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!
There are some essentials you must always remember when packing for Central America. However, women normally carry huge bags with tons of things that they may never use so it is a good idea to ask yourself:
Is carrying a purse necessary? I’ve noticed some women travelers have a hard time parting with their purses. That’s why I have decided to take a good look through mine to see: Is it really necessary? I discovered that it is not! So let’s see:
Table of Contents
- What do you really need for your Central American Adventure?
Central America Travel Tips
- Always Have a Copy of Important Documents
- Safety Tips When Traveling In Central America
- Register Your Trip!
- A Couple of Things to Consider When Flying While Pregnant:
- Register Your Trip to Guatemala And Feel Safe!
- Airport Taxis and Shuttles
- Ask Before Taking Pictures
- Blend with the Crowd
- Check out the Countryside
- Chicken Buses – Go At Your Own Risk!
- Central America Water
- Diamonds Are a Girl’s Bestfriend (or Worst Enemy)
- Emergency Numbers
- Enjoying Foreign Food
- Get a Guide
- Guys Get A Mugger’s Wallet
- How Much Is It in Central America?
- Eat Safely When Traveling To Central America
- Avoid Gaining Weight While Traveling
- How to Learn More About Local Culture
- How to Keep Your Money Safe and Dry
- Money To Change or Not to Change!
- Obvious Stuff We Sometimes Overlook
- Long Road Trip Boredom Solved
- Overcoming Jet Lag
- Practice Your Spanish
- Season Matters When Traveling to Central America
- Useful Advice For Gifts When Traveling
- Ziploc bags
- Waiting Is the Hardest Part
- A New Use for Old Pantyhose
What do you really need for your Central American Adventure?
- Money – Remember to always exchange your money at banks, anywhere else will give you crazy bad exchange rates.
- Credit Cards – But keep them safe
- Camera – Or a phone with an amazing camera
- Sunscreen and bug repellent
- Maybe even a compact waterproof jacket for unforeseen rains.
All of these can easily fit in comfortable clothes with pockets, which I guess you will be wearing. So why not use them? So leave your purse at home you’ll find it to be such a stress reliever!
Central America Travel Tips
Again, this may seem like an obvious one, but you have to do more than skimming through a travel book! I suggest creating and bringing along a specific itinerary before you travel. This way you will avoid being stressed figuring out what goes next on vacation or planning too many things. This will make your trip a lot more enjoyable.
Always Have a Copy of Important Documents
This is one of the most important safety tips for traveling. It is important to have copies of your passport, identification, and contacts with you at all times. This means leaving the original documents back at the hotel.
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. 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.
Safety Tips When Traveling In Central America
Guatemala like 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:
- Leave expensive jewelry and watches at home,
- Carry purses and camera bags close to your body or better yet, consider not carrying them at all,
- Take along only as much cash as you need,
- Carry a photocopy of your passport, leaving the original in your hotel safe,
- At nightstick to well-lighted and transited areas.
Register Your Trip!
The US government has a great feature that EVERYONE who is traveling must take full advantage of it! 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 travel 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.
A Couple of Things to Consider When Flying While Pregnant:
- A seat near the bathroom will facilitate more frequent bladder emptying.
- An aisle seat will make it easier to get up for those trips to the bathroom.
- Bulkhead seats have the most legroom.
- Get up and take a short walk down the aisle once every half hour.
- Don’t travel alone. You never know when you are going to need some help.
- Don’t forget to get a medical certificate from your doctor and always have it with you.
- Always carry your emergency contact number and your doctor’s contact number.
- Make some research about clinics of the country you are traveling to, in case of an emergency.
Register Your Trip to Guatemala And Feel Safe!
The US Gov recommends you secure your trip to Guatemala City by hiring, for a 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 – email@example.com.
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.
Tip: Guatemala currency is called “Quetzal” just like the national Quetzal bird.
Airport Taxis and Shuttles
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.
Another great option is shuttles arranged by your hotel.
Ask Before Taking Pictures
One day I was at a Guatemalan local market and I overheard 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.
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.
You know what I mean: leave the Hawaiian shirt or crop top at home! This serves two purposes: avoid becoming a target for scams and theft by not looking like a tourist, and to show respect, because in certain places exposing too much skin can be offensive.
Check out the Countryside
Central America is home to some of the world’s most fascinating ancient sites including Mayan ruins, church ruins, buildings from 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.
Chicken Buses – Go At Your Own Risk!
They are great for photographs but I wouldn’t trust them for transportation. They are too crowded, not always safe, and might take a long time for you to get to your destinations because they stop a hundred times along the way to let people in or out.
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 recommended and here I have some more reasons to avoid them:
- You are pushed and pulled the whole way
- They tend to stop very frequently
- Because of all the stops, it takes forever to get anywhere
- The door is always opened so thieves take them very often
- They are usually so crowded that they don’t smell very good
Central America 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 in the region where Heineken allows its beer to be brewed. So carry around a water bottle with a filter at all times.
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.
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!
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. You will be back to your loved dishes soon.
Get a Guide
I highly recommend always going on 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.
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.
How Much Is It in Central America?
Even though prices may vary in different countries of Central America, for example, let’s take prices of some regions of Guatemala you might want to have some references:
- A short taxi ride inside Guatemala City can cost you between 25 and 50 Quetzals which is between $3 and $7.
- A soda can be between 5 and 15 Quetzals ($2 or $3). A Beer is between 10 and 35 Quetzals ($1 and $5).
- A traditional breakfast that includes: Coffee, beans eggs, and juice can cost anywhere from 20 to 50 Quetzals ($2 and $7).
- A lunch special can be 30 or 60 Quetzals ($4 to $8).
- A lunch or dinner in a more exclusive place (recommended) can be between 50 and 300 Quetzals ($7 to $38).
- The internet hour costs an average of 8 Quetzals (U$1).
The hotel accommodations may cost:
- 5 Stars: U$100 to U$300
- 4 Stars: U$80 to U$100
- 3 Stars U$50 to $80
- 2 Or fewer: U$20 to u$50
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 100% clean.
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.
Another rule of thumb, is if it’s been cooked super recently it’s 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.
Avoid Gaining Weight While Traveling
A lot of 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:
- Don’t wait until you are starving to go to a restaurant.
- Look for the healthier options that are still local foods
- Ask for smaller portions
- Personalize it – I do this all the time. If you don’t want fries, ask for the veggies. If you don’t want beef to ask for a piece of chicken.
There are always ways around it that can still be yummy and fun.
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.
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 throughout your entire trip.
Money To Change or Not to Change!
I advise you 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:
- Do not change money anywhere accept BANKS always bring a passport for this. DO NOT CHANGE MONEY WITH PEOPLE ON THE STREETS
- ATMs are plentiful, you’ll get the best rates however, you’ll pay the small ATM fee. TAKE OUT ONLY WHAT YOU NEED
- 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 usage. Plus, whenever you go out, ask for the cash (Efectivo) discount, and chances are you’ll get 5-10% off.
Obvious Stuff We Sometimes Overlook
These are pretty simple but we travelers seem to overlook them sometimes, 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 on your trip. And second, do some research. The trip will be a lot smoother if you can map out a specific itinerary in advance. It 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.
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 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.
Overcoming Jet Lag
Jet Lag can really put a damper on 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 at 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.
Driving in Antigua Guatemala, for example, 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 careful with that? There are transit policemen on almost every corner who will give you a $25 fine if you do.
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.
Season Matters When Traveling to Central America
I figured out 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 very nice weather.
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.
Useful Advice For Gifts When Traveling
Some of us like to take presents when traveling especially 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 the 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.
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.
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?
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.
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