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Dragoman's latest travel blog: the Pan-American Overland

Dragoman crew Julie and Alex have just set off on our massive 109-day North & Central American Overland tour from Panama City to Anchorage. Travelling in Betsy the Overland School Bus, they'll take in some of the best sights in Central & North America, including national parks such as Yellowstone and Banff, glitzy Las Vegas, the cloud forests of Monteverde Forest Reserve, and the "Big Apple" of the north, Anchorage. Julie and Alex are keeping us updated from the road - scroll down for the latest updates! 

 

Part Five

  

Saying goodbye to Honduras after breakfast, we drove into Guatemala for lunch and reached El Salvador in late afternoon. That day we had three meals in three different countries! In El Salvador we decided to book a whole hostel in an incredible location: on the inner slopes of a crater lake. The immense lake Coatepeque is a great place to paddleboard, jump in from the hostel’s elevated balcony and have a beer right above the water. It’s also 30km away from Santa Ana volcano, which most of us climbed on our free day!

 

  

We re-entered Guatemala – for good this time – and drove to Antigua for an extended stay in the beautiful colonial city. Boasting a rich history and surrounded by volcanoes, everyone found something to do. Some immersed themselves in the local culture by visiting a local high school, a carpenter (coffin makers), a local bus refurbishing shop or attending an iron workshop.

 

  

  

Others attempted the ascension of various volcanoes, including the active Pacaya Volcano, where you can walk on its solid lava field and roast marshmallows above its cracks. The Acatenango, standing at nearly 4000m, was climbed in time for sunrise after a night camping on its slopes. This demanding trek allowed the bravest of us to approach the Fuego Volcano just before sunset, witnessing its constant eruptions standing barely 900m away. A once-in-a-lifetime experience!

 

  

  

  

  

Our second stop in Guatemala was Panajachel, a town established on the shore of the iconic lake Atitlán. Two nights there gave us time to walk around its streets and markets and hire a boat to visit four of the main villages settled around the lake, quite remote and unique.

 

From the beginning... Part One


We started our epic journey from Panama by paying a visit to the also very epic Panama Canal, which was the most expensive construction project in US history at the time.

Did you know that its construction (and the Americans) played a big role in Panama's independence from Colombia in 1903?

 

 
We then headed a bit north to spend the night in a remote local community attainable by boat and had the chance to walk on the Camino Real.

 

 
This cobblestone path was built in the 1500s, allowing the Spanish mules to carry South American gold and silver from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic in only four days!

 


Our journey across Panama also brought us to Boquete, a small town located in highlands surrounded by coffee plantations and Panama's highest point: Baru Volcano, standing at 3474m. Jay the legend climbed it during the night to watch the sunrise from the top!

 

Part Two


Our journey continued as we crossed into the second country visited in this trip, Costa Rica! Our first stop in this beautiful country is Manuel Antonio National Park, which is considered one of the most biodiverse parks in the world with a population of 109 types of mammals and 184 types of birds. There was plenty of wild life to be spotted and flora to learn about in this idyllic park and everybody enjoyed a free afternoon at the beach!

 


Next we made our way up to one of the country’s major ecotourism destinations, Monteverde Cloud Reserve Forest. Resting at 1400m above sea level, this forest is one of the places in Costa Rica where there are good chances to see the majestic Quetzal, Guatemala’s national bird. And we saw many of them, among other species of birds, butterflies, snakes and mammals! Then the group had free time to enjoy all of the different activities offered in Monteverde: ziplining, bungee jumping, suspension bridges, butterfly park, coffee and chocolate tours, night walks and more!

 


Our last stop in Costa Rica is La Fortuna, home to the Arenal volcano National Park. We get to there by boat crossing on Lake Arenal, which rests at the base of Arenal Volcano and supplies 12% of the country’s hydroelectric energy. There is a sloth park in La Fortuna where some of us had the chance to witness quite a rare event: seeing a sloth make is way down a tree to... poop! This only happens once a week! In La Fortuna whilst some of the group went on a rafting trip, jumping off waterfalls, mountain biking and bird watching trips, some others enjoyed the hammocks and pool at the hostel.

 

Follow our journey as we spend the next week discovering Nicaragua, starting with a couple of days on Ometepe Island!

 

Part Three

After visiting La Fortuna we crossed into Nicaragua! One of the poorest countries of the Western hemisphere, second only to Haiti, Nicaragua is also one of our driver Alex’s favourites! Did you know that the country’s elected president since 2006 was also elected in the 1980s after the fall of a dictatorship that had lasted nearly 45 years? Ortega helped lead the Sandinista Revolution of the 70s and ruled democratically for a decade, but he is now criticized for moving towards a more opaque presidency.

 

We first left our beloved Betsy parked in the small harbour to take a ferry to Ometepe Island, standing out in the biggest lake of Central America. The island itself is rather impressive, consisting of two adjacent volcanoes towering in the middle of the waters. Two nights there allowed each one of us to choose several activities like climbing the highest volcano (at 1,610m above sea level, Concepcion Volcano is the only active of the two), cycling around Ometepe’s rural sceneries, having a look at ancient petroglyphs (up to 3000 years old!), visiting a beautiful lagoon and a butterfly museum and enjoying a beer on the shore at sunset, a must on this island.

 

Back on the mainland, we had a short drive to reach Granada, a picturesque colonial town with a lot of history. A guided city tour helped us understand the significance of the city. Our free day there allowed everyone to roam around its cobblestone streets and take in the charm of the colourful houses and buildings. Most of us also took a short trip up the nearby and active Masaya Volcano to see its lava bubbling in the night.

 

Our next stop was León, a major city in the north of Nicaragua that also boasts a very rich recent history. We once again had a guided city tour to understand its landmarks and witness its gorgeous colonial heritage. The following day many of us had a short walk up a volcano and came down... on a toboggan! Others paid a visit to the Sandinista Revolution museum, to the renowned Arts museum, climbed on the roof of León’s Cathedral or simply walked around with camera in hand.

 

Part Four

After Leon, we drove north all morning until we were only a few kilometers off the border with Honduras, stopping for a night in a local family guesthouse. During the afternoon we split in two groups to visit the beautiful and untouched Somoto Canyon the way each one preferred: some took a walk around and then a short boat trip, while others went down the canyon to swim and float along the river running at the bottom. A few courageous ones even took the opportunity to do some cliff jumping in this amazing scenery where there was absolutely no one else!

 

After Nicaragua we travelled to San Pedro Sula, the second biggest city in Honduras, to catch our flight to Roatan the next day. Spending three nights on this Honduran island located in the Caribbean was absolutely fantastic, especially for the world class snorkelling and diving literally minutes away from our hotel. Some of us also took a full day tour of the island, a glass-bottom boat trip, went kayaking or simply took it easy in the very laid back atmosphere of the island.

 

Countrywide protests against education and healthcare systems privatizations added a twist to our journey through Honduras and although we experienced firsthand the social movement, we managed to make it to Copan as planned. We spent two nights there to visit the Mayan ruins and then explore the town a bit more or even enjoy a spa and massages!

 

Learn more about Dragoman’s North & Central American Overland tour.