Some things you might want to know in the way of backpacking, budget travel country advice, tips, info and summaries for: Central America - Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua - and onwards to South America.
What follows are only basic snap shot summaries. If you have decided these are some of the countries you want to visit and need more planning information then you are strongly recommended to complement what you find here with a planning guide. Trust us it will make life much easier. If you are set on going and need a guidebook or reading material please see a list of recommended guides/books here (go on have a look!). All guides/books can be viewed in more detail and click-through purchased with Amazon in the UK, US or Canada. Plus shopping through the site is a big thank you (if you have been helped out), to see why click here.
» It is worth looking, if you have not already, at the example layout to see the guidelines each section of information is based on - or for other travel advice and site home head for www.travelindependent.info
Central America is a relatively compact region, easily travelled and very popular. Travellers are attracted to Caribbean beaches, temples and it's 'easy access' proximity to the United States of America. On the whole the region is over rated with it's northern reaches (México (see North America) & Guatemala) being the most interesting. It's an excellent place to learn Spanish and highly recommended to get the most from your trip.
When compared to South America, Central America is a more favourable destination in many ways, mainly due to beaches and beauty within a compact circuit, but it lacks many of the 'wow' exotic factors/sights of South America which should not be missed.
Many thanks to Jan for Guatemala and CR updates and Monty for info on sailing to Colombia from Panama.
Get your bearings... show/hide map of the region
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Intro: Relatively small, nestled in between México and Guatemala, Belize is the only English speaking Latin American country. It is fairly developed in relation to it's neighbours, but in many places has a very backwater feel to it. Most of the main attractions are out at sea in the form of hundreds of cayes, many with beautiful beaches and the 184-mile long (longest in the Northern hemisphere) barrier reef, complete with whale sharks, sting rays, multi-coloured fish and clear blue water. On the whole the mainland is ignored, with the main focus of activities away from the beaches, being wildlife viewing or Mayan temples that are less grander than might be found in neighbouring nations. That does not mean the main-land is totally ignored. San Ignacio is a hive of travellers (although this does have something to do with it's position on route to Tikal) and a fantastic place. Elsewhere inland towns are less frequently visited and provide a great opportunity to get a little away from the Central American crowds and chill a little. The down-side however is that costs are much higher here than elsewhere in the region and considering this most travellers fleet through or stay less than a week. The whole Caribbean atmosphere of the place, including the 'Bob Marley' variety of English spoken and (on the whole) friendly people makes Belize a great place when you are there - less so when you are counting the cost for excursions. Your time on the cayes will come at a price.
Visa strategy: US, Canadian, Australian, and EU passport holders do not need a visa. There is a departure tax of about $US20 via land borders. If leaving by air this should be included in your ticket. Be aware of the scam that tries to make you pay it twice.
Typical tourist trail: From México to Guatemala (or visa-versa) via Belize City to Caye Caulker to San Ignacio
What to take: The Cayes are covered in a white dirt that may or may not be sand, however when the sun reflects on it, sun glasses are necessary for comfort. As mentioned before sun protection is important when on boats, snorkelling etc.
Accommodation: Cheap accommodation is never that cheap and normally of a low standard
Hot water: Don't expect hot water unless you are paying extra for a private bathroom
Average cost: Between US$20 and US$50 depending on where you are. A little less if off the beaten track.
Language: If English is not your first language then you may find the Belizean pronunciation of it hard to understand. Spanish is widely used around border areas.
Hot/cold, wet and dry: Hot and sticky or hot and windy or hot and wet. Highland areas are beautifully cool
Books: Some second hand book stalls, nothing too stimulating. The Economist and Time can be found in Belize City
TV: Most bars and more expensive hotels will have American cable TV
Food: Great food, although the cost of eating out adds up. It is easy to eat out of fairly well stocked supermarkets to keep costs down
Vegetarians: Fine, lots of fish if that is okay
Hassle and annoyance factor: None
Women alone: Women will get some attention, even in pairs, but on the whole harmless
Tourist factor: 8/10
Local poisons for the body: Belize is pretty famous for it's herb and it is widely available. Seeing as most travellers hit the Cayes, it is here where you are most likely to be offered it. Given that (for example) Caye Caulker is so small with a police station right in the middle, risks seem high especially if buying off the street. Despite the numbers of Rastas, pot is illegal and can land you in the sort of trouble that you would look to avoid.
Costa Rica's ignoble position stems from several sources. For one, being a democracy and thus peaceful and calm, coupled with large amounts of tourism marketing it receives huge numbers of visitors, generally from North America who might consider anywhere else in the region as 'too dangerous'. These large numbers of wealthyish tourists have the knock on effect of inflating prices and tourist targeted crime. Another factor is the national parks and wildlife card so often played by the tourist board appeals to many traveller's sense of wanting to view wildlife. Well in Costa Rica just like anywhere else, the only place to see large amounts of guaranteed wildlife is in the zoo and as beautiful and interesting as national parks are - with the exception of monkeys - if you go with high hopes of seeing loads of wildlife you will be sorely disappointed. Remember the focus is very much on flora rather than fauna.
With all that cleared up, lets look at why Costa Rica is so popular and the good reasons why. The country is on the whole spectacularly beautiful with easy access to both coasts (unusual in Central America). In many places it is easy to have a good time if partying is your style and you don't mind too many gringos. Although prices are higher than in the rest of the region they are still okay and quality does raise with prices. Accommodation is expensive in comparison, but there are plentiful supermarkets so eating costs can be reduced.
However, it's tours that really cost, and some you can hardly avoid if you want to see the best of what is on offer. Still the demand for them means if you have the money to spend there is a hive of activities (still reasonably priced) you can take part in, such as white water-rafting. Along with two coasts Costa Rica also has cool mountains and the chance for some good trekking.
Did you know that 25% of Costa Rica is national parks? You might also be interested to know that Belize's ratio is 35%. Costa Rica does have most things, but not everything as so often claimed.
Volcán Arenal if in an animated active state (you have to take pot luck here), the beautiful cool highland areas around La Fortuna and Monteverde (although the jury is out on the cloud forest), Montezuma and the Nicoya peninsula, Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast and the trek to Chirripo Grande (Cerro Chirripó).
Petty crime, cost of tours and tourist numbers. In the most 'gringo-infected' area, which is the northwest (Province Guanacaste), there is more tourist-related thievery. In Costa Rica, with the exception of the public buses and the great Centenario rum, everything is more expensive relative to the rest of Central America. Almost twice as much as Guatemala and even more in relation to Nicaragua.
Visa strategy: Almost no one needs a visa, 90 days for most developed nations apart from Oz and NZ whom along with many other countries only get 30 days.
Hot, cold, wet and dry: In the Central Valley, there is a spring-like climate year round. On the coast, the temperature is much hotter and humid. The rainy season starts in May and finishes in November, but there are distinct regional variations. Technically the ‘warm' dry season is December to May.
Getting around: Public transport is easy to use and a good standard. In more remote areas transport is normally limited to a few buses a day, making connections hard to meet. Many wealthier visitors hire 4x4 jeeps for their trip. This is a fantastic option, but just out of the price range of most budget travellers, unless sharing between 3-4 (US$70-140 per day) - still they make hitching easy!
What to take: If you have one an international ISIC student card can be useful and save you a little bit of money.
Guide book: Lonely Planet (see details - UK or USA) good, but widely used. Footprint (see details/buy with Amazon - UK or USA) or Rough Guide (see details - UK or USA) perhaps better. Many travellers use a multi-country guide for the region. For a full list of regional guides please see here.
Locals: Fine, but quite varied from coast to coast
Other travellers: Huge variety, Costa Rica draws tourists from all over the world, but mainly from America and Canada.
Communications: Internet widely available and excellent value/quality in the capital.
Language: English is widely spoken by those who work in the tourist trade and on the Caribbean coast.
Books: Very good selection of first and second hand books in the capital and other major tourist haunts. The Economist and Time are easy to find as are guidebooks
TV: Hostels and better hotels will have American cable TV, cinemas are numerous in big cities
Food: Many restaurants to cater for visitors, the meal of the day (casado) is normally excellent value as are the cheaper restaurants (sodas) they are often found in. Be warned better restaurants seem to slap as much as 23% onto bills. At the other end of the scale commonly found bakeries and supermarkets make basic self-catering a perfect money saving option.
Hassle and annoyance factor: Limited, more on the Caribbean coast
Women alone: Generally fine
Local poisons for the body: Pot is easily found all over Costa Rica, but most commonly on the Caribbean coast in small backpacker resorts such as Puerto Viejo (de Talamanca) where in hostels such as 'Rocking J's' can be hard for some to leave.
Rating:6.5/10 - Costa Rica is perhaps worthy of a higher rating if you only have to travel from North America to get there. This might explain why it is often so highly rated.
Intro: It might be recent earthquakes or perhaps the memory of civil war that keeps so many away from El Salvador in such a well-travelled region, but it is more likely the fact that the attractions of neighbouring countries - and the lack of anything truly comparable in El Salvador prevents most from even passing through. Those who do are normally pleased they did, but would agree that any 'sight' is low key and as nice and friendly as the people are, they are also so in neighbouring nations.
Visa strategy: No visa required for most (Latin America, North American, European inc. Israel), but you have to buy a tourist card on the border/airport for $10 or a visa for $30 in advance.
Dangers: San Salvador is not the safest city in the region and care should be taken at night especially in the area where budget hotels are
Costs: US$20-40 per day
Money: Since 2001 the national currency has been phased out and is now rarely seen. US$ is the new currency easily pulled from ATMs in major cities, but outside of them make sure you have cash to hand.
Getting around: Old American school buses ply most routes. They are cheap, connections are easy and most roads are good (but not all)
Guide book: Any regional guide. For a full list of guides and reading material, please see here.
Locals: On the whole very nice, more so in areas less affected by the civil war
Other travellers: Few
Tourist factor: 3/10
Accommodation: Good hotels normally available, but at a price. In cities nice budget rooms are tough to find and basic ones will cost you between $15-$30. Outside the cities you can find a nice room for about the same price.
Hot water: Only in nice hotels
Average cost: See above
Communications: Internet and phone easy in major towns and the capital. These are a world apart from the country-side where internet cafés are only just starting to pop up.
Food: Plentiful American fast food (in big cities), good eating on a budget is not too hard, but not that easy
Hassle and annoyance factor: None
Women alone: No problem
I spent an extensive time in Central America, and although I saw
many amazing things in all the places, the one place that I
truly hold in my heart in Honduras. In my 4 months that I spent
in Honduras, I managed to see such a diverse range of places yet
all within one country. I went from down trodden cities, to
beautiful white beaches, to Mayan ruins, to the jungle, to
Reading: Set mainly in Honduras on/in The Mosquito Coast, the story is told through the eyes of Charlie Fox, a typical American boy. The story he tells us chronicles the "adventure" his family has when his father, Allie Fox takes them all to live in the Honduran jungle. This is a stunning book and a cracking read. The story is fantastic; a mixture of sarcastic humour, adventure and emotion. (Click image for more info and other reading recommendations).
Dangers: Parts of Tegucigalpa can be bad for theft (the capital has an unenviable murder rate), but there is little to keep visitors here and certainly not in the areas with serious problems. Mosquitoes and sand flies can be an annoyance on the Caribbean coast. Walking off into the countryside with valuables around Copán is not advised.
Costs: US$20-40 per day, a little more on the Bay Islands
Hot, cold, wet and dry: The dry season is from November to April and the wet season runs from May to October. The north coast is very hot with rain throughout the year and mountains are of course cooler.
Other travellers: Budget travellers from all over the world: as always many northern Europeans and North Americans. Bay Islands have even more North Americans.
Tourist factor: 7/10
Accommodation: Wide range of accommodation. You can normally fine a nice room for US$20-35, not so nice rooms can be found for half that price. Nice rooms at the cheaper end are difficult to find in big cities.
Hot water: Depends on quality of room, but far from a given at the cheap end
Average cost: US$20
Communications: Internet easy and plentiful in major cities and Copán. On the Bay Islands internet is available, but is more expensive.
Books: Basic English language book shops in Tegucigalpa and book exchanges on major islands
TV: Most good hotels have American cable TV and so do some of the cheaper ones
Food: Fine, more expensive on Bay Islands. Major cities are over run with American fast food restaurants.
Hassle and annoyance factor: None really
Women alone: No real problem
Local poisons for the body: Alcohol is more pricey on the islands as other things are. Weed can of course be found on the Caribbean coast and larger islands.
Miss at your peril: (despite the crowds) - 'Highlight of Independent Travel'
It's only a well travelled individual who would fail to be impressed
by Guatemala. Guatemala has no shortage of visitors for this reason
and most routes/sights are far removed from virgin ground, but in a
country of this size with time and effort it is easy to find
yourself a little space.
Here's what makes Guatemala such a deservedly popular destination: major ruins (Tikal and others that can be reached with time and effort are marvels of the ancient world), beautiful colonial cities (Antigua is one of the world's most beautiful), two coast lines (both distinctly different, far from first class beaches, but nesting turtles and good value compensate), scenic volcanoes plus dramatic mountains (does make transport slow in places, but keeps the climate cool and hides real gems), lakes (both Lago Atitlán and Lago Izabal are again right up there on the beauty scale) and people (the continuation of ancient traditions and costumes makes for a truly 'back-in-time' spectacle - plus some crazy festivals).
There is loads more besides, including a fast network of tourist-orientated transport that makes getting around a breeze if you want to use it. On the down-side, as previously mentioned (both here and in connection to the entire region), most routes are extremely well travelled by all types of tourists (both good and bad); in fact many businesses are owned by foreign nationals. In addition crime is an issue to be borne in mind. Nevertheless Guatemala is probably the best bargain north of Ecuador and is without a doubt the Nepal of the Americas.
Antigua (especially Easter Week (Semana Santa)
and learning Spanish),
Todos Santos Cuchumatan (crazy festivals, beautiful
Tikal (inc. the town of Flores and wildlife seen in
very touristy, but nevertheless fantastic are the weekly
Chichicastenango and the climb to the top of the active
Volcán Pacaya. More off the beaten track: both
El Estor and
Lanquín are worthwhile stops.
Crime is an issue and can inhibit your
freedom of movement in the countryside, such as when walking
between villages with all your stuff, for fear of robbery.
Such events happen frequently to unguided (even in groups)
Lago Atitlán and volcanoes around Antigua.
Lago Atitlán is the country's major tourist destination
(both domestic and national tourism) and as beautiful as the
lake can be on a clear day,
Panajachel is nothing more than a tack and trinket
emporium. Smaller towns around the lake are nicer, but in
the lake itself and surrounding paths/roads, much litter
(trash) is notable and as mentioned there have been many
cases of crime against tourists walking in the area.
Dangers: Crime in Guatemala City, on the Caribbean coast and while walking around Antigua and Lago Atitlan is not a major issue, but one to consider. The foolhardy may fall foul.
Visa strategy: USA, Canada, Western European, Israel, Australia and New Zealand will all get 90 days visa free on the border. Extensions must be applied for in Guatemala City or you will be fined about a small amount for every day over stayed.
Typical tourist trail: Antigua to Lago Atitlan with a day side trip to Chichicastenango. Many travellers will then head to either Copan (Honduras) or Tikal (or both). Many also make the trip to the Caribbean coast.
Hot/cold, wet and dry: Both Antigua and Lago Atitlan plus other highland areas are pleasantly cool. Lowland areas including Tikal are steamy and at certain times of the year are almost unbearably hot.
Costs: Since 'tourist mini-buses' (good quality small private vehicles) provide easy and efficient transport in many places (at a price) the temptation is to take them rather than public buses which are about 10 times cheaper. Equally, fantastic eating options (and bars) in both Antigua and Panajachel provide another temptation. On the beaten track without discipline you can spend between around US$40-50 a day with ease. Eating out can become a major expense with plenty of options to tempt. However with discipline and/or in more rural areas this cost can be cut in half. Guatemala is great value.
Money: The large majority of banks in Guatemala have ATMs, all will change USD cash to quetzals and most will change travellers cheques. Cash advances are much easier with Visa rather than MasterCard.
What to buy: Guatemala, along with Nepal, Bali and Zimbabwe is one of the best places on earth to buy cheap local crafts and textiles. The choice is staggering and the prices fair, even before bargaining. Make sure you have at least a little spare room in your bag.
Tikal is perfectly safe to visit and a serious highlight of the region, but transportation has become unreasonably expensive: since TACA is flying the route to Guatemala City with the new Airbus A319 several times a day, standard price is about US$100-150 (oneway) - but you're there in something like 70 minutes. Higher prices are charged for bigger aircraft and the cheapest ticket may certainly gets you a seat in the cheapest/crappiest plane. It is possible to visit Tikal in one day by flying if very short of time, but this is not recommended as Flores is worth seeing. However, you don't necessarily need more than one day to get a good feeling for Tikal.
There is a new overnight bus going to and from Flores. You'll get TV, food, cushions and a toilet onboard - the trip takes (via Rio Dulce) only 5 and half hrs. to the capital. Of course there's still the Chicken Bus option, but this takes you whole day or even two, depending on season and luck. Furthermore there are first- and 'firstfirst' class buses that run to the capital (Linea Dorada y Maya de Oro), which are from 90 - 125 Quetzales (Rio Dulce - Flores) and up to 250 for Gua - Flores.
Locals: Varied. People throughout Guatemala vary from blacks who speak English on the Caribbean coast to many tribes with their own language. On the whole Guatemalans are kind and friendly.
Other travellers: Many North Americans and as with a few other Latin American countries a massive amount of Israeli travellers. Aside from Americans and Israelis you also have travellers from the world over with many Germans and British as elsewhere in the world. Guatemala has long attracted alternative culture followers from North America in the same way India attracts the same type of people from Europe.
Guide book: No guidebook reviewed was particularly brilliant. The Lonely Planet is most popular as always. Footprint and Rough Guide are other okay options. For those who read German, the best guide is undoubtedly: 'Reise Know-How Guatemala'. Reise guides are normally no more than German translations of the LP, but here on comparison you'll notice much greater detail and accuracy. It's also nearly twice as fat as the Lonely Planet. For a full list of regional guides please click here.
Tourist factor: 8/10. Guatemala is touristy, but it is easy if you have the time and inclination to leave most tourists behind by heading off on long bus rides into the mountains. Numerous foreign owned hotels and restaurants are one thing, but it is common to see permanent 'hippy-esque' western backpackers selling jewellery on street stalls. This foreign investment is perhaps inevitable and on the whole not a bad thing, although one does wonder about the effect to nationals of this very poor country who start a restaurant or bar and then have to compete with flasher foreign investment. Still if there is a market for it... It is perhaps the selling of items on street stalls by foreign nationals - always items that could be produced and sold by Guatemalans themselves - that illustrates best the point trying to be made here. Every traveller can exercise his or her right to spend their money as they wish.
Accommodation: Numerous guesthouses and hotels throughout the country to suit all budgets. Brazil style hostels are opening up in Antigua. Away from tourist hubs rooms become more basic and cheaper.
Hot water: Only in cooler regions and in better hotels.
Average cost: US$20-30 (costs do rise substantially during festivals)
Communications: As Antigua is the hub of Central America, internet and international phone calls are both good value and good quality. Internet is available in most towns any traveller would set foot in.
Language: Like elsewhere in the region, knowledge of Spanish is incredibly useful, but not essential. Guatemala represents the best opportunity in the region for you to learn with numerous good value schools.
Books: Good book shops in both Panajachel and Antigua: good fiction, guidebooks and international magazines available.
TV: If into films come to Guatemala, apart from seeing them in the cheap cinemas that dot the country, in tourist centres many restaurants and cafes show films during the day and night. Several hotels and restaurants also have lounge cinemas showing a huge number of screenings per day for a small charge. In Antigua where most of these cinemas are, there are several bars that show live sporting events. Tennis, English/Spanish football and NBA is regularly shown. If following English football, here and throughout the region you can watch a full programme of highlights every Monday night.
Food: Food is excellent and very western in style within tourist centres as many restaurants are owned by foreign nationals. Quality does come at a price, but options in say Antigua are vast. Off the beaten track food is more basic, but always a bargain. Less flashy non-foreign owned restaurants in places such as Panajachel and Antigua are the best value even if they don't come with a flashy name, menu and decor.
Vegetarians: Fine (more difficult off the beaten track)
Hassle and annoyance factor: Very limited hassle. Some over charging on public buses, but easy to avoid by asking locals what the correct price is. Like everywhere else in the region, Spanish helps massively.
Women alone: Generally fine, but there have been some safety issues at Tikal, but authorities have now changed regulations in order to make the park safer. The same goes for the police escort now offered up Volcán Pacaya.
Local poisons for the body: The current hippy hangout centre is San Pedro La Laguna, a small village (now a backpacker hub) opposite Panajachel on the other side of the lake. Marijuana is easily available, harder drugs are also around. It easy to find Mary Jane on the two coasts in backpacker popular resorts.
The lake (Lago de Nicaragua) is the other big draw card. Geographically and biologically speaking it and it's contents are very interesting, but Ometepe (pictured), the largest and by far the most visited island, apart from being picture perfect will not hold your attention for very long. The lake can often get a little rough, but transport is easy, on the island itself mountain biking is the best way to enjoy your time, but more than often it is too hot for this. Other activities such as tours and volcano climbs, aren't expensive, but not good value. If you want to really see the island, public transport will be quite time consuming, so make sure you have a few days and a good book to really 'do' Ometepe (although if you only spend a day or two you are not missing out on too much). Continued next column...
Typical tourist trail: Overland from or to Honduras stopping at Leon, Granada and Ometepe. Many tourists bring hire cars from Costa Rica as far as Granada.
Visa strategy: No visa required by most developed country nationals
Dangers: Less crime than Costa Rica and Honduras, but be sensible at night with your bag.
Hot/cold, wet and dry: As with the rest of the region be warned about travelling at the hottest time of year. It is still very possible, but heat is sometimes a little unbearable (especially at night) and AC rooms come at a price.
Costs: US$20-30 per day
Money: Cordoba can be taken from ATMs in Granada, Leon and Managua, but ATMs do need some hunting. USD cash changes easily and is worth taking. TCs can be changed in major cities and Amex travellers cheques are by far the best. Most banks in Nicaragua don't have ATMs, these are found (normally only one/two in a town) in mini shopping centres or other modern complexes. If in doubt ask locals. In Nicaragua simply stock up on cash when you can.
Getting around: Buses run around the country particularly on the Western side which is the good pan-American highway. Elsewhere roads are bad. Along the pan-American highway collectivos run at lightning speed. These are mini-buses that leave when full. Rates are fixed and good value.
Guide book: Footprint or a regional guide, not necessary if on the beaten track. For a full list of regional guides please click here.
Locals: Normal Central American folk, friendlier perhaps than in Costa Rica, those on the Caribbean coast as per normal in this region are friendlier. Some say the most friendly people are those on Ometepe since there was no fighting during the civil war here.
Other travellers: Standard gringos, many on side trips from Costa Rica rather than those travelling the whole region. You will also find plenty of Peace Corps volunteers on leave as this is the poorest country in the region.
Tourist factor: Up to 8/10
Accommodation: In large towns and on the tourist trail getting a room is never a problem and rooms can be found very cheaply, but basic.
Hot water: Pretty rare in budget hotels
Average cost: From US$5 for a very basic room, but bearable if in the cool season. To US$10-15 for an okay room to US$30 for a nice one. AC will cost more still.
Communications: Internet plentiful in major cities
Books: None really
TV: Hotels aimed at backpackers often have cable TV in the reception
Food: Food is quite basic and limited in most places apart from those on the tourist trail where in many cases backpackers are well catered for. Prices are a little high by regional standards, but a bargain if coming from Costa Rica.
Hassle and annoyance factor: None really, few hotel touts in some towns.
Women alone: Generally fine
Although connected by land (via the Darién Gap), Central and South America are not readily connected by anything near an easy overland route. Between Panama and Colombia, the Darien gap is a stretch of about 80 miles where there is no road. The Pan-American Highway comes to a girding halt, all roads stop and jungle begins. To cross the Gap involves a sharp machete, the dry season, a strong arm, good mosquito repellent, malaria prophylactic, food, and lots of patience. This is however not a practical option because since the early '90s crossing the Darien on foot is considered by most locals as dangerous (read suicidal), since it is a channel for drug smugglers and is rife with guerrilla activity. With the land route out of the question this leaves three options: fly, take a boat, or turn around.
Fly: Flying is the easiest option and most readily taken with the option to head straight to Ecuador for those that would rather skip Colombia. At time of writings the cheapest quickest way across the Gap is to fly - Cartagena (CTG) / Panama City (PTY). Other one-way fares to Bogotá or Quito and on other airlines, can be considered expensive for the distance.
Take a boat, chartering a boat from Panama
to Colombia: Most people decide to hit Colombia
following a positive experience through Central America. By the
time they hit Nicaragua they are so full of rum and bravado,
they start talking about boat trips from Panama into
Colombia. Typically they will cost US$550 and take 4-6 days
(with 2 days on various
San Blas Islands).
Never be seduced by a charter offering a ride for dramatically less than 350$. Either the captain will be a drunken fool, or you'll have rotten food and no drink on the ride. Remember, you want a great boat ride, so don't cut corners. Bring your own stock of booze and other mixers. As a recommendation, if you want a safe ride and great food charter with Captain Marcus and his wife. If you don't have sealegs you'll probably hate it, if you do, you'll love it. Captain Marcus will get your passport stamped and you'll float into Cartagena (Manzanilla port) after a great trip. See more info in the Colombia section of the site.
Note, there is currently no scheduled ferry service of any kind. Getting a car (and less so a motorbike) between Central and South America will be an expensive logistical nightmare - but far from impossible.
Thanks to Monty for help out with info on charting between Central and South America.
Please find Mexico info on North America page.
The best source of planning information is the RG First-time Latin America.
For a full list of planning guides, recommended guide books and reading material, please click here.
Remember, this is only a take (an overview if you will); very few get the chance to see every inch of every country or have the time to get everyone's opinion (you are welcome and encouraged to mail in yours). Please, please if you have been anywhere recently send your comments to contribute and help keep all information fresh for future travellers. Or if you are about to head off remember this site when you return and put a few lines in an e-mail to let us know if things have changed.
If you have food in the fridge, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep you are richer than 75% of this world. If you have money in the bank and spare change somewhere, you are among the top 8% of the world's wealthy. Oh, and if you can read this you are more blessed than more than two billion people in the world who cannot read.