Free on Arrival Keep a copy of your plane ticket to avoid paying exit tax when you leave. You will be given a tourist card. If you arrive by land there is a cost for the tourist card, but the entry and exit cost is included in plane tickets.
There is a hotel tax of 10 – 16% depending on the state, and sales tax is built into prices you see on goods.
$$$$ MEXICAN PESO
1 MNX = $.054
100 MNX = $5.38
$1 US = 18.59 MNX
$10 US = 185.91 MNX
DANGERS AND SCAMS:
Watch your money on every cash transaction.
Beware of pickpockets
Always hold on to your possessions
People who approach you want something from you – usually your money
Free on arrival
There is a B$37 exit tax to be paid when you leave.
Belize has a 12.5 % GST and a hotel tax of 9 %. There is no standard as to when it is included in pricing – you always need to ask
$$$ BZD $$$
1BZD = $.50 US
100 BZD = $50 US
1 US $ = 2 B
10 US $ = 20 BZD
LANGUAGE: The national language is English.
SCAMS AND DANGERS:
I felt safe here in spite of all of the negative publicity. I did not spend any time in a large city so that may have reduced my fear. The biggest scam here is with money. You need to know if the tax is included, and also if the price quoted is in Belize dollars or US dollars. I found the locals polite and helpful. I did not like any of the expats I met who were living there. They all had nothing but negative things to say about both the country and the people. It upset me to hear them disparage the locals in front of them. I read the biggest scams here are with real estate sales.
Always determine prices and currencies, and if the tax is included.
Local food was inexpensive and tasty.
Great bakeries to buy picnic food
I enjoyed Belize. The locals were very friendly and helpful. I never felt unsafe.
I only spent 4 days in Belize. I spent $227, $56/day.
VISA: Free on arrival
There is a $10 exit tax if you leave the country by sea, Free, if you leave over a land border.
Goods & Service tax is 12%
Hotels often charge an additional %10
$$$ GUATEMALAN QUETZAL $$$$
1 GTQ = $.14
100 GTQ = $13.59
$1. = 7.36 GTQ
$ 5 = 36.80 GTQ
LANGUAGE: Official language is Spanish, but English is widely spoken.
SCAMS AND DANGERS:
Do not ride on the chicken buses. They are unsafe as they are not maintained, and have poor drivers. I saw a pack fly off the top of one, and wheels fall off another.
Use taxis after dark. Try to have your hostel arrange a taxi for you as there are a number of “fake” taxis.
There is a lot of violent crime. Be careful anywhere there are crowds.
Theft is common, so keep your possessions out of sight (camera etc) and only carry enough money in your wallet for one day.
Hold onto your things – if you set things down there is a good chance of someone snatching them and running away
Try to avoid ATMs – card skimming is very prevalent.
Have a fake wallet available if you are robbed. Pockets are often cut open with a razor, so you are better to just carry your money where it is not easily accessed.
The menu del dia (meal of the day) is often a bargain
Buy fruit and veg at local markets
Look for free walking tours
If I want a guide I always just ask if anyone working at my hostel is available to take me.
Always ask if that is their best price.
Use tuk-tuks when possible.
OVERVIEW OF GUATEMALA
I actually felt safer than I expected. Locals were always kind and helpful. It was easy to go from one place to another, and transportation was inexpensive.
I spent 16 days in Guatemala and spent $853 for an average of $53./ day
VISA: No visa required, but you do need to buy a $10 tourist card.
$$$ SALVADOR COLON $$$$$
1 SVC = $.11 US
100 SVC = $11.43
$1. = 8.75 SVC
$5 = 43.73 SVC
There is a 13 % sales tax and an 18% hotel tax. They are sometimes built into the price – you need to ask.
Spanish is the language, some English spoken
SCAMS & DANGERS
There is a high crime rate, and violent crime is common
Pickpockets are everywhere, especially in crowds.
Snatch theft is common – hold onto your things
Muggings have happened on hiking trails
Public transit is safe to use.
Avoid ATMs and using a credit card -use cash
Eat at local food stands
Buy fruit at local markets
Always ask if that is the “best” price
Use local transport
OVERVIEW OF EL SALVADOR:
“If wealth was measured in kindness El Salvador would be the richest country in the world.”
I had read that prior to my visit, and I agree wholeheartedly. The kindness of the people made this my favourite country in Central America. I did not go to many places in this country, but it was the friendly open people here who were the highlight of my visit. As I walked down the street people looked me in the eye, and acknowledged me. Being able to attend performances at the National Theatre was such a highlight. I loved riding local buses and everything here was very inexpensive. Casa Verde in Santa Ana was the best hostel I have stayed in anywhere in the world – Kudos to Carlos and his staff.
I spent 8 days in El Salvador and spent $288 dollars $36/day
I did not stay in Honduras. The only places that interested me were a couple of the islands famous for diving, and I felt the danger level getting there and back was not worth the risk. I had met several travellers who had been robbed so I decided to avoid that country.
There is a $3 entrance fee. Keep your receipt, there is no exit fee but if they try to charge you, show your receipt and tell them you already paid.
No visa required but you must purchase a $10 tourist ticket and there is also a $3 fee?
There is a $5 fee and $2 service fee when you exit
There is a 15% sales tax in Nicaragua.
$$$ NICARAGUAN CORDOBA $$$
1 NIO = $.03
100 NIO = $3.22
$1. = 31.08 NIO
$5 = 155.42 NIO
Language spoken is Spanish – but many people speak some English
SCAMS & DANGERS:
Armed robbery happens, do not resist, carry a fake wallet.
Avoid using ATMS – they are often rigged
Be careful after dark, always use a licensed taxi (they have a red border around the licence.
Before you get in a taxi, establish the fare, and tell them not to pick up any other passengers. Keep your doors and windows locked.
Some beach areas have bad currents – check before you go in the water.
Do not believe the taxi drivers in Rivas when they tell you there is no taxi to the border.
Do not pay for departure forms as you approach the border. They are free at the proper offices.
Sign in a hostel in San Juan del Sur: Do not go to the beach after dark – you will be robbed.
Always ask “Is that your best price?”
Eat at local cafes, eat local food.
If you are going to Costa Rica from Rivas, go to the Pali supermarket, near the bus station to stock up on supplies – much cheaper in Nicaragua than Costa Rica.
Do not spend the extra for a Tica or Transnica Bus to get you across the border – it is easy to do yourself.
Great country. A wide variety of things to see and do. Everything was inexpensive, and English was often spoken. Transportation was cheap and fun. Locals were friendly and helpful. I would not bother going back to Little Corn Island. Aside from the episode at Via Via in Leon, I felt very safe.
I travelled for 17 days and spent $946 for a daily cost of $55
No visa required, no entrance fee. You may be asked to prove proof of onward travel. If they ask for this you can buy a bus ticket at a bus office at the border.
There is a $29 exit fee from Costa Rica
$$$ COSTA RICAN COLON $$$
1 CRC = $.0018
1000 CRC = $ 1.75
$ 1. = 571. CRC
$ 5 = 2857 CRC
Most places include the 13 % tax. Cafes will often include a 10% gratuity – check your bill.
LANGUAGE: Spanish and English
SCAMS AND DANGERS:
At the border they will tell you it is too far to walk from Nicaragua exit to Costa Rica entrance – it is not.
Do not pay for departure forms from Nicaragua – they are free at the office
Crime can be violent so always carry a throwaway wallet and do not resist.
Use only official red taxis with yellow triangles
Keep taxi doors locked
Do not ride in the front seat of a taxi
Make sure door handles are working in the taxi
Keep your passport safe, carry a photocopy with you
Only change your money at a bank
Do not accept any food or drink from strangers.
Date rate drugs are prevalent – be aware
Check swimming areas for riptides and currents
If doing any adventure tours – check the equipment before you pay
Sexual harassment happens
Beware of people who approach you
Cover up and use repellent to avoid dengue and zika
If you are coming from Rivas, stock up on supplies at the Pali supermarket first – much cheaper than Costa Rica
Eat at local sodas
Do not book tours/trips/adventures ahead of time, always cheaper on site
Always ask for a discount
Shop at supermarkets
Costa Rica was wet. It does having amazing nature. It was certainly more expensive, more developed, and had more tourists than other places. I did encounter some anti-gringo feelings, but they were subtle and nothing to be concerned about.
I spent 9 days and I spent $406, for an average of $45/day.
No visa required. You must buy a tourist card for $5 and you must show proof of exit. I did not have a ticket out and was required to buy one.
I also had to show proof of exit from Costa Rica
IF you are required to show proof you should know that you can cancel any plane ticket with Air Canada within 24 hours, and you can cancel any ticket purchased in the US within 24 hours – but a ticket purchased there must be for at least 7 days in the future. I used to just buy a fully refundable ticket – but now airlines tend to charge for the refund.
You will not be admitted to Panama if you have a criminal record
There is a $40 exit fee (sometimes included in plane fares) If not included it must be paid in cash.
You must always carry identification – carry a copy of your passport.
$$$ PANAMANIAN BALBOA $$$
The Balboa is at par with the US dollar and they are both widely used in Panama.
TAXES: There is a 10% hotel tax and a 7 % sales tax.
LANGUAGE: Spanish is the national language but English is widely spoken.
SCAMS AND DANGERS:
Theft is a constant problem, and theft from hotel rooms is common. Take care at transport terminals and markets.
Use yellow licensed taxis. Determine the fare ahead of time. Tell the driver not to pick up anyone else.
Never buy tickets for anything on the street.
Be very careful after dark
There are many areas of Colon and Panama City that you should avoid.
Zika and Dengue are present – use repellent and keep covered up.
Overview of Panama: Great country. Best of both worlds in Central America. It was as developed as Costa Rica, with the pleasant people of the poorer countries. It is one of the more expensive places to visit. The contrast of old and new in Panama City was breathtaking. The Panama Canal is certainly a “must do”.
I travelled by plane, ferry, boat, panga. launcha, bus, tourist shuttle, collective, taxi, pedal cab, tuk-tuk, and flip-flop.
I met many other travellers from many countries. Many were younger, some were older, some travelled alone, others as couples. We all seemed to have the same consensus as to Central American travel.
Generally, everyone felt:
It was so much easier than everyone expected.
No one felt unsafe.
Locals everywhere were approachable and went out of their way to be helpful
Borders were easy to cross
No one ever felt that they had been seriously scammed, or ripped off
Budget accommodations and public washrooms were so much cleaner than expected.
The visible gun presence everywhere took some getting used to.
Most of the big cities were not worth stopping to see.
Prices of tours etc. were very reasonable.
I hiked, swam, snorkelled, fished, zip lined, made chocolate, took tours, went to live theatre, and transited the Panama Canal.
I did not get to see the Arenal volcano, scuba dive, get to the San Blas Islands, or line handle through the Panama Canal. Next time.
I was not robbed, beaten, raped, murdered, mugged, or kidnapped. I never had anything stolen. I never got sick, hurt or lost. I only had one problem – the guy trying to break into my room in Leon.
I travelled for 69 days, 5740 km, and spent $3452 ($50/day).