Central America is a favorite destination for many tourists from all over the world. Pacific and Atlantic Oceans surround Central America, stretching from Mexico to South America, covering up to seven nations- Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and Costa Rica.
The region has an extensive forest cover, endowed with sites such as ruins, wild animals and great beaches for surfing and snorkeling even on a small budget. If Central America is soon to be your destination, here are travel tips for backpacking in this spectacular region.
As expected, costs vary from country to country, but many visitors end up incurring around $40 per day’s expense, thanks to reasonable prices in accommodations, food, transport and a few big ticket activities. Here is a breakdown;
Accommodation- A night in a hostel ranges between $5-10 for a dormitory room. For separate beds and bathrooms, you will need around USD 15-25 for single or double bed. However, Costa Rica and Panama have pricier accommodation services. Family owned guesthouses and hotels make up affordable accommodation for most tourists trying to limit their spending in this region. Private rooms here average $25-30 each, with a bathroom, breakfast and if you are lucky, you will meet a local.
El Salvador has cheap private rooms, each costing $15. You can camp in hostel compounds and parks, where you can pitch a tent or string up a hammock for $1-3 a night. Some parks have camping fees.
Food- Dine at roadside restaurants scattered around Central America region to save some bucks. Here, you can pay around $5 per meal. Go for empanadas; fried pastries with minced meat, cheese or potatoes going for $0.50 each. Visit local markets to pick fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy for around $15-20 weekly, if you intend to cook.
Some fancier restaurants may require you to pay at least 25% more, with main dishes and drinks going for about $10 each.
Transportation- Air travel around Central America is expensive and public “chicken buses” buses are much cheaper and more convenient when moving around cities and countries. For example, a flight from Guatemala City to Belize City cost $250, with a bus only going for $35. However, they are slow as they drop and pick people along roads and many are not direct.
Most visitors rely on hitchhiking. Most citizens in this region are generous and offer lifts to strangers. Alternatively, use ferry services between Nicaragua and El Salvador or Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
Activities- Most parks and reserves charge around $5-10 as entry fees. Two tank swimming is one expensive activity, going for $50-80.
Money Saving Tips
- Visit local markets and buy items to take on day trips. You can prepare it in hostels. Fruit costs few pennies.
- Eat and dine at local road eateries and enjoy cheap foods and drinks, less than $2 per meal.
- Hitchhike to get around places as locals extensively use it.
- Avoid flying and use chicken buses rides. Bus rides may be longer, but flights are about ten times more expensive than bus rides.
Activities in Central America
Visit Panama Canal- Panama Canal was reopened recently and stretches 50 miles. It is a passage for ships from Pacific heading to Caribbean countries thanks to three sets of locks;
- Mira Flores.
- Pedro Miguel.
- Gatun Locks.
Explore Mayan ruins- Learn about the ancient culture of people around Central America in important sites like Tikal in Guatemala, although Copán in Honduras and San Andrés in El Salvador. Take photos of wall paintings, pyramids and suspended columns.
Visit Coffee Plantations- Costa Rica and Panama are top coffee growers in Central America. Visitors can tours around vast plantations of coffee, see how coffee beans are grown, picked and ground. Costa Rica sells freshly brewed coffee at heavily discounted prices.
Volcanoes- Most volcanoes in this region are active but still you can take a walk on volcanoes’ rims. Pacaya in Guatemala and Arenal in Costa Rica are active volcanoes known worldwide.
Learn Deep Sea Diving- Central America’s shores are home to many coral reefs making deep sea swimming an everyday activity. Enjoy a view of different colors of fish in preferred dive countries such as Panama, Honduras, and Belize.
Visit Chichicastenango- Chichicastenango is a large native market in Guatemala where tourists buy baskets, pottery, and souvenirs. Also, you will get to enjoy the best place local cuisine cheaply.
Carnivals- La Ceiba in Honduras is a festival around Central America, where backpackers can have a view of bright costumes and dancing while interacting with locals and tourists in bars and mingle.
Museums- Most cities in this region have archaeological locations paying homage to Mayan civilization for example with Gold Museum in San José, Costa Rica, and Copán Village Archaeology Museum being fascinating places to visit.
Trek through Rainforests- Central America is covered by vast, humid, and beautiful rainforests, home to wild animals such as jaguars and parrots. Every country has a park offering hiking tours in America’s vast jungles.
Caye Caulker, Belize- It is a little island known for its low-cost goods and services as well as a relaxed atmosphere to it. Most Julys host the Lobster Festival and remaining year offers snorkeling, kayaking, and diving.
Nicoya Coast, Costa Rica- It is a spectacular peninsula riddled with quaint little towns, spectacular beaches and attractions such as Barra Honda National Park and Isla.
Sail around San Blas Islands- Based in Panama; San Blas Islands are made up of over 370 islands, offering incredible seascapes and great marine life to behold. It is a great destination for sports fishing and deep sea swimming.
Swim in Blue Hole- Considered a natural swimming spot, Blue Hole in Belize forms part of Lighthouse Reef system and is a near-perfect circular hole 480 feet deep. It allows a visibility is about 200 feet thanks to still waters in it, allowing snorkel activities to take place comfortably.
Head to Antigua, Guatemala- Antigua is home to tons of pubs, bars, restaurants, coffee shops, many hostels and even Spanish schools if you want to learn some Spanish language.
Go to Ometepe Island, Nicaragua- Ometepe Island is located inside Nicaragua Lake, making it a significant volcanic island residing in a freshwater lake. Moyogalpa Island in Nicaragua is a hub for tourism here thanks to a plethora of restaurants and hotels around it.
Explore Herrera Gardens and Conservation Project– It is a250-acre ongoing reserve long-term, an ongoing reforestation project in Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica. It has over 3 miles of garden trails and approximately 10 miles of marked forest trails where you can have guided tours for bird watching, botany and tree climbing.