5. Prepare for the borders
Talk to any backpacker that’s ventured around this isthmus and chances are they might air a grumble or two over border crossings. Long queues, a maze of checkpoints and a sea of touts are typically the key ingredients in this headache-inducing jig. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
A little patience and a liberal dose of preparation can pay dividends. Remember that each and every country will have their own fees and regulations when it comes to entering and exiting (such as providing printed proof of onward travel and/or proof of funds), and these are subject to change. Checking the requirements ahead of time is key. Consult your Rough Guide to Central America on a Budget and utilise the mine of blogs and forums online for further tips.
6. Fly open-jaw
The distances may seem miniature when compared to North and South America, but don’t be fooled; getting around this linchpin of land can gobble up a surprising amount of time. Cheap local buses seem to stop in every one-horse town, while many private ones operate infrequently and fill up sometimes weeks in advance.
To make the most out of your itinerary fly into one country and out of another. There’s often little to no difference in cost, yet you can maximise your time instead of backtracking.
7. Bypass the capitals
They might harbour great cultural assets and offer an insight into local life, but for the most part Central America’s capital cities are more dangerous and less memorable than their countryside counterparts, and it’s pretty unlikely that they’ll prove the highlight of your trip.
After all, it’s the smoking fumaroles of Guatemala’s Pacaya Volcano, the sun-dappled fine sand of Nicaragua’s Corn Islands and the mesmerising navy eye of Belize’s Great Blue Hole that grace Pinterest boards – not traffic jams in Panama City.
Plus, with direct flights from several US cities to more rural gateways such as Liberia in Costa Rica and Roatán in Honduras, there’s now little need to spend even a fraction of your trip in any concrete jungle.
Image by Seann McAuliffe on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
8. Travel solo
There are plenty of destinations across the globe that make solo travellers, particularly women, stop and question whether to take the leap. But Central America shouldn’t be one of them. For starters, there is no dress code to adhere to, and the compact nature of the region means you’d be hard pressed to wind up alone and unsafe in a remote corner. You’ll also spot plenty of local and foreign women going about their business solo, so you’re unlikely to stand out.