangroves or give surfing a go at the famous Las Flores beach. You could even take a trip to see the nearby Conchagua Volcano. Alternatively, you might prefer to take a boat out on the ocean, find some inner peace during a yoga class at the resort or simply relax in a hammock on the beach.
Optional Activities
  • El Cuco - Volcan de Conchagua Lookout hike - USD30
  • El Cuco - Mangrove kayaking - USD40
  • El Cuco - Surf trip to Las Flores beach - USD10
  • El Cuco - Beginners surf lesson - USD10
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 37 Granada
Today is a full day of travel across the Gulf of Fonseca to Nicaragua. Make sure you're stocked up with a good book, music, snacks and bottled water for the long 14-hour journey. After an early transfer to La Union you'll take a boat through the Gulf of Fonseca. Stop at one of the many beautiful islands to relax over lunch before continuing to the Nicaraguan side at Potosi. Once you've had your passport checked, the group will continue by minivan to Granada.
Nicaragua has flourished in recent years. Home to immense natural beauty and friendly locals, it is often a traveller favourite. Founded in 1524, Granada is the oldest city in the 'New World'. Featuring Moorish and Andalusian architecture and oozing colonial charm, the city is set on the banks of Lake Nicaragua and is surrounded by active volcanoes. You'll have a full day to explore tomorrow.
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 38 Granada
Today is free to explore Granada. You can take a guided tour of the city for around USD 20. Bargain hard in the markets and wander the cobblestone streets, snapping photos of the colourful buildings. You might like to cruise the islets of Lake Nicaragua by boat, stopping to say hello to the lively capuchin monkeys on Monkey Island. Perhaps hire a kayak or a bicycle and find your own way around, or take a hike out in the surrounding countryside. Alternatively, you could take a day trip out to Mombacho or Masaya Volcano National Park to get close to some steaming giants.
Optional Activities
  • Granada - City tour - USD20
  • Granada - Mombacho Volcano hike - USD40
  • Granada - Masaya Volcano night hike - USD40
  • Granada - Monkey Island boat tour - USD20
  • Granada - Laguna Apoyo kayaking tour - USD45
  • Granada - Kayak rental (per day) - USD30
  • Granada - Bicycle tour - USD15
  • Granada - Bicycle rental (per day) - USD10
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 39 Ometepe Island
From Granada, travel by local bus to Rivas, where you'll transfer to San Jorge ferry port by taxi (approximately two-and-a-half hours in total). Catch a one-hour ferry across Lake Nicaragua to the island of Ometepe and head to your hotel. Hourglass-shaped Ometepe Island is formed by two volcanoes rising out of Lake Nicaragua ('Ometepe' literally means 'two volcanoes' in the Nahuatl language). The island is home to great beaches, deep jungle and exotic wildlife such as monkeys and parrots. The world's only species of freshwater shark circle in the surrounding lake. A great experience is to sit on the shore and watch fishermen return from a long day on the water with their catch.
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 40 Ometepe Island
Today you have a free day to discover the island. Perhaps take a hike up to the summit of either the Concepcion or Maderas Volcanoes. Be warned - at 1,700 and 1,340 metres above sea level respectively, these treks are no walk in the park. You might prefer to splash around in the natural springs, soak up the sun on the beach or check out the island's petroglyphs (ancient rock carvings).
Optional Activities
  • Ometepe - Concepcion Volcano hike - USD25
  • Ometepe - Maderas Volcano hike - USD25
  • Ometepe - Ojo de Agua natural spring - USD20
  • Ometepe - Petroglyphs - USD15
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 41 Monteverde
Today continue your journey south, first by one-hour ferry to the mainland and then by one-hour taxi to Penas Blancas. After crossing the border into Costa Rica, travel by private minibus for five hours to Monteverde. Proof of onward travel is a requirement for entry into Costa Rica, so if you're flying out of San Jose, bring a printed copy of your flight details in case the border officials ask to see them.
Monteverde was founded as an agricultural community in 1951 by a group of North American Quakers. These environmentally-aware settlers also established a small wildlife sanctuary, which has since grown into the internationally-renowned Monteverde Cloudforest Biological Preserve. Cloud forests are similar to rainforests, but instead draw their water from a semi-permanent cloud covering the region.This is truly a nature lover's paradise. More than 2,000 plant species, 320 bird species and 100 mammal species call Montverde home. Be sure to keep an eye out for the resplendent quetzal, one of the most elusive birds in the world.
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 42 Monteverde
Today you have a full free day to discover the reserve. Perhaps take a hike through the cloud forest, check out the area by mountain bike or fly over the canopy on a zip line tour. Another way to see the forest from above is to take a Sky Walk tour along a series of suspension bridges. You can explore the park on your own or arrange for a local guide to accompany you. The guides are very knowledgeable and happy to engage in conversation. To see some guaranteed wildlife up close, visit the butterfly and insect gardens or the serpentarium. There are several cooperatives worth visiting in the local communities.
Optional Activities
  • Monteverde - Cloud Forest hike - USD40
  • Monteverde - Sky Walk suspension bridges tour - USD30
  • Monteverde - Zip lining - USD45
  • Monteverde - Coffee & Chocolate tour - USD35
  • Monteverde - Night walk - USD35
  • Monteverde - Cloud Forest Train - USD60
  • Monteverde - Serpentarium - USD15
  • Monteverde - Butterfly garden and insects farm - USD25
  • Monteverde - Frog pond - USD15
  • Monteverde - Orchid gardens - USD12
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 43 La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano National Park
Today take the scenic route to La Fortuna (approximately 4-5 hours in total). Travel by shared minibus to Lake Arenal, which you'll then cross by boat. On a clear day you'll see fantastic views of the surrounding area. On the other side of the lake, re-board the minibus and continue on to your destination. La Fortuna is a small town situated just a few minutes from Costa Rica's most famous volcano - the majestic Arenal. While you're here, make sure you take some photos of the volcano reflected spectacularly in the lake.
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 44 La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano National Park
There are plenty of optional activities to take part in today. Perhaps take a guided nature hike through the lush forest surrounding Arenal Volcano, keeping an eye out for rare plants and animals. You can also see the forest from a series of hanging bridges. Check out the 70-metre high La Fortuna waterfall, or get active with some water sports on the lake, such as stand-up paddle boarding. The volcano’s inner workings also mean that the area is home to several thermal hot springs, an ideal way to relax in the middle of nature. Alternatively, a boat safari down the Celeste River offers the opportunity to see lizards, crocodiles and tropical birds in their natural habitat.
Optional Activities
  • La Fortuna - Hot Springs - USD25
  • La Fortuna - Arenal Hanging Bridges - USD65
  • La Fortuna - La Fortuna Waterfall - USD10
  • La Fortuna - Nature hike around Arenal Volcano - USD50
  • La Fortuna - Cano Negro boat tour - USD70
  • La Fortuna - Rio Celeste Safari Float tour - USD70
  • La Fortuna - Stand up paddle board - USD50
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 45 San Jose
Take a local five-hour bus to Costa Rica's capital, San Jose. Situated in the fertile Central Valley and home to over half the country's population, San Jose is filled with lively markets, intriguing museums and a dynamic atmosphere.
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 46 San Jose
Enjoy a free day exploring the city. A good place to start your exploration is the main plaza. Artisan booths are common here, so you never know when an art fair will pop up. The Gold Museum has an amazing collection of indigenous gold art. If you're in the mood for a bit of shopping, head to the outdoor market in the Plaza de la Cultura or the city's Central Market, where you can buy anything from handicrafts to seafood.
As this is a combination trip, your group leader and the composition of your group may change at this location. There will be a group meeting to discuss the next stage of your itinerary and you're welcome to attend, as this is a great chance to meet your new fellow travellers.
Optional Activities
  • San Jose - Poas Volcano National Park (half-day tour) - USD55
  • San Jose - Poas Volcano National Park, Doka Coffee Tour & La Paz Waterfalls (full-day tour) - USD120
  • San Jose - Irazu Volcano, Ososi Valley & Lankester Botanical Garden (full-day tour) - USD90
  • San Jose - National Museum - USD12
  • San Jose - Gold Museum - USD11
  • San Jose - Jade Museum - USD10
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 47 Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Today take a five-hour local bus to Puerto Viejo. A small town on the beautiful Caribbean coast, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca has two sides to it. While the main street has a party vibe, featuring dancehall and reggaeton bars and modern restaurants, further out you'll find great surf beaches, rainforest fruit farms and family homes. The area is home to a mix of Rastafarian, European and indigenous populations. You'll be spending the next three nights here.
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Days 48-49 Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
You'll have plenty of time over the next two days to explore Cahuita National Park, which is easily accessible from Puerto Viejo. Wander through the park on the lookout for sloths, monkeys, raccoons, snakes and a great variety of birds. While entrance to the park is free, you will be asked for a donation. You can also visit a jaguar rescue centre or wander through the Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve, which is home to birds of prey and medicinal herb gardens. Back in town, why not hire a bike for the day or hit the waves for a surf lesson?
Optional Activities
  • Puerto Viejo de Talamanca - Cahuita National Park - USD5
  • Puerto Viejo de Talamanca - Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve - USD22
  • Puerto Viejo de Talamanca - Jaguar Rescue Centre - USD15
  • Puerto Viejo de Talamanca - Surf lesson (1 hr) - USD30
  • Puerto Viejo de Talamanca - Bike rental (per day) - USD12
Accommodation
Hotel (2 nts)
Day 50 Bocas del Toro
Today take a one-hour local bus to the border, then walk across an old railway bridge into Panama. Continue by taxi or collective minivan to Almirante, where you'll take a short boat ride to Isla Bastimentos in the Bocas del Toro archipelago. Rapidly becoming a Caribbean favourite, Bocas del Toro has it all - palm-shaded beaches with crystal-clear water, spectacular snorkelling and lots of wildlife. Culturally, Bocas is a melting pot of West Indians, Latinos and expats, resulting in diverse music, nightlife and food scenes.
For the next three nights, stay on Isla Bastimentos. A short boat ride from Bocas Town, the island features a laid-back vibe, excellent beaches, turtle nesting grounds and mangroves. There are no roads or cars here - walking or water taxi are your only transport options. The main town is called Old Bank, home to just a few hundred locals.
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Days 51-52 Bocas del Toro
The next two days are free for you to enjoy the islands. There are plenty of optional activities to choose from. Perhaps dip into the underwater worlds of the nearby reefs on a full-day snorkelling excursion. Catch a water taxi to Red Frog or Wizard Beach, or soak up the sun on the popular Starfish Beach. Why not rent a kayak and get your blood pumping for the afternoon, or take a tour of the Oreba Cocoa Plantation? When the sun goes down, head into town and check out the local bar and restaurant scene. Where better to live la vida loca than in the Caribbean?
Optional Activities
  • Bocas del Toro - Snorkelling trip (full day) - USD70
  • Bocas del Toro - Starfish Beach (Transport) - USD15
  • Bocas del Toro - Red Frog Beach/Wizard Beach (water taxi & entrance) - USD13
  • Bocas del Toro - Oreba Cocoa Plantation tour - USD45
  • Bocas del Toro - Sea kayaking - USD35
Accommodation
Hotel (2 nts)
Day 53 Boquete
Today travel by boat and local bus to Boquete. The total journey should take eight to nine hours. Boquete is a picturesque town located in the highlands of Panama. The town is surrounded by mountains, crystal-clear creeks and rivers, forest reserves, wildflowers and fauna such as howler monkeys and the resplendent quetzal.
Your hotel is located a short drive away from Boquete. Feel free to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery around the property, which has its own bar and restaurant. There is a free shuttle into town a few times a day and most optional activities can be organised directly from the hotel.
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 54 Boquete
Today is a free day to explore. The area surrounding Boquete is famous for its coffee. While here you might like to visit a coffee plantation or kick back in town with a couple of the local brew. Why not take a guided bike tour or check out the mini canyons or hidden waterfalls outside of town? In the afternoon, perhaps soak your muscles in the local hot springs.
Optional Activities
  • Boquete - Calderas hot springs - USD35
  • Boquete - Coffee Plantation tour - USD35
  • Boquete - Guided bike tour - USD55
  • Boquete - Guided tour of hidden waterfalls - USD50
  • Boquete - Mini canyons - USD30
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 55 Santa Catalina
Today catch a local eight-hour bus to Santa Catalina, on the Pacific coast of Panama. This small fishing village is still a very remote, undeveloped destination and offers some of the best surfing in Central America. As there is limited accommodation available close to the beach in Santa Catalina, sometimes we have to use large multi-share rooms with up to six beds (not bunks).
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 56 Santa Catalina
Aside from surfing, the main pastime in Santa Catalina is relaxing, preferably in a hammock. Today you have the the day to do whatever you like. If you feel like doing something active, perhaps take a trip out to Coiba National Marine Park, where you can snorkel with turtles, angel rays and schools of colourful fish. Alternatively, you could join a half-day fishing trip or rent a surfboard in town and ride the waves. If you don't know how to surf, fear not, as lessons are readily available.
Optional Activities
  • Santa Catalina - Surf lesson (2-3 hrs) - USD35
  • Santa Catalina - Coiba Island & Grano de Oro snorkelling trip - USD100
  • Santa Catalina - Fishing trip (half day) - USD100
  • Santa Catalina - Surfboard rental (per day) - USD15
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 57 Panama City
Today, leave the beach and travel by local bus to Panama City for approximately six hours. On your last night of the trip, why not head out with your new travel crew to samba the night away?
Optional Activities
  • Panama City - Panama Canal (Miraflores Locks) - USD15
Accommodation
Hotel (1 nt)
Day 58 Panama City
Your adventure ends today in Panama City. There are no activities planned for the final day so you are able to depart the accommodation at any time.
We recommend staying a few extra days to make the most of this exciting city. If you need help booking extra accommodation, our reservations team will be happy to assist. If you extend your stay, explore the historic Casco Viejo, or old town, which features an unusual combination of restored buildings, low-income housing, churches and ruins. You may also like to visit the engineering marvel of the Panama Canal or take a stroll through the rainforest in the Metropolitan Nature Park. Panama City is also famous for its shopping centres, the biggest being Albrook Mall. For more traditional souvenirs, head to the National Artisan's Market.
Also available to purchase
For many of our trips we have other services or experiences that are also available to purchase to extend your trip or to make your holiday a little easier. Below is a list of other travel products you can purchase in conjunction with this trip.
  • QVRRC - Single Supplement (QVRRC)
We also recommend
If this trip is not quite right for you, cast your eye over these alternatives:
  • Costa Rica & Panama Discovery (QVRC)
Itinerary disclaimer
Occasionally our itineraries are updated during the year to incorporate improvements stemming from past travellers' comments and our own research. The information given in this itinerary may be slightly different to that in the brochure. It's very important that you print and review a final copy of your Trip Notes a couple of days prior to travel, in case there have been changes that affect your plans. If you have any queries, please contact your travel agent or our staff in Australia. We are here to help you!
Please note that while we operate successful trips in this region throughout the year, some changes may occur in our itineraries due to inclement weather and common seasonal changes to timetables and transport routes. This can happen with little notice so please be prepared for modifications to the route. The order and timing of included activities in each location may also vary from time to time.
Culture shock rating

Expect some culture shock. You'll be exposed to signs of poverty and access to services may be sporadic. The food will be quite different to home and English speakers harder to find. Respecting the local culture will make it easier to fit in and really experience the location.
Physical rating

Some easy physical activities included in your trip. No physical preparation is required to make the most of the journey.
Included activities
Included activities are listed in the day-to-day itinerary, all other activities are optional and at your own expense. If you choose not to participate in the included activities on this itinerary, the cost will not be refunded.
Optional activities
A selection of optional activities are listed in the day-to-day itinerary. This isn't an exhaustive list and should be used as a guide only. Prices are approximate and are for entrance only and don’t include transport to and from the sites or local guides unless indicated. All activities are subject to availability and it may not be possible to do all the activities listed in the time available at each destination.
Where activities are considered medium or high risk, we work with operators whose safety and credentials we have sighted and assessed. This means that it is possible that you may find the same activity cheaper with another operator on the ground, however we cannot vouch for the safety or quality of that operator. Activities not listed above have not been assessed by us and as such our staff and leaders are unable to assist you with booking these activities. The decision to partake in any activity not listed is at your own discretion and risk.
Money Exchange
The official currency of Mexico is the Mexican Peso (MXN).
The official currency of Belize is the Belize dollar (BZD).
The official currency of Guatemala is the Quetzal (GTQ).
The official currency of Honduras is the Lempira (HNL).
The official currency of El Salvador is the US Dollar (USD).
The official currency of Nicaragua is the Gold Cordoba (NIO).
The official currency of Costa Rica is the Colon (CRC).
The official currencies of Panama are the Panamanian Balboa (PAB) and the US dollar (USD).
With ATMs being widely available in major towns and cities, credit and debit cards are the best way to access money in Latin America (note though that charges are made for each transaction). Please check with your bank before departure that your card is accepted in the countries you are travelling to. Also ensure your bank is aware of your travel plans as - suspecting fraud - they may cancel your cards after the first few international transactions.
Be aware that your withdrawing limit may vary from country to country (regardless of your withdrawing limit in your home country) and it can be as low as the equivalent to USD100 per day.
It's also advisable to carry some cash in small denominations bills, for those times when ATMs may not be available. US dollars is the most readily changeable currency.
VERY IMPORTANT:
USD100 bills with serial number CB or BE and any other USD bills that are old, torn, written or stamped on will not be accepted by local banks.
Spending money
Every traveller is different and therefore spending money requirements will vary. Some travellers may drink more than others while other travellers like to purchase more souvenirs than most. Please consider your own spending habits when it comes to allowing for drinks, shopping, participating in optional activities, and tipping. Please also remember the following specific recommendations when planning your trip.
Tipping
If you're happy with the services provided a tip - though not compulsory - is appropriate. While it may not be customary to you, it's of great significance to the people who will take care of you during your travels, inspires excellent service, and is an entrenched feature of the tourism industry across many Intrepid destinations.
The following amounts are per person suggestions based on local considerations and feedback from our past travellers:
Restaurants: Local markets and basic restaurants - round your bill up. More up-market restaurants we suggest 10% to 15% of your bill.
Local guides: Throughout your trip you may at times have a local guide in addition to your tour leader. We suggest USD2-USD4 per passenger per day.
Drivers: You may have a range of drivers on your trip. Some may be with you for a short journey while others may be with you for several days. We suggest USD1-USD2 per day for drivers.
Your Tour Leader: You may also consider tipping your tour leader for outstanding service throughout your trip. The amount is entirely a personal preference, however as a guideline USD2-USD4 per person, per day can be used. Of course you are free to tip more or less as you see fit, depending on your perception of service quality and the length of your trip. Remember, a tip is not compulsory and should only be given when you receive excellent service.
In total, we recommend you budget approx USD5-USD10 per day of your trip to cover tipping.
Over the years we have found that many of our travellers find the need for tipping to be both tiresome and embarrassing, especially if they don't have the correct small change. To overcome this, we have established a tipping kitty system. At your group meeting, your tour leader may discuss the idea of running a group tipping kitty, whereby everybody contributes an equal amount and then your tour leader pays the tips while keeping a running record of all monies spent (except restaurant tips). The record can be checked at any time and any money remaining at the end of the tour returned to group members.
Departure tax
Please allow USD25 for international departure tax from Mexico. This is sometimes included in your international airfare.
Please allow US$19 for departure tax from Belize.
Please allow US$15 when flying into Guatemala City airport and a further US$15 if you are flying out of Guatemala City airport. These payments must be made in cash at the airport and are in addition to the US$30 international departure tax which may be included in your international flight ticket.
If departing Guatemala by land, please allow US$3 for departure tax.
Please allow US$3 each for entrance and departure tax for Honduras.
Please allow US$17 tax when entering Nicaragua by land, and US$10 when entering by air.
Please allow US$26 for international departure tax from Costa Rica.
Departure tax of US$45 from Panama is usually included in your international flight ticket.
Important notes
HURRICANE SEASON:
Please note that Hurricane season in this region is June to November, when landslides, mudslides, flooding and disruptions to essential services can occur. Intrepid monitors any situations that arise, and may need to change itineraries or activities in response to these natural weather occurrences.
COSTA RICA TOURISM INDUSTRY:
Costa Rica has done a great job of looking after its natural wonders yet maximising their potential as tourist attractions. As a result, you should expect to pay for nearly every optional activity available. This allows everyone to individually have the choice of deciding on which activities they particularly want to participate in - from white water rafting to hiking. This also means high standards of service, well maintained gear, clear paths and signalling and well trained local guides that allow you to make the most of every activity.
MINIMUM AGE:
The minimum age for this trip is 15 at the time of travel. Any travellers under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a legal guardian, or in lieu of a legal guardian, by an escort over the age of 18, appointed by their legal guardian. The legal guardian or their designee will be responsible for the traveller under the age of 18 day to day’s care. If a legal guardian elects to designate an escort in their lieu, they will be required to complete and sign a relevant document, to delegate their authority.
Group size
Maximum of 16 travellers per group.
Your fellow travellers
As you travel on a group trip you will be exposed to all the pleasures and maybe some of the frustrations of travelling in a group. Your fellow travellers will probably come from all corners of the world and likely a range of age groups too. We ask you to be understanding of the various needs and preferences of your group - patience with your fellow travellers is sometimes required for the benefit of everyone's travel experience. Remember too that you have responsibilities to the group. If you are requested to be at a place at a certain time, ensure that you don't keep the rest of the group waiting. We have found time and time again that the very best trips we operate are those where the dynamics within the group work well - this takes just a little effort on your part. Due to privacy reasons we are unable to provide you with contact details and any personal information about your fellow travellers booked on your trip prior to departure.
Single travellers
Our group trips are designed for shared accommodation and don't involve a compulsory single supplement. Single travellers share with people of the same gender in accommodation ranging from twin to multishare. Some of our itineraries have accommodation booked on a mixed gender share basis and where applicable this will be specified in our Trip Notes. On a selection of our trips, you have the option to pay a single supplement to ensure that you have your own accommodation (where available). Please note that this only applies to accommodation during the tour - pre-trip and post-trip accommodation will be booked on a single room basis.
A Single Supplement is available on this trip, except on the nights when we travel by overnight bus and Days 55-56 in Santa Catalina.
Accommodation
Hotel (53 nts), Overnight bus (2 nts), Homestay (1 nt), Camping (with facilities) (1 nt)
OCCASIONAL ALTERNATIVE ACCOMMODATION
The style of accommodation indicated in the day-to-day itinerary is a guideline. On rare occasions, alternative arrangements may need to be made due to the lack of availability of rooms in our usual accommodation. A similar standard of accommodation will be used in these instances.
TWIN SHARE / MULTI SHARE BASIS
Accommodation on this trip is on a twin/multishare basis. Please note there may be times where facilities will be shared rather than ensuite and rare occasions when you share a room with passengers travelling on different Intrepid trips than your own.
CHECK-IN TIME
Throughout the trip we request that our hotels prepare rooms in time for our arrival, especially if we're arriving prior to normal check-in time. However this isn't always possible which means we won't be able to check-in immediately on arrival at some hotels. Instead, we can store our luggage and explore our new destination.
PRE/POST TRIP ACCOMMODATION
If you've purchased pre-trip or post-trip accommodation (if available), you may be required to change rooms from your trip accommodation for these extra nights.
Meals introduction
While travelling with us you'll experience the vast array of wonderful food available in the world. Your group leader will be able to suggest restaurants to try during your trip. On our camping trips we often cook the region's specialities so you don't miss out. To give you the maximum flexibility in deciding where, what and with whom to eat, generally not all meals are included in the trip price. This also gives you more budgeting flexibility. As a rule our groups tend to eat together to enable you to taste a larger variety of dishes and enjoy each other's company. There's no obligation to do this though.
Meals
1 Breakfast, 1 Dinner
Please budget for additional meals and expenses while on your trip. Our suggestion is based on past traveller feedback but you may choose to spend more or less.
USD 1500.00
There are some simple breakfasts included on this trip which are comprised simply of bread, butter, jam, coffee / tea and juice (or similar).
Transport
Bus, Overnight bus, Boat, Taxi
Group leader
All Intrepid group trips are accompanied by one of our group leaders. The aim of the group leader is to take the hassle out of your travels and to help you have the best trip possible. Intrepid endeavours to provide the services of an experienced leader however, due to the seasonality of travel, rare situations may arise where your leader is new to a particular region or training other group leaders.
Your leader will provide information on the places you are travelling through, offer suggestions for things to do and see, recommend great local eating venues and introduce you to our local friends. While not being guides in the traditional sense you can expect them to have a broad general knowledge of the places visited on the trip, including historical, cultural, religious and social aspects. At Intrepid we aim to support local guides who have specialised knowledge of the regions we visit. If you were interested in delving deeper into the local culture at a specific site or location then your leader can recommend a local guide service in most of the main destinations of your trip.
Joining point
Hotel Metropol
Luis Moya No. 39 Centro Histórico Del
Cuauhtemoc
Mexico City
MEXICO
Arrival complications
We don't expect any problems (and nor should you) but if for any reason you are unable to commence your trip as scheduled, please contact your starting point hotel, requesting that you speak to or leave a message for your group leader.
Please also make sure have a copy of the local operator's emergency phone numbers from our Emergency Contact section of these trip notes.
Finish point
Hotel Centroamericano
Avenida Ecuador and Justo Arosemena. Apartado 830648, Zone 3
Panama City
PANAMA
Phone: 507 2274555
Finish point instructions
If you have pre booked a departure transfer, please inform your leader and they will notify you of your departure transfer time.
If you are making your own way to the airport the hotel will be able to help book you an airport shuttle or taxi. Please ask at reception.
Emergency contact
In the case of a genuine crisis or emergency, Intrepid's local ground representative for Central America and Mexico, Viaventure, can be reached on +502 5778 4100 or +502 5778 4052
For general enquiries or questions about your booking, please contact your agent or adventure specialist. For further contact details please use the following page:
Emergency funds
Please also make sure you have access to an additional US$500, to be used when unforeseen incidents or circumstances outside our control (e.g. a natural disaster, civil unrest, strike action or an outbreak of bird flu) necessitate a change to our planned route.
Visas
Visas are the responsibility of the individual traveller. The visa requirements for your trip vary depending on where you are from and where you are going. As a general rule most countries expect that you will have at least 6 months' validity on your passport. On arrival visitors may be asked to present return tickets and evidence of means to cover your intended stay.
We keep the following information up to date as much as possible, but rules do change - it's important that you check for yourself. Residents from other countries must consult the relevant embassies or your travel agent.
MEXICO:
Australia: Not required
Belgium: Not required
Canada: Not required
Germany: Not required
Ireland: Not required
Netherlands: Not required
New Zealand: Not required
South Africa: Yes - in advance
Switzerland: Not required
United Kingdom: Not required
USA: Not required
BELIZE:
Australia: Not required
Belgium: Not required
Canada: Not required
Germany: Not required
Ireland: Not required
Netherlands: Not required
New Zealand: Not required
South Africa: Not required
Switzerland: Not required
United Kingdom: Not required
USA: Not required
GUATEMALA:
Australia: Not required
Belgium: Not required
Canada: Not required
Germany: Not required
Ireland: Not required
Netherlands: Not required
New Zealand: Not required
South Africa: Yes - in advance
Switzerland: Not required
United Kingdom: Not required
USA: Not required
HONDURAS:
Australia: Not required
Belgium: Not required
Canada: Not required
Germany: Not required
Ireland: Not required
Netherlands: Not required
New Zealand: Not required
South Africa: Not required
Switzerland: Not required
United Kingdom: Not required
USA: Not required
EL SALVADOR:
Australia: Not required
Belgium: Not required
Canada: Not required
Germany: Not required
Ireland: Not required
Netherlands: Not required
New Zealand: Not required
South Africa: Yes - in advance
Switzerland: Not required
United Kingdom: Not required
USA: Not required
Whilst for most nationalities a visa is not required, you may be required to purchase a tourist card on arrival, costing approximately US$10. If you do require a visa, please obtain this in advance from your local embassy or consulate.
NICARAGUA:
Australia: Not required
Belgium: Not required
Canada: Not required
Germany: Not required
Ireland: Not required
Netherlands: Not required
New Zealand: Not required
South Africa: Not required
Switzerland: Not required
United Kingdom: Not required
USA: Not required
Please note that although a visa is not required, holders of British, US, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, and most EU passports are now required to pay US$10 for a tourist card on arrival.
COSTA RICA:
Australia: Not required
Belgium: Not required
Canada: Not required
Germany: Not required
Ireland: Not required
Netherlands: Not required
New Zealand: Not required
South Africa: Yes - in advance
Switzerland: Not required
United Kingdom: Not required
USA: Not required
PANAMA:
Australia: Yes - on arrival
Belgium: Not required
Canada: Yes - on arrival
Germany: Not required
Ireland: Not required
Netherlands: Not required
New Zealand: Yes - on arrival
South Africa: Yes - in advance
Switzerland: Not required
United Kingdom: Not required
USA: Yes - on arrival
The cost of a tourist card on arrival varies by nationality.
Issues on your trip
While we always endeavour to provide the best possible holiday experience, due to the nature of travel and the areas we visit sometimes things can and do go wrong. Should any issue occur while you are on your trip, it is imperative that you discuss this with your group leader or our local representative straight away so that they can do their best to rectify the problem and save any potential negative impact on the rest of your trip.
We recognise that there may be times when your group leader/local partner may not be able to resolve a situation to your satisfaction - if this is the case, please ask the leader to speak to their direct manager.
You may also choose to provide details in your online feedback, which we ask you to complete within 30 days of the end of your trip. But we do ask you to be aware that it is very difficult for us to provide any practical help after the trip is complete.
What to take
What you need to bring will vary according to the trip style you have chosen, the countries you are visiting and when you are travelling. Generally speaking you should pack as lightly as possible. On the vast majority of our trips you are expected to carry your own luggage, although you won't be required to walk long distances with it (max 30 minutes).
Most travellers carry their luggage in a backpack, although an overnight bag with a shoulder strap would suffice if you travel lightly. Smaller bags or backpacks with wheels are convenient although we recommend your bag has carry straps. You'll also need a day pack/bag to carry water and a camera etc for day trips.
You can find Intrepid's Ultimate Packing List on our website. It should be used as a guide only and isn't intended to be a complete packing list.
CLIMATE & CLOTHING:
Night time temperatures can be low in the height of the winter months and at altitude so bring a set of warmer clothes. Thermal underclothes, being small and light, can be very useful. A light water and windproof jacket is useful and a hat essential.
IMAGES FROM HOME:
During our trip there will be many opportunities for you to meet and talk with locals. One way to start any conversation is with pictures. We recommend that you bring some photos / postcards of your family, home, city or country where you live, animals peculiar to your country etc.
WATER BOTTLE:
Consider bringing your own water bottle to refill along the way. The sale of bottled water contributes to an enormous environmental problem around the world. In addition to the water in bottles, the production of a 1 litre plastic bottle takes 2 litres of water and 200ml of oil. A large proportion ends up in limited landfill or discarded in waterways and natural environments. Although it can be difficult to avoid bottled water when travelling, please consider water purification techniques such as iodine or micropur and use the water dispensers which are provided at some of our accommodation. When unable to avoid bottled water it is better to buy the largest available and distribute into your smaller bottle for the day.
Health
All Intrepid travellers need to be in good physical health in order to participate fully on this trip. When selecting your trip please make sure you have read through the itinerary carefully and assess your ability to cope with our style of travel. Please note that if, in the opinion of our group leader or local guide, any traveller is unable to complete the itinerary without undue risk to themselves and/or the rest of the group, Intrepid reserves the right to exclude them from all or part of a trip without refund.
You should consult your doctor for up-to-date medical travel information or for any necessary vaccinations and anti-malarial requirements before departure. We recommend that you carry a first aid kit as well as any personal medical requirements (including a spare pair of glasses) as they may not easily be obtained at the locations on this trip. For legal reasons our leaders and guides are prohibited from administering any type of drugs including headache tablets and antibiotics. Please ensure that you are adequately prepared.
WHO REPORTS:
The World Health Organisation has countries in Latin America registered as zones affected by hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, cholera, rabies and malaria.
DENGUE FEVER:
Dengue Fever is common in Latin America and can occur throughout the year. Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, Brazil and parts of Mexico are currently suffering from a serious outbreak. This virus is transmitted by mosquitoes. There is no vaccination against it, but there are preventative measures that you can take such as wearing long clothing, using repellent and being indoors particularly around dusk and dawn.
YELLOW FEVER:
A valid international certificate of vaccination against Yellow Fever is required in many countries. You may need to present this on arrival at the airport or border crossing. Some countries will refuse entry if you are unable to present your certificate. It's also quite common for your home country to request a Yellow Fever certificate on your arrival back home.
It is your responsibility to check with your doctor well in advance of leaving home about the Yellow Fever requirements for the countries you'll be visiting.
Safety
Many national governments provide a regularly updated advice service on safety issues involved with international travel. We recommend that you check your government's advice for their latest travel information before departure and ensure that your travel insurance covers you for all areas your itinerary covers. Please refer to our website's safety page for links to major travel advisories and updates on safety issues affecting our trip.
We strongly recommend the use of a neck wallet or money belt while travelling, for the safe-keeping of your passport, air tickets, cash and other valuable items. Leave your valuable jewellery at home - you won't need it while travelling. Many of our hotels have safety deposit boxes, which is the most secure way of storing your valuables. A lock is recommended for securing your luggage.
Your leader will accompany you on all included activities, however during your trip you'll have some free time to pursue your own interests, relax and take it easy or explore at your leisure. While your leader will assist you with the available options in a given location, please note that any optional activities you undertake are not part of your Intrepid itinerary, and Intrepid makes no representations about the safety of the activity or the standard of the operators running them. Please use your own good judgement when selecting an activity in your free time. Please also note that your Leader has the authority to amend or cancel any part of the trip itinerary if it's deemed necessary due to safety concerns.
For more details on the type of conditions and safety standards you can expect on your trip, please refer to Intrepid's operational safety policy on our website. We recommend that you take a moment to read through this information before travelling, and would appreciate any feedback on how well it's being implemented in the field:
FIRE PRECAUTIONS:
Please be aware that local laws governing tourism facilities in this region differ from those in your home country and not all the accommodation which we use has a fire exit, fire extinguishers or smoke alarms.
TRAFFIC AND DRIVING ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROAD:
Depending on where you come from please note that drivers in this part of the world may drive on the opposite side of the road from what you are used to. Look both ways before crossing any road. Traffic can be a little more chaotic than you might be used to at home. Be aware!
SEAT BELTS:
Please be aware that local laws governing transportation safety may differ from those in your home country and not all the transport which we use is able to provide seat belts.
BUSES:
Due to safety concerns, we don't use 'chicken buses' (i.e. repainted US school buses) in Guatemala and Honduras - inter-city coaches are used instead.
PETTY THEFT AND PERSONAL SAFETY:
While travelling there is always the risk of pick-pocketing and petty theft, particularly in the more touristy cities. We recommend that you exercise caution when walking alone at night and encourage you to walk together and only on main, well-lit thoroughfares. Be particularly vigilant on public transport. Simple measures like carrying your day pack on your front, not hanging your bag over the back of your chair or on the floor and wearing a money belt will reduce any chance that your valuables should go missing.
LIFE JACKETS:
While life jackets are generally available on water craft, there may be occasions where they are not provided and child size life jackets are not always readily available. If travelling with children and this safety issue concerns you we will be able to advise alternative methods of transport (where available) for you to travel to the next destination. You can choose to travel independently for this leg of the journey. This would be at your own expense.
WATER SAFETY:
Please take care when taking part in any activities in the ocean, river or open water, where waves and currents can be unpredictable. It's expected that anyone taking part in water activities is able to swim and have experience in open water. All swimmers should seek local advice before entering the water.
HORSE RIDING:
Horse riding is an option available to groups on this trip. Please note however that horse riding is usually not covered by your travel insurance and helmets are not always available. If riding without a helmet is a concern then you should bring our own.
Travel insurance
Travel insurance is compulsory for all our trips. We require that, at a minimum, you are covered for medical expenses including emergency repatriation. We strongly recommend that the policy also covers personal liability, cancellation, curtailment and loss of luggage and personal effects.
When travelling on a trip, you won't be permitted to join the group until evidence of travel insurance and the insurance company's 24 hour emergency contact number has been seen by your leader.
If you have credit card insurance your group leader will require details of the participating insurer/underwriter, the level of coverage, policy number and emergency contact number rather than the bank's name and credit card details. Please contact your bank for these details prior to arriving in-country.
Please go to our website for links to various travel insurance providers:
Responsible Travel
We believe strongly in low impact or rather positive impact tourism. Broadly speaking this means that we try to minimise the negative aspects of tourism on the local cultures and environments that we visit and highlight the positive aspects. Please visit our website for further details and suggestions on how you can be a responsible traveller:
Latin Americans can be very conscious of appearance so try to be casual but conservative in your dress. Outside of beach areas halter tops and very short shorts should not be worn. When visiting churches or religious sites shoulders and knees should be covered.
A couple of rules
Illegal drugs will not be tolerated on our trips. Possessing or using drugs not only contravenes the laws of the land, but also puts the rest of the group at risk. Smoking marijuana and opium is a part of local culture in some parts of the world but is not acceptable for Intrepid travellers. Intrepid's philosophy of travel is one of respect towards everyone we encounter and in particular, the local people who make our destinations such special places. The exploitation of prostitutes is completely contrary to this philosophy. Our group leader has the right to expel any member of the group if drugs are found in their possession or if they use prostitutes.
Everyone has the right to feel safe and secure on their trip. We don’t tolerate any form of sexual harassment at Intrepid, either between passengers or involving our leaders or local operators. Sexual relationships (consensual or otherwise) between a leader and a passenger are unacceptable. If you ever feel another person is behaving inappropriately please inform us immediately by contacting the emergency contact number detailed in these trip notes.
The Intrepid Foundation
Since Intrepid Travel commenced operating in 1989 we've been committed to giving something back to the communities we visit. One way has been through our support for local humanitarian, development and conservation projects. Many of our travellers want to contribute something too. Whilst it is often tempting to give hand-outs to those less fortunate, this has the potential to promote a culture of begging and dependency. Handouts are not a sustainable way for individuals or communities to live. That’s why we established The Intrepid Foundation – to make it easier for travellers wishing to give back to communities in an effective and meaningful way.
The Intrepid Foundation is a not-for-profit fund offering a selection of excellent grassroots organisations which you can contribute to. All donations to The Intrepid Foundation will be matched by Intrepid Travel dollar for dollar (up to AU$1,000 per donor and a total of AU$400,000 for all donors in each financial year, excluding emergency appeals). And every cent gets there as Intrepid Travel pays for all the administration costs. Donating is simple and secure. Please ask your leader for information on the projects we support through The Intrepid Foundation or go to our website:
Carbon offset
Carbon Offset C02-e 718.00 kgs per pax.
Feedback
After your travels, we want to hear from you! We rely on your feedback. We read it carefully. Feedback helps us understand what we are doing well and what we could be doing better. It allows us to make improvements for future travellers.