Luxury Travel Blog

Central America is safe to travel to!

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.

 

Central America is safe to travel to! - Downtown Mexico City

A view of downtown Mexico City

 

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.

 

Central America is safe to travel to! - La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Costa Rica is abundant with beauty every where you look

 

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.

 

Central America is safe to travel to! - Manual Antonio Nationa Park

The beach at Manual Antonio National Park

 

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

 

Central America is safe to travel to! - Jessica and Renato

Jessica and Renato in Guatemala

 

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).

 

Central America is safe to travel to! - Costa Rica

Megan in Costa Rica

 

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.

 

Central America is safe to travel to! - El Salvador del Mundo, San Salvador, El Salvador

El Salvador del Mundo, San Salvador, El Salvador

 

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. 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.

 

48 comments

  1. Yes there is good and bad wherever you go. You just have to use common sense and be respectful of the local culture. Not keen on the idea to paying policemen though. In Cambodia where I frequently travel the police stop people just so they can get a bribe out of them. Hasn’t happened to me yet fortunately, but it happens a lot to the locals, which is unfair as they are poor too.
    Kathryn recently posted…Sample Sublet AgreementMy Profile

    • Nicole Connolly /

      Hi Kathryn! Exactly… common sense and respect will take you a long way wherever you travel! Yeah, I’m not a fan of corrupt cops either but I think most countries have them! But if you keep yourself out of their way then there shouldn’t be any issues.
      Nicole Connolly recently posted…Wildlife From Around The World Photo EssayMy Profile

  2. I can’t wait to get to Central America! It looks like a fascinating region, with so much to offer, all packed in to a relatively small area! It makes me sad when people take the media’s opinions of a city/country/region at face value and don’t think to question its validity. I also love that you asked other bloggers, rather than just write from a single view point!
    Sam recently posted…Art Galleries of Buenos Aires: Part 1My Profile

    • Nicole Connolly /

      Hey Sam! Its so beautiful, I think you guys will love it! I think it was important to get the views of others and not just us so people can see that many people feel safe there. It makes me sad too when people judge a place before they have even been just because the media needs to sell stories and makes things seem worse than what they really are.
      Nicole Connolly recently posted…Wildlife From Around The World Photo EssayMy Profile

  3. There’s some really great advice here guys. Thanks for inviting me to share my 2 cents worth. I hope it inspires others to explore Central America. It’s such a fabulous place.
    Charli l Wanderlusters recently posted…White Island The Dramatic VolcanoMy Profile

  4. I\’m really glad you wrote this – thanks for including me :D Such a really important topic and like Charli I hope your piece inspires people to travel to Central America :)

    Meg
    Where in the World is Megan Claire recently posted…Packing for a vacation is everyone’s nightmare! – while we…My Profile

  5. Becky /

    Thank you for sharing. I’m planning a 2-month trip down to Nicaragua & Guatemala for later this summer and haven’t been able to explain that it’s safe to many of my friends and family. I appreciate having a few more viewpoints to solidify the stance!
    Becky recently posted…Have You Booked an Award Trip Lately?My Profile

  6. Thank you guys for having me here. I hope people will stop freaking out about Central America being so dangerous and unsafe and they will travel there more often.
    Agness recently posted…15 Things Macau Has Surprised Us WithMy Profile

  7. Emma /

    Great article everyone – love that you’ve had experiences in lots of different places in Central America, too. I would definitely go to many of them but other people have been a bit nervous of El Salvador just because of things I’ve heard. But you know me, I don’t listen to what the press says half the time! So great to hear that Agness recommends it.

    • Nicole Connolly /

      Well the key is Emma to do your own research because the media tends to make a mountain out of a mole hill. Talking to others who have been to the countries you are thinking of going is also a great idea. And lets face it… As long as you travel sensibly you really can travel almost anywhere.
      Nicole Connolly recently posted…Six Experts Answer Your House Sitting Questions (Part 3)My Profile

  8. I went to Mexico last year – 3 weeks backpacking from Chiapas to Mexico City. Before we left the UK so many people were worried about our safety. Apart from being stared at once on Mexico City subway I have never felt safer. We had no problems whatsoever and I’ve been recommending the country to my friends ever since. Loads of them have been to Cancun and never left their resorts, such a waste!
    Can’t wait to go back

    • Nicole Connolly /

      Hi Grant! I am so glad you had similar experiences in Central America. I wish less people would ‘warn’ about CA and more people would go there and see for themselves its no where near as bad as they think! And yes, definitely a waste to sit in your room in Mexico! There is so much to do and so much beauty to see all around.
      Nicole Connolly recently posted…Best of Costa Rica Photo EssayMy Profile

  9. Thanks to all of you for this post. My husband and I are just 2 weeks away from starting our journey through CA starting in Belize and are incredibly excited. Today we were randomly speaking to a chap at a car boot sale who was ex army and had been posted in Belize and painted such a nasty portrait of it although through all my research I have not been concerned. Its always good to hear from those of you who have experienced first hand so many thanks.

    • Nicole Connolly /

      Hi Rebecca! I am so envious of your Belize trip! Since we’ve been in CA (for 2.5 months) we have heard a lot about Belize and now desperate to go! It looks like we wont make it there until next year so I will have to live vicariously through your trip :)
      Nicole Connolly recently posted…Best of Costa Rica Photo EssayMy Profile

  10. Thanks so much for inviting me to be a part of this post, Nicole! Central America is amazing and I can’t wait to explore more of it. I hope this post will encourage others to get out there and experience it too. Greetings from Oz! x
    Jessica recently posted…A Letter to JapanMy Profile

  11. Hi Nicole,Thanks for following and I agree, Belize is also safe, however, I wanted to share a perspective of trying to work there. We uprooted our family with 3 sons from CA to Belize and had a life changing experience. The only issues we faced were when we tried to start a business. I wrote a memoir about it from a wife, and a mother of teenager’s perspective. Nicole, I’d love to have you share your “My Gutsy Story” on my blog. It’s a contest I started in 2011, and every week people contribute their stories. we also have sponsors for the monthly winners. The first anthology is coming out in September with an event in OC, CA. I hope you’re interested. Please check out the contest link on my blog.
    Sonia Marsh/Gutsy Living recently posted…How to Choose a Book Cover That SellsMy Profile

    • Nicole Connolly /

      Hi Sonia :) I will definitely check it out, thank you! So lovely to ‘connect’ with you Sonia. I hope you enjoy our tales of life on the road as I am sure to enjoy your stories also :)
      Nicole Connolly recently posted…An Interview With A Traveler TheTravelTester.com My Profile

      • Thanks Nicole. Since I’m knew to your blog, I don’t know if you’ve mentioned how long you’ve been traveling and your future goals. Look forward to your “My Gutsy Story” when you have time.
        Sonia Marsh/Gutsy Living recently posted…How to Choose a Book Cover That SellsMy Profile

        • Nicole Connolly /

          In case it takes me a little while to get the post out there… We are going on 15 months of travel. The plan is to keep going for as long as we can, whether that be 2 more years or 10. I cant ever see myself wanting to settle down again after living this way :) But who knows, one day we might be ready to do so. For now I just plan to enjoy every single day and be eternally grateful that my dreams have come true :)
          Nicole Connolly recently posted…An Interview With A Traveler TheTravelTester.com My Profile

  12. That waterfall looks like an inviting spot.
    northierthanthou recently posted…Kivgiq II: The Box Drum DanceMy Profile

  13. I love this post! When I mentioned I would be spending 2 – 4 weeks in Costa Rica, I definitely received some backlash from friends and family. However, not once in my 16 days there did I ever feel concerned for my safety.
    Adventurous Andrea recently posted…Highlights from Costa RicaMy Profile

    • Michael Wright
      Michael Wright /

      Neither did we. You just got to be smart with what you do. The Costa Rican people we met were some of the friendliest in the world. Even if they couldn’t understand any of our really bad attempts at Spanish :P
      Michael Wright recently posted…New York City at Night Photo EssayMy Profile

  14. Laura /

    Just to let you know…Mexico is NOT in Central America, but it is part of North America…does that help anyone feel safer? I have travelled to Mexico City and the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and the people are wonderful! There are some things to watch out for now with the drug cartel killings and kidnappings but staying in the tourist towns should be fine. Awareness, just like travelling at home, is the key..

  15. i think it’s all relatively safe. i probably felt the least safe in cities like San Salvador and Guatemala city, but even there it was ok. def worth going
    Justin recently posted…Czech Republic’s Sedlec Ossuary: Church of BonesMy Profile

  16. When I first traveled to Central America it was in Costa Rica. My Mom worried terribly and, regardless of what good things I read on the web, her worries did rub off on me a bit. But needless to say, it was super safe and other than petty theft, I had absolutely no problems. I love Central America and am planning a 2 months long trip there for next Spring! Super stoked!
    Ron recently posted…Backpacker Tips: How to Save Room in Your BackpackMy Profile

  17. Woohoo! I have plans for CA this upcoming year, it’s about time to buy a plane ticket. Thanks for an entire post’s worth of reassurance to send all of the relatives that worry a little too much. :)
    Sally recently posted…The Guide: Teaching English in KoreaMy Profile

  18. Joshua Selva /

    It is a pity that after so many years that the European Union’s good will for trying to accomplish the Central American integration in order to aid the region it has been a failure. It started in the 90′s when first Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua came out with the idea of these 4 countries to be a save path for traveling without the hassles of having to be checked in with immigration and customs in every one of these tiny developing poor countries. All this was the result out of the selfishness of every country politician for protecting them self from criminal persecution for their wrong doings that this dream for the Central American people is becoming again apart. No wonder Costa Rica never wanted to be part of the integration deal because they knew corruption and regimens has been a persistent problem in those countries. Therefore, been Costa Rica the only through democratic country in Central America. The original idea that the European Union was supporting was to have a Central America united as one sort of federation that would make it easier to help in order to get them out of poverty. Now a days, all the good work that politicians did in the 90′s is already gone. Currently, when you travel between these countries, El Salvador has build a station which was supposed to work for controlling merchandise passing by their country, but instead it is harassing tourist and local traveler examining them as if they are delinquents or drug traffickers. My recommendation to every traveler who enquires me for a good destination in Central America is no longer to visit the countries member of the SICA (Central American Integration System), but to go instead to Costa Rica for tourism.

  19. Jodie /

    We spent 3 months in Costa Rica last fall, and have visited there several times independent from that. I too was nervous at first, but Costa Rica is one of the countries I’ve felt safest in.

    I agree that bad things happen everywhere and it’s unfair to generalize Central/South America as unsafe. One thing I think people can do to help with the anxiety is to try to learn some Spanish. Personally, a lot of times when I feel nervous or unsafe is when I’m in a situation where I know I cannot communicate. We did a border run to Panama and got stopped by the police about some purchases we had made across the border. I didn’t feel unsafe per se, but I was distressed because I couldn’t communicate or understand exactly what was going on.

  20. Central America Vacation /

    Best vacation spots in the planet are most in Central America.

  21. All-inclusive Central America Vacation /

    Exotic and amazing, that’s the best tourist spot Central America.

  22. Couldn’t agree more! I’ve spent the last year and a bit travelling through Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. I’m living in Panama for now, and of course, like every country around the world, there’s going to be unsafe places! For me, it’s more about “commonsense” travelling to avoid getting yourself into trouble (as best you can). In my opinion, Central America has some of the most beautiful, vibrant, and interesting places, food and people in the world! It’s a shame it gets a bad rap – but I guess on the flip-side, those “brave” enough to come here are handsomely rewarded! :) … thanks for the great article.
    Travelling Penster recently posted…Panama Practicalities: 11 things to know before moving to Panama CityMy Profile

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