So, you want to go to Central America – and yes, you should! Here’s some tips and trips I used / some things I wish I knew before hand.
- They aren’t kidding when they say it’s going to be hot. All. the. time. Lay out everything you think you want to bring and then eliminate it by half. Loose, flowy and free is what you’re going to want and unless you’re some kind of freak who never breaks a sweat, scrap the jeans and heavy items. Whether or not you fancy yourself a bohemian hippy, now’s your chance to give dressing like one a go – and believe me, you may just not turn back. Aside from the plane ride, you really don’t need pants or a sweater. I haven’t put them on again since the plane.
- Girls – this ones for you. Make up, hair spray, perfume. Don’t bring them. Sure, pack some tinted moisturizer with SPF and some bronzer to freshen up in the morning, but you will likely end up sweating it all of anyways. Honestly, I have only used about half the things in my toiletries bag. Which leads me to – what’s a must?
- Shampoo & conditioner
- A comb
- A small container of lotion
- Hand sanitizer
- Bug Spray – even just a little one… the insects are mean down there.
- SUNSCREEN (maybe even zinc!?)
- Shoes. Why bother. Rob calls them foot coffins, and I think he’s pretty accurate. If you can see where I’m going here with this – just like in so many other scenarios, less is more. Flip flops, and perhaps if you feel so inclined or you’re wearing them on the way down anyways, bring something light weight (less coffin-like) like TOMS.
- If you’re going for a short period of time, I would say it’s probably best to know where you’d like to go and how you’re going to get there. Travelers staying for a lengthy amount of time have the freedom to “waste” a day here or there, but when you’re on a time crunch you really don’t want to lose any precious time. Read about the places you want to go (there’s so many blogs & websites) and then have a semi accurate plan of attack for getting there. Know that you will probably get lost, but if you research a little, you’re likely to get less lost.
- That being said, if planning every details gives you satisfaction, then do that, and if you like to live on a whim, that’s cool too. There’s just something to be said about a little bit of research, especially in terms of culture and transportation.
I am always on a budget. I don’t make heaps of money & I have bills to pay, but I love to travel and I don’t like staying in Sh!t hole$. So, How does one do it? I like to round up everything I’d like to do and see on a trip, and create a realistic amount of how much that would cost.
Then, I look at my finances and figure out a realistic number of $$ that I can spend on said trip. *NOTE* Don’t do this first. It’s important to add up the things you want to before you realize how out of your price rang it all is. It will also give you a more positive and open attitude towards all of the things you want to see & do without thinking about the money first.
I’d also like to step in here and say that anything is possible – okay?
Don’t look at this screen with all of the reasons why you can’t go on a trip. I get it. I’m there every day. But I live on a tight a$$ budget regularly so that the things I want are more possible.
Don’t go to the bar and spend $20 on dinner and $40 on booze. Do you know how far that $60 can get you in Central America? Three nights in a decent dorm room on a beach + food and beers for three days.
Yes. It is actually possible.
So, returning to my budget for this trip. It’s hard to say exactly, because there were a few times Rob and I covered each others cost for things, but I didn’t stray from the overall amount I wanted to spend.
12 full days in Nicaragua (flying into Costa Rica & busing north) was approximately $1500, including flights.
And let me say, we didn’t cheap out – we stayed in private rooms (sometimes with private bathrooms), took a fair few taxis, did some shopping, ate out sometimes & splurged on an overpriced villa the last two nights with our friends. I was able to do all of these things by thinking strategically. I went into it all by separating my finances into the following categories, and physically taking the dollars out of the bank and separating them in my bag.
- Accommodation: $325USD. 6 nights $20/pp, 2 nights at $15/pp, 1 night at $15/pp, 1 night at $40/pp, 2 nights at $60/pp -VILLAS!
- Flights: $375 CAD. What a deal! Though we had to fly into San Jose & bus to Nica – approx $110 more.
- Food & beer: $350 CAD. We probably could have spent less, but we often opted for the more expensive stuff – wanted to treat ourselves…!
- Buses & taxis: $150 CAD. I undershot this. Unless you want to take chicken buses everywhere, this is going to be way more. OR, if you are only staying in one place this could also be less. $80 of this budget was already taken up by the buses to & from Costa Rica, and the convenience of a taxi or shuttle just kept calling our names. So. This is an area you can either “ball out” and spend heaps on taxis, or chicken bus it like a budget-savvy saver.
- Other (exit/entry fees, spending, airport): $250. We hadn’t mastered how to translate and barter again (every trip it takes time to redevelop those skills…) and when we crossed the border into Nica I felt like we were just handing out USD to everyone who told us we had to, when we didn’t actually need to. See post about crossing the border.
You’ve got some time on the way down… you might as well learn a few things, if you don’t already know 🙂
Our best friend was the app: GOOGLE TRANSLATE (free). be sure to download both English & Spanish to your phone so it can work offline. You can type anything in and create your own phrasebook to come back to at a later point too. It also reverse looks up Spanish to English which can be super helpful. You can essentially have a conversation with someone via this app.
After discovering this, I haven’t pulled out my physical phrasebook again.
Pack light. Prepare a little. Stick to a budget. And download Google Translate.
Easy enough, right? Sea you in Central.