Without a doubt, the question I get asked most often about my trip through Central America is: How much did you spend while traveling non-stop for 3 months?! The answer usually surprises people! Before leaving for our trip through Central America I did A LOT of research: Itinerary, hostels, activities, and most importantly- the cost of traveling. Saving money is tricky for me. I like to spend it! So I needed to figure out a number that was reasonable. After much research, we decided that $1000 per month per person would be about right. We would try to spend less than that, but we also had a cushion in case we spent more. Our ultimate goal was to spend $6000 in the three months we were traveling.
So how did we do?
Not too bad!
We traveled for 13 weeks and spent $6,784
We always stayed in private rooms. Sometimes we had shared bathrooms, but mostly we had privates. We stayed in hostels, budget hotels, regular hotels and family houses. Our rooms varied from very basic to somewhat luxurious. Sometimes all there was in a room was a bed, other times we had a TV and air conditioning. Except for the very first place we stayed in Antigua, Guatemala (Yellow House Hostel) we found all of our hostels by showing up in the town and asking around for a good place to stay. The most we ever spent on a hotel was $50 in Belize, and the least was $10 in Nicaragua. Tip: If you want to save money on accommodation, beds in dorm rooms were usually between $4-8 dollars per person per night
Food & Drink
This was our biggest expense. We love eating and drinking. We ate out for almost every meal. We occasionally bought groceries and cooked in the hostel kitchen, but for the most part, food was cheap and since we moved around so regularly, it was easier to just go out and enjoy ourselves. In the beginning, Chris was very hesitant to eat anything that came from a cart or from a restaurant that wouldn’t have met American standards. We spent a lot more money on food in the beginning of our trip than the end. I slowly wore him down and got him to give in to eating street food (particularly at Pupserias in El Salvador!).
Tip: Lots of restaurants have a “Menu of the Day” that usually consists of rice, beans, salad and meat. It is filling, tasty and cheap!
Almost all of our transportation was on public buses. In Nicaragua, El Salvador, Belize and Honduras the buses are old American school buses that are packed way beyond capacity. Super cheap, not very comfortable, but quite an experience! In Costa Rica and Panama the public buses are much nicer coach buses, most with air conditioning. The prices are higher, but not by too much. In Guatemala we got around on tourist shuttles. They go everywhere in the country, no joke. Just show up in a town and you’re almost guaranteed to find a direct shuttle to another place in the country. Tip: If you need to take a cab, be okay with talking them down. Cab drivers come in at super high prices when they see you are a tourist, but they can often be brought way down.
Our activities included hiking, park entrance fees, scooter, bike and kayak rentals, and guided tours.
Tip: If you do your research, lots of guided tours can be done on your own for a fraction of the cost.
This is everything else we spent money on: Laundry, entry and exit fees, internet cafes, and souvenirs.
A Couple of other things to note:
– At the beginning of our trip and the end of of our trip we didn’t think about money as much as we should have. In the beginning we were so shocked with the low cost of living that we ended up spending way more because everything was “so cheap”! At the end of our trip, we knew we would be returning home soon and would immediately start working, so we just whittled away our bank accounts to the very last dollar. – I wish I kept a log of how much we spent on smoothies and ice cream. We ate these things A LOT. – We spent 12 days in Belize, but the first 7 were on vacation with my family and we did not spend any money from our stash. Belize was very expensive, and if we did have to spend our own money that week, we would be far over budget. We lived really well while in Central America! We never wanted for anything, never stayed anywhere super scummy, and did and saw a lot! We could have definitely spent more and definitely spent less. I am very okay with how much money we spent while traveling.