Places to Visit in Central America: My Central America Travel Guide

Types of Girls about the Globe (GatG) – Adventure GatG, Cultural GatG, Nature GatG, Historical GatG.

Central America is a fascinating continent to explore. It's a destination full of adventure, nature, history and culture and I feel really blessed to have spent a few months on several occasions travelling to nearly every country of this region (except El Salvador).

In this article I cover the places to visit in Central America if you're travelling solo, with a brief description of each country, budget, safety and how to travel around. If you are unsure how to travel within Central America or which country to travel to, read the full Central America travel guide below or just go to the section that you need. You'll find the full individual country guides in the related posts section. 

Did you know? That the term gringo is used for English-speaking foreigners, so don’t be surprised if you’re referred to as a gringa (for females).

Contents

Panama Casco Viejo

Places To Visit in Central America

Central America is made up of: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. 

This region has Mayan temples, islands, crystal waters, the world’s second-longest reef, active volcanos and lush vegetation, not to mention big cats and an abundance of wildlife. Its history dates back thousands of years and evidence of the Maya civilisation can be found in Guatemala, Belize and Honduras. But if indigenous tribes and barely trodden rainforests are more your thing, then this continent will not disappoint.

With 10% of the worlds’ biodiversity, Central America has one of the richest eco-systems on Earth, with hundreds of species of plants and birds. You can trek among a mystical cloud forest, climb one of the many volcanoes, enjoy some of the best surfing in the world or just simply relax on the white-sand Caribbean beaches.

Sail through the Panama Canal or visit the unspoilt islands off the coast of Nicaragua – the largest country in Central America. With zip canopies, jungle lodges and adventure sports, Central America is one big adventure, but not all of the countries are safe for solos.

To solo female travel Central America, the region isn’t known for its safety, so you do need to exercise some caution here, but you won’t be singled out because you’re a solo female. The safest countries here are Panama and Nicaragua, and the ones to be careful in are Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. However, the cities do have a reputation for crime, especially Guatemala City, Belize City, and San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa in Honduras. The main bus station in San Pedro Sula has armed security guards and is safe inside, just don’t go wandering around the streets by yourself and especially not to cashpoints (ATMs).

You can pretty much wear what you want within this continent, especially in Costa Rica and Panama. The worst you’ll hear is men shouting “linda” (meaning beautiful). Don’t take valuables with you on the beach if you’re alone and be careful of your belongings on public transport. Travel during the day instead of at night.

Don’t have your valuables on display, especially in Costa Rica, where muggings can occur. Just use your common sense and be careful at night. If you research your trip and stick to the tourist areas you should be fine. Every country is different, but if you can speak a few phrases of Spanish, it will really help when you’re solo.

Volcano boarding in Nicaragua

Safest Central American Countries for Solos

If you are planning to solo travel Central America, the region doesn't have the best reputation for safety, especially in some of the capital cities. Below is my solo travel rating for each country (out of 5 stars for ease of travelling around and safety. 5 is the highest)

  • Safest countries – Panama, Costa Rica
  • Most dangerous – El Salvador, Honduras
  • Belize – 3 stars
  • Costa Rica – 3 star
  • El Salvador – 1 star
  • Guatemala – 2 stars
  • Honduras – 2 stars
  • Nicaragua – 3 star
  • Panama – 4 stars

Rio Frio Cave. Travelling solo in Belize

Central America Tours

If you are planning on backpacking Central America but don’t feel very confident with basic Spanish then consider taking one of these Central America tours. Both G Adventures and Intrepid Travel are sustainable travel companies and have their own foundations. 

G Adventures

If you feel more comfortable in a group for either part of your trip or the whole duration, G Adventures is a responsible tour company which mainly caters towards budget travellers. Most tours have an average of 10 people and there is no upper age limit. Once you book your trip you pay extra for any excursions you want to do when you’re there.

Adventures range from 9 days exploring Belize to an epic 33 day Best of Central America: Ruins & Remote Beaches trip travelling through Honduras, Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Belize, and Nicaragua. Explore Costa Rica in two weeks, or take the Mayan Sun Southbound or Northbound over 16 days covering Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. 

They also have specific adventures for under forties. If you're aged 18 to 39, join the Volcano Trail: Waves and Local Ways, for 17 days and travel from Antigua, Guatemala to San José, with a group of like-minded travellers. I have personally used G Adventures and recommend them as a solo female friendly company.

Click here for all itineraries, prices, and start dates

Intrepid Travel

Intrepid Travel is similar to G Adventures with an average of 12 people on each tour. Over 50% of people who book their trips are solo travellers. They tend to use hotels instead of hostels and have a more comfortable style of accommodation hence the trips can appear a bit more than G Adventures.

Their tours range from an 8 day Guatemala Expedition on the Carmelita El Mirador jungle trek (for the adventure GatG), to an epic 47 day Central America Explorer of the land of toucans, tacos and tamales, journeying through Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. If you only have a week to spare you could cycle your way through the countries on an 8 day cycle adventure through Nicaragua and Costa Rica, or Costa Rica and Panama. 

With both tour companies you share a room with someone of the same gender or you can pay extra for your own room.

Click here for the full itineraries, prices, and start dates

Isla De Ometepe Nicaragua

Language Spoken in Central America

Central America is mainly Spanish speaking except for Belize which is the only English speaking country in the whole of Latin America. Creole is also spoken on the Caribbean coast. Panama and Costa Rica are the most international countries due to the amount of expats living there, meaning that English is spoken in some of the tourist areas.

Spanish speaking countries – Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama.

English speaking countries – Belize.

Belize

Budget For Central America

These budgets are based on a daily spend including accommodation (staying in a dormitory room in a hostel), food, water, transport (using local transport only), and leisure. You will need to add an additional cost if you prefer to stay in a private room. Prices are quoted in Pound Sterling (GBP) and converted to U.S. $ (the conversion rate can differ slightly).

The most expensive countries here are Costa Rica and Panama. The cheapest countries are Nicaragua and Guatemala. Depending on where you go in the region budget from £25 ($35) to £55 ($73) a day. 

  • Belize – £45 / $60
  • Costa Rica – £55 / $73
  • El Salvador – £35 / $45
  • Guatemala – £25 / $33
  • Honduras – £25 / $35
  • Nicaragua – £22 / $30
  • Panama – £50 / $65

solo travel in Costa Rica

Best Time To Visit Central America

If you’re wondering the best time to travel to Central America, they do have a rainy season between May to September/October and the hurricane season can affect Belize and Honduras during the months of October and November. But with the climate constantly changing, just research the weather in the country that you want to travel to before you book. Below is the best time to visit each country. Weather2Travel is also a great site to check the best time of year for each destination. 

  • Belize – February to April.
  • Costa Rica – December to April.
  • El Salvador – November to April.
  • Guatemala – October to April.
  • Honduras – December to April.
  • Mexico – All year round.
  • Nicaragua – November to May.
  • Panama – December to April.

Solo travel in Guatemala

Travelling in Central America

Central American countries are a backpacker’s dream but not when it comes to getting around. It’s a fairly compact region but in certain places the roads can be atrocious and bus travel can take what seems like an eternity to reach one country from another. Car hire is an option and thousands of tourists do use this method but traveling across borders in a rental car isn’t permitted. One available option is to drive to the border where your hire company representative will be waiting to meet you, then you need simply walk across the border and your rep will provide you with your new rental car.

If you are planning to travel Central America, overlanding is the cheapest and best option. As there are isn’t a proper train system here, taking a bus is the only way to get across the land. Chicken buses are prominent in Latin America, so expect to be sitting with livestock (even though it’s not permitted to take chickens on the buses anymore, some locals still smuggle them on). They’re really unique and you’ll find sellers coming on to the buses offering food and drink for sale.

Coach travel is the free-spirited backpacker’s favorite but you’ll usually find local buses are old, slow and packed with people, although these problems are offset by the low cost. The coaches running between major cities are a better option and tend to be cleaner and newer, and long-distance journey’s, such as from Mexico to Panama, are available. Private shuttles between major cities are becoming are more common option but are usually operated through tourist agencies or via hotels, which can be expensive. Flying might actually be less expensive.

In the less-developed countries, not only do the roads not have the same infrastructure as you may be used to (hence a bumpy ride), but bus timetables don’t hold the same importance. Make allowances for this when you need to get somewhere fast. Giving yourself enough time to miss one is a good tip, especially because buses can sometimes be a free-for-all as locals shove their way on and you could find yourself waiting for the next bus (this happens often in Belize). But you can be guaranteed that your bus journey will be accompanied by the driver’s favourite music, whether reggae or 80s love songs.

You don’t have to go overland either, as some borders here can be crossed by sea: Mexico to Belize, Belize to Honduras, Panama to Colombia and vice versa. The seas can get a bit rough, so if a three-day sailing trip through the San Blas Islands from Panama to Colombia makes you feel a bit seasick, you can take the smoother option of a speedboat instead or just a leisurely ride along the Panama Canal.

If you’re feeling a bit hesitant about travelling around Central America by yourself, then consider a tour. Not only can this help you plan your route, but you can avoid the stress of local transport and meet others too.

Traveling around this beautiful part of the world is definitely an adventure, especially if you have a plenty of free time. But make sure to thoroughly check your transport options before departing and booking well in advance especially if you're travelling during peak times.

Below is a brief summary of each country and how to get around:

 

San Pedro, Belize. Travelling solo in Belize

Which Country to Travel to in Central America

Belize

Belize is the only English-speaking country on the continent and this former British colony is brimming with diversity. Head to the cays for Caribbean islands and the Great Blue Hole, or inland for jungle, big cats and Central America’s largest cave system.

Belize is a relatively safe country. It has a Caribbean feel and is so multicultural that you’ll find Rastas, Indians and Chinese among the African descendants. There is a gang culture in Belize City, so steer clear of Southside and head to the rest of the mainland or the cays, which are perfectly safe.

Buses aren’t the only way to get around in Belize, as there are water taxis which take you from Belize City to the cays. Tropic Air operates internal flights around the country and you’ll find tiny airstrips everywhere, with 12-seater planes even flying as far as Mexico.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica

No other country does eco-tourism as well as Costa Rica. This biodiverse country is teeming with tropical birds, waterfalls and lush vegetation, making it one of the most popular destinations on the continent. But, although it has some beautiful landscapes, some of the bus stations can be sketchy, so be careful at night and in San Jose, the capital.

Getting around Costa Rica is via public buses, shared shuttle services or 4×4 jeeps. The bus routes aren’t very extensive and you may find yourself having to backtrack to visit each corner of the country. Ferries operate from Puntarenas to Paquera and Naranjo. If you are travelling across the land border to Nicaragua or Panama, taking an early bus is recommended.

El Salvador

El Salvador

El Salvador is the smallest country in the region. Although it is known to have the best surf on the continent, it is not worth travelling to due to ongoing conflict in the country. Borders are regularly being held up and the risk of being robbed here is incredibly high. If you do have to travel here, consider taking taxis instead of public transport for safety.

Guatemala

Guatemala

Guatemala has a lot to offer, and is home to active volcanoes and the jungle Mayan temples of Tikal. Take a trip back in time in the World Heritage Site of Antigua, meander around the colourful town of Flores or explore Lake Atitlan, one of Guatemala’s many lakes. If you can avoid Guatemala City, then do, as there are other regions in the country which are safer and also much nicer.

Public buses operate in Guatemala or you can choose tourist buses, which drop you off at your chosen hotel. There is also an overnight bus to Flores.

Honduras

Honduras

Honduras, on the other hand, isn’t great for solo females. There is a high level of crime and you need to be comfortable with armed security guards, whose presence is felt in tourist areas. Honduras is a macho society, so you may receive unwanted attention. Take a taxi if travelling at night and be really careful in the cities, which are known for their dangerous areas. If you don’t want to be the only traveller within local towns, head to the friendly Bay of Islands or Roatan for the comfort of other travellers and friendlier locals.

Although Honduras is also sketchy, you find many solos coming here for the diving. Head to Utila for a hedonistic island where you can party and dive until all hours. If it’s culture that you need, Copan has the country’s Mayan ruins, but you may prefer to see the ruins in Belize or Mexico instead, where you’ll feel more comfortable. Honduras does require extra vigilance, so it is wise to team up with others or take a tour for this country.

Express buses operate between the two major cities in Honduras, but if time is an issue, consider internal flights instead. If you’re travelling to the Bay of Islands, there are ferry routes from the mainland and between the two islands. Consider paying extra for the speedboat instead of a traditional fishing boat if you get seasick. The ferry from La Ceiba to Roatan is a roller and they give you a seasickness tablet when you buy your ticket. You can buy drinks and snacks onboard.

Things to Do in Granada, Nicaragua. The Cathedral of Granada

Nicaragua

There are so many places to see in Nicaragua that you could easily spend two weeks here just scratching the surface. Volcanoes, lakes and Spanish colonial cities are some of its charm. Add volcano boarding to the mix and you have a country that is not only cheap, but that is ideal for the nature and adventure solo too.

Managua, the capital, has the least to do, so head for the coffee region of Matagalpa for coffee farms and river rafting, visit Leon for a stunning white cathedral and volcano boarding, or swim in a volcanic crater lake at Laguna de Apoyo.

Do expect some attention here though, especially in Leon, where young boys will make it clear that they want your attention. If you are comfortable with cat calls, then you won’t have a problem in this country.

The best way to travel around the country is by bus. Minibuses here tend to leave when they are full, so don’t expect to hop in one and go. The road infrastructure is OK in the west of the country, but other roads may not be what you’re used to.

If you are planning on adding Caribbean islands to your itinerary, local flights operate from the mainland to Big Corn Island – called La Costena – or you can take the rocky boat ride from Bluefields which leaves once a week and takes 6 hours. From Big Corn you can take a boat to Nicaragua’s smallest island: Little Corn.

Panama

Panama

Panama is a relatively safe country for solo female travellers. There are areas that you need to take care in but on the whole it is safe. Panama city has the most amazing skyline and the promenade at night is safe for females with many families, runners and cyclists.

Panama is the furthest country south in Central America and connects to the continent of South America. More known for its famous Panama canal, over a third of its land is protected and the country is great for bird spotting with hundreds of different species. The most touristy place in Panama is Bocas del Toro where you are guaranteed to meet other travellers on this group of islands. For a cultural experience sail to the San Blas Islands, the most stunning islands and home to the Kuna tribe.

Panama is quite well connected and the easiest way to get around Panama is by bus. If you are travelling overnight make sure that you take a fleece as the air conditioning tends to be seriously cold. Ferries take you from David to Mirander if you are going to Bocas del Toro, or you can take a tour to San Blas.

My Top 5 Things to Do in Leon - Leon Cathedral

Highlights of Central American Travel

There are so many highlights here but these are my recommended must-dos and sees:

  • Explore Tikal, Guatemala – Historical GatG, Nature GatG
  • Stay with a Mayan family in San Jose, Belize – Cultural GatG
  • Volcano boarding on Cerro Negro, Nicaragua – Adventure GatG
  • Explore the colonial town of Antigua, Guatemala – Historical GatG
  • See the Mayan ruins of Copan, Honduras – Historical GatG
  • Enjoy the peace at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala – Nature GatG
  • Go underground at the ATM cave, Belize – Adventure GatG
  • Get dive certified in Utila, Honduras – Ocean GatG
  • Marvel at Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua – Island GatG
  • Sightsee in Leon, Nicaragua – City and Sightseeing GatG
  • Take a short cruise along the Panama Canal – Sightseeing GatG

Travelling solo in Belize

Central America Itinerary

You could easily spend a month or more exploring this continent. Either start from Panama and work your way up or start from Belize and work your way down. You can also fly from

One week

Explore many places within just one country.

  • Nicaragua – Leon, Granada, Ometepe.
  • Costa Rica – San Jose, Playa Samara.
  • Panama – Panama City, Boquete, Bocas del Toro, fly to Panama City.

Two weeks

  • Guatemala to Honduras – Antigua, Lago Atitlan, Chichicastenango, Tikal, then Copan in Honduras.
  • Guatemala and Belize – Belize City, Flores, Tikal, San Ignacio, Hopkins, Caye Caulker, San Pedro, fly from Belize City.
  • Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua – Granada, Ometepe, La Fortuna, San Jose, Orosi, Turrialba, Cahuita, Bocas del Toro, Boquete, Panama City.

Three weeks

  • Mexico, Guatemala & Belize – Cancun, Chichen Itza, Merida, Palenque, San Cristobal de las Casas, Lake Atitlan, Antigua, Rio Dulce, Flores, Tikal, San Ignacio, Caye Caulker, San Pedro, Belize City (only to fly from).
  • Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala – Antigua, Copan, Roatan, fly to Tegucigalpa, Leon, Granada, Ometepe, Monteverde, La Fortuna, Arenal Volcano, San Jose.

One month

Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica – San Jose, La Fortuna, Arenal Volcano, Monteverde, Ometepe, Granada, Poneloya, Suchitoto, Concepcion de Ataco, Copan, Antigua, Rio Dulce, Flores, San Ignacio, Caye Caulker, Chetumal, Tulum, Playa del Carmen.

Belize

Have you been to Central America? What was your favourite country?

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