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Planning a Central America solo trip?
When you think of going on your first solo trip, you probably think of South East Asia because that’s where like, everyone goes. I think I briefly thought of going there but decided against it for that reason.
Then I found Central America. I’m not saying it’s off the beaten path or anything, there were tons of backpackers everywhere, I just think it’s less common for first solo trips. I think.
If you’ve been here for a while, you probably have figured out Central America was my first solo trip. Or if you read that first paragraph.
I didn’t take anything below into consideration when I was deciding where to go, I just read a book about it and that made me want to see it for myself. But after going, here’s why I think it should be your first solo trip, too.
Travel Services I Recommend:
AllTrails – This is my favorite hike tracking app.
America the Beautiful – The national park pass is essential.
Booking.com – This is great for finding and booking hotels.
Get Your Guide – I recommend Get Your Guide for booking tours.
National Park Obsessed – This is the best national park planner.
Skyscanner – Skyscanner is great for finding and booking flights.
Enterprise – This is my rental car recommendation.
See all my resources here.
Solo female travel in Central America
Solo female travel in Central America is usually something a lot of loved ones may protest, but it was my first solo travel destination and I am SO glad it was!
I can’t compare safety of solo female travel in Central America to Southeast Asia since I haven’t been there, but I had a wonderful 2.5 months there and really only felt unsafe once.
Solo female travel in Central America safety disclaimer
While I had a pretty problem-free 2.5 months in Central America, I know that’s not the case for everyone. I was there in 2015 and it may be different now, I’m not sure. I have general safety tips at the end, too.
Spanish is easy to learn
Mi perro necesita pantalones ahora! That’s what I say when people ask if I know Spanish. In case you don’t know, it means my dog needs pants now! Yes, I learned more than that, but I just like saying it.
I only knew the most basic of basic Spanish before I left and picked up the rest along the way, mostly in Guatemala. AND you can take super cheap Spanish lessons all over Central America if that’s your thing.
Some basic words and phrases to know:
- Cama – bed
- Tienes una cama? – Do you have one bed?
- Cerveza – beer
- Baño – bathroom
- Aeropuerto – airport
- Boleto – ticket
- Yo necesita un boleto – I need a ticket
- Gracias – thank you
- Pro favor – please
- Donde esta … – Where is …
- Cuanto cuesta? – How much? (if you’re buying something)
- Bolsa – bag
- Basura – garbage (I got this and bolsa confused a lot)
It’s super affordable
Of course, some countries are cheaper than others, like Guatemala, parts of Mexico, and Nicaragua. Costa Rica and Belize are on the pricier side, especially when it comes to activities and excursions, so choose wisely. But, like everywhere, it can be done a budget, you might just need to plan ahead a little.
Guatemala was definitely the cheapest overall and part of why I loved it so much. The cheapest dorm I found there was about $4.50 US.
It wasn’t fantastic, but it was still not bad. This is also the best place to buy souvenirs in the markets around the country.
It’s easy to navigate
I’m not a good navigator, like, really bad, but I managed to make my way through six countries on my own. There are enough backpackers that shuttles between popular places are really common.
There are also chicken buses that will take you around the countries, but I only used those a few times.
No matter which way you go, there will be quite a bit of information on how to do it and if you can’t find it online, ask at your hostel.
The only time I ran into navigation issues was to the corn islands and that was mostly because we were going by land and sea instead of air.
There was information out there on how to do it, but it was old and a little confusing. We listened to it anyways and ended up fine, but that was the only time it was sort of difficult to know where to go.
There’s a well-worn backpacker trail
Like I said, there’s a lot of backpackers there, so it’s pretty easy to be there on your own. A sample route from north to south would be Cancun area, Tulum (home of the famous ruins), Caye Caulker, San Ignacio, Flores, Semuc Champey, Antigua, Lake Atitlan, Utila, El Tunco, Leon, Granada, San Juan del Sur, San Jose, Monteverde, Puerto Viejo, Bocas del Toro, San Blas Islands, Boquete, Panama City.
Obviously, there are other places to go, but these are the places a lot of people try to hit.
Some will be skipped, but the point is, there will be other people around if you’re worried about ending up all by yourself in a strange place, that’s pretty unlikely to happen. Here is an awesome 10-day itinerary for Guatemala.
It’s easy enough to get off that trail
The previous point made, it’s easy enough to get off of this beaten path. Some of these places are still pretty popular, but I met way fewer people going to them than the places listed above.
Some of these places would be San Cristobal, Monterrico, Canyon de Somoto, Corn Islands, Manuel Antonio, and tons of other places I can’t think of or just plain old don’t know about.
These places may not be the most far-flung, but it’s easy to get onto a lesser beaten path throughout Central America.
There are tons of amazing things to do in Guatemala (my favorite country in Central America!) on and off the beaten path.
It’s got mountains and beaches
Now, don’t go thinking it has mountains like the Alps or the Rockies, but it does have lots of volcanos which are practically mountains, but a little cooler.
Costa Rica is what sticks out most in my head as having mountains and beaches. And they are both fantastic areas of the country to explore.
Honduras, El Salvador, and Southern Guatemala are the other mountainous regions through Central America.
Pretty much everywhere has beaches, Guatemala is running a little short on these, but there are plenty everywhere else to make up for it.
Best beaches in Central America:
- Little Corn Island, Nicaragua
- Boca del Drago, Panama
- Playa Estrella, Panama
- Playa Maderas, Nicaragua
- Punta Uva, Costa Rica
- Placencia, Belize
- Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
- Roatan, Honduras
- Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
- Playa Majagual, Nicaragua
- Playa Hermosa, Nicaragua
- El Tunco, El Salvador
- El Cuco, El Salvador
It’s a great gateway to South America
I met a ton of people that were just visiting Central America. I also met a good number of people that made their way down to South America, too.
Some via air, other by way of a five-day sailing trip from the San Blas Islands to Colombia. If you want to take a longer trip, it’s the perfect place to see two awesome regions.
It’s easy to move quickly, but easy to move slowly, too
I met a few people going from Mexico to Costa Rica over a month and a half. Most were doing it over two and a half to three months.
A few had been there a lot longer. They found a place they loved and stayed for a while since they had no commitments. I would go too fast though.
At a certain point, you’d be spending more time in vans and on buses than actually exploring. I thought 2 and a half months was good, but three would be perfect. There were a few places I missed because I was short on time.
It’s great for party people and non-party people alike
I encountered plenty of party places, like San Juan del Sur, but plenty of places to relax, too, like Monteverde. If you’re not a party animal, don’t worry. There are tons of quiet hostels all over the region.
I’m not a huge partier, but I liked party hostels occasionally since it’s easy to meet people at them. That’s not always the case though.
I would book the first night or two somewhere then wander around town the during the day to see if there’s somewhere else you might like better. This is what I did in Antigua.
Party places in Central America:
- Cancun, Mexico
- Caye Caulker, Belize
- San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala
- San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
- Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
- Utila, Honduras
- Zephyr Lodge, Lanquin, GuatemalaBigfoot Hostel, Leon, Nicaragua
- Aqua Lounge, Bocas del Toro, Panama
You’ll probably always know someone
Like I’ve mentioned, there is a well-worn backpacker trail and most people go the same direction (north to south, I saw very few going the opposite direction) so if you meet someone in Cancun, you’ll probably see them later, maybe in Leon, like I did.
Maybe you meet someone in San Pedro and see the again in Puerto Viejo. You get the idea. Most people are going to the same places, so you can either plan to go together or to meet up once you’re there.
Social media is a wonderful way to follow along and see if anyone you know is wherever you are or plan to go.
There is hiking everywhere! Costa Rica probably had the most, but there were opportunities to climb volcanos and do multi day treks all over Guatemala and Nicaragua, and Panama, too. It’s great for outdoor lovers.
Notable hikes around Central America:
- Volcan Pacaya, Antigua, Guatemala
- Acetenango and Fuego, Antigua, Guatemala
- Volcan San Pedro, San Pedro, Guatemala
- Indian Nose, San Pedro, Guatemala
- Semuc Champey, Lanquin, Guatemala
- Canyon de Somoto, Nicaragua
- Cerro Negro, Nicaragua
- Telica Volcano, Leon, Nicaragua
- Volcan Concepcion, Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua
- Monteverde Cloud Forest, Monteverde, Costa Rica
- Corcovado, Costa Rica
- Arenal National Park, Costa Rica
- Monkey Falls, San Ignacio, Belize
You can basically go sledding on an active volcano
This was one of the things I knew I wanted to do in my time there. Cerro Negro is an active cinder cone volcano just outside Leon, Nicaragua that you can climb then basically go sledding down it.
It’s called volcano boarding for obvious reasons and it super cool. I was terrified at the top and didn’t even go that fast, but it was fun and I’d totally do it again.
You just sit on a slab of wood with formica on the bottom, lean back, keep your mouth closed, and enjoy the ride.
I felt totally safe as a female on my own
Central America’s reputation is that it’s dangerous and not safe for travel but that’s not totally true. A lot of the violent crime isn’t targeted at tourists and doesn’t happen in tourist destinations.
Big cities (capital cities) are often more dangerous with more crime so I would try to limit my time in them and avoid them if I could.
The only capitals I went to were Managua and San Jose. I was mostly not alone in Managua except for briefly at the end. I did have too walk around a bit on my own but was OK, if nervous, in the area I was at.
We were cautious but fine. But, Los Robles, the area I now know we were in, is one of the safest areas of Managua for tourists.
And in San Jose, other than getting too and from buses, I was with other people. And I was only here for like, one day. We walked around near the university and felt fine.
I took regular precautions like not going down alleys or not walking around alone at night or not staying somewhere I didn’t feel comfortable, but there weren’t any times I felt in danger, threatened or particularly worried.
Ok, there was one time in Panama, but I wasn’t alone and it was a situation I had no idea how to handle. Other than that, I was perfectly fine and would definitely do it again.
But, like always, there are dangerous places there that you should use extra caution in and use common sense, bad things can happen, but they can anywhere.
I didn’t hear of much bad happening to people and most that I did they said was because they weren’t paying attention. Listen to your instincts and be aware of your surroundings is my main advice, along with the first two points in this section.
All this to say, bad things still happen I’m just one person who thankfully had a good experience. I know I was lucky.
If you went to Central America as a solo traveler, I would love to hear your experiences while you were there!
Safety tips for solo female travel in Central America
I’m sure you already know a lot of these things just existing as a woman but there are some things you can do just fine at home but not here.
Don’t walk alone at night. Particularly in big cities like Leon, Antigua, Grenada, and capitals. Unless I was with other people, I tended to be back at my hostel before it was dark out.
And if that wasn’t possible for some reason, I would take a taxi. While I didn’t do this a few times when I should have in Antigua and was fine, I would if I went back.
Let someone know where you’re going next and how you’re getting there. While I usually use this as hiking safety, it’s a good habit to have if you’re traveling alone, too.
Just let someone at home know you’re leaving Antigua and should be to Flores around whatever time (I’d give a little extra time because a four hour bus or shuttle could take 6-8 hours because of breakdowns, stops, road blocks, who knows what.
It may not be as necessary with better international phone plans now but it won’t hurt. I would still do this for hikes though, Central America or no, alone or no, it can be life saving if something does happen.
That said, I personally wouldn’t hike alone in central America. I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that.
Don’t get blackout at bars by yourself. Or with others. I would set
Always watch your drink and don’t take them from strangers.
Keep your purse in your lap, not on the chair behind you or on the floor.
Don’t set your phone on restaurant tables. Keep it on you or in your purse if you’re not using it. Or if it is on the table, keep a close eye on it. It can easily be swiped by someone walking by.
Listen to your gut. And don’t feel like you have to be nice if your gut says “get out!”
Pay attention to your surroundings.
Keep your purse close. I would have a crossbody purse and i would keep it in front of me instead of on my side or behind me.
While I don’t use pacsafe locking purses (I don’t like how they look and I don’t feel bad saying I want a cute purse when I’m traveling), I will try to use one that is harder to open quickly and that I would probably notice being opened.
If you’re at a restaurant or coffee shop, I would also keep my purse on my lap instead of over the back of the chair or on the table.
Only take what you need when you go out. Leave your valuables in your locked hostel locker while you’re out and about if you don’t need too bring them with you. I would also not bring or wear flashy and expensive jewelry.
If you are robbed, don’t fight it. Just give them what they want. Whatever it is isn’t as important as your life.
Is Central America as a solo female worth it?
1000% yes. I absolutely loved it, and following the safety advice above and elsewhere online (and from your own experience at home) is key to having a good experience.
While bad things can happen even following all safety advice, it can happen at home, too. I think everyone, not just women, should try traveling solo at least once.
And if a long trip is too intimidating for a first solo trip, just pick one country and go for like, a week or two. It might be tough at first but it’s so worth it.
Central America solo female travel FAQs
What is the most expensive country in Central America for travel? Definitely Costa Rica and Belize followed closely by Panama.
Hostels aren’t super expensive in either country but they’re not as cheap as elsewhere. Tours are pretty expensive in both Belize and Costa Rica though.
What is the cheapest country in Central America for travel? The Internet says Nicaragua but I say Guatemala. They’re pretty comparable and it, of course, it depends on activities you’re doing, too.
What is the safest country in Central America for travel? Costa Rica is generally regarded as the safest country in Central America for travel, closely followed by Panama.
What is the least safe country in Central America for travel? El Salvador and Honduras are generally the least safe countries in Central America.
But you have to keep in mind that it’s primarily the large/capital cities like San Salvador, San Pedro Sula, and Tegucigalpa. Tourist destinations are usually more safe.
What is the best country for hiking in Central America? I would say Costa Rica or Nicaragua. Both are great hiking destinations in Central America.
What is the best country for diving in Central America? Honduras. It’s home to the Bay Islands which are probably the best and most popular place to get SCUBA certified in Central America.
What is the best country to see volcanoes in Central America? Nicaragua, for sure. While Costa Rica has a lot of volcanoes, too, Nicaragua is best for hiking volcanoes.
You can climb active and dormant volcanoes, see lava, camp on volcanoes, and even go volcano boarding!
Final thoughts on solo female travel in Central America
If you’ve been wanting to visit Central America as a solo female but just aren’t sure if you should well, you should!
It’s an absolutely beautiful region and on I think is underrated. It’s great for backpackers and as long as you follow regular safety advice (and maybe be a little extra diligent, just in case) you’ll have a wonderful time.
And let’s be real. If you’re a lady reading this, you already probably know how to be safe. Be smart while you’re in Central America, too. It’s such a wonderful region.
Other posts you may like
Have you been on a solo trip? Where did you go first? Have you been to Central America? What was your favorite thing about it?