Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Sat July 25 2015

Opinion Home | Tales From the Leap

  • Shannon Wolf | July 25, 2015 11:00 PM ET

    Backpacking Central America: Everything You Need to Know

    Backpacking Central America: Everything You Need to Know

    Antigua, Guatemala — Usually the first stop on the Gringo Trail: The perfect Central America adaptation spot. You will be in awe hiking active volcanoes and feel like you’ve transported back in time as you see locals in their traditional Mayan clothing.

    COUNTRIES IN CENTRAL AMERICA: Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.


    • Yellow Fever (Needed for the Caribbean Coast)
    • Malaria Tablets (Needed for the Caribbean coast)
    • Typhoid
    • Hepatitis A
    • Zithromax (Antibiotics)

    Total Cost: $370 CDN (about $284 USD)


    • Visa not required for U.S. or Canadian citizens traveling through Central America.
    • If you would like to stay longer, visa runs are easy to get away with, especially in Guatemala.

    Guatemala/Honduras/ El Salvador/Nicaragua: Can travel up to 90 days within the four countries

    Belize: Proof of onward travel. Can travel up to 30 days

    Costa Rica: Proof of onward travel. Can travel up to 30 days

    Panama: Proof of onward travel. Can travel up to 30 days


    1) Most people start in Mexico, heading to one of the best spots, Tulum, making a quick pit stop in Caye Caulker, Belize and then taking a chicken bus heading down to Guatemala.

    2) Guatemala: Semuc Champey > Tikal > Panajachel (day trip to Chichicastenango) > ferry to San Pedro (day trip to Santiago and San Marcus) > back to Panajachel via ferry and to Antigua (day trip to Monterrico).

    3) Honduras: Uvita Island (If you plan to get your dive certificate) or Rotan.

    4) El Salvador: Everyone heads straight to El Tunco from Honduras or Guatemala and typically skips the rest of the country. Note: If you would like to check out surf beaches here, visit El Zonte, El Zunsal and La Libertad as well. For calm swimming and less tourists, go to El Cuco Beach.

    5) Nicaragua: Leon (trips to Isla Los Brasiles and Las Penitas) > Granada (trips to El Gigante, Lago De Apoyo and Little Corn Island) > Ometepe Island > San Juan Del Sur.

    6) Costa Rica: San Jose > Monteverde Cloud Forest > La Fortuna > Pacific Coast and Caribbean Coast including:

    • North Pacific Coast: Del Coco Beach, Playa Grande, Tamarindo

    • Nicoya Peninsula: Santa Teresa, Montezuma, Mai Pais

    • South Pacific Coast: Jaco > Manuel Antonio

    • Caribbean Coast: Tortuguero> Limon > Puerto Viejo

    • Panama: Bocas Del Toro > Santa Catalina > Panama City > San Blas Islands

    El Salvador is the second country typically visited — The breathtaking Playa El Tunco with its notorious boulder in the ocean is a popular swim destination, on which to watch the most beautiful sunsets of your life.

    BUDGETING FOR ALL COUNTRIES (not including long-distance transit or entry/exit fees)

    Fiscal Budget

    • $15-20/day (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama)
    • $35/day (Costa Rica)

    Average Budget

    • $25-30/day (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama)
    • $45-50/day (Belize and Costa Rica)


    Belize: Exit fee — $18.75 by land and $35 fee by plane

    Guatemala: Exit Fee — $30 by plane (typically included in ticket), 20Q to exit by land is a scam

    El Salvador: No Entry or Exit Fee!

    Honduras: $3 Entry Fee

    Nicaragua: $12 Entry fee by land, $2 Exit fee by land

    Costa Rica: $7 Exit fee by land, $35 Exit Fee by plane

    Panama: $4 Entry Fee by land, $6 Exit Fee by land

    Between gorgeous nature reserves, soft sand beaches and hippie islands, Nicaragua has got it all!


    Types of Transit:

    • Local Buses (aka: “Chicken Bus”)
    • Collectivo (mini-van/shuttle bus)
    • Coach (long-distance buses)
    • Taxis (avoid unless necessary)

    Long Distance Buses:

    • Tica Bus (
    • Nica Bus
    • King Quality
    • Panaline (

    Note: can buy tickets from the station

    If you like beaches, parties and a “pura vida” life, Costa Rica will not disappoint.

    Transit Resources:

    • The Bus Station: (Information with transit-related links all over the world including Central America)

    • The Bus Schedule:

    “The online bus schedule for Central and South America, Mexico, the Caribbean and the Balearic Islands. The online schedule includes bus, train and boat connections between more then 3700 places for your travel in the following countries. All time tables are also available by cell phone.”


    Belize: $3.50/water taxi from island, $0.50-$2/hour bus

    Guatemala: $10/collectivo, $2/hour chicken bus

    El Salvador: $0.50-$5/hour chicken bus

    Honduras: $0.50-$5/hour chicken bus

    Nicaragua: $2/hour chicken bus

    Costa Rica: $8-10/bus

    Panama: $5-10/bus


    • Vegan/Vegetarian friendly throughout!

    From the Caribbean coast, you will head straight to the island of Bocas Del Toro in Panama, getting around solely by boat and then end your Central American days taking in the beautiful Caribbean landscape. 


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Shannon Wolf Tales From the Leap

Shannon Wolf Shannon Wolf is a freelance photographer and writer, traveling across the globe with an open itinerary and no intent of stopping. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she left behind a fast paced life to truly live and not just exist in an attempt to inspire others to follow their bliss. At age 26, Shannon has visited 20+ countries on four continents around the world. She has travelled overland by chicken-bus and tuk-tuks, hitchhiked by fruit trucks and through islands on horse and buggy. She has slept in the jungles of Nicaragua, on benches in London, secluded hidden beaches and she’s only getting started.
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