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Central America on a Shoestring

What could be better than taking a trip to the gorgeous tropics of Central America? How about making the trip affordable?

Due to the booming tourism industry, this may seem easier said than done, and unfortunately, many once budget-friendly destinations, are no longer so. But that doesn’t mean it’s not possible.

Each year tourists from around the world come to experience the tropical climate, Latin culture and exotic beauty of Central America, but many don’t realize that it can be done on a budget.

Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, and El Salvador are four popular Central American countries that can be truly experienced without breaking the bank in the process.

First Stop, Costa Rica

Costa Rican budget-friendly hostel

The most popular tourist destination on the list, and arguably the most tourist friendly, Costa Rica can tend to be a bit pricey  But don’t worry, there are ways to keep your costs down.

In big cities like San Jose, prices will typically be higher, so hop on a bus and head for one of the smaller beach towns. A five hour direct bus to a town like Santa Theresa will cost you around ten dollars.

Remember to exchange your money into the local currency colones, as usually only expensive items/places accept American money. Seek out cheap accommodations at a hostel (around ten dollars) and start exploring the beauty of Costa Rica.

On to Panama

panama has a wealth of budget travel options

Photo: Martha de Jong

Although the tourism industry here is not quite as developed as their northern neighbor Costa Rica, Panama is just as beautiful and the prices are often lower. Again, buses will be the cheapest mode of transportation and hostels your best bet for reasonably priced accommodations (around twelve dollars for a bed). As a perk, many hostels will have communal kitchens, so take advantage of the local market and cut another cost by cooking your own meals. If cooking on vacation isn’t for you, try to avoid restaurants aimed at tourists and instead look for street stalls and small cafes.

Next It’s Nicaragua

Best-surf-spot-in-Nicaragua- San-Juan-del-Sur

Photo: McMallan

Just north of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, known as the land of lakes and volcanoes,  is cheaper and attracts a lot less tourists. In fact, you can catch a bus from Costa Rica to Nicaragua for just a few dollars, but remember, you will have to pay a fee of seven or eight dollars to get into the country. Once you are in Nicaragua, exchange your money into córdoba’s and head for small towns like El Trasito, Popoyo and Playa Maderas to soak up the sun and experience the amazing surf. If you visit Isla de Ometepe, be sure to hike up the double-volcano nestled in a lake filled with fresh water sharks, or you can try remote Little Corn Island for cheap kayaking and snorkeling.

Last Stop – El Salvador

cheap eats in el salvador street food

Photo: Amber and Bryan via flickr

While El Salvador may not be as popular a tourist destination as the others, most who visit are pleasantly surprised. The people are friendly and welcoming and there are many wonderful, and cost efficient things to enjoy, like taking a trip to the beach town of El Tunco just an hour from the capital San Salvador. Yes the food is a little pricey, but the hostels are cheap and the surfing and swimming is unbeatable. Explore San Salvador on a five dollar bike tour that takes place every Thursday night, or take a leisurely stroll around the city to check out the politically-charged street art.

Ready to go? Remember these tips:

  • Take advantage of local transit. While bus rides may be longer, the cost is substantially less.
  • Eat like a local. Avoid tourist-targeted restaurants and look for low-key local spots.
  • Make the most of happy hour.
  • Visit “free” national parks for hiking and observing nature and wildlife.
  • Stay in a hostel. Typically group and private rooms are offered.
  • Surf and swim – it’s free!

It’s a common misconception to think that a good holiday means an expensive holiday. Cliché but true, the best things in life are free, especially when you are somewhere as beautiful as Central America. The sun, the mountains, the beaches, the surfing, it’s all free and all unforgettable. If you are not overly concerned with five star transport and accommodation, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, and El Salvador can all be yours at a reasonable cost. So do your research, book your plane ticket and get ready to discover the wonders of Central America without putting a dent in your wallet.

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One thought on “Central America on a Shoestring

  1. Melanie Murphy

    Great Blog! Interesting And Informative!

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