Americans have been traveling Central America, in large numbers, for decades – they move there just as frequent. I am just not sure why. I do not understand the draw. I guess it is easy to learn the language, it is in the same hemisphere, and a quick flight back home. And, I have been told, it is easy to score pot – that might be a big selling point for folks.
Other than that, I am not sure why people are so fascinated. In our 2+ months traveling Central America, we had a handful of good experiences. But, it did not live up to expectations. Central America travel is hard.
At the end of our trip I reviewed our tour book, Rough Guide, once again. I also took a look at what Lonely Planet had to say. I came across several claims about traveling Central America – some fact and some fiction – so I thought it would be a good time to take a moment and provide some closing thoughts on Central America.
Facts on Traveling Central America
“Traveling by chicken bus is an economical and unforgettable experience.”
- This is true – it is cheap, sometimes as little as $.50 for an hour ride. It is also unforgettable – it’s hot, sweaty, cramped, dusty, and noisy. My butt will never forget the lack of cushion on those old school bus seats as we bumped across the Guatemalan countryside.
“The [chicken buses] stop on demand, wherever passengers ask to get off or people flag down passing services. Sometimes it can seem like you’re stopping every thirty metres.”
- This is true – it does not just seem like the chicken bus is stopping every thirty metres, it actually stops that frequently. I could not understand why people would not just get off when the bus stopped and walk the extra 20 feet to their destination.
Taking steps to avoid getting bitten by insects, particularly mosquitos, is essential.”
- Another truth. The mosquitos, and bugs, were out of control. I never experienced so many bites from so many different kinds of bugs. Unfortunately, every step I took to prevent the bites just seemed to make things worse.
“Sandflies, often present on beaches, are tiny and very difficult to see, and hence avoid – you will be made aware of their presence only when they bite, and by then it can be too late. The bites, usually found around the ankles, itch like hell, and last for days.”
- Unfortunately, a big time truth. I spent days trying not to itch my ankles and feet, which had so many bites that my feet burned in pain.
“No matter when you visit, or how long you’re there, daily adventures are there for the taking. They come in all styles – fun, easy, bumpy, challenging, surprising, fulfilling – the sort you’ll be talking about for decades.”
- This is entirely true. I will be talking about my dislike of Central America for decades.
El Salvador “has long struggled to gain tourists’ trust.
- I understand why. I was miserable, transportation was awful, and in the week we were there, we were never able to access cash at an ATM. It was also unnecessarily and irrationally expensive.
Fictions of Traveling Central America
“Traveling by bus in Central America is by far the most convenient and comprehensive way to get around.”
“Traveling from place to place is easy and won’t break the bank: a combination of the colorful local “chicken buses”, border-crossing international coaches...”
- Anyone who says traveling in Central America is easy is sadistic. It is true that it is cheap, but I have experienced better value transport in Southeast Asia, and the border crossings are easier. It was strange, in a land where I can speak the language, I dreaded the border crossings. In Asia, they were easy and I can’t even pretend to speak the language.
- The international coach we took across the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border was also loud, broke down several times, and did little to ease the time spent at the border. In fact, it took less time to cross the borders on our own, while walking.
“Tiny on a map, Central America packs in more diversity than any similar-sized area on the planet.”
- I have to disagree from the diversity standpoint, perhaps there were more people of European descent in Panama than in Guatemala, and the roads were better maintained the further south we went, but other than that, I felt a lack of diversity, particularly in the food.
“With its elegant colonial buildings, Granada is Nicaragua’s architectural gem.”
- Granada, overall, was filthy. The tourist heart of town was kept pretty clean, but as soon as you crossed the end of the line to the wrong side of the tracks, the area surrounding the central park and the market were some of the most despicably dirty roads I have ever seen.
Los Cobanos, El Salvador, features “idyllic, white sand beaches”
- I don’t even know where to start with this one. The sand was almost white, but the beaches were dirty and unaccessible. It was a fishing village more than anything. It was far from idyllic.
Concluding Thoughts Traveling Central America
I have not been shy with my feelings on traveling in Central America thus far. It is not as though I hated Central America, I was just utterly disappointed. My expectations were not super high, they were manageable. We also had a particularly good experience in Guatemala, setting the bar high for the next few countries, which each were entirely disappointing.
But, I travel on my stomach. I am drawn to great food and cultures that embrace the concept of eating well. I even love the concept of meat, beans, and rice. But, we got bored quickly, found a hard time finding something decent to eat on a regular basis, and, of course, we got sick.
The most unfortunate thing is that we decided not to stick it out to travel through South America, where I wanted to spend time with friends. Instead, we realized we needed to spend our time, money, and energy following our passion, Asia. For that, I have to thank Central America, but I am sorry we did not see our friends.
I also recognize that this is a RTW Problem – we are lucky to be living the life we are. But, not every day is easy. Not every day is unicorns and rainbows. We don’t enjoy every country we go to. Hopefully that is about to change. Adios Central America.