Best of Central America
Explore incredible worlds above and below the water on a Lonely Planet Experience 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
Finish: Panama City
Ages: 15 - 99
Theme: Lonely Planet Experience
Accommodation: Hotel (36 nights), Camping with facilities (1 night), Lodge (2 nights), Hostel Multishare (2 nights), Hostel (2 nights), Homestay (1 night)
Destination: Panama City
Hola! Welcome to Mexico! Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm today. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask reception where it will take place. If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be checking your passport details, insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so it’s important that you arrange a flight that will get you there in time. If you want to fly in a few days early so you can spend some more time in Playa we may be able to assist with securing extra accommodation, so ask your booking agent. If you are lucky enough to have extra time this beachside playground, why not use your time snorkelling in fresh water rock pools (called Cenotes), strolling along the white sands or reef diving on Cozumel. Check out the full range of recommended optional activities below for more inspiration. After the welcome meeting tonight, why not head out for a cocktail and a meal with your new travel buddies.
Leave behind one paradise for another, quieter version. Travel south by local bus to Tulum, where white sand beaches and Maya ruins await after a mere one-and-a-half-hour journey. Take an orientation walk with your leader around the small town when you arrive, then head to the cliffs or the shore to enjoy the sunshine at your own pace. The famous ruins that hug the cliff edge are no longer a well-kept secret, so if crowds aren’t your thing it’s best to get up early tomorrow to beat them. Maybe grab a snack and a beer at a beach shack, then hit the sand and the water (rinse and repeat). In the evening, maybe grab a few of your fellow travellers and find a spot to watch the sunset with a margarita in hand.
Today is as clear as the waters of the Caribbean, so you can spend it how you like. Perhaps start your morning by renting a bike and exploring on two wheels. Then maybe head to Akumal Bay for a change of scenery or check out one of the many fresh water rock pools known as cenotes. You can buy an organised tour to each of these attractions or venture off on your own as both are easily accessible using local transport. Cenote Dos Ojos is perhaps the most spectacular of the natural pools, but it be prepared for a three-kilometre walk each way from the local bus drop off. Remember, pack plenty of water and snacks so you don’t get caught out! If you haven't already, you might want to take the opportunity to head to Mexico's most famous archaeological site, Chichen Itza, which is about a two-hour drive away. Chat to your leader about what’s on offer and how to organise optional activities.
Bid adios to Mexico early this morning and head south to Belize. Be prepared for a long day of travel on the road without a chance to stop for lunch, as the total driving time including the border crossing will take around eight or nine hours. First, travel to the town of Chetumal by public bus (3.5 hours approximately). Then jump on a local bus the border (20 minutes), undertake border formalities, then board the same bus to Belize City (3 hours approximately). Once in Belize City take a water taxi to Caye Caulker (1 hour). Expect to arrive on Caye Caulker by 6 pm. Phew! What a day, but trust us, it’s worth it. Perhaps go for an evening stroll to get your bearings on the island, then if you have the energy why not hit a beach bar and unwind. Belize is the only English-speaking country in Central America, which will make chatting with locals much easier.
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 bound to be impossible to keep the smile off your face. 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 opportunity 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.
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 islands famous lobster are available between 15 June and 15 February, and you can expect to pay far less than at home but more than your average island meal. Some of the best meals can be found by the roadside, so why not grab some grilled shrimp and a rum and coke made with fire water to really get into the spirit.
From the islands to the highlands, today you’ll bid farewell to Caye Caulker and catch a ferry to Belize City (one hour) and then take a local bus to San Ignacio (three and a half hours). 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 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 Maya-style dish like cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork marinated in citrus).
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 the 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.
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 (approximately 2.5 hours). 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). Tonight, set up the tents and mattresses and spend some time under the stars. The weather is always warm in this part of the world but a thin blanket is provided for extra comfort. There are also basic shared bathrooms and showers at the camp.
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 one-hour ride 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 (approximately 4 hours). 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!
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.
Leave the 'Sweet River' behind and travel by private minibus to the city of Antigua, a journey which should take around eight or nine hours, allowing time for lunch. 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, 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 tie in Antigua today, you owe it to yourself to reward you 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.
Be up early and ready for an 8 am departure. Travel by private transport for two and a half hours 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 (about 1.5 hours). Arrive in San Jorge La Laguna, meet your host family and start getting to know each other. The group may be split in twos or threes, depending on how large it is. 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. 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 and the meals can be very basic but filling, consisting of corn, rice and beans.
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.
Morning! Hit the road again at 9 am and make the three-hour 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. Your leader will take you on a walking tour of Antigua including Cerro de la Cruz lookout, the local market and the chicken bus station next door, where the colourfully-decorated American school buses park. 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.
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. Otherwise, grab a coffee from one of the many myriad shops in central park and sit back, relax and enjoy Antigua's chilled-out vibes. If you want to learn more about Guatemalan coffee, you can go on a coffee tour, visit the plantations, do some coffee tasting and buy some to take home.
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.
Rise and shine for a long day of travel, leaving at around 4 am to beat the rush-hour traffic around Guatemala City. All up you'll be spending eight hours driving to Copan by private vehicle, and while the scenery is breathtaking in sections, it's a good idea to pack a book or download a few podcasts in case you find you need to break up the journey. 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 cafe. Or perhaps head to the nearby hot springs on an optional tour. Less than USD 50 gets you hours of soak time in mud baths, steaming natural baths and refreshing pools plus dinner, all among winding jungle paths.
This morning is free for you to continue explore Copan and its surrounds. Perhaps make an optional visit to the World Heritage-listed ruins of Copan, the remnants of the southernmost of the great Maya sites for which Central America is famous. Unique because of the numerous elaborate stelae – carved columns – still intact on site, there are also temples, excavated vaults and walls inscribed with ancient faces. A stroll through this old-world capital is bound to leave you pondering the adbrupt collapse of such a creative civilisation. Alternatively, nature lovers may wish to travel two kilometres out of town to the Macaw Mountain Bird Park and Nature Reserve. Dedicated to the conservation of the Central American macaw, the reserve also houses toucans, motmots, parrots, kingfishers and orioles. At approximately 1 pm, wave goodbye to Copan and head across the border to El Salvador by private vehicle. There's another substantial amount of time spent on the road this afternoon, so have that book (or your most sparkling conversation) handy to pass the time. All up the drive should take about seven hours, depending on conditions, and you are expected to reach the colonial town of Suchitoto in the evening.
Begin the day with a guided orientation walk of Suchitoto, widely considered the cultural capital of El Salvador. Stroll past gorgeous colonial facades and get your bearings. Birders will want to crane their necks – Suchitoto lies on a bird migration path. The rest of the day is all yours to get among the optional activities on offer. Suchitoto overlooks the Embalse Cerron Grande. Also known as Lago Suchitlan, this freshwater lake is a haven for the aforementioned 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.
Enjoy a sleep in today and head south-east at about 10 am by private vehicle to coastal El Cuco (approximately 5 hours). 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. Maybe head to a beach for a few beers under shaggy palms and relax while you wait for the sunset. As night falls, perhaps enjoy a seafood dinner along the water – the local crab are some of the best in the country.
Today you're free as a bird to explore the beautiful coast around El Cuco at your own pace. If you and a few others feel like getting active, you could take a trip to see nearby Conchagua Volcano. The views from the lookout are stunning, but you'll need a minimum of five people to take part. Alternatively, you might prefer to take a boat out on the ocean, find some inner peace during a free yoga class at the hotel or simply relax in a hammock on the beach.
Rise early for a full day of travel by private vehicle. Leave El Cuco at around 8 am and drive to El Amatillo border crossing (approximately 1.5 hours) before a 2.5 drive by of Honduras (including a stop for lunch) to the next border crossing Guasaule, and finally reaching Leon after another 2.5 hours. Upon arrival your leader will take you on a walking tour of 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.
Make the most of Leon in the morning. The street food behind the Lady of Grace Cathedral is some of the best in town, so why not grab a 'Nica taco'. Made with maize, rolled and then deep fried, these beauties are usually served with shredded cabbage and smothered in cream in Leon. Board a local bus bound for Granada at 2 pm, making the three-hour journey to 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. Set out on a walking tour with your leader on arrival. Visit busy markets, the leafy Parque Central and 'La Calzada', a lively pedestrian street with plenty of bars and restaurants to choose from.
Today is all yours, so explore the city at your own pace. You may want to take a more comprehensive 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 to get close to some hissing giants.
Spend a morning at leisure in Granada. Perhaps start the day with a classic Nicaraguan breakfast of eggs, rice and beans, soft cheese, plantains and strong coffee. Then maybe hit the Convento y Museo San Francisco and view the collection of indigenous stone statues. At 2 pm take a local bus to Rivas (approximately 1.5 hours) and transfer to the port of San Jorge to catch a one-hour ferry across the seemingly endless waters of 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.
Spend today however you wish on this gorgeous island. Both Concepcion or Maderas Volcanoe are hikable, but be warned that at 1700 and 1340 metres above sea level respectively 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. 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. While the restaurants on the island are of decidedly mixed quality, your leader can give you the lowdown on which places to avoid and which to make a beeline for. Stick to local fare and you'll have more luck – perhaps try indio viejo, a stew of corn, beef, onion, tomatoes and capsicum.
Today is another early start in order to grab a 7 am ferry to the mainland (1.5 hours) and a one-and-a-half-hour transfer to Penas Blancas before crossing the border into Costa Rica. A USD 3 fee is required when exiting Nicaragua. Reaching the Costa Rican border also requires a one-km 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. Once in Costa Rica, travel by private minibus for five hours to Monteverde. Phew. Long day, but you made it! Welcome to beautiful Monteverde, which 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 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 2000 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, on your walk.
Today you have a free day to discover the 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. You can get guaranteed sightings of exotic insects and snakes at the Butterfly Garden or the Serpentarium.
Spend a final morning in the thickets of the jungle, perhaps taking one last walk to search for wildlife. Depart by shared minibus at 2 pm and head to La Fortuna. It takes about one-and-a-half-hours to reach the shores of Lake Arenal, followed by a further one-and-a-half-hour journey across the lake to the little town of La Fortuna. On a clear day you'll have fantastic views of the surrounding area, and watching the massive Arenal Volcano loom larger and larger as you approach is a spectacular sight. Once you reach La Fortuna hop on another minibus to the hotel, then freshen up and head out on a walking tour. La Fortuna is a favourite among travel writers for a reason – words like picturesque and breathtaking spring to mind when trying to describe the town in the shadow of the volcano.
Good morning! 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. You can also see the forest from a series of hanging bridges, which is a great vantage point for spotting wildlife like sloths and rainbow-coloured birds. Or perhaps check out the 70-metre-high La Fortuna waterfall set in the middle of evergreen rainforest. Active types might want to hit the lake on a stand-up paddleboard. 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.
Watch the volcano fade into the distance as you begin the five-hour local bus ride to Costa Rica's capital, San Jose. Head out on a walking tour with your leader on arrival to see the main highlights. Later, perhaps 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. Prefer to have someone else do the organising for you? Check out the Urban Adventures offered in San Jose, from craft beer tours to day-trips to the countryside. Fin out more at urbanadventures.com/destination/San-Jose-tours
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.
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. The main street has a party vibe, featuring dancehalls, reggaeton bars and modern restaurants, while further out you'll find great surf beaches, rainforest fruit farms and family homes. Get to know this laid-back jungle town on a leader-led orientation bike ride, then the rest of the day is yours to explore.
Enjoy a free day to get to know this laid-back town on the Caribbean coast. If you wish, take your time 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, consider hiring a bike for the day or hitting the waves for a surf lesson.
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 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 a melting pot of 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 operators located on 1st, 2nd and 3rd street – meters from your hotel.
Today is the first of two free days to explore this tropical archipelago. There are several beaches within reach from town – between 8 and 14 km 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. However, be aware, apart from Starfish, Sandfly and Big Creek beaches, the rest can have very strong riptides. When the sun goes down, head into town and check out the local bar and restaurant scene. There's no place better to live la vida loca than the Caribbean.
Enjoy another free day in the Caribbean sun. Take the opportunity to do some surfing or snorkelling rent a bike and explore the main island, or simply soak in the chilled-out vibe while enjoying a cold one on the beach.
Travel by boat and local bus to Boquete, keeping in mind that total journey should take eight to nine hours. 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. This postcard-perfect town is also home to a variety of fauna such as howler monkeys and the resplendent quetzal. Tomorrow will be a free day for you to explore. Most optional activities can be organised directly from the hostel, though it’s a good idea to choose your activities and book them today.
Today is free for you to explore Boquete. The area surrounding the town is famous for its coffee. While here, consider taking a visit to a coffee plantation or kicking back in town with a cup of the local brew. perhaps take a guided bike tour or check out the mini canyons and hidden waterfalls outside of town – maybe even soak your muscles in the local hot springs.
Catch an eight-hour 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. Enjoy free time upon arrival. Perhaps find a spot to share a drink with fellow travellers, or head to the beach for a swim.
Aside from surfing, the main pastime in Santa Catalina is relaxing, preferably in a hammock. Enjoy a free day around the area and hunt down some activities in the process. 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.
Trade in the beach for the city and travel to Panama City, Central America's glitziest capital. (about 6 hours). Arrive late afternoon and head to the city’s gorgeous waterfront promenade, the Cinta Costera, for a walking tour with your leader. Take in great views historic Casco Viejo (old town) and the Panama City skyline as you stroll past crowded waterfront soccer fields, running paths and food carts. Stop at the nearby Fish Market, and perhaps grab some fresh ceviche. Afterwards, enjoy free time to sample Panama City’s thriving nightlife.
Today is free for you to discover Panama City. 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.
Your adventure ends today, there are no activities planned for the final day.
- Panama City - Leader-led walk along part of the Cinta Costera (Causeway) including a visit to the Fish Market
SC Hotel Playa del Carmen
# 33 Avenida 20 between 2nd & 4th streets
Playa del Carmen
Phone: +52 (984)8730467
Fax: +52 (984)8733177
Hostel Selina Casco Viejo
Corner of Avenida B & Calle 12
San Felipe, Casco Viejo (Old Quarter)
Phone: (+507 838 5132
None of the activities featured in this trip require special training or skills, just a reasonable level of fitness and a willingness to participate. Cobblestones and uneven roads are common and you may be required to walk in hot and humid conditions. If you are in any doubt, please share these concerns or issues with your sales consultant so that your leader is aware prior and can pre-empt your needs.
1. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6pm on Day 1. There are no activities planned for the final day so you may depart at any time.
2. To have a private room on this trip, a single supplement is bookable (subject to availability) with exception of Days 39 & 40 (Boquete) and Days 43 & 44 (Panama City) where you would be in shared accommodation.
3. Multishare typically includes triple and quad 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.
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. 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.
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.
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 trips. We strongly recommend the use of a neck wallet or money belt while travelling, for the safe-keeping of your passport, flight 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 or relax and take it easy. 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:
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.
MONEY WITHDRAWAL: In order to avoid fraud and theft, it is advisable that you withdraw money from ATMs located inside banks or guarded shops during business hours only.
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.
LOCAL LODGINGS: On this trip you will be staying in some restored houses and local lodges - these are one of the charms of this journey, but their staircases, balconies and passages etc may not always comply with western safety standards. Please do not expect elevators in these properties as they are preserved to their original state.
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.
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.
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.
ACTIVE VOLCANOES: This tour passes through volcanic areas. In the instance that a volcano becomes potentially dangerous and authorities declare nearby towns unsafe for travel, the itinerary will be re-routed. Where possible, Intrepid will provide advance notice of such changes. At short notice, when this is not possible, your tour leader will provide up to date information on behalf of Intrepid.
WhatsApp is a popular way to communicate in Latin America. We recommended downloading WhatsApp prior to departure to communicate with by text with your leader and group members during the tour. Once downloaded, please validate your phone number before leaving home as you will not be able to do this once you arrive, unless you have international roaming enabled. Connections for making phone calls through WhatsApp are not reliable, so please do not use this app to make calls to our emergency phone line.
If you receive an immigration card upon entry, please ensure you keep this safe as it may be requested at point of exit. For further information regarding country entry and exit fees, please refer to the 'Money Matters' section of this document.
Mexico - Passport holders from Australia, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand and The United States of America are not required to obtain a visa prior to arrival. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Mexico for the most up to date information. You will be required to fill out a Multiple Immigration Form (FMM) upon arrival. This FMM form must be stamped by Mexican immigration and kept until you leave. The maximum stay is 180 days, but they may sometimes put a lower number unless you specify otherwise.
Belize - Passport holders from Australia, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand and The United States of America are not required to obtain a visa prior to arrival. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Belize for the most up to date information. Although rarely checked, to enter the country visitors are required to have the equivalent of BZ$120 per day for the duration of their stay, as well as a return or onward travel ticket. Visitors generally get a 30-day stamp in their passport upon entering Belize.
Guatemala - Passport holders from Australia, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand and The United States of America are not required to obtain a visa prior to arrival. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Guatemala for the most up to date information. Under the Central American Border Control Agreement (CA-4), foreigners may travel between Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador for periods of up to 90 days without completing entry and exit formalities once per year. The standard length of stay is 30 days, but please ask for the 90-day option before they stamp your passport. This period begins at the first point of entry to any of these countries.
Honduras - Passport holders from Australia, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand and The United States of America are not required to obtain a visa prior to arrival. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Guatemala for the most up to date information. Under the Central American Border Control Agreement (CA-4), foreigners may travel between Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador without completing entry and exit formalities.
El Salvador - Passport holders from Australia, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand and The United States of America are not required to obtain a visa prior to arrival. For some nationalities, a Tourist Card must be purchased upon entry. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of El Salvador for the most up to date information. Under the Central American Border Control Agreement (CA-4), foreigners may travel between El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua for periods of up to 90 days without completing entry and exit formalities once per year. This period begins at the first point of entry to any of these countries.
Nicaragua - Passport holders from Australia, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand and The United States of America are not required to obtain a visa prior to arrival. For some nationalities, a Tourist Card must be purchased upon entry. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Nicaragua for the most up to date information. Under the Central American Border Control Agreement (CA-4), foreigners may travel between Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras and for periods of up to 90 days without completing entry and exit formalities once per year. This period begins at the first point of entry to any of these countries. There is a new procedure to enter overland into Nicaragua which requires information about your group to be sent to immigration a week prior to the border crossing. Apart from sending details such as head count, dates and reservations, your leader will ask for your occupation and a copy of your passport to include.
Panama - Passport holders from Australia, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand and The United States of America are not required to obtain a visa prior to arrival. Some Nationalities are required to purchase a Tourist Card upon arrival. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Panama for the most up to date information. To enter the country visitors are required to have the equivalent of USD500 or a credit card, as well as a return or onward travel ticket. Visitors generally get a 90-day stamp in their passport upon entering Panama.
USA Visa Waiver - Applicable if arriving via the United States of America.
Many countries now operate under a visa waiver program, meaning a visa isn't required, however you still need to obtain an authorisation which confirms that you have been approved to travel. This authorisation must be obtained in advance of travel. See https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/tourism-visit/visa-waiver-program.html
All travellers from Visa Waiver Program countries must obtain an electronic travel authorization prior to their flight from the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) website: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov
All ESTA registration applications or renewals require a US$14 fee to paid by card. Apply for ESTA no later than 72 hours (we recommend 1 week prior to travel) before departing for the USA. Real-time approvals will no longer be available and arriving at the airport without a previously approved ESTA will likely result in being denied boarding. If there are any discrepancies between the name on your ESTA, your passport, your tickets or even your frequent flyer membership, you may be detained at Immigration and subject to a secondary inspection which could take a few hours. If you have recently changed your name, please check that your details have been updated everywhere.
If you are from a country eligible for the visa waiver program but are a dual citizen of Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan, or if you have travelled to Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan since 01 March 2011, you will not longer be eligible for the visa waiver program and will instead need to apply for a non-immigrant visa. Please see the Department of State website for more information: http://travel.state.gov//content/travel/en.html
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
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
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 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 eight 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.
All 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 Travel 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 before departure. We recommend that you carry a first aid kit as well as any personal medical requirements as they may not easily be obtained at the locations on this trip. Please ensure that you are adequately prepared.
There have been reports of transmission of the mosquito-borne Zika virus in this region and we advise all travellers to protect themselves from mosquito bites. Given possible transmission of the disease to unborn babies, and taking a very cautious approach, we recommend all women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant to consult with their doctors before booking their trip.
There is no commercially available vaccination against malaria, which is transmitted by mosquito bites and is a risk in many less-developed tropical areas in Africa, Latin America and South East Asia. Protection against mosquito bites is essential and where the risk is considered high, anti-malarial medications are recommended. Anti-malarial medications should be discussed with experts as there are different medications available and not all medications suit all people or all destinations. Where malaria is considered prevalent in mountainous regions we prefer that trekkers to altitude try to avoid the use of mefloquine (Lariam) if possible.
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.
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.
Food and dietary requirements
While travelling with us you'll experience the vast array of wonderful food available in this region. Your group leader will be able to suggest restaurants to try during your trip. 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 dinner 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.
Please let us know your diet requirements before your trip starts.
Generally speaking, in bigger cities/towns vegetarians can expect a reasonable range of vegetarian venues and/or vegetarian options within tourist restaurant menus. However, vegetarianism is not the norm in this part of the world so options can be limited when eating at homestays, small local restaurants, street stalls, markets, etc.
More restrictive diet requirements (vegans, coeliac, gluten intolerance, fructose intolerance, lactose intolerance etc.) can also be accommodated along this trip but you should expect a lesser variety than what you can expect at home. We recommend that, if possible, to bring your own supply of snacks with you.
For those on strict Kosher or Halal diets we understand your dietary requirements are important, however, sometimes due to cultural and language differences these are not always easy to convey when you are travelling. Your guide will do their best to assist you in translating your needs when eating out, but please be aware that these diets are almost unheard of in much of the continent and the best they may be able to accommodate is no pork and shellfish. If this will be a concern for you you may need to consider opting for vegetarian or vegan meals for the included meals in your itinerary. We recommend researching kosher or halal options in your destination country prior to travel to see if you are able to buy snacks once there, otherwise consider bringing some from home.
When it comes to money matters on the trip, every traveller is a little different. You know your spending habits better than we do, so please budget a sensible amount for things like drinks, shopping, optional activities, tipping and laundry. It’s always better to bring a little more than you think you’ll need. Also make sure you’ve read your trip details thoroughly so you know what’s included in the trip price and what isn’t. This should make budgeting a little easier. You’ll find this info in the Inclusions section of your Essential Trip Information (that’s this document).
The recommended amounts are listed in USD for the relatability of universal travellers, however the local currency is needed in the countries you are visiting.
We try to plan for every eventuality, but there are still some things beyond our control. Please make sure you have access to the equivalent of an extra US$500 for emergencies (e.g. severe weather, natural disasters, civil unrest) or other events that result in unavoidable changes to the itinerary (e.g. transport strikes or cancellations, airport closures). Sometimes these things necessitate last minute changes to enable our trips to continue to run, and as a result there may be some extra costs involved.
MEALS NOT INCLUDED:
For this trip we recommend between USD 25 to 50 per day. How do we work this out?
Breakfast - If breakfast is not included, you can expect to pay between USD5 to USD10 at a local café.
Lunch - If you are happy with a quick snack on the go, you may get away with as little as USD5 to USD10 for a set menu at a local eatery or a sandwich and a drink at a café. On the other hand, a lunch meal at a more tourist restaurant can cost between USD10 to USD15.
Dinner - At dinner time, your leader will normally recommend restaurants where you can safely try the local specialties of the region. Expect meals to cost between USD12 to USD25 for a main.
These are indicative prices only. If you are in a tight budget, are happy to eat just local food and are not afraid of an upset tummy every now and then, you can eat cheaper than this. If you want to try just the finest food at the finest restaurants, then you can expect meals to cost as much as in western countries.
CREDIT CARDS & ATMs:
ATMs are widely available in major towns and cities across Latin America. Credit cards are generally available in tourist shops and restaurants. Visa and Mastercard are generally preferred over American Express, Diners, etc. Smaller venues take cash only.
Check with your bank before departure that your card is accepted in the countries you are travelling to and what their fees and charges are. 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. If bringing over cash, please note 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.
Mexico currency information - The official currency of Mexico is the Mexican Peso (MXN). You can pay with major credit and debit cards at many hotels, restaurants and stores but otherwise plan on making cash purchases with pesos. You can use major credit cards and some debit cards to withdraw pesos from ATMs and over the counter at banks. Few businesses accept US dollars however this is the easiest currency to exchange.
Belize currency information - The official currency of Belize is the Belize dollar (BZD). You can pay with major credit and debit cards at many hotels, restaurants and stores. Most businesses accept US dollars without question, but change is usually given in Belizean dollars. You can use major credit cards and some debit cards to withdraw Belizean dollars from ATMs and over the counter at banks (USD$, GBP£ and CAD$ are exchangeable).
Guatemala currency information - The official currencies of Guatemala are the Quetzal (GTQ) and the US dollar (USD). ATMs are not always reliable although you can pay with major credit and debit cards at many hotels, restaurants and stores. Banks offer currency exchange but casas de cambio (currency exchange offices) are usually quicker and may offer better rates. The US dollar is the only currency freely exchanged in Guatemala.
Honduras currency information - The official currency of Honduras is the Honduran Lempira (HNL). You can pay with major credit and debit cards at many hotels, restaurants and stores. ATMs are not widely available in Honduras and they tend to only be inside banks; not making them accessible outside of banking hours (Mon-Fri 09:00-15:00, some banks open until 18:00. Some branches open Sat 09:00-12:00). The US dollar is the only currency freely exchanged in Honduras.
El Salvador currency info - The official currency of El Salvador is the US Dollar (USD). ATMs are widely available but not always reliable. You can pay with major credit and debit cards at many hotels, restaurants and stores.
Nicaragua currency information - The official currency of Nicaragua is the Nicaraguan gold córdoba (NIO). You can pay with major credit and debit cards at many hotels, restaurants and stores. You can use major credit cards and some debit cards to withdraw córdobas from ATMs and over the counter at banks. US dollars are widely accepted, but for smaller items using córdobas is cheaper and easier. Córdobas are not exchangeable outside of the country so we recommend you withdraw carefully and spend before departing the country.
Costa Rica currency information - The official currency of Costa Rica is the Costa Rican Colón (CRC). You can pay with major credit and debit cards at many hotels, restaurants and stores. You can use major credit cards and some debit cards to withdraw colones from ATMs and over the counter at banks. US dollars are widely accepted except for taxi fares (so if you arrive by plane please ensure you get some local currency at the airport before taking a taxi).
Costa Rica is the most expensive country in Central America, particularly compared with its neighbouring countries Nicaragua and Panama. Expect meals, souvenirs and optional activities to cost as much as they would in western countries. That said, Costa Rica has done a great job of looking after its natural wonders yet maximising their potential as tourist attractions. So, while optional activities are pricey, you can expect a high standard of service, well maintained gear, clear paths and signalling and well trained local guides that allow you to make the most of every activity.
Panama currency information - The official currencies of Panama are the Panamanian Balboa (PAB) and the US dollar (USD). The US dollar is the paper currency of Panama; however, Panama mints its own coins. You can pay with major credit and debit cards at many hotels, restaurants and stores. You can use major credit cards and some debit cards to withdraw dollars from ATMs and over the counter at banks. Travellers should be aware that counterfeit currency, particularly US$50 and US$100 notes, exist in Panama.
ENTRY AND EXIT FEES:
The below country specific information was correct at time of writing, however please visit the relevant consular website of the country or countries you’re visiting for detailed and up-to-date visa information.
Mexico - If you enter Mexico by air, the MX$500 immigration fee is included in your airfare. If you enter Mexico overland, the immigration office will arrange for you to pay this fee at a nearby bank. You will receive an FMM card upon entry which you need to retain and present upon exiting the country. If you exit Mexico overland, there is a Mexican Tourist Fee (DNI - Derecho de No Inmigrante) of MX$558 (US$30).
Belize – There is no entry fee. If you exit Belize by land, there is a fee of BZ$40 charge plus BZ$7.5 Protected Areas Contribution Trust. These can be paid in US$ or BZ$. If you exit Belize by air, a departure tax of US$35 is normally included in the cost of your ticket. Check with your airline.
Guatemala – If you enter Guatemala by air, there is no entry fee. If you exit by air, an airport and security tax of US$3 must be paid in cash at the airport but the USD$30 immigration fee should have been included in your airfare. If you enter or exit Guatemala overland, officially there are no entry or exit fees, however you may be faced with an unofficial fee of GTQ10 or GTQ20 each way (each time).
Honduras – If you enter Honduras overland, there is a US$3 entry processing fee. There is no exit fee.
El Salvador – There is no entry fee if entering by air or overland. If you exit El Salvador overland, there is no exit fee. If you exit El Salvador by air, a departure tax of US$32 is normally included in the cost of your ticket. Check with your airline.
Nicaragua – If you enter Nicaragua by air, you are required to purchase a Tourist Card for US$10. If you enter Nicaragua overland, you are required to purchase a Tourist Card for US$10 and pay a US$3 entry processing fee. If you exit Nicaragua overland, there is a US$3 departure tax. If you exit by air, a departure tax of US$35 is normally included in the cost of your ticket. Check with your airline.
Costa Rica – There is no entry fee. If you exit Costa Rica overland, there is a US$7 departure tax. If you exit Costa Rica by air, a departure tax of US$29 is normally included in the cost of your ticket. Check with your airline.
A departure tax of US$45 is usually included in your international airfare. If travelling by land, a US$3 tax is payable both on entry and exit from the country.
If you're happy with the service you receive, providing 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 destinations. Please note we recommend that any tips are given directly to the intended recipient by a member of your group, rather than collected and passed on by the group leader.
The recommended tipping amounts are listed in USD for the relatability of universal travellers. We do however recommend that you tip in the local currency - Hold on to your smaller notes and coins to make tipping easier. 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 to the nearest US$5. More up-market restaurants we suggest 10% of your bill.
- Local guides: Throughout your trip you may at times have a local guide. We suggest US$3-5 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 US$3-6 per day for drivers.
- Local guides: There might be times during the trip where you’ll have a specialist local guide alongside your trip leader. We suggest tipping these guides about USD$2-3 per day.
- 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 USD$2-4 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 USD$5-10 per day of your trip to cover tipping.
What to take
Most travellers prefer to take a small to medium wheeled suitcase, which is a great size for the packing capacity in our private vehicles. Whatever you take, be mindful that you will need to be able to carry your own luggage, handle it at airports, take in/out of accommodation and perhaps even walk short distances. Generally speaking, we recommend you pack as lightly as possible. You'll also need a day pack/bag for activities and day trips. In terms of weight, airlines generally allow a maximum of 15-20kg for check in luggage and a maximum of 5kg for carry on.
Other than the items and clothing you always need on a trip, below we have listed packing suggestions specific for this trip:
- Warm as well as light clothing. Central America is often assumed to have hot weather, but it can get cold in the countryside, mountains and at night in the winter so we suggest you check the expected temperatures en route and bring clothing that you can layer
- Closed-in shoes will help to protect your feet from cuts and scratches when walking through cities as well as bush/grass-lands, and will also act as a barrier protection in rare cases against bites or stings
- Sun protection - hat, sunscreen, sunglasses
- Soft and/or hard copies of all important documents e.g. air tickets, passport, vaccination certificate, travel insurance etc. and keep the hard copies separate from the originals. While not valid, a copy makes it very much easier to obtain replacements if necessary
- Water bottle. We recommend at least a 1.5 litre capacity. 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 end up in limited landfill or discarded in waterways and natural environments
- Electrical adapter plug (view www.kropla.com)
- Personal medical kit. Your guide will carry a large kit but we recommend you carry items such as mild pain killers, electrolytes and Band-Aids.
- Watch/Alarm clock or phone that can be used for both
- Travel beach towel
- Tissues &/or toilet paper &/or wet wipes
- Insect repellent
- Camera with spare memory card, charger &/or batteries
- Ear plugs to guard against a potential snoring room-mate
- Phrase book
Please try to avoid bringing unnecessary valuables, and use your safe if available. It’s also a good idea to purchase a money belt or pouch that is easily hidden.
Laundry is available at many hotels and towns during this trip, although you might need to wait for a two-night stop in order to make sure you get it back in time. While laundry at hotels is usually charged by the item, laundromats usually charge by the kilo, which is generally inexpensive (about USD 2 per kilo).
Climate and seasonal
Please note that Hurricane season is June to October, when landslides, mudslides, flooding and disruptions to essential services can occur. Intrepid monitors these situations as they may arise, so that itineraries or activities can be amended as necessary.
A couple of rules
Everyone has the right to feel safe when they travel. We don’t tolerate any form of violence (verbal or physical) or sexual harassment, either between customers or involving our leaders, partners or local people. Sexual relationships between a tour leader and a customer are strictly forbidden.
Use or possession of illegal drugs will not be tolerated on our trips. If you choose to consume alcohol while travelling, we encourage responsible drinking, and expect that you’ll abide by the local laws regarding alcohol consumption.
The sex tourism industry is known to exploit vulnerable people and have negative consequences on communities, including undermining the development of sustainable tourism. For this reason, patronising sex workers will not be tolerated on our trips.
By travelling with us you are agreeing to adhere to these rules. Your group leader has the right to remove any member of the group for breaking any of these rules, with no right of refund.
If you feel that someone is behaving inappropriately while travelling with us, please inform your tour leader or local guide immediately. Alternatively, contact us on the emergency contact number detailed in the Problems and Emergency Contact section of this Essential Trip Information.
Can’t stop thinking about your adventure? Tell us all about it! We read each piece of feedback carefully and use it to make improvements for travellers like you. Share your experience with us at: http://www.intrepidtravel.com/feedback/
GENERAL 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.
BOOKING ENQUIRIES / ISSUES
For general enquiries or questions about your booking, please contact your agent or adventure specialist, or visit us at:
CRISIS AND EMERGENCIES
In the case of a genuine crisis or emergency, please contact our local office:
Intrepid's Local Operator (located in Costa Rica): +506 6022 4721
Travelling responsibly is all about making good choices. It's about ensuring you have an incredible trip while also having a positive impact on the local environment, community and economy you're travelling in. How can you be a Responsible Traveller? See our tips below:
- Choose to travel with a responsible travel company like us! We've already offset the main carbon emissions of your trip, so your footprint is already lighter.
- Consider offsetting your flights when you book your trip/flights with us or your travel agent.
- Bring a refillable water bottle and some water purification tablets (or a Steripen) to cut down on plastic bottle waste.
- Be an animal-friendly traveller. Only go to venues that respect animals by allowing them to live normally in their natural environment. Steer clear of venues that use animals for entertainment or abnormal activities and/or keep animals in poor and unnatural conditions.
- Eat at local restaurants, buy from regional artists and support social enterprises so you can contribute directly to locals and their economy.
- Always be respectful of local customs and ask permission if you want to take a photo of someone.
- Learn a few words of the local language and engage with the people around you.
- Carry a cloth or re-usable bag so you can avoid plastic bags.
- Give back by making a donation to a local project via The Intrepid Foundation.
Share your thoughts with us by completing your feedback form after your trip. This helps us to continue to improve our commitment to responsible travel.
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.
Throughout the trip we request that our lodgings 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.
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.
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.
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 Essential Trip Information. 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.
Our itineraries are updated regularly throughout the year based on customer feedback and to reflect the current situation in each destination. The information included in this Essential Trip Information may therefore differ from when you first booked your trip. It is important that you print and review a final copy prior to travel so that you have the latest updates. Due to weather, local conditions, transport schedules, public holidays or other factors, further changes may be necessary to your itinerary once in country. The order and timing of included activities in each location may also vary seasonally to ensure our travellers have the best experience. Your tour leader will keep you up to date with any changes once on tour.
A selection of optional activities that have been popular with past travellers are listed in the day-to-day itinerary. This isn't an exhaustive list and should be used as a guide only for some of what might be available. Prices are approximate, 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 may be on a join-in basis. It may not be possible to do all the activities listed in the time available at each destination, so some pre-planning for what you are most interested in is advised. When it's recommended that travellers pre-book these activities, look for a note in the Special Information section of the day-to-day itinerary. For most, they can either be organised independently on the day, or let your leader know you are interested and they can assist.
Where activities are considered medium or high risk, we work with operators whose safety and credentials we have sighted and assessed. Although it is possible that you may find the same activity cheaper with another operator on the ground, we cannot vouch for the safety or quality of that operator. Medium and high risk activities not listed above have not been assessed by us and as such our staff and leaders are unable to assist you with organising these activities. Activities that contravene our Responsible Travel policies are also not listed. Please remember that the decision to partake in any activity not listed is at your own discretion and risk.
Hotel (36 nights),Camping with facilities (1 night),Lodge (2 nights),Hostel Multishare (4 nights),Homestay (1 night)