Visiting Central America – Budgeting Guide

Budget Guide to Central America

Visiting Central America for a budget backpacking trip involves a lot of different things and a lot of different countries but it also means budgeting. Budgeting is probably the biggest part of your backpacking trip through Central America. This guide is filled with budgeting advice and tips for a backpacking trip to Central America based on a three month backpacking trip to Central America for two people.

A GUIDE TO BUDGETING IN CENTRAL AMERICA

If you’re a frequent reader you’ll know I’ve covered a lot of specific destinations in Central America and I’ve also shared a Visiting Central America Itineraries Guide to help you plan your perfect itinerary and route through Central America once you have decided on your bucket list destinations.
This guide will focus on budgeting when visiting Central America and we’ll cover eating, sleeping and all the other core elements of a long-term backpacking trip.
Budgeting is the boring part of travel but the most necessary part of travelling for a long time. Here’s how to budget for a three month trip to Central America.

CENTRAL AMERICA BUDGETING GUIDE – TRAVEL IN CENTRAL AMERICA

Central America is an incredibly inspiring and diverse area of the world, if you’re planning a trip I need you to know I’m currently extremely envious. Central America is such a vibrant and captivating place to spend any amount of time and I feel so privileged to have spent such a long time exploring and creating memories in the countries we were able to see. From our last stop in Panama and the countries in between our trip through Central America from Mexico began in Guatemala where we would visit every country apart from Belize.

There are so many reasons to visit Central America the people are welcoming and friendly, the culture is rich and unique and everything from the border crossings to the infrastructure is deeply intriguing. Visiting Central America should be on all travel bucket lists and visiting Central America on a budget is truly the only way to backpack this small segment of the world.

 

BUDGETING, BACKPACKING AND LONG TERM TRAVEL IN CENTRAL AMERICA

Budgeting; is it the boring part of travel?

I don’t know. It’s probably my least favorite aspect of being on the road and long term travel. But budgets are undoubtedly a huge chunk of any trip. Budgets control your trip and are the life source of any travels. Without your budget your trip is essentially over. Everyone you meet on the road has a budget, no matter how big or small. Budgeting is important but it doesn’t need to keep you up at night. Here are some of my top tips on budgeting for travel in Central America.

When we first started out on our travels through Latin America we were very big on budgeting. During our time in Cuba and Mexico especially our budget was very important to us. I remember sitting in bars in Cuba after one too many mojitos and wondering if we’d just crossed off  an entire day travelling later on in our route through the countries of Central America. When we arrived in Guatemala we’d nailed out daily spending and were able to travel freely through Central America without feeling guilt towards spending a little more on certain days.

MONEY – THE CURRENCIES OF CENTRAL AMERICA

I talk in dollars a lot and I’ll explain for the benefit of this guide that although we are British all our budget calculations for our three month backpacking trip to Central America were in US dollars. El Salvador and Panama both use the US dollar and we converted all our sterling in to dollars on our Thomas Cook Cash Passport currency card. It made sense for all our budgeting to be in dollars. I would recommend doing this if your actual currency isn’t Dollars. The whole region of Central America works in US Dollars too, which means if you ask how much something is you’ll be quoted a price in local currency and the dollar equivalent.

The currencies of Central America

Guatemala: Guatemalan Quetzal
El Salvador: US Dollar
Honduras: Honduran Lempira
Nicaragua: Nicaraguan Cordoba
Costa Rica: Costa Rican Colon
Panama: US Dollar
Belize: Belize Dollar 
Visiting Central America - Budgeting
Central America beaches

 

BUDGET TRAVEL IN CENTRAL AMERICA – SLEEPING AND ACCOMMODATION

Budget travel in Central America is very common and many backpackers and long term travellers specifically chose to visit Central America due to how easy it is for budget travel.

This is partly because of how cheap Central America can be if you do things right. Sleeping is cheap in Central America and great value for money. Hostels are usually the most poplar accommodation in Central America. Hostels in Central America are incredible value for money, dorms are obviously always the cheapest option with most beds in 6-12 person dorms costing anywhere between $6-$12 per night as standard and based on the quality of the hostel usually.

If you’re travelling Central America as a due it is often a better option to book a private room and half the cost. Generally we budgeted $10 a night each for sleeping in Central America. Dorms are roughly $10 each or privates come in at $20-$25 – usually with a private bathroom making them good value for money if the cost is halved.

This rule also works out for groups too, we found a lot of our private rooms in Central America had a double and a single or somethings a double and a sofa bed which can be booked for groups of three travelling. When budgeting in Central America it’s always cheapest to split your costs.

More often than not we we were able to stay in air conditioned private rooms with private bathrooms for $20 a night. Right on our daily accommodation budget of $10 per person.

If you plan on taking a long distance bus, a great budgeting tip for Central America would be to book the latest bus available. This way you can sleep during the journey and save on a nights accommodation as generally comfortable transport can be pricey in Central America.

BUDGETING GUIDE TO CENTRAL AMERICA – TRANSPORT

The famous chicken bus vs. the comfortable and safe organised minibus. When budgeting in Central America follow this rule. Take chicken busses for short distance journeys and never expect to pay more than a few dollars (in local currency obviously). For long distance journeys and overnight journeys that include border crossings, use organised mini busses.
There are two core reasons for this Central America travel rule. Firstly, chicken buses are uncomfortable and most of the time quite unsafe. You don’t want to be travelling for hours and hours overnight on public transport. Secondly, organised mini busses in Central America are everywhere. You’ll be able to book an organised minibus from most hostels and tourist information centres, there are also a range of specific organised tour shops that sell tickets. They are generally very expensive in comparison to the chicken busses, but for comfort and safety they are a much more sensible choice.

These organised busses also take backpackers over the borders. This means you have a local and Spanish speaker to help with all the details during the border crossing.

BUDGET TRAVEL IN CENTRAL AMERICA – EATING AND FOOD

Along with sleeping and transport in Central America food is a key element of budgeting. These things make up your absolute budgeting essentials and once you are able to set your budget to include these core elements of travel you’ll be able to start factoring in the fun stuff.

Central America is a great location for eating on a budget, especially when it comes to street food.

In Central America there are a wide range of options available to budget travellers and tourists, that will appeal to all budgets and tastes. From restaurants to fruit and seafood sellers on the beach and everything in between you will genuinely be spoilt for choice during your three month backpacking trip to Central America.

Prices and quality of food do vary but most of the time you can find cheap eateries in every town or city throughout Central America. Tacos, tamales, empanadas and pupusas are what you should be looking out for. You’ll be sick of the sight of them by the time you leave. Along the coast fish is best and set menus often allow you to eat and drink for a set price.

You can grab a meal in some places for as little as $3 by sticking to set menus or menus of the day and if you’re a fussy eater don’t worry – there’s all the typical fast food restaurants you can expect throughout Central America including KFC, Taco Bell, McDonald’s and Burger King. These are often the best places to eat in bus stations.

For veggies and vegans certain places in Central America can be challenging but mostly accommodating for every diet. If you learn any Spanish during your time travelling Central America I’d reccommend learning foods – especially if you’re a vegetarian or vegan travelling this area as it is quite uncommon to be either in Latin America.

HOSTEL KITCHENS – EATING IN CENTRAL AMERICA

Many of the hostels throughout Central America also offer kitchen facilities for backpackers and travellers to cook – this is a great way to save money and budget on your Central America trip. This is not something we utilised enough on the road but many other travellers do. Take advantage of these facilities when they are available.

THREE MONTH CENTRAL AMERICA BUDGET BREAKDOWN

Now we’ve covered the essential elements of travel with eating, sleeping and transport. Let’s get to the three month budget break down, for the three months we roughly spent in Central America we budgeted $30 USD each per day. That would be around $10 for sleeping per day each.

This would give us a combined budget of $60 per day for two people. After the accommodation costs the rest of our daily budget $20 each or $40 combined could be spent on activities, eating and drinking. Our budget was pretty fluid, we’d under spend on some day so we could overspend on actives and bus travel on others. To put this in perspective some day’s we’d spend half our daily budget other days w’ed spend double. Budgeting is all about balance.

CENTRAL AMERICA BUDGETING GUIDE – BUDGET BREAKDOWN

Number of people: 2

 

Number of months: 3

 

Number of countries: 6 of 7

 

Daily budget per person: $30

 

Daily sleeping budget per person: $10

 

When it comes to any long-term backpacking trip and any budget it goes without saying there will be days where you aren’t on budget. Travel is all about experiences and the activities you experiences you plan on having. Don’t make sacrifices on your activities, make sacrifices on accommodations, travel and food. Don’t just exist in Central America – truly experience it and don’t feel guilty for going over your daily budget.

One of the greatest activities and completely off budget experiences we did during our time in Utila, Honduras was getting our PADI open water dive certification, something this is something we never factored into our initial budget, but do I regret it? No, not at all.

Budgeting Guide for Central America

BUDGETING GUIDE HACKS FOR TRAVEL IN CENTRAL AMERICA

It’s really all about balance when it comes to budgeting your trip to Central America effectively. Don’t let overspending on nights where you blew three days budget get you don’t there are always ways to save money when you’re travelling.

Breaks are always a good idea, moving a lot and too quickly becomes very expensive and although it’s what you’re there to do a few days spent in one place is never a bad move. Staying in one location for a little longer than planned allows you time to save up the money you spent on a big journey, plus a little relaxation never hurt anyone. We always figured leaving three days in between a big bus journey gives you enough time to save back some of the money you’d spent on the bus fare.

BACKPACKING IN CENTRAL AMERICA ON A BUDGET

To put things into a conclusion $60 a day for two people on a three month trip through several Central America countries doesn’t sound like a lot of money but we were eating most of the time for under $5, often $1 street food and sleeping is something I think we managed to master. Eating is where you can claw back the most of your budget.

We were quite laid back about managing our money because once you understand your budget well enough budgeting becomes second nature on the road. If you always stick to the same daily spend it is easy to always stay on top of your budget.

Good times in Central America are to be had everywhere and most of the time they come for free, it’s up to you what you decide to do on top of that. For us diving, snorkelling, fishing and socialising where big aspects of our trip. As a parting gift I’ll leave you with one final thought. Be sure to budget well but don’t sacrifice the good times.

Bryony Clapperton

A 20-something travel blogger based in Liverpool. Covering all things from Latin America to Liverpool local guides and everything in between.

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  1. That's a super great tip for people to take health precautions when traveling because countries always have different sanitation regulations and I know I get sick almost everywhere!

  2. I never thought of traveling to central america but now you got me to think about it. Seems really amazing and staying on budget is always so hard and tbh I think you did really well. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I love trips like this, where you stick to a budget. It's more fun and it's also a great way to save while exploring a country you've never been to before.

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