Explore Central America: Nicaragua, Costa Rica & Panama13 days / Nature & Wildlife Tours, Eco Tours
About This Experience
Central America offers a feast for the senses. Take a dip in a tropical hot spring. Sip Costa Rican coffee at a coffee plantation. Feel a peaceful breeze off Lake Nicaragua. Experience the eclectic charm of Panama City. See the beauty of nature in its purest forms, from dense rainforests to pristine beaches to verdant volcanic islands. And for a change of scenery, the region’s cities showcase historic architecture and international flair.
Look for this symbol throughout the tour itinerary to discover sustainable highlights. Sustainable highlights include activities that benefit indigenous cultures or help protect local wildlife.
Your Tour Includes
Round-trip airfare & transfers
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 & select entrance fees
Why You'll Love It
The views & islands of Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America
The tranquil beaches of Nicaragua & Costa Rica
Vibrant, diverse wildlife in the rainforest
The sights, smells & tastes of a coffee plantation
The history & international flair of Panama City
A cruise through the locks of the Panama Canal
Granada2 nights - hotel info
Head south to the vibrant countries of Central America
Your journey begins with a flight to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, aboard an internationally recognized airline. A Go Ahead representative will greet you at the airport after you clear customs and escort you to your hotel in nearby Granada.
Your adventure starts off in the lakeside city of Granada
La Merced Church, Fortaleza de la Pólvora
Kick off your trip with a full day to soak in the culture of Granada, one of the oldest European-founded cities in the New World. A local guide highlights the city’s Spanish architecture and rich heritage with a tour of the UNESCO-recognized colonial zone, including the 16th-century La Merced Church and the Fortaleza de la Pólvora. In the afternoon, cruise the Islets of Granada, 365 volcanic islands that dot Lake Nicaragua. During various island stops, you can take a walk, bird-watch and mingle with fishermen. Later, visit a local school before enjoying a welcome dinner with your fellow travelers.
San Juan del Sur2 nights - hotel info
Discover the deep-rooted traditions of Nicaragua
Masaya Volcano National Park
Today is all about Nicaragua’s scenery and traditions. Visit Masaya Volcano for sweeping views of the region, then browse handicrafts at the country’s best open-air markets. Next, tour the “Pueblos Blancos,” local villages with white colonial buildings that are home to rich pre-Columbian roots and traditional craftspeople. While you’re here, enjoy lunch overlooking Apoyo Lagoon and learn about local trades, like ceramics, leatherwork and furniture-making. Then, transfer to San Juan del Sur and enjoy a free evening.
Experience a day of island life on Ometepe
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. A local guide shows you the many charms of Ometepe, including visits to the island’s petroglyphs (rock engravings) and an organic coffee farm. Lunch is provided on the island.
Guanacaste2 nights - hotel info
Look out for monkeys and sloths in the Costa Rican forest
As you cross into Costa Rica this morning, stop at Santa Rosa National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Walk through the park’s signature dry forests to catch a glimpse of the birds, monkeys and sloths that call the ecosystem home. Continue on to Guanacaste, where your Tour Director gives a quick walking tour of the region’s capital of Liberia. Enjoy a free afternoon before joining your group for dinner.
Soak in the beauty and sunshine of the Gold Coast
Optional Excursion - Sailing & Snorkeling
Known as Costa Rica’s Gold Coast, Guanacaste is a beach-lover’s utopia. Today is free to relax and explore as you’d like. Consider joining an optional excursion for a morning of sailing and snorkeling. After a day in paradise, join your group for dinner.
Sailing & Snorkeling $89* pp
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.
Arenal Region2 nights - hotel info
See the sights from a fresh perspective—aboard a river raft
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. Tonight, sit down for dinner at a local restaurant in La Fortuna to relax after your adventurous day.
Explore the region’s volcano, hot springs and jungle scenery
Optional Excursion - Ziplining Tour
Arenal National Park
Start the day with a walk through Arenal National Park, a bird-watcher’s paradise. You’ll be treated to views of Arenal, Costa Rica’s most active volcano. After exploring, unwind in hot springs kept warm by the geothermal energy that created the volcano. With flowing tributaries, waterfalls and jungle surroundings, the hot springs are a piece of tropical paradise. Spend the afternoon as you’d like, or join an optional ziplining tour through the jungle. Dinner is included tonight.
Ziplining Tour $49* pp
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.
San José1 night - hotel info
Taste the best coffee of your life at a coffee plantation
This morning, head to Naranjo to visit the Espiritu Santo Coffee Plantation, run by a large farmers’ cooperative. Take a tour to learn how coffee is picked, processed and roasted; then enjoy a tasting to see how it (deliciously) comes together. In the afternoon, travel to San José. Your Tour Director gives a panoramic tour that includes La Sabana Metropolitan Park and the diverse neighborhood of Barrio Amón, as well as a photo stop at the Bellavista Fortress. Enjoy dinner with your group tonight.
Panama City3 nights - hotel info
Take a tour of dynamic Panama City
After your flight to Panama City, head out for an afternoon of exploring. The first European settlement on the Pacific coast, Panama City was burned by pirates and rebuilt in the 17th century. Your Tour Director leads the way around the UNESCO-recognized Old City. You’ll see Spanish, French and early American influences as you tour the major highlights, including the Metropolitan Cathedral and 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.
Cruise the iconic Panama Canal
Panama Canal Cruise
Connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Panama Canal changed the way we navigate the world. Discover this great engineering feat on today’s 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. After lunch on the ship, disembark at Amador Causeway.
Savor a final free day in Central America
Optional Excursion - Embera Village Visit: Indigenous Culture
Enjoy a free day in Panama City, or choose to join our optional excursion to an Embera Village. Tonight, gather together for a farewell dinner.
Embera Village Visit: Indigenous Culture $115* pp
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.
Flight homefor a day
Extend Your Stay
Add Cartagena, Colombia $1,049*
After exploring the diverse natural landscapes of Central America, spend a few extra days to experience sunny South America. Considered the jewel of the Caribbean, Cartagena is a vibrant city with a dynamic culture and heritage. The city has some of the most extensive Spanish colonial walls and fortifications in the region, as well as strikingly colorful colonial buildings. Stroll down cobblestone streets, relax on the beach and let a local show you the city’s most historic sites.
Cartagena3 nights - hotel info
A local leads you around colorful Cartagena
San Felipe de Barajas Castle, Convento de la Popa
Cartagena is home to brightly colored architecture and Spanish colonial walls. On today’s tour, a local leads you by the historic landmarks, starting off at San Lázaro Hill to see San Felipe de Barajas Castle. Continue through the UNESCO-recognized city center, passing by Inquisition Palace and the iconic clock tower.
Enjoy a free day to take in the beauty of the Caribbean
Optional Excursion - Rosario Islands: Cruise & Snorkeling
Enjoy a free day to stroll the bougainvillea-lined streets or relax on the picture-perfect Caribbean beaches. Alternatively, join an optional cruise of the Rosario Islands for a day of snorkeling and boating.
Rosario Islands: Cruise & Snorkeling $89* pp
Spend the day island-hopping in the Caribbean. Set off the coast of Cartagena, the Rosario Islands were named a national park thanks to their incredible coral reefs. Enjoy a sightseeing cruise, relax on the pristine beaches, take a dip in the crystal-clear waters and snorkel above the renowned reefs. An authentic Colombian lunch will be served on one of islands.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Flights arrive in Managua, Nicaragua and depart from Panama City, Panama (Cartagena, Colombia on the extension). The tour includes an internal flight between San José and Panama City; the rest of the transportation is by private motor coach.
Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama all operate on 110 volts.
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.
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.
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.
Make an Impact
Get to know some of the conservation areas helping to preserve nature and wildlife in Central America.
Ometepe Island UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
Set on Lake Nicaragua, the country’s largest freshwater reserve, Ometepe Island is formed by two volcanoes and mostly covered in verdant rainforest. Its unique ecosystem is home to diverse wildlife, including howler monkeys and white-faced monkeys on land and the Nicaraguan freshwater shark and sawfish in the surrounding waters. The island has a rich pre-Columbian history that can be seen in its petroglyphs (rock engravings) and long-standing ceramics tradition.
Santa Rosa National Park
Guanacaste, Costa Rica
The first national park established in Costa Rica, Santa Rosa National Park is also part of a UNESCO recognized conservation area. Spanning nearly 200 square miles, the park is home to ten different habitats, including marshlands, dry forest and mangrove woodlands. The wildlife is as diverse as the landscapes. During visits to the park, you may spot coyotes, turtles, various species of monkey, birds and, on the rare occasion, jaguars and cougars. Beyond the tropical flora and fauna, the park also memorializes the Battle of Santa Rosa. The battle, as well as two subsequent battles, is marked by a hacienda called “La Casona” on the site where Costa Rican militia held off forces trying to colonize the region.
Arenal National Park
La Fortuna, Costa Rica
Before the turn of the 20th century, no one thought much about the Arenal Volcano. Located in the northwest corner of Costa Rica, and a part of the Guanacaste Volcanic Chain, the volcano had been dormant since around A.D. 1500. That all changed in 1968, when an unprecedented eruption led to lava flows that destroyed three nearby villages. Since then, Arenal has earned the reputation of being the country’s most active peak. To regulate growing tourism to the volcano and preserve the region’s natural resources, the Arenal Volcano Park was created in 1994. Over the years, the park’s geologically rich environments have become a “living laboratory” for local researchers, and support such diverse flora and fauna as palms, wild orchids, tapir, howler monkeys and white-faced monkeys. Additionally, the enclosed Arenal Reservoir Basin provides 70 percent of Costa Rica’s clean water supply and serves as the country’s main source of hydroelectric power.