My nine week group tour with G Adventures through Central America was the very first group tour that I have ever done and also my first time visiting this part of the world.
Central America is a strip of seven countries in between North and South America and includes Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. For a small area of land, it’s a diverse and fascinating region and an incredible place to go backpacking.
As someone who’s travelled independently quite a few times, I had my own reasons for deciding to do the G adventures group tour through Central America instead of going solo this time. (I’ll come on to these reasons in a bit).
I had an amazing time on this tour and I am so happy that I decided to do it. I came away with a great group of friends, a ton of fantastic memories and so much more. If you are interested in this tour then read on to see my honest review of the G Adventures Central American Journey tour and some information about group tours for 20-somethings in general.
G Adventures Central American Journey, 32 days, Playa Del Carmen, Mexico to San Jose, Costa Rica
About the tour
I booked the G Adventures Central American journey through STA Travel as it was one of the ones featured in their handbook. What I didn’t realise what that this specific tour actually consists of two shorter G adventures tours however most people opt to do the whole thing.
I booked this specific tour for a couple of reasons. Firstly it was on sale so it was really cheap, around £1,500 for 33 days. Secondly, I was going travelling with my friend around Mexico first so I wanted the tour that started there, rather than ending. Lastly, I wanted a tour that did all of the countries down to Costa Rica as a lot of other tour companies skipped countries like El Salvador or Belize.
Why I decided to do a group tour in Central America
I’ve only ever done solo travel or travel with friends before so I was really apprehensive about doing a group tour. However, there were a few factors that influenced my decision to sign up for this one.
- It was a lot of ground to cover: The prospect of having to sort out the logistics that go with travelling through seven countries from border crossings to currency and transport seemed overwhelming to do by myself.
- I don’t speak Spanish: Whereas in Asia, speaking the local language isn’t as important, I’d heard it was hard to travel in Central America without speaking Spanish.
- I liked the idea of not being alone: I always meet and end up travelling with lots of people when I go solo backpacking however I thought it was time for something different. I actually liked the idea that I would be with the same people for the whole time and that for once, I’d not have to worry about being on my own.
- I didn’t know if Central America was safe: I knew absolutely nothing about Central America before I went apart from that it had a reputation for being a bit dangerous. Therefore as a 20-something traveller, I couldn’t really comprehend the idea of just turning up in Guatemala and working it out myself.
G Adventures Central American Journey Review: What I loved
- It felt culturally enriching: One of my biggest worries was that the tour would feel like a school trip. In reality, felt like less of a tour and more like travelling with a knowledgable friend. We had two G Adventures guides, one for each half of the trip, and they were great. They knew all the local food spots, hidden gems and places not just listed on Trip Advisor and they were so much fun, I forgot they weren’t just fellow backpackers most of the time.
- It was a younger tour: It was really important to me that I booked a tour that was right for me as a 20-something experienced traveller. This specific tour was great as it is one of G Adventures specific 18-thirtysomethings tours. These tours are only available for younger travellers so are a lot more basic than some other tours but a lot more fun.
- It was great having a Spanish-speaking guide: English is not widely spoken in Central America so having a Spanish speaking guide who knows the area was invaluable.
- Good nightlife: Sure, this was partly down to my group but my tour was so much fun. Almost every evening there was the chance to go out and do something which was great because I was never bored but there was no pressure to go out either if I just felt like staying in.
- It made travelling really easy: This tour made backpacking effortless. Our guide sorted out everything from our transport and accommodation to helping us with border crossings and recommending restaurants. This is great if you’re new to travelling or even just as a respite in the middle of a longer trip.
- It made use of private transportation: In a lot of the countries, public transport was infrequent and difficult to negotiate. The tour made a lot of use of private transport which saved time and hassle. Plus the road trips were great fun.
- It was great to be with the same group of people for a long period of time: Sometimes the relationships you form while travelling can be quite transient so it was nice to be with a group of people for a longer period of time. I still regularly keep in contact and meet up with my tour friends now. Love you guys.
What I didn’t like
- Food and activities are not included: I knew that these were not included before I booked the trip however I underestimated how much additional money I would spend on the extras. Food in some countries like Costa Rica is expensive and the extra activities can easily cost 100 USD each. While you don’t have to do these if everyone else in your tour is then you may have FOMO.
- Very fast paced: This was both a positive and a negative. We covered a lot of ground in four weeks however this meant a lot of moving about and shortstops.
- It wasn’t the type of accommodation that I would choose: One of my favourite parts of travelling is staying in fun and sociable hostels and I missed these on the tour. G adventures tend to pick small locally owned hotels but they weren’t the type of places I’d usually stay. I missed having the opportunity to talk to other travels and the perks that come from a hotel like a kitchen and usually free breakfast.
- Long travel days: Again this was unavoidable but you have to expect a lot of long travel days on this tour. You’ll cover the entire region by car as there are no flights on the tour and some days can be entirely taken up with driving.
- You may not like the people on your tour: I was really lucky with my tour but I’ve heard plenty of other stories of people having awful groups. Its luck of the draw but if you’re on a tour with bad people then you’re stuck with them. Chance has it though that you’ll always have a couple of people you get on with.
The G Adventures Tour Route and highlights
Start Point: Playa Del Carmen, Mexico
The tour started in Playa Del Carmen in Mexico. The first day consisted of a welcome meeting and dinner followed by one free day in the town before leaving Mexico and heading to Belize after that. One day isn’t a lot of time to see Mexico and a lot of people, myself included, choose to spend some time in the country either independently or on a tour first.
Belize: Caye Caulker, San Ignacio
After Playa Del Carmen we took the bus over the border to Belize where we went to the spectacular Caribbean island of Caye Caulker and then the small town of San Ignacio after. I liked our stop in Caye Caulker most. Although we were given a lot of guidance on things to do and excursions, we could also just choose to wander around ourselves which was something I was worried I was going to miss on a group tour.
Highlights in Caye Caulker here included snorkelling, chilling at ‘the split’ and crazy reggae nights out with the group.
Guatemala: Tikal, Flores, Rio Dulce, Antigua, Panajachel, San Juan
The next country we went to was Guatemala, one of my all-time favourite countries. We had 10 days in the country in total which was a good amount of time (although I could probably have stayed much longer) and we went to loads of fantastic destinations including Antigua, Flores, Lake Atitlan and Rio Dulce.
Some of the stops were very brief (just a night or two) however it had to be in order to cover the amount of ground we did in the 33 days and I would have rather we visited the places briefly than not at all. Now I have a very large list of places I’ll just have to go back to.
One of the things I loved in Guatemala was our homestay in San Juan, which is another great reason for doing this tour. We were split into pairs and got to stay with different families in their homes for one night. Talking to them, seeing the traditional houses and eating the local food was fascinating.
Other highlights included a Guatemalan style party boat in Flores, hiking to and swimming in an amazing waterfall in Rio Dulce, exploring the beautiful streets, markets and cafes in Antigua and visiting the beautiful towns around Lake Atitlan which we did by cramming 20 of us in the back of a tiny pick up truck.
In Antigua, the second half of the tour started. Most people stayed on for the full tour but it was quite emotional saying goodbye to those who left. Our next stop was a fleeting visit to Honduras which did feel like it was more a case of just ticking another country off the list rather than really experiencing it.
We exited Guatemala and went just across the border into the town of Copan. The main option was visiting the Copan ruins but apart from that, I found Copan largely unremarkable. I’ve heard that the best parts of Honduras are the islands further south but there just wasn’t the time to fit them in on the tour which was a shame. We then crossed back into Guatemala and then crossed again into El Salvador.
El Salvador: Suchitoto, El Tunco
Overall all El Salvador really surprised me. I wasn’t expecting anything much but I really enjoyed the country. We visited Suchitoto first which is a very pretty colonial town, a little like Antigua in Guatemala but much less known. Sadly we only had one night there but it was great to see it.
Highlights included seeing the locally famous 97-year-old cigar lady in Suchitoto, eating a lot of the local dish called pupuas, and visiting the surf town of El Tunco. You can read more about my travels in El Salvador here.
Nicaragua: Ometepe, Leon, Granada
The next country on our itinerary was Nicaragua, a country I was really looking forward to after hearing fantastic things about. Sadly while we were in El Tunco we found out that anti-government protests had suddenly broken out meaning that the British embassy had advised against going and G Adventures could not take us there.
This was a massive let down however it couldn’t be avoided and even if I was travelling independently I wouldn’t have gone because my insurance would not have covered me. This meant an extra day hanging around in El Tunco while they sorted it out. As we now had an extra six days, the new plan was to go to Santa Theresa in Costa Rica and then carry on the tour throughout the rest of Costa Rica as planned.
Costa Rica: San Joes, Monteverde, La Fortuna
I absolutely loved Santa Theresa in Costa Rica and I was really happy that we all got to go in the end. (I’d recommend staying on after the tour and going there). We then continued as planned heading to San Jose, Monteverde and La Fortuna.
Highlights in Costa Rica included: Ziplining in Monteverde and doing a night walk through the cloud forest.
The tour ends in the capital San Jose which is a bit of a dive so I wouldn’t suggest staying there after the tour.
I really enjoyed Costa Rica and after the tour ended a few of us stayed on and travelled on further in Costa Rica. You may also be interested in going to Panama after too.
Overall I had one of the greatest months of my life on this G Adventures tour through Central America. We covered a lot of ground in four weeks and had a lot of crazy adventures from chaotic bus journeys to waterfall swimming and fantastic nights out.
I couldn’t have asked for a better group or a better region to go travelling in and the memories that I have are some that will stay with me forever. I can’t guarantee you’ll have an amazing time as every G Adventures tour will be different but speaking personally, I loved it and I’d recommend this tour to any 20-something travellers looking for an adventure of a lifetime.