Tips for backpacking

From the calm surf of the Caribbean on the east coast, to the gnarly breaks of the Pacific on the west, the beaches of Central America make for stellar backpacking territory. And there’s plenty more wedged in between.

Whether you want to sandboard down a steaming volcano in Nicaragua, explore a cloudforest in Costa Rica, watch the sunrise over ancient Maya sites in Guatemala, or hike through the thick Panamanian jungle, the slim waist of the Americas offers plenty of adventure.

Here are eight tips to help you get the best out the region’s seven countries.

 

1. Pick your countries wisely

Sometimes saving a few bucks is as simple as hopping from one playa to the next. But if you’re selective about the countries on your hit list you stand to pocket a whole lot more change. Costa Rica and Panama consistently rank among the most expensive countries in the area, alongside English-speaking Belize, leaving Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras among the cheaper choices.

 

2. Know your accommodation options

Hostels and homestays are plentiful in these parts, but if you fancy spending the odd night somewhere more swish, bear in mind that most destinations in Central America are yet to capitalise on the trend for flashpacker-style hostels. There can be a hefty price gap between a dorm bed and a boutique abode.

 

3. Gorge on local produce

Chocolate, rum, coffee, cheese – you might just be surprised at the array of prime produce Central America’s rich soil nurtures. And best of all, you can go straight to the source. Forget savouring a cup of Guatemala’s single-origin espresso from your local coffee shop, or devouring a bar of Costa Rican chocolate at your desk. Here a number of local entrepreneurs offer wallet-friendly tours of cacao farms and coffee plantations with free tastings thrown in for good measure.

 

4. Stay safe

Still hear stories about how parts of Central America are a lawless, cocaine-cloaked gangland? They belie just how much progress has been made in the region since the slew of revolutions and civil wars that marred much of the 80s.

However, some cities – notably San Pedro Sula in Honduras and San Salvador in El Salvador – have not kept pace and remain among the world’s most dangerous. Exercise caution when travelling through the “Northern Triangle” of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, which has gained notoriety of late. And use your common sense when it comes to safety throughout the region: take only registered taxis, keep up to date with travel warnings, heed the advice of locals, don’t flaunt valuables and don’t walk home alone after dark.