Central America is rich in culture and natural beauty. While there are challenges, the rewards of traveling in this region are immense. I spent 6 months traveling around Central America so here is a list of all the things you should know before and while traveling there!
Short on time? Here is a list of things to know when traveling to Central America:
In most countries, you can stay up to 90 days
No special vaccines are required to enter
Central America generally has a tropical climate
Each country has its own currency, except for El Salvador, which uses the USD
Spanish is the predominant language in Central America
Stay hydrated but don't drink tap water
Research the areas you are planning to travel due to safety concerns
Stay updated about the weather and political warnings
While many nationalities can enter most Central American countries without a visa for short stays, always check the specific visa requirements for your nationality before you travel.
In most countries, you can stay up to 90 days. But Panama allows you to stay up to 180 days. There is a possibility to stay longer but then you will need to apply for specific permits.
There are no requirements for specific vaccinations but I personally recommend making sure your Hepatitis A and B shots are up to date. Also, I personally recommend looking into Typhoid injections.
No yellow fever vaccine is required to enter any Central American country.
Central America generally has a tropical climate. It's helpful to know the wet and dry seasons of the specific countries you'll be visiting to ensure you don't get caught up in long rainy periods.
Although the exact timing and intensity of wet & dry seasons can vary based on geography, altitude, and proximity to the ocean. Here's a breakdown by country:
Panama - Dry Season: December to April / Wet Season: May to November
Costa Rica - Dry Season: December to April / Wet Season: May to November
Nicaragua - Dry Season: November to April / Wet Season: May to October
Honduras - Dry Season: December to April / Wet Season: May to November
El Salvador - Dry Season: November to April / Wet Season: May to October
Guatemala - Dry Season: November to April / Wet Season: May to October
Belize - Dry Season: February to May / Wet Season: June to January
It's worth noting that even during the wet season, rain typically comes in the form of heavy afternoon showers, while mornings are often clear. The Caribbean coast can be rainier than the Pacific coast, and high-altitude areas can have slightly different weather patterns. Always check the specific regions you're interested in, as microclimates can affect local weather patterns.
In general, it is quite easy to pack for the Central America trip but there a few things I wouldn't be able to live without or recommend leaving at home, so all my packing tips and tricks you can find in my Central America Packing List article!
Each country has its own currency, except for El Salvador, which uses the U.S. Dollar. However, in many places, the U.S. Dollar is widely accepted.
Here's a breakdown of the official currency used in each Central American country:
Costa Rica: Costa Rican Colón (CRC)
Guatemala: Guatemalan Quetzal (GTQ)
Honduras: Honduran Lempira (HNL)
Nicaragua: Nicaraguan Córdoba (NIO)
Belize: Belize Dollar (BZD)
Panama: Panamanian Balboa (PAB) and United States Dollar (USD)
Panama's official currency is the Balboa, but it does not print its own banknotes. Instead, USD is used for paper currency, while Panama mints its own coins, which are of equal value and interchangeable with US coins.
When traveling to these countries, it's always a good idea to have some local currency on hand for small purchases, especially outside of major cities. Credit cards are widely accepted in urban areas, but having cash is crucial in more remote regions.
Spanish is the predominant language in Central America. While English is spoken in tourist areas, it can be beneficial to learn some basic Spanish phrases.
I feel like knowing some basic Spanish will not only help you on the trip for practical reasons but will also allow you to experience the local culture much better!
It can get very hot so ensure you drink enough water! Also, try not to be in the sun all day. The sun is very strong in that area. Drink bottled or purified water. Tap water can be unsafe for drinking in many areas.
You will be hearing horror stories from your family who have never gone there before you go but please do not let that influence you! In reality, Central America is fairly safe. Said that... you do need to do some research before you visit any place as there are some specific areas to watch out for.
For me personally, the most dangerous place during the whole trip was San Jose - the capital of Costa Rica. In 2 minutes, I saw people selling drugs openly on the street, prostitutes, and 2 guys fighting that almost fell on my taxi. All that in 2 minutes on the same street. So you might want to double check the places you are planning to visit.
All my best recommendations you can find in my article Central America Travel Itinerary (aka Central America Backpacking Route).
In Central America, staying informed by tuning into local news is paramount, particularly if your travels coincide with the hurricane season, which typically runs from June to November. This region, blessed with vibrant cultures and natural beauty, is occasionally marked by unpredictable weather patterns and sporadic civil unrest. Being vigilant and aware of the local situation not only ensures your safety but also allows for a more enriching and seamless travel experience. Always consider rearranging plans if there are indications of significant storms or political tensions in your chosen destination. Due to political tensions, there might be demonstrations on the streets that can lead to bus timetable changes or even cancelations and create other mobility issues so it is important to be able to rearrange and be flexible if you get caught in the middle of it all!
It is always a good idea to cover yourself in advance with travel or digital nomad insurance!
Things might not always go as planned. Buses may be late/canceled, and rain might change your plans. Embrace the unexpected and enjoy the experience!