Central America overland routes & highlights

Central America overland routes & highlights


One of the best things about Central America overland trips is not just that you cover so many countries, but also that they give you a wonderfully eclectic mix of nature and culture, enabling you to bliss out at the beach, be brave in the breakers, go budget or splash out. You can be visiting the famous Actun Tunichil Muknal Mayan caves in Belize one day, and snorkelling off Caye Caulker the next. Or spend a couple of days living in a Bribri indigenous homestay in Costa Rica followed by the idyll of Isla Colón over the border in Panama. Because although Central America is bursting with history, on this trip you will also discover that it is also bursting with life.


It’s all cays and cultural heritage in Belize, a small country on the Caribbean coast where myriad islands, or cays, call out to keen explorers. Snorkel off it stunning Caye Caulker, or around the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Or explore Mayan treasures hidden in the sub tropical Mayan mountains, such as at Actun Tunichil Muknal, a giant cave system where humans were sacrificed as part of sacred rituals.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is like the supermodel of Central America, boasting almost obscene amounts of beauty. Hike through tropical forests that surround the beauty queen’s crown, Arenal Volcano, explore the flora and fauna of the Monteverde Cloudforest, or take a boat trip through the coastal mangroves of Tortuguero to see green turtles, manatees and howler monkeys. All howling because it is so painfully pretty, perhaps.


Many people on these tours don’t anticipate just how gorgeous Guate really is. Mayan archaeology abounds at Tikal, Topoxte and Yaxha. The colonial period is captured perfectly in Antigua. Trek through cloud forest up to volcanic peaks in the Zunil Mountains. Lake Atitlan, enveloped by volcanoes and indigenous lands is close to ethereal. And yes, Pacific surf and Caribbean coves await too.


Tourism is still thin on the ground here but overland tours mean you can visit its highlights, some of which are very high. Such as Pico Bonito National Park, a stunning mountainous region overlooking the coast, or the elevated (and lowland) terrain of Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve. Copan’s Mayan ruins are stunners and the crystalline waters of Cayos Cochinos or the Bay Islands are Honduran heaven.


Most trips start in Mexico, giving you time to acclimatise by the beaches of Playa del Carmen or in Tulum which has two for the price of one: a Mayan archaeological site overlooking the Caribbean, with a small fishing community still thriving on its shores. Longer trips allow time to explore the vibrancy of Mexico City, the colonial gems of Puebla and the superb food and multicultural influences in Oaxaca.


Some marketing people call it ‘the new Costa Rica’, but it is 100 percent Nicaragua, and proudly so. It is packed with its own cultural and natural riches, and is the largest country in Central America too. Touching both the Caribbean and the Pacific, overland tours tend to stick to the west coast, where you get a wonderful mix of littoral, lava and luscious. Plus city gems such as León and Granada thrown in.

Central America overland advice


On the road..

Rosanna Neophytou, also from Tucan Travel: “Driving through Central America is a fantastic experience – you will get a taste of just how the locals live as you travel through various towns, city and countryside, each offering very different views. Going on a colourful chicken bus in Guatemala is always an experience to remember, as it drives past spectacular volcanoes. There will always be something to see out the windows! Be open minded; some places in Central America are incredibly large and there are often long travel days between the stops. Prepare for this but also keep your eyes open if you can – you will often be rewarded with fantastic views. For any lengthy journeys bring a mixture of clothing. Bring a jumper especially on overnight buses - it gets surprisingly cool especially in the mountainous areas.”
Jess Millett, from our supplier, Tucan Travel, shares her advice on Central America overland trips: “To make the most of an overland tour you need to be very flexible, quite patient, and up for a really good adventure. Due to the very nature of these tours, there’s always a chance that something can go wrong – like a tyre blowing, or a break down – so you need to be able to shrug that off and make the most of it. An overland trip is ideal for solo travellers as it’s a very sociable style of travel – you’re mucking in together; you’re cooking together; you’re cleaning together, so there’s a definite community spirit. You’re almost guaranteed to make some really good friends and share some incredible memories.”

When to go..

Vicky Rodford from our supplier Intrepid Travel: “Arriving over Easter (Semana Santa) has pros and cons. The cons are that everywhere is really busy as many Central Americans have this as a holiday period; the pros are without a doubt the festivities over the Easter weekend, particularly in Antigua. The Day of Dead Festival over Halloween is also a great time to be in Mexico City.”

Packing advice

Scott Marquardt, tour leader with our supplier Tucan Travel gives great Central America travel advice: “You’ll need layers for some higher elevation where it can get down to 5°C in the winter, but nothing like the extreme cold you’d see in South America. Otherwise you’ll mostly be wearing shorts and t-shirts. Definitely also pack sunscreen, bug spray with DEET, a bathing suit and some good shoes for walking and hiking. Also you might want to learn a little bit of Spanish. In some parts you won’t hear hardly any English at all; a few words can go a long way!”

Nancy Ableser from our supplier, Tucan Travel: “Don’t miss the tapado in Livingston, Guatemala. It's the traditional Garifuna coconut seafood soup. There is a lot of rice, beans, meat and plantains, and not many vegetables, or seasonings. Mexico is the only country where there is a variety of sauces and flavors. It's tasty, but it's pretty heavy, like the other countries, with lots of meat and carbs, and not many vegetables. The ceviche and other things at the Mercado de Mariscos in Panama City are great! And it's a fun and lively local experience.”

Food & Shopping tips..

Vicky Rodford from our supplier Intrepid Travel: “In Guatemala, head to Chichicastenango market and haggle hard! There are some great local handicrafts on offer and it’s a perfect chance to immerse yourself in local life for a few hours.”
If you'd like to chat about Central America Overland or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.
Rosy & team.
01273 823 700

And a couple of traveller tips from our holiday reviews…

“Do as much research as possible before your trip – I wished I had done more! Try and learn some basic conversational Spanish - I wish I had learnt more!... It was an absolutely stunning experience, greatly helped by the small group I travelled and very well organised and let by this travel company.” – Douglas Newlands

“Be flexible, warm showers are rare and enjoy even if you are sometimes squeezed in a bus...the most memorable part? The homestay at the family at Lake Atitlan, the volcano hiking and the caving.” – Andrea Baumann
Photo Credits: [Highlights image: CarlosVanVegas] [Mexico : David Stanley] [Belize: dronepicr] [Guatemala: Adam Baker] [Honduras: Chad Sparkes] [Costa Rica - Howler monkey: Steve Jurvetson] [Advice-chickenbus: Samantha Beddoes] [Advice-dayofthedead: clive wren] [Advice-market: chensiyuan - chensiyuan] [Helpdesk: Stefan Krasowski]
Written by Catherine Mack
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