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Is Central America Safe? Safety Guide

Everything you need to know to stay safe in Central America.

is central america safe

Is Central America safe? It’s only as safe as you are. Based on my 3 months in Central America, I’ll teach you how to be safe with this safety guide.

So you’re thinking about backpacking Central America and you’re wondering if it’s safe or not.

First off, yes it is safe to backpack Central America. With that being said, you must exercise caution in certain areas or situations. Also, there are a few different ways to break this down. Are you a solo traveler? Are you usually concerned about your safety? Are you going to all the countries in Central America? 

Safety for solo travelers

If you’ve backpacked solo, then you know that you’re never really alone. There are a few train rides and bus rides that you take alone. But once you get to that next hostel you meet a whole new group of friends. And maybe you travel with this group of friends for the next few weeks.

And if not, then this is my advice for you. Book a top-rated hostel, meet a few people, make a friend or two, and travel with them. Don’t ever walk the streets alone with your backpack or at night.

Belize

is Central America safe

When backpacking Belize people usually stick to Belize City and Belize’s islands, such as Caye Caulker. Since these locations are visited more frequently, they tend to be a little safer. The islands of Belize are the safest tourist destinations in Belize. If you intend to vacation on the islands of Belize then you have nothing to worry about. You may even fly directly into the islands. If you’re flying into Belize City or you’re traveling through Belize City, I recommend doing it during the day.

Guatemala

Derek Coleman Antigua, Guatemala
Derek Coleman Antigua, Guatemala

Some places are safer than others in Guatemala, just like any other country. It’s important to know where you are and where you’re going when you’re in Guatemala. There are safety rules that you should follow that you may not be used to. When people say don’t be out alone on the street at night, they mean it. 

I’m speaking especially about Antigua, Guatemala and Guatemala City. As always, the cities tend to be a little less safe than the rest of the country. You’ll notice when you’re in Antigua Guatemala that every business has a security guard with a shotgun. Even the gas stations, even the pizza shops. So I will say it again, exercise caution. Travel in groups and don’t travel at night if you can avoid it. Don’t travel through the streets with all of your gear, your backpack, and everything.

If you’re catching a shuttle to or from Guatemala, make sure the pickup location is a safe location. The shuttles normally run at very odd hours. They try to avoid running shuttles overnight to avoid danger. So they usually start at 4 a.m. or 5 am as if that is any better. sometimes when you book the shuttle through the hostel, they’ll tell you that the pickup spot is at a gas station down the street or something. Don’t allow that to happen. Tell them that you will only be picked up at the hospital. You will not wait on the street at 5 a.m. with your backpack in Guatemala.

Honduras

If Guatemala is unsafe, Honduras is a little unsafer. But that’s not to say that it’s not safe and that you shouldn’t go there. I do recommend that you go to every country in Central America if you have the time and resources. 

Similar to Belize, backpacking Honduras usually means visiting an island or two. The most popular island is Utila. you’re completely safe on the islands but again exercise caution. Don’t walk the streets alone at night. These are rules that should go for any City or any country anywhere. You’re a tourist in your target. So always walk in groups and try to avoid walking at night. 

Try to stay away from some of the larger cities that are more notorious for crime in Honduras, such as San Pedro Sula. if you’re traveling through Honduras try to book a direct shuttle so that it doesn’t stop and all the cities along the way. it is quite a long way to get to and from the islands of Honduras and you must travel through mainland Honduras to do so.

El Salvador 

El Salvador is the most dangerous country in Central America. Backpacking through El Salvador usually means visiting El Tunco to go surfing. If you’re not a surfer, I recommend skipping El Salvador. It’s too long of a journey to go from the islands of Utila to the beaches of El Salvador. 

If you do go to El Salvador, I recommend the same safety risk that you would exercise when in Honduras. The cities, the capital city of San Salvador, is not as safe as the islands. 

Nicaragua 

Nicaragua is a whole lot safer than Honduras and El Salvador. Maybe even a little bit safer than Guatemala. I never saw anything in Nicaragua that made me the least bit concerned. The islands are calm and there’s nothing to worry about on them. 

The cities again are similar to anywhere else, you have to exercise a bit more caution in the cities. Specifically the capital city of Managua. Again I did not feel any danger whatsoever, but I have heard stories from other travelers. Just think of it as New York you wouldn’t walk down a back alley in New York alone at night.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is the safest country in Central America. There is not much to worry about in Costa Rica. Again, the usual don’t walk at night alone and exercise caution in big cities is true again. But, to a much lesser extent.

One thing to be aware of, and this goes for anywhere, is to not walk alone or even in small groups at night on the beaches. Because the beaches don’t have street lights and it is dark and nobody can see you. Thieves have been known to hang out on beaches and wait for people to walk by at night.

Panama

Derek Coleman – Panama Canal

Panama is an extremely safe country if you stick to the gringo trail. Aside from the usual, there isn’t much to worry about in Panama. It’s similar to Nicaragua. Don’t be afraid to use public transportation and interact with the locals.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I hope I didn’t scare anybody away from backpacking through Central America. I’ve done it and I encourage others to do it. I encourage you to visit every country but also to exercise caution and be aware of your surroundings. So, is Central America safe? Yes.

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Written by Derek

Derek, our editor in chief, is an avid reader and lifelong backpacker who has traveled to more than 30 countries and 30+ U.S states. He is a digital marketing specialist with over 10 years of experience growing companies using innovative growth strategies.

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