Backpacking Central America - A 3 Month Itinerary

**This post was originally written in the summer of 2014, but was updated July 2016 to include many more details on how to get from one place to the other, where to stay, and what to do!

So 3 months of backpacking Central America zoomed by faster than I ever thought possible, and I am still trying to figure out how I feel about it! I have done a lot of sleeping and eating Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt since returning, and have also (thankfully) secured a couple of babysitting jobs so I can start to replenish my bank account for the next adventure.

I looked back at the original plan we had for our trip and compared it to what we actually did. For the most part we followed the route pretty well! We stayed some places longer than we thought and made some changes on the fly based on recommendations. I loved that I had a plan to follow, but also really enjoyed reading blogs and my handy Lonely Planet book and making decisions as we went.

Before I left, I didn’t find many resources on getting from one place to another in Central America. I also didn’t find any routes that other people have taken, besides Danielle at The Lifestyle Project, who was taking almost the same trip as me at the same time.

Here was our original route: I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane

Here is the route we ended up taking:

[thrive_gmaps][/thrive_gmaps]

We spent 89 nights on the road in 26 different cities.

The Antigua Arch

Antigua Arch

1-10 — Antigua, Guatemala

Where We Stayed

Yellow House Hostel – $28 a night for a private room with shared bathroom (breakfast included)

Here are hotels in Antigua of various price levels

What We Did

How to get from Antigua to Lake Atitlan –> 2.5 hours + $13

Find any tourist agency around Antigua – they all offer van rides to Lake Atitlan. It is a 2 hour drive (depending on how fast your driver goes). The van will drop you off  in Pana and from there you will take a water taxi to whatever village on the lake you are staying at. The van ride should cost $10 and the water taxi $3-$6 (depending on where you are going).

11-17 — Jaibalito, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Where We Stayed

Gary’s Casita – $30 a night for a private hut and bathroom – It doesn’t look like it’s available on Airbnb anymore, but there are a bunch of cute places on Airbnb — use this link for $16 off your first rental.

What We Did

  • Hiked between villages
  • Kayaked Around the lake

How to get from Lake Atitlan to Lanquin –> 11 hours + $22 OR Break it Up

There are two options to get from Lake Atitlan to Lanquin: You can take a direct shuttle from San Marcos La Laguna to Lanquin. It leaves at 6am and takes 11 hours. If that sounds awful, you can break up the trip a bit (which is what we have done in the past). Go back to Antigua (the same way you got to the lake) and spend some more time in Antigua. Then get on a shuttle from Antigua to Lanquin. It will take 8 hours and cost you about $18. 

18-21 — Lanquin, Guatemala

Where We Stayed

El Retiro Lodge – $20 a night for a private hut with shared bathroom

What We Did

  • Visited Semuc Champey
  • Went River Tubing

How to get from Lanquin to Tikal/Flores/El Remate –> 8-9 hours + $14-$16

From the tour operators in Lanquin town, book a shuttle to Flores. You can get one through your hotel, but chances are the prices will be higher. The shuttle goes direct to Flores, which takes 8 hours. From there you can go to El Remate (which is a bit quieter and closer to Tikal) for an extra $2-$4 depending on how kind your driver is. 

22-23 — El Remate, Guatemala

Where We Stayed

Hostel Hermano Pedro – $13 a night for a private room with shared bathroom. *We just showed up in this town and found a place to stay.

What We Did

  • Visited Tikal

How to get from El Remate to Ambergris Caye –> 5.5 hours + $20

Get a direct shuttle from El Remate to Belize City ($10 and 4 hours). You will spend some time at the border crossing from Guatemala into Belize where  you will need to pay a $5ish dollar border fee (if you’re American). From the bus station in Belize City you walk to the the docks where you will get a 1.5 hour boat ride to Ambergris Caye for $10.

Sunrise, Belize, Ambergris Caye

24-30 — San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize

Where We Stayed

La Perla del Caribe – $600 a night for a 4 room villa

What We Did

  • Snorkeled Shark Ray Alley
  • Celebrated Carnival

How to get from Ambergris Caye to Placencia –> 1 hour plane ride

We flew Belize Air from the island direct to Placencia. It was easy and cost about $100.

31-33 — Placencia, Belize

Where We Stayed

Sea Breeze Hotel – $30 a night for a private room and private bathroom.

Here are lots of hotels in Placencia

What We Did

  • Napped on the Beach

How to get from Placencia to Punta Gorda –> 2.5 hours + $13

In Placencia, take the Hokey Pokey water taxi to Independence ($5 + 15 minutes). Then hop in a cab to the bus station ($3 + 6 minutes). Take the bus to Punta Gorda ($4.50 + 2 hours). *If you don’t have to spend the night in Punta Gorda, I wouldn’t!

34 — Punta Gorda, Belize

Where We Stayed

Charlton Inn- $50 a night for a private room and private bathroom with A/C

What We Did

  • Stayed in our air conditioned room!

How to get from Punta Gorda to Livingston –> 1.5 hours + $48

There is a ferry from PG to Puerto Barrios. It costs $25 plus an $18 departure fee for leaving Belize and it takes about an hour. From Puerto Barrios hop in a 20 minute water taxi to Livingston for $4.

35-37 — Livingston, Guatemala

Where We Stayed

Dona Alida Hotel – $25 a night for a private room and private bathroom with balcony – another place we just showed up and found a hotel. If you like to plan ahead, here are hotels in Livingston to check out.

What We Did

  • Kayaked the Rio Dulce
  • Guatemalan Cooking Class

How to get from Livingston to Copan

*This was a very lucky day for us as we had a local expat drive us from Puerto Barrios to San Pedro Sula. It saved a good amount of time and money. If you aren’t able to hitch a ride, here is how you do it: water taxi to Puerto Barrios –> taxi to bus station –> Bus to the border of Honduras –> Walk across border and get a bus to San Pedro Sula –> bus from San Pedro Sula to Copan (3 hours + $6).

The cobblestone streets of Copan, Honduras

The streets of Copan

38-41 — Copan Ruinas, Honduras

Where We Stayed

Hotel Yaragua – $20 a night for a private room and private bathroom

What We Did

How to get from Copan to Suchitoto –> 9 hours + $18

Take a bus to La Entrada ($3 + 2 hours). Take a bus to Santa Rosa del Copan ($2 + 1 hour). From Santa Rosa de Copan get on a direct shuttle to San Salvador ($13 + 5 hours). Ask the driver to drop you at Aguilares or the road to Suchitoto. Wait on the side of the road for a bus (it will come!). It costs $0.75 and takes 45 minutes. * We broke this up by staying in Santa Rosa de Copan for a night.

The huge beach on the Pacific Ocean of El Zonte,El Salvador

Chris and his dog friend hanging out in front of Frida’s

43-44 — Suchitoto, El Salvador

Where We Stayed

Hostal Vista Lago – $30 a night for a private room and private bathroom.

What We Did

  • Walked around a lot

How to get from Suchitoto to El Zonte –> 2.5 hours + $8

Get a bus from Suchitoto to San Salvador Terminal Oriente (1.5 hours + $0.70). You need to change terminals, so take a taxi  ($5)from Terminal Oriente to to Terminal Occidente (it is kind of behind and to the side of the main terminal – the taxi driver should know). Take bus 102A direct to El Sunzal, but ask to get off in El Zonte ($1.50 + 45 minutes) OR bus 102 ($0.60 + 1 hour) to La Libertad. Wait on the side of the road for bus 192 to El Zonte ($0.25 + 10 minutes). 

45-47 — El Zonte, El Salvador

Where We Stayed

El Salvador Surf Lodge– $25 a night for a private room and private bathroom with A/C. I wouldn’t stay here again, you can read all about our Surfer Bro Experience.

What We Did

  • Surfed
  • Swung in Hammocks
  • Watched a Commercial Being Filmed

How to get from El Zonte to El Cuco –> 6 hours + $12

From the main road in El Zonte, hop on bus 192 to La Libertad ($0.50 + 30 minutes). From La Libertad get on bus 307 to San Salvador ($1 + 1.25 hours). You need to get to Terminal Occidente (it took us 15 minutes and cost $5 in a taxi from where bus 307 dropped us off). Get on a San Miguel Super Especial Bus ($5 + 2.5 hours). Get off in San Miguel and get on a bus headed to El Cuco ($0.50 + 1.5 hours). If you are going to La Tortuga Verde, a cab cost us $4 from El Cuco. 

48-54 — El Cuco, El Salvador

Where We Stayed

La Tortuga Verde – $25 a night for a private room and private bathroom

What We Did

  • Surfed
  • Layed in Hammocks

How to get from El Cuco to Leon –> 8 hours + $10

If you are staying at La Tortuga Verde, hop on the bus that rolls by that is headed for Intipuca ($0.50 + 20 minutes). When you get off in Intipuca, get on bus 339 toward La Union  ($1 + 1 hour). When you get off in La Union, you need to walk through the town. We strolled through the market, past the park, and to the left for the bus terminal. Get on bus 342 toward San Carlos ($1 + 1 hour). You will get dropped off on the side of the road in Santa Rosa. Get on bus 330 to El Amatillo ($0.50 + 10 minutes). Walk across the border. Get on a bus from Amatillo to Choluteca ($2.50 + 2 hours).

** We stopped in Choluteca for the night to break up the journey.**

In Choluteca, get on a bus to Guasate ( $1.50 + 45 minutes). Walk across the border. Then get on a bus from Guasate to Chinandega ($2 + 1.25 hours). From Chinandega to Leon ($1 + 1 hour).

Laguna de Apoyo

55-57 — Leon, Nicaragua

Where We Stayed

Hostel Tortuga Balooda – $26 a night for a private room and shared private bathroom. Lots of options for hotels in Leon.

What We Did

How to get from Leon to Masaya –> 2.25 hours + $2

Hop on a microbus from the bus station in Leon to Managua (1.5 hours $1.50). At the Managua bus station get on a bus to Masaya (45 minutes + $0.60) – there will be lots of people at the Managua bus station pushing and shoving to get on the bus.

58-60 — Masaya, Nicaragua

Where We Stayed

Hostal Central – $10 a night for a private room and private bathroom. *You’ll find the cheapest places to stay by walking around the the town and asking!

What We Did

  • Climbed Masaya Volcano
  • Celebrated Dia de San Lorenzo
  • Watched a Nicaragua Baseball Game

How to get from Masaya to Laguna de Apoyo –> 45 minutes + $0.60

Go to the big market bus terminal to find a bus to the lagoon. Three buses a day go all the way down to the lake – 5:30am, 10:30am. 3:30pm. Other buses leave every 20 minutes, but don’t go all the way to the lagoon. You can get on any Granada bound bus, hop off on the road to Apoyo and get in a taxi waiting. 

61-62 — Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua

Where We Stayed

Paradiso Hotel – $25 a night for a private room and shared bathroom

What We Did

  • Layed in Hammocks
  • Kayaked

How to get from Laguna de Apoyo to Granada –> 1 hour + $5

You can get a direct shuttle from the hotels in Laguna de Apoyo to Granada for $5.  

63-64   Granada, Nicaragua

Where We Stayed

Backyard Hostel – $20 a night for a private room and private bathroom – There are tons of places to stay in Granada – here is the city page on Booking.

What We Did

  • Explored the City

How to get from Granada to Ometepe Island –> 3 hours + $10

Take a local bus to Rivas (1.75 hours + $1). In Rivas you can get a bus to the ferry dock, they are very crowded though. We opted to take a taxi for $6 (10 minutes). Take the ferry to Moyogalpa (1 hour + $2.50). Depending on where you are going on Ometepe, you can rent scoooters get a taxi or a bus to your final stop.

65-74 — Moyogalpa, Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

Where We Stayed

Hospedaje Dona Chido – $15 a night for a private room and private bathroom. **When you arrive in Moyogalpa, there is a helpful tourist booth with some hotel recommendations. We walked all around the town and looked at a bunch of places before choosing.

What We Did

  • Scootered Around the Island
  • Hiked the volcanoes

How to get from Ometepe to Tilaran –> 5 hours + $19

You can take the ferry from Moyogalpa OR take the other ferry from San Jorge. To do that, get on an Altagracia bound bus and get off in San Jorge (30 minutes + $0.50). The boat takes 45 minutes and costs $2. From the ferry dock, you have a few options to get to the border: 1. Take a taxi or bus to Rivas then from Rivas take a local bus to the border ($2 + 1.5 hours). 2. From the ferry dock take a taxi to the border ($12 + 40 minutes). At the border, buy a ticket for a San Jose bound bus and get off in Canas ( 2.5 hours + $3.50). In Canas find a bus stop going up the mountain and take a Tilaran bus (30 minutes + $1). 

Costa Rica Waterfall

75-77 — Tilaran, Costa Rica

Where We Stayed

Hotel Mary – $27 a night for a private room and private bathroom

What We Did

  • Hiked to the 5 Waterfalls

How to get from Tilaran to La Fortuna –> 2.5 hours + $5

Take a direct bus from the Tilaran bus station at either 7:30am or 12:30pm. It takes 2.5 hours and costs $5. 

78-79 — La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Where We Stayed

Cabinas Jerry – $20 a night for a private room and private bathroom (with a TV!). La Fortuna is a very touristy town with hotels in all price ranges. If it is high season, it’s probably a good idea to book something ahead of time. Here is the La Fortuna Hotel page on Booking.

What We Did

  • Hiked to a waterfall

How to get from La Fortuna to Cahuita –> 8 hours + $19

Take a bus from La Fortuna to San Ramon (2.5 hours + $4). You need to walk about 5 minutes to the next bus station; walk to the corner, turn right and walk 3 blocks (we followed a lot of the people doing the same thing). At the San Ramon bus station, get on a bus to San Jose (1.25 hours + $2). In San Jose, you need to take a taxi to the other bus station (10 minutes + $5). Take a bus to Cahuita (4 hours + $8). 

80-81 — Cahuita, Costa Rica

Where We Stayed

Blue Spirit – $28 a night for a private bungalow with bathroom. * We showed up in Cahuita just as it was getting dark with no place to stay (I don’t recommend this). We had to walk around for awhile before finding something we liked in our price range. If you don’t want this to happen to you – here is a list of hotels in Cahuita. 

What We Did

  • Hiked through Cahuita National Park

How to get from Cahuita to Bocas del Toro –> 4 hours + $13.50

Get a bus to Sixaola (1.5 hours + $4). Walk across the border from Costa Rica to Panama – as of April 2014 it costs $7 to leave and $3 to enter. Go to the right and get on a bus to Changuinola ($2 + 45 minutes). Get a bus from Changuinola to Almirante ($1.50 + 3o minutes). *Alternately you can take a taxi from the border to Almirante for $10. Walk 5 minutes to the dock and get a water taxi to Bocas town (20 minutes + $6). 

Bocas del toro, panama, beach

82-87 — Bocas Town, Bocas del Toro, Panama

Where We Stayed

Hostel Caribbean Lodge – $25 a night for a private room and private bathroom with A/C – I don’t think this hostel exists anymore. There are TONS of hostels and hotels all in Bocas main town.

What We Did

How to get from Bocas del Toro to Panama City –> 10 hours + $35

Take an overnight bus from Bocas to Panama City. The price includes the water taxi as well.

89 — Panama City, Panama

Where We Stayed

Hospedaje Casco Viejo – $20 a night for a private room and shared bathroom.

What We Did

  • Explored, Ate and Reflected

Pin for Later

Planning a long term trip can be daunting! If you are backpacking Central America, here is a 3 month itinerary through all 7 countries + hotel recommendations and directions from city to city!

**Some of these links are affiliate links. That means if you purchase or book anything, I get a little extra moolah – at no cost to you!