We spent three months travelling through Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama…. while there is SO much more to explore in this exciting part of the world, we did learn a lot on our first time through Central America.
There is no comparison
Our first lesson was how VERY different it is from both Canada and Asia. While we knew it would be a unique place to explore, it was almost shocking how new and different everything was to us. We learned quickly not to compare Central America to anywhere we have been before as we felt those comparisons took away from the present moment and uniqueness of life here.
Latin Americans tend to have a smaller personal bubble than we do and are very forward. They are also some of the kindest, friendliest and most helpful people we have come across. There was never a time when we asked a man or woman (in extremely broken Spanish) for help with directions or finding a business that we weren’t graciously assisted. While the culture can seem pushy or bossy at times, the people are also very open and everyone helps everyone.
On our first day in Honduras we quickly noticed how many travellers spoke some level of Spanish and we have been working on our vocabulary ever since. There isn’t much English in most places, so learning even a little bit of Spanish before and during your trip will help immensely!
So many people are concerned about their safety when travelling through this part of the world. Sometimes it is warranted but most of the time those concerns are exaggerated or overblown. We generally avoided the most dangerous regions, cities and neighbourhoods. However, we met many people who stayed in some of these places and never felt threatened. When travelling you are responsible for your own safety, so being smart and aware of your surroundings is your best defense. We never had even a hint of danger or threat during our time in Central America. Don’t stress, use your head, talk to locals and you should be fine too.
Sorry, but the rumors are true. There is not much to write home about when it comes to the food of Central America. Local dishes are fried and heavily flavoured with salt. There are many decent meals to be had in Central America and there were a few times we found fantastic food, but that was rare. The bright side is that if you’re following parts of the typical backpacker trail, there will be international food readily available. For good and cheap eats, we made a lot of food ourselves. Shared kitchens were a big savior on our stomachs and budget.
Travelling by Bus
Buses CAN BE cheap. Many of the people we met never took a chicken bus (basically an old american school bus that runs between towns). A lot of travellers opt to take chartered coach buses or taxis. There are many companies throughout Central America that offer direct bus connections between big cities. For example, it took us 4 sweaty and slightly uncomfortable chicken buses and approx. $7 each to get from Leon to San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua. What we could have done was book a bus that goes right from Leon to SJDS; that bus likely would have had air conditioning, it would have been quicker, more comfortable and about three times what we paid. There is a time and place in our itinerary and budget for chartered buses, but it’s a rare luxury. We think the chicken buses are exciting and usually enjoyed taking them. That being said, our long-term itinerary allows us the time do so. Whether travelling with chickens or air-con, there is no shortage of buses to take you wherever you need to go in Central America.
One of our biggest lessons was perhaps: Bird watching is far from boring (cue the eye rolls). Before we came to Central America we thought bird watching was something that retired people do on vacation. We quickly learned that birds are exceptionally beautiful and have found ourselves waiting in a forest (more than once) just to catch a glimpse of that colourful feathered creature we saw out of the corner of our eyes. Please don’t judge us if we become birdwatchers one day. If only they were easier to photograph…
Have you ever been somewhere and had expectations of what it would (or should) be, only to find something very different? We would love to hear about your experience in the comments below!