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Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama

Cycle Central America

11 days
Grade 3

About the challenge

Our challenging bike ride takes us through beautiful, diverse regions in three Central American countries, from Panama City northwest to Managua in Nicaragua. We cycle through banana and pineapple plantations, take in stunning Caribbean coastal scenery, pass smoking volcanoes and climb though primary rainforest. On this unforgettable challenge we tackle approx. 460 hot, humid kilometres – a tough undertaking, but what an experience!

Dates & prices

Departs Days Charity Availability Registration fee   Fundraising target   Payment option  
18 Nov 2017 11 Open challenge Spaces £300 + £39500 Or £1750 Contact office

The itinerary

Day 1: London – Panama City

We fly to Panama City, usually departing early and arriving in the evening; transfer to our hotel. Night hotel.

Day 2: Panama City – David
Drive approx. 6-7 hours

This morning, after a detailed briefing, we leave early and head to the Panama Canal. This is an incredible spectacle! Miraflores is one of four great locks that allow ships to pass from the Pacific to the Caribbean. We can watch as vessels – some carrying up to 4000 containers – pass through the lock gates. The Canal was finally completed in 1914 by America and only in 1999 was control handed back to the Panamanians. From the Canal we drive across central Panama towards the towering Volcan Baru, standing at 3475m, and the town of David nestled at the foot of the mountain. It’s a long drive, but the scenery is lovely as we pass by banana plantations, cattle ranches and the jungle-covered volcanoes to the north. We break the journey in Santiago, where we have lunch, and arrive at our hotel in the bustling city of David in time for dinner and a trip briefing. Night hotel.

Day 3: David – Mali – Almirante
Drive approx. 1.5 – 2 hours; cycle approx. 85km

After an early breakfast we have time to ensure our bikes are comfortable, then load up into the vehicles again for a relatively short drive up into the hills of La Fortuna Forest Reserve. There are spectacular views of the Caribbean Sea below us as the road winds through dense primary rainforest – we may see wildlife and are likely to hear howler monkeys! As we descend to lower elevations, the humidity and heat will become noticeable. We start our ride at the small village of Mali – after all the travelling it’s great to get pedalling! Our route continues towards the coast through forest, passing other small settlements on the way. Once on the coast, we head north along an undulating road where we will catch glimpses of the Bocas del Toro – a collection of small islands that was a hide-away of pirates in the past! This section will feel quite hot and humid, and the hills are quite challenging towards the end of the day – we’ll be glad to reach the port town of Almirante, our stop for the night. Night hotel.

Day 4: Almirante – Cahuita
Cycle approx. 102km

After a good night’s sleep we set off, heading towards Costa Rica! On leaving town, we climb to a great look-out spot before heading through a flatter area of banana plantations towards the bustling city of Changuinola. Along rough and pot-holed streets we cycle the final 14km to the border. We pass through Panama’s border controls and walk our bikes across the somewhat ramshackle bridge to the Costa Rican immigration office. This is a busy border crossing with plenty of activity – patience may be required! After completing formalities we continue our ride, stopping for lunch a short distance further on and then cycling on a variety of roads through small busy villages and tropical plantations. The afternoon is predominantly flat, with one notable climb towards the end of the day. After this our route takes us downhill and along the coast road to our hotel, which lies to the north of the small town of Cahuita on the Caribbean coast. Night hotel.

Day 5: Cahuita – Limon – La Fortuna
Cycle approx. 42km; drive approx. 5 hours

Our ride this morning is a fairly flat ride along the coast to Limon. This section is wonderful, with palm trees and beaches along the coast interspersed with villages and dense jungle. We may have a drinks-stop on the beach as we go, and there could even be time to dip our toes in the sea! On the outskirts of Limon we load up into vehicles and drive through amazing countryside to La Fortuna and the foot of the smouldering Arenal Volcano, a picture-perfect conical peak and one of Costa Rica’s most active volcanoes. Night hotel.

Day 6: La Fortuna – Upala – Santa Cruz
Drive approx. 1.5 hour; cycle approx. 95km

After a good night’s sleep and breakfast we drive for around one hour through flat cattle country to the start of today’s ride, which is a few miles before the bustling town of Upala. From Upala we head towards the small town of Santa Cecilia, enjoying the scenery around us as we pass through traditional villages and lowland jungle with fantastic trees. It is low-lying and pretty hot and humid, which makes the day challenging despite the gentler terrain. The tarmac gives way to rough dirt roads which makes for tough cycling, but lasts only around 30km before we re-join paved road and continue to the Pan American Highway. This is an exciting landmark: from here we head along smooth roads north to La Cruz. Night hotel.

Day 7: La Cruz – San Juan del Sur (Nicaragua)
Cycle approx 60km

Leaving our accommodation, we ride on the Pan American Highway towards the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border. The highway is the blood-line of trade between Central America and the USA, and we see more traffic here than we have during the rest of our ride. We cross into Nicaragua, which may take a little time, depending on how busy the border is, and head towards Lago Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America. We continue riding roughly parallel to its shores for around 25km; as we ride, our views are dominated by the two volcanoes that form the island of Ometepe in the middle of it. The cone-shaped Volcan Concepcion rises to 1610m and is active, while dormant Maderas is a little lower at 1394m and swathed in cloud-forest. We then head southwest, crossing the strip of land between the vast lake and the Pacific Ocean, to the beach at San Juan del Sur, where we can relax, swim or bodysurf. Night hotel.

Day 8: San Juan del Sur - La Virgen – Granada
Cycle approx 75km

Our final day of riding! We transfer (approx 18km) back to Lago Nicaragua and the town of La Virgen, then head north, enjoying views of the lake and volcanoes. Riding on the smooth surface of the Pan American Highway again, we are heading for wonderful Granada, the most beautiful of Central American cities. Its wonderful churches, museums and plazas, combined with its lake-side position, make it a great place to finish and relax after our strenuous ride. We spend the evening celebrating our huge achievement. Night hotel.

Day 9: Free Day Granada

Today is free to explore the sights of Granada and haggle for souvenirs, or enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride around its streets – or you may just wish to relax by the pool with a cool beer! Night hotel. (Lunch & Dinner not included)

Day 10: Depart for UK

We depart Granada for Managua for our flight back to the UK. (Lunch not included if not in flight)

Day 11: Arrive UK

Discover Adventure reserves the right to change the route or itinerary for safety reasons should local conditions dictate.

Detailed information

What's Included?

All accommodation is included as well as all flights and transport; camping equipment (except sleeping bag and sleeping mat); all meals except three or four as specified in the itinerary, and entrance to any sites visited as part of the itinerary. A bike can also be provided if you wish. Experienced Discover Adventure leaders/mechanics and doctor (depending on final group size) are also included, along with a local support crew of local guides, drivers and cooks.

What's Excluded?

It does not include personal travel insurance, airline fuel supplement if charged by the airline, (capped at £225 by Discover Adventure), airport departure tax, Nicaragua entry fee, three meals as specified, tips for local crew, drinks and personal expenses. It also does not include entrance fees to any optional sites or attractions. We strongly recommend you carry a credit card in case of personal emergency.

Flight Information

Group flights leave from London Heathrow or Gatwick, (we regret that we are unable to book connecting flights) and are booked through Discover Adventure Ltd under ATOL licence 5636. By travelling with Discover Adventure you are protected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). We are most likely to fly with Iberia or Continental Airlines. However, we don’t always fly with the same airline so this is a guideline only. You will usually receive confirmed flight details several months before departure. Our itineraries are always based on current flight schedules and are therefore subject to change by the airline. If you prefer to book your own flights please ask us for a land-only cost.


We stay in simple traditional hotels, which are clean and comfortable, usually with ensuite facilities, but not luxurious. Please do not expect the same standards as you would in the UK!


All food is included when cycling. The food is great, will give you plenty of energy, and there is plenty of it! 3 meals (or 4 depending on flight times) are not included, as detailed in the itinerary.

Dietary Requirements

Being vegetarian or having other dietary requirements is not usually a problem provided you let us know well in advance. Please do not expect as much variety as you would have access to at home – we will be in rural areas and among people of a different culture who may not be able to meet your requirements, however willing they are to help. If you know there are plenty of foods you cannot eat you may wish to bring extra snacks from home so you can top up your energy supply. Any meals not included are listed in the itinerary and are generally when we are in towns or cities and you are free to explore and try other culinary experiences! There is always something to suit every budget.

Trip Support

Discover Adventure Crew

Your trip will be led by experienced Discover Adventure leaders. Our leaders are selected for their experience in harsh wilderness environments, knowledge of travel in remote areas, friendliness and approachability, sense of humour and ability to safely and effectively deal with any situation that arises. You are in very safe hands with a Discover Adventure leader.

All our leaders are from the UK or other English-speaking countries. Most work for us on an ad-hoc basis and have ‘real’ jobs in-between trips! We never send our leaders to the same destination for months on end – we want them to be as enthusiastic about your trip as you are. Although our leaders are trained in expedition first-aid, they are accompanied by an expedition doctor or medic, who is there to look after the well-being of the whole group and deal with any incidents. They help the leaders to ensure the trip runs smoothly and encourage you when things get tough. At least one leader will be an experienced bike mechanic. The number of crew looking after you will depend on the final size of your group, but at Discover Adventure we pride ourselves on our high leader: cyclist ratio and believe it leads to greater trip enjoyment as well as excellent trip safety.

Local Support Crew

Our local support crew is made up of local guides, drivers and cooks. Your local guide knows the local area well, and is a great source of knowledge about local customs and lifestyles. Drivers and cooks do not always speak English but are very friendly and approachable. The Discover Adventure crew work closely with the local crew to ensure your trip runs smoothly and safely. Your leader will arrange a collection of tips for the local support crew at the end of your cycle ride. Tipping is not obligatory, but once you see how hard they work on your behalf you will be happy to donate something! Your leader will give you an idea of appropriate guidelines. All our local crew are paid wages, but bear in mind that the average wage in this country is far below what you would spend on a normal night out.


The support vehicles are with the group all the time. All luggage and spares will be carried in them. Space is limited and hard-sided luggage is not suitable, so it is essential that your kit is packed in a soft sailing bag, rucksack or expedition kitbag. Ask us about our specially-designed low-cost kitbags if you don’t have one already. Bikes can be transported on flights in bike bags or – a much cheaper option – cardboard bike boxes: ask your local bike shop if they have any. You should also bring a small daypack or large waist-pack to carry for items needed during the day as you will not have access to your main luggage until the evening.

Trip Safety

Your safety, and that of the rest of the group, is our highest priority. Our trips are designed and planned with safety in mind. Your crew will be equipped with radios and emergency satellite phones, extensive medical kit and other safety apparatus where necessary. They always have access to our 24-hour emergency back-up in the UK. Our leaders are responsible for safety on the trip, and will make any changes to the itinerary they deem necessary should local conditions dictate. Pre-trip administration – such as compulsory medical questionnaires and travel insurance – is all done with your safety in mind.

Preparing for the challenge

Cycling Information


Distances on full cycling days average 85-90km; this usually takes between 7 – 10 hours of cycling, depending on your fitness. There are two shorter days. Roads are predominantly tarmac but there is some unsealed track – these require no technical off-road experience but we recommend some experience of cycling on tracks so you know what to expect. Terrain is challenging with some steep climbs and fast descents. Traffic is usually light but caution must be taken; when we pass through a large town we go through as a group. We are always happy to talk through the trip in more detail with you if you are worried about your fitness at any stage.

Bike Repairs

There will be a range of spares in the vehicle along with a full tool kit; however, it is impossible for us to carry spares for every eventuality. It is vital that if you bring your own bike it is in excellent working order before departure. We will be using 21-speed mountain bikes fitted with semi- slick tyres.

Clothing & Equipment

We are travelling through remote regions where we could be exposed to bad weather at any time. The table below gives you an idea of the climate, but be prepared for all weathers and temperatures. Weather conditions can change quickly in the mountains. We provide you with a detailed packing kit-list on registration, as well as details on useful discounts you are entitled to as a Discover Adventure customer. It is a condition of travel that you supply your own helmet and wear it at all times while cycling, with the straps done up.


It is generally hot and humid – we are in the tropics – and does rain fairly frequently. Expect it to be cooler at higher elevations and at night. You may experience rain, fog and strong winds as well as sunny conditions. Weather conditions can change rapidly, and will vary as we cross the region.

Fitness Levels

Our challenges attract people of all levels of experience and fitness, all ages and backgrounds. We expect all participants to train hard in advance to achieve this challenge, but we respect everyone’s limits. We design our challenges so that everyone can go at their own pace: this is not a race. For logistical and safety reasons we sometimes need to re-group, so the front-runners will find themselves waiting for the slower ones. Please relax, and remember that this is a team effort that enables people to achieve their personal goals and earn sponsorship.

Passport & Visa

A valid ten-year passport is essential; it should be valid for at least six months after entering all three countries. There are currently no visa requirements for UK citizens. Other nationalities should check entry requirements.


We insist that you have had a Tetanus injection in the last ten years, and highly recommend protection against Polio, Hepatitis A and Typhoid. Malaria is a risk in this region, so check with your doctor for the up-to-date advice on prophylactics. You should always check with a GP or travel clinic for up-to-date travel health advice as it does change.

Cultural Differences

For most people, the main attraction of travelling to a different country is to see new sights and enjoy new experiences. Sometimes those new experiences can make life harder or more inconvenient than you may like, such as toilet hygiene or different food, or simply a different attitude to solving problems. This is all part of the challenge you are signing up for! We are very privileged to live in a country with a high standard of living, and travelling exposes us to different challenges – all of which help broaden our horizons. We can guarantee that coming face-to-face with experiences outside your normal ‘comfort zone’ will help you bond with your fellow cyclists and provide you with plenty of things to laugh about! A sense of humour and sense of adventure are two of the most important things to bring with you!

Worldwide Sustainable Tourism

Long before ‘Responsible Tourism’ became a recognised phrase, we designed and ran our trips to ensure they made minimum impact on the environment and a positive impact on the local communities we pass through. 

Discover Adventure Projects

We are supporting a tree-planting project in Peru and a children’s home in Tanzania on a long-term basis. If you would like to ‘give something back’ please consider donating £5 to our projects when you sign up.

Carbon Offsetting

We encourage all our customers to offset emissions connected with their trip. You can offset at any time in the lead-up to departure by visiting Climate Care via our website and making a donation to a worthwhile project supported by them. Alternatively, if you wish to take more practical action in the UK you can volunteer for a day with TCV and work on an environmental project local to you. Work may include construction footpaths, dry stone walling, creating wildlife habitats or planting trees in your community. Volunteer today at or call 01302 388883.