Nomadic Matt: Travel Cheaper, Longer, Better

Central America Travel Guide

Last Updated: August 30, 2023

boats docked at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Surrounded by the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, the slender land bridge of Central America runs from Mexico to South America and is made up of seven countries: Guatemala , Belize , El Salvador , Honduras , Nicaragua , Costa Rica , and Panama .

Political and civil unrest in the 1980s kept most tourists away for decades (people never forget bad news), but now the area is becoming hotspot for travelers, surfers, luxury travelers, and even retirees.

Because Central America is beautiful, filled with history, affordable, and much safer than it used to be.

While there are still regions where you need to be vigilant, people have realized that it’s not the place the media makes it out to be. The region’s rainforests are filled with unexplored Mayan ruins and wildlife, its beaches are great for surfing, its reefs offer world-class diving, there’s a huge variety of flora and fauna here, and the cheap accommodation, food, and transport throughout the region make it a budget traveler’s dream.

I’m glad the collective consciousness is shifting and people are finally recognizing how amazing this area. I began my nomadic life traveling around Central America and whenever I return, I fall in love even more with the friendliness of the people, the tasty food, the weather, the history, and the beauty.

This travel guide to Central America will give you all the tips to help you plan your trip, stay safe, and save money in this underrated region of the world.

Table of Contents

  • Things to See and Do
  • Typical Costs
  • Suggested Budget
  • Money-Saving Tips
  • Where to Stay
  • How to Get Around
  • How to Stay Safe
  • Best Places to Book Your Trip
  • Related Blogs on Central America

Click Here for Country Guides

Top 5 things to see and do in central america.

Pyramids and other ruins in the jungle at the Mayan site of Tikal in Guatemala

1. Explore the volcanoes

This region is rich in volcanoes — both active and inactive. You can hike, take a horse up, and even roast marshmallows at Pacaya (Guatemala), known for frequently erupting in ash clouds. Poás (Costa Rica) is famous for its green volcano crater lake, Arenal has hiking trails, geothermal springs, a gorgeous rainforest area with waterfalls, ziplining tours and a plethora of wildlife. Masaya in Nicaragua is well known for its spectacular crater lava lake that you can visit at night to truly see the bubbling lava (coined ‘La Boca de Infierno’ (or ‘Mouth of Hell’). For adventure seekers, don’t miss trying some adrenaline-inducing sandboarding down Cerro Negro volcano in Nicaragua.

2. See Mayan ruins

Central America has many ruin sites. Tikal, in Guatemala, is an enormous national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site with centuries of Mayan history and archeology covered in lush vegetation and rare tropical wildlife. Copán in Honduras dates back to the 5th century and boasts intricate stelae, tunnels, a hieroglyphic stairway, and lush tropical vegetation filled with monkeys, sloths, parrots, and macaws. Meanwhile, Xunantunich is one of Belize’s most impressive and easily accessible Maya sites known for its scenic location in the middle of the jungle. Last but not least, San Andrés archeological site in El Salvador is the largest pre-hispanic ruins site in the country and includes pyramids and ancient plazas. The intricate wall carvings, imposing pyramids, and crumbling columns should not be missed. Prices vary but expect to spend around $20 USD for admission.

3. Relax on Caye Caulker, Belize

This little island is incredibly popular with backpackers. It’s less expensive than some of the larger islands in the country and has a relaxed atmosphere to it. There is something here for everyone and there is way more to do here than just lay out on the exquisite beaches (although this is definitely a place you could chill for a few days). However, it’s also a spectacular place to see the delicate ecosystems of Caye Caulker Forest Reserve, which is filled with rare tropical plants and marine life. Caye Caulker is also a great place to snorkel with nurse sharks, dive the Belize Barrier Reef or the Great Blue Hole, swim with gentle manatees, or just kayak around “The Split” in paradise. July is a great time to go because of their famous lobster festival, offering tasty lobster as well as lively beach parties.

4. See the Panama Canal

First opened in 1914, the Panama Canal is an 80-kilometer (50-mile) marvel of human labor and engineering. 13,000-14,000 ships cross between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean every single year thanks to the canal (nearly a million boats have crossed since its construction). The canal raises ships an impressive 27 meters (85 feet) using a complex lock system, so it takes 8-10 hours for each boat to cross. The Canal relies on three sets of locks: Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks on the Pacific side and Gatun Locks on the Caribbean side. The most common place to see the canal is at Miraflores Locks in Panama. Admission is $20 USD.

5. Trek through the rainforests

Much of Central America is covered in lush and humid rainforests. A popular way to see these is to take a canopy tour, where you’ll be suspended on a zip-line and glide over the tops of the trees. The rainforests are filled with howler monkeys, jaguars, lizards, tropical birds, and so much more. Check out Costa Rica’s Volcán Arenal or La Fortuna Zip lines for breathtaking scenic views. Or Guatemala’s Atitlán canopy tours, where you can zip right over the stunning blue lake below. Honduras’s remote paradise Roatán Island offers incredible zip line views of its perfect crystal coast before sunning on the beach too. Expect to pay $40-65 USD.

Other Things to See and Do in Central America

1. head to antigua.

Considered one of the best-preserved colonial cities, Antigua (in Guatemala ) is a major travel hotspot for backpackers. Wander around the Spanish-style cobbled streets and visit the ruins of San Francisco Church. Don’t miss the opportunity to hike up to the 3,976-meter-high (13,000-foot) summit of one of the most active volcanoes in the world, “Volcan Fuego” (which is nearby). You can also head to Acatenango (another nearby volcano) if you’d rather see a volcano spit smoke and fire. Plus, there are tons of pubs, restaurants, coffee shops, hostels, and even Spanish language schools here if you want a reason to stay longer!

2. Go diving

The shores around Central America are home to many coral reefs. As such, diving is hugely popular. The colors and variety of fish will amaze you, as will the clear visibility. Diving here is cheaper than in the Caribbean and most parts of Mexico . Popular dive countries include Panama, Honduras, and Belize. Expect to pay $50-100 USD for a two-tank dive, or a few hundred dollars for your certification course.

3. Tour coffee plantations

This entire region is known for its coffee, particularly Costa Rica and Panama. Tour the plantations and see how the beans are grown, picked, and ground. You can also buy fresh coffee at heavily discounted prices (it’s a great souvenir). I found the best coffee to be from Monteverde, Costa Rica — and I don’t even like coffee! But I drank it and loved it (it tasted like chocolate!).

4. Visit Chichicastenango

Most people who come to Guatemala visit Chichicastenango , the largest indigenous market in Central America. Stalls sell handicrafts, blankets, pottery, souvenirs, and more. It’s the best place to find local food for cheap and take in the hustle and bustle of local life.

5. Tour the museums

Most cities in Central America are filled with museums, particularly those paying homage to the Mayan civilization. The Pre-Columbian Gold Museum in San José, Costa Rica is fascinating, with over 1,000 different gold objects such as animal figures, and jewelry, as well as a scale model of a Pre-Columbian village. For Mayan artifacts, head to the Copán Archaeology Museum in Honduras ($3 USD).

6. Sail the San Blas Islands

This archipelago in Panama consists of 378 islands and cays to explore. Taking a day, or even a week-long sailing trip throughout them is super fun. There are incredible seascapes to behold, as well as fascinating people to meet and colorful reefs to see up close. There is an abundance of wildlife to check out and the boats make frequent snorkeling and scuba diving stops. These trips are popular with budget travelers and can be organized anywhere in the country. You can do a day trip to three of the islands for $90 USD but expect to spend upwards of $600 USD for a 4-5-day cruise. It’s not super cheap, but it’s worth it!

7. Surf down a volcano in Nicaragua

If you like adrenaline activities, try volcano boarding. Cerro Negro, a young and active volcano in Nicaragua, offers tourists a chance to ride a surfboard down its graveled slopes. You have to hike up to the top yourself (which takes around an hour) so be prepared for a climb and to get dirty! A full-day excursion costs $45-50 USD, with transportation, gear, and drinks included.

8. Dive the Great Blue Hole

This natural wonder in Belize is part of the Lighthouse Reef system. It’s a near-perfect circular hole that stretches 146 meters (480 feet) below the surface. The water here is almost completely motionless, so visibility is clear to about 60 meters (200 feet). The Great Blue Hole is an amazing place to dive or snorkel and is considered one of the best natural dive spots in the world! Tour prices vary, but snorkeling tours cost around $220 USD, and diving tours start at $240 USD. A half-day tour with two dives starts from $130 USD. The trips to the Blue Hole are full-day, 3-tank tours and start from $300 USD.

9. Walk through the Treetops

The Rainmaker Aerial Walkway in Costa Rica was the first aerial walkway to be built in Central America and it’s still considered one of the top aerial walkways in the region. At the highest point on the walkway, you’ll find yourself 20 stories above the ground. Tours start at $75 USD and include two light meals. There is also a night tour that lasts three hours and costs $60 USD.

10. Visit the Macaw Mountain Bird Reserve & Park

Located in Copán Ruinas, Honduras, this enclosure is in a tropical rainforest brimming with an amazing range of birds. You’ll see everything from brilliant Buffon Macaws to vibrant Blue and Gold Macaws to colorful Keel-Billed Toucans. Included in the ticket price is a three-day access pass to the park, a one-hour guided tour, and a 20-minute walk through an adjacent coffee plantation. Admission is $10 USD.

11. Admire the Belize Barrier Reef

This is the second-longest barrier reef in the world. It’s home to a vibrant coral reef and magnificent marine life (including sea turtles, rays, and sharks) and is the country’s most popular tourist attraction. In 1996, the reef was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s now a popular spot for diving, snorkeling, and boat tours. A three-tank dive costs around $115-125 USD.

12. Go to Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

Located on Nicaragua Lake, this is the largest volcanic island in the world that resides inside a freshwater lake. It’s easy to get to and is close to Managua. There are a plethora of restaurants and hotels on the island. Be sure to check out Cascada San Ramon, a waterfall you can access via a beautiful four-hour hike. Also, don’t miss El Pital where you can learn how chocolate is made (tours are $15 USD).

13. Take in the Nicoya Coast, Costa Rica

This is a beautiful peninsula in Costa Rica peppered with quaint little towns and plenty of beaches. It is constantly sunny here, and there’s a lot to see and do. Some of the main attractions include Barra Honda National Park, Isla Tortuga, scuba diving, and driving along the coast. My favorite town in this area is Santa Teresa.

14. Visit La Libertad, El Salvador

For those of you who are big on surfing, this is considered the best place to catch a wave in Central America. While there is the risk of bumping into a swarm of beach-bum types, it doesn’t take away from the amazing waves, the endless seafood barbecue, and cool accommodation. Surfboard rentals start at $15-25 USD.

15. Enjoy Carnival

The biggest carnival in the region is La Ceiba in Honduras. Held every May, the streets fill with bright costumes and dancing, while bars and clubs burst with locals and tourists alike, all vying to soak up the party atmosphere. Different neighborhoods host “Carnavalitos” (little carnivals), competing on who can throw the best party.

16. Visit the Montecristo Cloud Forest

This cloud forest has a diverse swath of flora and fauna including ferns, orchids, mosses, spider monkeys, and anteaters. Hike to the highest point, El Trifinio, where the borders of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala converge. It’s a steep 7-kilometer (4-mile) climb, so bring lots of water. There’s a limit to how many people can visit the park each day so it’s best to arrive bright and early and finish before the park closes at 3pm.

17. Dive the Bay Islands in Honduras

The Bay Islands are one of the best diving spots in Central America. The Roatan, Utila, and Guanaja archipelagos all offer stunning dive sites. Get up close to colorful coral formations or deep dive 600 meters (2,000) feet into the abyss for bluntnose sixgill shark sightings. It’s also super affordable; prices start at $35-40 USD.

Be sure to visit our Central America country travel guides for more detailed information about what to see and do in each destination:

  • Belize Travel Guide
  • Costa Rica Travel Guide
  • El Salvador Travel Guide
  • Guatemala Travel Guide
  • Honduras Travel Guide
  • Nicaragua Travel Guide
  • Panama Travel Guide

Central America Travel Costs

Brightly colored buildings along the beach, lined tropical palm trees in Belize

Accommodation – Hostel dorms with 6-8 beds cost $8-20 USD per night while private hostel rooms cost $15-30 USD for a single or double bed with private bathroom (in Belize, Costa Rica or Panama, you will pay on the higher end of that range).

Family-owned guesthouses or hotels are the next most affordable accommodation. These rooms average $25-40 USD per night for a private room with an ensuite bathroom. Many include breakfast, not to mention the added bonus of meeting a local.

In cheaper countries like Honduras, a private room can cost $15 USD per night while in a more expensive destination like Panama City, you can expect to pay on the higher end, about $40-50 USD per night.

Airbnb is also an option around Central America, with private rooms starting at around $30 USD per night. For an entire home or apartment expect to pay at least $70 USD per night (though prices are often double that).

Camping can be done easily at some hostels and in certain national parks. Many hostels have spaces where you can pitch a tent or string up a hammock for under $10 USD per night. National parks require camping fees that vary from country to country. See country guides for specifics on where to stay.

Generally, I’d avoid wild camping in this region (even where it is legal it is not advised due to crime, the heat, and wildlife).

Food – While the cuisine for each country in Central America varies, there is some overlap. Expect to find dishes centered around rice, beans, tortillas, meat, and seafood. Generally, you’ll find a mix of Spanish, Caribbean, and traditional Mesoamerican influences here. Fresh fruit is also huge, including favorites like bananas, plantain, mangoes, papaya, and more.

The cheapest food option is to eat at the roadside restaurants that dot the region. Buying your own groceries and cooking is also super affordable, though not all hostels have kitchen facilities.

At small restaurants serving regional cuisine, expect to pay around $5 USD for a meal. If you want really cheap food, you can find empanadas (fried pastries filled with meat, cheese, or potatoes) for under a dollar.

If you plan on cooking your own meals, head down to the local market and pick up fruit, vegetables, rice, and some meat or seafood for $20-40 USD per week depending on your diet.

The local markets have tons of fresh fruit for incredibly cheap, so fill up on that when you can. A typical restaurant meal per main dish and a drink is about $10 USD, however, western food costs about three times as much as local dishes — so skip it!

See each destination’s guide for more info and prices.

Backpacking Central America Suggested Budgets

On a backpacker budget of $30-55 USD per day, you can stay in a hostel dorm, eat some local street food, cook most of your meals, visit a few attractions (like museums and national parks), do some free walking tours, and take local transportation to get around. If you plan on drinking, you’ll need to add a few extra dollars to your daily budget.

On a mid-range budget of $75-150 USD per day, you can stay in a private hostel or Airbnb, eat out more, enjoy a few drinks, visit some historical sites and do some tours, and take coach buses and the occasional taxi to get around.

On a “luxury” budget of $180-290 USD per day, you can stay in a hotel, drink as much as you’d like, eat out for all your meals (including at Western restaurants), take private tours, rent a car for day trips, go diving, and even take the occasional flight. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!

Note that if you visit Costa Rica and Panama (the region’s two most expensive countries), you’ll spend on the higher end of these ranges (and above).

You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.

Central America Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips

While our country guides have more specific ways to save (every country in the region is very different), here are five general rules for saving money in Central America:

  • Visit the markets – Although eating out is cheap in Central America, it makes sense to shop at the markets for your food to take on day trips or to prepare at your hostel. Fruit is super cheap!
  • Hitchhike – Hitchhiking is one of the most popular ways to get around the region and used extensively by locals. You’ll find people regularly willing to pick up people and give them a lift. Just be sure to use common sense as some regions should not be traveled by hitchhiking.
  • Eat on the side of the road – The local eateries at the side of the road will be the cheapest food you can eat, costing just a couple of dollars per meal.
  • Avoid flying – Bus rides are longer, but if you are trying to see this region on a budget you shouldn’t fly. Flights are 5-10 times more expensive than the bus! An hour-long flight can cost hundreds of dollars. Avoid flying as much as possible!

Where to Stay in Central America

Each country guide has lots of suggested places to stay but here are some of my top top places to stay in the region:

  • The Red Hut Inn (Belize City)
  • Sophie’s Guest Rooms (Caye Caulker)
  • Dirty McNasty (Caye Caulker)
  • D’s Hostel (San Ignacio)
  • Maya Papaya (Antigua)
  • La Iguana Perdida (Santa Cruz, Lake Atitlan)
  • Casa de Grethel (Flores)
  • Hostal Los Lagos (Guatemala City)

El Salvador

  • Hostal Cumbres del Volcan Flor Blanca (San Salvador)
  • Hostel Casa Verde (Santa Ana)
  • Roatan Backpackers Hostel (Roatan)
  • Palmira Hostel (Tegucigalpa)
  • Iguana Azul (Copan Ruinas)
  • De Boca en Boca (Granada)
  • Bigfoot Hostel & Volcano Boarding (Leon)
  • Managua Backpackers Inn (Managua)
  • Hostel Life is Good (Ometepe Island)
  • Rocking J’s (Puerto Viejo)
  • Costa Rica Backpackers (San Jose)
  • Pura Natura Lodge Manuel Antonio (Manuel Antonio)
  • Camino Verde B&B (Monteverde)
  • Hostal Casa Areka (Panama City)
  • Magnolia Inn Casco Viejo (Panama City)
  • El Machio (Panama City)
  • Bambuda Castle (Boquete)
  • Bambuda Lodge (Bocas del Toro)

How to Get Around Central America

A sprawling town with old buildings in Honduras

Public transportation – Public buses are the most common (and cheapest) way to get around, with fares costing less than a dollar. These buses are often referred to as “chicken buses” because of the number of chickens and rice that is transported on them. They stop just about everywhere to let people hop on and off, and you’ll be crammed in tight with locals. They’re slow, but cheap.

Taxi – Taxis are common and affordable, but not all of them have meters. Be sure to check before you get into the taxi and if there’s no meter, negotiate a fare upfront.

On the higher end, taxi fares start at about $2 USD in Panama City and then they charge $2 USD per kilometer. In San Jose, Costa Rica, rates start at around $1 USD and then are $1.11 USD per kilometer.

Always ask your hotel/hostel staff how much your ride should be so you know in advance. When in doubt, have them call a taxi for you as well so you know you won’t get ripped off.

Bus – Longer bus rides and overnight buses between countries usually cost between $10-30 USD. They’re not always overly comfortable, but they usually have air-conditioning and some night buses have reclining seats.

Shuttle buses are a popular way to get travelers around the backpacking trail. All you need to do is show up at a travel agency (they’re everywhere) and negotiate a price and route. Make sure you’re clear about where the bus is picking you up — it’s not always a bus station. In some cases, you can just show up and pay the driver onboard.

Larger international buses also run between the larger cities and tend to have their own bus terminals. Some services include Tica Bus, Central Line, and Expreso Panama.

On Tica Bus, for example, you can get from Panama all the way to Guatemala. From Panama to Costa Rica is about $55 USD, and the price increases the further you go. These buses are more comfortable, but the smaller minibusses arranged through an agency tend to be cheaper.

Train – Trains are non-existent in this region. Stick to buses.

Flying – Flying between cities and countries is expensive and routes are limited. A flight from Guatemala City to Belize City can cost upwards of $240 USD while a one-way flight from Belize to Panama is over $375 USD! I would avoid this method of travel unless you are very pressed for time and have lots of money to burn.

Car rental – Roads and driving conditions vary widely here. Overall, you’ll want to be an experienced driver here if you are going to rent a car. Rentals cost around $15-35 USD per day for a multi-day rental. For the best car rental prices, use Discover Cars .

When to Go to Central America

The weather in Central America varies drastically depending on where you are thanks to its many distinct microclimates from coast to coast (and with the altitude in the mountainous areas). The dry season is from December to April, which is generally considered the best time to visit. This is also when most people visit so you can expect more crowds and inflated prices.

The rainy season is from April to December, with hurricane season being at its peak in September and October (especially on the Caribbean side). Having said that, the rainy season isn’t a bad time to visit. Mostly you’ll find periods of heavy rainfall, but plenty of nice weather otherwise. Humidity can be high, and mosquitos and tropical storms can be a nuisance.

In the mountains, temperatures can drop as low as 10°C (50°F). In the hottest places, it’ll soar into the high 30s°C (80s°F). Refer to our country-specific guides to get a better breakdown of temperatures and climates!

How to Stay Safe in Central America

While Central America is generally safe for traveling and backpacking, there’s no denying that certain precautions should be taken. There are certain parts of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala that are currently best to avoid completely and theft and pick-pocketing is common in most cities around the region.

Additionally, there are lots of places you don’t want to go out at night (especially in big cities).

You can find the current situation for each country in their destination guide but here are some general rules for staying safe in Central America:

  • Avoid isolated areas, especially at night and in big cities.
  • Avoid night buses, where robberies are common, unless your hotel/hostel staff say otherwise.
  • Avoid taking drugs here. Penalties are stiff.
  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times.
  • Keep your personal belongings on you while using public transit (especially chicken buses).
  • Take taxis at night in foreign cities (ideally with other travelers).
  • Don’t wear flashy items or start flashing your phone around (especially at night).

Overall, violent attacks against tourists are rare. Petty theft is common here and you must be extremely vigilant to make sure you don’t get robbed — especially when on public transportation or in large crowds.

Don’t carry lots of cash on you and avoid flashing expensive gear. When you go out, only take as much money as you need.

Keep an eye out for common scams against tourists , such as fake ATMs, taxis that don’t use a meter, and questionable tour operators.

For more in-depth coverage of how to stay safe in Central America, check out this post we wrote that answers some frequently asked questions and concerns.

Solo female travelers should generally feel safe here, however, the standard precautions apply (never leave your drink unattended at the bar, never walk home alone intoxicated, etc.).

The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.

Central America Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources

These are my favorite companies to use when I travel. They consistently have the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the companies I use the most and are always the starting point in my search for travel deals.

  • Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
  • Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
  • – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
  • Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace for tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, walking tours, street art lessons, and more!
  • SafetyWing – Safety Wing offers convenient and affordable plans tailored to digital nomads and long-term travelers. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those on the road.
  • LifeStraw – My go-to company for reusable water bottles with built-in filters so you can ensure your drinking water is always clean and safe.
  • Unbound Merino – They make lightweight, durable, easy-to-clean travel clothing.
  • Top Travel Credit Cards – Points are the best way to cut down travel expenses. Here’s my favorite point earning credit cards so you can get free travel!

Central America Travel Guide: Related Articles

Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Central America travel and continue planning your trip:

Do You Need Travel Insurance for Costa Rica?

Do You Need Travel Insurance for Costa Rica?

The Best Tour Companies in Costa Rica

The Best Tour Companies in Costa Rica

The 6 Best Hostels in Panama City, Panama

The 6 Best Hostels in Panama City, Panama

Is Belize Safe to Visit?

Is Belize Safe to Visit?

Is Central America Safe to Visit?

Is Central America Safe to Visit?

How to Get Around Central America on a Budget

How to Get Around Central America on a Budget

Get your  free travel starter kit.

Enter your email and get planning cheatsheets including a step by step checklist, packing list, tips cheat sheet, and more so you can plan like a pro!


  • Where To Stay
  • Transportation
  • Booking Resources
  • Related Blogs

Cookies help us gathering information to keep this Blog running. We do not collect personally identifiable information or build user profiles ( learn more ). We'll still love you if you opt-out, though 😘

Efficient Central America Itinerary (8 Countries, 1-3 Months)

Author Carina Klein

Share this post with others

We compiled a comprehensive backpacking Central America route – 8 countries, 1-3 months, 28 stops, no flying (just public transport).

In 2022, we spent 6 months backpacking in Central America. Here is our ultimate Central America backpacking itinerary.

Backpacking Route Central America

Itinerary for central america, 12 days backpacking in mexico, 11 days backpacking in belize, 15 days backpacking in guatemala, 7 days backpacking in el salvador, 8 days backpacking in honduras, 13 days backpacking in nicaragua, 12 days backpacking in costa rica, 12 days backpacking in panama, number of countries.

We visit 8 countries in our itinerary:

  • El Salvador

Best Time for Backpacking in Central America

The dry season is from December to April. We travelled from January to June and must say that the months of the wet season are quite humid and rainy and definitely not our favourite weather-wise.

How Much Does it Cost to Backpack Central America?

We paid 40$ to 70$ per person and day.

Travelling Around Central America

You don’t have to take a single flight. You can easily travel around by bus, tuk-tuk, or minivan. Tourist transfers are mostly a convenient option. Islands are connected by boats.

How Long do you Need in Central America?

If you want to see everything (or at least most of it), we recommend at least 3 Months or 90 days. This means around 28 stops and 3 days per stop on average.

We have also created a 1 and 2 months itinerary in case you have a shorter time limit.

Best Places to Slow the Itinerary Down

  • Tulum (Mexico)
  • Hopkins (Belize)
  • Lake Atitlan (Guatemala)
  • El Tunco (El Salvador)
  • Utila (Honduras)
  • Ometepe (Nicaragua)
  • Bocas del Toro (Panama)

Central America Itineraries (1,2, and 3 months)

Our suggested Central America travel route for 1, 2, or 3 months.

For time reasons, we concentrate on the Yucatan peninsular of Mexico. If you have more time, you can (and should) start in Mexico City and also visit Oaxaca, Puerto Escondido, and Palenque.

Mexico Overview

Mexico public transport.

We love public transport in Mexico. The offer ranges from super comfortable ADO buses which you can book online and are safe and comfortable enough to take overnight to super cheap and local colectivos (shared taxis).

You can go literally everywhere in Mexico by public transport – be it from one town to another or from your hotel to your next sight. All of the destinations on our suggested Mexico itinerary are connected by ADO bus. You can easily reach sights like Chichen Itza or the cenotes by colectivo.

Mexico Average Coast

We paid 40$ per person per day on average.

Mexico Highlights

The highlights of your time in Mexico will be:

  • Chichen Itza Mayan ruins.
  • Beautiful Caribbean beaches.
  • Cenotes, water-filled caves you can swim in.

Picture of Tulum beach

Mexico itinerary

Picture of Valladolid

More Mexico resources:

Come for Caye Caulker, stay for the rest.

Belize Overview

Belize public transport.

Travelling Belize by public bus is easy and reliable. Normally, you can just jump on the bus and buy your ticket. It should cost you around 4 and 6 BZD. There are well-established north-south and east-west routes connecting the country which are connected in the capital Belmopan. If you don’t want to get off at the major bus stations, you can just tell the conductor where to stop.

Belize Average Coast

We paid 55$ per person per day on average.

Belize Highlights

The highlights of your time in Belize will be:

  • Caribbean island vibes.
  • Off-the-beaten-track Mayan ruins.

Mexico - Belize Border

The easiest way is to take an ADO bus across the border.

Picture of Hopkins beach

Belize Itinerary

Picture of Lamanai Mayan ruins

More Belize resources:

central america travel route

Belize Backpacking – Belize 2 Week Itinerary (2023)

Our itinerary for Belize features Orange Walk Town, Caye Caulker, Hopkins, Dangriga, Tobacco Caye, and San Ignacio. This Backpacking in Belize guide includes the highlights and hidden gems: from the beaches of the atolls in Belize to the waterfalls and caves of the mainland.

central america travel route

Backpacking Guatemala and Belize – 14 Day Itinerary with Map (2023)

2 countries, 1 trip. Spend 10 days backpacking Guatemala and 4 days backpacking Belize on this roundtrip. See the highlights of both countries like the Acatenango volcano, Tikal, and Lake Atitlan in Guatemala as well as the ATM Cave and the Caribbean beaches of Belize.

central america travel route

Travel Guides

Where to Stay in Belize on a Budget PERSONAL RECOMMENDATIONS ONLY!

Best places to stay in Belize on a budget in Hopkins, San Ignacio, Caye Caulker, Orange Walk Town, and Dangriga. All the cheap Belize places we personally stayed at!

Guatemala Overview

Guatemala public transport.

To be honest, we did not hear good things about public transport in Guatemala. Other travellers told us they got robbed. Others mentioned that they had to change buses a lot – and without any English information.

That’s why we opted for tourist shuttles all the time. It raised our costs quite a bit but they were always punctual, safe, and reliable. You can buy tickets from every travel agency – and you will find plenty of them in tourist destinations.

Guatemala Average Coast

We paid 50$ per person per day on average.

Guatemala Highlights

The highlights of your time in Guatemala will be:

  • Hiking Acatenango Volcano.
  • Tikal Mayan ruins.
  • Semuc Champey waterfall.
  • Lake Atitlan.

Belize - Guatemala Border

You can take a quick and easy taxi to the Guatemala border. After you crossed, take a shared direct minivan to Santa Elena. Here, you change into a tuk-tuk to Flores.

Picture of View from Acatenango to Fuego volcano

Guatemala Itinerary

Picture of Semuc Champey

Don’t skip El Salvador! It’s super easy to incorporate into your itinerary!

El Salvador Overview

El salvador public transport.

To be honest, we were shocked at first when we realised that we could not book any tourist shuttles in El Salvador. Here’s the reason why:

The public transport in El Salvador is amazing. In fact, it was our favourite public transport in the whole of Central America. Buses come super often and you can just flag them down on the side of the road – no bus stop needed. The prices are super low – we never paid more than 1$ – and they are signposted in the driver's cabin to prevent scams. You can do the entire Ruta de las Flores with public transport – no tour needed.

El Salvador Average Coast

We paid 40$ per person per day on average. Mostly because of the cheap public transport.

El Salvador Highlights

The highlights of your time in El Salvador will be:

  • Surfing in El Tunco.
  • Santa Ana Volcano.
  • Salto Malacatiupan hot waterfall.

Guatemala - El Salvador Border

Shuttle buses from Antigua to various destinations in El Salvador leave regularly.

Picture of El Tunco beach

El Salvador Itinerary

Picture of Santa Ana sign

More El Salvador resources:

central america travel route

EASY 1 week El Salvador itinerary - Why you should not skip it!

There are a lot of beautiful places in El Salvador so you should definitely include it in your Central America itinerary. Backpacking El Salvador rewards you with lovely people and good infrastructure. From the beaches of El Tunco to the volcano in Santa Ana and the mountain villages of the Ruta de las Flores - we show you the best places to visit in El Salvador.

Although Honduras was our least favourite country in Central America, we have still compiled three must-see places for you.

Honduras Overview

Honduras public transport.

Honestly, both public transport and tourist shuttles are horrible in this country. If you want to go to Utila and want to avoid spending a night in La Ceiba (which is not really recommended), you cannot avoid taking a shuttle.

Because of a rather mediocre experience, we opted for public transport afterwards which was also less than optimal. Buses do not run very frequently, it’s hard to find information (either online or from locals), and they are pretty pricey compared to what you get. On the plus side, they always brought us where we needed to go and we never felt unsafe. Except maybe for when we changed buses in Tegucigalpa and everybody told us that we should not be walking because it’s not safe.

Honduras Average Coast

We paid 65$ per person per day on average. Involving some overpaying for accommodation (when you go scuba diving, your basic accommodation will be included in the dive prize) and being scammed. In general, not the best value for money so don’t plan to stay too long.

Honduras Highlights

The highlights of your time in Honduras will be:

  • Scuba diving in the Bay Islands
  • Copan Mayan Ruins.
  • Lago de Yojoa.

El Salvador - Honduras Border

We took a shuttle from Santa Ana to Copan which drove through Guatemala for a while. Currently, the shuttles don’t leave every day so plan in advance.

Picture of Copan Mayan ruins

Honduras Itinerary

Picture of Beach on Utila

More Honduras resources:

central america travel route

Honduras Backpacking Guide and Itinerary with Map

Wondering if you should go backpacking in Honduras? We say yes, don’t skip it! We have got you covered for your backpacking trip to Honduras: This blog post will inform you how to get around Honduras, what to do in Honduras, and showcase the best Honduras backpacking routes.

Most people stick to the Pacific side of Nicaragua which is amazing. If you have more time, check out the Caribbean side as well!

Nicaragua Overview

Nicaragua public transport.

Public transport in Nicaragua was frequent and cheap enough that we never opted for a tourist shuttle although they exist. All of our suggested destinations are well connected by buses and vans. A ferry connects Ometepe to the mainland.

Nicaragua Average Coast

Nicaragua highlights.

  • Cerro Negro volcano boarding.
  • Ometepe island.
  • Somoto Canyon.

Honduras - Nicaragua Border

In case you stick to our advice and start your Nicaragua itinerary in Somoto, you can take a bus from Tegucigalpa to Choluteca where you change into a bus to San Marcos de Colon. From here, a shared van will take you to the El Espino border. Make sure not to arrive too late because buses and taxis stop running on the Nicaraguan side.

Picture of Leon

More Nicaragua resources:

central america travel route

How to Travel the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua on a Budget (2023)

If you’re backpacking Nicaragua, the Caribbean coast belongs to the best places in Nicaragua you can visit. Our complete travel guide to the Nicaragua Caribbean coast gives you travel tips for the best beaches, the best places, and the best Caribbean islands in Nicaragua - all on a budget and mostly with public transport.

The wildlife here is out of this world!

Costa Rica Overview

Costa rica public transport.

We took buses around Costa Rica because the shuttles were crazy expensive compared to other Central American countries. We have met travellers who experienced theft on the buses so always keep an eye on your belongings.

Costa Rica Average Coast

We paid 50$ per person per day on average. Although everybody always says that Costa Rica is expensive, it was by no means our most expensive country on this trip.

Costa Rica Highlights

The highlights of your time in Costa Rica will be:

  • The wildlife (sloths, dolphins, tapirs, toucans,…)!

Nicaragua - Costa Rica Border

Bus companies like Trans Nice or Nica Bus conveniently cross the border.

Picture of Tapir in Corcovado National Park

Costa Rica Itinerary

Picture of Sloth in Manuel Antonio National Park

More Costa Rica resources:

central america travel route

Travel Planing

11 Best Hostels in Costa Rica (real travellers recommend)

Backpacking Costa Rica and looking for a hostel? Real travellers share the best hostel Costa Rica has to offer in their opinion.

central america travel route

Travel Ideas

Costa Rica, Drake Bay – Travel the Osa Peninsula Without a 4x4 Car (2023)

Drake Bay in Costa Rica is a great addition to your Costa Rica road trip. Its situation on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica makes it the perfect starting point to visit the Corcovado National Park and Cano Island - two natural paradises above and below water. And the best? As of 2022, you can reach it with a regular car!

Nightlife and beaches? Yes, please!

Panama Overview

Panama public transport.

We took a combination of public transport and tourist shuttles depending on the length of the trip. They both worked fine. San Blas is easiest visited on a guided tour.

Panama Average Coast

We paid 70$ per person per day on average. Our highest daily cost in Central America.

Panama Highlights

The highlights of your time in Panama will be:

  • San Blas islands.
  • Boas del Toro.
  • Panama City.

Costa Rica - Panama Border

We booked a transfer from Limon to Bocas del Toro which was super convenient and did not even cost more than public transport.

Picture of Aqua Lounge, Bocas del Toro

Panama Itinerary

Picture of Panama City skyline

More Panama resources:

central america travel route

San Blas vs Bocas del Toro – Which Panama Islands Should You Visit?

Should you visit the Bocas del Toro or San Blas Islands in Panama? Including a complete travel guide for Bocas del Toro and San Blas.

central america travel route

Complete Panama itinerary - 14 - 21 days, 5 - 8 stops

Most Panama itineraries that you find online will only include the Panama highlights like Bocas del Toro, San Blas, Panama City, or Boquete. In our Panama itinerary, we feature some off-the-beaten path destinations like Boca Chica, Santa Catalina or Valle de Anton to include in your Panama backpacking trip.

Interested in personal updates and honest travel guides? Sign up for our biweekly bucketlist2life newsletter for exclusive behind the scenes looks into our travel planning!

Want to support us buy us a coffe, a tea – or a whisky., leave a comment.

Do you have any thoughts on this article? – We would love to hear from you!

Do you want to follow us on our jouney? Check this box to also signup for our Newsletter and never miss an update!

You have a link you want to share with others? This is a good place for it!

Do you want to receive a Push-Notification when someone replies to your comment? – Check this box!

backpacking latin america

Central America Backpacking Route

' src=

Welcome to our Central America backpacking route!

Although the smallest region in the Western Hemisphere, Central America is a really fun area to explore. Not only is it full of Mayan ruins, towering volcanoes and beautiful beaches, it’s also relatively easy to travel through .

From southern Mexico down to Panama, you need much less time here compared with South America, which is ideal for first-timers or those with less time on their hands.

What's in this guide?

In this guide, we’ll explore our 1 month backpacking through Central America itinerary , as well as the highlights you’ll be visiting in each nation.

backpacking manuel antonio costa rica

As well as covering how to get around, we’ll also be answering your most crucial questions on how to manoeuvre this unique subregion in our FAQ section.

🏁 Here are the main stops on this Central America travel route:

  • Lake Atitlan
  • Ometepe Island
  • Puerto Viejo
  • Bocas del Toro
  • Panama City

Getting around Central America

Thankfully, the easiest ways into Central America are also the furthest extreme points north and south, which are ideal for this itinerary.

backpacking panama bus

These are the cities of Cancún and Panama City , which have well-connected international airports (that then connect well with other cities such as Guatemala City, San Salvador and San José).

The best way to get around Central America is by bus. Whilst you could fly, costs will rack up quickly and may mean you’ll need to cut your trip short. Buses are very cheap , and also don’t tend to take that long either (most are usually between 2-8 hours each leg).

There are some instances where you can consider a flight. These are if you’re heading to islands such as the Corn Islands or Bocas del Toro, or if in an urgent rush.

Of course if you have the extra cash and want to upgrade every now and then, then by all means go for it. You can even start your backpacking South America trip by crossing over from Panama (via San Blas to Capurganá) if you really want to push the boat out.

Things to know before traveling to Central America

Between the two of us, we’ve spent plenty of time in Central America on various trips. This means we’ve got insider experience and can give our best tips to help your trip go more smoothly. See our Central America packing list for the full list of things to carry.

Use Padlocks on Bags when Traveling

Unfortunately petty theft and pickpocketing are still rife in Central America, so you’ll want to plan in advance. We recommend keeping bags on you with a secure padlock when on buses, which will help to deter any potential issues.

best hostels central america

Pack a Range of a Clothes

Many travelers are surprised when they reach Central America. Whilst most areas are going to be warm climates, there’s also areas where you’ll be begging for warm layers (such as the Guatemalan highlands or when hiking in higher altitudes). This also means carrying a Poncho since there’s a good chance of rain!

Budget for $20-25 a Day

This is a great ballpark average to aim for, and you may find yourself spending even less in some areas. This budget assumes you’ll be sleeping in dorm rooms, using public buses, and also eating in local restaurants (or preparing your own food). See our Central America travel budget guide for more tips on how to save and spend money here.

Invest in High Quality Items

We’ll be the first to admit it – we love saving wherever possible when traveling. However the biggest mistake is bringing cheap equipment that breaks or wears out too quickly.

One of the biggest items we recommend travelers to invest in is a quality pair of hiking boots, especially given the amount of mountain and jungle hikes and experiences there are throughout Central America. We recommend these for the guys , and these for the ladies .

Got travel insurance for Central America?

world nomads insurance

1 Month Central America Backpacking Route

Now let’s dive into our 1 month backpacking Central America travel route. Here we’ll take a look at each country, the best things to do in each as well as our recommended accommodation options.

Guatemala (6 Days)

antigua guatemala

First we’ll kick off this itinerary by heading to Guatemala. To get here you can head overland through Mexico, or fly directly into Guatemala City airport.

From here we’ll take a bus straight to Panajachel, which is the gateway to the stunning Lake Atitlan . We recommend basing yourself in the town of San Juan de la Laguna (which is the main backpacker hub), and Don Pascual is our top stay here. This lakeside town also has many great nightlife options too.

Lake Atitlan is arguably the most scenic lake in Central America, and is surrounded by various prehistoric volcanoes . One of the best things to do here is to enjoy a boat ride around this majestic lake, where you’ll be able to visit many of the more authentic towns. such as San Marcos de la Laguna.

Next we’ll take the four hour bus south to Antigua . This historic city is laden with cobblestone streets and beautiful architecture, such as the Arco de Santa Catalina as well as the Convento Capuchinas. Antigua is also the perfect place to hike the nearby volcanoes, and we recommend this tour up Acatenango for some unreal early-morning views.

🏁 Route Stops:

Stop #1: Lake Atitlan Stop #2: Antigua

Key Guatemala Info:

  • 🌎 Currency: Quetzal
  • 🥘 Food: Pepián, Jocón
  • 🍹 Drink: Naranjada
  • 💵 Daily Budget: $15-20
  • 🔥 Special Mentions: Semuc Champey, Chichicastenango, Tikal Ruins.

El Salvador (3 Days)

el tunco el salvador

From Antigua we’ll now take a bus south of the border to the city of Santa Ana .

This city is actually George’s favourite in all of Central America, and for good reason too! The stunning Santa Ana Volcano is a must-see, and instead of those fiery red lava flows in Guatemala we’ll instead find a bright green crater at the top. We recommend heading on this day tour , where you’ll also get to visit Lake Coatepeque along the way.

Santa Ana’s centre is also really nice to walk around, and will feel much less touristy compared to Antigua. The Catedral de Nuestra Señora Santa Ana is by far one of the most impressive in this region (as well as other buildings around the Parque Libertad), and you’ll also want to visit the nearby Mayan Ruins of Tazumal . You can base yourself in the Hostal Brunette , which is just a couple of blocks from the main plaza.

Our next stop is to the capital of San Salvador, and whilst you could spend the night here, we’d actually recommend seeing it as a day trip from Santa Ana (given it’s just an hour away).

The Capilla del Rosario is the best highlights by far, with this unassuming-from-the-outside chapel featuring some breathtaking stained-glass windows that shine all kinds of colours. Other things to see here include the National Palace as well as the Monument to the Divine Savior of the World.

Stop #3: Santa Ana Stop #4: San Salvador (optional stay)

Key El Salvador Info:

  • 🌎 Currency: US Dollar, Bitcoin
  • 🥘 Food: Pupusa
  • 🍹 Drink: Atol de Marañon
  • 💵 Daily Budget: $20-25
  • 🔥 Special Mentions: El Tunco, Atiquizaya.

Honduras (5 Days)

rent a scooter honduras

From Santa Ana we’ll leave really early to catch the shuttle over to Copán . You can also do it independently on buses (like George did), however you’ll need to head back through Guatemala first, which will take around 7 hours in total.

Copán is a really charming mountainous town, which is best known for the Copán Ruins. Once an important Mayan city, it was home to over 20,000 people and also has many unique sculptures and pyramids.

copan ruins honduras

In town you’ll also want to visit the Macaw Mountain Bird Park, which is home to an array of tropical birds including Scarlet Macaws and Keel-billed Toucans. We staying at the Berakah B&B which is just off the main plaza.

A day (or two maximum) is enough here, where we’ll then make our way over to the Caribbean island of Utila . Another backpacking haven, here you can spend your days relaxing on white-sand beaches and drinking cocktails into the early morning hours.

Whilst we’ve allocated 3 days for your time here, beware since it tends to keep travelers here much longer than expected!

diving honduras

If you’re into diving (or ever wanted to learn), then this is the place to go for it. Utila is located along the Mesoamerican Reef, and has some of the best visibility conditions in Central America.

You can spot everything from Dolphins and Manta Rays to Sharks , and even Whale Sharks (from February to April). We highly recommend going with this diving tour , where you’ll explore the waters just off nearby Roatán.

Stop #5: Copán Stop #6: Utila

Key Honduras Info:

  • 🌎 Currency: Lempira
  • 🥘 Food: Baleada
  • 🍹 Drink: Horchata
  • 💵 Daily Budget: $15-25
  • 🔥 Special Mentions: La Ceiba, Tegucigalpa, Roatán.

Nicaragua (5 Days)

weather in nicaragua

From Utila we recommend flying to Tegucigalpa (from La Ceiba), and then taking the bus to León . This is because you’ll otherwise lose most of the day heading along the Honduran highway.

León is our first stop in Nicaragua, and has quickly become one of the most popular backpacking spots in Central America. Volcanoboarding is the must-do activity , and when here you‘ll want to stay at the legendary BigFoot Hostel who do the best tour up and down the Cerro Negro. Those who want everything organised in advance can instead join this half-day tour .

As well as seeing other colonial buildings such as the La Iglesia de la Recolección, we also recommend heading to the Museum of the Revolution to better understand Nicaragua’s turbulent history , and what makes the country unique to other Latin American nations.

We’ll then take a bus to Rivas, followed by a boat over to Ometepe Island . Situated in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, it’s a great place to get lost in nature with many jungled paths and volcanoes to explore such as Maderas as well as the natural swimming pool of La Ojo de Agua.

Stop #7: León Stop #8: Ometepe Island

Key Nicaragua Info:

  • 🌎 Currency: Córdoba
  • 🥘 Food: Nacatamal
  • 🍹 Drink: Macuá
  • 🔥 Special Mentions: Granada, Corn Islands, San Juan del Sur.

Costa Rica (7 Days)

surfing costa rica

Now we enter perhaps the most exciting country on our itinerary, and the one you’ve been waiting for! We’ll be taking the bus from Nicaragua into the town of Monteverde .

Known for its vibrant rainforest that has some of the highest endemic levels on earth, this is the place to come to spot wildlife. This night tour is the very best, where a wildlife expert will show you rare snakes, sloths, tarantulas and even ocelots if you’re lucky. In rarer cases you may even see a Jaguar . A couple of days here is enough, and those who love adrenaline will want to head on the various zip-lines and rides at Skyadventures.

From here we’ll then spend a couple of days in the capital of San José , which is often skipped (although it’s not the most striking capital there’s definitely worthy things to see and do). These include heading to the Gold and Jade Museums, as well as the National Museum of Costa Rica. In San José we recommend staying at the Costa Rica Backpackers Hostel .

Last but not least we’ll continue south to the chilled-out coastal town of Puerto Viejo . A classic backpacker town, this is definitely the place for hitting the beaches and putting your feet up. You can also rent a bike and explore the winding roads just outside of town, where you’ll find many deserted beaches and raw wildlife doing its thing.

If you still want to see more animals then consider this day trip to the Cahuita National Park , where you can see monkeys and raccoons as well as tropical underwater species.

Stop #9: Monteverde Stop #10: San José Stop #11: Puerto Viejo

Key Costa Rica Info:

  • 🌎 Currency: Colón
  • 🥘 Food: Gallo Pinto
  • 🍹 Drink: Guaro, Agua de Sapo
  • 💵 Daily Budget: $25-35
  • 🔥 Special Mentions: La Fortuna, Punta Uva, Santa Teresa.

Panama (5 Days)

backpacking panama flag

Finally on our Central America itinerary we’ll be hitting Panama, which is the most southern nation in this region. We’ll take the bus and boat from Puerto Viejo to Bocas del Toro .

This stunning archipelago is a real highlight when in Panama, and is known for its variety of beautiful beaches. Wizard and Bluff beaches are the most scenic, whilst Playa de las Estrellas is great for seeing many starfish chilling along the coast (just remember not to touch them). It’s also a great place to head on this full-day speedboat tour , where you’ll get to explore the more wild areas of this otherwise popular backpacking hotspot.

From Bocas del Toro we’ll now take a short flight over to Panama City , given the bus will be too long for our given itinerary. Here we recommend allocating 3 days for the capital, as there’s a lot to see. You’ll want to stay at the Magnolia Inn in Casco Viejo, which is the nicest neighbourhood of the city.

panama canal

Close-by you can visit many important sites such as the Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of Santa Maria, the Calzada de Amador as well as the infamous Panama Canal .

We also recommend spending an overnight stay on the San Blas Islands , which are one of the best highlights of a trip to Central America. Here you can get to know the local Kuna Yala tribe , as well as visit islands like Perro Chico and Soledad Miria.

Stop #12: Bocas del Toro Stop #13: Panama City

Key Panama Info:

  • 🌎 Currency: Balboa, US Dollar
  • 🥘 Food: Sancocho de Gallina
  • 🍹 Drink: Seco Herrerano
  • 💵 Daily Budget: $25-30
  • 🔥 Special Mentions: Valle de Antón, Santa Catalina, The Darien Gap.

Central America Travel Route FAQs

How much money do you need for backpacking in central america.

As we’ve already explored in the itinerary above, different countries will require different daily budgets. A solid budget to plan for is $25 a day, which will be plenty for staying at a nice Central American hostel and eating a few hearty meals a day. You’ll also need to factor in money for extras depending on what you want to do, such as volcano hikes or learning to dive.

Is Costa Rica cheaper than Panama?

In our experience, we’ve found Costa Rica to be cheaper than Panama. Whilst both are amongst the most expensive in Central America, Panama is easier to find cheaper foods and accommodation. Tours in Costa Rica can also be really expensive too given how touristy it is nowadays.

What are the cheapest countries in Central America?

Guatemala is by far the cheapest you can visit, where you could spend as little as $15-20 a day! This makes it a great option for budget travelers, who will want to spend more time here. Others that are on the cheaper side of things include Honduras and Nicaragua.

Which Central American country is the safest?

That’s all for our 1 month in Central America backpacking route.

This diverse region is full of thrills and culture, and even those on a shorter time-frame will be able to enjoy their time in Central America.

From lounging on picturesque Caribbean beaches to hiking fiery volcanoes , you’ll for sure be coming back for seconds soon!

Be sure to revisit this guide before, during and after your travels to Central America as a nice refresher. Also, see our backpacking Central America travel guide for more pro tips.

👉🏽 P.S. If you’ve found this guide helpful, buy us a coffee here to say thanks! Or, support us by downloading our South America Travel Bible to get our best content.

“ Dear traveler! Some links in this post contain affiliate links. Meaning, if you click through and make a purchase, book a hostel or sign up for a tour, we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you . Your support means a lot and helps us to carry on traveling and maintaining the quality of this site for you.”

Similar Posts

Is Lake Atitlan safe?

Is Lake Atitlan safe?

Welcome to our Lake Atitlan safety guide. One of the most popular sights to visit in Guatemala, there’s no place quite like Lake Atitlan. Surrounded by volcanoes from all sides and home to various Mayan lakeside towns, it’s worth spending more time here to really get to know this special region (unlike most tourists who…

Backpacking Costa Rica Itinerary

Backpacking Costa Rica Itinerary

Welcome to our backpacking Costa Rica itinerary. Costa Rica is a paradise and it’s a popular destination among nature lovers because it’s bursting with jungles, mountainous landscapes, picturesque beaches, volcanoes, and incredible wildlife. There are so many things to do and so many places to visit, you are guaranteed to have a memorable trip. Costa…

Best time to dive Utila

Best time to dive Utila

When is the best time to dive Utila? Utila has become one of those “cannot skip” destinations for travelers backpacking Central America. Not only is this Caribbean island great for hot weather and its tropical lifestyle, it’s also very safe too (especially when compared with the region’s mainland). In this guide we’ll explore the best…

Best time to dive Roatán

Best time to dive Roatán

When is the best time to dive Roatán? This stunning Honduran island is one of the most picturesque that you can visit in Latin America. Famous for its world-class beaches and diving, you’ll also relax into the slower pace of life here in just a few days. In this guide, we’ll explore the best time…

Costa Rica Solo Travel Tips

Costa Rica Solo Travel Tips

Welcome to our page which covers a list of Costa Rica solo travel tips. Let’s be real, Costa Rica is a unique country to explore. With dense jungle, a host of exotic animals and birds, world-class beaches and some of the friendliest people on earth, this country is perfect for a solo trip. Costa Rica…

Backpacking El Salvador Itinerary

Backpacking El Salvador Itinerary

Welcome to our backpacking El Salvador itinerary. If you’re planning an El Salvador backpacking trip, you’ll need an itinerary to lead your way. Today, that’s exactly what we’ll provide for you! El Salvador is one of the smallest countries in Central America, but it has a ton of charm and though it’s a less popular…

Trending Destinations

Trending articles.

central america travel route

10 of the UK’s best stargazing escapes

central america travel route

10 of the best new wildlife trips for 2024

central america travel route

Where is Dune: Part Two filmed?


Sorry but no search results were found, please try again.

central america travel route

Central America trip planner: 4 of the most exciting routes

Whether you’re channelling your inner Indiana Jones in ancient temples or spotting wildlife in lush rainforest, plan the perfect trip with these stunning routes through Belize, Costa Rica and beyond…

1. Jetting in

central america travel route

Best for: A taste of Central America

Route: Antigua (Guatemala) • Chichicastenango • Tikal • San Ignacio (Belize) • Lowland Belize • Ambergris Caye

Why do it? Because you want to pack all you can into 10 days without feeling rushed.

central america travel route

Two women are praying in front of Santo Tomás Chichicastenango (Shutterstock)

Short on time? Belize and Guatemala offer the best combination for a whistle-stop trip. And it won’t feel like a rush. Belize is tiny (packing jaguar-filled forests, coral cayes and wild wetlands into an area less than a third of the size of Scotland), while Guatemala has the pick of Central America’s romantic ruins and colourful markets.

central america travel route

Colonial street in Antigua, Guatemala (Shutterstock)

Begin with two nights in Guatemala’s old capital Antigua – whose atmospheric cobbled streets, Spanish balconies and 18th-century bell towers sit in the shadow of two fuming volcanoes.

Take a morning side trip to either Chichicastenango or Sololá village markets, where Mayan villagers pour in from the highlands to sell delicately embroidered huipil shirts, woven shawls and festival masks. Then fly to Tikal for those pyramid-top forest views (be sure to visit at dawn or sunset).

central america travel route

A monkey in Belize (Shutterstock)

It’s only a short two-hour hop across the border from Tikal into Belize. Travel with Adrenalin Tours , then base yourself at the Black Orchid resort (pick-ups are from San Ignacio), where there are wild howler monkeys in the hotel gardens, toucans in the trees and all Belize’s key attractions are within easy reach.

Black Orchid offer a huge choice of day trips throughout the country – from fly-fishing, diving or snorkelling on the Belize Cayes to boat trips to the remote Lamanai ruins, set in pristine rainforest on the shore of a crocodile- filled lagoon. Fly back from Belize City, or for a bit of Caribbean beach, add on a few extra nights in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye.

2. Passing through

central america travel route

On the way to Pacuare Lodge (Pacuare Lodge)

Best for: Wilderness and Mayan sites

Route: Pacuare Lodge (Costa Rica) • Tortuguero • Granada (Nicaragua) • Mombacho • León • Jiquilisco Biosphere Reserve (El Salvador) • Suchitoto • Antigua-Sololá (Guatemala) or Chichicastenango

Why do it? Because you have time to spare and want to see as much of the region as you can – on and off the beaten track.

central america travel route

Granada in Nicaragua (Shutterstock)

Prepare to get wet. The quickest way in to Pacuare jungle lodge in the Costa Rican rainforest is by whitewater raft – on a rushing river that cuts through a deep canyon in the heart of a pristine private reserve (bags take a dry route).

You’ll need two nights to take in the trails and abundant wildlife. Then transfer to the coast (around three hours) for two more days boating around the crocodile-filled rivers and turtle nesting beaches of Tortuguero NP.

Climb the steep stairs to the cathedral roof for a view over tumbling terracotta and streets of ochre and whitewash to Momotombo’s smoking cone. Then ascend the ash slopes of Cerro Negro itself for sunset vistas over an avenue of volcanoes extending into El Salvador.

central america travel route

Gulf of Fonseca from Conchagua Volcano (Shutterstock)

That country is a two-hour journey away – reached on a boat across the dolphin-filled Golfo de Fonseca, a vast bay dotted with tiny fishing villages. Jiquilisco at the northern end is protected as an internationally important wetland reserve.

After a night here, cut inland to Suchitoto, a pretty village near the Honduran border. You’ll pass the Mayan Pompeii – Joya de Cerén, a pre-Colombian village fossilised by volcanic ash over 1,400 years ago. Then make for Antigua in Guatemala – the most beautiful Spanish cathedral city in Central America – and the craft markets in Chichicastenango and Sololá.

3. The Maya world

central america travel route

The Grand Plaza in Tikal (Shutterstock)

Best for: Temples, ruined cities and modern Mayan culture

Route: Chan Chich (Belize) • San Ignacio • Tikal (Guatemala) • Lake Atitlán • Antigua • Suchitoto (El Salvador) • Joya de Cerén • Copán (Honduras)

Why do it? For a mix of the best Mayan sites, wildlife spots and stays in modern Maya villages.

central america travel route

A jaguar in the rain forest of Belize (Shutterstock)

A ruined Mayan city where guests can stay in comfort and see jaguars, spider monkeys and ocelots? It exists – at Chan Chich in the heart of El Petén, Belize and Central America’s largest forest.

You’ll need at least two days here, after which it’s a few hours’ drive to San Ignacio – where there are small Mayan ruins in the centre of town, and huge ruins a 90-minute drive away (by 4×4) to the east at Caracol. This vast pyramid-filled ruined city in the rainforest sees more toucans than tourist visits, making it one of the few major Mayan site you can have pretty much to yourself.

central america travel route

Lake Atitlán in Guatemala (Shutterstock)

Tikal, the most impressive of all Central America’s Mayan ruins, is across the Guatemalan border from San Ignacio. Fly from here to Lake Atitlán (via Quiché Airport), a shimmering blue volcanic lake ringed with mountains and dotted with modern Quiché Maya villages. Stay with a local family through Pure Tours , shop for colourful handicrafts in the local markets, and then leave for Antigua.

central america travel route

A carved face in Copán (Dreamstime)

Transfer from this small city to Suchitoto in El Salvador for Joya de Cerén, where you can take a long day trip or overnight stop to Copán across the border in Honduras.

With vast temples and corridors of rooms – as well as four-metre high stele slabs decorated with rather eerie, elongated faces of priest-kings, surrounded by a rococo filigree of swirling foliage and hieroglyphs – Copán is one of the most spectacular sites of all and a fitting end to a journey through the Maya World.

4. In the rainforest

central america travel route

A quetzal in flight (Shutterstock)

Best for: Wildlife, beaches and pristine reef

Route: Arenal (Costa Rica) • Monteverde • Corcovado NP • San Blas Islands (Panama)

Why do it? For Central America’s best wildlife watching with beautiful beaches and unspoilt reef thrown in.

central america travel route

A hanging bridge in the Monteverde Cloud Forest (Shutterstock)

It’s an easy three-hour drive from the airport in Costa Rica’s capital San José to Arenal – a perfectly conical volcano flowing with hot springs and shrouded in forest. Take two days to wander Mistico Park ‘s canopy walkways to spot birds and monkeys, trek the trails to the myriad waterfalls and soak in the hot volcanic rivers.

A scenic two-hour journey then takes you from the volcano to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, where trees are covered in bromeliads, orchids and lichens. Opalescent resplendent quetzals float from branch to branch as silently as falling petals and margay cats pad along the mossy paths.

central america travel route

Sunset on a beach in Corcovado National Park (Shutterstock)

Allow at least a day before flying south (via Puntarenas Airport) to Bahía Drake for Corcovado National Park. This is perhaps the best location in Central America to see large mammals. Jaguar, puma, ocelot and endangered Baird’s tapir all live here, alongside metre-tall harpy eagles (which pluck sloths from trees).

Aim for around two days in Corcovado before spending the last part of your trip in Panama’s San Blas archipelago. These tiny Robinson Crusoe islets are fringed with pristine coral reef. Accommodation is simple and there’s little to do but snorkel, sunbathe and spend time with the local indigenous Kuna people.

Nowhere in the region has more pristine reef, whiter sand and starrier night skies. Bring a mosquito net, water bottle and plenty of insect repellent.

Plus… the writer’s own route

central america travel route

Sunset over Tikal (Shutterstock)

Some memories will never fade… Late afternoon. A path at Tikal in the Guatemalan rainforest. A shimmering-blue butterfly as big as a handkerchief floated out of the shadows into a beam of sunlight. Spider monkeys rustled in the tree canopy.

Looking up, I met their pebble-dark, peering eyes, as curious as a cat’s. The trail brightened ahead – opening onto a grassy square surrounded by towering stepped pyramids. Each was topped with a small platform, and a single cave-dark chamber decorated with an elaborately carved roof comb.

I followed the path behind one of the temples. It climbed steeply up the building’s back – which was covered in an Indiana Jones tangle of roots and vines. I pulled myself over a piece of ancient, tumbled masonry and hauled myself up. By the time I reached the top I was sweating, out of breath and transfixed by the view.

central america travel route

Scarlet macaws in Tikal (Shutterstock)

After the closeness of the forest, all was space and light on the temple top. I was above the canopy. The bright sun was buttery yellow and sinking over endless trees – which stretched green and semi-silhouetted to every horizon. A toucan perched a few feet away on a moss-covered kapok branch. A pair of scarlet macaws cawed and cooed and flew off in a clamour. An eagle soared.

As the sun fell it deepened into orange, then dropped red behind the tree line, leaking colour into the sky. The day thickened into tropical twilight. And a chorus of tree frogs and crickets serenaded a full moon, which rose to the north-east – yellow in a violet sky.

central america travel route

A local market in front of Santa Maria de Jesus, Guatemala (Shutterstock)

Central America floods my mind with memories. Dawn over the smoking volcanoes of central Nicaragua. Iridescent quetzals in Costa Rica’s misty cloud forests. Snorkelling over a stingray and turtle-filled sandy alley, cut like a valley in Belize’s barrier reef. I can hear the bustle of street markets and marimba music.

And smell roasting coffee, mango blossom, the heavy perfume of the rainforest, the copal-scented air in the mystical Mayan mountain temples…. And from far away they draw me back to Central America. Inevitably.

More Latin American trip planners:

South america: the ultimate trip planner, 5 of the best routes through peru, how to plan the perfect trip to chile.

central america travel route

Olympic Torch Relay: Follow the flame around France’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites

central america travel route

A mini guide to Berwick-upon-Tweed, UK

central america travel route

Why Iceland’s Highland Base is the perfect escape for adventurous travellers

Explore more.

central america travel route

Sign up to our newsletter for free with the Wanderlust Club, full of travel inspiration, quizzes, events and more

Jill on journey Logo

  • Sustainable travel tips
  • Packing light
  • Sustainable travel products
  • Volunteering
  • Why sustainable travel

El Salvador

Central america backpacking | from guatemala to panama.

Central America backpacking

Slurping coconuts every day. Exploring ancient ruins. Swinging in a hammock by the beach. Hiking through rainforests and up volcanoes. Surfing awesome waves in the Pacific. Traveling along the Central America backpacking route, you can have the time of your life. Adventure is calling!

Table of contents

Visiting Tikal is one of the most impressive things to do in Guatemala when backpacking in Central America / Die Ruinen von Tikal sind ein beeindruckender Guatemala Reisetipp auf deiner Mittelamerika Backpacking Route

Maya ruins in Tikal

Is Central America the right destination for me?

  • Are you looking for great beaches to go surfing or to learn how to surf? Or diving?
  • Do you get excited by fascinating nature, like lakes, rivers and rainforests?
  • Are you interested in ancient temples and Maya culture?
  • Would you like to climb an active volcano?
  • Have you ever wanted to hang out on Caribbean beaches?
  • Do you like exotic animals?
  • And do you speak Spanish or would love to learn some Spanish?

Rainforest in Panama

Backpacking in Central America

Backpacking Central America itineraries

Central america backpacking route for 3 months.

Central America backpacking route interactive map

Interactive map of the Central America backpacking route (click to view in a separate window)

Central America backpacking route for 2 months

  • Guatemala ⇨ Honduras ⇨ El Salvador ⇨ Nicaragua
  • Honduras ⇨ Nicaragua ⇨ Costa Rica ⇨ Panama

Central America backpacking route for 1 month

  • Guatemala & Honduras
  • Guatemala & El Salvador
  • El Salvador & Nicaragua
  • Honduras & Nicaragua
  • Costa Rica & Panama

Best places to visit when backpacking in Central America – Country breakdowns

Which countries to visit on a central america backpacking trip.

  • Antigua – the old capital with its cobblestoned colonial streets and colorful houses
  • Acatenango volcano – on top you have breathtaking views of its fire-spitting neighbor El Fuego
  • Lake Atitlán – for relaxed vibes and fun boat rides
  • Semuc Champey – to jump into the natural, turquoise pools after a hike
  • Tikal – the ancient Maya capital full of temple ruins (the world’s largest Mayan site)
  • Río Dulce – to enjoy the river on a kayak, boat ride, or swimming

More travel tips for Guatemala!

Hiking up a volcano is one of the most amazing things to do in Guatemala / Eine Vulkanwanderung darf unter den Guatemala Reisetipps nicht fehlen

Impressions of Guatemala

  • Bay Islands (especially Utila) – not only one of the cheapest places in the world to do your Padi, but also directly at the world’s second-largest coral reef
  • Copan Ruins – Beautiful Maya ruins that you can explore almost by yourself
  • Congrejal River Valley – The place to go for whitewater rafting and canyoning
  • Pico Bonito National Park – a beautiful national park for hiking in the rainforest (the largest jungle in Central America)

More about backpacking in Honduras!

Relaxing by the beach in Honduras / Entspannung am Strand in Utila, Honduras

Impressions of Honduras

  • El Tunco – the country’s surfer hot spot on the Pacific coast
  • Santa Ana Volcano – After hiking up to the top, you’re rewarded with the unique view of a turquoise lake inside the crater
  • Ruta de las Flores – a route across the El Salvadoran countryside among pretty villages and hot spring waterfalls
  • Suchitoto – a cute colonial town next to a beautiful lake

More inspiration on El Salvador!

Staying in El Zonte is popular among backpackers in El Salvador

Impressions of El Salvador

  • León & Granada – Two completely different towns but both with super good backpackers vibes
  • Laguna de Apoyo – The cleanest lake you’ll find in Central America, great for swimming and kayaking
  • Ometepe island – Probably my favorite place in Nicaragua with volcano hikes, great beaches, and a laid-back flair (tip: rent a scooter!)
  • Cerro Negro volcano boarding – Sliding down a volcano on a  wooden board is a fun activity that you’ll find nowhere else
  • Pacific surf towns – No matter if you decide on Las Peñitas, Playa Gigante or Playa Popoyo

More about the backpacker's paradise Nicaragua!

Don't miss climbing a volcano when you're backpacking in Nicaragua / Einen Vulkan zu besteigen gehört zu den besten Sehenswürdigkeiten in Nicaragua

Impressions of Nicaragua

  • Beach towns at the Nicoya Peninsula – Santa Teresa, Montezuma, and Samara are just a few of the paradisiacal Pacific beach towns perfect for surfing
  • National Parks – Monteverde, La Fortuna, Tortuguero, Corcovado, Manuel Antonio. The list of national parks in Costa Rica is really long & you should see at least 2-3 of them.
  • Puerto Viejo – With Caribbean vibes and amazing beaches, this town is quite unique and worth a visit

More travel tips for Costa Rica!

Samara beach is perfect to relax on your Costa Rica backpacking trip / Der Strand von Samara ist ein toller Costa Rica Reisetipp

Impressions of Costa Rica

  • Bocas del Toro – Spend a few days here, renting beach bikes and driving from one relaxing spot to the next while watching sloths hanging in the trees
  • San Blas Islands – Do not leave Panama without going to these tiny islands in front of Panama’s coast belonging to the indigenous Kuna Yala. I’ve never experienced anything like that.
  • Boquete – Lush jungles and majestic volcano hikes
  • Valle de Anton – A unique nature nestled in the crater of an extinct volcano

More about the best places to see in Panama!

Riding bikes in Bocas del Toro was a slow traveling adventure

Impressions of Panama

Best things to do in Central America

Climb a volcano.

  • Acatenango, El Fuego and Pacaya (all close to Antigua in Guatemala)
  • Masaya (close to Granada in Nicaragua)
  • Santa Ana (in El Salvador)
  • Maderas (on Ometepe island in Nicaragua)
  • Cerro Negro in Nicaragua
  • Acatenango (in Guatemala)
  • Momotombo (in Nicaragua)
  • Arenal (Costa Rica)
  • Volcan Baru (Panama)
  • Maderas (Ometepe island, Nicaragua)

The hike up Volcan El Fuego is probably among the most exhausting things to do in Guatemala but worth it when backpacking in Central America / Unter den Guatemala Reisetipps ist die Wanderung auf den Vulkan El Fuego wohl das anstrengendste beim Backpacking in Mittelamerika

Central American volcanoes

Visit Maya ruins

A temple in Tikal, Guatemala

Maya ruins in Tikal and Copan

Learn how to surf on the Pacific coast

  • El Paredon (more popular) and Monterrico (more local) in Guatemala
  • the area around El Tunco (very hip) and El Zonte (more relaxed) in El Salvador
  • Las Peñitas, Playa Gigante and Playa Popoyo in Nicaragua
  • all the beaches on the Nicoya peninsula, such as Santa Teresa, Nosara and Samara in Costa Rica
  • Playa Venao and Santa Catalina in Panama

Samara beach is perfect to relax on your Costa Rica backpacking trip when backpacking in Central America / Der Strand von Samara ist ein toller Costa Rica Reisetipp auf deiner Mittelamerika Reiseroute

Pacific beaches

Hang around on Caribbean beaches

  • White beach in Guatemala
  • The Bay Islands with Utila and Roatan in Honduras
  • Corn Islands in Nicaragua
  • Puerto Viejo and the paradisiacal beaches in Cahuita national park in Costa Rica
  • Bocas del Toro and San Blas in Panama

San Blas Islands

Caribbean beaches

Diving in Utila is a highlight when backpacking in Honduras on your Central America backpacking route / Tauchen in Utila darf bei den Sehenswürdigkeiten in Honduras auf deiner Mittelamerika Backpacking Route nicht fehlen

Diving in Utila, Honduras

Hike through rainforests

Walking in a Costa Rica national park

Central American rainforests

Hike to a viewpoint for sunrise

The view from Acatenango volcano for sunrise - what a highlight when backpacking in Central America / Die Sicht beim Sonnenaufgang auf dem Acatenango Vulkan ist ein Highlight auf deiner Mittelamerika Backpacking Route

The sunrise view from Acatenango volcano

Relax around lakes

  • Lago de Atitlan & Lago de Izabal for great boat rides and relaxed vibes in Guatemala
  • Suchitoto & Lago de Coatepeque in El Salvador
  • Laguna de Apoyo & Isla de Ometepe in Lago di Cocibolca for swimming and relaxing by the beach in Nicaragua

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

The fantastic lakes in Central America

Learn Spanish

Streets in Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

Try the typical food in each country

Pipas frias

Enjoying Central American food

Good to know before backpacking in Central America

Central america backpacking budget, how much money do you need for 3 months in central america, which central american country is the cheapest.

  • Food: average meal in a restaurant 35 – 50 Quetzales (4.50 – 7 $) / simple tortillas for 35 Quetzales (4.50 $)
  • Hotels: around 30 – 40 $ for a nice, basic double room / 10 – 12 $ for a hostel bed in a dorm room
  • Transport: an 8 – 10 hour trip by local chicken bus around 12 $, but easily 300 Quetzales (40 $) by tourist shuttle
  • Food: average meal in a restaurant 120 – 160 Lempira (5 – 6.50 $) / simple baleadas for 20 Lempira (0.80 $)
  • Hotels: around 25 $ for a nice double room / 8 $ for a hostel bed in a dorm room
  • Transport: an 8 – 10 hour trip by local chicken bus around 10 $, but easily 40 $ by tourist shuttle
  • Food: average meal in a restaurant 7 – 9 $ / pupusas for 0.75 – 1 $ each
  • Hotels: around 30 $ for a nice, basic double room (easily more around El Tunco) / 15 $ for a hostel bed in a dorm room
  • Transport: a 3 – 4 hour trip by local chicken bus around 3 – 4 $, but easily 25 $ by tourist shuttle
  • Food: average meal in a restaurant 100 – 150 Cordobas (3 – 4 $) / simple Gallo pinto with eggs for 80 – 100 Cordobas (3 $)
  • Hotels: around 20 $ for a nice double room / 8 – 10 $ for a hostel bed in a dorm room
  • Transport: a 5-hour trip by local bus around 5 – 6 $, but easily 30 $ by tourist shuttle
  • Food: average meal in a restaurant 6000 – 7000 Colones (10 $) / simple Casado in a Soda for 4000 Cordobas (6 $)
  • Hotels: around 60 $ for a nice, basic double room (easily way more along the Pacific coast) / 20 – 25 $ for a hostel bed in a dorm room
  • Transport: a 5-hour trip by local bus around 7 – 8 $, but easily 50 $ by tourist shuttle
  • Food: average meal in a restaurant 7 – 8 $ / simple local food for 4 – 5 $ (more in Bocas)
  • Hotels: around 40 $ for a nice, basic double room (easily more on Bocas) / 15 – 20 $ for a hostel bed in a dorm room
  • Transport: an 8 – 10 hour trip by local bus around 15 – 20 $, but easily 60 $ by tourist shuttle

Exchange rates

  • 100 Quetzales are around 13 $
  • 100 Lempiras are around 4 $
  • FYI: El Salvador is the first country to accept Bitcoins as an official currency as well
  • 100 Cordobas are a bit less than 3 $
  • 1000 Colones are around 1.50 $
  • FYI: While US Dollars predominate in everyday use, you sometimes get your small change in Balboas, Panama’s old currency.
  • 100 Balboas equals 100 $

Nicaraguan Cordobas

Beautiful Nicaraguan Cordobas

Sustainable travel hacks in Central America

Sustainable accommodation.

Casa Papaki in Ometepe

Casa Papaki & Utopia Eco Hotel

Riding a chicken bus is an experience when backpacking in Guatemala / Eine Fahrt im Chickenbus ist definitiv ein Erlebnis beim Guatemala Backpacking

A chicken bus ride is always fun

Eco-friendly food

Fruit market in Nicaragua

Eating locally in Central America

Interested in getting a water bottle with a filter?

Filling up a filter bottle in Guatemala / Wasserfilter beim Reisen auffüllen

Filtering with my Grayl water purifier bottle

Eco-Tours & activities

Plastic packaging & trash, more about reducing waste during your trip.

With Bamboo cutlery you can make backpacking in Honduras more sustainable / Mit Bambusbesteck kannst du die Sehenswürdigkeiten in Honduras nachhaltiger entdecken

Zero waste equipment for traveling

Get a free packing list to travel lighter!

Subscribe to get your free packing list for traveling light or carry-on only!

By requesting the packing list and subscribing to the newsletter, you agree to receiving updates via e-mail.

We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

More about sustainable travel

Visiting Granada is a must when backpacking in Nicaragua / Granada steckt voller Sehenswürdigkeiten in Nicaragua

Volunteering in Central America

More about ethical volunteering.

Volunteering with animals at ARCAS Parque Hawaii, Guatemala / Freiwilligenarbeit mit Tieren in Guatemala

Volunteering at ARCAS in Guatemala

Central American food

  • Tortillas with Guacamole (instead of meat filling you can find some with vegetables or even soy meat) and the typical Chapin breakfast (tortillas with beans, eggs, platano, avocado and cheese) in Guatemala
  • Baleadas (a large tortilla wrap filled with beans and cheese) in Honduras
  • Pupusas ((like small, filled tortillas with cheese) in El Salvador
  • Gallo Pinto (rice and beans) in Nicaragua
  • Casado (rice, vegetables and beans) in Costa Rica,

central america travel route

Food in Central America

Accommodation for backpacking in Central America

Relaxing in Panama

Central American accommodation

Best time to visit Central America

Pacific beaches in Costa Rica

Hot days by the Pacific

What to pack for backpacking in Central America

  • Water purifier bottle  – to be able to drink water anywhere and save a ton of plastic bottles
  • bite away   – a super smart gadget for insect sting relief
  • Organic anti bug spray – to keep insects away without chemicals
  • Smell-proof laundry bag – for your sweaty, damp or even wet clothes, so the rest of your backpack stays fresh
  • Reusable silicone zip lock bag – to get your take-away food without plastic
  • Cutlery & reusable straw – to avoid using plastic cutlery
  • Toothbrush made from bamboo and toothpaste tablets –  to keep your dental care plastic-free
  • Shampoo bar – so you don’t have to worry about liquids

Is it safe to backpack in Central America?

  • Avoid the big cities (as mentioned above).
  • Don’t walk home alone at night.
  • Don’t travel at night (except in Costa Rica and Panama, where traveling at night is fairly safe).
  • Leave your valuables (such as your passport and credit cards you don’t need right now) locked at the accommodation, and just take a bit of cash when you’re out.
  • Store your money and credit cards in different places in your luggage (in the rare case you get mugged, you still have some money source somewhere else).

Is Central America safe for solo female travelers?

Backpacking in Costa Rica

Solo backpacking as a woman

How long do you need to backpack Central America?

Is central america easy to travel around.

  • Local buses (often called “chicken buses”) – The colorful public buses are retired American school buses that have been upcycled and painted by artists. In all Central American countries, traveling by chicken bus is super cheap, brings you closer to the local way of living, and is always fun. Yet, it can get cramped in there, and you usually have to change lots of times on most routes. But you have to try it!
  • Shared shuttles (collectivos) – These minibuses are usually the fastest option to reach a different destination, as they run directly, and are reliable and safe. Yet, they’re way more expensive than chicken buses. You can calculate paying around 5x the amount that a chicken bus trip would cost.
  • Cross-country bus companies (such as Ticabus) – Local bus companies that run cross-country, such as Ticabus, are a great option to get from one country to the next. They typically leave from the capitals and are a bit cheaper than taking a shuttle.
  • Private shuttles – In many places, you can also find the option to book a private transfer. Of course, this is the luxury version of traveling and normally not something backpackers would do. In my opinion, booking a private shuttle only makes sense if you’re planning to head to a totally remote location. Otherwise, just sitting in your private car with a driver is not really environmental-friendly.
  • Rental car – Well, also not the most environmentally-friendly option, as long as there are no electronic cars to rent. Yet, sometimes it’s a great option to reach more off-the-beaten-path destinations. Especially in Costa Rica, a rental car is very popular. And over there, it really makes sense. Many routes which are just a 2-hour-drive by rental car can take 6 hours or more by bus.

Chicken buses in Guatemala

Transportation in Central America

Onward travel from Central America to South America

Can you get a sim card for all central american countries, can you get around without spanish.

Taking the boat to the islands in Panama

Interact with locals!

Useful Spanish phrases for Central America

  • Hello –  Hola
  • Good Morning –  Buenos dias
  • Bye – Adiós
  • Excuse me – Perdón
  • Thanks – Gracias
  • I don’t understand –  No entiendo
  • Please –  por favor
  • Sorry –  Lo siento
  • Help me! –  Ayudame!
  • Cheers! –  Salud!
  • Here –  aquí
  • How much is it? –  Cuánto cuesta?
  • Where is the toilet? –  Donde está el baño?
  • Where does the bus leave? – Donde parte el bus?
  • No plastic bag –  Sin bolsa de plastico
  • No straw –  No paja
  • No plastic cutlery –  No cubiertos de plástico

Country data

Get more in-depth info about backpacking central america.

  • Central America on a Shoestring  – the best for budget travelers
  • Central America Travel Guide – with all the best planning advice
  • Best of Central America – covering all the highlights

More travel guides on backpacking in Central America

More about guatemala, discover honduras, a guide on backpacking in el salvador, more travel tips for costa rica, more about the best places to see in panama, backpacking central america – a wrap-up.

Have you ever been backpacking in Central America? Any hidden gems you’s like to share or any place that shouldn’t be missing on any Central America backpacking itinerary? Feel free to leave a comment below!

central america travel route

Share with friends!

Related posts.

Andalucia road trip | Tapas, orange trees and marvelous cities

Andalucia road trip | Tapas, orange trees and marvelous cities

Rome | Hidden gems off the beaten path

Rome | Hidden gems off the beaten path

Ecotourism in Guatemala | 7 Sustainable Tourism Spots to Visit in 2023

Ecotourism in Guatemala | 7 Sustainable Tourism Spots to Visit in 2023


' data-src=

Wow, this is so comprehensive! I went to Costa Rica earlier this year, which was my first time in Central America. But I can only imagine how much you could see doing a trip like this! I would be concerned about safety in certain places, but it’s good to hear that you didn’t have any negative experiences.

' data-src=

Hi Maggie, Costa Rica is a great start for your first time in Central America, as it’s probably the safest country over there and also quite “westernized”. But the other countries are definitely worth exploring as well! And with a few precautions, there’s no need to worry. in terms of security :)

' data-src=

What an amazing guide! I’ve been to GUA once, but I really want to go back! Lake Atitlán looks stunning! I forgot that Rotan was such a big diving place too!

Hey Linnea, yeah, Guatemala has left a mark on my heart for sure! You should definitely go again & see Lake Atitlan. :)

' data-src=

I have visited Costa Rica twice but you have really inspired me to visit the other Central American countries. I love all the vegetarian food options.

Hi Terri, I’m happy to hear that my post has inspired you. Yeah you should go & see more countries! Central America has so much to offer & also so much yummy stuff for veggies!

' data-src=

Wow! What a comprehensive guide! I haven’t backpacked through these countries but have been to several of them. Your stories and photos are bringing back great memories and I’d love to go back! This guide is so helpful for someone looking to backpack this area. It seems really easy to do so!

Hi Nikki, So glad to hear that you liked this post and that it has brought back good memories of your trip to Central America. It’s indeed much easier to go backpacking in this region than I thought before. The infrastructure is great, there is wonderful accommodation everywhere and well, of course there is stunning nature!

' data-src=

What an amazing guide to Central America! I’ve yet to venture into that beautiful region and when I do, this will be my guide. And I love how you included tips about sustainable travel items.

Hi Bea, thanks for your comment. Sustainable travel is a very important aspect for me. And there’s always a way to see a destination more sustainable, even Central America :)

' data-src=

What an amazing post, Jilii! The central region is indeed quite beautiful. However, isn’t Guatemala a little unsafe?

Thanks for your lovely words! Safety is an important issue all over Central America. But with the right precautions (not walking alone at night, leaving your belongings in your accommodation, etc), you can have an amazing time in Guatemala and in all the other Central American countries. Tbh, I never felt unsafe, even as a female solo traveler in Guatemala. So I can totally recommend it to anyone!

' data-src=

This is truly the ultimate guide for backpacking in Central America. Central America is one of the places I look forward to exploring in the future. I plan to reference your guide in the future!

Hi Erin, So glad to hear that you like my Central America guide. I love thinking back to this unique adventure. I hope this guide will be of great help once you’ll plan to explore this region :)

' data-src=

Dream trip! Saved for future trip plans! Right now, work is keeping me from any trips >2 weeks, but the dream is there.

Hi Anja, I totally feel you! I actually quit my job right before I traveled to Central America. With the job I had back then, such a long trip wouldn’t have been possible. So it’s indeed a trip for which you need more time, if you want to see several countries. But you could pick one country, e.g. only Guatemala or Costa Rica for a 2 weeks holiday. And never stop dreaming ;)

' data-src=

Wow this is such a comprehensive and detailed guide! I’ve been hoping to plan a Central America trip like this for such a long time and having so much detail in one place is super helpful – thank you for this!

Hi Helena, I’m happy to hear that this post is helpful to you. I hope you’re able to head to Central America soon, it’s such a unique adventure :)

' data-src=

Very good guide, it helped me a lot during my tour of Central America, especially the part that covers Nicaragua and Guatemala. I look forward to a post-pandemic update.

I’m more than happy that my Central America backpacking guide was helpful for you throughout your journey. Thanks for your lovely comment!

' data-src=

Hi Jill, this is such a brilliant article with so much detail! I’m planning to do a trip next summer after I finish university. If it’s ok to ask, did you feel safe travelling as a female through these areas? I may be doing some legs of the trip solo so just curious how you felt. Planning to stay on a ‘tourist route’ through most of the trip and hit many of the areas you suggested. Any details would be amazing. Thanks so much!

Hey Jade, thanks so much for your lovely comment. It makes me so happy reading that my article on backpacking is helpful and inspiring for your plans to go backpacking in Central America. I was solo traveling in Guatemala and felt safe and never got into any dangerous situation. In my opinion, as long as you stick to some rules and trust your gut feeling, you will be fine. I always recommend avoiding the capitals (except Panama City which is not as dangerous in most neighborhoods), avoiding dodgy areas and walking alone at night, don’t wear any expensive jewelry etc, leave your valuables in your accommodation. If you don’t want to use chicken buses, there are always tourist shuttles which are very safe. And usually, you meet other travelers everywhere you go, so you don’t have to be alone if you don’t want to :) Enjoy your trip, you will love it!

' data-src=

Very helpful, thank you. I have been thinking about this trip for a while, especially having loved travelling through both Mexico and Colombia in last 5 years. Just out of interest, why did you skip Belize as you were so close? Supposed to have some lovely beaches etc.

Hey John, I also loved Colombia. Haven’t been to Mexico (yet). The reason I skipped Belize was that back in the beginning of 2022 the regulations for entering the country were still very strict. I think you even had to quarantine for a few days in a hotel upon entering Belize. Hope to make it back some time and also visit Belize. I heard lots of amazing things about this country as well.

' data-src=

This by far is the best Central America blog post I have come across! It is so detailed and in-depth. Jill you are truly a natural at this and it has definitely helped me plan my backpacking journey! Thank you so much!

Thank you so much, Julia. You just gave me a huge smile! It makes me extremely happy to hear that my blog posts actually help and inspire fellow travelers <3

' data-src=

I just wanna say thank you put these ammazing information together. I love your blogs they are more realistic. Waiting to read more of them..

Thanks so much for the amazing work !!

Leave A Comment Cancel reply

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

  • Skip to primary navigation
  • Skip to main content
  • Skip to primary sidebar
  • Skip to footer

Layer Culture

Latin America Travel & Culture Blog

Backpacking Central America

Travel Guides Last Updated · Jun 18th, 2024 · Daniel James

backpacking central america

Welcome to this backpacking Central America itinerary.

Lush rainforests, picturesque beaches, ancient temples, and more, Central America is a great adventure just waiting to be uncovered.

Whilst each of the seven countries are small and easy to get in and around, each packs a unique explosion of culture and vibe that will both surprise you and leave you wanting to know more.

Content in this guide:

This guide will explore all of the countries in their region, with a great one-month itinerary to make the most of your time there.

Read on to learn more about Central America!

Why Travel to Central America?

First, let’s start by getting a couple of misconceptions out the way.

Many tend to dispute the continent of Central America, by lumping the countries here along with Mexico, the USA, and Canada.

best hostels central america

Whilst, geographically and politically, this may be true, once you arrive here you will feel a million miles away from the others!

Similarly, many see this region as a short stint or even as a “warm-up” before traveling around South America.

Do not underestimate this region .

You can easily spend up to a year here, especially if you are interested in uncovering the deeper cultures of the areas and learning Spanish.

Why travel to this region? First, you have the pristine, untouched beaches in Panama and Belize, and more off-the-beaten-path islands to explore.

nicaragua moto taxi

Places such as the San Blas and Coiba island (both Panamanian territory) should be on any adventurer’s itinerary.

Some of the best historic artifacts and sites of old Latin culture reside here, such as the pyramids of Tikal in Guatemala as well as the Copán ruins in Honduras.

Did someone mention tequila?

Central America is one big party, with both beachside towns that have some great vibes such as San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua.

As well as the untamed capitals that each have lots of events and things going on all year!

Map of Central America

When we compare other regions in Latin America, Central America seems tiny.

See the map above to see the countries part of this Central America backpacking itinerary.

Is it safe to travel to Central America

Whilst I love to get everyone excited to visit such an amazing part of the world, it’s also my obligation to give an honest verdict on safety here.

is guatemala safe

First off, most news stations and broadcasters (which I have stopped watching) really make the area sound a lot worse than it is.

I think this unfair and actually harms the economies of these countries (which really depend on tourism to grow).

But there are some truths, which I will mention now.

The cities of San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa (both in Honduras) are among the highest in the world for violent crimes, so I would recommend only using these as passing points, or for flights.

central america

You will most likely already be aware of the Darien Gap, which connects this region to South America.

The easiest ways of navigating are by flying over or via boat around.

Hiking through is not impossible, but with no unmarked hiking territory, there are the obvious risks, as well as being an autonomous zone with drug traffickers and rebels.

Central America One month Itinerary

Whilst I strongly recommend against packing lots of destinations into a small trip, it’s obvious that not everyone will have time to travel around at a similar pace.

central america

This one-month Central America itinerary starts up in Cancún, where you will enter Belize via the Chetumal border, and finish up in Panama City.

Of course, stopping at some of the best party hostels along the way.

This itinerary is very adaptable, and you can even fly out earlier or join up later via any of the international airports (usually the capital cities).

Read on to learn more about the best destinations in the region!

Backpacking Belize

We will begin our adventure in Belize, which shares its northern border with Mexico.

If you are already in Mexico see this backpacking Mexico guide to visit some places in the Yucatan area before heading down to Belize.

books about belize

Belize is unique in that it is the only country where English is the primary language spoken, which makes communication and traveling around a lot easier for those who don’t know Spanish.

central america

The best way of entering Belize is either by flying into Belize City, or heading south from Cancun and crossing the land border (or by ferry, of which both are located in Chetumal).

Caye Caulker (3 Days)

This will be your first stop on this trip! Head to the island of Caye Caulker for some relaxing vibes, great snorkeling and plenty of tasty food.

central america

This is one of the best areas to learn to dive, and for those who are the more experienced divers, you can’t miss the blue hole, which in itself is an amazing spectacle to see.

You can, on the contrary, easily spend your time walking around the sleepy beachside towns and lounging on the beautiful beaches that are on offer here!

Places to stay in Belize :

  • Travellers Palm → Caye Caulker
  • Hidden Haven → San Ignacio
  • The Funky Dodo → Hopkins

You should also try to organize a boat to take you out to the other nearby islands like Cangrejo Cay, Caye Chapel, and San Pedro (the latter being more touristy with more nightlife options).

San Ignacio (1 Day)

Setting off early from Caye Caulker, you will only have one day to spend in San Ignacio, a small town situated near the border with Guatemala.

central america

Once you arrive, you will have enough time to see the Actun Tunichil caves, which feature old skeletons and ancient Mayan artifacts.

You can also do some cave-tubing here which is great fun!

Backpacking Guatemala

Guatemala is one of the most popular countries to visit in the region, and is home to some really cool landscapes and attractions.

central america

Markets, small cultural towns, volcanoes, mountains, jungles and beaches. You name it. Guatemala most likely has it!

This is also one of the best countries to settle down for a bit and pick up some of the Spanish lingo, where you will find many schools around the Antigua and Lake Atitlan areas.

Flores (2 Days)

From Belize, you will arrive in Flores a town situated in the middle of the Petén Itzá lake.

Whilst the most popular visit is to the Tikal Ruins, one of the largest Aztec settlements in the continent, you also want to spend some time around the town.

central america

Aside from going from Flores to Tikal, I recommend visiting Jorge’s rope swing, which is based on a nearby island accessible only by boat.

It’s owned by a really lovely family who will make your stay there really welcome!

More on Backpacking Guatemala

Antigua (3 Days)

An hour away from the capital lies Antigua, which is a colonial town that offers cheap Spanish lessons and is close to the Acatenango and Pacaya volcanoes.

backpacking through central america spanish

You will have three days to familiarise yourself with this “cobblestone town”, and should definitely include a visit to the Chichicastenango market (the largest market in Central America) and a hike to one of the volcanoes nearby.

Lake Atitlan (2 Days)

Head to Lake Atitlan for some great scenery and lots of lakeside towns which each offer a unique vibe and cultural feel.

central america

Base yourself in any of these towns such as Panajachel , San Pedro or Santa Cruz . Be sure to visit others such as San Marcos, which has a very unique, bohemian feel.

Places to stay in Guatemala :

  • Greengo’s → Semuc Champey
  • Selina Hostel → Antigua
  • MayAchik Eco Hostel → Lake Atitlan

You will easily find a fisherman ready to take you wherever you want to go by the waterfront (the waves can get really choppy to be prepared!).

Backpacking Honduras

Next up we have Honduras. This will be your only day in the country with this itinerary!

If you want to spend more time (which I highly recommend – there are a lot more things to do here than just the ruins) then you can chop and change as you wish.

honduras travel

Another popular visit that is not included in this itinerary is the Bay Islands, which offer great beaches and diving if that’s your thing.

See the honorable destinations section below to learn more about these islands!

Copán (1 Day)

Heading south from Guatemala, it’s best to use the night bus to get most of the traveling done without “losing time”.

Copán ruins offer a unique style of ancient Mayan architecture and is a nice stop off on the way to El Salvador.

central america

Copán is also considered the most important cultural destination in all of Honduras. Hopefully, you had a good rest in Guatemala, as you will only be stopping here for a short while.

The bus towards Santa Ana will take around 4/5 hours.

Backpacking El Salvador

Out of all the countries on this list, El Salvador is without a doubt the “Venezuela” of Central America.

Many fear going here, and as a result, most itinerates of Central America, unfortunately, tend to skip this country.

El Salvador really is a beautiful country, and the security situation has improved considerably here in the last few decades.

Of course, still, use caution, but if you decide to visit then you will be pleasantly surprised during your time here!

Santa Ana (2 Days)

Home to an impressive stratovolcano, the second-largest city in the country has lots to do and see.

As well as a hike to the volcano, the region is infamous for its rich coffee, which is as good as if not better than the Guatemalan variety.

Be sure to grab some while you are here!

central america

In the city itself, you should head to the Cathedral of Santa Ana, which is a gothic-inspired building that is neat to the eye.

Places to stay in El Salvador :

  • Hostel Casa Verde → Santa Ana
  • La Zona Hostal → San Salvador
  • Hotel Tunco Lodge → EL Tunco Beach

San Salvador (1 Day)

With just one day in the capital, it would be best to set off early to get the most in during your day here.

Once you arrive, your first stop should be to the Libertad Plaza when you can stroll and admire the history of the capital.

central america

Next up you can check out the San Salvador Cathedral and the National Palace, which are both photo-worthy destinations (and very interesting for the history buffs out there).

Get ready for a long overnight journey, as the buses to your next destination will take you through two national checkpoints!

Backpacking Nicaragua

Nicaragua boasts a reputation of being one of the safest countries in Latin America, and also feels like the most “off the beaten path” due to its more rustic and less developed feel.


As well as housing some cool volcanoes, lakes and islands, Nicaragua is also home to the oldest city in all of Latin America – León, which is over 500 years old!

León (2 Days)

Having arrived from a (very) long overnight journey, you will be relinquished of any harsh activities on the first day.

Spend some time in coffee shops dotted on cobblestone streets of this old Nicaraguan gem, and see the old ruins of León Viejo.

central america

On your second day, you should head to Cerro Negro , a large volcano that you can sandboard down the side of! You can easily book a sandboarding tour with your hostel, so just ask around to get on board.

Ometepe Island (2 Days)

Your next stop will see you staying on an island in the middle of the largest lake in Central American – Lake Nicaragua.

central america

You can easily arrange a house stay here if you are interested in cultural experiences, and this area is one of the most popular to do so in all of Central America.

San Juan del Sur (3 Days)

A quick trip of two hours will land you in this Pacific Paradise!

central america

Lounge around on the beaches, get stuck into some surfing (this is one of the best spots in Latin America) and make the most of the great nightlife options around here!

Playa Maderas is the more popular beach with lots of restaurants and amenities nearby, those who want a more off the beaten path option should head to Playa Marsella .

Backpacking Costa Rica

Arguably the most popular country on this list, and it certainly does not disappoint.

costa rica beach

With many US citizens having moved here, the country is now a lot better built for tourists with improved facilities and transport options.

With this itinerary, you will be passing through quite quickly and will not spend so much time on the beaches, which you will be able to do later in Panama.

However, you can see in the recommended section some beaches to see in Costa Rica if you want to change up this itinerary!

Monteverde (3 Days)

Up in the north of the country lies this cloud forest, which is home to an abundance of wildlife with over 100 species of mammals and over 160 of reptiles, making it one of the most endemic areas on earth.

backpacking central america

Some popular animals to spot range from howler monkeys and sloths to toucans and jaguars!

It is well worth the time to hike around and spot nature, and you can head to some off the beaten path beaches on the Pacific coast if you fancy.

Places to stay in Costa Rica :

  • Cabinas El Pueblo → Monteverde
  • Costa Rica Backpackers → San Jose
  • Selina → Tamarindo

Also with the generous time you have here, you can easily take a day trip down to La Fortuna and visit the Arenal Volcano National Park.

San José (2 Days)

The capital of Costa Rica has a much more cosmopolitan feel than the other capitals in this region.

As well as visiting different museums here, you can also head off to nearby Jaco as a day trip for more surfing.

backpacking costa rica

The Juan Santamaría international airport is located here and is one of the best connected in the region.

So, if you decide to start or end your backpacking Central America trip here, then this option will offer much more affordable and accommodating flights.

Backpacking Panama

Now we arrive at the last country on our trip. Panama is a great country to visit, which is one of the safest as well as developed in certain areas due to US influence and tourism.

As promised you will have your beach time here, and if traveling onto South America then I highly recommend doing the 5-day boat tour to Colombia, which stops off at the San Blas islands.

visiting san blas islands

Bocas del Toro (3 Days)

This archipelago is made up of lots of small islands, which is located just off the west coast, close to Costa Rica.

Head to Isla Zapatillas which is more off the beaten path which features great beaches and chances to spot dolphins.

Also, visit Isla Bastimentos , another island here with many unspoiled beaches.

Head to Red frog beach which, unsurprisingly has lots of red frogs nearby and also many coves which give a more private beach experience to those who would like that.

Panama City (2 Days)

Your last stop on the trip! You will probably want to take the night option, as the total travel time is well over 10 hours.

You can also fly cheap using some of the domestic airlines.

Head to the infamous Panama Canal, which sees hundreds of boats passing every day.

Don’t miss Panamá Viejo, which is the old historic quarters of the former capital city and is a listed World Heritage Site.

central america

Onwards from Panama City you can fly into Colombia, or take (the much better option in my opinion!) boat tour which visits the San Blas islands on the way to Cartagena.

Places to stay in Panama :

  • Skully’s House → Bocas-del-Toro
  • Hostal Casa Areka → Panama City
  • Magnolia Inn → Casco Viejo

The San Blas are protected as the Kuna tribe still inhabit them to this day, who is also one of the last remaining indigenous tribes in all of the Caribbean.

Central America Travel Tips

In all the backpacking guides on Layer Culture, I do my best to update them and add travel tips that you can use.

Please see below for some useful information that is worth considering before you go.

Best time to go to Central America?

Whilst every country is a little different, a good reference point for travel is the dry and wet seasons. The dry season generally runs from January to March, where there is less rainfall.

travel guide guatemala antigua

For Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama this stretches further from November to April, which gives greater flexibility when planning a trip to these regions.

There are advantages for a visit during the wet season, however.

As well as more beautiful scenery (more bright green and higher water levels in rivers), you will also avoid the busier tourist seasons and the height of the cruise season which runs from February till’ April.


Disclaimer: I am not a doctor nor am I certified to give medical information in any way. Advice should be sought by with your doctor.

Central America requires quite a few injections, as a lot of the region is still a lot less developed than parts of the Western world as well as some of the regions being quite remote.

Some recommendations include:

  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B

For those who are traveling from South America (and other parts of the world) may need proof of a Yellow Fever Vaccine to enter certain countries. Speak to your doctor to get more information and be sure of what you need!

Got Travel Insurance for Central America?

travel insurance

Now, having mentioned that we’ll look at some of the must-see places in Central America, you can see a list that I have made below.

I wrote some more places in another guide which I have linked to below:

Best Places to See in Central America

Admittedly, the above itinerary is very fast-paced and will miss out on some other amazing destinations.

Got more time?

Consider adding these gems to your Central America itinerary:

Having read this article you hopefully have a better idea regarding destinations in Central America, the best time to go, keeping safe as well as an awesome one-month itinerary to get ideas flowing.

Adjust the itinerary as you need, and of course, aim to spend longer there so you can see more of the real regions .

Central America is beautiful, and once you travel around you will wonder why people are so scared to even go. Don’t be one of those people!

Read more about the all the countries in Central America on this blog to get advice, tips, and itineraries for exploring the rest of the region.

📌 Like this article? Pin it…

backpacking central america

“ Dear friend! Some links in this post contain affiliate links. Meaning, if you click through and make a purchase, book a hostel or sign up for a tour, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you . Your support means a lot and helps me to keep traveling and maintaining the quality of this site for you.”

' src=

Daniel James

Helping thousands of people worldwide with independent travel in Latin America. Layer Culture means to dig deeper into the ideas, customs, and behaviour of a group of people.

  • Travel Safety Tips
  • Jamaica Travel Tips
  • Medellin Travel Tips

Work with Dan

  • About This Blog
  • My Travel Story
  • As Me Anything

Travel Tips

Get inspired.

  • Central America
  • South America
  • Latin Culture

Connect with Dan

  • Follow on Instagram
  • Like on Facebook
  • Pin on Pinterest

Explore With Lora

The Ultimate Guide to Backpacking Central America

By: Author Lora Pope

Posted on Published: August 3, 2020  - Last updated: October 11, 2023

This post may contain affiliate links. By clicking and making a purchase through the links, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. See my disclaimer for more information. This and display ads allow me to keep the site up to date and give back .

Backpacking Central America is an amazing experience. From diving into the blue hole in Belize to camping by active volcanoes in Guatemala, this region of the world is home to some amazing bucket-list experiences.

Central America was the region of the world that reignited my love for backpacking. I say reignited because it wasn’t the first trip.

I went on my first backpacking trip in Europe like a cliche, then got sucked into the working world and forgot how magical it was until a trip to Costa Rica reminded me of my passion.

I’m obsessed with Central America. While I was working full-time in Canada, I would take short trips there every time I had a moment off work. It’s not that far to travel for a week, and flights are affordable.

When I decided to go backpacking for a year, I started my journey in Guatemala after falling in love while briefly visiting it on another trip. I’ve spent months of my life traveling Central America, so I created this post to share all my favorite places with you.

This Central America travel guide will tell you everything you need to know about backpacking Central America, including the best places to visit, costs, tips on getting around, solo female travel, safety, and more.

Countries to visit in Central America

Mexico is actually part of North America, but as its neighbors with Guatemala and Belize, many backpackers add it to their Central America itinerary.

Flights are pretty cheap to Cancun, Mexico from North America, so oftentimes I would fly here from Toronto, even if I was planning a trip to Belize or Guatemala. It may seem crazy to travel to a country two away from the one you want to go to but hear me out.

From Cancun, you can either take an overnight bus (directly from the airport) to Belize City or you can take the ferry from Chetumal to San Pedro, Belize. Chetumal is very close to Bacalar, which is a beautiful chill place to visit on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

bacalar mexico

Cancun itself is very touristy, I’m not a big fan of it. It’s a good place if you want to party, but Playa Del Carmen is even better, and it’s just an hour away. It’s easy to get from Cancun to Playa Del Carmen or Tulum via bus!

If you want to chill out, Tulum is an amazing place to visit and just two hours away from Cancun. It’s got beautiful turquoise water, beaches, and Mayan ruins. There are also some wonderful Cenotes nearby you can swim in!

While the east coast of Mexico is beautiful, the rest of the country is worth exploring.

Puerto Vallarta is where I live now. I love it so much that I made an entire website about Puerto Vallarta where you can find all the information you need to plan a trip there!

Beyond that, check out Oaxaca for culture , Guanajuato State for ecotourism , and any of these party cities for a good time.

Belize is such a tropical island paradise , and makes for the perfect place to start your adventure backpacking Central America – especially if you are coming from Mexico! You can either take the bus from Southern Mexico to Belize City or take the ferry from Chetumal to San Pedro in Ambergris Caye, which is a gorgeous island in Belize.

Home to the second-largest barrier reef in the world, Belize is an amazing place to go scuba diving and snorkeling. It was snorkeling here that inspired me to get my diving certification! It’s also home to some impressive Mayan ruins.

Long Caye Aquarium Dive in Belize

The atmosphere of Belize is different than the rest of Central America due to its Caribbean influence. The flavors of the cuisine here are wonderful, it was my favorite food outside of Mexico.

It’s a relatively easy place to travel as the tourism industry is well established, and the official language is English. On the flip side of that, it’s one of the most expensive countries to travel in Central America.

Best Places to Visit in Belize

There are many beautiful places to add to your Belize Itinerary, but here are some of my favorites:

Caye Caulker & Ambergris Caye – Two gorgeous islands that you can visit via boat from Belize City (there is also a boat from Chetumal Mexico to San Pedro).

Going diving in Caye Caulker belize

Both islands have a variety of accommodation options, but Ambergris Caye has higher-end resorts. I prefer Caye Caulker, as it’s slightly cheaper and is oriented towards backpackers. The two islands offer similar day tour options for snorkeling and diving. This is where you can go diving in the blue hole!

Placencia – Amazing place to go diving, especially for whale sharks. The best way to get here is via the Raggamuffin Sailing Tour , which leaves from Caye Caulker and ends in Dangriga (just an hour away from Placencia or Hopkins, another town you can visit).

Cayo District (San Ignacio) – Great place in Belize for adventure and history. It’s home to Mayan ruins, caves, wildlife, and rivers for tubing.

backpacking lake atitlan guatemala central america

Guatemala is one of my favorite countries in Central America. It’s the perfect place for active adventures, with 37 volcanoes, including several you can go hiking on. It’s also a wonderful place to experience culture in Central America.

Guatemala is also one of the cheapest countries in this region, you can get by on $30 USD per day. It’s also a great place to learn Spanish, with affordable lessons and an easy-to-understand accent.

Knowing some Spanish will make your time backpacking Central America much easier, so this can be a great thing to do at the start of your trip!

Places to Visit in Guatemala

Flores (Tikal) – If you’re coming from Belize to Guatemala, this is a great first stop on your Guatemala Itinerary. The Tikal ruins are some of the most impressive in all of Central America. Go at sunrise for an unforgettable experience; just don’t stay up the whole night before like I did.

pyramid in Tikal

Semuc Champey – A not-so-hidden oasis in the middle of the jungle. No matter where you’re coming from, it’s going to be a long ass journey to get here, but yes, it is worth it.

Antigua – One of the most charming colonial cities in Guatemala. This is a great place to start your itinerary in Guatemala if you’re flying into Guatemala city, as it’s only an hour away.

It’s also home to the Acatenango Volcano hike , which is one of the best adventures in Central America.

central america travel route

Lake Atitlan – Lake Atitlan is one of the most beautiful places in Guatemala for nature lovers. It’s the perfect place to relax, but if you’re craving more adventure, you can go diving at altitude, hike more volcanoes, or kayak in the volcanic crater.

Xela – a true Guatemalan city with access to Central America’s highest peak. It’s also home to some incredible hot springs to relax in after all that hiking.

Rio Dulce – This is more of an off-the-beaten-path destination but a perfect place for wildlife lovers to come and relax in nature. Plus, it has a hot spring waterfall!

Natural Hot Spring Waterfall in rio dulce guatemala

For more inspiration on planning your trip through Guatemala, check out my Guatemala backpacking guide.

If you’re backpacking overland through Central America, you have a choice between El Salvador and Honduras after leaving Guatemala.

Both have a reputation for being dangerous, but there are safe places to visit in either country. I chose Honduras and went straight from Rio Dulce to Utila via a boat from La Ceiba.

central america travel route

Places to visit in Honduras

Bay Islands – One of the safest and most beautiful places to visit in Honduras are the bay islands – Utila and Roatan. I spent a week learning to dive in Utila , which was a highlight of my time in Central America.

Utila is definitely a backpacker island, locals will say there are two things to do here: dive and party. If you’re looking for more luxury and family-friendly options, Roatan may be a better option. To get to either island, you can catch a ferry from La Ceiba.

Diving  in utila honduras while backpacking central america

Another great place to add to your backpacking route in Honduras is Copan, which is home to incredible ancient Mayan ruins.

El Salvador

El Salvador is the only country I haven’t had a chance to visit in Central America, so I’ve asked Lara from Both Feet on The Road to share her first-hand experience about backpacking in El Salvador.

The smallest country in Central America is also the least visited one by tourists, El Salvador. When talking about the  National Stereotypes of Central America , the standard people say to El Salvadorans is  “Where is that?” or “Aah Mexico ”.

Which is a shame, because El Salvador is not the same as Mexico and this tiny country actually has a lot to offer!

An ultimate El Salvador itinerary would take at least 2 weeks (preferably longer) and stops at El Tunco, Ruta de las Flores, Suchitoto, and Santa Ana. Getting around El Salvador can easily be done by public transport (taking the chicken buses).

In fact, traveling around by those local buses is part of the experience that makes El Salvador such a great country to visit.

Best Places to Visit in El Salvador

El Tunco is a small beach village famous for its surfing, relaxed atmosphere and of course a little bit of a party. Though El Salvador is not really renowned for the parties. If you’re looking for a quieter beach town you can check out El Zonte or El Palmarcito or head further down the coast to El Cuco.

sunset on beach in el salvador central america

Besides stunning beaches, El Salvador is also a great destination for nature and culture lovers, and the Ruta de las Flores is perfect for people who are interested in both.

Ruta de las Flores is a route of several small villages connected by a road that passes beautiful landscapes of hillsides filled with coffee plantations, green lush, and colorful flowers in bloom. That is if you visit in the right season which is generally from late November to February.

Though even if you do not find the colorful flowers in bloom, the scenery of Ruta de las Flores and the small lively villages are still worth a visit. Check out the beautiful murals, local markets, weekly food festivals, stunning waterfalls, or coffee plantation to fill your days at the Ruta de las Flores. Some of the popular villages are Juayua, Sonsonate, Nahuizalco, Ataco, and Apaneca,.

After the small villages, it is time to head to El Salvador’s second-biggest city, Santa Ana. It’s a nice city to check out the colonial architecture, visit the Cerro Verde National Park with the Santa Ana Volcano.

cerro verde national park el salvador

A smaller and lesser-visited town to enjoy the beautiful colonial architecture in El Salvador is Suchitoto. And for those interested in visiting world heritage, a visit to the archaeological site of Joya de Cerén has to be included, as this is the only site in El Salvador listed by UNESCO.

Costs of Traveling El Salvador: Expect to pay around 25-30 USD per day for traveling in El Salvador.

Safety in El Salvador: El Salvador has unfairly gained a reputation for being an unsafe country for travelers. And though I won’t deny that incidents have happened with tourists getting robbed, if you use your common sense, make sure you are well-informed about which areas to visit with a guide or police escort, you will be just as safe (or unsafe) in El Salvador as you would in other Central American countries. 

Everyone always says Nicaragua is their favorite country in Central, and while I enjoyed it, it wasn’t mine. That said, Nicaragua is one of the cheaper countries to visit in Central America and has beautiful beaches, volcanoes, islands, and epic parties.

beach in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua central america

Places to visit in Nicaragua

Leon – If you’re coming from El Salvador or Honduras, Leon will likely be your first stop on your Nicaragua itinerary. It’s a colonial town that can appear rough on the surface but has its own charm. Leon is home to the volcano boarding, which is the only place in the world you can do this.

Grenada – Another gorgeous colonial town in Nicaragua

Corn Island – two remote islands on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, that are a dream for diving. I didn’t make it here and regret not going. They are out of the way, and most people fly here.

Ometepe Island – My favorite place in Nicaragua is Ometepe Island. This beautiful tropical island is home to two volcanoes which you can go trekking on (go with a guide, as it is not safe on your own). There is also a beautiful waterfall you can visit here, farm animals everywhere, and amazing sunsets.

ometepe nicaragua central america travel

San Juan Del Sur – A surf town that’s home to Sunday Funday , Central America’s biggest pool party.

sunset nosara costa rica central america

While pricier than its neighboring countries, Costa Rica is still one of my favorite countries to visit in Central America. I’ve come back four times, and I always discover new amazing places.

It’s an ideal destination if you love wildlife, as over 25% of the country is protected land. There are so many amazing national parks here! It’s also a hub for adventure travel, with plenty of zip lines, hiking trails, diving sites, rafting, and more.

Places to visit in Costa Rica

Coming from Nicaragua, you’ll be close to Liberia, where there is also an international airport. There isn’t that much to do in Liberia, so I would continue on to the Pacific Coast for beaches or head up to La Fortuna/Monteverde for adventure.

Likewise, if you’re flying into the capital city San Jose, I would continue on as there are much nicer places to be.

Tamarindo isn’t the nicest beach on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast , but it’s a popular spot for backpackers given its lively nightlife and proximity to the airport. It’s also home to several music festivals with the recent addition of the BPM music festival .

Nosara – Very chill beach town further down the Pacific Coast (although not particularly easy to get to given the horrible road conditions). It’s a great place for Surf/Yoga.

Santa Teresa – a very chill beach town on the Nicoya Peninsula

Manuel Antonio – Home to the countries most popular national park, Manuel Antonio National Park. It’s probably one of the most touristy places in Costa Rica, but it is worth visiting.

White faced monkey in Manuel Antonio National Park costa rica central america

Uvita – My new favorite place in Costa Rica. Amazing opportunities for wildlife here, including whale watching and the best diving in Costa Rica at Cano Island .

La Fortuna – Great place for adventure in Costa Rica. You can go hiking on volcanoes, zip-lining, waterfall canyoning, and relax in hot springs to soothe your muscles afterward. It’s also nearby to Rio Celeste, which is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Costa Rica.

Monteverde – A beautiful Cloud forest reserve set in the mountains of Costa Rica. Perfect place for hiking, horseback riding, and bird watching. Bring a sweater here, it gets chilly at night!

Puerto Viejo – The Caribbean Coast is a completely different side of Costa Rica.

For more inspiration on backpacking Costa Rica, check out my ultimate guide.

Panama is a wonderful country to end your time in Central America. It’s got beautiful beaches for surfing, amazing remote islands to visit, lush jungles and cloud forests to go hiking, and a vibrant capital city for all your shopping needs.

central america travel route

Places to visit in Panama

Bocas Del Toro – After crossing the Panama-Costa Rica Border, Bocas Del Toro is a logical next stop. It’s a gorgeous island where you can go surfing, snorkeling, ATVing through the jungle, and much more.

Boquete – a beautiful town set in the highlands of Panama, where delicious coffee is made. You can stay in a super cool castle hostel and hike to lost waterfalls.

Panama City – Unlike most Central American country capitals, Panama City is one actually worth spending some time in. It’s got so many fun things to do, from visiting the famous Panama Canal, nightlife, shopping, or just admiring the city’s skyscrapers.

San Blas Islands – incredible islands you can visit between Panama and Colombia in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. There are over 365 islands, few inhabited. It’s the best way to travel between Central and South America, but you can also do a return trip from Panama City if you’re not going to Colombia.

The first island we slept on the San Blas Islands tour

How long should you spend in Central America?

To see all of Central America, you’re going to want to have at least two months . And that would be rushing it.

If you’re volunteering or sticking around to learn Spanish in one place, you could easily extend your trip for months or even a year. I met backpackers who had been living in Guatemala for months just studying Spanish!

The amount of time to spend traveling to Central America depends on the pace you want to go. I’m a fast traveler and would still want at least two months if I was going to backpack Central America for the first time.

On one trip I did in Central America, I backpacked from Antigua, Guatemala to Colombia in six weeks but I had already been to Belize, Panama, and Costa Rica previously, so I didn’t mind skipping over some places.

Central America Backpacking Routes / Central America Itineraries

central america travel route

There’s a pretty established backpacking route through Central America. The big decision you’ll have to make is whether you are going to be traveling North or South. If you plan to go to South America, it makes sense to start at the top in Mexico or Belize and then make your way down.

When I backpacked across Central to South America, I started in Antigua, Guatemala, spent two weeks backpacking Guatemala , then crossed the border to Honduras near Rio Dulce.

I spent a week learning to dive in Utila, then met my friend in Leon, Nicaragua, where we went backpacking Nicaragua for one week.

From San Juan Del Sur, I crossed the border into Liberia, Costa Rica and spent another two weeks backpacking Costa Rica with two Swedish girls I met in Honduras.

crossed the border on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica into Panama, spent a week backpacking Panama , and then went to Colombia via the San Blas Islands.

The way Central America is shaped makes it a pretty straightforward itinerary. The only time you’ll have to choose between countries is when leaving Guatemala, as you can go via El Salvador or Honduras. I went through Honduras, which is why I haven’t gotten the chance to experience El Salvador yet.

You don’t need to book everything in advance for your trip, nor do I recommend it. You’re going to meet people, and your plans are going to change.

For my big backpacking trip through Central America, I only booked my first two nights in the hostel in Antigua and had no trouble booking everything else as I traveled.

Getting around Central America

a chicken bus in guatemala

The backpacker trail is well established in Central America, and you won’t have any trouble getting around via busses.

If you’re on a shoestring budget, the best bet is chicken busses, which are retrofitted school busses used to transport locals and goods. They usually only cost a couple of dollars for hours of travel but can be hot and crowded.

I took a few chicken busses while traveling in Central America but mostly used tourist shuttles. These are still relatively affordable, with the exception of Costa Rica, where I found them to be quite costly. I actually think renting a car (especially if you have friends to split it with) is the best way to get around Costa Rica.

You can always fly between cities in Central America, but I believe overland travel is the best way to get around this region. It’s a relatively small section of the world, so none of the distances you will be traveling are that far apart, making for short bus journeys. Many places are also only accessible by bus.

Crossing the borders between Central American countries is relatively easy. I’ve crossed between every country in Central America and have never run into any issues. Expect to spend an hour or two crossing the border. Many countries have an exit or entrance fee, but it’s not more than $5-10 USD.

backpacking costa rica central america

Visas for Central America

For many nationalities, including Canadians, Americans, and Europeans, Visas are not required for stays up to 90 days.

Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua have an agreement in place that allows you to travel freely between the four countries for 90 days.

Belize, Panama, and Costa are separate from this but also allow visitors from those nationalities to stay for 90 days without a visa. This makes it very easy to stay backpacking Central America for months without worrying about needing a visa.

Costs of Backpacking Central America

Central America is a relatively cheap region of the world to go backpacking in, but the costs do vary between countries. Costa Rica, Panama, and Belize are the most expensive, while the rest are very affordable. You can get by on 30 USD per day in Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras but for Costa Rica, Panama, and Belize I’d budget at least 50 USD/per day.

A good way to make your money stretch in Central America is to volunteer or work somewhere for a while. You can check on Worldpackers for opportunities. You may also just come across opportunities while traveling. I’ve been offered jobs in hostels here in exchange for room and board.

Best Time to Visit Central America

San Blas tours from Panama City

As a whole, the best time to visit Central America is during the dry season from November to April. That said, the country is open year-round, and if you don’t mind a bit of rain, you’ll be rewarded with cheaper prices and fewer crowds.

I visited in May, and in my experience, it usually just pours for an hour in the morning, and then it’s sunny all day. If you’re a surfer, the best time to visit El Salvador is during the wet season, as this is when the waves are at their best!

Safety & Solo Travel in Central America

sunset in belize while backpacking central america

Is Central America Safe? Even as a solo female traveler, I still felt safe backpacking through Central America. Most crime happens at night, so avoid going out by yourself during the night (I never did).

The crime also tends to be concentrated in the capital cities, which is why I never spent much time in any of them aside from Panama City.

Most of the popular backpacker spots are small towns, and the locals tend to be quite friendly as tourism plays an important role in their economies. During all the months I spent backpacking Central America, I never had anything bad happen to me, nor did I meet anyone who did.

The most common form of crime here is petty theft, such as bag snatching and pickpockets. A great way to avoid this from happening is by using pickpocket-proof garments, which ensure thieves don’t know you’re carrying valuables.

I love Clever travel companion for this. They make pick-pocket proof gear for both men and women – everything from underwear to dresses!

Another way to stay safe is to lock up your belongings when you get to your hostel or hotel. I do bring my camera out with me when I’m walking around during the day, as I need to take photos.

I strongly recommend getting travel insurance for both yourself and your belongings if you are going to be backpacking Central America. I use and love SafetyWing travel insurance.

Do you want to travel Central America yet? I hope this post could give you some inspiration! It really is an amazing region of the world, and so affordable to visit if you’re coming from North America.

Enjoyed this post? Pin it for later!

central america travel route

Lora is a full-time digital nomad on a quest to visit every country in the world and pet as many dogs as she can along the way. Over the last 15 years, she has traveled to 70+ countries and six continents solo. She currently calls Puerto Vallarta, Mexico home and enjoys ending each day with sunset and tacos on the beach.

Leave a comment Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

' src=

Hi Lora, Thank you for the great read! Myself and a friend are planning a backpacking trip for Dec. this year. Greg will be going for three months, myself for six. I am from Ingersoll, Ont. and Greg is from Stratford, Ont. Both in our mid 50’s. This will not be my first backpacking adventure as I spent a year in Europe many, many years ago before marriage, kids and far too many hours working. Starting in Cancun, three months will take us to Costa Rica/Panama where Greg will head back to Canada. I will go on to South America. I am thinking of west first through Peru, Equator, Bolivia, northern Chile, then crossing over to Argentina. My gut tells me to skip Venezuela, but not sure how to get around it. Walt

' src=

Hi Walt! I haven’t been to Venezuela myself and have heard that it can be quite dangerous with the current situation so if you do go I would recommend looking into getting a reputable guide. You don’t need to go through Venezuela to visit all those other countries – I went from Argentina to Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and then to Equator all by land.

Divergent Travelers

Ultimate CENTRAL AMERICA Travel Guide

Central America  is a fascinating place to visit offering lush rainforests, diverse wildlife, hidden beaches, massive preserves and national parks, rich history and indigenous heritage. This Central America travel guide is designed to uncover some of our favorite places and things about this region and help you plan your own trip to this unique part of the world.

Defining Central America can be referred to as the region that resides between  North America  and  South America . It is made up of seven countries including Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Panama. Mexico, while not officially included in this region, is often included too.

These countries are bordered by Mexico to the North,  Colombia  to the South, the Atlantic Ocean to the West, and the Caribbean Sea to the East.


Central america travel: quick tips.

Central America Travel

Don’t Visit CENTRAL AMERICA Without:


central america travel route


central america travel route


central america travel route


hummingbird in Costa Rica


Boasting more than 850 bird species, twice as many species as the USA and Canada combined, Costa Rica, is a bird watcher and photography mecca. Keep your eye out for the Resplendent Quetzal, as well as toucans, parrots, trogons, hummingbirds, and macaws.

Blue Hole Belize


Located off the coast of Belize, and part of the second-largest barrier reef in the world, the Great Mayan Reef is the famous Blue Hole. This giant marine sinkhole is 318 meters across, 124 meters deep, and lined with incredible coral reef systems to snorkel and dive. 

Panama Cruise


The San Blas Islands are a series of islands that belong to the Guna Yala people off the Caribbean coast of  Panama . They offer an idyllic island escape with white sand beaches and turquoise waters. It’s the perfect place to snorkel, kayak, and SUP.


There is no shortage of great  places to visit in Central America  during your visit and the biggest problem you’ll face is fitting them all into your itinerary.

Each country has its own offering and unique things to check out during a visit, so be sure to look at our country guides once you decide where you’re itinerary will take you.

ADVENTURE IN ROATAN:   Soaring above the lush jungles of Honduras is a definite highlight of any Honduras itinerary. The course in  Roatan  is built with several segments, meaning this adventure lasts much longer than any single zip line. You’ll get to be above the tree canopy with incredible views of the ocean.

SLOW DOWN IN CAYE CAULKER:  It’s all about island time when you visit  Caye Caulker, Belize . There are some yummy local restaurants, white sand beaches and some fantastic snorkeling to be had here. It is also a great place to access the Hol Chan Marine Park from.

HIKE THE RING OF FIRE IN GUATEMALA:  Embark on a trek that conquers the 7 major volcano summits in Guatemala dubbed the ring of Fire that make up the Western Backbone of the country. This is one of the world’s  Top 100 Travel Adventures , so it’s not for the light of heart.

RAFT THE PACUARE RIVER IN COSTA RICA:  Some of the best white water rafting in the world takes place on the Pacuare River in Costa Rica. The best part of the river is rafted on a minimum 2 day/1 night trip that puts you up in a rustic jungle lodge for the night. It is also possible to extend the stay in the jungle for any number of nights too. The river is best rafted when it is producing class III rapids.

SOAK UP THE SUN ON BALLENA BEACH:  One of Costa Rica’s hidden gems, Ballena Beach is a place that the locals love to go. The beautiful stretch of beach sits right up against the lush rainforest, offering hiking opportunities. In the water, you’ll enjoy snorkeling with a diverse array of marine life. If you just want to relax, bring your beach towel and sit under the swaying palm trees for an afternoon of Pura Vida.

WATCH DOLPHINS IN GOLFO DULCE:  You’ll have to put in some work and planning to reach Golfo Dulce, as it’s quite off the beaten path, but you won’t regret it. Not only is there spectacular bird watching here but you’ll also enjoy the company of dolphins when you’re on the water.

TRANSIT THE PANAMA CANAL:  One of the most iconic sites in the world is the Panama Canal, a dredged stretch of water that allows transit between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The construction of the canal is brilliant and booking a cruise that includes a transit of it will give you an up-close and personal look at how it works.

VISIT COIBA NATIONAL PARK:  Located in Panama, Coiba National Park offers so much beauty that even the Costa Ricans are jealous of it (true story!). This part is the definition of pristine, featuring both mainland and island preserves to enjoy. For a day of sun and snorkeling, you’ll want to head to Granito de Oro.

JOURNEY INTO THE DARIEN GAP:  Easily one of the most notorious stretches of land on the planet, the Darien Gap is not a place for the faint of heart. It serves as the most northern tip of the Amazon Rainforest and has played host to some of the most dangerous drug cartels in the world. That aside, its pristine primary rainforest that is begging to be explored. One of the highlights from our visit was meeting the Embera Tribe and learning about their culture.

TOUR THE FORTS IN PORTOBELO:  As with most of Central and South America, Panama has a strong Spanish colonial history. This means you can find ruins and remnants dotted throughout the country. Portobelo is no exception, offering one of the best preserved forts in Central America. You can expect to see walls and buildings constructed from coral and plenty of canons.


Central American food revolves around a few staple ingredients, but you’ll be surprised at how creative local chefs can get. During your travels, you’ll be eating lots of  rice, beans, and plantains , usually with  vegetables  and  grilled meat or fish .

Central Americans have lots of local dishes too. In El Salvador, the local specialty is  Pupusas  – maize tortillas stuffed with delicious fillings. In Costa Rica, you’ll be eating  Gallo Pinto , and in Guatemala, you’ll be gorging on spicy,  Mayan inspired stews .


Central America is packed with exciting cultural and religious festivals throughout the year. The most important week of the year for most locals is  Semana Santa  – or Holy Week – which is the lead up to Easter.

Each town, village, and city has its own  Carnival , where you’ll get to party and dance the night away with locals (Panama City has a particularly famous carnival in February).


Central america travel budget.

Setting a budget for travel to Central America is highly dependent on your travel style. It is possible to visit just about anywhere on any budget and still have a great trip. That said, you can make your trip as basic or as luxurious as you desire.

To help you set your budget, we’ve included some base range price estimations for travel within Central America. Of course, keep in mind that prices can fluctuate based on seasons, availability and festivals.

ACCOMMODATION:  When you travel to Central America, accommodation can be found for as low as USD 10 per night in  hostels , while  private rooms  or  guest houses  shouldn’t cost more than USD 30 per night.  Luxury hotels  or  eco-lodges  can be found for upwards of USD 50 per night.

FOOD:  Food is inexpensive across Central America travel routes. You can often find good  restaurant meals  for between USD 5 and USD 10 per person (with a few beers thrown in, too). You can eat  street food  for less than this (a few dollars), or splurge and enjoy  high-end restaurants  in the cities and tourist spots.

TRANSPORT:  Local transport, such as the infamous  Chicken Bus , is incredibly cheap. You can cross the entirety of El Salvador for less than 5 USD, for instance.  Tourist shuttles  or overnight,  first-class buses  are much more expensive, however. A bus ride from San Salvador to Guatemala City will cost around 50 USD. The  ferry  from La Ceiba to Roatan costs around USD 30 each way.  Flights  in the region are more expensive, however, and can cost hundreds of dollars for international hops.

ACTIVITIES:  Activities are a fantastic value when you travel to Central America.  Scuba diving  can cost as little as USD 30 per dive (Roatan is one of the cheapest places in the world to dive),  hiking  day trips will cost 20-30 USD, and  guided tours  the same.


USD 30 to USD 50 per day will get backpackers dorm rooms, the odd private room, local transport on chicken buses, street food, and plenty of activities.


USD 50 to 100 will give midrange travelers private or tourist transport for much of the trip, restaurant food, and private rooms in nicer hotels.


Luxury travelers spending above USD 150 per day will be able to enjoy some of the best hotels, as well as private tours, first-class transport, and restaurant meals.


There are a few ways to get around Central America during a visit, including cruises, ferries and flights. Despite most of the countries being small, there is a surprising number of ways to get around. Plan ahead and be flexible.

CRUISES:  It is possible to visit many of the popular areas of Central America by cruise ship. This is primarily done on the Caribbean side and you cruise from Mexico to South America stopping off in multiple Central America ports along the way. It is also possible to visit the Pacific side of Costa Rica and Panama with smaller expedition ships too.

BUS:  Major cities are all connected by regular first-class bus services, which are safe to travel overnight on. You can travel by bus all the way from Guatemala City to Panama City if you desire. Some major tourist destinations are only connected by tourist shuttle services or local chicken buses. Lake Atitlan to El Salvador, for instance, requires three changes of the chicken bus. Or you just jump on the dedicated tourist shuttle (it’s less authentic, but it’s quicker). If you’re getting off the beaten track, then you’ll have to use local transport and have plenty of patience.

FLIGHTS:  The quickest way to get around during your Central America travel trip is to fly (at least from one country to the next); however, flights only often connect major cities and can be infrequent and expensive. If you’re short on time, however, and want to see more than one country this will be your best, and in many cases, only option.

FERRIES:  Major islands such as Roatan, the Corn Islands, or Bocas del Toro, all have regular ferry services in the dry season. To access more exclusive or off the beaten track places like Coiba National Park and the San Blas Islands, you’ll need to hire a private boat transfer or book a day tour.

CAR RENTAL:  It’s not unheard of to rent a car in Costa Rica or Belize to do some exploration on your own. Some travelers also do it in Panama. Outside of those three countries, it isn’t advised. Check out  Discover Rental Cars  for great deals.


Things to do in Panama


8 Days from Panama City Visits: Panama City, Boca del Toro, Boquete & David

Lina Stock snorkeling in Central America


9 Days Belize City to Caye Caulker Visits: Belize City, San Ignacio, Tikal, Flores & Caye Caulker

Lina Stock in Costa Rica


14 Days from San Jose Visits: Manuel Antonio NP, Monteverde, Arenal & Tortuguero

Lina & David Stock at the Barcelo Maya Grand Resort in Cancun, Mexico


22 Days from Playa del Carmen Visits: Belize, Guatemala & Mexico – following the Mayan highway


Central America has a  diverse range of microclimates , and the weather on the Pacific Coast can often be very different from the weather on the Caribbean Coast. The highlands are cooler than the lowlands, but it’s going to be hot and humid in general. When you plan your Central America travel itinerary, you should factor in the  wet and dry season .

The  dry season  runs from November through to April, and the wet season from May to October. Strangely, in Costa Rica, this is often reversed: the country has many mini-wet and mini-dry spells throughout the year.

As with anywhere tropical, the dry season is the most popular time to travel to Central America. In many destinations, though, you’ll find it’s never that busy, especially if you avoid the Christmas, New Year, and Easter holidays.

The  wet season  can be ferocious at times, but generally, you’ll see lots of rainfall in a short period, in the morning or afternoon, leaving you lots of time to still explore. If you’re planning your Central America travel itinerary around scuba diving or snorkeling, you should aim to be in the region towards the end of the dry season when underwater visibility is best.


Safety in central america.

Central America has a notorious reputation when it comes to crime. Countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, often have the highest homicide rates in the world.

It’s rare for travelers to be involved in dangerous gang violence, especially if you stick to the tourist trails. Be safe, don’t wander around the cities at night, and try to arrive at a new destination in daylight.

Central America travel can be more dangerous than other regions, but be careful, and you’ll be fine. If you do get into trouble, hand over any belongings and don’t put up a fight. Ask locals and other travelers for advice, and if someone says you need a police escort to go hiking, then you probably do.

Don’t let these warnings scare you from this part of the world. Instead, be prepared and you’ll have a fantastic time. We have some tried and trusted advice to keep you safe, so be sure to read our  25 Essential Safety Tips for Travel .


Central america travel guide: related articles.

Looking for more info? Check out all the articles we’ve written on travel to Central America and start planning your dream trip.

Sloth in Central America

17 Best Places to Visit in Central America

Things to do in Panama

15 Top Things to do in Panama (For Adventure Lovers)

Central America cruise - UnCruise Adventures

13 Reasons to Take a Central America Cruise with UnCruise

Panama Cruise

Uncover Paradise on this Dreamy Panama Cruise

Cost Rica Cruise - UnCruise Adventures

The Only Costa Rica Cruise You Should Ever Take

Ultimate Guide to visiting Caye Caulker Belize

Caye Caulker Tours And Travel Adventure

Reasons to Visit Roatan Honduras (Plus Planning Tips!)

Roatan Honduras Travel Guide : Top 5 Reasons to Visit

Divergent Travelers- Adventure Travel Blog

Getting around Central America is easy by bus, plane and boat

Sarah Gilbert

Mar 19, 2022 • 8 min read

A young woman looking out of the window on a bus in Central America

So-called "chicken buses" form the backbone of bus travel in Central America © Mint Images RF / Getty Images © © Mint Images RF / Getty Images

Spanning seven countries and countless beaches, jungles, volcanoes and lost cities, Central America is surprisingly compact. The Pan-American Highway runs for nearly 2000km (1240 miles) along this chain of Spanish-speaking countries, but the isthmus is no wider than 560km (35o miles) across at its widest point.

With enough time and patience, all seven countries can be traversed by bus, daisy-chaining from Guatemala and Belize through Honduras and El Salvador to Nicaragua , Costa Rica and Panama . With less time to spare, it's easy to pair up countries – perhaps Mayan pyramid-hopping in Guatemala combined with scuba-diving in Belize, or toucan-spotting in Costa Rica paired with cruises along Panama’s famous canal.

Here's what you need to know about getting around Central America.

The easiest and cheapest way to explore Central America is by bus

Central America has a bus for every budget and every kind of traveler. The backbone of bus travel in the region is the 'chicken bus' – these repurposed and gaudily painted North American school buses race along highways, belching black smoke and stopping in every city, town and hamlet. Buses cover fixed routes with the destination displayed on the front windscreen, and are as much a cultural experience as a way to get from A to B.

Vast numbers of minivans follow similar routes to the chicken buses, leaving when full for a slightly higher fare. Then there are tourist-orientated shuttle buses linking major hubs, such as the ones provided by Interbus in Costa Rica. In line with its famous green credentials, Costa Rica is trialing electric buses in San José , with the aim of moving the whole country to all-electric buses by 2030. Pura vida! 

For long-haul trips between major cities, there are long-distance bus lines such as Ticabus , which serves destinations across the region’s seven countries using comfortable buses equipped with toilets, air conditioning, WiFi, reclining seats, and on-board security for less stable parts of the isthmus.

Other useful lines include Trasnica , which operates in Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua, and Transporte del Sol in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.

Taxis are plentiful in all the major cities

Taxis are cheap and plentiful across Central America. However, tourists are often charged elevated rates, so try to use a radio taxi or official taxi, rather than flagging a cab down on the street. If the taxi has a meter, insist it’s turned on, or take a different cab. For longer journeys, you'll normally have to negotiate a price – and confirm the currency! – before you set off. Carry small bills to pay for taxi rides and grab all your baggage before you hand over any money.

To the annoyance of local taxi drivers, Uber is now available in Panama City (including Uber Assist for people with accessibility issues), Guatemala City and Antigua , San Salvador , and Costa Rica’s Central Valley , and drivers will often take you around the country from these urban hubs. Local ride-hailing app, inDriver , is available in all of the above countries, plus Honduras and Nicaragua.

Three-wheeled mototaxis – the Central American take on tuk-tuks – are becoming increasingly popular in many parts of the isthmus, with fares negotiated as for taxis.

Surfers at sunset walking at Playa Guiones, Costa Rica

Hiring a car is expensive, but great for exploring

Hiring a car doesn’t come cheap in Central America, but it’s a great way to get off the tourist trail and explore the isthmus at your own pace. Driving in Central America isn’t for the fainthearted – you'll face challenges ranging from bumper-to-bumper traffic in cities to rural roads crowded with cows and wildlife, and erratic drivers ignoring traffic signs everywhere.

All the major rental car companies have outlets at international airports, in capital cities, and in popular tourist destinations. Most countries allow you to drive with your home driving license, but there's no harm in carrying an International Driving Permit just in case. You'll pay a lot more to pick up a car in one place and drop it off at another location, and even higher premiums to cross international borders (if the company allows it at all).

A decent 4WD vehicle is a must if you’re going off-the-beaten-track and planning to tackle any dirt roads. Always make sure the vehicle comes with all the necessary safety equipment, including a functional spare tire, and always read the rental agreement’s small print and take out as much insurance as possible to reduce what you might have to pay in the event of an accident.

On the road, keep emergency services numbers to hand in case of breakdowns, and drive cautiously and defensively. Never leave valuables unattended in your car, and avoid driving at night. Also keep your passport, driving license and rental papers to hand in case you have any dealings with the police.

Ferry boats lined up on shore of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

A boat journey in Central America will take you places you wouldn’t otherwise reach

Central America has two beach-sprinkled coastlines facing the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea and dozens of stunning lakes and jungle-fringed rivers. A boat can be the best – and sometimes the only – way to get from A to B.

In Nicaragua, there are regular sailings from San Jorge to the bucolic island of Ometepe on Lake Nicaragua . Boats also run from Bluefields on the Caribbean Coast to the icing sugar-soft beaches of the Corn Islands , and you can ferry-hop from La Ceiba to the underwater paradise of the Bay Islands in Honduras.

On Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, Tortuguero can only be reached by boat or plane, with small boats chugging along the wildlife-rich canals of its namesake national park. On the Pacific Coast, a regular ferry service connects Puntarenas with Playa Naranjo and Paquera, providing easy access to the year-round surf breaks on the Nicoya Peninsula . And daily ferries operate from Golfito to Puerto Jiménez on the wild and wonderful Osa Peninsula .

In Guatemala, you can explore the myriad Mayan villages that dot the shore of Lake Atitlan by lancha (public boat); Panajachel is the main hub for ferry services. And don’t miss a trip along one of the planet’s greatest man-made marvels, the Panama Canal , squeezing along those famous locks and admiring the engineering genius of the Culebra Cut. A partial transit of the isthmus by cruise boat takes around six hours.

Let the plane take the strain

If you’re cash-rich and time-poor, flying can knock hours off many road trips, though there's an environmental impact to consider in those calculations. For example, the flight from Guatemala City to Flores – gateway to the towering temples of Tikal – takes just one hour, compared to an eight-hour journey by bus.

Panama-based Copa Airlines and Colombian flag carrier Avianca operate the majority of services on the isthmus, and both are part of Star Alliance , making for easy international transfers. Discount Mexican carrier Volaris has some very reasonable low-cost fares to Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, and El Salvador.

You can also take a "puddle-jumper" – a small propeller-driven aircraft used for short local and mainland-to-island hops. You'll share the tiny open cabin space with the pilot, and you’ll often be weighed along with your baggage at check-in, so pack light.

These diminutive planes are a popular alternative to long road trips and bumpy boat rides to Central America’s fringing islands. Useful routes include Tropic Air 's service from Belize City to Caye Caulker , and La Costeña 's shuttle from Bluefields and Managua to Nicaragua’s Corn Islands.

Small planes hop between jungle outposts and offshore islands throughout Central America

Urban transport is easy in major cities

Trains may be scarce in Central America, but Panama City has the region’s first and only metro , linking the northern and southern reaches of the metropolitan area to the city center, with more lines under development. You’ll need to buy a rechargeable Metro, MetroBus, or RapiPass card to use the service, and these tickets also work on the city’s buses.

In Costa Rica, the Interurbano Line is a commuter train connecting the provinces of San José, Alajuela, Heredia, and Cartago in the lush Central Valley. In other major cities, downtown transport is provided by fleets of local buses, mototaxis and conventional taxis.

My favorite way to travel in Central America is by 'chicken bus'

Traveling on a chicken bus is an experience like no other. On journeys across the isthmus, I’ve shared a seat with a strident caged cockerel and been swept off the bus by the voluminous skirts of Guatemalan ladies eager to get to market.

It’s always easy to strike up a conversation with your fellow passengers – if you can hear them above the tinny music played at ear-splitting volume on the bus stereo – and a little Spanish goes a long way when it comes to breaking the ice. The buses can be cramped, hot, dusty, and sometimes downright dangerous when careering around blind corners at breakneck speed, but the experience is never dull.

Accessible travel in Central America

Central America still has a way to go before it becomes a truly accessible destination, but it’s not all bad news. Strict accessibility laws saw Costa Rica named the world's best accessible travel destination in 2021, and awareness of accessibility issues is growing around the region.

Throughout Central America, obstacles include buildings with steps, poor (or absent) sidewalks, hotels without elevators, a general absence of safe road crossings and few accessible buses or boats. In general, hiring a vehicle or using taxis is often the easiest option for those with mobility issues. For more information, see Lonely Planet's Accessible Travel Resources page .

You may also like: The 14 best beaches in Central America 15 things you absolutely must do in Central America 8 of the best places to surf in Central America for beginners to pros

Explore related stories

People kayaking near the beach in Roatan, Honduras

Public Transport

Jan 6, 2024 • 6 min read

The second-largest country in Central America, Honduras is a sprawl of mountains, islands, coastal plains and tropical lowlands. Here's how to get around.

central america travel route

Dec 23, 2023 • 6 min read

A young woman running up to an old yellow school bus as her friends wave

Nov 5, 2023 • 11 min read

central america travel route

Jun 4, 2024 • 7 min read

central america travel route

May 22, 2024 • 8 min read

central america travel route

May 8, 2024 • 5 min read

central america travel route

Apr 2, 2024 • 21 min read

A young woman smiling on a balcony with Panama City in the background

Mar 10, 2024 • 8 min read

central america travel route

Mar 2, 2024 • 7 min read

Three friends jumping with happiness next to their car with palm trees in the background

Feb 19, 2024 • 7 min read

Urban Abroad

Urban Planning and Travel Blog

Central America Itinerary

Travel Blog Last Updated · Dec 5th, 2022 [post_author_posts_link] · [post_comments before=""] -->

central america itinerary

Central America attracts tourists of all kinds, especially those who are passionate about culture, history, and outdoor adventures.

If you want this to be your destination, this Central America travel itinerary is exactly what you’re looking for.

Table of Contents

You will find cerulean seas, the greenest of forests, breathtaking Mayan ruins, over 300 volcanoes, and so much more.

Whether you want to spend 1 week in Central America or 2 weeks in Central America, this itinerary will help you get organized!

Is Central America Itinerary Safe?

Central America is not a dangerous place to visit overall. Granted, there are a few risks, but you can avoid them by taking precautions and following basic travel safety tips.

The colorful town of Leon in Nicaragua

It’s important to note that Central America is a transit zone for cocaine markets, so certain countries have a higher crime rate and gang activity.

The risk of natural disasters is also something to consider because there are so many volcanoes and coastlines in the region, which means flooding and hurricanes are a possibility.

To avoid this, visit outside the hurricane season so you can enjoy your Central America backpacking itinerary to the fullest.

Planning a trip to Central America

So you’ve decided you want to go to Central America? Now comes the important part of properly planning for your trip.

The first top tip is to have all of your necessary vaccinations taken care of. There are a lot of diseases in the area, and it’s more than worth getting a few jabs before to prevent any serious conditions down the line.

Another important piece of advice is to pack properly. When we think of Latin America we tend to think of the hot climates and beautiful beaches, and yes of course these are in great abundance here.

However, there are some areas that can get quite cool such as the Guatemalan highlands.

So if planning on visiting everything, then it will be wise to bring a mix of light clothes as well as some layers for when things get chilly.

Also make sure to bring quality, sturdy pair of hiking boots as many of the trails are not properly developed, and you’ll also keep your grip better if heading during the rainy seasons.

How long do you need in Central America?

The general opinion is that Central America can be backpacked very quickly.

And to be fair when looking at a map, of course, it’s pretty small when compared with South America and other regions of the World.

However there’s still a lot to see, so the minimum time needed from Belize (or The Riviera Maya in Mexico as a popular jumping-off point) to Panama would be 3 months.

This will be enough to cover all countries and see all of the top sights.

Alternatively, for those with more time or desire to really sink their teeth into the region – 4/5 months would be much better.

How much does it cost to backpack Central America?

Costs in Central America really do vary between countries.

For example, backpacking Costa Rica and Panama fall on the more expensive side, with a daily budget of between $30-35 needed.

Belize is more moderate, with between $25-30 needed daily.

Then we have Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua making up the rest, which are all very cheap to backpack.

You can travel these countries on a daily budget of $20-25.

Of course these are rough estimates, and take into account only the daily costs of a dorm bed, food and some extras.

What you’ll end up spending really depends on your style and comfort, as we’re all different at the end of the day.

Central America Travel Itinerary

With so many places to visit in Central America, this article looks at each country’s best spots so you get to see the places you simply can’t miss.

You can start your Central America travel itinerary in Guatemala City, where you can visit museums, breweries, and many different attractions to get a feel of the country.

The colonial town of Antigua, Guatemala

Then, you can go to colonial Antigua and spend a few days exploring the town. It’s known for its cobblestoned streets, handicraft markets, and surrounding mountains.

The Pacaya and Acatenango volcanoes are worth visiting, Lake Atitlan is gorgeous, and you can visit surrounding towns such as San Pedro, San Marcos, and Santa Cruz.

Once you’re done in Guatemala, you can head to Belize to continue your Central American backpacking itinerary.

We recommend you spend most of your time in San Ignacio, which is the heart of inland Belize.

Downtown of San Ignacio, Belize

Here, you’ll find Mayan Ruins such as Cahal Pech and Xunantunich, vibrant local markets, and a cave system you’ll be able to explore.

Then, you can head to Caye Caulker, a lovely island that’s perfect for relaxation.

El Salvador

El Salvador could be the next stop on your Central America backpacking trip. At this point of the trip, you may want a relaxing beach retreat.

If so, head to El Tunco, a small beach town known for its surfing. There is plenty of local eats, surfing, and exciting nightlife waiting for you.

Surfers at El Tunco beach

Then, you can go to El Cuco to relax and refuel by a hammock on the beach or enjoy some swimming or paddleboarding.

Honduras is another great place to visit for your Central America travel itinerary.

honduras travel

You can go to La Ceiba, a lovely seaside town where you can enjoy your time, and then take a ferry to Utila, a nice island where you can enjoy a PADI Open Water 4-day diving course.

If you’re already a certified diver, you should consider the Advanced Open Water course or simply sign up for dives that interest you. There are also jungles and freshwater caves to explore!

Next, you can go to Nicaragua where you can visit Leon, which is the best introduction you can have to this country.

san juan del sur

Leon is a colonial town where you’ll be able to enjoy amazing food and visit places such as the Leon Cathedral at the heart of the town and go black sandboarding at Cerro Negro.

How about visiting Lake Apoyo? Or, even look into an active volcano by visiting Masaya, the only open volcano you can drive to instead of hiking.

To continue your Central America travel itinerary, you can go to Costa Rica and visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

It’s paradise on earth and you will enjoy exploring coffee plantations, hiking trails, and even have zip-lining adventures.

costa rica

There are also butterfly, hummingbird, and frog sanctuaries, and you can walk on hanging bridges and spot wildlife.

You can end your stay in Tortuguero, a jungle known for being a nesting area for native turtle species.

You can wrap up your Central America travel itinerary in Panama and head to Cerro Punta where you can take a 1-day hiking tour on the Quetzal Trail.

panama casco viejo

You can send your luggage ahead of you and it will land in Boquete, a lovely town where you can rest in bungalows before you head to Bocas del Toro, a party town.

There, you can explore Cayos Zapatillas and other wonderful places.

Central America Travel + Safety Tips

Generally, Central America is not too dangerous to visit, but you still need to take precautions. Follow these travel safety tips:

A small village in Guatemala - this type of villages is a common sight in Central America

  • Don’t travel at night, but if you do, take a taxi instead of walking or taking a bus.
  • Avoid doing drugs.
  • Avoid tap water, especially in rural areas.
  • Remember to get your FREE travel insurance quote before you travel for peace of mind while on the road.
  • Crime rates are high in capital cities so limit your time there and be vigilant.
  • Learn basic Spanish phrases or have a translation app on your phone for emergencies.
  • Always pay attention to your surroundings.
  • Avoid bad neighborhoods and isolated areas, stick to the crowd.
  • Don’t dress in expensive clothes or wear flashy items, blend in.
  • Don’t flaunt your valuables or leave them unattended.
  • Only bring the cash you need for the day with you, store the rest in a secure location.

If you follow these precautions, you won’t have a bad experience while traveling in Central America.

Traveling Around Central America

Traveling around Central America by bus can be a good option because it’s cheap and easy.

Short-distance buses are known as chicken buses. They are inexpensive but not 100% safe, so be careful and keep an eye on your belongings.

A colorful repurposed school bus used as a local mode of transport in Guatemala

For long-distance travel, use luxury liners like Ticabus, King Quality, or Transnica, which are reliable and safe but will cost a little more.

Buses in Central America

By far the best and most inexpensive way to get around Central America is by the good ol’ buses. Whilst the cost-benefit makes sense, you’ll even find that some areas of this region can only be accessed by bus anyway.

In Costa Rica and Panama, they are the best developed, and the rides will be pretty smooth with most roads in good condition.

In the more northern parts (especially Guatemala and Honduras) you’re gonna be in for a ride!

Within cities and towns, be sure to take a chicken bus at least once for the experience, as it really is one of a kind and also a rite of passage for travelers heading to Central America.

Best time to visit Central America

Thankfully due to its small size, Central America is much easier to plan for when it comes to the weather, especially in comparison with its giant neighbor of South America.

Most of the region follows the same dry and wet season patterns, so you’ll know what you’ll most likely be in for. The dry season runs from December until April, and is often considered the best time to visit.

Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica, for example, has average temperatures of 75-79°F, with highs of 84°F and lows of 68°F.

Rainfall ranges from 180-310mm for each of these months. The wet season, which runs from May until November, is of course much wetter.

Whilst it can make challenges for getting around, it’s also a really beautiful time to visit as the jungle comes alive with its bright and luscious greens.

It’s also cheaper, as you’ll be there during off-peak season. An example of a location during the wet season is Flores, in northern Guatemala.

Average temperatures range from 75-83°F, with highs of 94°F and lows of 68°F. Rainfall ranges anywhere from 4-7.5 inches each month, which is a big increase from the 1-3 inches expected in the dry season months.

Central America Itinerary: Final Words

Central America is quite a magical place to visit and this Central America travel itinerary can serve as a guide.

Use it to plan your trip and have fun backpacking through incredible countries with a lot to offer!

If you are thinking about heading further South you can see our South America itinerary to get some ideas on where to go.

This post contains affiliate links, meaning, if you click through and make a purchase or sign up for a program, we may earn a commission. This is at no additional cost to you.

Sharing is caring!

central america travel route

Recent Posts

  • How to get from Treviso Airport to Venice
  • How to get from Verona to Lake Garda
  • Marco Polo Airport to Venice
  • Is Guadalajara safe?
  • Living Abroad
  • Sustainability
  • Travel Blog

Privacy Overview

Travelling is ultimately a tool for growth. If you want to venture further, click this banner and take the leap 😉

  • Meet the Team
  • Work with Us
  • Czech Republic
  • Netherlands
  • Switzerland
  • Scandinavia
  • Philippines
  • South Korea
  • New Zealand
  • South Africa
  • Budget Travel
  • Work & Travel
  • The Broke Backpacker Manifesto
  • Travel Resources
  • How to Travel on $10/day

Home » Budget Travel » ULTIMATE Guide to Solo Travel in Central America | Destinations & Tips for 2024

ULTIMATE Guide to Solo Travel in Central America | Destinations & Tips for 2024

Solo travelling in Central America is life-changing. After hearing countless spellbinding stories and backpacking lore from travellers on the road about Central America I just had to go.

Wedged between the giants of North and South America, you’ll find this solo traveller’s paradise. Where you can wake up in a hammock to the sound of the ocean in Belize, marvel at erupting volcanoes in Guatemala or learn to salsa dance with locals in Panama.

Whether you’re diving into the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean or trekking through cloud forests in Costa Rica – you’ll find the perfect blend of thrilling adventures and tranquil moments.

As a solo traveller, Central America welcomes you in with open arms, full of communities eager to share their culture and hidden spots off the beaten track. It’s the ultimate playground for those looking to explore, connect and discover more about themselves along the way.

Last year, I spent over five months solo in the region and I’m now ready to spill the beans about solo travel in Central America and what makes it one of the best places IN THE WORLD for solo travel – let’s get into this!

man on deck at Lake Atitlan, guatemala

The Broke Backpacker is supported by you . Clicking through our links may earn us a small affiliate commission, and that's what allows us to keep producing free content 🙂 Learn more .

9 Things to Do in Central America When Travelling Solo

5 best solo destinations in central america, the best travel apps for solo travel in central america, safety tips for solo travellers in central america, tips for solo travelling in central america, final words for your solo central america trip.

There is such a wonderful variety of activities for travellers in Central America to discover. Whether you want to sit on a tropical beach with a coconut in hand or embark on epic adventurous missions up active volcanoes, there is something for everyone in this magical land.

Central America is geographically blessed. It’s nothing short of paradise for nature and ocean lovers.

Both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts are packed with astonishing marine life, surf towns, beaches and straight-up chill vibes. Inland, you have a variety of dense tropical jungles, ancient Mayan ruins and gorgeous colonial cities. As well as some wicked topography with some of the best natural viewpoints in the world.

Panama City Waterfront

One of the best things about solo travel in Central America is making new like-minded mates from all over the world. One of my favourite ways of fusing making real connections and having memorable experiences whilst on the road is to join group tours.

Whatever is your cup of tea, you’ll find it in Central America; and I can promise you that!

Note: Despite many people suggesting that Mexico is part of Central America, it has been excluded from this guide as it’s too damn big. Check out this guide to solo travel in Mexico if you’re off to taco-land.

central america travel route

Unlock Our GREATEST Travel Secrets!

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best travel tips delivered right to your inbox.

1. Get Off The Beaten Track

Embarking on a solo travel mission presents one with the unique scenario in life of having to answer to no one. Whilst following the crowd can be fun at times, the magic of solo travel is best experienced when going a little bit rogue.

Man Fishing in panama - San las- Islands

There is nothing more empowering than wandering off the beaten track , getting lost on purpose, and then finding more than you ever imagined.

Some of my personal favourite travel experiences have been when I’ve hopped on a moped and driven into the middle of f*cking nowhere. It’s in these remote corners where you can not only find tourist-free hidden gems but also make deep connections with local people who aren’t so used to seeing tourists.

When Travelling Solo, Travel Safely!

It’s EXTREMELY important to do things like this safely and carefully. Always take travel safety precautions, especially as a female. Whilst getting lost is fun, it can be dangerous. It’s up to you to decide how much you are comfortable with.

2. Visit Ancient Mayan Ruins

Over some 4000 years ago, the Maya civilisation sprawled over 40 cities, some with populations reaching over 50,000 individuals. Central America is littered with enchanting remains of this ancient civilisation.

Tikal Ruins through the trees

Mayan sites can be found in Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico. I personally explored a nice sample of Mayan sites and can confidently say that none blew my socks off quite like Tikal, in Guatemala. I took a guided day tour of Tikal National Park and it was a highlight of my trip, for sure.

3. Witness the Wildlife (ETHICALLY!)

Now then, Central America is home to some of the most INSANE wildlife I have ever seen. The oceans are teeming with all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures and the dense tropical jungles boast some of the highest biodiversity rates in the world. Particularly in countries such as Costa Rica and Guatemala.

I saw some pretty incredible exotic animals in Central America. My favourite was  seeing the iconic sloths of La Fortuna and Monteverde National Park in Costa Rica. I also got to see the rare Quetzal bird in Guatemala’s Tikal National Park. 

If you head to Caye Caulker in Belize, you’ll find a shallow-water aquatic paradise packed with sharks and rays. That is pretty damn incredible too.

Sloth in Bocas Del Toro Panama

Whatever sort of wildlife tourism you decide to involve yourself in, PLEASE make sure it is with an ethical and reputable company. Ethical animal tourism is for the good of everyone and everything. If you truly love wildlife, ensure they are being treated with respect.

4. Learn Some Spanish at a Spanish School

If you are a solo traveller who wants to have meaningful conversations and create connections with local people, there is no better way to do so than by learning Spanish. I’m no expert at Spanish but I’m so glad I spammed Duolingo for 100 days before getting here, it helped me sooo much.

One of the most popular ways of learning Spanish in Latin America is in a Spanish school. Many solo travellers find themselves here and it’s a good way to meet others who have a similar mindset and goal to yourself. Some of the best locations to join a Spanish school are in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala and San Jose, Heredia or La Fortuna in Costa Rica.

5. Hike an Active Volcano!

Hiking a volcano in Central America should be on everyone’s bucket list. There are over 100 volcanoes scattered across the region, many of them still active.

acatenango and fuego volcano at sunrise in guatemala

One of the highlights of my life was hiking Guatemala’s Acatenango and Feugo volcanoes overnight where you can see eruptions every 15 minutes. Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Panama all have awesome volcano hikes too, but Guatemala is the country to do this – 100%.

6. Learn to Scuba Dive or Snorkel!

Central America is one of the cheapest places in the world to dive . Utila in Honduras is a notorious diver’s hotspot and many other locations such as Belize and Costa Rica have awesome dive cultures.

Two people taking a selfie whilst scuba diving.

Scuba diving or even just snorkelling solo (as part of a tour) is such a fabulous and personal learning experience – whether you’re learning to snorkel or have been doing it for years. From swimming with turtles to learning how to dive into the deep blue – immersing yourself in the underwater world is a grounding experience. Joining a group tour of the Belize barrier reef is possibly the best option for elite sea life.

7. Take Some Surfing Lessons

As I said before, Central America is geographically blessed. On both sides of this narrow strip of land, there are two glorious bodies of water – the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

headstand on a surf board

Both of these are seriously blessed with some superb waves in the right conditions and are perfect for all types of surfers. If you’re a beginner, I suggest hitting up Costa Rica, somewhere like Tamarindo for surf lessons . If you’re a pro, head to the barreling beasts of Bocas Del Toro in Panama or anywhere in El Salvador.

8. Embark on a Coffee Plantation Tour

Central America produces some of the world’s best coffee. If you’re a caffeine addict like me, touring coffee farms on ATV’s and trying all the local coffee is such an awesome experience.

central america travel route

If you are an extrovert, you can chit-chat away with other coffee lovers on one of these kinds of tours and learn so much about where your favourite speed juice comes from. But, if you’re a quiet, introverted individual, try to enjoy the drive!

9. Slide Down a Volcano on Your Bum!

Near Leon, in Nicaragua, is Cerro Negro. Cerro Negro is the home of  volcano boarding tours .

Leon Nicaragua Volcano Boarding

What’s volcano boarding you ask? Well, it’s sliding down a volcano… on your backside. It’s truly an adrenaline-pumping and unique activity that I can absolutely recommend to everyone.

Yes, you read that right. Forget snowboarding or surfing,  volcano boarding is where it’s at .

Central America is deceivingly large. Most of it is good, some of it’s great, parts of it are awe-inspiring, and some bits are, well, meh.

Monteverde hanging tree roots

Central America is overall a safe location to visit, despite what your family or friends will tell you. That being said, some locations are definitely more suited to solo travellers than others; especially solo female travellers .

Here are five of the most popular backpacking locations for solo travellers in Central America.

1. Ometepe, Nicaragua

Isla Ometepe is a volcanic island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua – the largest lake in Central America. Ometepe is straight out of a fairytale and is one of my favourite locations in the world.

The travelling community in Ometepe is thriving and there are tons of cool things to do here. Hiking volcanoes, kayaking through mangroves, drinking cocktails on black sand, mango tree-covered beaches and epic moped driving trips are all on the standard backpacker’s Ometepe itinerary .

girl in lake watching the sunset at ometepe, nicaragua

Nicaragua in general (Ometepe included) is one of the most affordable countries in Central America and my gosh it’s insane value for money. What you get for your money here is simply astounding compared to what you get in neighbouring countries like Costa Rica.

If you are heading to Ometepe, which you absolutely should, stay in El Zopilote . It’s a gorgeous off-grid hostel and permaculture farm with a good social vibe that’s perfect for solo travellers. Beds are available for just $5 per night!

2. Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Lake Atitlan is a staple location for those backpacking in Guatemala . Surrounded by volcanoes on all sides, Lake Atitlan is a gorgeous lake with numerous picturesque towns scattered around its perimeter.

Some notable locations include Panajachel, San Marcos, and my personal favourite – San Pedro La Laguna. San Pedro La Laguna is one of the most fun and action-packed little towns in Guatemala. It’s a solo travellers paradise.

central america travel route

Some of the best things to do in San Pedro La Laguna include attending a Spanish school, which is extremely popular amongst backpackers. Another popular activity in San Pedro is to party the night (or day) away; the drinking culture here is elite.

If you want to indulge in a more peaceful time, hike up the Indian Nose for astounding lake views or head to San Marcos. This town is well-known for its yoga retreats and zen vibe.

If you head to San Pedro and want to party, stay in Mr. Mullets . This super social party hostel is fantastic for extroverted solo travellers. Each Thursday, it hosts the most epic boat party in the middle of Lake Atitlan that lasts all day and will have you meeting new travel buddies with ease!

3. Bocas Del Toro, Panama

Located on Isla Colon in a Caribbean archipelago is Bocas Del Toro. Bocas Del Toro is undoubtedly the best location in Panama for backpackers of all types, including solo backpackers. Bocas itself is a lively beachside town with a thriving Caribbean culture and an abundance of activities for backpackers.

Solo travelling in Bocas Del Toro is just so much bloody fun! Some of the best activities for solo travellers in Bocas Del Toro to do are renting bicycles and exploring, beach hopping tours, surfing lessons and of course, attending the famous Filthy Friday party .

bocas del toro cyclists

Whilst Bocas Del Toro is definitely not the cheapest place to visit on this list, it is definitely one you cannot miss. The tranquil white sand beaches of Bocas and the many surrounding islands are divine.

If you are looking for a place to stay in Bocas Del Toro I can recommend Bambuda Bocas Town . This hostel is better than the overpriced and busy Selina nearby and has amazing decking right on the sea where you can see starfish and swim in the gorgeous clear water.

4. Antigua, Guatemala

I had to get at least one city on this list. Antigua in Guatemala is definitely my favourite city in Central America (sorry Panama City), and to be honest, I think most backpackers would agree with me on this one.

Staying in Antigua is fan-bloody-tastic , and nothing short of perfect for solo travellers! This extremely affordable and charming city is so photogenic. Hike up to the Cerro de la Cruz for a brilliant view or simply wander the cobbled streets with a good travel camera in hand. You won’t want to miss these photo-ops. My fav camera to travel with is the Panasonic LUMIX ZS100 .

Volcano in Antigua Guatemala

Most backpackers who find themselves in Antigua also embark on the Acatenango overnight hike to witness erupting lava right in front of their eyes! However, if you’re a beginner hiker or you are looking for an easier or more accessible hike, head to the nearby Pacaya Volcano.

My favourite hostel in Antigua is Adra Hostel . There is a great social vibe at Adra and I met some buddies to hike Acatensngo here too! There is also a gorgeous rooftop where you can marvel at Volcán de Agua all day long.

5. La Fortuna, Costa Rica

There’s one thing you should know before we proceed. Costa Rica is expensive! With that out the way, let’s talk about my favourite place in Costa Rica, La Fortuna.

Costa Rica may be expensive, but it’s expensive for a reason. The pura vida lifestyle in Costa Rica is one to be desired, for sure.

La Fortuna in Costa Rica is a small, lush, jungly town situated close to the marvellous Arenal Volcano. There are a bunch of backpackers in La Fortuna and it’s a great place for solo travellers to come and hang out. Amongst some of the best activities areas are, of course, exploring the Arenal Volcano National Park, and checking out the stunning and famous Fortuna Waterfall.

Arenal Volcano Costa Rica

There are so many cute Airbnbs in La Fortuna but if you are a solo traveller, you’ll probably want to stay in a hostel. Arenal Backpackers Resort is the most popular hostel in town and has the best, most social atmosphere to suit you solo travellers.

Having the  right apps for travel  can make your life a whole lot easier. Solo travel in Central America can be hard, but with some of these tools in your pocket, it can make life just that little bit easier.

  • Hostelworld  – The best way to search and book affordable dorms or private rooms
  • – For all of your other accommodation needs at great prices
  • Couchsurfing  – Ideal for budget travellers but not advised for solo female travellers
  • Tinder  – Suitable for meeting friends (and lovers) in foreign places
  • Hinge  – Designed for dating and meeting likeminded travellers
  • Bumble  – Ideal for making new (special) friends
  • – Downloading offline maps can be an epic way to get off the beaten track
  • Rome2Rio – An elite travel app that helps you get from any A to B in the world
  • Currency – To check exchange rates and conversions for all the different currencies you’ll need
  • Duolingo + Google Translate – Brush up on your Spanish and let Google Translate do the rest
  • Holafly  – An e-SIM application that allows you to download a data-only SIM card without installing a physical card

If meeting like-minded travellers is your goal, check out the current popular Facebook groups for travellers in Central America.

photo of a person holding a smartphone with Holafly logo

Stop stressing about your phone service when you travel abroad.

Holafly is a digital SIM card that works smoothly like an app — you simply pick your plan, download it, and voilà!

Roam around Europe, but leave the roaming charges for the n00bies.

Staying safe in Central America is much easier than most people think. Whilst Central America definitely can be a very dangerous place at times, if you take some pretty basic travel precautions, you should be fine!

amanda hitchhiking in the back of a truck

Some countries in Central America are most definitely safer places than others. And even within these countries, there are some safe areas and some no-go places. I’ve done my best to break down the Central American countries with some basic safety info for ya’.

  • Guatemala – Safe enough. Most of the touristy areas are very safe. Guatemala City is perhaps the least safe location in the country. Antigua, Lake Atitlan, Xela and Flores are all very safe for tourists.
  • Belize – High crime rates, but mostly gang-related. If you stay out of the way, (especially in Belize City) you’ll be fine. Solo female travellers should take extra care in Belize. Caye Caulker is safe.
  • El Salvador – Used to be VERY unsafe for travel; nowadays just IS safe for travel. Play it safe.
  • Honduras – Perhaps the least safe country on this list. Utila and Roatan are safe. Most of the mainland can be travelled safely, but is for experienced travellers only. Do not wander at night.
  • Nicaragua – Nicaragua is mostly safe. Popular locations like Ometepe, San Juan Del Sur, Popoyo, Leon and Granada are all safe for backpackers. Standard travel tips apply, beware of petty crime.
  • Costa Rica – The safest country on this list. Take some care in San Jose and other major cities, but you will be safe in most backpacker hotspots: La Fortuna, Monteverde, Tamarindo, Puerto Viejo etc.
  • Panama – Very 50/50. Locations such as Bocas Del Toro, Panama City and Boquete are safe. DO NOT travel to remote areas solo in Panama, it is unsafe. Research your chosen destinations well.

Travelling safely in Central America is done by knowing your limits, trusting your gut and most importantly, using common sense.

I’ve come up with eight quick tips to make your experiences in Central America better. All of these tips can enhance your solo travel experience, or save your ass (especially the final tip).

  • Plan YOUR own trip. Keep plans flexible, but don’t let others stop you from doing what you want.
  • Budget accordingly and time spent in different regions. Beware that Costa Rica, Belize and Panama are far more expensive than other countries like Nicaragua or Honduras.
  • Know a basic level of Spanish  – vital in more remote regions. However, Spanish fluency isn’t essential to travel to Central America, and you can get by knowing minimal Spanish.
  • Be bold! Approach people, express yourself and engage with local people and businesses.
  • Join group tours and hike volcanoes! Hiking Acatenago and sliding down Cerro Negro are cool. Tours are a great way to make friends in Central America whilst ticking off bucket-list adventures.
  • Stay in a hostel! Some of my favourites in Central America include the super-remote, jungly Greengo’s Hotel and the castaway private beach feel of Surfing Turtle Lodge .
  • Try to fly into Cancun or Medellin to enter (or exit) Central America. Solo flight tickets can be found to and from these locations at cheap prices, globally.
  • Travel insurance is essentia l for solo travellers. With no one there to watch your back, you need to have some backup. Some good travel insurance is the best way to cover yourself.

ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing .

They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.

central america travel route

SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to it!

Click the button below to learn more about SafetyWing’s setup or read our insider review for the full tasty scoop.

Solo travelling in Central America will be one of the best experiences of your life – and I can guarantee that. I’ve never met a solo traveller who has set foot in this incredible land and said otherwise.

best volcanoes guatemala

I would suggest that you spend a minimum of two months travelling in Central America if you want to even scratch the surface of the magnificent region. If you plan on visiting each country in Central America, you may want to begin and end your trip in either Cancun or Medellin respectively (depending on your direction of travel). These hotspots offer the best flight rates and are a bunch of fun in their own rights.

The route that most backpackers take skips out either Honduras or El Salvador and sometimes Belize too. These countries are “skippable” (if that’s even a thing). I’m not sure it is.

One thing I’m sure of though is that Guatemala and Nicaragua are absolutely UNSKIPPABLE. They are two of my favourite countries in the world.

When travelling solo it’s also important to have flexible plans. You never know, you may meet the love of your life, a bunch of great new mates or fall in love with a specific place and want to stay.

I hope you’ve been inspired to solo travel in Central America. All that’s left to do now is to pack your bag , book that flight and GO! You got this, I believe in you.

San Blas Islands, Panama

  • Check out the best  Central America travel guide  on the net for all your inspo!
  • Don’t forget the essentials with our in-depth  backpacking packing list .
  • Make sure you know where to stay in Costa Rica BEFORE you get there to save $!
  • Make sure you’re prepared for anything using our guide to staying safe in Nicaragua .
  • And  bring your travel camera  to capture the breathtaking views Central America has to offer!
  • Get ready for your onward journey with our guide to backpacking South America .

central america travel route

Joe Middlehurst

Solo Travel in Central America Pinterest Image

Share or save this post

photo of a person holding a smartphone with Holafly logo

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail.



Backpacking | Budget Travel | Living Abroad

Central America Backpacking Route

backpacker in Central America

Backpacking Central America using the itinerary outlined below will see you pack in six countries, Mayan ruins, fiery volcanoes, stunning lakes, colonial-era towns and chilled out Caribbean beaches while trying to avoid the often unpleasant capital cities in the region (Panama City is an exception).

Starting in Cancun thanks to its good flight links, you’ll cut through the South of Mexico before heading into the small Central American nations of Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. This Central America backpacking route ends in Panama City and will take around 2 months.

Table of Contents

Central america travel itinerary overview, playa del carmen, san cristobal, quetzaltenango aka xela, lake atitlan, san pedro sula, utila (bay islands).

  • Isla de Ometepe 

San Juan del Sur

Puerto viejo, bocas del toro, panama city, central america backpacking route – how long to spend in each place, other backpacking routes in north & central america.


On average we’d suggest spending about 10 days in each country so 2 months should be long enough to backpack Central America following this itinerary. You could squeeze it all into 6 weeks at a bit of a push if you skip one or two places. With lots of volunteering and learning opportunities you could easily stick around for longer in many of the destinations though.


The cost of travel in Central America is quite low with around $30/day a comfortable independent travel budget in most countries, although you may need a bit more in Costa Rica and Mexico. Therefore a total budget for this 2 month Central America travel itinerary may be around $1800, according to prices and exchange rates at the time of writing.

This is purely for your travel expenses in the region itself and is based on using local transport and hostels and being quite disciplined in terms of your general expenditure. It doesn’t include the cost of flights in/out of Central America or other pre-trip expenses which may be considerable. By adding another $500 or so to this budget, you will open up a lot more options in terms of extra trips and activities.


A good way to get more from your backpacking trip to Central America whilst making your money go further is to use Worldpackers. The platform allows you to search for placements and exchange skills for free accommodation and meals. At the time of writing, they have 214 opportunities in Central America with everything from teaching sports and yoga in Guatemala to farm-work in Nicaragua.


The cost of travel insurance isn’t included in the budget figures above. If you require travel insurance for backpacking Central America, you can get a quick quote in under a minute from Heymondo . If you think you may require more extensive coverage, compare backpacker insurance to see how the main providers differ.

Central America Backpacking Route (2 Months)

Southern mexico.

Consider flying into Cancun, the 2nd busiest airport in Mexico with good links to Europe and across North America. While Mexico isn’t technically in Central America, it’s a more convenient starting point with limited international connections from other countries in the region. You might not want to hang around long in Cancun though. The beach is okay but it’s fairly seedy, expensive and doesn’t really cater for backpackers or people travelling on a tight budget. 

Only an hour south of Cancun, Playa del Carmen is also a resort town but with much more of a backpacker vibe. It has plenty of hostels and budget options for sleeping, eating and drinking. With nice beaches and vibrant nightlife, it’s a fun start to your trip and you can party till dawn if you wish in one of the many bars and clubs (girls drink free on some nights).

Tulum is a stunning beach destination with some of the most beautifully clear blue waters. There are a few small Mayan ruins, which is a taster of things to come as you progress further on this Central America backpacking route. Quieter than the two previous towns, Tulum isn’t quite as wild by night but it’s worth hanging around a few days here before making the long trip to Palenque which can be done by night bus.

It’s a long trip to Palenque but worth it once you start to discover the ancient ruins in the dense jungle near to an unremarkable town of the same name. There is a sense that your adventure has truly begun when you hit Palenque with a wild, rugged feel to this part of Mexico. The area is also popular with some travellers due to the widespread growth of magic mushrooms, which were a central part of Maya culture.

San Cristóbal de las Casas is a pretty, colonial era town, located at altitude which makes for a pleasant break from the heat. It’s a popular hangout for hippy and bohemian types and a nice stop for a few days before you head over the border into Guatemala.

This itinerary only really scratches the surface when it comes to Mexico which is a much larger country than many people realise. Check out our full Mexico backpacking route if you fancy more time in the country as there is loads more to see and do.

Guatemala is arguably the best country for backpacking in Central America. It has friendly people, low prices and a number of destinations where you could easily stay for weeks rather than days by getting involved with community projects or studying Spanish.

Xela is about as good as anywhere for that. There are loads of volunteering options here – you may be able to find projects once you arrive in Xela or via volunteering with worldpackers . It is also a good place for salsa classes and clubs, while the local markets in surrounding villages are worth a visit.

Stunning scenery here at Lake Atitlan which is surrounded by volcanoes and has many lakeside villages and small towns with dirt cheap backpacker accommodation. You could probably spend up to a week just visiting the different villages which all have a slightly different vibe. Alternatively you can just relax and take in the beauty of the place. Most travellers only stay for a few days though before moving on to Antigua (or Xela if you’re doing this Central America backpacking route in reverse).

This pretty, colonial-era town is also surrounded by active volcanoes, some of which can be explored on foot (an experience which features in our rundown of Latin America travel highlights ).

Antigua is also a hugely popular and cheap place to take some Spanish lessons which will certainly be handy as you progress further along this Central America itinerary and potentially into South America after. Some travellers hang around for several weeks or months studying in Antigua.

The weather can be a bit iffy here though. If you’re planning a longer visit, it is advisable to come in the dry season between December and April which is also loosely considered to be the best time to visit Central America , although there are some regional variations.

More ancient ruins here as you head into Honduras for the first time. Copan was a major centre for the Mayans over a 1000 years ago and is home to some of the finest pre-Columbian art around. It’s located very close to the Guatemalan border but is one of Honduras’ most important and best known travel destinations.

San Pedro Sula was considered the most violent city in the world in the 2010’s and while that may no longer be totally true, it’s probably not advisable to hang around long here ! Like many of the bigger Central American cities, its dangerous reputation is not entirely undeserved but you may still need to pass through it anyway to reach the next two coastal destinations. Change buses or stay a night if you’re feeling brave!

A reasonably sized city with some nice beaches and the best place to catch the ferry to Utila. If you visit in May, be sure to check out  La Ceiba Carnival , the largest festival of its kind in the region, described as “the biggest party in Central America”.

Scuba diving hot-spot and one of the real highlights of travel in Honduras and indeed Central America. The Bay Islands are perhaps the closest thing you can find to a Caribbean beach paradise on a budget although you may still find them slightly pricier than other destinations on this route. The Bay Islands are a good place to relax and recharge your batteries ahead of the next stint which starts with a long day of travelling to reach Nicaragua.

The birthplace of the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, Leon still feels like something of a rebellious town. It’s home to some cool street art which helps tell its story and it is one of the few genuinely interesting urban destinations on this route.

A colonial-era town and perhaps the most beautiful and best preserved in the region. It’s a real contrast to its traditional rival Leon with lots of churches and relics to an altogether different, distant past. It’s also nicely located on the banks of Lake Cocibolca (AKA Lake Nicaragua), the largest lake in Central America.

Isla de Ometepe

This is an island in the middle of the giant Lake Cocibolca, home to two volcanoes. It’s an excellent location for mountain biking or hiking and another of the natural highlights on any itinerary for backpacking Central America. While sparsely populated, you can stay overnight on the island which is home to a range of wildlife including capuchin monkeys.

This is the first time you’ll hit the Pacific Coast and that means two things. Giant waves and lots of surfers! If surfing is not your thing, then San Juan del Sur is not a particularly amazing place to visit with a fairly average beach but there are a few cheap, friendly bars where you’ll meet some interesting characters.

There are some awesome cloud forests here, one of the many natural wonders in Costa Rica. Monteverde is also one of Central America’s main ecotourism destinations and the jungle terrain can be explored via the many suspension bridges which allow you a birdseye view of the nature below and around. Nearby, you also have Volcan Arenal, the third most active volcano in the world which is surrounded by hiking trails, lava fields and hot springs.

Another great destination for nature lovers. Get lost in a world of nature reserves, waterfalls and naturist beaches. The town itself has a bohemian feel and it’s another of those Central American backpacking destinations where you may end up happily staying for longer than planned.

The capital city of Costa Rica is a bit rough around the edges, but preferable to the big cities further north. It could be easily skipped but it might be worth hanging around for a day or two with some interesting museums here while there are also a few options for day-trips and tours in the surrounding countryside.

Surfing, beaches and marijuana. Those are probably the three main things that draw travellers to Puerto Viejo, a chilled out Caribbean town popular with surfers and backpackers. With a lot of foreigners here, there are certainly more authentic Central American experiences to be had but it’s a nice place with the Cahuita and Manzanillo National Parks also nearby making for excellent day-trips.

It is worth noting though that a typical Costa Rica backpacking budget is slightly higher than the average for the region and things are noticeably a bit more pricey than in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Plan accordingly or limit your time here if you are on a really tight budget.

These are more stunning Caribbean islands and islets covered in dense jungle, located just off the Panama mainland near the border with Costa Rica. With largely calm conditions, it’s a great spot for some scuba-diving on a relatively low budget. It is also another ecotourism hotspot and a very popular stop with travellers in Panama.

A pleasant town on Pan-American Highway, David itself isn’t a major travel destination but there’s lots to see and do in the surrounding area. There are loads of options for hiking and adventure activities while a trip out to the Los Pozos de Caldera hot springs is also recommended.

A good place to finish your travels in Central America or potentially move onto another region. Unlike most of the other destinations on this Central America itinerary, the capital of Panama is a vibrant modern city. Check out the famous Panama Canal and hit the shops if you’ve still got money left to spend.

Our Panama backpacking itinerary features more destinations in this country but with reasonably good air links, Panama City is a logical end point in Central America from which to fly home or alternatively see more of this part of the world by crossing the Darien Gap into South America.

Indeed many travellers do combine both regions and do one big Central and South America backpacking route. If you have more than six months to travel and are plotting a big trip around the Americas, the itinerary on this page can easily be combined with our extensive backpacking route for South America which starts in nearby Colombia.

Central America Map & Itinerary Overview

You can do this route in either direction but unless you’re coming from South America, getting to Mexico and starting there will probably be easier than finding your way to Panama. From Cancun, as the map above illustrates, this itinerary travels loosely south heading through Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica before finishing in Panama City.

The other two Central American countries not featured in this itinerary are El Salvador and Belize. El Salvador has less of a backpacker scene and quite limited options in terms of hostel style accommodation. It also carries something of a dangerous reputation and isn’t the safest place to backpack in Central America. It is a real surfer’s paradise though with destinations such as La Libertad, El Sunzal, El Zonte and El Cuco worth checking out if that’s your scene.

Belize is considerably safer and is the only Central American country where English rather than Spanish is the official language. That makes travel a bit easier but its location makes it somewhat inconvenient in terms of fitting into this route. It also has the disadvantage of being the most expensive country in the region which is another reason we haven’t featured it above.

The above timeframes are very much a rough guide and you can easily tailor this Central America itinerary to your specific interests and time restrictions. If you only have 2 weeks, 3 weeks or 1 month, you can easily form your own Central America itinerary by picking sections from the route above or by skipping destinations that appeal less.

For example, if you don’t like big cities in general, you almost certainly won’t like Central American cities. As such, you may want to just use San Pedro Sula and San Jose as places to change buses rather than stay overnight. It’s also worth doing your research into the current safety situation in bigger places like that as many towns and cities have very high crime rates.

If you’re not really into beaches, you could reduce your time in the Bay Islands for example or cut them out altogether and instead travel on from Copan through Honduras all the way to Leon, focusing on the bigger history and culture destinations.

Aside from heading on to South America, you could also look to the Caribbean in terms of other backpacking itineraries in the region, although flight connections between Central America and the Caribbean islands aren’t great. Options include doing a trip around Cuba or perhaps Jamaica.

There are a few more budget options for flying to the USA from Central America with plenty of travel opportunities there. However you will clearly need significantly more funds in the US than even the most expensive Central American countries.

 This look at how to backpack Central America was last updated in February 2023.

25 thoughts on “ Central America Backpacking Route ”

Mexico It’s not simply one of most iconic landmarks, either. It’s also an excellent example of encient architecture. It`s so attractive place for tourist visits.)

I am so glad to have found this as I’m taking the leap and heading to Central America on my own the end of this year and found Cancun to be the cheapest to fly into and want to end up heading into South America so this is a perfect route guide to help ease me along Xoxoxox

Glad you’ve found it useful Kara! Have a great trip 🙂

I have also ended up flying out of Cancun rather than Mexico city; glad I’m not the only one! I will be starting from Panama and making my way up. This site has some great tips, especially as this time around I only have 6 weeks! Definitely sounds like I will miss out Costa Rica this time. Kara – happy to exchange thoughts?

Thanks Matt! Some very useful websites there!

There are a few more destinations that you skip, for sure is hard to visit all the different spots, for example Corn Island in the caribbean of Nicaragua, also the surf destination in El Salvador like Playa El Tunco and Playa Las Flores.

Hey! Wonderful route. I had a few questions on this one. First thing being return! Are you allowed to enter any of these countries without a flight back?

I have more questions in regards some connections as some of them are a bit far away from each other. Main concern being from Palenque to San Cristobal de las Casas ( )

If willing I can give my contact details and we can speak this further via e-mail 🙂

Thanks a lot and safe travels!

Thanks for your comment!

On the subject of return tickets, I wouldn’t worry about it. In some countries, perhaps officially you need it but it’s very rarely if ever enforced. There are many travellers who head to South and Central America without a return, it’s very normal. I’d check with the airline you are flying in with though to make sure they will allow you to board without a return as sometimes they can be a bit funny about it but you should have no problem at immigration.

If you’re still worried, consider booking a flight out of the region with free cancellation or book a flexible return.

Don’t have any recent info on the Palenque-San Cristobal connection to be honest. Looking at forums is probably the best idea and speak to other travellers/hostel staff etc when you’re out there.

If you have more questions you can get in touch here –

Safe Travels!

Hey, great route. Was wondering if you have a detailed itinerary available (suggesting how much time to spend in each location / how much time is required for traveling between these places)? I want to do the route alone, in 6 weeks and probably need to bear in mind that I need more time for traveling cos I want to avoid traveling at night. Cheers, Anna

Hi Anna, don’t currently have a more detailed one but hope to update it this year with more details. Almost all the stops on this route are really quite small towns and could be visited in a day/two but depending on your passions, you might want to stay longer. For me, Lake Atitlan and the Bay Islands certainly would warrant longer stays.

Skipping a few destinations, it’d be pretty easy to do the trip in 6 weeks though. The distances between the towns are not great and although transport is often slow, there are lots of buses so you won’t be waiting around for long. Apart from the Tulum-Palenque and Utila-Leon legs, most of the journeys shouldn’t take more than a few hours and are best done in daylight hours in any case.

Anna, did it work out? I am about to travel for 6 weeks myself; would be great to hear more about your experience.

Hi, perfect article! i will only have time for 4 weeks of travel, but love this route. If you only had 4 weeks, which places would you leave out? Thanks a lot!

Personally, Guatemala and Nicaragua were my favourites but they all have something to offer so it depends on what you want really. If you’re more interested in the history/ruins etc then you could focus on the destinations from Palenque to Granada.

If you’re more into beaches/partying then consider flying into Cancun and doing maybe a week in Playa del Carmen/Tulum before heading to Costa Rica/Panama.

For a mixture of the two, you could potentially just do a loop round, starting and ending in Cancun (i.e. follow the route to Utila and then instead of heading to Nicaragua, head North to Belize and then back to Mexico), which might work nicely with a return flight as not many of the other airports have great international connections.

Hey great article. I was curious how proficient your Spanish is (if at all?). I have very basic vocabulary and I don’t mind the language barrier having lived and traveled around Asia, but I’m curious how prevalent English was throughout your travels.

Not very proficient at the time!

You can get by with limited vocab but it’s not like many parts of Asia, where English is widely spoken and the default language in most travel situations. Certainly in SE Asia there is no expectation that foreigners speak their language but in Central America it’s a different situation entirely.

Maybe in hostels, the staff will speak English but the vast majority of people in the region don’t. Therefore life is certainly a lot easier if you know at least basic Spanish and if you can speak it to a reasonable level, you’ll have a much more interesting trip!

Sounds like an awesome trip do you have a more detailed Document or some thing about how to get which places etc. Would be awesome. Cheers Paul

Hi Paul, sorry we don’t have anything more detailed atm. Will try and update this at some point as it’s a bit lacking in detail compared to some of the other routes.

In terms of getting to places I just used the chicken buses. Basically head to the town’s bus station (most places on this route are pretty small so shouldn’t be hard to find) and tell someone where you want to go. Chances are there’ll be a bus heading in the right direction and almost all buses have a couple of guys working on them and they will help you connect on to the next bus at the right place as there rarely seemed to be direct buses.

It’s a bit of a crazy system to get used to at first but it does work and people in the region were generally very helpful in terms of helping you get where you need to go!

Alternatively the main routes have tourist buses, which are more expensive but in theory quicker.

@MyFunkyTravel:disqus very interesting. which place was the highlight? which place is worth skipping (other than cancun)? thanks

personally Guatemala and Nicaragua were the highlights. Both really interesting places and friendly but it depends what you like. For beaches/relaxing then Panama and the Bay Islands are great.

How long did it take you to get from Tulum to Palenque?

there is no direct bus, you’d need to take one to mérida (4hours), and from there another to palenque (8 hours)

Sorry one more question, using your route, what is the longest stretch of traveling in hours? I may then want to break it up. Or does AirPanama or another budget airline fly cheaply and throughout Central America?

Where in your route would you squeeze in the Corn Islands or is there a reason you left those off? I will be with my 14 yr old son this fall/winter and want to take it slow to allow for him to do his virtual school (and we want to take Spanish classes, a little volunteer work, snorkel, surf, etc). Is there any destinations on this route you think I should avoid for safety concerns? Is it possible to pick up little short-term jobs to earn some money like in a cafe or teaching English? My son can farm and drive a tractor:) Where is the best and cheapest spot for surfing lessons? For snorkeling? For scuba? Thanks! Great post by the way!

Awesome article! Did you get any vaccinations before your trip?

Don’t think so Jason! Although I think I’d had Diphtheria, tetanus and polio fairly recently because I’d been in Asia. If you’re planning on heading to South America or small parts of Panama then yellow fever is important too. have a read of the link below and talk to your doctor/health surgery. They should be able to advise better based on the exact places you’re thinking of going but generally speaking I didn’t bother with vaccinations unless it was strongly recommended.

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

central america travel route

central america travel route

Here Are The Best Road Trip Routes Through Central America

From ancient Mayan history to surfing the coast, Central America's 7 countries offer unforgettable adventures across the region.

Leah Freeman-Haskin • May 8, 2019

central america travel route

From ancient Mayan History to surfing the coast, if it’s been a dream of yours to backpack or road trip through Central America, here are some unforgettable routes to explore.

The Mayan Route:

You can follow the remains of the ancient Mayan civilization throughout Central America starting in Belize and ending in Honduras. With some of the most picturesque scenery in the world and well-preserved pieces of history, The Mayan Route is an unforgettable journey through time.

Lamanai and Altun Ha are two of the smaller sites in Belize. Lamanai can only be accessed by a jungle river cruise providing an adventure from day one. If the jungle cruise isn’t your thing, be sure to check out Altun Ha, Belize’s largest Mayan site as well as Belizean Cayes, Caye Caulker, and Ambergris Caye.

From Belize, cross into Guatemala for Tikal. A site, amidst the thick jungle, that is recommended you spend two days exploring. The Maya market at Chichicastenango and Lake Atitlan are also worth a visit. Lake Atitlan has been called the most beautiful lake in the world and is bordered by real Maya villages. 

central america travel route

RELATED: 5 Music Festivals In Central America You Must Experience

Head to Honduras for a day trip to Copan near the Guatemala border. The charming city is known for its Mayan ruins but is also a beautiful town with cobblestone roads and red-tiled roofed homes.

Coffee Plantations:

You will find dozens of guided coffee and tea tours throughout Central America online. However, if you are planning on doing this on your own, here are some spots you should definitely check out. 

Located in the town of Naranjo, just outside of San Jose, is a 600-acre coffee plantation called Hacienda Espíritu Santo offering detailed tours of the campus and the process from maintaining the coffee crops to the traditional way to brew a fresh cup. Finca Rosa Blanca is a boutique style property in the Central Valley area of Costa Rica. Here, you can learn the process in a much more intimate setting. 

central america travel route

One of the rarest, most sought-after, and expensive coffees in the world comes from Panama. Which is why Bouquet, Panama is often called the Bordeaux of coffee. Finca Lerida , in addition to being a working coffee farm, is a hotel surrounded by 500-acres of cloud forest. Café Ruiz is another good stop that offers three organized coffee-related tours, including a high-end tasting where they walk you through the complexities of coffee in all its varieties.

RELATED: Which Central America Destination Is Best For You?

The Surf Route:

It’s no secret that Central America is home to some of the best surfing spots in the world. According to , here are some of the best surfing camps along the Pacific Coast that make for one epic surf route road trip. 

El Salvador

Head to Las Flores and stay at AST Surf Resort for the “surf experience of your life”. AST offers guided surf tours, surf camps, and guided adventure tours with flexible payment plans, local activities, and fully customizable solo or group packaging.

Mirimar Surf Camp is located in a sleepy fishing village with perfect waves for surfers of all levels. This majestic paradise, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, is also home to all different kinds of adventures.

Selina Surf Camp Santa Teresa is all about “good vibes, great company, and being in touch with Mother Nature”. The affordable hostel offers packages for every budget. 

central america travel route

End the tour at the Beach Break Surf Camp in Playa Venao, Panama where they promise to provide an unforgettable experience for those who want to enjoy the laid back beach vibe and world class surf that this playa has to offer. 

Subscribe to travel noire

Get more travel content

Subscribe to Travel Noire, a free daily newsletter that features the best of travel, destinations, and guides to the cities you love from a new point of view — yours.

By subscribing to this newsletter, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy.

Popular posts

Trending stories in world travel

  • How it began
  • Where I’ve been
  • About Franz Explorer
  • Contact & Public Relations
  • Who helped me on the journey
  • Itineraries
  • Transportation
  • Accommodation
  • Work & Volunteer
  • Travel Stories
  • Netherlands
  • Czech Republic
  • Switzerland
  • French Guiana
  • El Salvador
  • New Zealand
  • South Africa
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Philippines
  • South Korea

How to travel around the world for less

One month Central America Itinerary

one month Central America itinerary

I have done this trip on a 30-day vacation when I was still on my job 9-6. Even though it was a bit in a rush, I though would be great to share the Itinerary. I went from Mexico to Panama overland and separated a few days to Havana, Cuba. The Central America region is pretty easy to move because of Ticabus, that operate in most of those countries.

Mexico (7 days)

We started our journey in Ciudad del Mexico, where we only spent a day and flew to Cancun. I have travelled with my best friend, Ricardo. We did spend a night in the last day of our trip in Mexico City Hostel .

I stayed for three nights in Hostel Mayapan Cancun  the cheapest hostel in town, but with a great value of money. Cancun is a party and resort destination, so I mostly partied and spend time on the beach. Some resorts do not control a lot the flow of people, so we spent a bit of time using the facilities until discovered and kicked out.

While in Cancun we went on a day trip to Isla de Las Mujeres using the ferry Ultramar . We booked a day tour to Chichén Itza with Alvaro tours . This tour also include a visitation to the cenotes (Maya natural underground pools).

We went to Cuba and back then headed to Playa Del Carmen, Cozumel Island and Tulum. Cozumel is a great destination for diving and I remember paying about 30 USD for a fun dive with 30 meters visibility. I used Playa del Carmen as a hub to visit Cozumel and Tulum. I spend 3 nights in Hostel3B Chic & Cheap  and totally reccomend. Tulum is a Maya historical site in front of a crystal water beach. It is located one hour away from Playa del Carmen where buses from ADO express departs daily every 30 minutes from 7:30 AM till 22 PM.

Cuba (4 days)

From Cancun we flew to Havana with the local airline Cubana .  There are no ferries between Mexico and Cuba and a return flight Cancun-Havana usually cost about 220 USD. We spent 3 and a half days in the capital of Cuba exploring the Old Havana, Plaza de la Revolution, Hotel Nacional and other sights. I booked 3 nights in Rolando’s Backpackers.

It is important to notice that the country has 2 currencies, Cuban peso (CUP) can be exchanged to the convertible peso (CUC) at exchange offices (CADECA) at a fixed rate of 24 CUP to 1 CUC. Be aware that some scammers try to swap the weak currency money (CUP) to your convertible peso because they are very similar. I would definitely have spent more time in Cuba and explore other coastal cities, but was not possible by that time.

Belize (3 days)

Belize, this tiny English colony in the middle of Spanish speaking countries was a blast, because of the Island Caye Calker.

We took a 5 hours bus from Cancun to Chetumal, the border of Mexico and Belize. Then we took another 3 hour bus from there to Belize City, both with ADO Express . In Belize city we stayed in The Red Hut Inn  and head the next day, after wandering in town, to Caye Calker Island. There is a water taxi services leaving every 2 hours starting at 8AM and the last service at 5:30PM. Caye Calker is a paradise with plenty of sharks and rays . If you do have an advanced open water diving license I strongly recommend diving in the great blue hole . When back in Belize city we took a bus to our next country, Guatemala, specifically to the city of Flores.

Guatemala (4 days)

Flores is a lovely tiny town with old buildings and tuk-tuks just like the ones in Asia. I used the city as a hub to explore the ruins of Tikal, that are only 60km away. I spent few nights in Hostel Los Amigos. Scams of fake tour tickets and drivers trying to conduct you to certain hostels are pretty common there.

Tikal is an ancient Mayan citadel in the rainforests of northern Guatemala. Its iconic ruins of temples and palaces include the giant, ceremonial Lost World Pyramid and the Temple of the Grand Jaguar. At 70 meters, Temple IV is the tallest pre-Columbian structure in the Americas.

I took a bus from Flores to Guatemala City (located 500km away) with Linea Dorada . In the capital of the country I booked 2 nights in Quetzalroo . From Guatemala City I went to Antigua, one hour away to climb the Volcano Pacaya, an active complex volcano in Guatemala, which first erupted approximately 23,000 years ago and has erupted at least 23 times since the Spanish invasion of Guatemala. Pacaya rises to an elevation of 2,552 metres.

It was such a coincidence, but I arrived in Antigua in the Holy Week and got to see an amazing catholic procession.

Back to Guatemala City we started our Ticabus journey and used mostly this bus company to move around all the way to Panama.

El Salvador (3 days)

We got to see two places in El Salvador, the capital, San Salvador and the coastal city of El Tunco, a good place to chill. El tunco has a dark sand beach because of the volcanic material and is famous for surfing. There is not a lot to see in the capital but you can cut your hair for 1 USD.

Honduras (1 day)

We basically skipped Honduras because we heard the capital was pretty dangerous and we would not have time to explore the coast and Islands such as Roatan and Utila (considered one of the cheapest place in the world to dive).

So we took a Ticabus in San Salvador that was going to Nicaragua, crossing Honduras.

Nicaragua (3 days)

The capital of Nicaragua, Managua is not the most exciting one, after one night in Managua Backpackers Inn we headed to Granada, a lovely town with historical buildings.

This city offers a range of water sports in Nicaragua Lake such as Kayak, wake boarding and boat rental. We did both wake-boarding and Kayaking .

Costa Rica (3 days)

After arriving in the capital San Jose, I took a shuttle service straight to Monteverde and spend 2 nights in Camino Verde Bed and Breakfast . This city is the capital of radical sports and you can go down in the longest Zipline in Latin America with 1590 meters.

Another nice tour is the coffee and chocolate tour where you can visit farms and observe the entire process of coffee, chocolate and sugar production.

Panama City (2 days)

My last stop in this Central America trip was Panama City. Famous for the Panama Canal and big duty frees, Panama is an expensive destination, compared to other Central American countries. The Panama Canal is an artificial 48-mile waterway in Panama that connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. The canal cuts across the Isthmus of Panama and is a key conduit for international maritime trade.

I stayed in the old town area of Panama City in the huge Lunas Castle Hostel .

My 30 day vacation in Central America was great but I recognize that I needed at least 2 to 3 months to enjoy better the region. I missed the coast of Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama that has great beaches and diving spots. I also missed many cities in Cuba and Mexico.

If you want to get more detailed information on how to travel around the world for cheap, check out my book JUST GO [EN] [PT]  [ES] [DE] [FR] available in several languages.

Check out  my Instagram page  where I update weekly with travel tips.

Check out  my Youtube page  where I update weekly with travel videos.

If you want to know how do I afford to travel the world, you can click HERE .

Centrocoasting logo


The bus travel guide for central america, making bus travel easy, no more confusing bus travel.

Finding accurate information about bus stations and bus schedules in Central America can be difficult. Centrocoasting has the most accurate and up-to-date information for bus travel in Central America. We have personally ridden every bus and snapped photos for you along the way. There is a ton of information for El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, with Panama coming soon. Next year we will bring you more countries too!

Help your fellow traveller!

We here at Centrocoasting are just like you: travellers who love the adventure of local buses. This Guide is based on personal experience, but things change and we don’t have every detail and schedule, yet! Nothing in this site is guaranteed. We have tried our best to be a helpful source of info by adding and fixing times and prices when we find changes and updates.  But, this is where you come in – help us help you and your fellow travellers by sharing your experience and adding bus schedule, route and price information. We get submissions all of the time from travellers just like you, so join the fun and leave us your travel tips and info updates in the comments on each station page. Thank you!

**Help us add information for Guatemala and Honduras **

Let us help you have the best vacation possible, travel safe and travel smart you are responsible for your own safety. read more, check out our instagram.

Night time bus traffic on the long dusty road of #santateresa. For those of you who’ve been here this picture will remind you of the love/hate relationship you develop with the main road! I sure do love this little town ❤️ #costarica #bustravel #centralamerica #travel #surf photo credit to @yonasuu

Passing Thru Travel

Passing Thru Travel

Thrilling Adventures on a Budget: Backpacking Journey in Central America

Posted: March 16, 2024 | Last updated: March 16, 2024

<p><strong>Central America, a land bridging North and South America, is a paradise for backpackers seeking adventure on a budget. This guide offers an in-depth look at 12 must-visit destinations, each promising a unique experience, from ancient ruins to vibrant cities and pristine natural reserves. We’ll provide practical tips, optimal travel times, and access routes to help you navigate this diverse and culturally rich region.</strong></p>

Central America, a land bridging North and South America, is a paradise for backpackers seeking adventure on a budget. This guide offers an in-depth look at 12 must-visit destinations, each promising a unique experience, from ancient ruins to vibrant cities and pristine natural reserves. We’ll provide practical tips, optimal travel times, and access routes to help you navigate this diverse and culturally rich region.

<p><span>Volunteering in community and agricultural development projects in Guatemala means being part of efforts to improve livelihoods in some of the most rural and underserved areas. Your work might involve supporting sustainable farming practices, community health initiatives, or educational programs.</span></p> <p><span>Guatemala’s rich cultural heritage enriches this experience, evidenced by its Mayan ruins, colonial architecture, and vibrant indigenous cultures. As you contribute to sustainable development in these communities, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the challenges they face and the importance of community-led solutions in driving positive change.</span></p> <p><b>Insider’s Tip: </b><span>Engage with local traditions and practices to enrich your volunteering experience.</span></p> <p><b>When To Travel: </b><span>The dry season from November to April is the best time for volunteering.</span></p> <p><b>How To Get There: </b><span>Fly into La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City.</span></p>

1. Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a window into Spanish colonial history with its well-preserved architecture and cobblestone streets. The city is surrounded by volcanoes, offering hiking opportunities with breathtaking views.

Antigua is also a hub for learning Spanish, with numerous language schools offering affordable courses. The city’s vibrant market is a must-visit, where you can immerse yourself in local culture and cuisine. Antigua is an excellent base for exploring nearby attractions like Lake Atitlán and the Pacaya Volcano.

Insider’s Tip: Explore the city on foot to appreciate its colonial architecture.

When to Travel: November to April for dry weather.

How to Get There: Fly into Guatemala City and take a bus or shuttle to Antigua.

<p><span>Tikal, set in the heart of the Guatemalan jungle, is one of the largest archaeological sites of the ancient Maya civilization. Exploring these majestic ruins, you’ll feel a deep connection to history as you wander through temples and plazas.</span></p> <p><span>The site is also a haven for wildlife enthusiasts, with opportunities to spot monkeys, toucans, and other native species. Tikal is an immersive experience in a rich, biodiverse ecosystem.</span></p> <p><b>Insider’s Tip: </b><span>Stay overnight in the park to experience the sunrise from the ruins. </span></p> <p><b>When to Travel: </b><span>November to April for cooler temperatures and less rain. </span></p> <p><b>How to Get There: </b><span>Fly to Flores and take a bus or tour to Tikal.</span></p>

2. Tikal, Guatemala

Tikal, set in the heart of the Guatemalan jungle, is one of the largest archaeological sites of the ancient Maya civilization. Exploring these majestic ruins, you’ll feel a deep connection to history as you wander through temples and plazas.

The site is also a haven for wildlife enthusiasts, with opportunities to spot monkeys, toucans, and other native species. Tikal is an immersive experience in a rich, biodiverse ecosystem.

Insider’s Tip: Stay overnight in the park to experience the sunrise from the ruins.

When to Travel: November to April for cooler temperatures and less rain.

How to Get There: Fly to Flores and take a bus or tour to Tikal.

<p><span>Roatán, an island in the Caribbean, is known for its stunning beaches, clear waters, and vibrant coral reefs. It’s a popular destination for water sports, especially scuba diving and snorkeling.</span></p> <p><span>The island also offers a chance to experience Garifuna culture, known for its unique music and dance. Roatán is more than a beach destination; it’s a cultural and ecological treasure trove.</span></p> <p><b>Insider’s Tip: </b><span>Try scuba diving or snorkeling to explore the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. </span></p> <p><b>When to Travel: </b><span>Dry season from March to September. </span></p> <p><b>How to Get There: </b><span>Fly directly to Roatán or take a ferry from the mainland.</span></p>

3. Roatán, Honduras

Roatán, an island in the Caribbean, is known for its stunning beaches, clear waters, and vibrant coral reefs. It’s a popular destination for water sports, especially scuba diving and snorkeling.

The island also offers a chance to experience Garifuna culture, known for its unique music and dance. Roatán is more than a beach destination; it’s a cultural and ecological treasure trove.

Insider’s Tip: Try scuba diving or snorkeling to explore the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef.

When to Travel: Dry season from March to September.

How to Get There: Fly directly to Roatán or take a ferry from the mainland.

<p><span>Granada, one of the oldest cities in the Americas, is a blend of colonial history and natural beauty. The city’s colorful architecture and historical churches are best explored on foot. Nearby, Lake Nicaragua and the Mombacho Volcano offer outdoor adventures, from kayaking to hiking. Granada is a gateway to some of Nicaragua’s most stunning natural landscapes.</span></p> <p><b>Insider’s Tip: </b><span>Take a boat tour of the Isletas de Granada in Lake Nicaragua. </span></p> <p><b>When to Travel: </b><span>November to April for dry weather. </span></p> <p><b>How to Get There: </b><span>Fly into Managua and take a bus or taxi to Granada.</span></p>

4. Granada, Nicaragua

Granada, one of the oldest cities in the Americas, is a blend of colonial history and natural beauty. The city’s colorful architecture and historical churches are best explored on foot. Nearby, Lake Nicaragua and the Mombacho Volcano offer outdoor adventures, from kayaking to hiking. Granada is a gateway to some of Nicaragua’s most stunning natural landscapes.

Insider’s Tip: Take a boat tour of the Isletas de Granada in Lake Nicaragua.

How to Get There: Fly into Managua and take a bus or taxi to Granada.

<p><span>Ometepe Island, formed by two volcanoes rising from Lake Nicaragua, is a unique destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers. The island offers hiking, kayaking, and wildlife viewing.</span></p> <p><span>The pre-Columbian petroglyphs scattered across the island add a historical dimension to its natural beauty. Ometepe is a place of tranquility and adventure where you can connect with nature and local culture.</span></p> <p><b>Insider’s Tip: </b><span>Rent a scooter or bike to explore the island’s diverse landscapes. </span></p> <p><b>When to Travel: </b><span>November to April for the best weather. </span></p> <p><b>How to Get There: </b><span>Take a ferry from San Jorge on the mainland.</span></p>

5. Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

Ometepe Island, formed by two volcanoes rising from Lake Nicaragua, is a unique destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers. The island offers hiking, kayaking, and wildlife viewing.

The pre-Columbian petroglyphs scattered across the island add a historical dimension to its natural beauty. Ometepe is a place of tranquility and adventure where you can connect with nature and local culture.

Insider’s Tip: Rent a scooter or bike to explore the island’s diverse landscapes.

When to Travel: November to April for the best weather.

How to Get There: Take a ferry from San Jorge on the mainland.

<p><span>With its diverse ecosystems, Costa Rica is a paradise for bird watchers. Home to more than 900 bird species, including the resplendent quetzal, scarlet macaw, and various toucans, it offers some of the best birding opportunities in the world. Ethical bird watching in Costa Rica means respecting the birds’ habitat, minimizing noise, and using binoculars or zoom lenses for observation.</span></p> <p><span>The country’s national parks and reserves provide excellent birding opportunities, often with the guidance of experienced local guides who can help you spot and identify the wide variety of species.</span></p> <p><b>Insider’s Tip: </b><span>Hire a local guide who can provide insights into local bird species and habitats.</span></p> <p><b>When To Travel: </b><span>December to April for the dry season, which offers better visibility.</span></p> <p><b>How To Get There: </b><span>Fly into Juan Santamaría International Airport and travel to bird-watching areas like Monteverde or Tortuguero.</span></p>

6. Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica

Monteverde Cloud Forest, a biodiversity hotspot in Costa Rica, is a haven for nature enthusiasts. The forest is home to thousands of plant species, hundreds of bird species, and a variety of mammals. Walking through the misty forest, you’ll encounter a world teeming with life.

Activities like zip-lining and canopy tours offer a different perspective on this unique ecosystem. Monteverde is more than a forest; it’s a living, breathing ecosystem waiting to be explored.

Insider’s Tip: Take a guided night tour to see nocturnal wildlife.

When to Travel: December to April for the best chance of clear skies.

How to Get There: Fly to San José and take a bus or shuttle to Monteverde.

<p><span>At Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano National Park, the canopy tours offer a unique perspective of the rainforest with the backdrop of the majestic Arenal Volcano. Visitors can experience the thrill of zip-lining through the treetops and walking on hanging bridges while learning about the local ecology. The region is also famous for its rich biodiversity, natural hot springs, and waterfalls, making it a comprehensive destination for nature lovers.</span></p> <p><b>Insider’s Tip: </b><span>Try the early morning tours for a quieter and more wildlife-rich experience. </span></p> <p><b>When To Travel: </b><span>The dry season from December to April offers clearer views of the volcano. </span></p> <p><b>How To Get There: </b><span>Arenal is approximately a 3-hour drive from San José.</span></p>

7. Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica

Arenal Volcano, one of Costa Rica’s most iconic landmarks, offers a mix of adventure and relaxation. The area around the volcano is known for its hot springs, waterfalls, and hiking trails.

The nearby town of La Fortuna is a hub for activities like rafting, zip-lining, and wildlife tours. Arenal is not just a volcano; it’s a destination that offers a range of experiences in a stunning natural setting.

Insider’s Tip: Relax in the natural hot springs around the volcano.

When to Travel: May to November for lush landscapes and fewer tourists.

How to Get There: Fly to San José and take a bus or shuttle to La Fortuna.

<p><span>Bocas del Toro, an archipelago off Panama’s Caribbean coast, is known for its beautiful beaches, lush rainforests, and vibrant nightlife. The islands offer a variety of activities, from surfing and snorkeling to exploring indigenous communities. Bocas del Toro is more than a beach destination; it’s a diverse region where you can immerse yourself in nature and local culture.</span></p> <p><b>Insider’s Tip: </b><span>Explore the less-visited islands for a more authentic experience. </span></p> <p><b>When to Travel: </b><span>February to April and September to November for good weather and fewer tourists. </span></p> <p><b>How to Get There: </b><span>Fly to Panama City and then to Bocas del Toro, or take a bus and boat from the mainland.</span></p>

8. Bocas del Toro, Panama

Bocas del Toro, an archipelago off Panama’s Caribbean coast, is known for its beautiful beaches, lush rainforests, and vibrant nightlife. The islands offer a variety of activities, from surfing and snorkeling to exploring indigenous communities. Bocas del Toro is more than a beach destination; it’s a diverse region where you can immerse yourself in nature and local culture.

Insider’s Tip: Explore the less-visited islands for a more authentic experience.

When to Travel: February to April and September to November for good weather and fewer tourists.

How to Get There: Fly to Panama City and then to Bocas del Toro, or take a bus and boat from the mainland.

<p><span>Panama City, a cosmopolitan hub in Central America, offers a blend of modernity and history. The city’s skyline is a testament to its economic growth, while areas like Casco Viejo showcase its colonial past.</span></p> <p><span>The Panama Canal, a short drive from the city, is a must-visit for its historical significance and engineering feat. Panama City is a destination that combines urban experiences with historical exploration.</span></p> <p><b>Insider’s Tip: </b><span>Visit the Panama Canal’s Miraflores Locks for an insight into this engineering marvel. </span></p> <p><b>When to Travel: </b><span>Mid-December to April for dry weather. </span></p> <p><b>How to Get There: </b><span>Fly directly to Panama City.</span></p>

9. Panama City, Panama

Panama City, a cosmopolitan hub in Central America, offers a blend of modernity and history. The city’s skyline is a testament to its economic growth, while areas like Casco Viejo showcase its colonial past.

The Panama Canal, a short drive from the city, is a must-visit for its historical significance and engineering feat. Panama City is a destination that combines urban experiences with historical exploration.

Insider’s Tip: Visit the Panama Canal’s Miraflores Locks for an insight into this engineering marvel.

When to Travel: Mid-December to April for dry weather.

How to Get There: Fly directly to Panama City.

<p><span>Copán Ruinas, home to the ancient Maya city of Copán, is a site of significant archaeological importance. The ruins, known for their intricate sculptures and hieroglyphics, offer a glimpse into the Maya civilization.</span></p> <p><span>The town of Copán Ruinas, with its cobblestone streets and relaxed atmosphere, is a pleasant place to unwind after exploring the site. Copán is not just an archaeological site; it’s a window into the past and a peaceful retreat in the present.</span></p> <p><b>Insider’s Tip: </b><span>Visit the nearby bird park for a unique wildlife experience. </span></p> <p><b>When to Travel: </b><span>January to April for dry weather. </span></p> <p><b>How to Get There: </b><span>Fly to San Pedro Sula and take a bus to Copán.</span></p>

10. Copán Ruinas, Honduras

Copán Ruinas, home to the ancient Maya city of Copán, is a site of significant archaeological importance. The ruins, known for their intricate sculptures and hieroglyphics, offer a glimpse into the Maya civilization.

The town of Copán Ruinas, with its cobblestone streets and relaxed atmosphere, is a pleasant place to unwind after exploring the site. Copán is not just an archaeological site; it’s a window into the past and a peaceful retreat in the present.

Insider’s Tip: Visit the nearby bird park for a unique wildlife experience.

When to Travel: January to April for dry weather.

How to Get There: Fly to San Pedro Sula and take a bus to Copán.

<p><span>Caye Caulker, a small island off the coast of Belize, is known for its laid-back atmosphere and beautiful marine life. The island is a popular spot for snorkeling and diving, with easy access to the Belize Barrier Reef.</span></p> <p><span>The motto “Go Slow” encapsulates the island’s relaxed vibe, making it a perfect destination for travelers looking to unwind. Caye Caulker is more than an island; it’s a state of mind.</span></p> <p><b>Insider’s Tip: </b><span>Try the local seafood, especially the lobster, during the season. </span></p> <p><b>When to Travel: </b><span>November to April for the best weather. </span></p> <p><b>How to Get There: </b><span>Fly to Belize City and take a water taxi to the island.</span></p>

11. Caye Caulker, Belize

Caye Caulker, a small island off the coast of Belize, is known for its laid-back atmosphere and beautiful marine life. The island is a popular spot for snorkeling and diving, with easy access to the Belize Barrier Reef.

The motto “Go Slow” encapsulates the island’s relaxed vibe, making it a perfect destination for travelers looking to unwind. Caye Caulker is more than an island; it’s a state of mind.

Insider’s Tip: Try the local seafood, especially the lobster, during the season.

How to Get There: Fly to Belize City and take a water taxi to the island.

<p><span>Leon, a city in western Nicaragua, is a blend of history, culture, and adventure. Known for its colonial architecture and vibrant art scene, the city offers a rich cultural experience. Nearby, the Cerro Negro volcano provides a unique opportunity for volcano boarding, a must-try for adventure seekers. Leon offers cultural immersion and outdoor adventure.</span></p> <p><b>Insider’s Tip: </b>Try volcano boarding on Cerro Negro for an adrenaline rush. </p> <p><strong>When to Travel: </strong><span>November to April for dry weather. </span></p> <p><b>How to Get There: </b><span>Fly into Managua and take a bus or shuttle to Leon.</span></p>

12. Leon, Nicaragua

Leon, a city in western Nicaragua, is a blend of history, culture, and adventure. Known for its colonial architecture and vibrant art scene, the city offers a rich cultural experience. Nearby, the Cerro Negro volcano provides a unique opportunity for volcano boarding, a must-try for adventure seekers. Leon offers cultural immersion and outdoor adventure.

Insider’s Tip: Try volcano boarding on Cerro Negro for an adrenaline rush.

How to Get There: Fly into Managua and take a bus or shuttle to Leon.

<p><span>As you embark on your backpacking journey through Central America, remember that this region offers a wealth of experiences, from ancient ruins and lush rainforests to vibrant cities and tranquil islands. </span><span>Each destination allows you to immerse yourself in local cultures, connect with nature, and create lasting memories.</span></p> <p><span>Travel responsibly, respect local communities, and embrace the diverse beauty of Central America. Your adventure awaits, filled with discoveries and budget-friendly experiences that will enrich your understanding of this captivating region.</span></p> <p><span>More Articles Like This…</span></p> <p><a href=""><span>Barcelona: Discover the Top 10 Beach Clubs</span></a></p> <p><a href=""><span>2024 Global City Travel Guide – Your Passport to the World’s Top Destination Cities</span></a></p> <p><a href=""><span>Exploring Khao Yai 2024 – A Hidden Gem of Thailand</span></a></p> <p><span>The post <a href="">Thrilling Adventures on a Budget: Backpacking Journey in Central America</a> republished on </span><a href=""><span>Passing Thru</span></a><span> with permission from </span><a href=""><span>The Green Voyage</span></a><span>.</span></p> <p><span>Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / soft_light.</span></p> <p><span>For transparency, this content was partly developed with AI assistance and carefully curated by an experienced editor to be informative and ensure accuracy.</span></p>

The Bottom Line

As you embark on your backpacking journey through Central America, remember that this region offers a wealth of experiences, from ancient ruins and lush rainforests to vibrant cities and tranquil islands. Each destination allows you to immerse yourself in local cultures, connect with nature, and create lasting memories.

Travel responsibly, respect local communities, and embrace the diverse beauty of Central America. Your adventure awaits, filled with discoveries and budget-friendly experiences that will enrich your understanding of this captivating region.

More Articles Like This…

Barcelona: Discover the Top 10 Beach Clubs

2024 Global City Travel Guide – Your Passport to the World’s Top Destination Cities

Exploring Khao Yai 2024 – A Hidden Gem of Thailand

The post Thrilling Adventures on a Budget: Backpacking Journey in Central America republished on Passing Thru with permission from The Green Voyage .

Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / soft_light.

For transparency, this content was partly developed with AI assistance and carefully curated by an experienced editor to be informative and ensure accuracy.

More for You

Jokes Pouring In After Ohio State Cancels Non-Conference College Football Game

Jokes Pouring In After Ohio State Cancels Non-Conference College Football Game

Scientists make battery technology breakthrough that could impact everything from smartphones to EVs: 'We are paving the way for next-generation batteries'

Scientists make battery technology breakthrough that could impact everything from smartphones to EVs: 'We are paving the way for next-generation batteries'

Monolith Las Vegas

Mysterious Monolith in Las Vegas Mountains Triggers Police Warning

What are Taylor Swift’s causes she fights for?

26 Surprising Facts About Taylor Swift

There are some biological reasons why mosquitoes are more attracted to some people more than others.

So THAT'S Why Mosquitoes Bite Some People More Than Others

New Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens (R) is introduced to the media by President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge July 5, 2013 in Waltham, Massachusetts. Stevens was hired away from Butler University where he led the Bulldogs to two back to back national championship game appearances in 2010, and 2011. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 173096099 ORIG FILE ID: 172883319

Brad Stevens is a genius, but Danny Ainge deserves a Celtics championship ring, too

Caitlin Clark Requires Boyfriend to Help Fix Her Poor Shooting

Caitlin Clark Sets Remarkable Milestone with Six Individual Network Records

15 Jobs That We Wouldn’t Wish on Our Worst Enemies

16 Higher Paying Jobs Don’t Require Experience (Or a Degree)

The top 5 states Americans abandoned in 2023

Americans are leaving their homes in search of more affordable living — these are the top 5 states they abandoned in 2023


President Biden's grand EV plans have a new critic

Amanda Balionis shares look at ‘success’ as Rory McIlroy returns to wife after US Open pain

Amanda Balionis shares cheeky Instagram post following Rory McIlroy's US Open heartbreak

Supreme Court Changes Schedule

Supreme Court Changes Its Schedule

8 foods you should never eat at a hotel breakfast

8 foods you should never eat at a hotel breakfast

What Avoidant Attachment Looks Like in a Relationship

What Avoidant Attachment Looks Like in a Relationship

How to Get Rid of a Canker Sore ASAP, According to Experts

How to Get Rid of a Canker Sore ASAP, According to Experts

There's More to Do in New Orleans Beyond Bourbon Street

There's More to Do in New Orleans Beyond Bourbon Street

Here's the true value of a fully paid-off home

Here is the true value of having a fully paid-off home in America — especially when you're heading into retirement

Shaquille O'Neal Reveals What He Told Angel Reese After WNBA Draft

Shaquille O'Neal Made His Opinion of Angel Reese's Physical Play Extremely Clear

A Russian submarine that just left Cuba is 'falling apart' with its soundproofing panels falling off

A Russian submarine that just left Cuba appears to be 'falling apart' with its soundproofing panels falling off, analyst says

MH 370 Infographic

Map Shows Where MH370 Signal Detected, Raising Hopes of Breakthrough

Distance Calculator – How far is it?

The Distance Calculator can find distance between any two cities or locations available in The World Clock

The distance is calculated in kilometers, miles and nautical miles, and the initial compass bearing/heading from the origin to the destination. It will also display local time in each of the locations.

From location

To location.

Need some help?

More Information

  • About the World Clock
  • Daylight Saving Time
  • Time Zone Abbreviations
  • Time Tools Overview

Related Links

  • See cities close to a location
  • Day and Night World Map – See which parts of the Earth are currently illuminated by the Sun.
  • About the Distance Graph

Related Time Zone Tools

  • Event Time Announcer – Show local times worldwide for your event.
  • Meeting Planner – The best times for your meeting across time zones


2024 Total Eclipse: Where & When

Eclipse explorer.

For a mobile-friendly or full-screen version of this interactive map, visit .

The Monday, April 8, 2024, total solar eclipse crossed North America, passing over Mexico, the United States, and Canada. The total solar eclipse began over the South Pacific Ocean. Weather permitting, the first location in continental North America that experienced totality is Mexico’s Pacific coast at around 11:07 a.m. PDT.

A map of the contiguous U.S. shows the path of the 2024 total solar eclipse stretching on a narrow band from Texas to Maine.

The path of the eclipse continued from Mexico, entering the United States in Texas, and traveled through Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Small parts of Tennessee and Michigan also experienced the total solar eclipse. The eclipse entered Canada in Southern Ontario, and continued through Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Cape Breton. The eclipse exited continental North America on the Atlantic coast of Newfoundland, Canada, at 5:16 p.m. NDT.

This table provides the time that totality began in some U.S. cities in the path of totality. These areas also experienced a partial eclipse before and after these times.

Discover More Topics From NASA

Tendrils of hot plasma stream from the Sun.

Total Solar Eclipse Safety

Dozens of people sit or stand outside on a rocky slope and all face the same direction (left) while holding card shaped solar viewers or while wearing solar eclipse glasses. It is a sunny day with a blue sky and trees in the background.

2024 Total Eclipse

2024 facts 1

Helio Big Year

Image of coronal rain on the sun.

Ukraine war latest: Putin and Kim Jong Un share 'pent up inmost thoughts' - then sign new agreement

Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un have begun talks in Pyongyang, with the Korean Central News Agency reporting the pair shared their "pent up inmost thoughts" with each other.

Wednesday 19 June 2024 08:55, UK

Russia's President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un attend an official welcoming ceremony at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea June 19, 2024. Sputnik/Gavriil Grigorov/Pool via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

  • Putin arrives in North Korea - his first visit in 24 years
  • Kim Jong Un and Putin share 'pent up inmost thoughts' together
  • New agreement announced between Russia and North Korea
  • Countries remove names from Ukraine peace summit documents
  • Your questions answered: Are there any signs of an underground resistance in Russia?
  • Listen to the Daily above and tap here to follow wherever you get your podcasts
  • Live reporting from Mark Wyatt

A Russian court has sentenced a US soldier to three years and nine months in a penal colony for theft and threatening to kill his girlfriend. 

Staff Sgt Gordon Black, 34, was arrested in May and had pleaded not guilty to the murder threat charges but admitted he was "partially" guilty of stealing 10,000 roubles (£89) from his girlfriend Alexandra Vashchuk.

Prosecutors at a court in Vladivostok said that during an argument at Ms Vashchuk's apartment, Sgt Black had grabbed her by the neck and then took her money. 

Sgt Black argued that Ms Vashchuk had drunk half a bottle of vodka that day, was aggressive and had struck him. 

Prosecutors had asked for a prison sentence of four years and eight months, while the defence asked for Sgt Black to be acquitted of all charges. 

He will appeal the verdict, according to Russian state news agencies.

Sgt Black met Ms Vashchuk in South Korea, where he was stationed. He then travelled to Russia and China without authorisation, which the Pentagon has said broke army rules.

He served in Iraq in 2009 and Afghanistan in 2013 and was most recently assigned to the Eighth Army, US Forces Korea at Camp Humphreys.

Firefighters are still tackling a blaze in the Russian town of Azov following drone strikes yesterday morning.

A Ukrainian intelligence source said the strikes were conducted by the security service of Ukraine and targeted an oil depot in Azov, situated in the southern region of Rostov.

Several oil storage tanks were engulfed in fire which is still raging today.

"The fire at the Azov district has been localized at the 3,200 square metres at 5:30am (2am GMT)," local emergency services said on Telegram today.

Kyiv has often said that targeting Russia's energy, military and transport infrastructure undermines Moscow's military effort.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was welcomed to North Korea by Kim Jong Un today as he attended an official ceremony in Kim Il Sung Square.

Soldiers and children gathered to welcome Mr Putin, while local military orchestra played the national anthems of Russia and North Korea.

Artillery guns also fired a welcome salvo.

Russian outlet RT claimed the square was full of local residents who came to greet Mr Putin.

Kim Jong Un has reaffirmed both his and North Korea's "full support" of Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Mr Kim is hosting Vladimir Putin in Pyongyang today in what is the Russian president's first visit to the country in 24 years.

The visit is likely to reshape relations between the two nations at a time when both countries face international isolation.

Russia has drawn worldwide condemnation for its ongoing invasion of Ukraine, though Mr Kim has given his full backing to the war which begun in February 2022.

Mr Kim was quoted by Russian news agencies vowing his country's "full support and solidarity to the Russian government, army and people in carrying out the special military operation in Ukraine to protect sovereignty, security interests and territorial integrity".

He also hailed Russia's "important role and mission in preserving the strategic stability and balance in the world".

"The situation in the world is exacerbating and changing rapidly," Mr Kim said. 

"In this situation we intend to strengthen strategic interaction with Russia."

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been given a "rock star" welcome in Pyongyang as he arrived in North Korea for the first time in 24 years, says Asia correspondent  Nicole Johnston .

The Russian leader is spending the day with Kim Jong Un to strengthen ties between their respective nations.

Earlier today, Mr Putin hinted there would be an agreement signed between the two countries that will "form the basis of our ties for a long perspective."

Mr Putin was greeted in Pyongyang with a red carpet rolled out, while the streets of North Korea's capital were lined with banners of Mr Putin's face and Russian flags.

"They have really turned it on for President Putin, giving him a rock star's welcome," said Johnston.

"This is about showing how important this relationship has become for both North Korea and for Russia. 

"The North Koreans have been sending thousands of containers of artillery shells, as well as missile ballistic across to Russia, allowing it to continue to wage its war in Ukraine."

Watch: Mr Kim greets Mr Putin...

Vladimir Putin says Moscow and Pyongyang will sign an agreement that will bolster their ties.

The Russian president is in North Korea for the first time in 24 years as he strengthens ties with the country and its leader Kim Jong Un.

Speaking at the start of his talks with Mr Kim, the Russian leader said in remarks carried by Russian state TASS and RIA Novosti news agencies that the "new fundamental document will form the basis of our ties for a long perspective".

Mr Putin also hailed a "close friendship" between the two countries based on "equality and respect of mutual interests".

Nuclear-powered submarines of Russia's Northern Fleet reportedly launched cruise missiles at sea targets as part of exercises in the Barents Sea today.

The Severodvinsk and the Orel nuclear-powered submarines fired Kalibr and Granit cruise missiles a distance of about 106 miles at a target simulating a detachment of landing ships of a mock enemy, the Interfax news agency reported. 

"According to objective control data, the combat exercise was completed successfully," Interfax said, citing the fleet statement.

"The missile weapons used have once again confirmed their inherent characteristics and high reliability."

The missile firing area was closed in advance to civilian shipping and aviation flights. 

The Barents Sea is in the Arctic Ocean and is located off the northern coasts of Norway and Russia. It is divided between Norwegian and Russian territorial waters. 

We start the day in Pyongyang where Vladimir Putin is visiting for the first time in 24 years.

The Russian president was given a warm welcome by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un when he landed at Pyongyang Airport.

Mr Putin already thanked North Korea for its support of Russia's invasion of Ukraine ahead of his visit and reinforced that sentiment today.

Russian state-run news agency RIA cited President Putin as saying: "We highly appreciate your consistent and unwavering support for Russian policy, including in the Ukrainian direction."

Welcome back to our live coverage of the war in Ukraine. 

Yesterday, Vladimir Putin arrived in North Korea for the first time in 24 years. 

The Russian president was greeted by the country's leader Kim Jong Un as he landed at Pyongyang Airport. 

Details of their brief conversation emerged hours later, with the Korean Central News Agency reporting the pair shared their "pent up inmost thoughts" with each other. 

The North Korean state news organisation said the conversation was "friendly" and came as their relationship "entered a course of new comprehensive development". 

It added that Mr Putin's visit was important in "powerfully propelling the cause of building a powerful country". 

There'll be more updates from his visit throughout the day. 

Before we start bringing you the latest developments, here's the other key moments from the last 24 hours:

  • Ukraine claimed responsibility for a strike on an oil refinery in Russia's Rostov region, which caused a huge fire to break out;
  • The UK's defence ministry said Russian forces had moved closer to a key supply route in the eastern Donetsk region after taking control of a village;
  • Ukraine opened an investigation after its prosecutor general said a soldier had been beheaded by Russian troops;
  • Several countries, including Iraq and Rwanda, had their signatures withdrawn from a communique signed at last weekend's Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland. 

That's all of our live coverage on the conflict for now. 

We'll bring you any major developments overnight, and we'll be back with our regular updates in the morning. 

Be the first to get Breaking News

Install the Sky News app for free

central america travel route


  1. Ultimate Central America by Intrepid Tours with 212 Reviews

    central america travel route

  2. My 3 Month Itinerary for Central America Backpacking

    central america travel route

  3. Central American Journey in Mexico, Central America

    central america travel route

  4. Backpacking Central America Guide [Costs, Route & Tips] • Indie Traveller

    central america travel route

  5. Wonders of Central America 22 Day Tour| On The Go Tours

    central america travel route

  6. Tour

    central america travel route


  1. Costa Rica Canoeing

  2. Central America Travel Part 9

  3. Central America Travel Part 3

  4. Central America Travel Part 6

  5. Top 10 vacation destinations in Central America

  6. How To Travel The World


  1. Backpacking Central America

    Whether you are looking for a 2-week Central America itinerary or a 2+ month travel odyssey, I've got you covered amigos! Let's dive in a explore some of the tried and true Central America backpacking routes I have enjoyed. 2-week Travel Itinerary for Central America: Mexico to Guatemala

  2. Backpacking Central America Guide: Routes, Costs & Tips

    Learn how to plan your trip along the Gringo Trail or other backpacking routes in Central America. Find out how long to travel, what to expect, and how to save money and stay safe.

  3. Central America Backpacking & Travel Guide (Updated 2024)

    Central America Travel Costs. Accommodation - Hostel dorms with 6-8 beds cost $8-20 USD per night while private hostel rooms cost $15-30 USD for a single or double bed with private bathroom (in Belize, Costa Rica or Panama, you will pay on the higher end of that range).

  4. Efficient Central America Itinerary (8 Countries, 1-3 Months)

    In 2022, we spent 6 months backpacking in Central America. Here is our ultimate Central America backpacking itinerary. Backpacking Route Central America. Itinerary for Central America. 12 Days Backpacking in Mexico. 11 Days Backpacking in Belize. 15 Days Backpacking in Guatemala. 7 Days Backpacking in El Salvador. 8 Days Backpacking in Honduras.

  5. Central America Backpacking Route: 1 Month Itinerary (2024)

    Welcome to our Central America backpacking route! Although the smallest region in the Western Hemisphere, Central America is a really fun area to explore. Not only is it full of Mayan ruins, towering volcanoes and beautiful beaches, it's also relatively easy to travel through. From southern Mexico down to Panama, you need much less time here compared with South America, which is ideal for ...

  6. One Month In Central America Itinerary

    Here's my Central America travel route. 1. Guatemala (9 Days 9 Nights) ... Backpacking through central America for one month route and itinerary. CA-4: It won't apply to you if you are traveling for only one month in central America but in case you do decide to extend. Note that there is a thing called the CA-4 group which includes Honduras ...

  7. Central America trip planner: 4 of the most exciting routes

    Central America trip planner: 4 of the most exciting routes. Whether you're channelling your inner Indiana Jones in ancient temples or spotting wildlife in lush rainforest, plan the perfect trip with these stunning routes through Belize, Costa Rica and beyond…. Alex Robinson. 15 September 2021.

  8. Central America backpacking

    Three months are perfect for the full Central America backpacking route from Guatemala down to Panama: Guatemala ⇨ Honduras ⇨ El Salvador ⇨ Nicaragua ⇨ Costa Rica ⇨ Panama. 3 weeks in Guatemala: Start by making your way straight to the pretty colonial town Antigua after flying into Guatemala City.

  9. Backpacking Central America: Complete Itinerary 2024

    Backpacking Central America by Luciagarciagon (CC0) Welcome to this backpacking Central America itinerary. Lush rainforests, picturesque beaches, ancient temples, and more, Central America is a great adventure just waiting to be uncovered. Whilst each of the seven countries are small and easy to get in and around, each packs a unique explosion ...

  10. The Ultimate Guide to Backpacking Central America

    Getting around Central America. A chicken bus. The backpacker trail is well established in Central America, and you won't have any trouble getting around via busses. If you're on a shoestring budget, the best bet is chicken busses, which are retrofitted school busses used to transport locals and goods.

  11. Ultimate Central America Travel Guide (Planning, Tips & Advice)

    FOOD: Food is inexpensive across Central America travel routes. You can often find good restaurant meals for between USD 5 and USD 10 per person (with a few beers thrown in, too). You can eat street food for less than this (a few dollars), or splurge and enjoy high-end restaurants in the cities and tourist spots.

  12. How to get around in Central America

    The easiest and cheapest way to explore Central America is by bus. Central America has a bus for every budget and every kind of traveler. The backbone of bus travel in the region is the 'chicken bus' - these repurposed and gaudily painted North American school buses race along highways, belching black smoke and stopping in every city, town ...

  13. Central America Itinerary: The Perfect Travel itinerary

    Honduras. Honduras is another great place to visit for your Central America travel itinerary. You can go to La Ceiba, a lovely seaside town where you can enjoy your time, and then take a ferry to Utila, a nice island where you can enjoy a PADI Open Water 4-day diving course.

  14. Solo Travel in Central America

    Here are five of the most popular backpacking locations for solo travellers in Central America. 1. Ometepe, Nicaragua. Isla Ometepe is a volcanic island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua - the largest lake in Central America. Ometepe is straight out of a fairytale and is one of my favourite locations in the world.

  15. Central America Backpacking Route

    The cost of travel in Central America is quite low with around $30/day a comfortable independent travel budget in most countries, although you may need a bit more in Costa Rica and Mexico. Therefore a total budget for this 2 month Central America travel itinerary may be around $1800, according to prices and exchange rates at the time of writing.

  16. Central America Travel Itinerary

    In this video, I am sharing with you my Central America Backpacking Route! I am also sharing some of the best places I highly recommend adding to your Centra...

  17. Here Are The Best Road Trip Routes Through Central America

    The Mayan Route: You can follow the remains of the ancient Mayan civilization throughout Central America starting in Belize and ending in Honduras. With some of the most picturesque scenery in the world and well-preserved pieces of history, The Mayan Route is an unforgettable journey through time. Belize. Lamanai and Altun Ha are two of the ...

  18. One month Central America Itinerary

    This city is the capital of radical sports and you can go down in the longest Zipline in Latin America with 1590 meters. Another nice tour is the coffee and chocolate tour where you can visit farms and observe the entire process of coffee, chocolate and sugar production. Panama City (2 days) My last stop in this Central America trip was Panama ...

  19. Official MapQuest

    Official MapQuest - Maps, Driving Directions, Live Traffic

  20. The Bus Travel Guide for Central America

    Follow on Instagram. We are the leading and trusted resource for bus travel information for Costa Rica, Nicaragua and El Salvador. Tons of detailed information for bus schedules and stations in Central America, including travel tips, route advice, and lots of photos to show you the way. Travellers giving advice to travellers.

  21. Thrilling Adventures on a Budget: Backpacking Journey in Central America

    Central America, a land bridging North and South America, is a paradise for backpackers seeking adventure on a budget. We'll provide practical tips, optimal travel times, and access routes to help ...

  22. Great Circle Map

    Great Circle Map displays the shortest route between airports and calculates the distance. It draws geodesic flight paths on top of Google maps, so you can create your own route map. Great Circle Map. Enter two or more airports to draw a route between them on the map and calculate the distance. ...

  23. Best route to fly from USA to Moscow (or St. Pete's)

    3. Re: Best route to fly from USA to Moscow (or St. Pete's) To me the most comfortable option is Houston to Moscow on Singapore air. Other routes, besides mentioned: Aeroflot from NY, LA and Washington, United from Washington, AA from Chicago - please check, they have it or not.

  24. Distance Calculator

    The Distance Calculator can find distance between any two cities or locations available in The World Clock. The distance is calculated in kilometers, miles and nautical miles, and the initial compass bearing/heading from the origin to the destination. It will also display local time in each of the locations.

  25. Avianca Airlines Resumes 11 Routes To The US

    Avianca Airlines, one of the premier carriers in Latin and Central America, has resumed service in 11 United States cities. The airline will fly to Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica, among others, from several U.S. airports, including those in Chicago, Orlando, New York, Las ...

  26. China reaches deal on Central Asian railway project linking it with

    The rail link, first proposed in the 1990s, will serve as a faster and cheaper alternative to current China-Europe land routes, most of which travel through Russia.

  27. 2024 Total Eclipse: Where & When

    The Monday, April 8, 2024, total solar eclipse crossed North America, passing over Mexico, the United States, and Canada. The total solar eclipse began over the South Pacific Ocean. Weather permitting, the first location in continental North America that experienced totality is Mexico's Pacific coast at around 11:07 a.m. PDT.

  28. The Ultimate American Road Trip Guide

    Step 2: Plan your route. A great road trip is more than just the destination, the journey itself is a large part of what makes it special, but to make the most of the open road it helps do some ...

  29. Ukraine war latest: Putin arrives in North Korea; Russian ...

    Ukraine war latest: Putin arrives in North Korea; Russian forces 'move closer to key supply route' Vladimir Putin has arrived in North Korea for a two-day visit - his first in more than two decades.