Visiting Central America - Itineraries

Friday, September 16, 2016

When visiting Central America itineraries really take a back seat. When you can get from the Caribbean coast to the Pacific coast in under 10 hours. And cross through one country into the next in under 8 hours, itineraries become very flexible. Planning for your trip in Central America can be really easy if you just go with the flow and realise your route will most definitely be subject to change.

Visiting Central America - Itineraries

The best customised itineraries and travel plans for Visiting Central America

had a lot of time to spend in Central America, but I'm know that this isn't always the case for others. Our initial itinerary was one we made up a long time before leaving the UK. We spent hours hunched over a Central America on a Shoestring Lonely Planet guide, writing on post-it-notes and highlighting great sounding locations and quirky hostels. We wanted the best route, to experience it all. Our itinerary had everything. This is all good practice, but as many of us know this level of organisation and decisiveness often disappears as soon as you hit the open road. There's something so unpractical about creating an itinerary before even seeing the country you're about to visit.

The initial itinerary we had was long, unrealistic and left us no time really to just be anywhere. That soon changed, and as soon as we were on the road it was good bye itinerary hello freedom to change. 

Our Central America Itinerary and final route map looking a lot different to the unrealistic one we had created before leaving

When it comes to getting around in Central America life is easy. I guess this is the main factor that impacts your itinerary so much. There's always a bus of friends leaving to another cool beach two hours away or a group travelling inland to take part in some adventure or other.

Whether it's a chicken bus you need to catch, a collectivo taxi or a backpacker filled shuttle bus getting from one place to another is just too easy. This is definitely the first problem for itineraries in Central America, everywhere is so accessible. You can be in El Salvador at lunch time and Nicaragua by night fall. This makes for some very fun and  indecisive travel. 

I say indecisive because accessibility, good infrastructure and cheap travel really screw up your plans. I remember arriving in Guatemala and heading straight to Lake Atitlan knowing we had three days planned here and knew we'd be heading straight to Semuc Champey after those three days. One week later we were on a shuttle filled with new friends heading to Antigua with plans to move on to the coast in El Salvador.

Travel Hack: Catch a collectivo taxi with the locals, common across Latin America if you know where to go

On another occasion we spent an entire day just busing through Costa Rica, back and forth, trying to get to Tortuguero. Jamie and I heard about a place, committed to visiting last minute and before we knew it we'd booked one night in a motel style hostel in San Jose.

Travel Hack: If you're going to be in San Jose, Costa Rica do not stay at Hotel Bristol. 

This is so common for all travelers visiting Central America. Last minute decisions and buses that don't quite go the full way leave you spending a a night in yet another fantastic location you never thought you'd be visiting.

Often in Central America a large scheduled bus from one city won't go to your destination so you have to take a shuttle to the capital. Making for even more indecisive travel.

This happened to us more than once whilst on the road, We left Leon in a overcrowded, uncomfortable collectivo with our bags on knees to get a bus to Managua. Our final destination being Granada. No direct buses are a big thing throughout Central America. Don't be surprised to find yourself doing a similar journey. But don't dwell, your new route may take you on an unexpected journey to a place you had totally written off in your planning.

Travel Hack: If someone tells you there are no more busses, ask someone else. Don't take your first answer as the truth. 

Whether you think you have everything planned or not I can guarantee you that everything will change once you're on the road. I'm going to share with you some of the best and most common routes and itineraries when visiting Central America baring in mind you can't always go from place to place without a mini detour.

Central America Itinerary Guides

Itinerary option  1 - The Mixture

The Belize and Guatemala route is a pretty standard one. We met a lot of guys heading from Merida to Belize City or Antigua to do a similar itinerary before heading to South America. We never got to see Belize but we've heard Caye Caulker is the place to be. Lobster, diving and a big blue hole. 

Belize City, Belize - Yellow
Caye Caulker, Belize - Blue
Semuc Champey, Guatemala - Purple
Antigua, Guatemala - Pink
Copan Ruins, Guatemala - Green

Itinerary option 2 - The Islands 

Love diving? Head from Lake Atitlan to Copan then straight to Caye Caulker for diving. Don't forget to stop by The Bay Islands in Honduras for even more diving. Take this further by flying down to Little Corn Island, Nicaragua for some more world class diving spots.This is a fabulous and extremely common itenerary for divers.

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala - Green
Copan Ruins, Guatemala - Orange
Caye Caulker, Belize - Yellow
Roatan, The Bay Islands, Honduras - Pink
Utila, The Bay Islands, Honduras - Purple

Itinerary Option 3 - The Jungle

How about Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama itinerary? Three incredibly diverse countries with more wildlife than I could name,  From Sunday Funday in San Juan del Sur, cloud forests in Monteverde to island hoping in Bocas del Toro in Panama.

Granada, Nicaragua - Yellow
Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua - Purple
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua - Pink
Monteverde, Costa Rica - Green
San José, Costa Rica - Orange
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca - Blue
Bocas del Toro, Panama - Brown

Travel Hack: Do some research, some capitals are sometimes best avoided unless you need to visit to catch a bus. Tegucigalpa? No thanks.  

An important point to mention is border crossings. In Central America they all go pretty smoothly some close early and others are open all night. Each country has more than one crossing too, which makes for a very easy, laid back route planning. Some countries require entry and exit fees but don't expect to pay more than a few dollars here and there. 

Costa Rica to Panama was the only time we found ourselves forking out to pay to get across the 'closing' border foot bridge. Border crossings are easier in large groups and in shuttle busses. Most people get a 90 day visa on arrival but double check because I know certain countries give certain nationalities a harder time. El Salvador in particular was very interested in anyone with an Israeli passport. Do a little research or ask at the hostel you are leaving.

Travel Hack: Check onward travel information for border crossings. Some places require your onward travel documents. It's not uncommon people are forced to buy a bus ticket they don't need just to enter a country.

Fill out your forms quickly and don't leave your group. Border crossings can get busy and you can get lost in the masses of money exchanges. Always make sure your bus driver locks your bus too! Don't leave any important documents or personal items on the bus.

Travel Hack: Got some left over cash you won't need? Swap it at the border. You'll only ever be hustled out of a dollar or so, so it's really worth while having some local currency on you for your arrival in your destination. Most guide books advise against this but we found it useful. 

Whatever way you are travelling, wherever your coming from these itineraries show how simple it is to get from one place to another in Central America. Whether you're doing one country or all the countries. Central America is a very accessible place to be especially for budget travellers. 

Now I don't want to say it's the perfect place for a backpacking trip or a first backpacking trip but it probably is. Border crossings can be a breeze providing you do a little research and group travel is something that just kind of happens. Whether you're doing 2 weeks or 5 months enjoy the accessibility and ease of travelling in such an incredibly diverse area of the world.

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travelsandmore was originally just an outlet to document my travels. It turned into something more quite quickly and now its more of an obsession for me than anything else. Thanks for stopping by. Don't forget to subscribe, I'll only ever send you my latest travel related blog posts right to your inbox.