Last updated: 09:00 PM ET, Mon July 06 2015

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  • A Cruising Couple | July 6, 2015 9:00 PM ET

    What To Know Before Your First Visit To Central America

    What To Know Before Your First Visit To Central America

    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock, all others via Flickr

    Central America: This bridge of land that connects Mexico and South America might appear tiny, but it’s jam-packed with rich cultures and exciting adventures. And with the Atlantic Ocean on one side, the Pacific on the other, and ample jungle, volcanoes, valleys, and lakes in between, this slender slither of countries is a nature lover’s dream come true.

    If you’ve never traveled to Central America before, the stories can be intimidating. Though it’s a favorite spot for luxury travelers, family travelers, backpackers, solo female travelers, and everyone in between, many still recount tales of being robbed or feeling unsafe. But with a bit of planning and local knowledge, a visit to Central America can be the trip of a lifetime.


    Here are a few tips to help you plan your first visit to Central America:

    1. Remember, Each Country in Central America is Different in Many Ways

    Central America is made up of seven countries, including Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. Each country has different cultures, different histories, different levels of commercialization, and different safety rates. For example, Costa Rica has had no standing army for over 65 years while, in contrast, Guatemala has endured Central America’s longest civil for 36 years.

    It’s important to individually research each country that you plan to visit, but there are some truisms that can be provided right off the bat: Honduras and El Salvador have higher crime rates (that doesn’t mean those countries don’t have great places to visit). Costa Rica and Panama typically have the most commercialization and are also the most expensive.

    2. Choose Local Transportation

    If you plan on visiting numerous countries, the public buses will be your least expensive option. Flying is typically extremely expensive. The exception to this rule is if you can find local airlines that cover your route. We flew Nature Airlines from Costa Rica to Nicaragua because it was much quicker and easier. The Costa Rican airline is affordable if you book your tickets in advance and don’t carry much luggage, and we love that they are the world’s first carbon-neutral airline!

    It is also possible to rent a car or hire private shuttles. The infrastructure is different in each country, which will determine whether or not you feel comfortable driving. Private shuttles are often pricey but sometimes well worth the efficiency.

    3. Check Up On Your Vaccines

    If you are traveling to Central America from a yellow fever hotspot (parts of Africa and South America), then you must have your yellow fever vaccination. We were almost held at the Costa Rican border for seven days for not having proof of our yellow fever vaccination after a recent trip to Colombia. Other recommended vaccinations include hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, and rabies. For some parts of Central America, you might also need malaria medication, but consult with your doctor first.

    4. Brush Up On Your Spanish

    Not only is Spanish helpful for getting around, knowledge of the local language will also help you to avoid the “gringo tax,” or the extra price tacked on to the cost for foreigners. You don’t need to be fluent, but you’ll find a little bit of Spanish goes a long way. We’ve found that even if the locals know English, they are often very receptive to helping you practice your Spanish in their country.

    5. Choosing The Highlights Of Central America

    You could spend years in each country of Central America and only scratch the surface of all there is to see and discover. However, here are a few of the highlights in the region to file in the must-see category:

    • The Mayan Ruins: Tikal in Guatemala and Copan in Honduras are perhaps the two most famous Mayan ruins in Central America, but there are many others that also warrant a visit.

    • Colonial Cities: Guatemala’s picture-perfect Antigua and the cities of Granada and León in Nicaragua are ideal for exploring.

    • Volcanoes: Nicaragua is known as “the country of lakes and volcanoes,” but Costa Rica also boasts its fair share.

    • Rainforests and Waterfalls: Don’t miss the opportunity to hike through the jungle, zip line through the forest canopy, or swim in a remote waterfall.

    • Island Hop: With so much ocean around, it’s no secret that there are countless idyllic islands to explore. Panama’s San Blas Islands are some of the most remote.

    • Scuba Dive: Don’t miss the opportunity to dive the Blue Hole in Belize or enjoy the stunning reefs in Honduras.

    This is just a snapshot of all there is to see and discover in Central America. If you’re looking for the adventure of a lifetime, then you can’t go wrong with a visit to any or all of the countries above!


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A Cruising Couple A Cruising Couple's Column

A Cruising Couple Dan and Casey are the two lovebirds, world travelers and adventurers extraordinaire behind the popular travel blog A Cruising Couple - adventure travel with a dash of class. Their stories and photographs feature that special place where experiential and stylish travel meet. Find out how you can spend less money, live more adventurously and travel more luxuriously on their blog,
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