Isla BastimentosCredit: J Cook

The best thing about Central America, besides the natural beauty, beautiful beaches and amazing food, is the accessibility to neighboring countries.  Of course you can always find more than enough ways to entertain yourself in one country, but if you’re more adventurous or a passport stamp collector you should definitely take advantage of the easy access to the countries next door.  Many people try to travel abroad at least once a year, but what if you could stretch that one trip to include three countries?  I have a plan for you to turn a trip to Panama into a trip of a lifetime, experiencing more cultures and enjoying more natural beauty than you can imagine.  Starting in Bocas Del Toro, Panama, which is less than a $30 trip from Panama City you can venture through Central America, visiting two neighboring countries for under $100.  

Bocas Del Toro is the island getaway where locals escape Panama City for the holiday season.  On the north end of the country, Bocas offers several islands with the perfect combination of tropical jungle and beachfront paradise.  Whether you are a nature lover or just desire to be a beach bum, there is something for everyone in Bocas Del Toro.  When you are ready to move on from Bocas, remember that Costa Rica is only four hours away.  For $25 you can take the Caribe shuttle from Bocas to Puerto Viejo, Cost Rica.surferCredit: J.CookOnce in Puerto Viejo you will may find yourself overwhelmed with the many beach options, each more beautiful than the last.  There is Negro Beach, which has black sand and plenty of space for relaxing or wading for those not interested in going into deep waters.  Continue traveling down the main road that parallels the Caribbean Sea, filled with restaurants and shops for souvenirs and groceries, to find more beaches.  You will find Cocles beach that tailors to the surfer crowd with huge waves and surfboard rentals.  Lastly, make sure you check out Uva beach, which is the favorite and most beautiful to many locals and visitors alike. These are only a few of the many beaches with completely different vibes in Puerto Viejo, be sure to explore until you are beached out.  Once you are ready for a break from the beach take the public bus to the capital of San Jose, Costa Rica for $10.  The ride, like the previous one, is four hours long and takes you through tropical jungle scenery.Granada, NicaraguaCredit: J CookOnce in San Jose, switch up the itinerary and visit museums, dine at the most popular restaurants in the country and explore downtown.  Like many major cities there are all of common comforts for entertainment including movie theaters, bars and casinos.  Spend some time enjoying the city life until you’re ready to move on to your next country.  When you are ready to make your move, head over to the TicaBus station and purchase a ticket to Granada, Nicaragua for $27.  This will be the biggest bus yet, necessary for the longest journey.  It will take you close to nine hours, dependent on the border, to get to Granada.  You will know you are close when you see the volcanoes on your right.  Yes, you will see volcanoes and have the option of climbing to the top of them if your adventurous heart desire.  Once you settle into your hotel or hostel let the exploration begin.

Remember you can stay at any place for as long as you’d like, but in Central America you can easily move around to several countries on one trip.  These affordable prices make this an option for all budgets.  For under $100 there is no reason not to make the most of your vacation and experience three countries as opposed to one.  Different cities in different countries have distinctly different vibes, food and attractions.  Make sure you enjoy your vacation and take plenty of pictures!  For further help navigating through these countries pack the traveler’s best friend from Lonely Planet to serve as your guide and map.

Lonely Planet Central America (Travel Guide)
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(price as of Jan 31, 2014)
Make sure to add this to your luggage when traveling. It will be the perfect companion to help you navigate throughout Central America.