Map of Best of Central America including Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras

Colourful villages, jungle safaris and beachside breaks, from Mexico to Panama

Explore incredible worlds above and below the water through some of Central America's best. Amble down the Yucatan Peninsula to the island paradise of Caye Caulker, then cutting inland, hit the lush jungle around Tikal, cruise to the wide river Rio Dulce and end up among the clouds in Panajachel and Antigua. Continue to the relaxing beach vibes on the dark sands of El Cuco, spot colourful birds perched on the colonial facades of Suchitoto, stand in the shadow of mighty Arenal Volcano and spot sloths among the canopy of Monteverde, then admire the colonial towns, steamy jungles of Costa Rice and Panama, stopping off at the stunning islands of Bocas del Toro. With your local leader to steer you in the direction of the best bars and surf breaks plus a small group of adventurers to enjoy them with, you can’t go wrong on this carefree Central American journey.


Start
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Finish
Panama City, Panama
Destinations
Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama
Style
Basix
Theme
Explorer
Code
QVRQC
Physical rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1, Max 16

Why you'll love this trip

  • Whether its slumbering on the sands of Playa del Carmen, gazing at the pyramids of Tikal or haggling in the vibrant markets of Chichicastenango, you'll experience multiple sides of Central America.

  • Get to know contemporary Maya life during a homestay in San Jorge La Laguna, a lakeside village where you can share meals and conversation with a local family.

  • Nicaragua is often neglected by travellers in favour of its neighbours but their loss is your gain as you’ll have incredible Ometepe Island, which was formed by massive volcanoes, pretty much all to yourself.

  • Hike, cycle or zip-line through the steamy cloud forests of Monteverde – there’s so many ways to experience the lush canopies and unique Central American wildlife.

  • Clear sea perfect for swimming, shacks serving cold cerveza and sandy shores covered in starfish are waiting in the Bocas del Toro, where you spend three nights on Isla Colon.

  • Cruise up the Rio Dulce to your waterfront jungle lodge, then maybe grab a beer and relax while the sounds of nature fill the air.

  • Put your chef hat on and help prepare a traditional Caribbean dinner with a local family in their home in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

Is this trip right for you?

  • This trip involves some long travel days, especially from El Cuco to Leon with a 9-hour overland journey. 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 includes time spent travelling in a private vehicle with your group. Extra space can be tight, and conditions may feel a little cramped. It’s all part of the adventure and a great way to get to know your fellow travellers. Please read the itinerary carefully for travel time estimates. 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, whilst being mindful for the environment.

  • As this trip covers destinations across eight countries, you'll need to make several border crossings. While these are usually straightforward, please prepare to be patient. Books, podcasts and car games will be your best friend.

  • 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.

  • The homestay is a wonderful opportunity to witness everyday local life. 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. A 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.

  • From walking the Costa Rican border crossing to optional full-day volcano hikes, this trip can involve a lot of walking. Please ensure you bring sturdy walking shoes and comfortable clothes. To make the most of the trip, it's best if you have at least a moderate level of fitness.

  • There will be times when you have to walk with your luggage, and for this reason, we recommend packing light and using a backpack or something easy to carry.

Itinerary

This itinerary is valid for departures from 01 Jan 2023 to 31 Dec 2023.
View the 2020 itinerary
Hola, welcome to Mexico! Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm today. If you arrive early and are lucky enough to have extra time in this beachside playground, why not spend it snorkelling in freshwater rock pools (called cenotes), strolling along the white sands or reef diving on Cozumel. After the welcome meeting tonight, perhaps head out for a cocktail and tacos with your newfound travel buddies.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Playa del Carmen - Bicycle Rental (per day) - Free
  • Playa del Carmen - Ferry to Cozumel (Round-trip Ticket) - Free
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Wake up without an alarm, today is yours to explore this beachside paradise at your leisure. Known for its coral-clad reefs, Playa Del Carmen might prove to be the perfect spot to don your snorkel mask and flippers and explore beneath the surface. Keep your eyes peeled for rays, moray eels and turtles. If you’d rather leave the flippers behind and adventure on land, perhaps catch a local bus and travel south to Tulum, where white-sand beaches and Maya ruins await just a short 1.5-hour journey away. In the evening, you could grab a few of your fellow travellers and find a spot to watch the sunset with a margarita in hand – muy bien.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Wake up and enjoy your final morning in Playa del Carmen. Perhaps take an early morning stroll to the beach and dip your toes in the sand or simply let the world pass you by with a coffee in hand at a local café. We’ll head to our next stop in Chetumal mid-morning. Arrive in Chetumal after lunch with the afternoon at your leisure. A quiet city, close to the border of Belize, this place makes for the perfect stop before tomorrow’s adventure toward Caye Caulker. You might like to round up your newfound travel buddies and head to a local restaurant for the evening.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Today’s total travel time is approximately 4 hours.
Bid adios to Mexico early this morning as we head south to Belize. Be prepared for a few hours of travel. First up, we’ll jump on a local bus to the border of Belize and Mexico, undertake border formalities, then board the same bus to Belize City. Once in Belize City, we swap the bus ride for a water taxi trip to the island of Caye Caulker. Expect to arrive on Caye Caulker in the afternoon and get acquainted with the island during a guided walk with your leader. Belize is the only English-speaking country in Central America, which will make chatting with locals much easier. Be aware that there may be crocodiles in the split area that separates the north and south of the island so it’s best to take caution while swimming and exploring the beaches.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Caye Caulker - Leader-led orientation walk
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Today’s total travel time is approximately 4.5-5 hours.
Good morning and welcome to heaven! Today is free for you to explore the island and surrounds or simply relax. Whatever you choose to do, it’s pretty much impossible to keep the smile off your face when the scenery is this magic. If you feel like snorkelling, ask your leader about organising a trip to the colourful coral reef nearby, or perhaps head further afield to Hol Chan Marine Reserve, home to the world’s second-longest coral reef. Manatee spotting is one option nature lovers should consider, as the chance to encounter these gentle giants is a special one. Of course, you could always take a stroll and find a swaying palm tree with your name on it – they make the perfect place to nap, read a book and soak up the island vibes.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Caye Caulker - Full-day Guided Snorkelling Trip (gear, guide and transport included) - BZD150
  • Caye Caulker - Half-day guided sea kayaking tour (Incl. guide & transport) - BZD70
  • Caye Caulker - Manatee boat tour (Incl. transport & guide) - BZD240
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
What’s better than one day in paradise? Two, of course! Wake up when you like, because you’ve got another free day. Like any good seaside Eden, Caye Caulker is home to super fresh seafood, which you can dig into with your feet planted in the sand at one of the many ‘floor free’ outdoor restaurants. The island's famous lobsters are available between 15 June and 15 February, and you can expect to pay far less than at home (though more than your average island meal). You could even grab some grilled shrimp and a rum and coke made with firewater from a roadside stall to really get into the island spirit.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Caye Caulker - Bicycle Rental (per day) - BZD40
  • Caye Caulker - Stand-up paddleboard hire (per hour) - BZD35
  • Caye Caulker - Sunset sailing - BZD100
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
From the islands to the highlands, today you’ll bid farewell to Caye Caulker and catch a ferry to Belize City and then take a local bus to San Ignacio. Local buses in Belize are a little more basic and crowded than you may have experienced elsewhere in Central America. Get ready for a stop-and-go experience on the journey. There are very few official bus stops in Belize, so the bus will stop as required by roadside passengers. On arrival, your leader will take you on a walking tour of San Ignacio and its twin sister Santa Elena, which will give you a sense of how vibrant the local Garifuna and Maya communities are. Perhaps tonight head out in search of a classic Maya dish like cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork marinated in citrus).
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • San Ignacio - Leader-led orientation walk
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Today’s total travel time is approximately 4.5 hours.
You have a full day at your leisure to discover San Ignacio. This beautiful town is surrounded by fast flowing rivers, waterfalls and Maya ruins, making it the ideal base. One optional activity that will appeal to history buffs is a day trip to Xunantunich, an impressive Maya ceremonial site positioned on a hill that overlooks the countryside. Getting to the site is half the fun, as you'll need to take a hand-cranked ferry to cross the river. Also nearby is the cave of Actun Tunichil Muknal, a living museum of Maya relics. Wade through cool waters to find ceramic pots and crystallised skeletons preserved by the calcium-rich environment of the cave for over 1400 years. Easily spooked? Maybe you'd prefer a cave with fewer (as far as we know) skeletons, like the one in Mountain Pine Ridge. In the late afternoon, the barbecue stalls of Santa Elena start to set up for the dinner rush. It's only a 15-minute walk, so consider wandering over to enjoy a juicy chicken leg and a chat with the locals.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • San Ignacio - Actun Tunichil Muknal Caves (Incl. entry, guide, transport & lunch) - BZD250
  • San Ignacio - Butterfly Farm - BZD55
  • San Ignacio - Cave tubing (incl. entrance, guide & transport) - BZD190
  • San Ignacio - Iguana Conservation Project (entrance fee) - BZD20
  • San Ignacio - Xunantunich Ruins entry - BZD10
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Rise and shine for an 8 am taxi ride to the Belize-Guatemala border. Once you've crossed over, board a bus to Tikal National Park. In Tikal there will be time to buy lunch before visiting the impressive archaeological site. Towering above the jungle, the five granite temples of Tikal are an imposing sight and one of the most magnificent Maya ruins. Hidden in the evergreen forest are 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 the chance to spot toucans, macaws and other colourful birds. Choose to explore on your own or pay a little more for a guided tour (or maybe see the site from above on an optional zip-line ride).
Accommodation
  • Hotel (Multishare) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Tikal National Park - Tikal archaeological site (entrance fee, no guide)
Optional Activities
  • Tikal National Park - Guide for Ruins (per group) - GTQ500
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Multi-share typically includes triple and quadruple rooms. You may be required to share with group members of the opposite sex and couples or people travelling together may occasionally be separated due to rooming configurations.

Today’s total travel time is approximately 2.5 hours.
If you can't get enough of Tikal, you have the option to visit the site again in the (very) early morning at your own cost before departing at 8 am to Flores. It's just a short away, and on arrival your leader will take you on a walking tour of the island of Flores. Continue by private minivan to Rio Dulce. On arrival in Rio Dulce, transfer to the hotel by boat. The easiest way to get back into town is also on the water, a journey which can be organised through the hotel. Alternatively, a 40-minute jungle walk will get you there. The hotel is a great place to relax and look over the water, with reasonably priced meals and drinks served in the hotel restaurant. Now that you are back in a Spanish-speaking nation, why not join an informal Spanish lesson put on by your leader? Muy bien!
Accommodation
  • Hotel (Private rooms with shared facilities) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Leader-led Informal Spanish Lesson
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Today’s total travel time is approximately 5 hours.
With plenty of free time today, consider taking advantage of some of the optional activities available. Maybe take a scenic boat trip down the river to the coastal enclave of Livingston for a taste of Creole-Caribbean culture. This laidback town on the Caribbean coast feels very different from the rest of Guatemala thanks to its Garifuna population. Or perhaps go boating on the lake, take a tour to spot local manatees or explore nearby San Felipe Fort.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (Private rooms with shared facilities) (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Rio Dulce - Boat trip to Livingston (Price dependent on boat available & passengers) - GTQ160
  • Rio Dulce - Natural Hot Springs (entrance fee and transport) - GTQ150
  • Rio Dulce - Quirigua Ruins (entrance fee) - GTQ80
  • Rio Dulce - San Felipe Fort (entrance fee) - GTQ20
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Leave the 'Sweet River' behind and travel by private minibus to the city of Antigua. The road between Rio Dulce and Guatemala City is one of the busiest in the country. Traffic is slow, there are frequent road works and many, many (seriously) slow trucks. Be armed with patience, music and a good book and the journey will be easier to handle. Spend the night in Antigua before heading to Lake Atitlan tomorrow. Though there's not much time in Antigua today, you owe it to yourself to reward your patience with a tamale – meat and dough steamed in a corn leaf. You could also give the pepian a try, which consists of a rich dark sauce served with vegetables and meat (usually chicken). You may also want to take this time to purchase a few snacks for your time at the homestay on Lake Atitlan as the meals there can be very basic.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Today’s total travel time is approximately 8-9 hours, including time for lunch.
Today. We're up early and ready for an 8 am departure. Travel by private transport on winding roads to Chichicastenango. 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 doing a little shopping at the market, head to San Jorge La Laguna, a small Maya village overlooking Lake Atitlan. Once we arrive, we’ll visit a local Mayan Shaman before meeting your host family. 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. Draw on your newly learnt Spanish and get ready for some serious hand signals. Enjoy dinner with your host family.
Accommodation
  • Homestay (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Chichicastenango Market
  • San Juan La Laguna - Shaman Visit
  • San Jorge La Laguna - Traditional Maya Homestay
Meals Included
  • Dinner
Special Information
Today's total travel time is approximately 4.5 hours.
Say goodbye to your host family this morning and move on 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. Once you arrive in 'Pana' your leader will take you on a brief walking tour of town so you can get your bearings. The rest of the time is free for you to explore. Why not go for a swim, hike to San Pedro volcano or kayak on the lake, there aren't many places in the world that serve up active adventure in such a beautiful locale. The surrounding area is also 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.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Panajachel - Leader-led orientation walk
Optional Activities
  • Panajachel - Guided lake and villages tour - GTQ190
  • Panajachel - Kayak rental (per hour) - GTQ75
  • Panajachel - Water taxi to Santiago, San Pedro or San Juan (Return) - GTQ60
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Hit the road again around 9 am and make the journey back to Antigua by private vehicle. 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. Once you arrive, your leader will take you on a walking tour of Antigua including Cerro de la Cruz lookout. The rest of your time in Antigua is free for you to explore at your own pace. If you fancy a spin on the dance floor and want 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 always, ask your leader for details.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Antigua - Leader-led orientation walk
Optional Activities
  • Antigua - Salsa-dance Lesson (per hour) - GTQ100
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Today’s total travel time is approximately 3 hours.
Enjoy a free day exploring this photogenic city. Perhaps check out the ChocoMuseo located on 4th Street West, two blocks away from central park. Learn all about chocolate, which was first documented by the Guatemalan Maya, as well as it's historical importance. Or maybe grab a coffee from one of the myriad shops in central park and sit back, relax and enjoy Antigua's chilled-out vibes.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Antigua - Chocolate-making workshop at ChocoMuseo - GTQ225
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Enjoy a free day exploring the city. You could grab a coffee from one of the many coffee shops in central park and just sit back, relax and enjoy Antigua's city vibe. Be sure to check your Lonely Planet app for some more recommendations for Antigua. Keep in mind that there is another group meeting planned at 6 pm at the hotel this evening, where you’ll get briefed of the next stage of your journey, plus meet some new travel pals joining you!
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Antigua - Chocolate-making workshop at ChocoMuseo - GTQ225
  • Antigua - Salsa-dance Lesson (per hour) - GTQ100
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
As this is a combination trip, the travellers in your group and your group leader are likely to change today. There will be a welcome meeting tonight to discuss the next stage of your itinerary and meet travellers joining you. It’s important that you attend the meeting as your new leader will be collecting insurance details and next of kin information. Ask reception or look for a note in the lobby for more information on where the meeting will take place.
Rise and shine for a day of travel, leaving at around 4 am to beat the rush-hour traffic around Antigua. During the drive, your group leader will run an informal Spanish lesson, providing you with some useful phrases to break the ice with the locals. Head into Honduras through the wild countryside of eastern Guatemala, arriving in the charming town of Copan in the early afternoon. While most people use Copan as a base to explore the nearby ruins, there are plenty of other points of interest, both along the cobblestone streets and set into the lush surrounds. Maybe get started in the Central Plaza and follow your nose to a cafe, or perhaps head to the nearby natural hot springs. This optional tour gives you hours of soak time in mud, steaming natural baths and refreshing pools in the lush jungle, with an included dinner.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Copan - Natural Hot Springs & Dinner - USD50
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Today’s driving time is approximately 8 hours so pack a book or your favourite tunes and have some snacks ready to make the journey more comfortable.
This morning, join your leader and explore the World Heritage-listed ruins of Copan, the remnants of the southernmost of the great Maya sites for which Central America is famous. It's unique because of the numerous elaborate stelae – carved columns – still intact on site, and there are also temples, excavated vaults and walls inscribed with ancient faces. You’ll wave goodbye to Copan early in the afternoon and head across the border to El Salvador by private vehicle. Depending on traffic and conditions, you’ll reach the colonial town of Suchitoto in the evening. Then get your chef’s hat on with a pupusa making cooking class in a private home. Pupusa, thick cornmeal flatbreads, are a classic Salvadorian recipe from the Pipil culture and are stuffed with some delicious ingredients, like cheese or chicharron (fried pork).
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • San Miguel - Salvadoran Pupusa cooking demonstration
  • Copan Ruins - Visit
Meals Included
  • Dinner
Special Information
Today’s travel time is approximately 7 hours.
Begin the day with a leader led orientation walk of Suchitoto – widely considered the cultural capital of El Salvador – and admire the elaborate building facades as you get your bearings. Birders will want to crane their necks towards the sky as Suchitoto lies on a bird migration path. The rest of the day is all yours to relax or join the optional activities on offer. Suchitoto overlooks the Embalse Cerron Grande. Also known as Lago Suchitlan, this freshwater lake is a haven for migrating birds, particularly falcons and hawks. Maybe hustle a crew of four or more together and take a boat trip to Bird Island, or perhaps grab a historically-minded quartet for a guided walk through Cinquera Forest, where guerrilla fighters used the forest as cover during the civil war.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Suchitoto - Leader led orientation walk
Optional Activities
  • Suchitoto - Birdwatching Walk (requires a minimum of 3 travellers to operate) - USD25
  • Suchitoto - Boat trip to Bird Island in Lake Suchitlan (it requires a minimum of 3 travellers to operate) - USD25
  • Suchitoto - Town tour (it requires a minimum of 3 travellers to operate) - USD30
  • Suchitoto - War historic walk at Cinquera Forest (requires a minimum of 3 travellers to operate) - USD50
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today you’ll drive to coastal El Cuco where you’ll find 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. Maybe head to a beach for a swim or relax under the palms with a beer while you wait for sunset. As night falls, you could enjoy a seafood dinner along the water – the local crab are some of the tastiest in the country.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Today’s travel time is approximately 5 hours.
Today you're free as a bird to explore the beautiful coast around El Cuco at your own pace. Surf culture is big on the pacific coast of El Salvador so you might like to make like the locals and hit the waves with a surf lesson. Alternately, simply sit back and relax in a hammock on the beach and soak up the sunshine with a drink in hand. Life’s good.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • El Cuco - surf lesson - USD20
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Rise early for a full day of travel by private vehicle where you’ll cross the border at El Amatillo then drive to Honduras where you’ll stop for lunch. After there, there’s another border crossing at Guasaule before you reach Leon. Upon arrival, join your leader on an orientation walk in this charming city. Though it's the second largest in the country, Leon is relatively free of tourists, making strolling the mural-lined streets a real pleasure. Tonight you may like to head out to dinner with your group.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Leon - Leader led orientation walk
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
The Nicaraguan border crossing can be confusing and disorderly so please pay close attention to your leader instructions. At this border crossing you will need to pay USD 12 fee, payable in cash.

Today’s travel time is approximately 6.5 hours.
You’ll have time to make the most of Leon in the morning, perhaps with a visit to the street food area behind the Lady of Grace Cathedral. Try a 'Nica taco' made with maize, rolled and then deep fried, and served with shredded cabbage and smothered in cream. Otherwise a thrilling volcano sand boarding adventure could be on the cards! In the afternoon, you’ll drive to the oldest city in the 'New World', Granada. Featuring Moorish and Andalusian architecture and oozing colonial charm, Granada is set on the banks of Lake Nicaragua and is surrounded by active volcanoes. You’ll be travelling by taxi from the hotel to the bus station, boarding a local bus bound for Managua that will depart when it's full, and then taking the next public bus to Granada followed by a taxi ride to the hotel. Upon arrival, your leader will take you through the leafy Parque Central and 'La Calzada' – a lively pedestrian street with plenty of bars and restaurants to choose from.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Leon - Volcano Sand Boarding - USD45
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Today’s travel time is approximately 6 hours.
Today is all yours, so explore the city at your own pace. You may want to take a more comprehensive self-guided tour of the city, bargain hard in the markets or wander the cobblestone streets snapping photos of the colourful buildings. Hundreds of evergreen islets dot the waters of vast Lake Nicaragua, and you can spend a few hours exploring them by boat. Or perhaps hire a kayak and find your own way around, stopping to wave at fisherman who live in wooden huts on the islets or the monkeys who live in the trees the huts are built from. Just remember not to take a dip, as freshwater sharks live in the water! Alternatively, you could take a day trip out to Mombacho or Masaya Volcano National Park.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Granada - Laguna Apoyo kayaking tour - USD30
  • Granada - Mombacho Volcano hike - USD30
  • Granada - Monkey Island boat tour - NIO455
  • Granada - Masaya Volcano at night (Viewpoint for the Lava Lake at Santiago Crater) - NIO1600
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
This morning we’ll enjoy a breakfast together at Cafe de las Sonrisas, a café run entirely by deaf people. The café's owner is aiming to bridge the gap and inspire other business owners to employ local people living with disabilities. Then maybe hit the Convento y Museo San Francisco and view the collection of indigenous stone statues before you catch a local bus to Rivas and transfer to the port of San Jorge to catch the ferry across the Lake Nicaragua to Ometepe Island. Hourglass-shaped Ometepe is formed by two volcanoes rising out of Lake Nicaragua, one active and one extinct. The island is home to fruit plantations, deep jungle and exotic wildlife such as howler monkeys, caiman and parrots. Spend the evening on the island, and maybe head out for a beer at one of the waterfront bars with your group.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Granada - Breakfast at El Cafe de las Sonrisas
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Special Information
Today’s travel time is approximately 3 hours.
Today is yours to spend however you wish on Ometepe. You can hike both Concepcion or Maderas Volcano, however, at 1700 and 1340 metres above sea level, the treks are no walk in the park. If you are going to tackle them, ask your leader for a recommendation for a local guide. You should also be aware that even for the very fit, both volcanoes will likely take all day (8–10 hours) to summit and then descend. Instead, you might prefer to splash around in the clear waters of the natural springs, soak up the sun on the beach or check out the ancient petroglyphs (rock carvings) scattered about the island. The island’s restaurants can be mixed when it comes to quality so ask your leader which places to avoid and which are the best to eat at. Stick to local fare and you'll have more luck – perhaps try indio viejo: a stew of corn, beef, onion, tomatoes and capsicum.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Ometepe - Concepcion Volcano hike - USD45
  • Ometepe - Maderas Volcano hike - USD45
  • Ometepe - Ojo de Agua natural spring (entrance fee) - USD25
  • Ometepe - Petroglyphs - USD25
  • Ometepe - Charco Verde tour (includes lunch, Ojo de Agua and Mirador lookout) - USD25
  • Ometepe - Charco Verde Reserve (entrance fee) - USD3
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today is another early start for a full day of travel which begins with a 7am ferry to the mainland and a transfer by road to Penas Blancas before crossing the border into Costa Rica. Once in Costa Rica, you’ll travel in a private vehicle to Monteverde where you can begin exploring straight away on a walking tour with your leader. 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 Cloud Forest Biological Preserve. Cloud forests are like rainforests, but instead draw their water from a semi-permanent cloud covering the region. This is truly a nature lover's paradise. More than 2000 plant species, 320 bird species and 100 mammal species call Monteverde home. Be sure to keep an eye out for the resplendent quetzal, one of the world’s most elusive birds.
Accommodation
  • Lodge (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Monteverde - Leader-led orientation walk
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
A USD 3 fee is required when exiting Nicaragua. Reaching the Costa Rican border also requires a 1-kilometre walk, during which you must carry your luggage. Proof of onward travel is normally required to enter 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.

Today’s travel time is approximately 8 hours.
Enjoy a free day to discover this lush reserve at your own pace. Perhaps take a hike through the cloud forest, check out the area by mountain bike or fly over the thick 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. Guided tours are particularly helpful for those interested in learning more about the local flora and fauna, as well as the different roles wildlife play in Mesoamerican mythology. For guaranteed sightings of exotic insects and snakes, head to the Butterfly Garden or the Serpentarium.
Accommodation
  • Lodge (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Monteverde - Cloud Forest leader-led Nature Hike - USD25
  • Monteverde - Suspension bridges tour - USD50
  • Monteverde - Canopy Zip Lining (Entrance, Equipment & Transport) - USD50
  • Monteverde - Coffee & Chocolate tour - USD40
  • Monteverde - Night walk through Cloud Forest - USD35
  • Monteverde - Cloud Forest Train - USD50
  • Monteverde - Serpentarium - USD16
  • Monteverde - Butterfly Garden and Insects Farm (entrance fee) - USD18
  • Monteverde - Frog pond - USD15
  • Monteverde - Orchid gardens - USD13
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Spend a final morning in the thickets of the Monteverde jungle, perhaps taking one last walk to search for wildlife, then depart in the early afternoon for La Fortuna. You’ll drive to the shores of Lake Arenal where you’ll take a ferry across the lake to the little town of La Fortuna. On a clear day you'll have fantastic views of the surrounding area. Watching the massive Arenal Volcano loom larger and larger as you approach is a spectacular sight. Once you reach La Fortuna take another vehicle to the hotel, then freshen up and head out on a leader-led orientation walk. La Fortuna is a favourite among travel writers for a reason – words like picturesque and breathtaking spring to mind when trying to describe this town in the shadow of the volcano.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • La Fortuna - Leader led orientation walk
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Today’s travel time is approximately 3 hours.
Why not start today with a smoothie and plan how you want to explore? Perhaps take a guided nature hike through the lush forest surrounding Arenal Volcano, keeping an eye out for rare plants and animals, or see the forest from a series of hanging bridges which offer a great vantage point for spotting wildlife like sloths and rainbow-coloured birds. 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. Or instead, check out the 70-metre-high La Fortuna waterfall set in the middle of the rainforest or hit the lake on a stand-up paddleboard. Otherwise, a boat safari down the Celeste River offers the opportunity to see lizards, crocodiles and tropical birds in their natural habitat.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • La Fortuna - Ecotermales Hot Springs (entrance fee) - USD44
  • La Fortuna - Arenal hanging bridges - USD29
  • La Fortuna - La Fortuna Waterfall (Entrance only) - USD18
  • La Fortuna - Arenal Volcano Hike - USD60
  • La Fortuna- Caño Negro boat tour - USD75
  • La Fortuna - Stand up paddle board - USD75
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Watch the volcano fade into the distance on a local bus ride to Costa Rica's capital, San Jose. On arrival, head out on an orientation walk with your leader to see the main highlights. Once you’ve got your bearings, you may like to visit the Gold Museum, which has an amazing collection of pre-Spanish 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.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • San Jose - Leader-led orientation walk
Optional Activities
  • San Jose - The Art of Craft Beer in San Jose - Urban Adventures - USD68
  • San Jose - San Jose By Night: Food and Culture - Urban Adventures - USD74
  • San Jose - National Museum (entrance fee) - USD11
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Today’s travel time is approximately 5 hours.
Today is all yours to choose your own adventure around San Jose. 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. There’s another group meeting at 6 pm tonight, where your group leader will fill you in on the details of the next stage of your adventure. Better yet, there’ll be some new travellers joining you, so come and say hi!
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • San Jose - Pre-Colombian Gold Museum (entrance fee) - USD16
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
As this is a combination trip, the travellers in your group and your group leader are likely to change today. There will be a welcome meeting tonight to discuss the next stage of your itinerary and meet travellers joining you. It’s important that you attend the meeting as your new leader will be collecting insurance details and next of kin information. Ask reception or look for a note in the lobby for more information on where the meeting will take place.
Today we take a local bus to Puerto Viejo. On arrival, get to know this laid-back jungle town during an orientation walk with your local leader, then enjoy the rest of the day explore at your leisure. A small and coastal city, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca has a lively main street featuring dancehalls, reggaeton bars and modern restaurants. If you’re looking for a little relaxation, you'll also find great surf beaches and rainforest fruit farms.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Puerto Viejo - Leader-led orientation walk
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Today’s travel time: 5 hours
Today is free for you to ease into the vibes of the Caribbean coast. You might take your time to explore Cahuita National Park, which is easily accessible from Puerto Viejo and home to sloths, monkeys, raccoons, snakes and a great variety of birds. If the waves are calling but your footing isn’t so sure, surf lessons are also on offer in town. Of course, you could also simply find a cool spot and relax with a beer in hand. To top today off we'll prepare a traditional Caribbean dinner with a local family in their home. Enjoy a mixture of fruits, seafood, tubers and vegetables combined with coconut flavours, ginger, allspice, cinnamon, curry Panamian pepper and thyme.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Puerto Viejo - Hands-on dinner in local home
Optional Activities
  • Puerto Viejo de Talamanca - Cahuita National Park - USD5
  • Puerto Viejo de Talamanca - Surf lesson (1 hour) - USD57
Meals Included
  • Dinner
Today we take a 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 Colon 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 home to West Indians, Latinos and expats, resulting in diverse music, nightlife and food scenes. For the next three nights, you'll stay on Isla Colon, the main town in Bocas del Toro. It's a great spot to start your exploration of the archipelago from, with most bars, restaurants and local activity operators just metres from your hotel.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Today’s travel time: approx. 3 hours
Today is the first of two free days to explore this tropical archipelago. There are several beaches within reach from town, lying between 8 and 14 kilometres from your hotel. With azure waters, pristine coral reefs and a rollicking nightlife, it’s easy to see why these islands are a favourite haunt for so many travellers. The safest beaches are Starfish, Sandfly and Big Creek. Be aware others may have strong riptides. When the sun goes down, why not head into town and check out the local bar and restaurant scene. Ask your leader about the best place to grab a drink.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Bocas del Toro - Jungle Cacao Tour (guide and transport included) - USD35
  • Bocas del Toro - Zapatilla Tour including Sloth Island & snorkelling at Cayo Coral (guide and transport included) - USD45
  • Bocas del Toro - Full-day Tour including Bastimentos island, Jungle hike & Lunch with Ngobe Community (guide and transport included) - USD60
  • Bocas del Toro - Bio-luminescence Boat Tour (guide and transport included) - USD25
  • Bocas del Toro - Colon Expedition including starfish beach & bird island - USD40
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Enjoy another free day in the Caribbean sun. Maybe take the opportunity to do some surfing or snorkelling, to rent a bike and explore the main island, or simply soak in the chilled-out vibe while enjoying a cold one on the beach.
Accommodation
  • Hotel (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Travel by boat and local bus to Boquete, this is a lengthy journey, be sure to have a book, podcast or daydream to keep you occupied. Boquete is a picturesque town located in the highlands of Panama, surrounded by mountains, crystal-clear creeks and rivers, forest reserves, and colourful wildflowers, as well as coffee plantations and orange groves. Head out on an orientation walk with your leader on arrival and enjoy an informal Spanish lesson to get to grips with the local language. Tomorrow will be a free day, wide open for exploring – most optional activities can be organised directly from the hostel, though it’s a good idea book them on arrival tonight if you know what you want to do.
Accommodation
  • Hostel (multishare) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Boquete - Leader-led orientation walk
  • Leader-led Informal Spanish Lesson
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
For the next two nights you’ll being staying in multi-share accommodation, which typically includes triple and quadruple rooms. You may be required to share with group members of the opposite sex and couples or people travelling together may occasionally be separated due to rooming configurations.

Total travel time: 8-9 hours
There are plenty of ways for you to experience Boquete today, be sure to chat to your leader and hostel front desk to get the best insiders tips. You could discover the secret waterfalls only locals know about on a walking tour in the jungle. Or maybe you’d prefer to soak it up in the caldera hot springs. If you’re a coffee lover, consider taking a visit to a plantation or simply kicking back in town with a cup of the local brew – some of the best coffee in the world is grown and processed right here in Boquete.
Accommodation
  • Hostel (multishare) (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Boquete - Guided Tour of Hidden Waterfalls (entrance fee, transport and guide included) - USD50
  • Boquete - Mini Canyons Tour (entrance fee, transport and guide included) - USD30
  • Boquete - Guided Bicycle Tour (guide and bike hire included) - USD55
  • Boquete - Calderas Hot Springs (entrance fee and transport included, no guide) - USD35
  • Boquete - Zipline (guide and transport included) - USD65
  • Boquete - Coffee Plantation Tour (guide and transport included) - USD35
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today we catch a bus to Santa Catalina, situated on the Pacific coast of Panama. Remote and somewhat undeveloped, this region offers some of the best surfing in Central America, as well as some of the most relaxed vibes. Enjoy free time upon arrival. It’s going to be late afternoon or early evening by the time you get in, so perhaps find a spot to share a drink and fresh seafood dinner with your fellow travellers, or head to the beach for a sundown swim.
Accommodation
  • Cabins (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Today’s total travel time: 8 hours
Aside from surfing, the main way to pass the time in Santa Catalina is by relaxing, preferably in a hammock. But if you’re keen for 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, half-day fishing trips or surfboard hire is available in the town. Lessons are readily available, so there's no reason to fear the waves.
Accommodation
  • Cabins (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Santa Catalina - Surf lesson (2 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
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Trade in the beach for the city and travel to Panama City, Central America's glitziest capital. Arrive late afternoon and head into the city for a leader led walk. Take in great views of the historic Casco Viejo (Old Town) and the Panama City skyline as you stroll past crowded waterfront soccer fields, running paths and food carts. Afterwards, enjoy free time to sample Panama City’s thriving nightlife.
Accommodation
  • Hostel (multishare) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Panama City - Leader-led walk in Casco Viejo
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
For the next two nights you’ll being staying in multi-share accommodation, which typically includes triple and quadruple rooms. You may be required to share with group members of the opposite sex and couples or people travelling together may occasionally be separated due to rooming configurations.

Today’s total travel time: 6 hours
Today, head to the city’s gorgeous waterfront promenade, the Cinta Costera (causeway), for a walking tour with your leader. Stop at the nearby Fish Market, and perhaps grab some fresh ceviche. This afternoon is yours to explore, perhaps 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.
Accommodation
  • Hostel (multishare) (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Panama City - Leader-led walk along part of the Cinta Costera (Causeway) including a visit to the Fish Market
Optional Activities
  • Panama City - Panama Canal: Miraflores Locks (entrance fee only, no guide, no transport) - USD20
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Your adventure ends today, there are no activities planned. If you plan on staying on to check out some more of Panama City, why not do it on an Urban Adventure. With day tours like Taste of Panama City, you can sample local cocktails, craft beers and ceviche under the guidance of someone who knows the city well. Go to urbanadventures.com and search ‘Panama’ for more.
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.

Meals

2 breakfasts, 3 dinners

Transport

Private vehicle, Public bus, local bus, Taxi, Private boat, Shared boat, Ferry

Accommodation

Hotel (32 nights), Multishare Hotel (1 night), Hotel with shared facilities (2 nights), Homestay (1 night), Lodge (2 nights), Cabins (2 nights) Hostel Multishare (4 nights)

Included activities

  • Caye Caulker - Leader-led orientation walk
  • San Ignacio - Leader-led orientation walk
  • Tikal National Park - Tikal archaeological site (entrance fee, no guide)
  • Leader-led Informal Spanish Lesson
  • Chichicastenango Market
  • San Juan La Laguna - Shaman Visit
  • San Jorge La Laguna - Traditional Maya Homestay
  • Panajachel - Leader-led orientation walk
  • Antigua - Leader-led orientation walk
  • San Miguel - Salvadoran Pupusa cooking demonstration
  • Copan Ruins - Visit
  • Suchitoto - Leader led orientation walk
  • Leon - Leader led orientation walk
  • Granada - Breakfast at El Cafe de las Sonrisas
  • Monteverde - Leader-led orientation walk
  • La Fortuna - Leader led orientation walk
  • San Jose - Leader-led orientation walk
  • Puerto Viejo - Leader-led orientation walk
  • Puerto Viejo - Hands-on dinner in local home
  • Boquete - Leader-led orientation walk
  • Panama City - Leader-led walk in Casco Viejo
  • Panama City - Leader-led walk along part of the Cinta Costera (Causeway) including a visit to the Fish Market

Dates & availability

Trip departures are unavailable.

There are currently no scheduled departures on our Best of Central America trip. If you are interested in other trips in the region visit one of the links below.

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Important notes

Travellers on Intrepid trips that start on or before 31 December 2022 are required to produce proof of full vaccination against COVID-19. Learn more about Intrepid’s COVID-19 policy.

1. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm on Day 1 in Playa del Carmen. There are no activities planned for the final day so you may depart at any time.
2. A single supplement is available if you’d prefer not to share a room on this trip. The single supplement excludes Day 9 (Tikal), Days 10 & 11 (Rio Dulce), Day 13 (San Jorge La Laguna homestay), Days 39 & 40 (Boquete), Days 41 & 42 (Santa Catalina), and Days 43 & 44 (Panama City) where you will be in shared accommodation and is subject to availability. Please speak to your booking agent for further information.
3. Multishare typically includes triple and quad rooms. You may be required to share with group members of the opposite sex and couples, and people travelling together may occasionally be separated due to rooming configurations.
4. To save you money and the hassle of booking multiple trips, this journey is a combination of some of our most popular adventures. Your leader and the composition of your group may change with the start of each adventure.
5. Travel is always an adventure and, as destinations reopen, there are a few challenges as everyone gets back up to speed and adjusts to the new normal. Our leaders are experts when it comes to dealing with anything unexpected along the journey, so pack your understanding and flexibility, sit back and relax while they take care of the rest.
6. As per updated Nicaragua entry requirements, customers are currently required to supply a copy of their passport front page to their booking agent no later than 15 days prior to departure.

Essential trip information

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