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

Author Carina Klein
Carina
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TL;DR

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

Number of countries

We visit 8 countries in our itinerary:

  • Mexico
  • Belize
  • Guatemala
  • El Salvador
  • Honduras
  • Nicaragua
  • Costa Rica
  • Panama

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.

#

Country

City

3 Months Itinerary

2 Months Itinerary

1 Month Itinerary

1

Mexico

Playa del Carmen

X

2

Mexico

Valladolid

X

X

X

3

Mexico

Tulum

X

X

X

4

Mexico

Bacalar

X

X

5

Belize

Orange Walk Town

X

6

Belize

Caye Caulker

X

X

X

7

Belize

Hopkins

X

8

Belize

San Ignacio

X

X

X

9

Guatemala

Flores

X

X

X

10

Guatemala

Rio Dulce

X

11

Guatemala

Semuc Champey

X

12

Guatemala

Lake Atitlan

X

X

13

Guatemala

Antigua

X

X

X

14

El Salvador

El Tunco

X

X

15

El Salvador

Santa Ana

X

X

16

Honduras

Copan

X

X

17

Honduras

Utila

X

X

18

Honduras

Lago de Yojoa

X

19

Nicaragua

Somoto

X

20

Nicaragua

Leon

X

X

X

21

Nicaragua

Granada

X

22

Nicaragua

Ometepe

X

X

X

23

Nicaragua

San Juan del Sur

X

24

Costa Rica

La Fortuna

X

X

X

25

Costa Rica

Monteverde

X

26

Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio

X

X

X

27

Costa Rica

Corcovado

X

28

Costa Rica

Limon

X

X

29

Panama

Bocas del Toro

X

X

30

Panama

Boquete

X

31

Panama

Panama City

X

X

X

32

Panama

San Blas

X

X

Itinerary for Central America

12 Days Backpacking in Mexico

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
Tulum beach

Mexico itinerary

#

Where?

What?

How many days?

1

Playa del Carmen

Beach, Akumal turtles

2

2

Valladolid

Chichen Itza, Las Coloradas, Ek Balam, cenotes, colonial houses

3

3

Tulum

Mayan Ruins, cenotes, Sian Ka’an, Beach, Instagram

4

4

Bacalar

Lagoon of 7 colours, boat tour, beach clubs

3

Picture of Valladolid
Valladolid

11 Days Backpacking in Belize

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.
  • ATM Cave.

Mexico - Belize Border

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

Picture of Hopkins beach
Hopkins beach

Belize Itinerary

#

Where?

What?

How many days?

5

Orange Walk Town

Lamanai

2

6

Caye Caulker

Snorkelling with sharks and manatees, Blue Hole, going slow

3

7

Hopkins

Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve, Beach

3

8

San Ignacio

ATM Cave, Caracol

3

Picture of Lamanai Mayan ruins
Lamanai Mayan ruins

15 Days Backpacking in Guatemala

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
View from Acatenango to Fuego volcano

Guatemala Itinerary

#

Where?

What?

How many days?

9

Flores

Lake Peten, Tikal, (El Mirador)

10

10

Rio Dulce

Swimming, hot spring waterfall, Caribbean Coast

2

11

Semuc Champey

Waterfall, caving, and tubing

2

12

Lake Atitlan

Party in San Pedro, Yoga in San Marcos, scuba diving in Santa Cruz, San Juan for arts and crafts,….

4

13

Antigua

Acatenango volcano, colonial architecture, food and drinks

4

Picture of Semuc Champey
Semuc Champey

7 Days Backpacking in El Salvador

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 Tunco beach

El Salvador Itinerary

#

Where?

What?

How many days?

14

El Tunco

Surfing

3

15

Santa Ana

Santa Ana volcano, Ruta de las Flores, Salto Malacatiupan, Coatepeque Lake

4

Picture of Santa Ana sign
Santa Ana sign

8 Days Backpacking in Honduras

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
Copan Mayan ruins

Honduras Itinerary

#

Where?

What?

How many days?

16

Copan

Copan Ruinas

2

17

Utila

Scuba Diving

4

18

Lago de Yojoa

D&D Brewery, boat tour

2

Picture of Beach on Utila
Beach on Utila

13 Days Backpacking in Nicaragua

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

We paid 40$ per person per day on average.

Nicaragua Highlights

The highlights of your time in Honduras will be:

  • 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
Leon

#

Where?

What?

How many days?

19

Somoto

Canyoning

2

20

Leon

Volcano boarding, colonial architecture

3

21

Granada

Masaya volcano, Tree House Party, colonial architecture

2

22

Ometepe

Beaches, volcanoes, Ojo de Agua, petroglyphs, sunsets, chocolate, island vibes

4

23

San Juan del Sur

Sunday Funday, beach

2

Picture of Masaya Volcano
Masaya Volcano

12 Days Backpacking in Costa Rica

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
Tapir in Corcovado National Park

Costa Rica Itinerary

#

Where?

What?

How many days?

24

La Fortuna

Volcano, waterfalls, hot springs, Rio Celeste

3

25

Monteverde

Cloudforest, zip lining, coffee

3

26

Manuel Antonio

National Park

2

27

Corcovado

Corcovado National Park, Cano Island

2

28

Limon

Caribbean vibes and beaches

2

Picture of Sloth in Manuel Antonio National Park
Sloth in Manuel Antonio National Park

12 Days Backpacking in Panama

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
Aqua Lounge, Bocas del Toro

Panama Itinerary

#

Where?

What?

How many days?

29

Bocas del Toro

Filthy Friday, island hopping, scuba diving, starfish beach

3

30

Boquete

Hiking, coffee, waterfalls, volcanoes

3

31

Panama City

Panama Canal, Casco Viejo, rooftop bars

3

32

San Blas

Island hopping, relaxing, Guna culture

3

Picture of Panama City skyline
Panama City skyline

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