Central America overland advice


On the road

Rosanna Neophytou, from our supplier 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.”

Packing advice

Scott Marquardt, tour leader with our supplier Tucan Travel gives great Central America travel advice: “This is an adventure tour with a little bit of walking and many different types of overland transportation, so packing light will definitely make things easier! 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.”
Nancy Ableser from Tucan Travel: “It isn't necessary to carry a big terry cloth towel. I highly recommend having a sarong instead. And bring a money belt. I only wear it on travel days, but it's peace of mind. And also bring water sandals, like Tevas. I recommend the ones that have good traction, and can be worn for hiking, caving, river rafting, walking, anything.”
Jonny Bealby, from our supplier, Wild Frontiers: “I really advise anyone going to carry a LifeStraw self-filtering water bottle. So many tourists work their way through literally hundreds of plastic bottles. If you have one of these brilliant devices you can cut that out completely.”

Cultural tips

Scott Marquardt, tour leader with our supplier Tucan Travel gives great Central America travel advice: “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!”

What not to miss

Daniel Pawlyn from our supplier, Intrepid Travel: “Personally, I wouldn’t worry about Chichén Itzá. It’s one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, but I wonder how much of that can be put down to its proximity to the Mayan Riviera – so it’s firmly on the 5* all-inclusive day trip route. For a stunning Mayan temple head to Uxmal, Palenque, Yaxchillan or down to Tikal in Guatemala. Tikal and Palenque are still jungle shrouded and you can see mounds which could be temples yet to be unearthed, see monkeys playing in the trees, and there are far fewer visitors.”
Scott Marquardt, tour leader with our supplier Tucan Travel: “The ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal in Guatemala are spectacular. Still half buried in a dense tropical rainforest, the calls of howler monkeys and sights of toucans flying above the branches only adds to the magic of experiencing this massive sight. It never disappoints! I also love Teotihuacan, the massive pyramids just an hour outside of Mexico City.”

Food & shopping tips

Dan Pawlyn from our supplier Intrepid Travel: “In Guatemala, head to Chichicastengo 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.”
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 plantain, 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.”
Tom Smith from our supplier, Intrepid Travel: “Lobster on Caye Caulker is superb. It’s a year-round delicacy, but lobster season in Belize opens mid-June with ‘LobsterFest’ so definitely put that in your diaries. And the best thing – it won’t blow your budget. Roughly $12 will get you a whole, freshly-caught lobster, and they even have lobster burgers! Food costs across Central America do vary quite widely from country to country. Nicaragua is very cheap with a three-course meal costing from $10pp and a beer from $1, whereas costs Costa Rica would be approximately double that.”

Health & safety



Some vaccinations may be required, although it depends which countries you are passing through, and how remotely you will be travelling. Seek advice from your GP at least six weeks before travelling.

Malaria in Central America is restricted to a few regions and your tour operator will advise, as the overland trips do stick to quite fixed itineraries. Vulnerable areas include Limón province in Costa Rica, Stan Creek in Belize, the Autonoma del Atlántico Norte region of Nicaragua, the Chiapas region of Mexico and the lower lying lands of Escuintla and Alta Verapaz in Guatemala. These are just a few examples, and risks are low. Long sleeves and insect repellent are recommended as an extra precaution.

Dengue fever is on the increase There is no vaccination for disease, also carried by mosquito. So cover up, and use repellent.

Snakes are an issue in the rainforests, although venomous bites are rare. If you are bitten, clean the wound with soap and water (don’t suck out venom), keep the limb still and get to a hospital. And if you can, take a photo of the snake, as hospitals should have antivenins in stock. Most importantly, watch where you are walking.

Tap water is safe to drink in most of Costa Rica, but not in most other countries. Check with your guide or accommodation if you are unsure, particularly in rural regions. Bring a refillable bottle so that you can top up from large bottles. Or, even better, invest in a self-filtering water bottle, such as LifeStraw.

Ensure you have comprehensive travel insurance which includes any adventure activities which you are planning to participate in, as well as emergency repatriation.

Visit the NaTHNaC website for up to date health information.


One of the biggest safety issues in Central America, with so many beaches, is rip tides. Few beaches have life guards. Never go into the water in areas where there are known to be riptides –If you do find yourself being carried rapidly away from the shore, don’t swim against the current; you won’t beat it. Instead, swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the rip, or float until the current subsides.
Be vigilant in the capital cities, where gang related crime and robberies do happen. But there are also plenty of tourist police. Your tour operator will have copies of your ID but do carry a copy just in case, and be vigilant around ATMs.
Although you will spend a lot of your time travelling overland on public transport, there may be times when you need to get a taxi on a free day, for example. In this case, only use licensed taxis. In Costa Rica they are red, with plastic boxes on the roof displaying the taxi company’s name and telephone number. Similarly in Mexico, they are red with a white roof. There are pirate taxis in Mexico, however. Check out the Taxiaviso app where you can check if a licence plate or taxi company is authentic.
If you are hiking in volcanic areas, best to do so with an expert local guide. However, if there is thought to be a risk of eruption, national parks will be closed.
Check safety procedures with any adventure or activity companies and, in particular, with water activities, making sure there is a good instructor to tourist ratio, and that there are life jackets of helmets, especially if rafting or kayaking in white water. If your activity instructor doesn’t check that your life jacket fits, then this is not a responsible company.

Check the FCO website for safety information and entry requirements.

Central America overland holidays tips

recommendations from those who have been there

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travellers are often... other travellers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do - and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful Central America overland travel tips that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your holiday - and the space inside your suitcase.

“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 Newlandson

“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

“I thought the trip was terrific and I have wonderful adventures, memories and friends that will be with me for a lifetime…Roatan was by far the best stopover on this trip. The people on the tour were fabulous as well…Be wary of the long travel days. The dossier online makes each stop seem like a destination spot which is not the case. This tour would benefit from adding some flights from like Roatan to Managua to avoid 12 hour travel days” - Angie Watson

“Try and learn some Spanish to interact with people… The nicest part was the homestay in a pleasant little village with a lovely family” - Laura Palmucci on our Mexico and Guatemala Overland tour
Photo credits: [Advice - on the road: Samantha Beddoes] [Advice - Cultural tips - scott: 6:9clue] [Advice - packing nancy: orin zebest] [Advice - What not to miss - Scott: LWYang] [Advice - Food and shopping - nancy: AlejandroLinaresGarcia] [Tip1: Alexander Bonilla] [Tip2: luis rosario] [Helpdesk: Stefan Krasowski]
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