Discover Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama

As far as ultimate Central American adventures go, this trip from Mexico to Panama ticks all the boxes. Starting in Mexico City, the tour ventures down through Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and finally to Panama. Loaded with culture, history, architecture and bountiful nature, this incredible Central American adventure will leave you breathless. This exciting itinerary may be full of trekking up volcanoes, exploring vibrant cities, kayaking down emerald rivers, snorkelling over reefs and taking part in all manor of outdoor and cultural activities, but there is also a great balance of down time too, with beaches, forests and unspoilt nature to be enjoyed and relaxed in. So if you’re after a life-affirming, awe-inspiring and never-to-be-forgotten adventure, then this epic trip is it.

Start
Mexico City, Mexico
Finish
Panama City, Panama
Countries
Belize,
Costa Rica,
El Salvador,
Guatemala,
Honduras,
Mexico,
Nicaragua,
Panama
Themes
Overland
Code
QDOYC
Physical rating
Cultural rating
Ages
Min 18
Group size
Min 4 Max 22
Carbon offset
808kg pp per trip


Highlights

  • View ancient Mayan ruins in Mexico
  • Enjoy three nights in the colonial town of San Cristobal de Las Casas
  • Be left awestruck by the ruined city of Palenque
  • Learn the history of the clifftop Maya-Toltec ruins at Tulum
  • Discover the stunning Belizean island of Caye Caulker
  • Get adventurous in San Ignacio, Belize’s adventure capital
  • Stay with a Guatemalan family in Totonicapan
  • Go on a spending spree at Chichicastenango’s markets
  • Explore the charming colonial city of Antigua

Itinerary

The trip begins with a group meeting at 10am.
You can arrive at any time as there are no activities planned until this important meeting; please ask the hotel reception where it will take place. If your flight arrives too late, we recommend that you consider arriving a day early and book a night's accommodation prior to the trip so you are able to attend. If you are 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 details on hand to provide to your leader.
Modern meets ancient in Mexico City, the world's fastest growing urban centre. Although crowded and smoggy, the former Aztec capital offers a great variety of impressive museums, galleries and architecture.
You may like to extend your time here and allow yourself a day or two more to take in some of the many palaces, churches and temples, or to sit and watch life go by in the Alameda Central. If you need help booking extra accommodation, our reservations team will be able to assist.
We leave the hustle and bustle of the capital behind today and journey to Oaxaca where we stay for 2 nights in a posada. During our stay here we will have a guided tour of the Zapotec ruins at Monte Alban; a Unesco World Heritage site.
A beautiful old colonial town, Oaxaca is full of graceful arcades and colourful markets largely populated by descendents of the Zapotec and Mixtec Indians, who come here to sell their colourful woven blankets and shawls. Oaxaca is also known for its well-respected arts scene, including folk art, fine art and dance. Explore the markets and narrow, cobbled streets or simply sit in the square drinking the local mescal and watch life go by.
Today we have a full day's drive to the old colonial down of San Cristobal de las Casas, one of Mexico's most beautiful towns. Here we stay in a family run hotel for 3 nights. During our time here we will take a boat trip down the stunning Sumidero Canyon and there is plenty of free time for optional activities.
With winding cobblestone streets and colonial Spanish architecture, San Cristobal de las Casas maintains a lovely old-world feel mixed with strong indigenous roots. The surrounding villages are populated with Tzotzil and Tzeltal Indians who maintain their tribal origins through their varied traditional costumes and customs. There is time here to explore the villages, perhaps by horseback or mountain bike.
We have an early start today for a full day's drive to Frontera Corozal. We camp for the night in the grounds of a hotel.
This morning we have a guided visit to the ancient Mayan city of Yaxchilan in the morning. We then have a short drive to Palenque where we camp for two nights in the grounds of a hotel located within the national park.
The following day we will visit the incredible ruins of Palenque, rising high from the jungle. A guide will show us around the ruins and there will also be free time to see if you can visit all 200 buildings that make up the city.
Palenque is situated on a hilltop in an area of hot jungle and is home to possibly the most impressive series of Mayan ruins, which date back at AD600. Whilst walking amongst the ruins it is often possible to hear the eerie calls of howler monkeys echoing from the jungle, giving an added dimension to this magnificent site. The temples are superb relics of Mayan culture and there are many ruins here still un-excavated and hidden in the surrounding forest.
Today we have a full day drive to Merida, the capital of the Yucatan state. We stay in a colonial hotel in the heart of this bustling city. Tonight is a good chance to get out and sample some of Mexico's nightlife.
Founded in 1542, Merida still retains much of its old-world charm with a well-preserved Old Town, wonderful museums and city streets alive with art and culture. Hang out in the green and shady Plaza Grande, with the twin-towered 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 and you can stock up on hammocks and Maya replicas. It's a great place to try out the local food specialities, like cochinita pibil or the head-blowingly spicy El Yucateco hot sauce.
Early morning start to drive to Tulum where we stay for two nights in a hotel. We visit Chichen Itza en route for a guided tour around this spectacular Mayan site.
The following morning we visit the Tulum ruins, one of the last cities built by the Maya and one of the best preserved coastal Maya sites. The afternoon is free time.
Sitting on a cliff with views of an azure ocean, Tulum not only has spectacular Maya ruins to discover but some of Mexico's finest beaches to frolic on.
We have an early start for a full day's travelling south. We board a boat in Belize City that will take us to Caye Caulker where we will spend three nights in a hotel. You will have plenty of free time in this incredible Caribbean location to relax or enjoy the many water-based activities on offer.
The Belize Cayes are a group of islands 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. From here it is 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.
Today we head to the Belize mainland, catching a boat over to Belize City, the country's former capital. We will spend a couple of hours looking around the city before heading on to San Ignacio, locally known as Cayo. We camp here for three nights and there are a variety of optional activities on offer.
A friendly place with a multicultural feel, San Ignacio is a wonderful base to explore the gorgeous countryside that surrounds the town.
Today we make the short drive across the Guatemalan border to the incredible Mayan ruins of Tikal with its temples hiding in the tropical jungle. We camp near the ruins, and also have a guided tour.
Once a powerful Mayan city, Tikal was abandoned in the 10th century and sank into the surrounding jungle. It's now alive with jungle wildlife and awe-inspired visitors.
Today we have a short drive to the small town of Poptun, stopping in Flores en route. We camp for two nights outside of Poptun and have a free day here for outdoor activities.
We have a very short drive today to Rio Dulce where we stay for two nights in an eco lodge. We take a boat trip to Livingston on the Caribbean coast on our full day here.
From Puerto Barrios we will take a boat trip along the Rio Dulce. The river flows through dense forests, with the jungle coming right down to the water's edge. Tropical birds nest in the trees and fly overhead. At one part of the river hot water bubbles from a natural spring in the bank, creating a localised hot pool. For those wanting a hot bath or a swim, you can simply jump over the edge of the boat.
The small town of Livingston is located at the mouth of the Rio Dulce. It has no roads connecting it to the rest of the country and as a result has developed its own rather unique character. The town has something of a Caribbean feel and is a great place to spend the night.
Drive day to San Andres Itzapa, a small village located in the mountains around Antigua. Here we visit a community centre called Manos Amigas. We sleep at the centre in dormitory-style rooms.
This centre is run by the Italian NGO 'Mani Amiche' in support of local women who have been abandoned and abused, and who 'hide away' in the centre with their kids.
We spend the morning at Manos Amigas before a short drive to Panajachel situated on the shores of the beautiful Lake Atitlan where we spend two nights in a hotel. There is the opportunity to take a boat out onto the lake or perhaps just enjoy some relaxation.
Panajachel, located on beautiful Lake Atitlan with distant volcanoes looming in the background, has a thriving market, good eateries and many water-based activities to enjoy. Go for a swim, hike 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, In each village the local life has changed little over the last few hundred years. Each village has its own typical dress and make all the textiles themselves in designs passed down through generations.
If possible we will visit the Chichicastenango market during these days depending on the weekday. Please note that the market is only open on Thursdays and Saturdays so you may not be able to visit during your trip.
The town of Chichicastenango lies about 2,200 metres above sea level and features some of the best handicrafts from all over Guatemala. 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.
Today we drive 200 km to Antigua where we stay in a colonial hotel.
The old colonial capital of Guatemala, Antigua remains the cultural centre of the country. Its cobbled streets, local markets, colonial buildings, and indigenous marimba music emanating from the many bars and restaurants create a fantastic atmosphere.

Unfortunately, more than half the population of this beautiful Guatemala you have come to know so well lives under the poverty line, which may explain why Guatemala has also the lowest literacy rate in Central America. With this in mind, the Intrepid Foundation is proud supporter of CasaSito, an outstanding not for profit organization dedicated to assist youth to reach their academic, personal and professional potential.

If you have 2’ to spare (2’41’’ to be exact!) take a look at this short video about CasaSito – it’s inspiring: https://youtu.be/v62Ou9czWyE

If you want to help CasaSito and Guatemalan’s youth, you can donate through the Intrepid Foundation, which means that your donation will be match dollar for dollar by Intrepid too. No donation is too small. $5, $10, $50 it all goes a long way to help this fantastic organization. Simply visit our website: www.theintrepidfoundation.org/projects/casasito/
Today is a long drive day as we cross from Guatemala into El Salvador and head to the coast. We spend two nights in a hotel on the beach is Los Cobanos, a fishing village away from the tourist trail.
A short drive takes us to Cerro Verde National Park which offers some amazing views of the surrounding volcanoes and countryside. We camp in the park, which has basic facilities.
The highlight of Cerro Verde National Park is the Cerro Verde, an extinct volcano which last erupted around 2500 years ago. On the top of its crater there is one of the few cloud forests in the country, located at 2030 metres above sea level. The Cerro Verde, along with the volcanoes of Santa Ana and Izalco form one of the most impressive landscapes in El Salvador. These 2 other volcanoes can be viewed from lookout points inside Cerro Verde National Park. The park also offers some wonderful treks enabling fantastic views of northern El Salvador.
We take a short drive to the lovely town of Suchitoto with its cobbled streets and whitewashed houses. We camp with basic facilities by the lake.
Suchitoto is a reminder of El Salvador's past. A beautiful colonial town with painted houses and cobbled streets, it is a world away from modern El Salvador. The town overlooks the Embalse Cerron Grande, also known as Lago Suchitlan, which is a haven for migrating birds, particularly falcons and hawks.
Today we cross the border and enter Honduras. Once border formalities are dealt with, we continue to the spectacular ruins of Copan where we stay for two nights in a hotel.
The ancient ruins of Copan are the southernmost of the great Mayan sites for which Central America is famed. This particular site was listed as a World Heritage site in 1980 and is unique because of the 21 stelae or columns that have been found there. These are heavily carved with reliefs depicting the passage of time and the lives of the royal families. There are also a number of small pyramid-shaped temples and excavated vaults. Walk through the grassy plazas under the gaze of huge carved faces, staring out from ancient walls. As you walk past monuments, statues and staircases it's hard not to wonder at the mysterious disappearance of such a creative civilisation.
A short drive brings us to San Pedro Sula and we board our flight to Roatan, the largest of the Bay Islands. We stay for three nights in a lovely posada and have plenty of time for optional activities or just relaxing. Please remember that there is an airport tax not covered by kitty.
Roatan Island is one of the famous Bay Islands; an archipelago of coral islands set in the Caribbean known for its laid back atmosphere. The scuba diving around the reefs is said to be some of the best in the world. During your stay on Roatan Island you can snorkel, go sea kayaking, hire jeeps or even get your PADI license.
We start early today to catch our flight back to the mainland. Upon arrival back at La Ceiba we head 230 km to Lake Yojoa, halfway between San Pedro de Sula and Tegucigalpa where we camp for the night by the lake.
Please not there is a US$25 airport tax which is not covered by the kitty and will need to be paid separately.
We enter Nicaragua today and, after a long drive of 400 km, head to the university town of Leon, with its wonderful colonial architecture. We spend the night in a centrally located hotel.
The town of Leon is lined with derelict buildings and the walls are adorned with political murals and graffiti. Head to the market to find some of the friendliest people in the country.
We drive to Granada, visiting Masaya National Park en route. We go to the active Masaya volcano that lies in the middle of the park to view the crater and lava flows, and visit the market. We then continue to Granada where we spend two nights in a simple hotel allowing for time to explore this beautiful colonial town.
At the Masaya National Park, the twin volcano craters of Masaya and Santiago are an incredible sight. At the bottom of a vast crater, a glowing red fire, like a furnace, fills the air with pungent sulphurous fumes and rocks and volcanic ashes still cover the area surrounding the volcanoes. The park is inhabited by many different kinds of animals including coyotes, skunks, raccoons, opossums, deer, iguanas, and monkey. The park makes a wonderful place for trekking.
Oozing with colonial charm, Granada is the oldest city of the 'New World', having been founded in 1524. The city resides on the banks of Lake Nicaragua and its appearance is a mixture of Moorish and Andalusian. The surrounding countryside includes active volcanoes and lakes.
This morning we'll hop aboard a boat and cross Lake Nicaragua, Central America's largest lake, to Isla Ometepe. On the island we'll stay in a small hotel for two nights, giving you the chance to explore all that the island has to offer.
Beautifully located within Lake Nicaragua, Ometepe Island is formed by two volcanoes which rise from the lake. In fact 'Ometepe' literally means two volcanoes in the Nahuatl language. The island's hourglass shape is home to great beaches and a deep jungle. Wildlife abounds here and as well as monkeys and green parrots, and the lake itself is famous for the world's only species of freshwater shark. A great experience is sitting on the shore of the lake when the fishermen come back from their long day bringing in what they have caught.
Today we drive 240 km to La Fortuna in Costa Rica, near the shores of Laguna de Arenal, where we camp by the lake for a couple of nights, allowing time for optional activities and for soaking up the fantastic vistas of Arenal volcano.
La Fortuna is a small town situated just a few minutes away from Costa Rica's most famous volcano - the majestic Arenal. The views here are spectacular as the volcano is reflected on the lake for postcard perfect photos. Besides the panoramic views the town offers a range of other activities such as the 70 metre high La Fortuna waterfall, stunning lush forest, rare plants, animal watching and watersports on the lake.
Today we leave our overland vehicle behind and transfer with taxi and boat up to the dense cloudforest and coffee plantations of Monteverde where we stay two nights in a hotel. This stunning area offers and incredible diversity of flora and fauna which hopefully you will be lucky enough to see during a guided visit to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Please remember to bring some warm clothes as it can get chilly at 1440 metres above sea level.
Monteverde was founded as an agricultural community in 1951 by a group of North American Quakers; they cleared virgin forest to create verdant pastures ideal for dairy farming. These environmentally aware settlers were conscious of the danger that unrestricted settling and farming could cause to this precious habitat. Consequently they established a small privately-owned wildlife sanctuary, which has since grown to become the internationally-renowned Monteverde Cloudforest Biological Preserve. These forests are similar to rainforests, but instead of relying on rain for essential moisture, adequate water comes from the semi-permanent cloud that covers the region. It is lush and full of wildlife. This is truly a nature lover's paradise. More than 2,000 species of plants, 320 bird species and 100 different types of mammals call Montverde home. Be sure to keep an eye out for the resplendent quetzal, one of the most elusive birds in the world.
Transfer from Monteverde to Tilaran where we meet up with our overland vehicle and drive to the Pacific coast where the Manuel Antonio National Park is located. We spend two nights in a basic hotel just outside the park. On our full day here we go for an easy guided walk in the national park and have the afternoon free for activities.
Spend your time here enjoying all the park has to offer. Head out for a hike along its many trails, keeping one eye on the great views and the other looking for the abundant wildlife. Monkeys, armadillos, sloths and hundreds of birds are among the species you maybe be able to spot. The park also boasts turquoise seas and white sand beaches, perfect for swimming, kayaking, boogie boarding, sailing, fishing or surfing. It would be easy to spend your whole time here in, or by, the water.
We travel across the Panama border today to the Chiriqui highlands and the town of Boquete where we stay two nights in a hostel. The area is famous for outdoor activities and the nearby Volcan Baru, the highest point in Panama. Please note that this border crossing is infamously slow.
We continue further into Panama today, driving 340 km before arriving by the beach at Santa Clara for a chance to relax and dip your toes in the Pacific Ocean. We'll camp for one final night in Panama by the beach.
A drive of about 3 hours takes us to Panama City today where we stay for the night in a centrally located hotel. We will visit the Panama Canal today and there is also time for you to explore the city's old and modern areas.
There are no activities planned for the final day and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time.
View trip notes to read full itinerary

Inclusions

Meals
n/a
Transport
Boat, Overland vehicle, Plane
Accommodation
Cabin (2 nights), Camping (with basic facilities) (2 nights), Camping (with facilities) (22 nights), Guesthouse (8 nights), Hotel (19 nights)
Included activities
  • Oaxaca - Monte Alban Ruins (entrance fee)
  • San Cristobal de las Casas - Sumidero Canyon (inc. transport)
  • Palenque - Archaeological site guided tour
  • Palenque - Misol-Ha and Agua Azul waterfalls
  • Yaxchilan Ruins
  • Tulum - Archaeological site visit
  • Guided tour of Chichen Itza ruins
  • Tikal National Park - Entrance
  • Visit to Manos Amigas
  • Chichicastenango Market
  • Guided tour of ruins
  • Honduras airport tax
  • Turtle watching, Playa La Flor
  • Panama City - Panama Canal (Miraflores Locks)

Dates

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Important notes

1. This trip is run by our experienced overland partner Dragoman.
2. Please note that this trip requires minimum numbers to depart, and may be cancelled up until 56 days prior to departure. The places showing on the dates and availability page are an indication only so please contact Intrepid to check if your preferred date will depart before making any final arrangements, such as booking non-changeable flights.

Trip notes

Want an in-depth insight into this trip? Your trip notes provide a detailed itinerary, visa info, how to get to your hotel, what’s included - pretty much everything you need to know about this adventure and more.

View trip notes