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.
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.
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. I think this has dragged on a little, but my main point is that there is scenery here for everyone.
- 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
- Antigua, Guatemala
- San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala
- San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
- Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
- Utila, Honduras
- Zephyr Lodge, Lanquin, Guatemala
- Bigfoot Hostel, Leon, Nicaragua
- Aqua Lounge, Bocas del Toro, Panama
You’ll probably always know someone
Like I’ve mentioned, there is a wwell-wornbackpacker 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. Facebook 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
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.
Tips for being a solo female:
- Don’t wander through dark alleys alone
- Don’t wander around aimlessly at night
- Let someone know where you’re going next and how you’re getting there, just to be on the safe side
- Don’t get totally wastey pants at bars by yourself
- 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
- Listen to your gut
- Don’t get in a vehicle if you don’t feel comfortable
- If you are out at night, take a taxi back to the hostel or if you found someone you trust, have them walk you back
- Pay attention to your surroundings
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?