33 Travel Tips For Central America

Traveling to any part of the world is one of the best things a person can do. However, for each location there are a few travel tips that will help make the trip more exciting and problem-less. Here are 33 travel tips to Central America that will help you along the way!

1. $60 Passports: Do you know how much an American, Canadian or European passport goes for on the black market? Do you know how much it costs to replace a stolen American, Canadian or European passport? $60 – $120. So carry around a copy of your passport, especially in Central America. They accept it, if not just tell them that your passport is worth $ 60 on the black market and they’ll back off. So keep your original in your hotel.

2. Safety Tips When Traveling In Guatemala: Guatemala as the rest of Central American countries has a bad reputation, and you do need to be on your guard. But it’s really no more dangerous than any other city in a developing country, so don’t get paranoid. Just to avoid being robbed you should:

Don’t leave without know all the tips for traveling to Central America. 

  1. Leave expensive jewelry and watches at home,
  2. Carry purses and camera bags close to your body or better yet, consider not carrying them at all,
  3. Take along only as much cash as you need,
  4. Carry a photocopy of your passport, leaving the original in your hotel safe,
  5. At night stick to well-lighted and transited areas.

3. Register Your Trip! The US government has a great feature that EVERYONE who is traveling must take full advantage of! Travel Registration! No matter where you travel to in the world, head to the Travel Registration section of the US Department of State website and register your full trip!

This way if there is any sort of an emergency, they’ll know exactly where you were and can assist you better. All you have to do is give them your travel dates and destinations, other people you are traveling with, your passport and emergency phone numbers.

4. A Couple of Things to Consider When Flying While Pregnant: Here is a list of travel tips for pregnant travelers to make them have a better trip:

  1. A seat near the bathroom will facilitate more frequent bladder emptying.
  2. An aisle seat will make it easier to get up for those trips to the bathroom.
  3. Bulkhead seats have the most legroom.
  4. Get up and take a short walk down the aisle once every half hour.
  5. Don’t travel alone. You never know when you are going to need some help.
  6. Don’t forget to get a medical certificate from your doctor and always have it with you.
  7. Always carry your emergency contact number and your doctor’s contact number.
  8. Make some research about clinics of the country you are traveling to, in case of an emergency.

5. Register Your Trip in Guatemala And Feel Safe! The US Gov’t recommends you secure your trip to Guatemala City by hiring, for a super super low price, the Tourist Police. You can arrange all of this before heading to Guatemala.

You just have to: call the Tourist Assistance Office (ASISTUR) of INGUAT (the Guatemalan Tourism Institute) at 7a Avenida 1-17, Zona 4, Centro Ca­vico, Guatemala City. It has 24-hour/seven days per week direct telephone numbers for tourist assistance and emergencies. These are (502) 2421-2810 and (502) 5578-9836. ASISTUR also has regional offices in all major tourist destinations in Guatemala. INGUAT may be reached by its toll-free number within the United States at 1-888-464-8281 or contact INGUAT by email –  asistur@inguat.gob.gt.

The request should be submitted at least three business days in advance of the proposed travel and should provide the itinerary, names of travelers, and model and color of the vehicle in which they will be traveling. The normal fee is 50 quetzales ($6) for a few hours, 200 quetzales ($26) if you have them for longer and they need to be fed. 400 quetzales ($50) if you have to keep them overnight. Plus you have to pay their gas.

6. Airport Taxis: Central America, along with every other country in the world, has its share of crime. Most of it starts at the airport. Many pirate cabs, that offer a much lower fare, await the newcomers to steal everything from them. 50% of them are good guys trying to make a living, but the other 50% not so much. So spend the extra few bucks. Airport cabs might be more expensive but they are registered and each trip is logged in and accounted for. They will never rob you because the whole company has to answer for the misdoing.

7. Ask Before Taking Pictures: One day I was at a Guatemalan local market and I over heard a couple of local ladies talking about them not wanting people from other countries to take pictures of their kids. So I did a little research and what I found out was that Guatemalan’s, mostly native people don’t like foreigners coming close to their kids or even taking pictures of them. So if you want to stay out of trouble avoid contact with local’s kids as much as you can or if you speak Spanish ask for their parent’s permission first.

8. Blend with the Crowd: This is a pretty simple one and means don’t dress like a Tourist. If you do you become a target for scams and theft.

9. Check out the Countryside: Central America is home to some of the world’s most fascinating ancient sites that include Mayan ruins, church ruins, buildings form its colonial days and amazing flora and fauna. So go out, explore, there are hundreds of new things to do waiting for you out there.

10. Chicken Buses – Go At Your Own Risk! Buses are by far the cheapest and most efficient way to get around the Central American Region but let me tell you not all of them. There are some great bus companies where you can buy your ticket in advance, they are very comfortable really cheap. But there are also chicken buses which are cheaper but not so reccomended and here I have some more reasons to avoid them:

  1. You are pushed and pulled the whole way
  2. They tend to stop very frequently
  3. Because of all the stops it takes forever to get anywhere
  4. The door is always opened so thieves take them very often
  5. They are usually so crowded that they don’t smell very good

11. Costa Rican Water: Most people traveling around Central America are very concerned about how clean the water really is. But I found out that unlike most Latin American countries Costa Rica has a fairly safe water supply.There is also the fact that it is the only country of the region where Heineken allows its beer to be brewed.

12. Diamonds Are a Girl’s Bestfriend (or Worst Enemy): This is another simple one . Don’t bring your jewels when traveling to ANY Latin American country. Leave them at home! And if you brought some keep it in the hotel room and only wear it to the place that you want to show it off.

13. Emergency Numbers: Luckily in Costa Rica the emergency number is 911. They speak English and are quite helpful. The problem though, is where are you? Costa Rican directions can be tricky SO LEARN YOUR ADDRESS, THE COSTA RICA WAY, OF EACH HOTEL YOU STAY AT!

14. Enjoying Foreign Food: When we travel to a different country we tend to look for what is familiar like Mc Donald’s. In this case the advice would be to try the local dishes and don’t compare them to the ones at home. Instead enjoy every new flavor.

15. Get a Guide: I highly recommend to always go in guided tours I did it and found the guide’s knowledge and love of his country to be excellent. Almost all the guides and drivers speak English.

16. Guys Get A Mugger’s Wallet: Because anywhere you go there will always be thieves. Why not carry a mugger’s wallet when traveling? In it you can carry a big bill in front and a half-dozen or so smaller bills behind, along with your photo, ID library card, some other papers, hotel coupons, etc, for bulk. So in case of an emergency, you can surrender it easily.

17. How Much Is It? Even though prices may vary in different regions of Guatemala you might want to have some reference:

  1. A short taxi ride inside Guatemala City can cost you between 25 and 50 Quetzals that is between $3 and $7.
  2. A soda can be between 5 and 15 Quetzals ($2 or $3). A Beer is between 10 and 35 Quetzals ($1 and $5).
  3. A traditional breakfast that includes: Coffee, beans eggs and juice can cost anywhere from 20 to 50 Quetzals ($2 and $7).
  4. A lunch special can be 30 or 60 Quetzals ($4 to $8).
  5. A lunch or dinner in a more exclusive place (recommended) can be between 50 and 300 Quetzals ($7 to $38).
  6. The internet hour costs an average of 8 Quetzals (U$1).

The hotel accommodations may cost:

  1. 5 Stars: U$100 to U$200
  2. 4 Stars: U$80 to U$100
  3. 3 Stars U$50 to $80
  4. 2 Or fewer: U$10 to u$50

18. Eat Safely When Traveling To Central America: I’ll start by saying that any foods that have been boiled are generally safe, as well as fruits and vegetables that have to be peeled before eating. Avoid eating uncooked or undercooked meat or meat that is not cooked just prior to serving. You should also stay away from foods that require a lot of handling before serving. This is because even if the food is good the hands of the people handling it may not be a 100% clean.

8. How to Eat Safely and Healthy in Central America: The rule of thumb when it comes to fruit and veggies – if it can be peeled it’s safe. Green leafy veggies are a huge alert sign for two reasons: 1. You don’t know where it has been 2. If it’s been washed be careful you don’t know where the water has been.

Other rule of thumb, if it’s been cooked super recently its ok. 

Street food can be tricky, but when they are handling money and the food with the same hands that is a huge red flag.

9. Avoid Gaining Weight While Traveling: A lot people, including me, gain weight when traveling. Do you want to cook or watch everything that goes into your mouth while on vacation? I know I don’t. But there are ways to indulge yet avoid the real fatty ones:

  1. Don’t wait until you are starving to go to a restaurant.
  2. Look for the healthier options that are still local foods
  3. Ask for smaller portions
  4. Personalize it – I do this all the time. If you don’t want fries, ask for the veggies. If you don’t want beef ask for a piece of chicken. 

There are always ways around it that can still be yummy and fun.

 

 

 

20. How to Learn More About Local Culture: The best way to get to know the local culture from the country or town you’re visiting is not to go with a big tour group. It would be better to get a local, private guide. That’s because they will know more about what goes on in the town and you get a more personalized treatment. Another thing that will help you get a better experience is to shop at small grocery stores, pharmacies and outdoor markets. In them you will not only meet the locals but you will also get inexpensive souvenirs.

21. How to Keep Your Money Safe and Dry: Have you ever been on vacation having a great time on the beach or the pool and suddenly you remember that your wallet is still in your pocket? Well I found this great product that will allow you to keep your documents and money safe in those cases. It is a waterproof wallet that you can find in almost every scuba dive shop. It will be very helpful to carry it around through your entire trip.

22. Long Road Trip Boredom Solved: Let’s face it, long road trips or long airplane flights can drive a kid (and everyone around them) batty! There is only so much coloring, destroying, play doo-ing one can do. My solution: Portable DVD player. Yeap, that’s right. Bring along the movies and the DVD player and let them have their field day. I know that traveling is about the bonding, plus they get enough TV at home. But after you’ve bonded for an hour or so on a five hour trip, you’ll be bonded out and ready for a bit of calmness.

23. Money To Change or Not to Change! I advice to use your credit card in as many places as you can instead of carrying cash around for safety reasons but in case you do need to use cash here are some safe methods:

a. Do not change money anywhere accept BANKS always bring a passport for this. DO NOT CHANGE MONEY WITH PEOPLE ON THE STREETS
b. ATMs are plentiful, you’ll get the best rates however, you’ll pay the small ATM fee. TAKE OUT ONLY WHAT YOU NEED
c. Very few places exchange travelers checks these days, and even fewer give good rates, plus they charge 1-2% on top of it.

Cash or Credit? Cash is king in Costa Rica. You’ll escape some places charging you 8% for credit card usages. Plus, whenever you go out, ask if for the cash (Efectivo) discount and chances are you’ll get 5-10% off.

24. Obvious Stuff We Sometimes Overlook: These are pretty simple but us travelers seem to overlook them some times, first remember to wear comfortable shoes . I recommend wearing the shoes for long walks before taking them with you on a trip to see if they can handle the wear they will undoubtedly get if you do take them in your trip. And second do some research. The trip will be a lot smoother of you can map out a specific itinerary in advance. It sucks sucks being bored on vacation and putting a bit of extra work in before leaving to figure out what you want to accomplish on your trip will make it a lot more enjoyable.

 

done

 

22. Long Road Trip Boredom Solved: Let’s face it, long road trips or long airplane flights can drive a kid (and everyone around them) batty! There is only so much coloring, destroying, play doo-ing one can do. My solution: Portable DVD player. Yeap, that’s right. Bring along the movies and the DVD player and let them have their field day. I know that traveling is about the bonding, plus they get enough TV at home. But after you’ve bonded for an hour or so on a five hour trip, you’ll be bonded out and ready for a bit of calmness.

25. Overcoming Jet Lag: Jet Lag can really put a damper in your traveling. But it doesn’t have to, as long as you can make it through the first day. The most important thing to do is to STAY AWAKE. The secret is, once you arrive to your hotel, don’t stay there. Go out. Go for a walk. Go to eat out. Then hit the sack at a decent hour. This way, when you wake up the next day you’ll be more or less on local time.

26. Parking in Antigua Guatemala: Driving in Antigua Guatemala is not a wise thing to do. It is a small place with way too many cars, so take my advice and don’t. You can rent a bike, a scooter or even better walk since it’s a small city you can walk across it in 30 minutes.

But if you are driving in Antigua anyway, you should know about some regulations they have. First do not park on the red or white line of the street. You will find the red line is on the edge of the sidewalk or 10 feet away from each corner and white lines are for motorcycles ONLY! The reason to be so carefull with that? There are transit policemen on almost every corner and will give you a $25 fine if you do.

27. Practice Your Spanish: Part of the fun of traveling is trying to communicate with the local people and learning their traditions. In Central America you will always find nice people willing to let you know something interesting about their culture.

28. Season Matters When Traveling to Costa Rica: I figured a way to enjoy traveling without spending too much but most importantly without having to spend my vacations locked up in a hotel room. And this is my conclusion: Late April, May, and October offer good weather with lower rates. June to September and November offer good rates but not a very nice weather.

29. Best Season To Visit Guatemala: April to October is Guatemala’s Green season, this is when you can get the best prices. But it’s also the time of the year when you can do almost nothing because it rains almost every afternoon and sometimes all day long. So visiting it from November to May is highly recommended.

DONE DONE DONE

 

 

30. Useful Advice For Gifts When Traveling: Some of us like to take presents when traveling specially if we are traveling for a special occasion. If that is the case I would recommend putting it with the rest of your luggage. But there will eventually be some delicate things that must definitely go in your hand luggage. A good thing to do before you even buy the present is to check hand luggage restrictions of the country you are leaving and the one you will be entering. Another good thing to keep in mind is not to wrap them as they are subject to security checks and may be unwrapped.

31. Ziploc bags: This is a short one, bring plenty of Ziploc bags. That is because nothing stays dry in Central America and since most people do rafting, swimming, waterfalls, or just crossing over streams, you’ll need bags to separate your wet stuff from your semi-dry.

32. Waiting Is the Hardest Part If you’re coming to Central America, be prepared to wait! Here this is a norm. Nothing is on time, it Just doesn’t happen. So come with lots of patience and besides, what’s the rush?

33. A New Use for Old Pantyhose: I learned that airports can be an easy place for others to prey on unsuspecting travelers who are unfamiliar with their surroundings. So here comes my advice: Cut off a leg of an old pair of pantyhose and put the money/credit cards that you are not going to use right away in the leg then tie the leg around your waist underneath loose-fitting clothes.

About Marina Villatoro

Marina Kuperman Villatoro CEO of TravelExperta.com, a travel resource site to inspire families to travel with kids of all ages. Marina has been an expat 20+ years in Central America raising 2 boys in a multicultural, trilingual household. She travels all over the world with her family to give first hand experiences of where to eat, stay and play with kids. Needless to say, it’s never boring! Join Marina on Facebook and Twitter for more unique and boutique family travel!

4 Responses to 33 Travel Tips For Central America

  1. A lot of good tips here, but really why would anyone in their right mind would want the government to know exactly what you are doing and where you are going??? Why don’t they just recommend putting on government issued gps ankle bracelets. Safety, nope, it’s about control, they want to know who is going where..

    3. Register Your Trip! The US government has a great feature that EVERYONE who is traveling must take full advantage of! Travel Registration! No matter where you travel to in the world, head to the Travel Registration section of the US Department of State website and register your full trip!

    • A lot of people still believe the government will help them when in need. I don’t really think the government cares too much when low profile people take trips, and still are there for us.

      Is there such a thing as: government issued gps ankle bracelets?

  2. Joshua Selva says:

    It is a pity that after so many years that the European Union’s good will for trying to accomplish the Central American integration in order to aid the region it has been a failure. It started in the 90’s when first Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua came out with the idea of these 4 countries to be a save path for traveling without the hassles of having to be checked in with immigration and customs in every one of these tiny developing poor countries. All this was the result out of the selfishness of every country politician for protecting them self from criminal persecution for their wrong doings that this dream for the Central American people is becoming again apart. No wonder Costa Rica never wanted to be part of the integration deal because they knew corruption and regimens has been a persistent problem in those countries. Therefore, been Costa Rica the only through democratic country in Central America. The original idea that the European Union was supporting was to have a Central America united as one sort of federation that would make it easier to help in order to get them out of poverty. Now a days, all the good work that politicians did in the 90’s is already gone. Currently, when you travel between these countries, El Salvador has build a station which was supposed to work for controlling merchandise passing by their country, but instead it is harassing tourist and local traveler examining them as if they are delinquents or drug traffickers. My recommendation to every traveler who enquires me for a good destination in Central America is no longer to visit the countries member of the SICA (Central American Integration System), but to go instead to Costa Rica for tourism.

    • Joshua,

      Excellent points. We had our most horrible experience on the Honduras Nicaragua border where Nicaragua doesn’t even bother hiding the corruption and horrible way they treat people. It makes me sooooo angry that innocent good people of their countries are the ones that suffer the most.

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