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Adoration 4 Adventure’s backpacking Central America budget breakdown for costs including destinations in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama (from $27 per day).

If you are contemplating backpacking Central America, then this is a great place to start. After spending nine weeks traveling Central America on a budget, I am sharing everything I know to help you save money. Here is my Central America backpacking budget for each country, so you can plan yours.

Central America travel budget tips include:

  • How to calculate an estimated cost of backpacking Central America
  • Tips for traveling in Central America on a budget
  • My backpacking Central America budget
  • My cost to backpack each country
  • Budget accommodation recommendations
  • How to find cheap flights
  • Resource links for more information.
Keep your backpack light with my warm weather packing list (female and male) which I used for this 9-week backpacking trip of Central America.

 

What Central America on a budget means to me

I traveled on a backpacking budget which meant mostly street food, local transportation, hostels or budget hotels. Although I wasn’t as strict as I could have been – splurging on ice creams, beers, and the occasion shuttle bus. So feel free to take that into consideration and adjust your budget estimates accordingly. I also visited Central America during the rainy season which meant off-peak prices, particularly for accommodation. 

In some locations, I have not included my accommodation expenses because I worked in exchange for board while traveling. For these destinations, the average cost of accommodation has been provided as well as a link to current prices so you can factor this into your calculations.

A great to reduce your travel expenses and enjoy a meaningful local experience is by volunteering with Worldpackers. Get your exclusive $20 USD discount on membership!

How to reduce the cost of backpacking Central America

The countries and cities in Central America will vary in price difference, with the more touristic locations attracting higher costs. As a general rule of thumb, the cheapest countries to travel within are Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Nicaragua is slightly more expensive and gets more pricey the further south you travel. The more expensive countries to travel in are Belize, Costa Rica, and Panama.

Each country has its own charms and uniqueness so it is a shame to skip any based on budget restrictions alone. For example, I cooked more in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama but in the other countries enjoyed the street food instead (USD $1-2.50 each for a meal).

By using this article as a guide, you will be able to set your Central America budget and expectations for whichever destinations you are heading to.

Catarata Rio Fortuna Costa Rica - backpacking central america budget

How to find cheap flights to Central America

If you are planning to visit each of the seven countries as I did, then you will probably be better off to start in Belize City and travel south or Panama City and travel north. These cities both have major international airports. For those who want to extend their trip further, check out my 6-day backpacking itinerary for the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico and highlights of South America.

Generally, it can be expensive to fly between cities in Central America but you might be able to find some deals or direct flights from North American or European cities. I have also seen cheap flights to Managua and Liberia.

The major Central America airports include:

  • Tocumen International Airport in Panama City, Panama
  • Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport in Belize City, Belize
  • Juan Santamaría International Airport in San Jose, Costa Rica
  • Comalapa International Airport in San Salvador, El Salvador
  • La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City, Guatemala
  • Augusto C. Sandino International Airport in Managua, Nicaragua
  • Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia, Costa Rica
  • Ramón Villeda Morales International Airport in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

My backpacking Central America budget

Here are the countries I visited as well as the averange amount I spent each day. Not all prices include the full cost of accommodation as I was working in exchange for free stays, so please check the individual costs for each country below.

  • Belize (10 days from $40 USD per day)
  • Guatemala (12 days from $33 USD per day)
  • Honduras  (3 days from $31 USD per day)
  • El Salvador (9 days from $11 USD per day)
  • Nicaragua (16 days from $18 USD per day)
  • Costa Rica (4 days from $38 USD per day)
  • Panama (8 days from $20 USD per day).

Average daily spend: $27 USD per person ($35 AUD as of 11 August 2016).

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala - budget for central america

Belize backpacking cost

Destinations I visited:

  • Caye Caulker (3 days)
  • Ambergris Caye (3 days)
  • San Ignacio (4 days).

Where I stayed:

Average daily spend: $40 USD per person ($51.43 AUD as at 10 October 2017) excluding the ATM Caves tour and cost of accommodation on Caye Caulker (budget rooms start at around USD $50 per night). Save more money on you Central America budget by sticking strictly to street food or cooking your own meals.

Resources to help you plan your Belize backpacking trip

Snorkeling with Nurse Sharks - 2 months in central america

Guatemala backpacking cost

Destinations I visited:

  • Flores (2 days)
  • Lanquin and Semuc Champey (3 days)
  • Antigua (4 days)
  • Lake Atitlan (3 days).

Where I stayed:

Average daily spend: 244.25 Quetzales per person ($33.26 USD /  $42.76 AUD as at 10 October 2017). Save more money on you Central America budget by taking local transport (see itinerary post for alternative methods), sticking strictly to street food or cooking your own meals. See a full budget breakdown in my 12-day backpacking Guatemala itinerary.

Resources to help you plan your Guatemala backpacking trip

Tikal ruins - central america on a budget

Honduras backpacking cost

Destinations I visited:

  • Copan Ruinas (3 days).

Where I stayed:

Average daily spend: 728.75 Lempiras per person ($31.14 USD / $40.05 AUD 10 October 2017) excluding accommodation costs in Copan Ruinas (Budget double rooms start around USD $15 per night). Save more money on you Central America budget by skipping certain activities or spreading them out over a longer period of time to reduce the daily cost. See a full budget breakdown in my 2-day Copan Ruinas itinerary.

Resources to help you plan your Honduras backpacking trip

Copan Ruinas - central america travel budget

El Salvador backpacking cost

Destinations I visited: 

  • Juayua (3 days)
  • El Tunco (3 days)
  • El Cuco (3 days).

Where I stayed:

Average daily spend: $11.30 USD per person ($14.66 AUD as at 11 August 2016) excluding the cost of accommodation (Budget double rooms start around USD $29 per night). There were problems with bed bugs in Juayua, which is why I received the full refund – make sure to check your mattress carefully before taking a room.

Resources to help you plan your El Salvador backpacking trip

El Tunco - backpacking central america

Nicaragua backpacking cost

Destinations I visited:

  • Leon (5 days)
  • Granada (5 days)
  • Ometepe (3 days)
  • Playa Marsella (3 days).

Where I stayed:

Average daily spend: $17.90 USD per person ($23.01 AUD as at 10 October 2017) excluding the cost of accommodation in Playa Marsella (budget rooms start around USD $20) and two nights’ accommodation in Granada (budget rooms start around USD $18). Save more money on you Central America budget by sticking more strictly to street food or cooking your own meals.

Resources to help you plan your Nicaragua backpacking trip

Granada - cost of backpacking central america

Costa Rica backpacking cost

Destinations I visited:

  • San Jose (1 day)
  • La Fortuna (3 days).

Where I stayed:

Average daily spend: $38.24 USD per person ($49.16 AUD as at 10 October 2017) excluding the cost of accommodation in La Fortuna (budget rooms start around USD $25). I decided to rent a car from San Jose to La Fortuna. You could opt to travel by bus which would save you money upfront but could end up costing more if you have to catch taxis to get around the town. See a full breakdown in my 2-day La Fortuna itinerary.

Resources to help you plan your Costa Rica backpacking trip

La Fortuna - central america backpacking budget

Panama backpacking cost

Destinations I visited:

  • Bocas del Toro (5 days)
  • Panama City (3 days).

Where I stayed:

Average daily spend: $20.50 USD ($26.36 AUD as at 10 October 2017) excluding the cost of accommodation in Panama City (budget rooms start around USD $30) and two nights’ accommodation in Bocas del Toro (budget rooms start around USD $15). Save more money on you Central America budget by sticking strictly to street food or cooking your own meals. I cooked a lot in Bocas del Toro but not in Panama City.

Resources to help you plan your Panama backpacking trip

Panama City - 3 months central america budget

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All images (except the Nurse Sharks which is my own) were sourced from Pixabay and Unsplash under Creative Commons CC0.


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Adoration 4 Adventure's budget breakdown for costs to backpack Central America including destinations in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. My Central America backpacking budget trip broken down so you can plan yours.

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