Central America was never high on my ‘to-do list. Don’t get me wrong, I was intrigued by these countries and knew they would be beautiful, but I never considered them because I was worried about my safety. Is Central America safe to travel to?
Fast forward a few years later, we have now spent quite a bit of time in Costa Rica & Mexico (though technically not Central America it tends to get lumped into this discussion) and I find myself asking “Why was I so scared to travel to Central America?”.
Why? Because the media kept telling me how unsafe it was there. There are constant stories of terrible things that happen here. But what they fail to remind us is 1: These terrible things happen all over the world, even in our own backyard! 2: There is a lot more beauty in this world than ugly.
During our time in Central America we have never felt unsafe. Of course, we don’t do silly things like walk down dark alleys at night, or leave our belongings in plain sight.
When we told family and friends of our plans to travel in Central America the one thing we heard from almost every one of them was “Be careful” or “Stay safe” and various versions of that. And you know, the funny thing is, most of them have never even been to Central America! They were judging this region by what they had heard in the media, just like I used to.
While traveling in Central America we have seen some of the most beautiful places – such as La Paz Waterfall Gardens – , encountered the friendliest people and eaten the yummiest food. To think we nearly missed out of all of that saddens me. I would have been really bummed if we missed out on The Sloth Sanctuary!
But maybe we were just lucky. Maybe other people have terrible experiences and that’s why its get a bad rap. So I asked other travelers about their experience in Central America and then promptly put together this post. Why? Because there is so much beauty to see in Central America and it’s a shame that many people don’t even considering traveling here because of what they think is a safety problem.
But don’t just take my word for it…
Charli from Wanderlusters
We spent six months living in Costa Rica.
During that time we travelled the length of the country and made two visa runs across the border to Nicaragua. It was our first experience of travel in a less developed country and I have to say I was nervous when we arrived. I had built a picture in my mind of Central America and did have a few concerns regarding safety. The experience I had anticipated and the one we actually had were poles apart.
Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to safety. Familiarizing yourself with local customs, not frequenting the ‘wrong’ part of town, dressing appropriately and speaking a little of the language all serve to keep you out of harms way. Like every other country in the world there are people in Central America who take advantage of and abuse others, being a little street smart and not allowing yourself to appear vulnerable will ensure your experience is not marred by bad memories.
Travel opens our eyes to new horizons, people and cultures, it allows us to immerse ourselves in fascinating locations, however it is unwise to visit any country without a little understanding of the political situation, the attitude of the locals to foreigners and spots that are recommended to avoid.
Our time in Costa Rica and Nicaragua was some of the most memorable of our journey so far. The warmth of the people and vibrant culture served to capture our hearts and I know we’ll be back to explore more of Central America in the near future.
Jessica from Notes of Nomads
One of my favorite experiences in Central America was doing a homestay in Guatemala. I especially remember spending time with their young son, Renato, who was always keen to show us around, share his family’s photo albums and play card games.
At night, we grabbed our flashlights and walked down the road to the grandparent’s house where they put on a BBQ dinner and we danced and laughed ‘til late. They even let us use their family’s traditional stone sweathouse where us women bathed together and chatted by candlelight. An experience I’ll never forget!
Central America has somewhat of a bad reputation when it comes to safety. But spending time with Renato’s family – sharing meals, conversations and even a bath – only re-iterated experiences I have had throughout my travels. That people are people, and children are children, the world over. What we want in life is essentially the same. And people are essentially good.
Sure, like everywhere, there are people who aren’t model citizens but like anywhere, there are countless generous people ready to open their homes, hearts and culture to complete strangers like me.
When Renato started crying as we departed, I too welled up as we hugged one last time. He gave us a picture he had drawn to take back to Japan “For the tsunami victims,” he said.
Yes, people are essentially good and I couldn’t have been in a safer place in the world
Megan from Mapping Megan
When people start planning their trips to Central America safety seems to be their biggest concern. It was definitely the first concern of my parents when I told them I was going to volunteer in Costa Rica for a month. Admittedly, Central America has a fairly recent history of conflict and violence; however the fact is that the civil wars have ended, and Central America doesn’t really deserve its lingering reputation.
The fact is that most of Central America is safer than it has ever been before – as a single female travelling through Costa Rica not once did I feel unsafe or uncomfortable. There was a lot of male attention, but we were never unsafe. As in any country, there are definitely areas you should avoid, and you should always be aware of your surroundings while travelling. As long as you remain street smart however, you shouldn’t encounter any difficulties.
Being “street smart” includes making yourself aware of areas to avoid, being aware of pick pocketing scams (which are common in Costa Rica), leaving your passport and tickets in a hotel safe and carrying a photocopy with you, using only official taxi cabs, and so on.
Central America has so much to offer, and those who let fear prevent them from taking a trip are missing out. After all, ‘fear is a manipulative emotion which tricks us into living a boring life’ (Donald Millar).
Agness at eTramping
Although Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras are classified as the most dangerous countries in the world (mainly due to the gang MS-13 known as Mara Salvatrucha), you can still feel safe there and enjoy your travels. Why? Because you don’t feel threatened at all. Locals are incredibly hospitable and welcoming and all touristic areas are guarded by the police.
We can say Honduras and El Salvador were the safest places. You can still meet some locals warning you not to go to cetrain places, spot bulletproof windows in bars, restaurants and shops and hear some frightening stories, but at the end of the day you feel perfectly secure. The locals stick together, they are very loyal and friendly not only to each other but also to visitors. They want to make you feel like at home, make sure you feel comfortable and happy all the time and their desire to share their knowledge about their home country is just incredible.
When visiting Honduras, you can notice that the police are very corrupted. The reason being, they earn so little so they often ask tourists for money. This is something normal and there is no need to panic when you get asked for a dollar or two and it’s absolutely fine if you refuse to pay. Police officers are never pushy and they don’t put any pressure on you to pay.
Speaking some Spanish can help you a lot as you will be more aware of your surroundings, getting a private Spanish tutor before your trip would be beneficial. Understanding what people say will make you realize how safe Central American countries are. As long as you don’t walk alone at night (walking alone at night in any urban area is never safe anyway), pay an extra attention to your bags and wallets, don’t photograph children ( due to rumors of travelers kidnapping children) you will be absolutely fine!
Have you been to Central America? Do you agree that Central America is safe to travel to?
Thank you to our guests for contributing.