Central America
September 4, 2009 6:23 AM   Subscribe

Backpacking from Mexico to Colombia! More inside

Im planning to go backpacking in central america sometime over the next year. Has anyone here already done this? whens the best time to go? what should i watch out for? i know about mexico well enough, but how safe is guatemala, honduras, costa rica and panama? i also heard that there are no roads from panama to colombia and that one has to take the boat?
thanks in advance!
posted by freddymetz to Travel & Transportation (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I have been to Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama; I always felt safe (24 yo woman here); that said, in each of those countries, I traveled with another person. Definitely lots of Europeans, Israelis, and Americans doing it.

You are correct about travel between Panama and Colombia, there are no roads through the Darien Gap. I have certainly never done it, but I know people were arranging boat travel to Cartagena at a hostel in Panama City, Luna's Castle, in Casco Viejo.

Learn some Spanish and have patience with overland travel between cities.

(I'd recommend Luna's Castle very much! But popular, fills up, might want to make arrangements before you get there. Otherwise, we stayed one night at La Jungla, elsewhere in Panama City, can't remember which neighborhood.)
posted by teragram at 6:53 AM on September 4, 2009

Invest 20 bucks for a decent travel guide (lonely planet, rough guide).

Here is also a good start: http://poorbuthappy.com/

" i also heard that there are no roads from panama to colombia and that one has to take the boat?"
I don't know but I doubt this. But I have seen private boat trips to Panama advertised in Colombian hostels.

"but how safe is guatemala, honduras, costa rica and panama?"
Guatemala has been a little bit rough recently I heard. Costa Rica is pricy, I heard good things about Nicaragua.
What is your travel experience? Use common sense, don't fight back if you get robbed, keep a low profile, don't behave gringo like in public and dress down. In many places, especially cities, they don't see that you are a foreigner if dressed correctly (long pants etc.). I have seen young single females walk around in Colombia in dresses that would even spot attention in New York City. Why would you do this?

Colombia is a incredible country with amazing people. Take enough time for it. Assuming that you have limited travel experience I would avoid Venezuela for now.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 7:11 AM on September 4, 2009

Well, I suppose it's possible to get to colombia by land, but if you're not already a complete badass, I would have to vote against crossing 99 miles of guerilla-infested swamp.

Guatemala is full of friendly folks. Spanish in Honduras is very rapid, but I've found people to be very patient and generally helpful if they are not currently driving a taxi. The 'coup' will not affect your travels too much unless things somehow get much worse before you leave. Nicaragua will be the cheapest part of your journey, costa rica the most expensive [depending on what part of mexico you travel through].

Flying from panama is also a possibility, but a boat would be far more in the spirit of what you're trying to do. Ask at hostels in panama city to find a reputable captain.
posted by Acari at 8:25 AM on September 4, 2009

Dress down but don't be rude. Don't wear torn old clothes. They know you're rich enough to travel thousands of miles from home, and to many in Latin America, that is indeed very rich, even if it isn't by our standards.

Don't take an expensive camera, take a cheap little one you can fit in a pocket.

I spent a few weeks in Nicaragua last December, the weather was lovely, the people were wonderful, the poverty was intense in places -it's the second poorest country in the western hemisphere after Haiti.
posted by mareli at 8:29 AM on September 4, 2009

I was mostly in rural Nicaragua, I'm a middle-aged woman, I took local transportation, buses and shared taxis, stayed in a youth hostel, never had any problems.
posted by mareli at 8:32 AM on September 4, 2009

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