Central America tour -Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Costa Rica

(43 Posts)
Socialaddict Tue 09-Aug-16 13:28:17

Hi, I am starting to plan our family holiday for next summer July 2017.
We'd like to visit some of the countries in Central America starting from Mexico. We have approximately 3 weeks for this trip. I would love to visit Guatemala, Belize and Costa Rica (spending 4-5 days in each?). Do you think this is doable for the time period?
How would you suggest we move from one place to another with as little flying as possible? I have seen on different fora people suggesting Yucatan, Guatemala and Belize as an easy option travelling on buses, but ideally I'd like to include Costa Rica too. Any suggestions are most welcome. Also suggestions for must see and must do things in these countries. I would be happy if we could visit 1-2 places in each. Many thanks

MardyGrave Tue 09-Aug-16 13:34:33

Is Mexico not very dangerous at the moment?

BumbleNova Tue 09-Aug-16 13:43:15

TBH I would either do Costa Rica /Nicaragua as one trip and do Belize/Guatemala/ Mexico as another. they arent that far apart, but do you really want to be rushing around that much?

If you arent flying a bus from guatemala to san jose would be at least 24 hours. do you really fancy that?!

getting around Belize/ Guatemala and the Yucatan is very doable on bus. its fantastic. top tip - make sure you have some local currency for the border crossings. there is in theory no charge but in reality, you need to part with money to the border officials.

dont listen to the scare mongerers - mexico is dangerous around certain patches of the US border. when you are there, get local advice and be sensible. no night buses for example.

Costa Rica is by far the most set up to get around in terms of tourist infrastructure. how is your Spanish?

Socialaddict Tue 09-Aug-16 14:04:13

Bumble thank you, sounds great. I was thinking to fly from London to Costa Rica, then fly from there to Belize and take the buses between Belize, Guatemala and Mexico. Definitely not fancy a 24 hour bus journey.
I am not afraid of travelling abroad (shall try and avoid the dodgy parts of Mexico) and my Spanish is actually not that bad (studied it at uni) smile
Thank you very much for the tips. What would you recommend to see in each of these places?

TheSpottedZebra Tue 09-Aug-16 14:07:16

It depends what you like - temples? Beaches? Wildlife?

Some of Guatemala is really REALLY dangerous. Without Googling, it has one of the highest murder rates per capita. Gun crime is endemic. Which is an awful, terrible shame as it is an amazing country.

Socialaddict Tue 09-Aug-16 14:18:17

Zebra we like all of the above. To be honest, I have not checked the safety reports for these places.
Would it be best to take a tour in Guatemala?

TheSpottedZebra Tue 09-Aug-16 14:45:10

I'd check out the safety reports and fco advice etc asap. Tbh I've no idea of relative safety of organised tours vs ad hoc. I'm an independent traveller (well, I was. And hope to be again) so have no tour experience. You could argue that you're more visit as a pile of rich tourists when part of a tour?

I'd avoid the cities of Guatemala City (horrid and violent), Belmopan (nothing to see), and poss Belize City (bit of a hole). San Jose I quite liked, but that had lots of violence too, appara.

My must-sees would be Tikkal. In fact if you only see one temple complex, see that one. And maybe see some wild life out there too. And Antigua is lovely, although quite touristy compared to other places.

Costa Rica for beaches and surfing and nature.

Belize for....? Do you dive? Amazing diving. The islands can be nice, or can be horrid ports where massive cruise ships dock, or can be all inclusive hotels full of us tourists. Choose wisely! And be careful of the route as some of the access ports are... very dangerous.

TheSpottedZebra Tue 09-Aug-16 14:47:09

Belize does have loads to do, honest! Like lots of intrepidy adventure sports stuff, or wildlife sanctuaries.

TheSpottedZebra Tue 09-Aug-16 14:47:57

Oh, and ex- (UK)colonial buildings and things.

Socialaddict Tue 09-Aug-16 15:02:53

Super, thank you Zebra. This sounds like a proper adventure holiday! I am already excited. I shall definitely check the FCO's advice. Thank you very much for the suggestions!

Gini99 Tue 09-Aug-16 15:06:53

There is no way I would do all of that in 3 weeks. We have spent 3 weeks in just Costa Rica (recently) and Mexico (ages ago) alone and still not done much of what we wanted to. I would pick one or two of those countries and see it properly. If you just have 4 or 5 days in each you'll find yourself spending a lot of the time travelling and will find it difficult to get to the more remote parts (if you are interested in that).

I would probably start with Costa Rica if it's your first trip like this because it is largely peaceful and safe. It is a bit more expensive though so that might put you off.

Socialaddict Tue 09-Aug-16 15:30:07

Thanks Gini, but we need to squeeze in a bit more than just one country. Eventually we need to end up in Mexico as this is where we'll leave our DD to do some volunteering. I suppose we can do just Costa Rica and Mexico, especially after reading the safety advice for the rest.
Perhaps aiming to do just 2 countries would be better. Hmmm, need to reconsider.

BumbleNova Tue 09-Aug-16 15:49:54

honestly found belize pretty weird. we ended up having to sleep in a chinese supermarket one night. the cayes are great, very relaxed very fun. there are some mennonite communities who live in the jungle which is strange. agreed re some of it being a bit sketchy, big ports.

belize - we enjoyed orange walk, the ruins at Xunantunich, caye caulker. placencia was the chinese supermarket, best avoided I think.

guatemala:
tikal - absolutely must see, its amazing. also get a kayak and potter about the lake.
lago de atitlan was great. dont fall for the scams about the ferry though, we really nearly did...
antigua was a bit so so.
the caves and the waterfalls at lanquin were literally amazing. I have no idea if they still let you do a tour in a bikini and trainers with a candle though. swimming one handed into a massive cave holding a candle was awesome.
livingstone was fine, not much to right home about.

we hopped into mexico, i'd also recommend San Cristobal de las casas and palenque. both really interesting.

i could write for days about CR - i was a volunteer english teacher there. what type of thing do you want to do?

it is safe, easy and a great place to start. If i were you, I'd spend three weeks there. much much easier with a family. you could really get under the skin of the place and visit lots of different bits.

Gini99 Tue 09-Aug-16 15:50:23

Ah, which bit of Mexico?
We loved Costa Rica and it is fab for adventure tourism, wildlife, nature etc. Not so good for ancient ruins/historical sites or diving/snorkelling though so it depends what you want to do. Also, we like to get to the less busy areas, staying for a few days might be fine if you just want to see one or two areas and aren't bothered that it is busy and very Americanised.
How old are/is the child(ten)?

BumbleNova Tue 09-Aug-16 15:51:24

Guatemala isnt that bad safety wise. we were two blond backpackers and we had no issues. its about behaving sensibly and not doing things you wouldnt consider at home. i.e. being pissed and alone in a strange city.

bigTillyMint Tue 09-Aug-16 16:00:42

OP, I agree with Bumble.

I have been on a Mexico, Guatemala, Belize trip (20 years ago) - fabulous. Particularly loved Belize - so chilled, great snorkelling.

We went to Nicaragua and Costa Rica a couple of years ago. Very easy to travel by taxi/bus. Nicaragua is so unspoiled and really beautiful places. The people are so genuine and friendly. Costa Rica is also fab, more geared up for tourism.

How old are your DC? Ours were 13 and 15.

tictactock Tue 09-Aug-16 16:01:15

We've recently been to Mexico and loved it. We hired a car at Cancun and drove down the coast.
From Xcalak you can catch a boat to San Pedro, taking the car was too tricky.
We saw amazing ruins, with Howler monkies, dived with sharks, rays and Dolphins, visited Cenotes and loved being off the beaten track.

We had a few days in the touristy bit at the end but Tbh wasn't that keen.
The nicest tourist town was Tulum which is really lovely.

TealLove Tue 09-Aug-16 17:33:29

We've just travelled around America west to east coast. So a bit different but I would honestly say doing 4 days in each place wasn't enough and was quite tiring although we covered a lot of ground - next time it's so much better to spend more time in places where there's a lot to see.

Socialaddict Tue 09-Aug-16 17:48:43

Thank you all very much! You have given me some superb ideas. Our DD will be 16 nearly 17 next summer. She is very used to travelling so will be no problem at all. She is doing some marine conservation volunteering in Mexico for 2 weeks in the end, so we'll leave her there and head back. I wish we had longer! All the places you talk about sound out of this world! So looking good forward to it. We don't dive unfortunately but hope to be able to snorkel a bit. DD will be doing her PADI qualification in Mexico as part of the programme.

BumbleNova Tue 09-Aug-16 17:57:49

bigTilly I completely agree re Nicaragua, it would be my top pick of central america. just pack me off to the corn islands for a week. we did a hiking trip and slept under the stars on the edge of a volcano crater near Leon. mind blowing.

bigTillyMint Wed 10-Aug-16 00:09:26

Wow Bumble! That sounds more adventurous than ours, though we did climb the volcano on Ometepe island (nearly killed me - 9 hours up and down!) and saw giant turtles laying eggs at night!

venusinscorpio Wed 10-Aug-16 00:24:31

Yes definitely Palenque which is awe inspiring and San Cristobal de Las Casas. I didn't go but easy to get into Guatemala from there.

venusinscorpio Wed 10-Aug-16 00:34:28

elpanchan.com/en/hospedaje.html

The above is a fun and cheap place to stay in Palenque. Or there are loads of hotels in and around the town.

expatinscotland Wed 10-Aug-16 00:37:21

I'd go on a cruise, but then, I'm partial to cruises.

MilkyChops Wed 10-Aug-16 09:06:21

I'd say you're going to fast.

We did a similar trip a few years ago.

cottontailsandcupcakes.wordpress.com/2014/08/11/riviera-maya-mexico/

Here's our blog posts about our trip. This was the start and then just click next at bottom for the next posts.

I'd highly recommend a Raggamuffin tour on caye caulker. Cahal pech in San Ignacio. Tikal sun sunrise tour in Guatemala. Lake Atitan for relaxing. Copan ruinas was good too. We loved the Honduran Highlands but hated Roatan Island.

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