To travel through Central America, you don’t need to be an expert. But you do need to know a few things.
Some countries, such as Costa Rica, have very modern transportation systems which make it very easy to travel through.
Other countries, such as Nicaragua or Honduras, don’t have as much. And here’s where it gets a little tricky.
You planned your whole route for backpacking Central America. You did all the hard work of finding out which countries and which cities you’re going to visit. And in which order. But now you need to know how you’re actually going to get from city to city and from country to country.
Are the cabs safe? Is the public transportation safe? Here’s a Central America saefty guide.
What’s the quickest and easiest way to travel through Central America? Well, that all depends on which country you’re in. So let’s break it down by country.
In Belize, the most reliable form of transportation is buses. The bus system in Belize is efficient and will get you from the islands of Belize to Belize City. And once you’re in Belize City you can easily catch a bus to Guatemala.
Belize City has a bus terminal where you will transfer buses. Not all countries have modern bus terminals like this.
These buses tend to be old coach buses. They’re comfortable and offer spacious legroom. They are not old school buses, as you will see and some other countries in Central America.
These bus rides are very affordable. They are the main form of transportation for backpackers backpacking through Central America.
Guatemala is not quite like Belize, instead they use slightly smaller shuttle buses. These shuttle buses usually hold around 15 passengers. But they’ll probably squash in 20. So get comfortable.
You’re not getting the legroom or the level of comfort that you got in Belize. Be ready for a 12-hour shuttle bus ride through the winding mountains of Guatemala. The shuttle buses don’t offer air conditioning, and sometimes the windows don’t even work.
These buses usually pick you up at your hostel. And they are very affordable. So even though you won’t be comfortable, at least you’ll be with your friends.
There is usually not a main transportation terminal, unless you are in Guatemala City. You will also find the same coach buses that you found in Belize, in Guatemala City.
Honduras & El Salvador
Honduras and El Salvador are similar to Nicaragua. But I didn’t have the benefit of getting on the “backpacker shuttle bus”. So I was left to travel from Guatemala by public transportation.
The public transportation buses are not much worse than public transportation buses in any other city. But that’s not saying much. They stop all the time. They pick up people on the side of the street. They’re full. There’s nowhere to sit. They’re hot. There’s nowhere to put your bag. You get my gist.
They’re also not the safest way to travel through Central America. I found myself stuck on this bus by accident. I don’t recommend you travel through Central America by public transportation. Honduras and El Salvador are dangerous countries to begin with. And as a backpacker you’re vulnerable because you have all of your personal belongings with you.
Nicaragua is very similar to Guatemala. Except it’s a little more difficult to navigate. They use the same shuttle buses but they don’t pick you up at your hostel. Most of the time you have to take a taxi to a parking lot we’re a few shuttle bus drivers are waiting for the shuttle bus to fill up.
This is Nicaragua’s version of a bus terminal. Sometimes you get lucky and you get there right when it’s filling up and sometimes you don’t get lucky and you have to wait an hour.
You can’t really call ahead because there’s nobody to call, unless you have the phone number of a specific driver.
Costa Rica is the easiest country in Central America to travel through. It’s also the most expensive. They have modern transportation terminals. At these terminals you can catch a bus or shuttle bus.
The difference in price is pretty hefty. A shuttle bus between cities in Nicaragua may cost you $12 USD. In Costa Rica, that same distance may cost you $60 USD. But you might be the only person on the shuttle bus. And it will pick you up and drop you off exactly where you want. So you get the convenience but you pay for it. You also get the safety but you pay for it.
Panama’s transportation systems are most similar to Guatemala’s. The only difference is that Panama City is more of a tourist destination than Guatemala City. so, while you get the best buses in the major cities. You’re more likely to get one of those buses in Panama than in Guatemala.
the buses in Panama City are similar to the buses in Belize. Old Coach buses with legroom and air conditioning.
If you’re venturing to Bocas del Toro or David then you’re looking at a shuttle bus, and a water taxi for Bocas del Toro.the shuttle buses are the same shuttle buses as in Nicaragua and Honduras and Guatemala.
Taxis, Water Taxis, Ferries
The taxis, water taxis, and fairies are completely safe to take. They are also necessary if you’re going to some of the islands.
Honduras has large fairies to the island of Utila. But Belize and Panama have smaller water taxis and smaller fairies to their Islands.
If you want to take a tuk-tuk ride, then you’re in luck. Guatemala has a few different cities where are tuk-tuks are their main form of transportation. The photo above was taken at Lake Atitlan in San Pedro Guatemala.
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