Each country in Central America is very different from one another in their history, culture, traditions, landscapes, cuisines, economic and social sustainability, and local and tourism-based infrastructure. Spending time in different countries within Central America is a diverse experience that will open your eyes to the world in a way that you might have not experienced prior to exploring some or all of these fascinating countries. The more you learn about and experience firsthand different cultures and ways of life, the more tolerant, compassionate, and open-minded you are likely to become.
Widespread poverty is not uncommon in Central America. Some countries have a significantly higher rate of poverty than others, but compared to North America and South America, Central America is by far the poorest region as a whole. What you will notice in many instances though, is that those living below and around the poverty line aren’t necessarily living in complete misery and destitution. Many low-income families in Central America value family above all the rest and live in tight-knit groups where resources and income are spread out amongst the family. Ultimately it is family, not money, that takes precedence and contributes to a more cooperative and positive life.
How much stuff do you really need? The first time you travel through Central America, you will probably realize that you brought too much stuff with you – unless of course you are a naturally proficient packer. This same realization is likely to translate back into your daily life. We live in a consumer-based world, but after spending time deep in nature, surrounded by exotic wildlife, in awe of mammoth volcanoes, welcomed in quaint and colorful towns, you might decide that these types of experiences are far more valuable than any material possessions.
With the exception of Belize, the six other countries in Central America are all Spanish-speaking countries. While English is becoming more widely spoken in countries like Costa Rica, the first language of the native population is Spanish. The ability to speak Spanish, even just basic Spanish, will be very helpful while exploring these countries and will only further enrich your experience. If you spend enough time in Central America and make a bit of an effort to speak the language while you are there, you will likely improve your Spanish with every visit.
As with any type of travel, things don’t always go as planned. Because of the remoteness of some of the places you will seek to explore, the often-spotty cellphone service and Wi-Fi connection, miscommunication, occasional tardiness of transportation, or failing to find your way due to lack of street signs or highly confusing city grids, you will sometimes need to work out a backup plan on the go. Sometimes when things don’t go as you had originally hoped that they would though, the real adventure begins.
Land border crossings from one country to another in Central America can be challenging, confusing, overwhelming, disorganized, illogical, time intensive, and swelteringly hot at times. There are times when the borders can be a breeze and other times a total nightmare; it’s a total flip of the coin. However, there is a great sense of accomplishment that will accompany you making it through one, and a new found confidence that you can get through any border now if you could have gotten through that one.
There is a certain laid-back nature that is beneficial if you are to truly enjoy your time in most places within Central America. Sometimes the power, the internet, the water, the water heater, or the air conditioning doesn’t work, people don’t show up on time, the weather doesn’t cooperate, or volcanoes erupt, among innumerable other unpredictable occurrences. Learning to just go with the flow, live and let live, and roll with the punches is the best approach to a Central American adventure, and perhaps life in general.
While fast food influences from the United States have infiltrated some of the more populated cities and towns in Central America, there are still far more small family owned restaurants, fruit and vegetable stands, and local markets than there are processed-heavy with no-expiration-date drive through food establishments. One of the most affordable ways to eat in Central America is by purchasing fresh fruits, vegetables, poultry, eggs, fish, tortillas, baked goods, and homemade dishes from the local markets.
In most parts of Central America, it is not safe to drink the water, especially as a visitor who didn’t grow up consuming the types of bacteria that are commonly found in the drinking water. There are also places where water runs out during periods of drought. While you have probably always known how important clean water is, you might have never had an experience where you had to refrain from drinking the water that comes out of the tap. You also may have never experienced a water shortage. Water is the most precious commodity on the planet and exploring a place where you have to seek out highly filtered or bottled water in order to not get violently ill will make you appreciate that clean and consistent water supply you probably have at home.
Traveling presents a unique opportunity for personal growth, self-awareness, and introspection. Spending time in the lush rainforests and mystical cloud forests, on tranquility-inducing beaches, down in verdant valleys, high up on cool mountain precipices and volcanic summits, and within diverse and charming communities offers an amazing space to breathe deeply, let go of your inner demons, expand your mind, calm your soul, and thrive mindfully in the present moment.
Life starts happening when you start saying yes. Most people are quick to say no and hesitant to say yes. By saying yes to things like going zip lining, taking a volcanic mud bath, trying an exotic fruit that you never even knew existed, repelling down a waterfall, or hiking through the rainforest at night while in Central America, you are inadvertently training yourself to be more of a yes person. Trust that you are far braver, stronger, and more adventurous than you probably give yourself credit for. It all starts with one adventure.