Palm-lined beaches, dense jungle, cloud forests, volcanoes, hot springs, and bustling cities have attracted travelers to Costa Rica and Panama for decades. Add in the fact that they are the most secure and politically stable countries in the region, and it's easy to see how they became the darling destinations in Central America.

Because foreign travelers and ex-pats flock here in higher numbers than to most Latin American countries, prices can be considerably higher, especially for things like organized tours. Unfortunately, most backpackers on a budget pass up the opportunity to explore these countries. But with a little planning, we found it easier than expected to travel here on our very tight budget.