Im planning on losing my travel virginity this summer. I'm from England and got a reasonably large budget tho will be looking to stay in budget hostels. Ive got between 1st of june and the middle of august (2 and a half months) and would like to visit Guatemala and Nicuragua and possibly El Salvador and Honduras depending on time. I'm interested in outdoor sports - climbing, kayaking, diving, surfing - tho am not incredibly profficient in any. I would also love to visit some amazing relics ( I've read the Maya civilisation have left a few things lying around) and would like to see some cool jungles and beaches.
I've been trying to read around as much as I can but if anyone has any advice they think would help out a nervous first-timer then please let me know.
I'm a confident, outgoing person who loves to explore and see new things. I've been to quite a few countries before with friends and family but never done proper backpacking on my own. Is it advisable to book all my hostels, buses etc before I go or should i just book the first couple of weeks and book more when I'm out there? And how long should I plan on spending in each place if I've only got 10 weeks?
Is the genereally accepted currency the US Dollar?
What vaccinations should i get before I go?
Is crime something i need to worry about or does the use of common sense help avoid that?
The Budget Hostels I've seen on the internet look good - are they really that comfortable?
Is the weather good in June/July/August or do I need to prepare for heavy rain etc?
Can anyone recommend things that shouldn't be missed in Guatemala or Nicaragua?
Any help at all is very welcome.
Cheers, Joe x
[ Edit: Edited on Jan 4, 2009, at 4:17 PM by JoeDruce ]
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I think your definitly on the right track as far as the countries you have selected. I have spent a lot of time in guatemala and I absolutely love it. I also love Nicaragua. Not too crazy about El Salvador. Would you think about going to Costa Rica? Really awesome country with loads of cool stuff to offer and really cool people!
No the US dollar is not the currency in either Guat or Nica. Guat uses the Queztal (a real pain in the neck). And Nica has another one (can't remember the name, Colon's?). However, El Salvado does use the dollar.
Yes you do need to be concerned about the crime in these parts as they are very poor and desperate. In general the only thing you'll encounter is petty theft. I would strongly advise you to avoid Guatemala City, as it is very dangerous. Many days driving into the city I passed by bodies in the streets and there were constant news reports of violent crimes. In the country you'll find everything you want to see. The volcanos and ruins are spectular.
Yes you will be going into the rainy season. Not too much to woory about but usually you'll get a good dump in the afternoons. bring some fast drying or Goretex Shoes and clothing.
Yes there are some sweet hostels and cheap nice hotels, as well as some very crummy ones. I would book one or two before you get there (more upscale, just to be safe) and do the rest as you go so you can find the perfect location and admenities. ( you'll find that Central America is very cheap).
I think you should get the shots for maleria and yellow fever.
In NIca don't miss Rivas or the Horse/cowboy festival in late summer. In Guat don't miss amatitlan, Volcan Pacaya, Atitlan, Antigua, Auto Mariscos. In Costa Rica don't miss Monte Verde!
Spend about 2 and a half weeks in Guat. 2 NIca. 2 and a half in hond. and the rest in Costa Rica.
Hope this helps.
Do you speak spanish?
thanks very much for your advice, it's very helpful.
No, i dont really speak spanish (know the odd phrase) but am planning on learning as much as I can in the next few months before heading off. Is Guatemala city really that bad? The town centre looks really pretty and apparently theres some cool old buildings there. I've managed to find flights in and out of there and connecting buses from there too. Obviously you're very experienced (I've read a lot of your posts elsewhere in the forums) and so I'll listen to what you say, but should it be heavily avoided or would I be ok to start there for a couple of days?
Do you know anything about trips to Corn Island off the coast of Nicaragua? Looks amazing. And the island of Roatan off Guatemala also looks like paradise! According to the internet theres boat trips over to each about twice a week and its possible to get involved in some farming on coffee plantations - seems like an awesome experience!
Thanks again for your advice.
Yes, the American dollar is the thing to bring if you are talking about exchanging dough. It's THE backup of choice...No one does anything with the Euro.
There are beautiful towns in El Salvador...San Salvador is no worse than Guat City...and may be better...If you do go, try Suchitoto, which is a very nice little town.
Depending on what kind of budget you are talking about, you are going to have to rough it a little in hostels or hotels. There are lots of decent budget hostels...I would take the first and second night on line, as a confidence builder, and used those two days to find something else you like.
Crime is there....El Salvador is declared murder capital of the world this year....but locals killingeach other. Keep your eyes open. You should be fine...I was in each of the countries you mentioned in the last three months...I haven't felt any unusual vibes there.
Go to a travel clinic and ask for the current cocktail for the place you are going....theyhave the up to date info....Both Heps, yellow fever, certainly.
Guat is all about Tikal, in my opinion...Anitgua is an allright jumping off point...but it is a small colonial town WITH A MCDONALDS...this tells you just how many tourists are in this town every day.
You must know that you have to go through Honduras at least a little to get to Nic. Any interest in seeing the original Banana Republic?
Cheers Piecar! yeh I've looked at Honduras, some pretty cool lookin places there. Will have a look at some places to go there. Not long been researchin it. Yeh my plan is to go to budget hostels - the real travellers experience i guess! I'm pretty happy with kipping somewhere reasonably rough as long as there's not too much chance my passport/money/camera etc won't get nicked! How much Spanish do you have to know to get by? I reckon I'll be able to pick up a fair amount before I go but won't be anywhere near fluent! Any recommended airlines that can offer cheap flights? Found some for bout £450 return from England - thought that was pretty good but I've never looked before so not really got anything to base it on.
And yes, I would like to see some of the original culture - not very keen on over touristy stuff! (eg bloody MCDONALDS!!!)
[ Edit: Edited on Jan 5, 2009, at 3:46 PM by JoeDruce ]
JoeDruce: Seeing your plight, I thought I might provide you with some tips:
About your travel choices - are you fixed on visiting Nicaragua and Guatemala? Both countries are worthy of a visit, but Nicaragua, for one, is in the midst of civic unrest (as you might have heard back at the Isles). The current presidency (Daniel Ortega, a Sandinista, something of a communist and socialist) is wrecking the country, and foreigners aren't too welcome. Violence is growing at an unprecedented rate, and crime is amok. I am being a bit pessimistic, so don't be put off. Guatemala itself is rather notorious (at least among expats like me) for its crime.
Perhaps a suitable suggestion would be Costa Rica (as a proud resident, I'd like to mention that Costa Rica is the fifth "greenest" country in the world according to latest research). I can guarantee you full satisfaction, especially with the Costa Ricans (self-named "ticos"). They must be the warmest people on the planet (and not only because of your wallet's size). Unlike Europe and the Isles, cold both in temperature and in attitude, the Costa Ricans take every opportunity to learn a bit of English, curiously reaching out to foreigners, and talking to them. They have an incredible sense of humour, and are incredibly cheerful, and (as all Latins) are laid back (don't expect punctuality!).
American dollars are fine in most places, but the local currency is always the best if trying to avoid being ripped off. If you do decide to go to Costa Rica, the currency would be the colón. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the currency, and be careful with salesmen. Usually, they give you a special "gringo" (American, but really refers to any foreigner) price, sometimes double the normal price. This is easily avoided if you exhibit decent Spanish.
Answering your question concerning the country's tongue, it is definitely worth learning a bit of Spanish. The more Spanish you know, the more you can actually get from the country's culture. Just a smidgen of Spanish can unlock the hidden (to regular tourists) world of the country you are visiting. I wholeheartedly recommend learning, even if just a few words, Spanish.
In case your looking for a travel agency, I would like to recommend Latin Discover, an excellent travel agency. It would certainly be more cost effective, and possibly better than booking from the UK, as it is based in Costa Rica, but has international agents. I have had a lot of experience with them, and they are a smallish company that avoids large-scale tourism (cruise ships, mass hotels, etc.), and is very personal and adaptable to your desires. They handle all of Latin America (probably why its called Latin Discover). I booked with them a few years ago, destination being Costa Rica. I was so impressed that I decided to live there, and will most likely continue to do so.
Give it a quick check... I found it very reliable and speedy. They were very kind. Compared to UK travel agencies, it is about half the price for the same results. I was very pleased.
I hope my answer was of use, and I wish you a joyous trip.
Everyone else gave you some great advice, though I'd like to try adn change your mind about Roatan. It's a great island but if you're going for the backpacker vibe and are trying to keep a budget, I highly recommend Utila and here's why: all the cruise ships, people getting married, etc go to Roatan. If that's your thing, awesome-you'll love it!
If you're mroe into the backpacker thing, Utila (the island next to it) is great. There's eleven dive shops (at least when I was living there) and almost, if not all, have accomodations for you. There's some great bars on the island (Coco Loco's, Tranquila Bar and Bar in the Bush) and some awesome restaurants. I'm personally biased towards one dive shop but don't pick the first one to greet you off the ferry. Take the morning ferry there, leave your bags at Captain Morgans (you can't miss it) and go left and right from the dock and cheap out all the shops. Most are standard rates for fun divers but if you're looking to get another certification, its best to find the palce you're comfortable with.
Most fun dives with any shop should run $25-$30 a dive, depending on whether or not you're getting a package. All the shops offer PADI cources and one offers NAUI as well. Typically, courses run around $180-$250 depending on the shop, their gear, their boats, and what not.
I agree with the Costa Rica recommendation. Love it there. Enjoy your trip!