Central America is one of the most affordable parts of the world to travel in. Almost every country offers good value but there are subtle differences in prices as you cross borders. Below, we’ll take a look at the estimated cost of travel in Central America. There are suggested daily budgets for each country and an overall Central America backpacking budget which should help you plan your trip.
Cost of Travel in Central America in 2023
Central America backpacking budget
|Country||Estimated Daily Backpacking Budget (USD)|
It typically costs between $25 and $40 per day to travel in Central America. You can potentially get by on $20/day in Nicaragua aside from the more expensive Corn Islands where you may need more like $30. Guatemala and El Salvador also offer great value while Belize is the most expensive Central American country to visit.
These figures are based on costs at the time of writing (January 2023). They are suitable for anyone travelling on the cheap by staying in hostel dorms or very basic private rooms where it’s affordable to do so. It will require you to use the local chicken buses which are a fun and budget-friendly if somewhat slow way to get around the region.
These budgets allow for the odd activity each day but nothing like expensive diving courses or multi-day guided treks which can significantly add to the cost of your trip. The budget allows for a bit of partying but you will struggle to stick to this if you are looking to drink alcohol and go out most nights.
Central America mostly compares favourably to the cost of travel in other countries in the region. Your total daily budget here may not even get you a bed to sleep in over in the US with our USA backpacking budget significantly higher.
The cost of travel in Mexico is more like $35/day so you’ll still find prices drop if you cross from there into Guatemala. $35 may also be a suitable Cuba backpacking budget while overall Central America is a bit cheaper when compared to a typical South America backpacking budget.
Monthly budget to backpack Central America
|How long?||Possible Budget (USD)||Possible Budget (EUR)||Possible Budget (GBP)|
|1 Month in Central America||$900||€825||£725|
|2 Months in Central America||$1800||€1650||£1450|
|3 Months in Central America||$2700||€2475||£2175|
You will need around $900 per month to backpack Central America. That’s based on spending $30/day on average and again assumes you will stay in budget accommodation and use local transport whilst either preparing your own food or eating in affordable, local restaurants.
Note that this does not include the cost of flights to/from the region, any visas/vaccinations or travel insurance. These things are impossible to factor in as they are dependent on your nationality and where you are coming from but can quite easily double your total budget for the trip.
Obviously your actual spend will depend on your style of travel and which countries you visit. Shoestring travellers in Central America may be wise to focus on Guatemala, Nicaragua and perhaps El Salvador. You may be able to get by on a bit less than the figures above if the majority of your time is spent in those countries.
However, spend longer in somewhere like Costa Rica or Belize, or a pricier destination such as the Bay Islands in Honduras, and you will most likely go over $1000/month.
How much money do you need to backpack Central America on a more comfortable budget?
If you are pushed for time and want to see as much as possible, or just have a bit more money saved up for the trip, you may be wise to increase your Central America backpacking budget. The figures above are designed for shoestring travellers but by adding an extra $10/day in Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador, or perhaps $15 more in Panama, Costa Rica or Belize, will significantly increase your options.
By increasing your budget, you can take the faster tourist buses when getting from A to B. This will save you time and quite a bit of hassle given the local bus networks can be very complicated to navigate for the uninitiated and those with limited Spanish.
Increasing your budget will also allow you to do more trips and activities. There are a lot of natural wonders in Central America but many of them do require you to go with a guide or on some kind of organised trip. That’s either for safety reasons or because they are hard to reach by regular public transport. This can push your costs well above the previous shoestring budgets if you’re doing things like that most days.
How to save money as a budget traveller in Central America
Travel by chicken bus
These are the names given to the buses that most people use to get around in Central America. They are good for short or long distance trips (you may need to change buses with the latter). They are essentially old US school buses that have usually had a colourful paint job and you can use them to get from A to B by just flagging them down from the side of the road. Somebody will come to collect the price of the ticket once you’re onboard. In most cases, they’ll be used to confused backpackers hopping on and should tell you when it’s time to get off or change to another bus.
Carry the local currency
Central America still has a cash-based culture with debit/credit card payments only accepted in certain situations. US Dollars are widely accepted (El Salvador and Panama have the Dollar as their official currency) however you can still end up paying a premium, so getting your hands on some local cash is advisable early in your stay in a new country. ATM’s are not always the most reliable either so it’s always useful to carry cash.
Central America is a poor part of the world and there are a lot of community projects that need volunteers to come in and make a difference. You may strike it lucky and find something on your travels but it’s probably better to line something up beforehand.
Worldpackers is a good platform that enables travellers to find placements across Central America and you will also benefit from free accommodation and food from any work exchange. It usually costs $49/year to join and access the placements, but you can use the promo code ‘MYFUNKYTRAVELWP’ to get a $10 discount.
You may also find basing yourself in one place and living in Central America for a few months to be a worthwhile experience, particularly if you have a way of working remotely online. The cost of living in Central America is among the lowest on the North American continent and you’ll find it easier to keep costs down than if you’re constantly moving from A to B.
This look at a possible Central America backpacking budget was last updated in January 2023.