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Explore Central America: Nicaragua, Costa Rica & Panama

13 days (10 days in 2017) Nature & Wildlife
See the best of this vibrant region when you sip Costa Rican coffee at the plantation, get a glimpse of Nicaragua’s rich heritage in Granada and witness the engineering marvel that is the Panama Canal. You’ll see nature in its purest forms, from dense rainforests to verdant volcanic islands, as well as historic cities.

Let us handle the details

Expert Tour Director

      Local       cuisine

Handpicked hotels

Sightseeing with local guides

Private transportation

Personalized flight options

Maximum tour group size: 30 travelers

Tour Pace: You will walk for about 45 minutes daily across moderately uneven terrain, including gravel paths and paved roads, with some hills.

Let us handle the details

Expert Tour Director

      Local       cuisine

Handpicked hotels

Sightseeing with local guides

Private transportation

Personalized flight options

Your tour includes

  • 12 nights in handpicked hotels

  • Breakfast daily, 3 lunches, 7 three- course dinners; beer or wine is included at the welcome and farewell dinners

  • Multilingual Tour Director

  • Private deluxe motor coach

  • Guided sightseeing and select entrance fees

Map of Tour of Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama

Granada 2 nights Hotel info

Day 1: Arrival in Nicaragua

Fly to Managua and transfer to Granada to settle in to your hotel.

Day 2: Sightseeing tour of Granada

Included meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Get to know the city’s Spanish architecture and rich heritage, then set off on a boat tour to discover the region’s wildlife on the water.

• Take a guided tour of Granada’s UNESCO-recognized colonial zone

• Step into the 16th-century La Merced Church 

• Enter the Fortaleza de la Pólvora, the fort which once housed the city’s gunpowder 

• Cruise the Islets of Granada, stopping at a few 365 volcanic islands that dot Lake Nicaragua to walk and bird-watch 

• Visit a local school with a guide before returning to Granada

Celebrate the start of your Central American journey at tonight’s welcome dinner with your fellow travelers.

San Juan del Sur 2 nights Hotel info

Day 3: Masaya Volcano, markets & village visit

Included meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Leave the city behind to experience the scenery and traditions of Nicaragua before continuing on to beachy San Juan del Sur.

• Visit Masaya Volcano for sweeping views of the region and a look into the crater

• Browse handicrafts at the country’s best open-air markets

• Tour the “Pueblos Blancos,” local villages of white colonial buildings that are home to rich pre-Columbian roots and traditional craftspeople

• Enjoy lunch overlooking Apoyo Lagoon 

• Learn about local trades, like ceramics, leatherwork and furniture-making

Day 4: Ometepe Island

Included meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Spend the day on Ometepe, an island in Lake Nicaragua formed by twin volcanoes. Remarkably untouched, the island is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, thanks to its verdant hillsides, waterfalls, beaches and wildlife. 

• Learn about the volcanoes, Concepción and Maderas, and the creation of the island

• See the island’s petroglyphs, intricate rock engravings that date back to 1000 B.C.

• Stop at an organic coffee farm to learn about the local co-op

Guanacaste 2 nights Hotel info

Day 5: Santa Rosa National Park & Liberia

Included meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Cross into Costa Rica this morning and get to know the country on guided tours. 

• Stop at Santa Rosa National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, to walk through the park’s signature dry forests and catch a glimpse of the birds, monkeys and sloths that call the ecosystem home

• Continue on to Guanacaste, where your Tour Director will lead a quick walking tour of Liberia, the region’s colonial capital

Day 6: Free day in Guanacaste

Included meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Enjoy a full free day in Guanacaste or add an excursion.

Optional Excursion - Sailing & Snorkeling $99pp* Details

From Tamarindo, embark on an unforgettable sailing voyage aboard a catamaran yacht. On your cruise, helmed by a crew of three, you’ll head out into Tamarindo Bay to encounter turtles, jumping rays and dolphins. If you're feeling adventurous, take advantage of the available snorkeling equipment and jump right in. The cruise provides plenty of time to sit back and unwind with snacks and beverages as you listen to relaxing music and enjoy the spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean.

Save $10 when you book this excursion up to 3 days before your tour departs. (On-tour price: $109)

Arenal Region 2 nights Hotel info

Day 7: Tenorio & Corobicí river rafting

Included meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Make your way to the Arenal region today, stopping en route at the Tenorio River. Hop aboard a six-person river raft for a ride down the Tenorio, where you may spot crocodiles, otters, monkeys and birds.

Day 8: Arenal National Park

Included meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Spend the day in Arenal National Park, home to Costa Rica’s most active volcano.

• Start the day with a walk through the park, a bird-watcher’s paradise

• Unwind in hot springs kept warm by the geothermal energy that created the volcano

Enjoy a free afternoon in Arenal or add an excursion.

Optional Excursion - Ziplining Tour $65pp* Details

Today's ziplining excursion adds a bit of adrenaline to your Costa Rican vacation. The longest ziplines on this course cover nearly half a mile, and the tallest are almost 600 feet off the ground; in short, you've never traveled like this before! You'll fly silently above the treetops and come home with a renewed sense of adventure.

Save $10 when you book this excursion up to 3 days before your tour departs. (On-tour price: $75)

San José 1 night Hotel info

Day 9: Coffee plantation visit & San José sightseeing tour

Included meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Leave the cloud forest behind for the European-style city of San José, stopping at Espiritu Santo Coffee Plantation en route. Learn about coffee harvests and enjoy a tasting before continuing on for a guided tour of San José.

• See La Sabana Metropolitan Park, the National Stadium and the Rohrmoser residential area

• Stop at the Plaza de la Cultura, site of many performances and celebrations, and admire the National Theater

• Pass Bellavista Fortress, home of the National Museum, and learn about the city’s pre-Columbian history

• Marvel at the steel exterior of the Edificio Metálico, a century-old building prefabricated in Belgium, and admire the historic streets of Barrio Amón

Panama City 3 nights Hotel info

Day 10: Sightseeing tour of Panama City

Included meals: Breakfast

Fly to Panama City, the first European settlement on the Pacific coast, and get to know the city on a guided tour.

• See Spanish, French and early American influences in the UNESCO-recognized Old City

• View major highlights, including the striking Metropolitan Cathedral and regal Plaza de la Independencia

• End your tour with a drive down the palm-lined Amador Causeway for unbeatable views of the modern cityscape and Panama Bay

Day 11: Panama Canal cruise

Included meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Discover the great engineering feat that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans on today’s Panama Canal cruise. Start at Gamboa pier, cruising through locks and under the Bridge of the Americas and Centennial Bridge, both of which link the continents. Disembark at Amador Causeway.

Day 12: Free day in Panama City

Included meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Enjoy a full free day in Panama City or add an excursion.

Rejoin your group to celebrate your tour at tonight’s farewell dinner.

Optional Excursion - Embera Village Visit: Indigenous Culture $99pp* Details

Get a glimpse into life in an indigenous village during a trip to meet the Embera people. With a name that means “keepers of the rainforest,” the Embera people have stayed true to their community’s traditions for centuries. To get to the village, you’ll cruise up the Chagres River in a dugout canoe, taking in Panama’s vibrant jungle scenery along the way. When you arrive, you’ll have the chance to learn about their way of life. Meet the locals, visit a medicine garden, join in their traditions and maybe even take a dip in the river. A simple lunch will be offered before your return to Panama City.

Save $10 when you book this excursion up to 3 days before your tour departs. (On-tour price: $109)

Day 13: Departure

Included meals: Breakfast (excluding early morning departures)

Board your flight home or continue your tour in Cartagena.

Let us handle the details

Expert Tour Director

      Local       cuisine

Handpicked hotels

Sightseeing with local guides

Private transportation

Personalized flight options

Your tour includes

  • 9 nights in handpicked hotels

  • Breakfast daily, 2 lunches, 6 three- course dinners; beer is included at the welcome and farewell dinners

  • Multilingual Tour Director

  • Private deluxe motor coach

  • Guided sightseeing and select entrance fees

Granada 3 nights Hotel info

Day 1: Arrival in Nicaragua

Fly to Managua and transfer to Granada to settle in to your hotel.

Day 2: Sightseeing tour of Granada

Included meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Get to know the city’s Spanish architecture and rich heritage on foot and by boat.

• Take a guided tour of Granada’s UNESCO-recognized colonial zone

• Step into the 16th-century La Merced Church 

• Enter the Fortaleza de la Pólvora, the fort which once housed the city’s gunpowder 

• Cruise the Islets of Granada, stopping at a few  of the 365 volcanic islands that dot Lake Nicaragua to walk and bird-watch 

• Visit a local school with a guide before returning to Granada

Celebrate the start of your Central American journey at tonight’s welcome dinner with your fellow travelers.

Day 3: Masaya Volcano, markets & village visit

Included meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Leave the city behind to experience the scenery and traditions of rural Nicaragua

• Visit Masaya Volcano for sweeping views of the region and a look into the crater

• Browse handicrafts at the country’s best open-air markets

• Tour the “Pueblos Blancos,” local villages of white colonial buildings that are home to rich pre-Columbian history and traditional craftspeople

• Enjoy lunch overlooking Apoyo Lagoon 

• Learn about local trades, like ceramics, leatherwork and furniture-making

Guanacaste 2 nights Hotel info

Day 4: Santa Rose National Park & Liberia

Included meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Cross into Costa Rica this morning and get to know the country on guided tours. 

• Stop at Santa Rosa National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, to walk through the park’s signature dry forests and catch a glimpse of the birds, monkeys and sloths that call the ecosystem home

• Continue on to Guanacaste, where your Tour Director will lead a quick walking tour of the region’s colonial capital of Liberia

Day 5: Free Day in Guanacaste

Included meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Enjoy a full free day in Guanacaste or add an excursion.

Optional Excursion - Sailing & Snorkeling $99pp* Details

From Tamarindo, embark on an unforgettable sailing voyage aboard a catamaran yacht. On your cruise, helmed by a crew of three, you’ll head out into Tamarindo Bay to encounter turtles, jumping rays and dolphins. If you're feeling adventurous, take advantage of the available snorkeling equipment and jump right in. The cruise provides plenty of time to sit back and unwind with snacks and beverages as you listen to relaxing music and enjoy the spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean.

Save $10 when you book this excursion up to 3 days before your tour departs. (On-tour price: $109)

Arenal 2 nights Hotel info

Day 6: Tenorio & Corobici river rafting

Included meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Make your way to the Arenal region today, stopping en route at the Tenorio River. Hop aboard a six-person river raft for a ride down the river, where you may spot crocodiles, otters, monkeys and birds.

Day 7: Arenal National Park

Included meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Spend the day in Arenal National Park, home to Costa Rica’s most active volcano.

• Start the day with a walk through the park, a bird-watcher’s paradise

• Unwind in hot springs kept warm by the geothermal energy that created the volcano

Enjoy a free afternoon in Arenal or add an excursion.

Optional Excursion - Ziplining Tour $65pp* Details

Today's ziplining excursion adds a bit of adrenaline to your Costa Rican vacation. The longest ziplines on this course cover nearly half a mile, and the tallest are almost 600 feet off the ground; in short, you've never traveled like this before! You'll fly silently above the treetops and come home with a renewed sense of adventure.

Save $10 when you book this excursion up to 3 days before your tour departs. (On-tour price: $75)

Central Coast 1 night

Day 8: Tarcoles & Carara National Park

Included meals: Breakfast, Dinner

This morning, drive along the Pan-American Highway, a roadway that stretches across the Americas, making your way to Tarcoles. En route, visit the Carara National Park for an afternoon excursion.

• Enjoy a hike at your own pace on trails through a private reserve bordering Carara National Park. 

• Catch sight of tropical birds like scarlet macaws, yellow-billed cotingas and black-hooded antshrikes

• Cross the Villa Lapas Skyway, a series of five bridges suspended 180 feet above the rainforest floor for unmatched views of the wildlife, the Tarcoles River and Pacific Ocean

San José 1 night Hotel info

Day 9: Coffee plantation visit & San José sightseeing tour

Included meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Depart the Central Coast and make a few stops before reaching San José.

• Tour the Espiritu Santo Coffee Plantation, run by a large farmers’ cooperative, to learn how coffee is picked, processed and roasted

• Enjoy a tasting to see how the coffee (deliciously) comes together 

When you arrive San José, get to know the city on a panoramic tour.

• See La Sabana Metropolitan Park, the National Stadium and the Rohrmoser residential area

• Stop at the Plaza de la Cultura, site of many performances and celebrations, and admire the National Theater

• Pass Bella Vista Fortress, home of the National Museum, and learn about the city’s pre-Columbian history

• Marvel at the steel exterior of the Edifico Metálico, a century-old building prefabricated in Belgium, and admire the historic streets of Barrio Amón

Day 10: Departure

Included meals: Breakfast (excluding early morning departures)

Board your flight home or continue your tour in Panama.

Add Panama $699 pp

From historic Panama City to the postcard-worthy beaches of Santa Clara, discover Panama from all sides. Stroll past UNESCO-recognized landmarks, explore the famous Panama Canal, then enjoy a little free time to bask in the tropical breeze.

Santa Clara Coast 2 nights

Day 10: Sightseeing tour of Panama City

Included meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Fly to Panama City, the first European settlement on the Pacific coast. Get to know Panama’s capital city on a guided tour before continuing on to Santa Clara. 

• See Spanish, French and early-American influences in the UNESCO-recognized Old City

• View major highlights, including the striking Metropolitan Cathedral and regal Plaza de la Independencia

• Drive down the palm-lined Amador Causeway for unbeatable views of the modern cityscape and Panama Bay

• End your tour by visiting  Miraflores Locks of the famous Panama Canal

Day 11: Free day in Santa Clara

Included meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Spend a leisurely day soaking up the sun in Santa Clara, enjoying the tropical weather and postcard-worthy beaches.

Panama City 1 night

Day 12: Free day in Santa Clara & Panama City

Included meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Enjoy a free morning and included lunch in Santa Clara before heading back to Panama City, where you’ll have time to explore the city at your leisure.

Day 13: Departure

Included meals: Breakfast (excluding early morning departures)

Board your flight home today.

How's the weather?

  • Granada, Nicaragua
  • San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
  • Guanacaste, Costa Rica
  • Arenal, Costa Rica
  • San José, Costa Rica
  • Panama City, Panama
Temperature Precipitation
  • JAN
  • FEB
  • MAR
  • APR
  • MAY
  • JUN
  • JUL
  • AUG
  • SEP
  • OCT
  • NOV
  • DEC

Passport & Visa Requirements

In order to enter Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama (as well as Colombia on the tour extension), U.S. and Canadian citizens need a valid passport. The expiration date must extend at least six months beyond the date of your return home. No visa is required for U.S. or Canadian citizens. If you’re not a U.S. or Canadian citizen, contact the consulates for your particular entry requirements.

Baggage Allowance

Airlines have varying weight restrictions on luggage. Some airlines may impose additional charges if you choose to check any baggage; be advised that you are responsible for any such costs. Contact your airline for detailed information regarding luggage size and weight restrictions for your flight, but please note that Go Ahead travelers are restricted to one checked bag per person due to storage limitations on motor coaches and other internal transfers, which may include train connections or flights. One carry-on bag is also permitted, provided that it does not exceed 45 total inches (length + width + height).  Make sure you label your baggage and carry valuables, medication and documents in your carry-on bag.

Clothing & Packing Tips

Your itinerary focuses on the outdoors, so your clothing should be casual and appropriate for outdoor use. Loose-fitting, layered clothing that can accommodate varying temperatures will be most comfortable. A sun hat, sunglasses and a bathing suit are recommended, as well as walking shoes or hiking boots. Occasional rain showers are common, so pack lightweight rainwear. Binoculars are very useful for bird- and animal-watching, along with a field guide if you’re particularly interested in the different species you’ll spot. Insect repellent is highly recommended for visits to the rainforests. The sun can be especially strong in the highlands and by the Caribbean coast, so you’ll want to carry sunscreen at all times.

Health

Be sure to take proper care for sun exposure. There‘s also some risk of mosquito-born diseases, especially in the rainforests and national parks. Additionally, there are several boat transfers on your tour which may pose problems if you’re prone to motion sickness. Consult your doctor at least eight weeks prior to departure about possible preventive measures and personal travel requirements.

Walking on Tour

This is an active tour, and travelers should be prepared to walk on some uneven terrain.

Cuisine

Costa Rican cuisine is based on rice, black beans and corn, served with beef, chicken or fish. Fresh, locally grown fruit is abundant and includes such varieties as bananas, mangoes, pineapples and avocados. Traditional desserts include custards, puddings and simple cakes. Locally grown coffee is served very strong and black, though it may be served with hot milk upon request. Nicaraguan cuisine blends Spanish, indigenous and Creole influences. Corn, fruit and vegetables are staples, with the addition of seafood and coconut on the Caribbean coastline. The food in Panama is extremely varied. Spanish and indigenous dishes blend with the flavors of France, Italy, Africa and the Caribbean. Look out for delicious coconut rice, sancocho (chicken stew) and crispy snacks, like empanadas and fried yucca.

Transportation

Flights arrive in Managua, Nicaragua and depart from Panama City, Panama (Cartagena, Colombia on the extension). The tour includes a ferry to Ometepe Island as well as an internal flight between San José and Panama City; the rest of the transportation is by private motor coach.

Electricity

Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama all operate on 110 volts.

Time Zones

Costa Rica and Nicaragua are six hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Panama is five hours behind GMT. None of the three countries observe daylight saving time. 

Currency

The currency you will be using on tour is the colón in Costa Rica, the córdoba in Nicaragua, and the U.S. dollar in Panama. In Panama, the U.S. dollar may be referred to as the balboa, however it is the same bill and value as the U.S. dollar. Panamanian coins may be in circulation, but they are the same value, size and metal as U.S. coins.

Tipping

At the conclusion of your tour, it’s customary to offer your Tour Director and driver a gratuity. We recommend tipping in your tour country’s currency, the equivalent of $3USD/CAD per person per day for your driver and $6USD/CAD to $9USD/CAD per person per day for your Tour Director. If applicable, we also recommend the equivalent of $2USD/CAD per local guide. Tips can only be paid in cash. Please keep current local currency exchange rates in mind when tipping.

How's the weather?

  • Granada, Nicaragua
  • Guanacaste, Costa Rica
  • San José, Costa Rica
Temperature Precipitation
  • JAN
  • FEB
  • MAR
  • APR
  • MAY
  • JUN
  • JUL
  • AUG
  • SEP
  • OCT
  • NOV
  • DEC

Passport & visa requirements

In order to enter Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, U.S. and Canadian citizens need a valid passport. The expiration date must extend at least six months beyond the date of your return home. No visa is required for U.S. or Canadian citizens. If you’re not a U.S. or Canadian citizen, contact the consulates for your particular entry requirements.

Baggage allowance

Airlines have varying weight restrictions on luggage. Some airlines may impose additional charges if you choose to check any baggage; be advised that you are responsible for any such costs. Contact your airline for detailed information regarding luggage size and weight restrictions for your flight, but please note that Go Ahead travelers are restricted to one checked bag per person due to storage limitations on motor coaches and other internal transfers, which may include train connections or flights. One carry-on bag is also permitted, provided that it does not exceed 45 total inches (length + width + height).  Make sure you label your baggage and carry valuables, medication and documents in your carry-on bag.

Clothing & packing tips

Your itinerary focuses on the outdoors, so your clothing should be casual and appropriate for outdoor use. Loose-fitting, layered clothing that can accommodate varying temperatures will be most comfortable. A sun hat, sunglasses and a bathing suit are recommended, as well as walking shoes or hiking boots. Occasional rain showers are common, so pack lightweight rainwear. Binoculars are very useful for bird- and animal-watching, along with a field guide if you’re particularly interested in the different species you’ll spot. Insect repellent is highly recommended for visits to the rainforests. The sun can be especially strong in the highlands and by the Caribbean coast, so you’ll want to carry sunscreen at all times.

Health

Be sure to take proper care for sun exposure. There‘s also some risk of mosquito-born diseases, especially in the rainforests and national parks. Additionally, there are several boat transfers on your tour which may pose problems if you’re prone to motion sickness. Consult your doctor at least eight weeks prior to departure about possible preventive measures and personal travel requirements.

Walking on tour

This is an active tour, and travelers should be prepared to walk on some uneven terrain.

Cuisine

Costa Rican cuisine is based on rice, black beans and corn, served with beef, chicken or fish. Fresh, locally grown fruit is abundant and includes such varieties as bananas, mangoes, pineapples and avocados. Traditional desserts include custards, puddings and simple cakes. Locally grown coffee is served very strong and black, though it may be served with hot milk upon request. Nicaraguan cuisine blends Spanish, indigenous and Creole influences. Corn, fruit and vegetables are staples, with the addition of seafood and coconut on the Caribbean coastline. The food in Panama is extremely varied. Spanish and indigenous dishes blend with the flavors of France, Italy, Africa and the Caribbean. Look out for delicious coconut rice, sancocho (chicken stew) and crispy snacks, like empanadas and fried yucca.

Transportation

Flights arrive in Managua, Nicaragua and depart from San José, Costa Rica. All transportation is by private motor coach.

Electricity

Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama all operate on 110 volts.

Time Zones

Costa Rica and Nicaragua are six hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Panama is five hours behind GMT. None of the three countries observe daylight saving time. 

Currency

The currency you will be using on tour is the colón in Costa Rica, the córdoba in Nicaragua, and the U.S. dollar in Panama. In Panama, the U.S. dollar may be referred to as the balboa, however it is the same bill and value as the U.S. dollar. Panamanian coins may be in circulation, but they are the same value, size and metal as U.S. coins.

Tipping

At the conclusion of your tour, it’s customary to offer your Tour Director and driver a gratuity. We recommend tipping in your tour country’s currency, the equivalent of $3USD/CAD per person per day for your driver and $6USD/CAD to $9USD/CAD per person per day for your Tour Director. If applicable, we also recommend the equivalent of $2USD/CAD per local guide. Tips can only be paid in cash. Please keep current local currency exchange rates in mind when tipping.

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