Budget List: Central America on a Shoestring

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By Natasha Lincoln


Central America is a wonderland: Lush jungles, pristine beaches, insane wildlife, active volcanoes, ancient ruins, vibrant culture, and so much more. Luckily for travelers, it is also incredibly affordable! Central America is right up there with S.E. Asia as one of the cheapest travel destinations. However, each country has fairly different costs; I hear of travelers all the time being shocked at prices in certain countries; Costa Rica, Belize, and Panama. Although they are still fairly inexpensive, compared to a lot of other travel destinations, it is still good to have an idea of how the different countries vary in prices. I listed the countries below from the most expensive, to the least.


I broke it down by calculating the average costs for traveling on a tight budget, and here is what I went by:


“A meal out” = A modest meal, at a modest restaurant.

“Accommodation” = A dorm bed in a typical hostel.

“Local Transportation” = Local bus systems, chicken buses, you know, not the fancy kind.

“Alcohol”= Amount per beverage; it’s all about the essentials.


Costa Rica– Costa Rica shocks a lot of travelers, not just with beautiful coast lines, jungles, and immense biodiversity, but also with it’s prices. After having traveled through Central America, most travelers are surprised by how much more, in comparison, things cost in Costa Rica.

Daily Cost: $28

A meal out: $7

Accommodation: $14

Local Transportation: $3.50

Alcohol: $3.50


Panama- Panama is the southernmost country in Central America, and has a lot to offer: modern cities with crazy nightlife, rain forests, as well as more historic and cultural colonial cities. Prices can be a bit high, depending on where you are and what you are doing, but for the most part, is fairly affordable.

Daily Cost: $22

A meal out: $7

Accommodation: $10

Local Transportation: $3

Alcohol: $4


Belize- Belize is most known for it’s crystal clear, pristine waters, and is great for learning to scuba dive and for fishing. This country is certainly not the cheapest, but relatively moderate in pricing.

Daily Cost: $20

A meal out: $7

Accommodation: $9

Local Transportation: $2

Alcohol: $4



Guatemala- Guatemala is the northernmost country is Central America and insanely beautiful; my personal favourite. The pricing is very affordable, and there are many rainforests to explore, volcanoes to hike, and ancient ruins to visit.

Daily Cost: $13

A meal out: $4

Accommodation: $4

Local Transportation: $2

Alcohol: $2


Honduras- Honduras is definitely an underrated country, it is just as beautiful as the other Central American countries, and one of the cheapest (next to Nicaragua). By knowing which areas to visit, you will have a wonderful time here.

Daily Cost: $12.50

A meal out: $3

Accommodation: $3

Local Transportation: $4.50

Alcohol: $2


Nicaragua: Nicaragua is probably the coolest country in Central America, aside from it being the cheapest and having lots of wildlife, beautiful beaches (awesome surfing!), and jungles… There is volcano boarding!

Daily Cost: $10

A meal out: $4

Accommodation: $4

Local Transportation: $0.50

Alcohol: $1.50


Other tips to save money:


Work trade


Central America is a dangerous vortex- One of the biggest lies I hear here is: “I will be leaving tomorrow.” A lot of travelers check into hostels for just a night or two, but end up staying for much longer. If you are wanting to extend your stays, there is an easy and free way to do this: work trade! Since Central America is such a popular destination for backpackers, there are an abundance of work trade opportunities. You can exchange work at a hostel, a farm, or with a local in exchange for free accommodation and (sometimes) food. Here are a few websites that help make this easy:


Work Away





I have hitchhiked in several different regions of the world, and by far, Central America has been the most hitchhiker friendly; most people are picked up within 10-15 minutes (depending on the traffic in the area). You are free to do this at your own risk, but I have had great experiences getting to know people, and getting places for free this way.


Buy a Bottle of Rum


Like I said, the essentials. If you go out and buy drinks/shots at the bars, you may notice your money quickly disappearing. The best thing to do, at least in my experience, is to go to a large market and buy a (large) bottle of liquor for pregaming.


Eat at Sodas and Shop at Markets


Sodas are locally run and operated restaurants that are generally smaller, a lot cheaper, and completely locally run… It is a great way to experience local cuisine! Also, by shopping at markets and making dinner at a hostel (this is especially fun if you do it with a group of people), you will save a whole lot of money, and get to spend time getting to know interesting travelers.


Talking with travelers and locals


As you travel along, be social! I know this may seem obvious, but you will gain much greater advice on the best/cheapest places to go and things to do you from the people you meet while traveling than researching online. Try not to plan too much ahead, and keep your heart and mind open!


Central America is an absolutely beautiful and unique region of the world to explore. The more you can make your dollar stretch, the farther you can go and the more you can discover; luckily, this is rather easy to do!


Happy discovering,



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