Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Our Backpacking Route Through Central America

where to backpack in central america
Original photo source
(UPDATE: Check out the revised route here!)

After months of thinking about travel and saving all our money, we're six weeks out from backpacking through Central America and I couldn't be more excited. I literally woke up this morning thinking about Little Corn Island in Nicaragua with a smile on my face. 

There's a lot of change going on in my life right now with finding new tenants, packing, painting, and moving out of our apartment. Thanks to my different schedule I've still been able to delve into planning the logistics of our trip, staying up late into the night until my neck cramps from being hunched over my travel research. Sometimes I get carried away and really go into the details, like finding out which bus companies offer which routes (Tica and Hedman Alas pop up frequently) and how much things cost ($5 USD for lunch or dinner is the norm). I can't help but feel the excitement build as our departure date grows nearer.

For my husband and I, this will be our first time travelling long-term together. We’ve had a bunch of conversations to make sure we’re on the same page when it comes to travel style, budgeting, and the “feel” of the trip that we’re going for. I naturally like to be the planner so over the weekend I really got into our itinerary (which got the thumbs up from M).

Our Criteria

  • We want to travel to all seven countries in Central America (Honduras, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama)
  • Length of travel: 3 - 3.5 months. We’ll purchase our return tickets on the road and see how we feel
  • Even though we're backpacking and keeping to a budget, we’re still travelling as a couple and prefer private rooms when available
  • We’d rather splurge on our activities than luxurious accommodations
  • We’d prefer to support local guesthouses and companies
  • We like museums, ruins, and volcanoes but we’re not obsessed about seeing, touring, or climbing them all
  • We'll travel by bus and boat throughout the area
  • Accommodations average $25 USD per night for private room and hot water bathroom
  • Daily spending average $30 USD per person per day

Our Route Through Central America

Honduras ~ 1 month

We touch down in San Pedro Sula and immediately high tail it outta there on a direct bus to La Ceiba. The next morning we’ll take the ferry to the island of Utila and hang out for a month, completing our PADI Open Water Scuba Diving Certifications and exploring the sea with whale sharks (!!!!). Return to mainland Honduras and detour to La Moskitia to see wildlife in the Honduran jungle? Maybe. Then it’s a bus to Puerto Cortes and ferry to Placencia, Belize.

The clear water of Caye Caulker in Belize / photo credit 
Belize ~ 2 weeks

Arrive on the beaches of Placencia and Matthew will be in fishing heaven for a few days. Next we go to mainland Belize and meet my sister, who will be joining us on her spring break from university! We only have a week together, so we'll pick up the pace and head west to San Ignacio and Caracol to explore Mayan archaeological sites then spend a few days in Caye Caulker for scuba and snorkelling trips along the Barrier Reef. 

Guatemala ~ 3 weeks

Tikal’s renowned pyramids and temples are a must-see on our list before going south to Guatemala City and onwards to Antigua. The colonial charm makes this town sound like the perfect place to slow down, take in the quaint cobblestone streets, and study some Spanish. If we’re really intense maybe head to Xela for a homestay with a local family? We’ll see. After that it’s west to Lago de Atitlan and perhaps south to Monterrico along the Pacific Coast. We might swing north to the border of Guatemala and Honduras to visit Copan Ruinas, but Matthew’s not too keen on this idea. He wants to head into El Salvador directly, in which case we’ll take a bus through the Ciudad Pedro de Alvarado / La Hachadura border crossing.

The impressive jungle ruins of Tikal / photo credit
El Salvador ~ 1 week

At one point we considered skipping El Salvador, but the more I looked into this tiny country the more intrigued I became! In the west, we want to hike around Parque Nacional Los Volcanes, take a dip in the volcanic lake, Lago de Coatepeque, then bus northeast to trendy Suchitoto for a couple of days. We’ll stop in San Salvador to see the museums and get a peek of the capital city, then head south to the Pacific Coast. There we’ll chill out along La Costa del Balsamo before making our way eastward to Playa El Cuco and continuing by boat into Potosi, Nicaragua.

Nicaragua ~ 2 weeks

Things start to get significantly vaguer at this point -- I mean there’s only so much you can plan and I think I’ve exhausted all my brain power for the first half of our trip! We’ll likely visit the town of Leon for a day or two before going into the capital city of Managua. Will definitely be stopping in Granada before travelling east to the Caribbean Coast and taking a river taxi down the Rio Escondido. After that, it’s just a hop, skip, and jump away to the Corn Islands, a destination I’ve been excited to travel to for years!

The undeveloped beaches of Little Corn Island via The World on a Toilet 
Costa Rica ~ 1 week

Prices in Costa Rica are at the steeper end of our backpacker budget so we won’t be staying here for too long. Hopefully we’ll make another trip another time, but for now I can say we want to boat through the canals of Parque Nacional Tortuguero to see the wildlife and (especially) lots of turtles. Then we’ll swing over to Monteverde or Santa Elena to literally stick our heads in the clouds in the surrounding cloud forests. Lastly, a quick stop in San Jose to catch a bus into Panama via the Sixaola / Guabito border crossing.

Panama ~ 10 days

Panama is the last country of the trip so we’d like to slow down a little bit and truly appreciate our surroundings. What other way to do that besides one last weekend at the beach! I can already hear the caribfunk music of Bocas del Toro calling my name! After visiting Boquete for a few days we’ll head to the islands in the Caribbean Sea for a few more before continuing east to Colon, the Panama Canal, and eventually Panama City itself. Matthew really hates crowded street festivals and neither of us are religious so we’ll likely fly out of the country before the Easter Weekend celebrations begin (and prices skyrocket throughout Central America).

Our Route on a Map

original map source
And that’s that! Plans will probably change as we're open to new ideas but at least we relatively know where we’re going, which sites we want to see, and which experiences we think are worth the splurge (for example, diving with whale sharks, as intimidating as it sounds!). 

Any tips, tricks, suggestions, or questions to throw my way? Please let me know in the comments below.

(NOTICE: After travelling through Central America I wrote an updated post about the route I took. Check it out here!)

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  1. I'm so happy for you and jealous! I can't wait until my boyfriend and I are able to do this. Please blog every single step of the way!!!!

    I'm bookmarking this post so that I'll have it when planning my backpacking trip!

    1. Thank you Candice! When are you and Kyle thinking of taking off? (and yes I'll definitely be blogging throughout the trip, I hope you'll come check in with me every once in a while) :D

  2. Wow that's incredibly impressive! i don't know if i would be able to do all that. I would definitely want to travel with a planner like you so I can make sure to see all the best spots!

  3. Wow, that is going to be an amazing trip! I don't think I'll ever get to do a trip this long but I'd definitely love to see some of these places! Make sure to journal/blog everything! I wish I'd done that more when I went to Europe a few years ago

    Life as a Waterleaf

    1. I feel ya! It takes a lot more coordination (and money!) to travel abroad with a little one. Hopefully in a few years you will all be able to go out and explore together! If you are looking for any tips ytravelblog.com has some amazing stories about their family of four and their adventures across the world.

      As for blogging, I'll be doing my best to share the experience and hope to post a couple times a week!


    Also, when Carl and I travel this: "We’d rather splurge on our activities than luxurious accommodations" is exactly our feelings.

    We actually rent a car and double it as a hotel.... lol. But we also normally only have a short amount of time to take trips so we need the ability to go when we want to go. Having over 3 months makes public transportation for you guys a better deal!

    Can I just say again that I AM SO EXCITED TO FOLLOW.

    1. I AM SO EXCITED TOO!! :D Thank you for sharing my enthusiasm!! Staying in your car sounds like a great way to save money, assuming the weather isn't too hot or cold. I have a friend who loves to snowboard and made the back seat of his Hyundai into a bed so he could crash in the parking lot and be the first one on the hill. What do you do for showering though?

      PS Rikki commented on this post as well and when I went to check out her site I saw the most beautiful pictures of you and Carl kayaking! What a great idea for a shoot. You two look so in love <3

  5. oh my gosh! what an amazing adventure! i am so anxious to follow along - have a blast!

    1. Thank you Rikki, we definitely will! So happy that you dropped by, I don't think I've seen you around here before. It's always great to have a new follower :)

  6. Wow! This sounds like an amazing opportunity and adventure and I can't wait to follow along. Safe travels :)

    Stopping by to say hello from Travel Tuesday @ A Compass Rose!

    1. Thanks for your support Mar, we're definitely looking forward to it!

  7. That sounds AMAZING! I am so jealous! I cannot wait to see all your beautiful photos and hear about your adventures.

    I have only been to Costa Rica on your list and it was when I was a lot younger for a family vacation. I just remember all the beautiful colours of the flowers and birds and all of the lizards. Lol.

    My brother did a 6 week school trip to Belize and Costa Rica and maybe one other place, I don't remember. I know he loved Belize and said it was beautiful. They went swimming with turtles and stingrays.

    I am just hoping to get away somewhere warm for spring break! Lol. Enjoy your trip!!

    1. Hopefully by the time we get to CR I'll be much more used to all the lizards everywhere -- I hear I'm gonna have to get used to them and not be so squeamish about lil critters in my room :S Hope your spring break trip works out Jaclyn! Safe travels :)

  8. Your trip sounds amazing! And what a great adventure for you and your husband, just think of the memories you'll make. I look forward to reading and see all the wonderful places you visit in South America :)

    xo, Jackie

    1. I know, I'm excited thinking about it already :) Every night I'm dreaming about a new adventure. Thanks for your support Jackie, it's great to have readers who share my enthusiasm!

  9. You are going to have an amazing time! You definitely are my traveling inspiration, reading about your new adventures is so insightful and it makes me even more excited to start traveling more. I'm super exited to see your journey throughout Central America!

    Safe travels in the upcoming weeks! xo Donald

    1. Donald, you're so incredibly sweet. I'm happy to inspire you any way I can! Please know that you can come to me with any questions for when you start planning your travels ;)

  10. Hi Danielle, Best of luck! The first picture is making me swoon...the water is so green!! I'm gonna respond to your email as soon as I get a chance.

    Take Care!

  11. oh gosh, you're going to have the best time! i'd love for an adventure like this!

    lindsey louise


  12. Wow, this looks incredible and I was so excited reading through all of your plans! I can just feel your enthusiasm radiating through it! This is going to be such a life-changing/affirming adventure! It sounds like you have a good mixture of planned things and flexible things. I've never been to Central America, but I think that having a plan is a good way to go down there, for sure! :) Yay!

    1. Double yay!! Thanks for your sweet words Erika. Only a few more weeks until the adventure begins :)

  13. So glad I found your blog! I am headed on almost the exact same trip in 3 weeks! I'll be sure to keep up with your travels!

  14. hello there - i can't wait to hear your travel adventures. i am thinking for backpacking in central america this coming may. maybe, just maybe, i'll follow your route except it's only for 2 weeks :(


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