Central America had been on my bucket list for many reasons. From a young age, the connection between nature and Maya mythology had fascinated me, and for years I’ve wanted to visit the magnificent ruins and see what remains of this ancient civilization.
Tropical emerald forests teeming with colorful native birds and hooting monkeys high up in the canopies were also alluring, as were the royal navy tones of the Pacific Ocean and the tints of turquoise of the Caribbean Sea.
With these landscapes in mind, the Amazing Central America trip seemed to have a great itinerary for seeing a lot of the area in 29 days. In fact, we’d be covering six out of the seven countries that make up Central America. We began in Maya country in Guatemala and Honduras, explored colonial towns in El Salvador and Nicaragua, hiked along lava trails through lush rainforests to waterfalls in Costa Rica, before exploring the Caribbean coast and highlands of Panama.
With so much ground to be covered, joining a group tour didn’t just make sense to me but also brought ease, convenience and a lot of fun to the whole experience. Here are five reasons why a group trip worked out for me on this adventure.
Yo no hablo Español
With my very limited Spanish language skills, having a local guide with us came very handy. Breaking down the language barrier with a Spanish-speaking guide allowed us to connect with locals and learn what their lives are like on a day-to-day basis.
One of my favorite moments on the trip was meeting Victoria Acosta, a 97-year-old woman living in Suchitoto who was able to share her story as one of the few cigar rollers left in her town with us, with translation help from our Salvadorian guide.
Exploring with ready-made friends
One of the greatest perks of group travel is having ready-made friends to explore and do activities with, which – for me – is a lot more enjoyable than traveling solo.
Not only do you have the fun and adventurous moments to share, but playing a game or two of ‘Heads Up!’ and having a chat on the bus (in between naps) can also make those 8-hour travel days a lot more interesting!
Five border crossings made easy
Visiting six countries on this trip meant several border crossings. As we were traveling in a group, our local guide managed most of the immigration procedures for us which helped make them faster and easier.
Travel tip: There was sometimes a small fee (a few US dollars) to cross borders on this trip, so be sure to carry small notes in US dollars with you to help streamline the process.
Advice on eating out
Being vegan can be a little bit challenging when traveling. And when you couple that with a language barrier, it can prove even more difficult. With a local guide I was able to go beyond the typical (but delicious) rice and beans and try various modifications of local dishes.
Amongst my favorite authentic meals were the traditional pupusas in El Salvador. They are usually stuffed with meat and cheese but with the help from our Spanish-speaking guide, I was able to try them stuffed with beans and vegetables and they were absolutely delicious!
Having a local guide who had previously been to the spots we were visiting meant that we got tried-and-tested recommendations. From the best restaurants and bars in tiny towns along the Caribbean coast to which of the many activities to partake in, we were given some stellar suggestions that helped maximize our time in each location.
One of my favorite recommendations from our guide, Esteban, was to take a day trip from Santa Catalina in Panama to Isla Coiba. It was a four-hour return boat journey, but swimming and snorkeling in such clear water with turtles was 100% worth it!
Not only did I leave Central America having experienced the landscapes I’d set out to explore, I’d met and connected with friendly locals, adventured with new friends and was full of memories my fellow travelers and I still laugh about today.
Ready to explore this incredible region? Check out Intrepid’s range of small group tours in Central America.
(All images taken by April Wong on Intrepid’s Amazing Central America trip.)