If youâ€™re looking for a trip of at least a month that takes in fabulous beaches, mountain scenery, indigenous and colonial history, great nightlife and tasty meals, try this for size â€“ a journey down through Central America. It can get pretty wild along the way, but the start and end points are well-developed cities with easy transport connections. San Jose, Costa Ricaâ€™s capital, is a great spot for nightlife with a fantastic casino scene. Itâ€™s like Vegas for backpackers, so make sure youâ€™ve sharpened up your blackjack skills before you arrive â€“ maybe the trip will end up paying for itself…
Cancun to Guatemala
Cancun, Mexico is our start point. Itâ€™s easy to get to by air from almost anywhere, and if you go out of high season and search online for bargains, it can be fairly inexpensive. The white sand beaches are truly beautiful, despite all the hotel development. Stay out of the tourist-trap margarita bars and youâ€™ll survive with your wallet intact. A day trip to the Mayan city at Chichen Itza is a great experience if you have time.
Take a bus south to the Guatemala border at La Mesilla, stopping a night at Mexicoâ€™s lovely San Cristobal if you have time – El Cocodrilo on the main square serves great margaritas at realistic prices. Itâ€™s an easy crossing, after which you can aim for Antigua, a few miles west of the capital, Guatemala City. This stunning whitewashed colonial town is full of great places to stay â€“ just wander the grid of attractive streets until you find somewhere you like. Cheap eats are everywhere.
El Salvador to Nicaragua
Next stop â€“ El Salvador. Since the civil war ended in 1992 the country (especially San Salvador) has become quite Americanized, with strip malls and burger joints everywhere. Stay outside the capital for a more interesting experience. Thereâ€™s great surfing around La Libertad and wonderful views at Lake Coatepeque, south of Santa Ana.
If youâ€™re short on time, hop through Honduras (the border crossings can be painful) on the southern road to the Nicaragua border. Managua is avoidable, but there are fantastic beaches and volcanoes to visit throughout the country. Itâ€™s much cheaper than Costa Rica, so you may want to hang around. One dollar beers are the norm, and ToÃ±a is the pick of the bunch.
Costa Rica is very beautiful, if quite Americanized in the larger towns and tourist spots. The beaches are stunning, and youâ€™ll find accommodation bargains off the beaten track if you search. San Jose is packed with bars and casinos – itâ€™s a great spot for an end-of-trip party, though itâ€™s not a particularly attractive town during the day.
Those on a strict budget will find Nicaragua probably the cheapest country for day-to-day costs, and Costa Rica the most expensive. Keep that in mind as you cross Central America and you should be able to budget efficiently.
(Images courtesy of studentcity.com, wikipedia, govisitcostarica.com)