Last Updated on June 5, 2019 by Bryony Clapperton
If you are visiting Central America as part of a budget backpacking trip, you’ll already know that you need to budget well.
This Central America Budget Guide, should give you all the insider knowledge to craft your Central America budget.
Whether you are solo travelling or visiting as part of a duo, you’ll want to read carefully on how to travel Central America on a budget.
Central American on a budget
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 an exciting challenge.
So, it’s only right we talk money and Central America on a budget. This guide
For a lot of people, budgeting is the boring part of travel. But even I can’t deny its an essential part of travel and long-term travel especially.
Currencies in Central America
When talking about Central America on a budget I generally talk in dollars. The reason for this is because before heading out to Central America for 6 months, we theoretically converted all our Sterling into Dollars.
In a pre-Brexit universe Pound Sterling was much stronger than it has been recently, so switching to US dollars for all our planning made sense.
Some countries in Central America have actually also adopted the US dollar as their official currency.
El Salvador and Panama both use the US dollar and US dollar is still widely accepted in all other countries. However, I urge you to check out and use the local currencies where you can.
The currencies of Central America are as follows;
- Guatemala: Guatemalan Quetzal
- El Salvador: US Dollar
- Honduras: Honduran Lempira
- Nicaragua: Nicaraguan Cordoba
- Costa Rica: Costa Rican Colon
- Panama: US Dollar
- Belize: Belize Dollar
One of the best ways to manage your money when travelling across multiple countries using multiple currencies are by using travel cards.
I am very digitally minded, and if you are too you’ll want to know your money is safe and accessible at all times.
That’s why I always ensure I have a travel card with me for longer term travel. You should do your research because along with Monzo, services like Revolut also exist.
Planning your Central America budget
Budget travel in Central America is very common and there are a lot of budget options that make it a cheap area to travel.
Sleeping is one of the things that can be done on the cheap in Central America. Hostels and accommodations are great value for money.
Hostel dorms are generally the most poplar accommodation in Central America. You can grab a dorm bed for anywhere starting from $6 per night. The average price for a dorm bed is roughly $10.
If you are travelling as part of a duo double rooms are usually around $20 so it works out just as cost effective to get a double private room in a hostel.
This rule also works out for small groups too, we found a lot of our private rooms in Central America had a double and a single. If you are a group of three a private may only cost you $20-$30.
More often than not we we were able to stay in air conditioned private rooms with private bathrooms for $20 a night. Which means you can budget $10-$20 per night for sleeping per person.
Take a famous budget friendly chicken bus or a comfortable, safe organised minibus. This is a question you’ll be asking yourself on repeat during your time in Central America.
Here’s how to figure it out;
Take chicken busses for short distance journeys and never expect to pay more than a few dollars (in local currency obviously).
They aren’t comfortable, but the locals use them and as a rule if the locals use them they are probably budget friendly.
If you are skipping from town to town then you’ll want to take a chicken bus to save money. This is a great way to get from place to place whilst keeping your Central America budget in check.
Organised mini busses
For long distance journeys and overnight journeys that include border crossings, use organised mini busses. They are more expensive as anticipated but you really don’t want to be travelling for hours and hours overnight on public transport.
Organised mini busses are everywhere and easy to book. You’ll be able to book them from most hostels and tourist information centres.
There are also a range of specific organised tour shops that sell tickets in most large towns.
As mentioned, 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.
Expect to pay anywhere up to $80 for a longer journey on an organised minibus.
Along with sleeping and transport in Central America food is a key element of budgeting. Once you get these things covered, you can start factoring in booze and all the other 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. If you want to eat on a budget you can, almost everywhere.
There is something that will appeal to all Central America budgets and tastes.
From restaurants to fruit and seafood sellers on the beach and everything in between you will genuinely be spoilt for choice. Expect to roughly budget between $15 – $30 per day for food.
This seems like a big price difference, but depending on where you are and how clever you are you can save on food for your Central America budget.
Tacos, tamales, empanadas and pupusas are what you should be looking out for, these are the local cuisines. Eating locally is the best way to budget for your trip. If the locals go there, you want to too.
You can expect to pay as little as $3 for a meal by ordering from the menu or the day or set menus available in most local eateries.
If you’re travelling for a long time its not unnatural you’ll grow bored of Central American cuisine and want a break every once in a while.
You can expect all the typical fast food restaurants throughout Central America including KFC, Taco Bell, McDonald’s and Burger King.
These are often the best places to eat in bus stations and shopping centres and are actually much more economic than here in the UK.
For veggies and vegans certain places in Central America can be challenging but mostly accommodating for every diet and sometimes you do have to go to an actual restaurant to get a great meal.
However, if you learn any Spanish during your time travelling Central America I’d reccommend learning foods – especially if you’re a vegetarian or vegan!
Another quick tip for seeing Central America on a budget, is cooking in hostels.
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.
Central America budget breakdown
Now we’ve covered the essential elements of a trip with eating, sleeping and transport.
During my time in Central America I travelled in a couple. We set ourselves a daily budget of around $60 per day in 2015/2016. This is doable, if you don’t want to experience too much during your trip.
Some days, such as beach days $60 per day for 2 people was easy. Other days we’d spend double this. Overall the duration of the trip this balanced out (kind of).
Central America budget for a solo traveller
Let’s get to a budget break down for a Central America daily budget;
The below rough daily budget is based on one person staying in a dorm and using a mix of transport during their time in Central America.
Transport will vary, as some days you’ll be going further than others, but based on moving on every 3 days you should put aside $10 per day.
The suggested daily drinking budget is based on someone who likes to go out and have a few beers – generally a cerveza (beer) will cost you $1 – $2 so that’s probably a big night.
The fun budget includes things like entrance fees to attractions, snorkel or surf board rental etc.
Budgeting for long term travel
When it comes to any long-term backpacking trip 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.
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.
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.