With so many different experiences and destinations, I just cannot cover everything! Therefore, I am happy to share Sharon’s Guest Post.
Growing up in Australia, Central America was a region I knew very little about. In fact, I barely knew it existed. I had heard of South America and of the US and Mexico, but I had no idea what was in the middle, if anything.
This changed when I visited South America in 2002. I met travellers who had been in Central America and raved about it. I became infatuated with Latin America and wanted to see more, so I started investigating. I was not disappointed. Since then, I have travelled to Central America on four separate occasions. Not bad for someone who lives in Australia.
So why has Central America become one of my favourite parts of the world? These are my thoughts after travelling through Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.
1. So much variety in such a compact area
This would be my top reason! There is so much variety in such a small area in Central America.
Do you like tropical beaches? Check! Centuries old ruins? Yep! Jungles and exotic animals? No problem! Interesting and colourful cultures? For sure! Beautiful scenery? Volunteer opportunities? Old colonial towns? Cheap beer?! Check, check, check, check. You get the point.
Some of my favourite travel experiences were in this region. From exploring pretty colonial towns to diving the second largest barrier reef in the world to exploring ruins seemingly lost in the jungle. It is all here.
Part of what makes the variety to be found in Central America so appealing is the short distances between everything. In a few hours you can be somewhere quite different. There is rarely a reason to pull a long travel day. Sick of a country? Hop on a bus, you will soon be in another one!! There are not many places that you can be in the chilly mountains one moment and in steaming tropical jungle a few hours later, or can skip between the Caribbean and Pacific coasts within half a day.
The gorgeous West Bay on the Caribbean island of Roatan, Honduras
2. It feels adventurous
There is nothing like squeezing on a chicken bus to feel like you are doing something truly adventurous or walking round the jungles surrounding old Mayan ruins.
It’s also easy to get off the beaten track in Central America. Even when I thought I was on the so-called beaten track, I would often not see any other obvious foreigners. It is very easy to escape the tourist hordes.
Although it feels adventurous, I also felt safe. You do need to be wary about your surroundings and be especially vigilant in the big cities, like most places in the world, but Central America was somewhere I felt quite safe travelling by myself. It is also an easy travel destination. It is easy to get around, public transport is readily available and I never had a problem finding something to eat or somewhere to sleep. This is a bit of a language barrier, but I think that adds to the adventure!! Plus, it is easy to learn some basic Spanish (see point 4!).
The ruins of Tikal popping up through the jungle
3. Local culture
The local Latin culture is lots of fun and there is also the indigenous culture. This is quite fascinating, especially in areas like Guatemala. There are many interesting traditions and customs to learn about, as well as local festivals. On one of my trips, I attended a local festival for their local Mayan God called Maximon. Maximon takes the form of a small, cigar smoking, rum drinking, statue. At the festival, I lined up to take my turn to hit him with a stick, as the locals were doing!
In Guatemala especially, much of the indigenous population still dresses traditionally. I love their colourful dress, especially in a town called Todos Santos in Guatemala. I spent a week there learning Spanish and was enthralled by the colourful people.
Checking out the colourful town of Todos Santos, Guatemala
4. Great Spanish schools
Central America is a great place to learn Spanish!!
There are many cheap Spanish schools in many different places where you can have one on one lessons for a fraction of what you will pay elsewhere. Many of the schools are very well set up and professional, making Central America one of the prime destinations for language learners.
My favourite part about learning Spanish here is the insights it gave me into the local culture and people. It is amazing how much you can learn about someone when you spend 20 hours a week talking to them in a language you barely know. It is quite an eye opener. It is also a great way to make friends. Many people study in Spanish schools and some of the best times I have had in my life were studying Spanish in Guatemala.
Studying Spanish in Antigua
5. It’s cheap!
Central America is very cheap. You can travel around on a very low budget.
Transport is dirt cheap if you are happy to take the local chicken buses, which I recommend you do anyway as they are fun and an experience in themselves. The short distances also mean very few long bus journeys which also saves money. Food and accommodation is also very cheap.
Attractions are also very great value. The massive ruins at Tikal are only about US$20, and that’s about as expensive as things get. Museums are rarely more than $1. For not much more than this, I got to set a baby turtle free which is one of my travel highlights. If you would love a budget Caribbean vacation, Central America is also an excellent option.
These are just some of the reasons why I love travelling in Central America. Sounds tempting, doesn’t it?
This post is by Sharon from Where’s Sharon? (and Joshua, Soraya and Isaac), a blog originally about Sharon’s journeys around the world, but now about exploring the world with two little ones in tow – the good, the bad and the (hopefully not too) ugly. You can also find them on facebook and twitter.
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