This map shows the probable route the expedition intended to take and the probable actual route they took after getting lost. This actual route took them through the wilderness along ZARAHEMLA's west sea coast into the land northward. At this time, Bountiful was not yet inhabited from sea to sea (see Alma 22:33), and the west wilderness probably stretched the entire length of ZARAHEMLA's west sea coast.
Did the 43 men travel all the way to Hill Cumorah in New York? Limhi does not say how far into the land northward the 43 men traveled before finding the plates hid by Ether, but does say "they traveled in a land among many waters" (Mosiah 8:8). When Mormon used the phrase "a land of many waters" to describe the area of hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:4), was he intending to draw our attention to hill Cumorah as the location where the 43 men found the plates? Moroni does not specifically note that Ether hid his plates at or near hill Cumorah, but does say that he "hid them in a manner that the people of Limhi did find them" (Ether 15:33).
Is it reasonable to expect the 43 men could have traveled all the way from Nephi in southern Nicaragua to the hill Cumorah in New York state? Three reasons suggest it is: desperation, diligence, and divine intervention. The people of Limhi were desperate for help from the Nephites, the 43 men were diligent in their assignment, and the Lord wanted those plates discovered and he wanted a contemporary witness of the Jaredite destruction.
In addition, no year markers are provided that would make the lengthy travel to hill Cumorah and back impossible. Limhi says they were lost in the wilderness "for the space of many days" (Mosiah 8:8), but does not give a time length for the entire expedition. Time markers are noticeably missing in the account of Limhi's people. We don't know the year Zeniff's colony left ZARAHEMLA and we don't know the year Limhi's group made their escape from NEPHI. The year identifications at the bottom of the page in the Book of Mormon estimate the total expanse of time from Zeniff's departure from ZARAHEMLA to Limhi's return to be about 67 years. Zeniff does provide two year markers to indicate his people had been in NEPHI for twelve years (Mosiah 9:11) and for 22 years (Mosiah 10:3), but the rest of the account provides no year markers at all.
Furthermore, two factors may have impacted their travel. First, the Jaredite society, which stretched from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to Hill Cumorah, was very advanced ("Good Proof," Evening and Morning Star: June 1833, 99) and undoubtedly established a road system. This road system may still have been recognizable to the 43 men, leading them from major city to major city. Second, much of their travel may have been by water, using the extensive and interconnected river system in the Great Plains and Mississippi River Valley. Navigating this vast river system might be what caused them to describe the land northward as a "land among many waters" (Mosiah 8:8).
The 43 men knew their journey was incredible, so they brought back with them breastplates and swords as evidence of what they had seen, besides the plates hid by Ether (Mosiah 8:11). This personal witness of the utter destruction of "a people who were as numerous as the hosts of Israel" (Mosiah 8:8) would have been a grimly profound story to relate to a people perishing in their own sin-caused enslavement.