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Insight, Advice, Tips...

Travel Forums Central/South America & The Caribbean Insight, Advice, Tips...

1. Posted by CandR (Budding Member 3 posts) 5y

We are two travelers about to take off on a long trip to Central America and Mexico and I am looking to learn more about it and maybe get some inside advice and/or tips since I have not been there before. Here is a little about us:

We're a couple in our 20's leaving in October for 5 or 6 months. We are starting from Vancouver, BC and, so far, considering driving down through California, and on to Melaque, Mexico, where my boyfriend has property and friends and a home-base where we will leave the car. From there we plan to fly to San Jose, Costa Rica and travel North back to Melaque where we will home-base and travel around Mexico for a few months.
Our plans are still rough so as to keep an open mind.

We are planning a budget of at least $1,000 per month.

Here is a little about the type of traveling we like:
-He is into surfing
- I love historical sites and beautiful cities
-We're both into adventure (not like, skydiving, but more tubing or rafting, zip lining, hiking, etc...)
-He speaks very good Spanish
-Neither of us blend very well, although he might actually blend alright with his dark hair. I'm caucasian and blonde though, so I scream tourist. (This information is for security relevant reasons only.)
-We're both smart travelers, meaning we've both traveled before, and are no stranger to the general risks usually encountered while traveling.

I'm looking for personal experience with accommodation, safety, places to eat, things to see...
Any places to avoid?
I'd also like to know exactly how dangerous it actually is, because some writing makes it sound like no one can exist there without being mugged and shot, but they don't give any kind of context or anything, like is it "super dangerous" for everyone, or just for people who don't know how to watch themselves in crowded places, and be smart with money?
Any kind of insight, advice, or tips you might have from your travels are greatly appreciated.
Thank you!

Chloe and Ryan

2. Posted by Cyberia (Travel Guru 1834 posts) 5y

For some time now, Mexico has had some very, very serious problems as drug cartels fight each other and the police. Innocent people are being killed by both sides.

With the cost of travelling, and accommodation at times, a budget of just $33 a day for two people is very little money. I would want at least double that just for myself on such a trip.

3. Posted by CandR (Budding Member 3 posts) 5y

Quoting Cyberia

For some time now, Mexico has had some very, very serious problems as drug cartels fight each other and the police. Innocent people are being killed by both sides.

With the cost of travelling, and accommodation at times, a budget of just $33 a day for two people is very little money. I would want at least double that just for myself on such a trip.

Lol, yeah. No. I should clarify.
$1000 per month for each of us in Central America. We haven't set a budget for Mexico yet.

Also: What is your advice about Mexico? I'm aware of the drug cartels, but what can I do about that short of not going?

4. Posted by kichikacha (Respected Member 328 posts) 5y

Hi Chloe & Ryan!

I haven't been to Mexico, so my advice is for the countries from Costa Rica to Guatemala.

To get prepared, i recommend let's go travel and wikitravel websites. The information given on these websites are very accurate and reliable, probably even better than the hard copy guidebooks.

- You should be fine from $1k a month.
- Most expensive is Costa Rica, for cheap lodging count with at least $10-15 per person / night. Local food will be around $4/meal, however most tourist eat from at least the double of this price. Good news is that most guest houses/hostels in CR do have a kitchen for their guest. So, you can cook.
- Nicaragua is the cheapest: you should be able to find something for $5 per night per person. Food is app $1.5-2 / meal at local eateries.
- Honduras/Guatemala: similar price, accommodation is somewhere between the above two countries'. Food is around $2-3 at local places, although not always very good.

Accommodation: it is fairly easy to find cheap lodging in any town in any of these countries. Safest places are always the family run guest houses - well locked, well watched and reliable.

Food: in my opinion it just gets worse as you travel from CR towards north. However, Mexico is said to be a heaven.

Getting around: try to use reliable/reputable bus companies. Never travel at night. Otherwise it is easy. Best is always to have a map of the town you are going (lonely planet is good for these small maps) and a very clear idea of the location of the are you will want to find your accommodation. Always get there latest by 4pm.

Safety: it is very difficult to tell if it is safe, not safe or very risky. One thing is for sure: safety and security is an issue everywhere and it will always be hanging above you. However, there are many tourists/backpackers in the region and most people do get away without any trouble.
Which country is the safest? Well, the say the worst is Guatemala and maybe Honduras. We had zero problem in these countries. And we cycled through these places. Most travellers agree that Nicaragua is the safest and loveliest. We got kidnapped and robbed, which wasn't fun at all. On the first day when we were without bicycles, trying to visit a nearby volcano as any other regular tourist.
I don't want to discourage anybody wanting to travel to these countries. But it is very important to be aware, be well prepared, keep an eye always open and follow all necessary advice and precautions.
Best is to read wikitravel, and websites, as they have very detailed and up to date info on each route, place, etc. And plan your actual and next days carefully.
Yes, i would leave any valuables behind. Theft or robbery can happen, so better to get prepared for a situation and be ready to give up on your belongings. Camera should be cheap, nice watch, sunglasses, etc are better to be left home. Credit card limit (not only daily should be kept to minimum), bank account balance separated on a safety/deposit account and have your card always in a safe place - better to carry for your walks only a few dollars and leave card and passport at the (safe) guest house/hotel.
Guest house owners are always good sources of information to inquiry about safety. We usually tried not to leave our hotel/gh after it got dark. If yes, only at places where we were 100% sure of the safety situation.
Actually, starting from CR is a good idea, because you will be able to learn along the road and get smarter to avoid/prevent problems.

Central America is indeed some of the most unsafe regions in the world. But people still do go and travel there and get home with pleasant experience. We even cycled it...

For start: we stayed at Aldea Hostel in San Jose last year, and it was a very nice place. If you go to Puerto Viejo afterward, recommend the guest house of the swiss lady, very clean, cheap and family atmosphere.
Bocas del Toro in Panama is just a short trip from there and definitely worth it!

Hope you will have a safe and nice trip!

5. Posted by CandR (Budding Member 3 posts) 5y

Thank you, 'kichikacha' for your detailed response, I really appreciate it.

I'm not going to lie, I'm getting nervous about the safety issues. My European travels always faced me with very different issues than kidnapping and such. I'm sure we will be fine, but I can't help but let the fear get in at least a little bit.

Thank you also for the names of the places you stayed, I am very interested in personal recommendations as far as accommodation goes, because I am putting a high priority on finding safe and reliable transportation and accommodation.

Chloe and Ryan

6. Posted by kichikacha (Respected Member 328 posts) 5y

Hi Chloe, Ryan,

Don't let yourself overcome by the fear, you just have to be smart and follow the guidelines.

I recommend booking your hostel in advance in San Jose and asking the to arrange pick-up, even if it's more expensive than what you'd pay just flagging down a cab.
I remember it was a great relief for us when we flew into Central America, especially at late night.

I am sure you'll be fine and have a great time!