Your complete check-list for backpacking Central America

So you just decided to explore Central America, one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. With a great deal of active volcanoes and nature reserves, bordered by the Caribbean Sea to the east, and by the Pacific Ocean to the west – Central America is the perfect place for unique and extremely diverse experiences.  And we’ve been there, so trust us with this list of things to have with you while you’re in the area!


What can be better than relaxing on a beach, in a hammock between two palm trees? Central America offers many such opportunities. And of course, not only on the beach. There are many national parks where you are allowed to camp for a fee, and where you find plenty of trees to hang your hammock! And it may prove much more comfortable to sleep in a hammock than in a tent, during the hot tropical nights. Well, provided your hammock comes with a mosquito net!


With the Caribbean Sea on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other, there is one big recommendation we have: go snorkeling! It helps to have your own equipment as you don’t have to pay each time you’re in a region where you can snorkel. And if you’re going to travel along one of the coasts, there will be many places where you can explore the underwater world. Of course, if you’re even braver and the budget allows you, it’s even better to go for scuba diving! It’s a whole new and fascinating world and it would be a pity to leave it unexplored!


And since we’ve opened up the discussion about exploring the marine life, beware of the jellyfish! Even if you go just for a swim, you might still bounce into them. Depending on the season or on the time of day when you get in the water, you might get out with some burns. The jellyfish you find in the shallower waters are not extremely dangerous, but their stings are not pleasant. And each person reacts differently: you may get just a small red spot that disappears within 2 days, or you might get a huge inflammation that lasts a week. It’s best to be prepared and have with you some hydro-cortisone cream or oral antihistamine for the swelling and itching.


Wear sunscreen – always! Or buy a huge sombrero that keeps your shoulders in the shadows. Whatever you feel most comfortable with. It’s no joke, it can get dangerous, and it’s not worth losing days of your travel by being feverish and feeling like a peeling tomato. Not to mention the long term risks of skin cancer!


Don’t underestimate the Central American mosquitoes! You might have heard mostly about Africa and malaria, but in Central America brace yourself for Dengue, Zika, and Chikungunya. All of them happily delivered into your blood stream by mosquitoes.
The sand-flies are a whole other story. Depending on the region, your legs will be subject to tiny, black, little monsters that will bite continually, and not let any wound heal. So… insect repellent, long sleeves and long pants in the evenings, complemented with socks if possible. You’re welcome!


Prepare for long hours of travelling inside a car or a bus. After a while you’ll wish for nothing more than a nice pillow for your neck! And if you’re annoyed by noises, earplugs will be your saviors. You can choose an inflatable pillow to save space, or simply use a towel if you’re not willing to make the investment. Either way, your neck needs support during long hours of travel, so have something handy!


Arm yourself with patience, especially when you need to deal with officials. For example, when crossing borders between Central American countries. Whenever you cross the border by land, either by bus, car, or simply by walking – be prepared to be questioned. It can be that you come from a country they never heard of (such as most Eastern European countries), or that your passport looks a bit too worn out, or that the number plate on your car looks funny, or there is something about you that makes them suspicious. For all these reasons, and many more, it may take you hours to cross a border. Smile, be patient, and answer honestly all their questions. Unless you carry illegal goods (which we do hope you don’t!), they can’t really do anything more than make you wait.


And the last point on our list is more about what not to bring. Are you sure you will need that second pair of jeans? Or the “in case I need to go to a party” fancy shoes? Well, let us tell you now: in case you will really go to a party, your sandals or sneakers will be just enough. And in the unlikely event that you will go to an elegant party, there are many cheap second hand shops where you can surely find a pair of shoes for just that one night.

Most of us who traveled for three months through Central America in the Learn to Travel-Learn to Travel program, we brought too many clothes. We ended up leaving extra clothes in hostels. When packing clothes, focus on comfortable, and keep in mind that in most places you will be able to wash by hand, or pay for a laundry service.


Join our next team and start exploring! 


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