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Backpacking in South & Central America

Monday, September 23rd, 2019 , by
Backpacking in South & Central America

In 2018, I set off on what was to be the craziest adventure of my life. I quit my job in Management Consulting and quickly bought the cheapest ticket out of the UK that I could. Little did I know, I would experience more highs and lows on this trip than I ever had before. This page is going to be about my love of this area of the world, and I’ll also drop in some hints and tips about the best way to travel it yourself, if you’re interested.

My trip looked like this: Colombia > Panama > Costa Rica > Nicaragua > Guatemala. It took me five months and I travelled by bus as much as possible, going overland and seeing the sights, stopping wherever looked interesting.

Starting in Colombia, I headed straight to Cartagena, a beautiful old port town. There you can get lost in the winding cobbled streets and have coffee in beautiful old cafes lined with books. This place has everything! If you’re looking for old town charm, a beautiful palm lined set of streets and old port history, this is the place. I spent three weeks in Colombia overall. I’d say it was definitely the country with the most variety, of all the ones I visited! It has beaches, amazing cities with modern, clean metros, and wonderful mountain and jungle hikes.

I flew over to Panama next, because it’s not possible to get there over land from Colombia. Spending a few days in Panama City, I was overwhelmed by all the busy streets. Speeding out of the city in a heavily vamped-up old American school bus, called a Diablo bus, I was ready for some hiking! Panama is great for hikes and I recommend this to anyone interested in mountainous terrain and lovely little hiking towns. I ended my time there by heading to the Bocas Del Toro islands. This was great for letting loose and partying. The crystal-clear ocean is a great way to cure a hangover. The alcohol is cheap, and the parties are huge fun. There are a few bars that you need to take boats to, with slides and jumping points directly into the sea as well.

Costa Rica was my next stop, but only for a few days! It’s a beautiful country, well known for its nature, but unfortunately a little too expensive for my backpacker budget. I found a great little hostel in San Jose and made that my base for the three days that I did stay. Then, it was time to get a bus to my next stop – Nicaragua.

Journeying into Nicaragua, there’s a distinct difference between this country and its wealthier neighbour. The streets are slightly less well-kept, but the people are just as kind and friendly. Leon, the capital, has a very interesting history of rebellion and political strife. It’s worth checking out for a few days steeped in history.

A 16-hour bus took me from Nicaragua, through Honduras and El Salvador, to Guatemala. Dropped off in Antigua, I ended up in a field that night, at a techno gig under the full moon, with Fuego gently bubbling in the background. There is so much history and culture here and I’d recommend it to anyone! Eat in cafes tucked in the back on tienda stores, and then head to Lake Atitlan for spectacular natural beauty. Here, you can camp by the lake and then wake up and hike on any of the various trails in the area. Kayak on the lake and then wait for night to fall and check out all the beautiful stars visible in the remote and stunning area.

My key takeaway from this trip is that South and Central America is the perfect backpacking destination. You’re able to explore so much, and learning Spanish is a plus! It’s a little cheaper than backpacking in Europe and the experiences you get are unforgettable.