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Central VS South America, Help with Itinerary

Travel Forums Central/South America & The Caribbean Central VS South America, Help with Itinerary

1. Posted by SeekingSpanish (Full Member 6 posts) 4y

So glad I found this site. So many thoughtful, insightful travelers!

I want to take a 2 month trip starting in April, budgeting about $250 a week. I want to begin my trip in a Spanish School immersion program, staying with a family for about 4 weeks, and then head out on my own to bordering countries. I haven't travelled on my own for 10 years, so I am both excited and nervous!

The problem is that I can not decide between Central and South America. I was originally going to go to Guatemala because of their amazing and cheap Spanish schools, but am unsure about the bordering countries due to the reported levels of violence that tourists have experienced there in terms of armed robbery and expressed kidnapping. I do not want to be on guard the entire trip. I am okay with being in a violent country, if it is just one, but I'd like the majority of my trip to be through safer countries.

So, given my budget and what I am desiring from this trip (including my safety concerns) does anyone have insight into whether I should select Central or South America? Any insight on itineraries? After Spanish school, I will only have about a month left to travel.

A few notes about me: I am not really a hiker, but do like short trips. I am more interested in going to markets, having beer at local bars, eating as much as I can, meeting a mix of young fun Spanish speaking locals who want to take me dancing, and spending time in a home-stay with families off the beaten path, or with Indigenous cultures. Would enjoy some spiritual explorations as well. This trip I want to spend some time getting to know the cultures I am visiting. A nice mix of relaxing at a beach, mixed with seeing new things is ideal as well. I don't need to see museums or hike the biggest trail though.

Any and all suggestions from anyone who has visited both regions would be soooo greatly appreciated!

Thank you in advance.

2. Posted by Cyberia (Travel Guru 1818 posts) 4y

As you say, the countries around Guatemala are potentially very dangerous. South America is not too bad by comparison (ignoring petty theft).

But your main problem is your budget. While you might be able to find some cheap accommodation, travelling about is expensive and could easily wipe out your budget.

It's been some years since I was last in Guatemala and it was fairly safe then but I don't know now. You could have a look around, pop into Tikal and the like and then head north in the direction of Cancun.

Belize is a bit of a dump and I didn't think Belize City that safe. Most who go to Belize go to an offshore island.

As to off the beaten track, I read a story of someone doing that fairly recently in Central America and he came across people growing drugs on a large scale and was lucky to escape alive, thanks to his guide.

3. Posted by SeekingSpanish (Full Member 6 posts) 4y

Oh wow.

Thanks for the thoughts and tips, Cyberia!

There is a part of me, that is thinking that what I might do, if I do go to Central America, is to spend a month in Xela, studying Spanish, and be really embedded in one community there, and then travel to Honduras and Nicaragua with a tour. The tour would let me out in San Jose, Costa Rica. I could explore Costa Rica and Panama on my own.

Perhaps, I won't go off the beaten path too far then :) But, I do generally enjoy smaller towns, over the Capital cities.

Oh boy, still so much to figure out. Where to fly to, where to fly home from, and where to study Spanish. :) What an adventure already!

4. Posted by SeekingSpanish (Full Member 6 posts) 4y

I increased my budget to $300 a week.

I narrowed it down a little more:

Central America:

- Two weeks in Guatemala studying Spanish
- Two weeks in Honduras studying Spanish
- Followed by Intrepid Tour through Nicaragua and more of Honduras, ending in San Jose
- 2 weeks on my own in Costa Rica and Panama
- (However, these last two points could be replaces with Belize/Mexico)

- 2 Wks studying in La Paz, Boliva, 2 wks studying in Sucre, Bolivia
- 4 weeks to travel through Argentina, Uruguay and maybe Chili

Don't both of these sound awesome? :)

Has anyone taken similar trips? Any recommendations?

Personally, I think the first one sounds best, but I am worried about my safety traveling on my own, on buses, etc.

5. Posted by SamSalmon (Respected Member 626 posts) 4y

There's much more variety in South America but distances are vast and apart from Bolivia you've chosen the three most expensive countries to travel in.

I am worried about my safety traveling on my own, on buses, etc.


People do this every day without incident-someone is doing it right now in fact.

The best thing you could do is ignore people who constantly post childish warnings about places they've never visited.

6. Posted by SeekingSpanish (Full Member 6 posts) 4y

HI. I guess I am worried about crossing borders on my own through Central America because of the robberies on buses and hijacking that sometimes occurs there, and the robberies that happen around bus terminals. Traveling on my own, as a woman makes me more of a target, I thought.

I know it happens infrequently, but it is something that I do fear. I thought my fears might be eased with traveling with a group.

I have traveled on my own before, but not through Central or Southern America.

7. Posted by susiegreentwist (Budding Member 3 posts) 4y

I recently spent a month in Nicaragua and LOVED it! Based off your self description, I think you would realy like Leon and San Juan Del Sur. In Leon, we did an awesome cooking class where we actually spent the day at a local Nica's house learning an indigenous recipe, which you can read about -snip-.

Leon is not touristy at all, has beautiful Spanish colonial architecture with fun bars and amazing food! And it's cheap! We stayed at the Iguana Hostel and really liked it.

Playa El Cocoa, which I included more information about -snip- is 20 minutes South of San Juan Del sure if you want a break from the party city. But SJDS has tons of cheap places to stay and great local bars and food.


Let me know if you have any questions about Nicaragua.

[ Edit: Sorry, no promos please. ]

8. Posted by susiegreentwist (Budding Member 3 posts) 4y

One note about crossing the border from Nicaragua to Costa Rica, try to go during the week. I've been told it usually goes very smoothly and takes around 45 minutes. However, we went on a Saturday afternoon, stood in line for almost 4 hours in the heat and it was miserable.

9. Posted by SeekingSpanish (Full Member 6 posts) 4y

Thanks for the tips on border crossing! Noted and committed to memory!

Your description of Nicaragua sounds amazing! I think I am going to take the Intrepid tour through Honduras and Nicaragua, because it is relatively cheap and will guarantee I have a travel buddy for the border crossings. It ends in San Jose, so if I love Nicaragua as much as I think I will I can just head back into Nicaragua, or just stay there and not go with the group to Costa Rica :)

At that point I will have spent almost a month on my own in Xela, Guatemala and Copan Ruins, Honduras studying Spanish, so it might be fun to hook up with a little tour group for the parts that make me nervous, which is border hopping. I feel like a wimp. But it's okay.

Man, if Costa Rica or Panama had better and cheaper Spanish schools, I would just skip Guatemala all together and just spend time in CR, Nicaragua and Panama. I am dying to go to Panama and spend a week or two with the Kuna Luna.

10. Posted by fraluchi (Full Member 129 posts) 4y

Quoting canadianwoman

if Costa Rica or Panama had better and cheaper Spanish schools, I would just skip Guatemala all together and just spend time in CR, Nicaragua and Panama. I am dying to go to Panama and spend a week or two with the Kuna Luna.

The Spanish school in Costa Rica near my place in the Central Valley is academia-columbus dot com , but I don't know about their schedules and rates. Inform yourself of the latter without accommodation, meals etc. and contact me off-forum to solve that issue if you like.