We’ve been here in Central America for 3 weeks so far. And we’re loving it!
We started on a 10 day tour of Costa Rica where the accommodation (bed & breakfast basis) and transfers between locations (including from the airport) was pre-arranged for us but no tours or activities were included. This was booked when we were in the UK through Trailfinders using a company called G Adventures. This worked really well as an introduction to holidaying in Central America.
Since then we have been “doing our own thing” and found it easy and fun if a little time-consuming at times. Accommodation has been straightforward (courtesy of booking.com) while buses come in varying degrees of “sophistication” ranging from chicken buses (old US school buses used by the locals) to air conditioned microbuses on individually tailored itineraries. We have used neither of these extremes but have tended towards scheduled coaches from reputable companies (those mentioned in Lonely Planet & Rough Guide).
- Climate. Generally hot (high 20s/ low 30s) and, at times, humid. We are here in the dry season (for most of the region at least). Obviously going up into the mountains means it is cooler – Monteverde felt quite chilly at night (at 3,500 feet)
- Border Crossings. Very different to Europe! Not difficult if you know the procedures or have someone to show you, but if not….. We are getting lots of stamps in our passports and paying quite a lot in entry and exit fees but that is because we are going across several borders.
- Safety. So far so good! We were a little apprehensive, particularly after our daughter, Eleri, was mugged in Nicaragua 18 months ago (thankfully she was unharmed and didn’t lose very much), but we haven’t felt unsafe at any point. We remain cautious especially as we are heading into Honduras and El Salvador next, both of which have bad reputations, although the guidebooks do suggest that this is a case of exaggeration and a little out dated.
- Traffic. (Please note we are not on our bikes here!) Nowhere near as bad as we expected. Less manic and aggressive than Italy.
- Cycling. We haven’t seen too many people on bikes except around Managua and Granada in Nicaragua where the countryside is much flatter. Generally we wouldn’t say it was the right place for cycle touring for us (especially Christine) as it is too mountainous and hot. The traffic (see above) would not put us off and nor would the state of the roads which are mostly pretty well surfaced.
- Toilets. Generally OK. It will be nice not to have to remember to throw loo paper in the bin rather than down the pan!
- Money. Frequent border crossings means frequent changes of currency, of course, which gets confusing at times particularly if you mentally convert into a mixture of dollars and pounds. US dollars are accepted everywhere and prices are often quoted in $. Most ATMs offer the choice of USD or the local currency (which is the dollar in Panama and El Salvador!)
- Costa Rica. Lived up to its reputation for fabulous wildlife viewing. Easy and geared up for tourists. Not as cheap as we expected – prices similar to US levels.
- Panama. We only went to two places. Bocas del Toro which was wonderful, and Panama City which was so-so apart from the canal and the train but they are unmissable. The Metro is easy & cheap to use but one line only (which connects to the main bus station).
- Nicaragua. We have only been here for a few nights but it is great so far. The most relaxed people. Granada is wonderful.
In summary, we are simply loving it here and we suggest that you come if you want something a little different. It is not as difficult or dangerous as you might think – or that is our experience, so far! (Fingers crossed that this continues.)