Central America, in general, isn’t such an expensive place but traveling smart can make sure you really aren’t hurting your travel cash to hard, here are our top tips for saving money!
- Negotiate. In Central America, almost anything you pay for has the “gringo tax” added to the price you pay. Ask locals how much they pay for what you are buying and aim for that price or lower. It never hurts to shop around.
- Use a student card if you can. Everywhere in the Americas has discounts for students (an ISIC card in South America can save you thousands of USD). If you’re not a student it doesn’t hurt to go into an ISIC office and ask for one anyway (some people go as far as photoshopping student documents they found on google and going to ISIC offices to get a student card).
- Don’t buy your souvenirs and gifts till you’re in the last country of your trip. Buying these souvenirs before means you will be carrying them around for the duration of the trip and most of the souvenirs are the same everywhere anyway.
- Travelling with a group will give you serious leverage when negotiating. Especially for activities. For example: you can get dive licenses for around 210-220USD (most licenses are 250-300USD) if you can negotiate for a group.
- Learn Spanish. Knowing Spanish is the best way to avoid the “Gringo Tax” and usually means you can negotiate better.
- DO NOT BRING YOUR CASH FROM THE PREVIOUS COUNTRY INTO THE NEXT ONE, the further you are away from a country the harder it is to get a decent rate on your money. (such as: Mexican Pesos in honduras are worth 80% of their real value).
- Fly into Mexico. Most backpackers start at either the north or south end of Central America, Mexico City and Cancun are usually the cheapest destinations to start the trip.
- If you plan on a set amount of time for your trip get a round-trip ticket to and from Mexico City (or Cancun). from the southern areas of Central America (Panama/Costa Rica), there are quite cheap one-way tickets back up to Mexico for the end of your trip. Tickets from San José (Costa Rica) to Mexico City are usually around 80USD one way.
- Panama City is usually the cheapest place to catch flights to Colombia (Cities to check in Colombia: Medellin, Bogotá, Cartagena).
- Use Local Transport or hitchhike. The shuttles most of the backpackers take are usually at least twice (sometimes 10X) the price of using local transport. For example: a shuttle from Copan to La Ceiba is 40USD VS public transport which is around 9USD. Use hitchwiki to see where the best places to hitchhike are.
- Use Maps.Me to see the distance to your destination. This will come in handy when dealing with a taxi driver who is trying to overcharge by telling you that you are far from your destination.
- Uber, some cities such as San José (Costa Rica) have Uber which can save you a lot of money on Taxis. If you don’t have the app you can download it here Uber Link (and get some free cash as well).
- Don’t use ADO buses in Mexico, its super overpriced and there is almost always a cheaper option. If you must use it, book your tickets in advance so that its cheaper.
- Eat where the locals eat, the food is usually way better and much cheaper (be careful in Guatemala though as food poisoning is common).
- Cook in your hostel or campground when you can. Some cities are extremely expensive to eat out and you can save a lot of money by sleeping in a hostel with a kitchen and just cooking there. (Laguna de Apoyo in Nicaragua is one of these cities)
- Try to do activities on your own. A lot of the times taking a tour will cost more than going on your own, so check the tour prices and check how much it would cost to go without a tour.
- Find other people who want to do the same activities as you and negotiate as a group.
- Talk to as many tour companies as possible. Usually, they all offer the same service and some just have a lower gringo tax. (note: unless you heard from others to stay away from a certain tour agency, this is usually a good idea).
- Pick and choose where you want to dive, don’t dive everywhere. Some places have insanely expensive diving (like Belize) and some have amazing diving for much cheaper (like the corn island in Nicaragua). Diving in every place that has diving will end up adding up to a nice large sum of cash. so pick and choose the best places you want to dive.
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