A nighttime shot of Antigua

Things I loved (and didn’t love) about Central America

Yeah so I’m no Central American expert. I spent four weeks there, in El Salvador and Guatemala. In fact, I had absolutely no intention of going there anytime soon at all until Adventurous Kate put the idea in my head. But then my buddy Shaun messaged me and was like, “LET’S GO!” and since I know we travel well together and it’d ease the uneasiness I had about going to a destination everyone told me I’d get murdered in, it all seemed like a great idea. So we hopped on a Runaway Guides tour.

I didn’t get murdered! Thing #1 I loved about Central America.

Basically, El Salvador and Guatemala were two of the most surprising destinations I have ever visited. I did not expect such beauty, such good food, and such friendly people. I never ONCE felt unsafe. Okay, once I did. But Shaun and I were lost in La Libertad in El Salvador and people kept asking if we wanted a hotel and it was really weird. So we took an unmarked taxi back to El Tunco, which is also dumb, but it was about 40 degrees and I was dying.

I didn’t get murdered!

What did I love?


1. How easy it was to get around

The backpacker route through Central America is amazingly convenient. It is LEGIT easier to travel around this area than it is to travel around Newfoundland, my home province, in a completely modern and developed country. There are routes to all the Central American countries, and it’s CHEAP. Typically a 6-8 drive will cost about $30USD (or a lot less – we didn’t bargain much).

First ride in a Tuk Tuk!

First ride in a Tuk Tuk!

Central America is about as cheap as Southeast Asia. I guess everyone just goes to SE Asia because it’s apparently safer. In El Tunco, beers were $1 each. Jumbo beers were $2 each. In Guatemala, prices could be a little bit pricier, but generally about $2 a beer.

Yes, the price of alcohol is literally my reference point for determining a place’s cost of living.

Beach party in El Tunco

Hostel dorms started at $5/night. Private rooms were $15-$20 a night.

3. Anything goes

In El Tunco you could walk everywhere with a beer in hand and nobody gives the slightest shit. Heck, you can even bring outside alcohol into a restaurant establishment. It’s not the most respectful thing to do, but. Well. Okay.

Parties were out of control. You didn’t have to give anyone your credit card to book a room. Shoes and shirts were optional. In Jaibalito, we learned not to bat an eyelash at the children selling us beer at the family-run corner store. Everything was magical.

4. The age range

The last few times I’ve travelled, I felt like the old grandmother delegated to the senior’s table where I could knit happily for hours and chat about life in the 80s. Nearly everyone I met in Central America was in their mid-late 20s or 30s, including my tour group. The youngest person was 27. Hallelujah! Praise the lord!

5. Unbelievable beauty

Guatemala’s Semuc Champey and Lake Atitlan were two of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited in my life. Volcanoes, insane rivers and waterfalls, lakes that look like oceans, mountains, lush jungles. And we had SO MUCH of it to ourselves.

Beautiful Semuc Champey

Unbelievable Semuc Champey.
6. Everyone is friendly

I mean sure everyone wants your money, but even then they’re nice about it. When we were lost in La Libertad, one guy kept pursuing us about a hotel. Finally I turned and said in complete frustration, “TAXI?” And the dude gave us directions with hand gestures and broken English. Nobody wants you to die or anything. That’s not good for business. People for the most part are nice.

7. FOOD!

Beans, cheese, meats, tortillas, salsa, avocados. This basically comprises the food groups of my life (with beer and chocolate thrown in), and they’re available in abundance everywhere. For cheap. Mad cheap. I don’t think I paid more than $10 for a meal, and that includes some pretty high-end shit.

My favourite? Pupsas. Stuffed handmade tortillas filled with cheese, beans, and other goods. Topped with coleslaw and salsa. The best thing. Ever. El Salvador’s dish.

What I didn’t love about Central America

Naturally all these points listed above have their counterpoints. Central America was maddeningly frustrating sometimes, beyond words. I had to keep reminding myself that we were in a developing country, and these things happen. And since I’m a privileged white Canadian, they happened a lot.

1. How shitty the transportation was

Oh my blessed heart. The worst trip I’ve ever done in my life was the 12-hour drive from San Pedro to Semuc Champey. Our tour operator who told us if we paid extra we’d go direct to Semuc completely swindled us. But the driver INSISTED that we were supposed to stop for two hours in Antigua, despite everyone on the bus heading straight to Semuc. He was seriously pissed. The others paid extra to get there, again.

But then there was a drunk guy on the bus, and there was no air conditioning, and few stops. The driver and his family stopped for food and made us wait an extra 30 minutes although he had told us to be ready at 1. He power washed the bus and got our luggage wet. And that’s pretty typical for travel.

2. Amenities were lacking

At the risk of sounding like a goddamned princess (honestly never knew how high maintenance I was until this trip, and I had packed the lightest out of all the girls), I found myself having MANY sleepless nights in my hostels or hotels because of creepy crawlies and lack of air conditioning and stupid asshole loud birds squawking endlessly outside my window. Sometimes I cried about it. I’m not ashamed. I missed out on half a day touring Semuc Champey because I had popped THREE SLEEPING PILLS the night before, and still laid awake all night in a restless, frustrated, terrified stupor.

Vulcano Lodge, Guatemala

I didn’t take any pics of our shitty accommodations. This is by far the best place we stayed in — Vulcano Lodge, in Jaibalito on Atitlan Lake. Could have stayed here FOREVER.
AND THE WIFI. Do not ever believe a sign in Central America saying they have good WiFi. I have been working 12-hour days since I got home to catch up on my workload, hence the no blog posts thing.

3. The bugs

This isn’t really a problem limited to Central America as my sweet gingery wholesome blood seems to attract mosquitoes and bugs of all types, constantly, no matter where I am in the world. My legs were forever covered in nasty bites, sometimes infected and oozing. I had heat blisters all over my ankles. I was pretty convinced a bot fly had landed on me and laid eggs all over my body. I’ll let you know in a few weeks.

4. The constant cat calling

Some Guatemalan men are seriously assholes.

5. The constant pitches to buy things

I don’t know how expats do it. By the end of the trip, anytime a sweet old Maya lady came up to me in the street selling me stuff, I no longer responded with a polite “no gracias.” I stared at her blankly while drool dribbled down my chin until she freaked out and went away. I DON’ WANT A NECKLACE OR A HANDMADE CLOTH OR A STUPID DOLL.

6. Being sick all the time

By day two of our tour, everyone in the group was very open about talking about bodily functions. We were often sharing one bathroom, after all.

Fresh fruit in Guatemala

Delicious with lots of potential for explosive diarrhea.
I’d go back, in a heartbeat. If I had known in advance how EASY it is to do Central America, I’d have booked a longer trip. Most people I met were coming straight from Mexico and working their way down to Nicaragua or Costa Rica. And most of the time you could do it without having to book anything in advance.

Fair warning, though: the winter months are the best time to visit. We were entering into rainy season when we arrived, and days were often hazy or unclear. Sometimes we couldn’t see the volcanoes around Lake Atitlan at all. But there, that’s me being a princess again.

Would you go to Central America? I’ll be talking more in-depth about El Salvador and Guatemala in the coming blog posts!

  • May 13 2015

    Two things I’d hands down recommend before a trip to Central America: Ben’s 30 bug repellent (this stuff is wicked) and Dukoral before you go. I know Costa Rica is more developed than El Salvador or Guatemala but I was still worried about the water/fruit. When I went to get my shots updated, I got Dukoral and ate and drank local with nary an issue.

    • May 18 2015

      I had bug repellant, but not Dukoral! Good call. I did have some Cipro, though. But it didn’t last me the whole trip.

  • May 13 2015

    In Argentina, the cat calling drove me crazy – and apparently it’s milder there than in Central America. Central America is high on my list, sadly there are a lot of misconceptions about it being insanely dangerous. Reading posts like yours is always reassuring!


    • May 18 2015

      Honestly, I didn’t feel unsafe in the slightest! People are SO friendly and helpful. For the most part.

  • May 13 2015
    Gemma Cleaver

    I found the cat calling worse in Nicaragua, guys would make kissing noises at you in the street, but again, I never felt unsafe in Central America, and absolutely loved it there. Amenities were pretty basic, true, but they’re also really cheap! :) I miss it, Guatemala and Nicaragua, despite their downfalls and lack of luxury were my favourite places in Central America! :)

    • May 18 2015

      My friend in Nicaragua said the same thing! Even the young boys cat called at her. That’s going to be my next stop in Central America!

  • May 14 2015
    Rebekah Crabtree

    haha- I love this post. I hate when people just write about everything is perfect when honestly nothing is ever perfect. I would freak out about not being also to sleep. its so stressful

    • May 18 2015

      Ugh, for real! I’m a notorious insomniac anyway, but travel just makes it harder.

  • May 14 2015

    The birds. Oh my god, the birds. I’m so glad you mentioned how annoying they are in the morning because I always feel like such a terrible person for complaining about them! At my homestay in Cusco the owner had multiple pet birds plus the birds that just hung outside the window.. needless to say I was up at 5am every morning with tears streaming down my face.

    Central America does sound lovely though! I like the fact that the age range is a bit higher. I’ll definitely be putting it on my must visit list!

    • May 18 2015

      LOL RIGHT? There was one that sounded like a telephone, constantly. I wanted to murder all the birds.

  • May 15 2015

    Sounds like you had an incredible, but kind of stressful trip. I love travel, but I’d probably be freaking out a little bit over the bugs.

    • May 18 2015

      I was convinced a bot fly had bore its way through my leg. Hahaha.

  • May 16 2015

    LMAO at the high maintenance… well, to be honest, you are not the only one. I’m from South America and I should be used to the same as what you posted, but honestly, I am just as high maintenance as you describe. I can’t help it. Also because I have little patience for people wanting to sell me shit all the time, bugs everywhere and irrational behavior from locals also.

    • May 18 2015

      Hahaha OMG the constant sales pitches! I JUST WANNA WALK AROUND IN PEACE

      • May 18 2015

        Also, I tended to visit markets only where people didn’t bother me constantly. I mean don’t people just want to shop in peace?

      • May 19 2015

        It tends to confuse them if you say “No thank you” in a language that is clearly not your own…like Korean. ;) Got rid of a couple French annoyances in Paris that way. Maybe they just thought I’d lost my marbles. Regardless…

  • May 21 2015

    Sounds like a challenging trip, but a good one! Central America has really been on my radar lately. I’m kind of dying at the asshole birds, haha. I’m a little nervous about all the catcalling that seems notorious in the region since I plan to travel by myself. Good to hear so many good things along with the not so good!

    • May 22 2015

      The catcalling was annoying, but harmless! I mean, that doesn’t excuse it, but I never felt at risk or anything. I think you’d love it!

  • May 30 2015

    This post is beyond hilarious and so refreshing because sometimes foreign countries are a pain in the ass, meanwhile everyones #lovinglife. You tell it like it is! Plus I love the comment about the price of living being based on beer, So true! 50c in Cambodia, says it all. Looks like you saw and ate some amazing stuff and I’m so itching to get there now!

    • May 30 2015

      Hahaha the beer pricing thing NEVER leads me astray! Thanks so much, glad you enjoyed!

  • June 01 2015

    I’ll echo a common sentiment, great to hear some candid thoughts about travelling Candice, much needed out here. Our thing with CA has always been fear of shitty food, but it sounds like that may not be a huge deal, so that’s encouraging. It seems like the kind of place NOT to go if you are on the cheapest shoestring budget and just save up and do it right at a higher standard.

    • June 04 2015

      Thanks, Scott! And you’re right, even paying for things at a higher stander isn’t terribly expensive. Our Vulcano Lodge was incredibly cheap, and there are quite a few beach resorts. After being in Vegas for the past week though I doubt there’s anything in CA that comes close to the kind of westernized services we expect, haha.

  • June 19 2015

    I didn’t really liked Antigua but I sure loved my time at Santiago de Atitlan and Flores. Nicaragua was a hit or miss for me: great volcanoes and colonial cities but I found it quite hard to find local experiences outside of the beaten path. Salvador and Honduras really impressed me however.

    • June 22 2015

      Yeah, Antigua wasn’t really my jam either! I had fun, but I preferred Lake Atitlan. I’ll have to do Honduras next time!!

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