Central America. 6 Weeks. 4 Countries. $2650. Part 5 – How to Plan a Trip to Central America

That’s right!

We went to Central America for 6 Weeks, visited 4 Countries, and spent $2650 per person.

And you can too!!

Part 5 – How to Plan a Trip to Central America

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central america map plain_Fotor
As seen above, Central America consists of the 7 different countries that connect North America (Mexico) to South America (Colombia). Though similarities exist, each country has its own culture, history, and attractions.

Step 1: Determine Your Time Frame

Although Central America looks small, don’t assume that a couple weeks will be enough time to get from one end to the other. Sure, you can get from end to end in that time frame, but you’d spend most of your time in Central America on a bus. Figure out how much time you have to travel. Note: Dry season is November through May.

Step 2: Determine Your Budget

If you’re looking to go to a lavish all inclusive resort, there are probably better websites to check out than this one for advice. If you’re looking for an unforgettable trip on a budget, read on. On both of my trips to Central America, $30 (USD) per day was a totally feasible amount to spend and still have a great time. I am sure you could operate on less than that figure in many countries, but this is a safe number.

In creating my budget for my trips, I look at it like this:

Sample Budget to Central America

Cost of Incoming Flight
+ $30 per day * number of days
+ Large Excursion Costs (Scuba diving, boat trip, etc.)
+ Travel Costs (passport, entrance / exit fees, visa costs, travel insurance)
+ Cost of Departure Flight

= Minimum Budget

Note that I wrote minimum budget meaning the minimum amount to complete your travel goals. I highly recommend padding your account beyond that number as you never know what can come up.

In Central America Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador are going to be the cheapest countries to visit; while Costa Rica, Panama, and Belize are more expensive.

If you’re looking to volunteer to save some extra money, I highly recommend checking out Workaway.org. There are work exchange opportunities all around the world!

Step 3: Determine Your Travel Style

Are you comfortable being uncomfortable? Budget travel is not for everyone. Sometimes it means spending whole days and nights on crowded buses just to get from place to place only to arrive at a less than awesome hostel bunk. It means traveling with less than a week’s worth of clothes and only 2 pairs of shoes. It means asking questions and trying to understand the answer in a foreign language. It means sleeping at bus stations because your bus arrived hours later than anticipated. To me, it’s all worth it – but it is definitely not for everyone.

Step 4: Pick Out Your “Must Sees and Dos”

So, why do you want to go to Central America? Are you looking for beaches, islands, surfing or scuba diving? Or hiking, horseback riding, mountain climbing? Maybe Mayan ruins and vibrant culture? Central America is packed full of beautiful places and people. Start researching where it is you want to go and what you want to see. If you’re on a tight budget or small time frame, focus on one or two countries. The further distance you travel, the more expensive your trip is going to be.

Central America Highlights

Collage_Fotor central am

Here’s a few of my favorite places in Central America. This is by no means all there is to see! (Click the location for my travel story from there.)

Belize

  • Caye Caulker – beautiful island about 45 minutes by boat from Belize City
  • Xunantunich – Mayan ruins site near the Guatemalan border

Guatemala

  • Tikal – The New York City of the Maya, massive Mayan ruins site in the rain forest complete with monkeys
  • Antigua – Historical small city west of Guatemala City
  • Lake Atitlán – Gorgeous lake surrounded by volcanoes, 5 different lakeside villages with vibrant Mayan culture. Many nearby trekking opportunities.
  • Semuc Champay – Ok, I haven’t actually been here, but everyone says its a must. Check out this underground river with cave exploration.

Honduras

  • Utila – Carribean Island Paradise. One of the cheapest and most beautiful places in the world to learn to scuba dive
  • Copán Ruinas – Intricate Mayan Ruins Site

El Salvador

  • Playa Tunco – Surfer’s paradise with world renown waves

Nicaragua

  • Leon – Historical city with beautiful churches. Nearby ash boarding (like sledding down a volcano)
  • Ometepe Island – Island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua that is composed of two volcanoes. Must.
  • Corn Islands – Never been, but highly recommended by another friend. Another slice of island paradise.

Costa Rica

  • Uvita – Small beach side town
  • Osa Peninsula – Near the Panama border, this peninsula is full of wildlife. Check out Corcovado National Park and see all the wildlife this country has to offer.

Panama

  • Panama City – This large city has so much to offer. Go check out the Panama canal. It is mind blowing.
  • San Blas Islands – If you are crossing between Panama and Colombia, spend a day (or more!) on the San Blas Islands eating fresh caught lobster and enjoying tropical paradise.

Step 5: Research, research, research!!

So many people ask me, so how did you know there would be a bus from A to B?? Um.. I googled it. Yes, seriously. All of my trips have been researched for hundreds of hours before I take off. I read lots of blogs, maps, and bus schedules before taking off. You have the whole world at your finger tips. Use it!

Make sure to read into the passport, visa, and vaccination requirements for all the countries you plan on visiting and take action months before take off. Many countries require an entrance and/ or exit fee when crossing borders. Don’t forget to account for these expenses in your budget!

The primary language in Central America is Spanish! You do not need to be fluent in the language, but the more key words you can learn in advance, the easier you will be able to get around. At the minimum, get a grip on the numbers. How will you know you’re not getting ripped off if you don’t know the numbers? As always, Por Favor (please), Gracias (thank you), and a smile will get you a long way. The people there are generally nice, and they tend to know where the travelers are headed.

Step 6: Book it!

I prefer to have my incoming and departure flights booked ahead of time. This is not necessary, but does give you the peace of mind of having your way back home already figured out. Once my start and end points are determined, I can create a travel trajectory seeing the most important things on my way. Many travelers like to leave their trips open ended to allow, well, anything to come up along the way. You do not need to book your departure in advance, but this is my preference.

(Note: Some countries require a departure ticket upon arrival. Make sure you are prepared at customs.)

Step 7: Go Explore!!

The day you’ve been waiting for has finally arrived! Enjoy the lakes, beaches, islands, volcanoes, mountains, wildlife, culture, history, and amazing people of Central America. There is much more to see and do that can fit into one trip. After visiting Central America twice, I cannot wait to go back and do more exploring!

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Have you been to Central America? What are some of your must-sees and dos? I’d love to hear your input in the comments!

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