10 Reasons to Backpack Central America

Thinking of travelling to Central America? As part of my ‘Big Trip’, I recently backpacked throughout all the countries in Central America for approximately 6 months and also accomplished one of my travel goals which was to travel to 30 countries before my 30th birthday.

Central America is often overlooked as a top travel destination. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring this beautiful region which has maintained a cultural richness. One of the many reasons I prefer backpacking is because this style of travelling brought me closer to nature than I have ever been before.

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Central America has it all, it is the home of the ancient Mayan civilization and many vibrant cultures, it’s filled with rain forests and lava-spewing volcanoes, and you can chill out on amazing beaches all along the Caribbean and Pacific coasts.

These 7 countries make up Central America – Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.

10 Reasons why you should backpack Central America:

1. No prior visa application required

There are many things in life that we can choose to be but one thing we can’t choose is where we are born. Travelling the world is a rite of passage every human being in this world should take, but unfortunately, the access to this privilege is predetermined by which country we are born in and the passport we were given.

According to the Passport Index, the South African passport is ranked 100, with 63 visa-free, 36 visa-on-arrival and 98 countries visa required. Did you know that the entire Central America is accessible to South Africans on nothing but a passport? Vacationing where you won’t need a visa is a good way to save some cash and spare yourself a whole lot of admin.

Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua all share a visa called the CA-4. This entitles South Africans to a 90 day stay across all four countries, NOT 90 days in each. As it is a visa on arrival, you don’t need to obtain one prior to visiting any of the above-mentioned countries and the other remaining countries that make up Central America.

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2. Very affordability to travel

How much does it cost to visit Central America? Compared to North America and Europe, Central America is a relatively inexpensive region to go backpacking, and can even match the backpacker trail in Southeast Asia in terms of cost. Keep in mind that travel costs can vary a bit from one country to another in Central America.

These were my daily budgets in each country:

• Guatemala – R 250 / 17 USD
• Belize – R 400 / 27 USD
• Honduras – R 200 / 14 USD
• El Salvador – R 300 / 20 USD
• Nicaragua – R 350 / 24 USD
• Costa Rica – R 400 / 27 USD
• Panama – R 400 / 27 USD

3. Affordable accommodation

There are lots of different types of accommodation available in Central America, offering plenty of options depending on your preference and budget. My favourite site to look for available rooms, apartments, houses is Airbnb. Use this link to get up to R 462 / 31.30 USD off your first stay at an Airbnb anywhere in the world! You’ll find plenty of budget accommodation throughout Central America, offering simple furnishings for a fair price.

Accommodation can be as low as R 50 / 3.5 USD pppn, which is what I paid in Granada, Nicaragua, when I stayed at Selina Hostels. Hostels usually have a common area which offers you a chance to meet other travellers. If you’re travelling alone and looking to make friends, this makes hotels or guesthouses a good option for your next trip to Central America.

4. Affordable Transport

If you are trying to see Central America on a budget you shouldn’t fly because flights will cost you about 10 times more than the bus. Bus travel is common here because its one of the cheapest ways to get around.

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5. Ancient Mayan Ruins

The Maya of Central America had one of the greatest ancient civilizations of the world. It consisted of hundreds of large and rich cities spread over the south of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and western Honduras. Chichen Itza, Palenque ruins, Tulum ruins and the Ruins of Tikal are some of the most popular ruins in this region.

6. Beautiful beaches and islands

With both Pacific and Caribbean coasts, Central America is a great holiday destination for beach lovers. The turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea is home to hundreds of islands which are waiting for you to explore.

5 of my favourite beaches and islands:

created by dji camera
created by dji camera

7. World class diving

If you know anything about diving, you’re bound to have heard of the Blue Hole in Belize or scuba diving in  Utila Island, Honduras. Utila is also known as one of the cheapest places in the world to get PADI certified.

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8. The land of Volcanoes

In Central America, you’re likely to find a volcano serves as the backdrop for many of the popular tourist destinations. The Central American Volcanic Arc is a series of volcanoes that extend from Guatemala to Northern Panama. Volcanoes are hard to miss here and nothing will get your heart racing like the feeling of being on or very close to an active volcano.

There are a lot of hikes you can do, ranging from volcanic lagoons in El Salvador to camping right next to active volcanoes when hiking up Acatenango in Guatemala.

4 volcanoes I hiked up in Central America:

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9. Amazing waterfalls

There are few things in this world that are more mesmerising than a waterfall. If you are an adventure lover like myself, you’ll be happy to know that Central America offers some of the prettiest and most varied waterfalls in the world.

Remember that when you’re hiking near waterfalls, take care not to slip on the nearby rocks or stone staircases. These are always quite slick with moisture, so make sure to wear shoes with good treads on your hike.

3 Waterfalls you need to visit:

  • Chilascó Waterfall – Guatemala
  • Semuc Champey – Guatemala
  • La Fortuna Waterfall – Costa Rica

10. Beautiful colonial cities

Central America is filled with picturesque colonial towns and cities that are ideal for travel photographers. These towns not only tell a dark story of oppression and colonization, but they have also, developed into cultural hubs that appeal to many travellers because of their beauty.

5 colonial cities that stole my heart:

  • San Cristóbal de las Casas – Mexico
  • Granada – Nicaragua
  • Antigua – Guatemala
  • Leon – Nicaragua
  • Panama City (Casco Viejo) – Panama

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Backpacking is more than just carrying a backpack when travelling. It’s the ultimate quest for freedom and the nomadic style of living that set backpacking apart from normal travelling.

I hope these 10 reasons have convinced you to consider backpacking Central America! If you have any questions or any more reasons to add, please comment below.

Thank you for reading,

Dineo Zonke.

17 Replies to “10 Reasons to Backpack Central America”

  1. Great post and fantastic photos, Central America looks and sounds like an amazing place to explore, especially all the beautiful waterfalls and beaches, would love to visit one day 😀 Safe travels xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great and informative post! I have been to a couple of these destinations, but that was more than 15 years ago. I have been wanting to return ever since. Maybe I’ll get going soon after reading this;)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am convinced this has to be my “finding myself” trip next year! Thank you for writing this post, I think it helps with creating a mock budget for travelers like myself who want inexpensive adventures. I have a couple of questions and it might be personal but I hope you can assist:
    1. How much did you spend in total so far not counting your flights to travel around and accommodation.
    2. Where are you off to now?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Karabo, thank you for your comment.
      I would prefer not to share how much I have spent, firstly because we all have different spending habits and ways of travelling. I don’t want to be misleading and put a fixed price because my budget will not work for most people. I hope you understand.

      Next up is South America, super excited to explore it!


      1. I completely understand what you mean but thank you for the post!
        Looking forward to reading more.


  4. Awesome zonke. Thank you for sharing. This NJ is definately a dream of mine. Question. Do you find that air BNB is cheaper than what you can get on Bookings.com?
    Also have you ever tried couch surfing?
    Isnit a thing in south America?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ngiyabonga, very glad that you enjoyed this post! Yes, I have found the best deals on Airbnb. I haven’t tried couch surfing but I would like to experience it. It is a thing in South America.


    1. The costs differ from each country but the most was 20USD exit fee for Belize. I always prefer to have cash, so I would either change currencies at the border or use an atm to get the local currency.


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