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Central America Travel Guide

Looking for an in-depth Central America travel guide?

Then you’re in the right place!

Central America may be a small region, but it is home to seven of the most beautiful countries in the world.

From tropical rainforests to golden sand beaches to active volcanos, the region’s biodiversity makes it a top spot for ecotourism and outdoor adventures. The area also has a rich history and culture that you can see first-hand today in well-preserved Indigenous villages and colonial cities.

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There’s so much to explore in Central America that it’s often hard to know where to start!

Many travelers visit Central America to experience the country’s natural beauty. The region’s coastline is home to some of the most stunning — and in some cases least-trafficked — beaches in the world.

Central America is also home to many scuba diving hot spots thanks to its colorful marine life and underwater sights. The Bay Islands in Honduras (including the main islands of Roatan, Utila, and Guanaja) are particularly popular among divers with tons of diving sights to explore.

Each country also has its own system of national parks that preserve the local flora and fauna.

For instance, Manuel Antonio National Park on Costa Rica‘s Pacific Coast is one not to miss if you’re an animal lover. The park is home to 109 species of mammals and 184 species of birds, including white-faced monkeys, sloths, and more.

Central America’s cities are teeming with life and definitely worth a few spots on your itinerary.

In Panama, you can visit Panama City to explore a modern metropolis full of shimmering skyscrapers alongside old colonial buildings and cobblestone streets in the Casco Viejo neighborhood.

Leon, the artistic and intellectual hub of Nicaragua, is full of historic sights and public murals that you’ll definitely want to capture for Instagram.

And you’ll definitely want to make a stop in Antigua, Guatemala to experience one of the best-preserved Spanish colonial cities in Latin America.

Keep reading to dive into resources that will help you with planning a trip to Central America.

Note: This ultimate guide to Central America travel contains affiliate links to trusted partners!

Central America Map

Use this Central America travel map to begin planning your trip to this incredible region!

Central America map

Click here for an interactive Google Map version of the above graphic.

Costa Rica Travel Guide

No Central America trip itinerary would be complete without a few active travel adventures in Costa Rica, like…

Guatemala Travel Guide

These Guatemala experiences showcase some of the best things to do in Central America!

Honduras Travel Guide

Looking for the best places to go in Central America? Here is why Honduras should be on your list!

Nicaragua Travel Guide

Looking for the best vacation spots in Central America? Check out these Nicaragua experiences:

Panama Travel Guide

If you’re wondering where to go in Central America, here is why Panama should be on your list:

Top Central America Tours

Explore Central American tourism & culture with a local through these recommended excursions:

Click here for a full list of Central America travel tours!

Renting A Car In Central America

Need a rental car for your Central America trip?

Use Discover Cars to quickly compare your car rental options.

Their comparison tool does the homework for you, so there’s no need to have up 10+ tabs trying to figure out which company is the most affordable. Actually, you can save up to 70% using their tool!

Central America Hotels

Click here to browse hotels in Central America!

Prefer self-contained stays? 

Click here to check out unique local rentals!

You can also use this map to search for local stays. The map is set to San Jose, but you can easily change it to your specific destination:

Central America Travel Insurance

It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling solo or with a group on a Central America tour. When visiting Central America — or any other country in the world — make sure to get travel insurance to protect your health and safety.

In my opinion, the best travel medical insurance for travelers is SafetyWing as they’ve got a large network and offer both short-term and long-term coverage — including coverage if you’re traveling for months as well as limited coverage in your home country).

Additionally, SafetyWing is budget-friendly and offers $250,000 worth of coverage with just one low overall deductible of $250.

With coverage, you’ll have peace of mind as you embark on your Central America itinerary.

Click my referral link here to price out travel insurance for your trip in just a few clicks.

Central America Travel Guide FAQ

Below, find answers to frequently asked questions about traveling Central America.

Q: Which countries make up Central America?

Here is a full list of Central American countries:

Q: Where is Central America located?

Central America is located between Mexico and South America and is the southernmost region of North America.

Q: Is Central America safe for travel?

In general, Central America is pretty safe for travelers. Some countries and areas have higher rates of crime and violence than others and, as with any other destination, there are certain safety tips you should follow wherever you go.

The Northern Triangle — consisting of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador — sees more crime than other countries in the region, particularly in big cities, so you’ll want to stay particularly vigilant if any of those countries are on your itinerary.

While traveling in Central America, you’ll want to stay aware of your surroundings, avoid wearing anything flashy or displaying any obvious signs of wealth, avoid going out alone at night, and be particularly careful on public transportation.

For specific safety tips for each country in Central America, check out our individual destination pages linked above.

You can also check our our guide to avoiding pickpockets.

Q: How long do you need to travel Central America?

The length of your trip to Central America certainly depends on which countries you want to explore and your preferred style of travel. If you’re looking to do a full tour of the region, making your way down from Southern Mexico to Panama (or vice versa), you’ll need at least a month or two to see everything.

Though the region is comparatively small, it can take several hours to travel between destinations by car or bus thanks to winding roads and inconsistent infrastructure.

Flights within the region are available but can be expensive and limited in certain areas.

You’ll also want to spend a few days in each destination to take in everything it has to offer.

If you don’t have a month or more to commit to a full Central American tour, you can easily travel between one or two countries in the region over a week or two. Group tours also offer multi-country itineraries over shorter periods of time that take some of the guess work out of traveling through the region.

Q: Is Central America expensive to travel?

It’s generally quite inexpensive to travel in Central America. Again, this depends on your itinerary and destinations of choice; things in Costa Rica and Panama tend to be a bit more expensive than in other Central American countries.

The average traveler to Central America should budget about $60 to $70 per day for things like accommodation, food, transportation, activities, and other daily expenses.

Q: What is the safest Central American country to visit?

Costa Rica and Panama are considered the safest countries to visit in Central America. Costa Rica is ranked as the 33rd most peaceful country in the world according to the Global Peace Index and experiences lower rates of crime and violence than other countries in the region.

While there are several areas of Panama that do experience more violence (specifically the Mosquito Coast and Darien region along the Colombian border), the country is quite safe overall.

Regardless of your itinerary, though, you should keep the general safety tips mentioned above in mind.

Q: What is the best time to visit Central America?

The best time to visit Central America is during the dry season between December and April.

Temperatures throughout the region are generally warm and comfortable, although this will vary depending on elevation.

Rain is less frequent in these months and you are less likely to have your trip washed out by a hurricane.

Q: What are some top things to do in Central America?

Central America is one of the best places on Earth for outdoor exploration. With a gorgeous environment that includes rainforests, beaches, volcanos, mountains, and more you’ll want to spend plenty of time outside during your Central American adventure.

Divers should visit countries like Honduras, Panama, and Belize for their clear waters and abundance of tropical fish. Belize is also home to the second-largest barrier reef in the world, with tons of colorful coral and marine life to explore.

Almost every country in Central America has its own national parks full of flora and fauna you won’t want to pass up. You can also hike (and even surf!) active volcanos in countries like Costa Rica and Nicaragua, where you can hike Volcan Concepcion.

Each country in Central America also has a rich history and culture of its own that is absolutely worth exploring.

Antigua in Guatemala is one of the best-preserved colonial cities in Latin America; the city truly looks like its frozen in time with its colorful buildings and cobblestone streets. Here you’ll find churches that date back to the 1500s, shops full of artisan goods, and a whole museum dedicated to chocolate.

Central America also has many Mayan ruins where you can pay your respects to the area’s Indigenous history. Copan is home to one of the best-known sites in Honduras while the Tikal Temple in Guatemala is an absolutely incredible sight.

Q: What is some important Central America travel advice to keep in mind?

Aside from the safety tips listed above, there are a few pieces of travel advice to keep in mind when it comes to Central America.

Wherever you go in the region, you’ll want to pack high-test bug spray, ideally formulated with DEET. Aside from being annoying, mosquitoes in Central America have been known to carry dangerous diseases like malaria and the Zika virus and in a tropical environment, they’re pretty hard to avoid. A good quality insect repellent is your best defense against disease, even if you don’t think you’ll need it.

Sunscreen is also absolutely key, particularly if you’re planning on spending time at the beach. Remember, you’re probably closer to the equator than usual.

Even if you’re incredibly careful about what you’re eating and drinking in Central America, stomach issues happen to the best of us. Be sure to pack any medications you might need along the way like Pepto Bismol and Immodium. Don’t rely on local stores having what you need in stock, particularly if you’re traveling to a more remote location.

While most countries in Central America do not require any vaccinations to enter the country, you may want to get certain vaccinations or preventative medicines depending on your itinerary. If you’re unsure, talk to your doctor or local travel medicine professional before your trip.

Q: What tips would you give someone backpacking Central America?

There are a few tips to keep in mind when backpacking Central America.

While restaurants are generally pretty inexpensive throughout the region, you’ll save a lot of money by shopping at local markets and preparing your own food at your hostel or on the road. This will help you stretch your food budget over a longer trip. Street food is also quite cheap and a great option for snacks and meals during the day.

Buses are also the most cost-effective way to travel between destinations, though it may take you longer to get from Point A to Point B.

You’ll absolutely want to pack a lock and a small medical kit with bandages, hand sanitizer, antibacterial creams, and any necessary medications in your pack.

A travel water purifier or purifying water bottle is also necessary for areas where the water is unsafe to drink. This is crucial for times when you may not be able to find bottled or otherwise purified water.

Laundromats and laundry services can also be hard to come by throughout the region so you may want to pack some small packets of detergent in case you need to wash some garments in the sink of your hostel or AirBnB.

On a similar note, pack more underwear than you think you’ll need. You don’t want to be caught without a fresh pair!

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