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Rank the Central American Countries

skottandshawna

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  • Added on: August 27th, 2010
My wife and I are not 100% certain, but are considering Central America as the starting point for our RTW. This would likely begin in mid-June 2011.

Although we would love to hit every country on the globe, we recognize that this is not going to happen, and CA is no exception, so we were hoping you would rank these for us, as far as the "must-see" countries, and countries which you would recommend settling for a month or at least a couple of weeks. We may look at Spanish language school somewhere as well. Although we may drive (bus) through most of the region, we would likely only stop for significant periods of time (more than 3-4 days) in half of the countries...

We are not huge party people at all, but a few beers in the hot sun is always great. We enjoy meeting locals, don't mind the occasional museum, and a bit of history, but prefer more active outdoor activities. Again, ideally we would look at a Spanish school, or perhaps even a volunteering op if one became available.

So, that being said, in what order would you rank: Panama, Honduras, Costa Rica, Belize, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatamala?

Thanks

Felix the Hat

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  • Added on: August 27th, 2010
1. Panama. Very underrated. Awesome beaches, scuba diving, surfing, highland hiking, jungle trekking, Panama City.

2. Nicaragua. Beaches, revolutionary history, extremely cheap, volcanoes.

3. Guatemala. The most culturally distinct Central American country, heavily Maya, centered on the highlands, the best ruins in Mesoamerica (Tikal). Even cheaper than Nicaragua.

4. Costa Rica. Massively overrated and relatively expensive, it's still a great place to visit. Just not as great as Panama.

5. Honduras. Best and cheapest diving in the western hemisphere.

6. El Salvador. Tough country, nice people (the ones that aren't in gangs, anyway), good surfing.

7. Belize. Way overpriced, there's nothing here that neighboring countries don't have better. A lot of the people seem really inbred, especially the white ones.

Tortuga_traveller

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  • Added on: August 27th, 2010
never been to Panama, though the way Felix is talking it up, I must go there. It's in my plans. The Panama Canal is on my bucket list.

Guatemala- lots of variety, cheap, travel isn't too difficult.

Honduras- or rather, Copan-- must see that site in the very least, though haven't heard great things about the rest of the country. Tegucigalpa, I hear, is not worth seeing at all. Utila and Roatan are great for cheaper diving. No diving is actually cheap, when you count the cost of renting equipment and a boat. Lessons for diving are cheaper there as well.

Costa Rica- Great jungles and nature, great beaches with lots of tourist infrastructure. Not the cheapest, but people have come back raving about the natural beauty.

Nicauragua- close tie to winner over Costa Rica, never been there, on the bucket list.

Belize-- never had an interest.

Felix the Hat

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  • Added on: August 27th, 2010
Costa Rica and Panama have the best infrastructure for visitors. Costa Rica is more unabashedly geared toward tourists, while Panama has a more diverse economy. El Salvador actually has the largest economy in Central America, but security is a major issue there.

Guatemala and Nicaragua are the cheapest places to visit.

Panama, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua have the best beaches. Honduras has some lovely ones on the Caribbean, and El Salvador has a couple too. Belize's beaches aren't as nice as you'd think, but there are a lot of small islands you can rent. Guatemala has no beaches at all that are worth mentioning, despite a fairly long Pacific coast.

Food generally sucks everywhere in Central America, being monotonous, underseasoned, and oversalted.

The cities, with the exception of Panama City, are horrible. Guatemala City is a a dangerous hellhole, San Salvador nasty and violent, San Pedro Sula possibly even worse. Managua and Tegucigalpa are not quite as bad, sort of like comparing leprosy to ebola. San Jose is just boring and ugly, with a lot of pickpockets. Panama City is very cool.

Costa Rica has the hottest women.

skottandshawna

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  • Added on: August 27th, 2010
Felix the Hat wrote:
Costa Rica has the hottest women.



My wife will love that! :)

busman7

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  • Added on: August 27th, 2010
I am not a beach person, per say but do enjoy a couple days chilling at a beach every now & then so they don't play much in my ratings.

Belize is pretty much a dump with Belize City trying hard to be more dangerous than Guatemala City, however Caye Caulker is a , fairly reasonably priced & nice chill place, making a visit there worth while.

Spent 3 days in Costa Rica & that's enough for the rest of my life, save the expense & just go to Miami, San Jose is definitely NOT a nice place!

Honduras, only drove across on a Tica bus so can't comment.

Guatemala & Nicaragua are both cheap + very interesting with Guatemala taking my vote for #1 country in CA, very diverse, something for everyone & of course the home of Antigua, arguably the nicest town in the world!! :D

El Salvador shouldn't be missed especially a couple or 4 day chill-out at Hostel El Roble near Playa Diego. 8-) Trying to buy a casa nearby so may be a tad prejudiced. San Salvador has an upscale neighborhood of San Benito, with a Tica bus stop/hotel before going downtown that IS safe.

Panama is different + Panama City is the only city besides Bangkok that I would consider living in but it just isn't Guatemala or El Salvador!! :)
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"I started out alone to seek adventures. You don't really have to seek them - that is nothing but a phrase - they come to you." Mark Twain

skottandshawna

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  • Added on: August 28th, 2010
...and just a secondary question...would June-July-Aug be a decent time to go to CA, or would it be too wet?

busman7

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  • Added on: August 29th, 2010
Was in Antigua for a couple weeks the first part of July, the mornings were gorgeous, usually clouded up in the afternoons with some showers on a couple days, heavy rains usually came in the evenings.

Spent 4 days in El Salvador after Antigua with no rain however just missed a couple days of heavy rains.

This trip was only a couple weeks after the tail end of a hurricane went through that caused flooding that took out 52 bridges in Guatemala + a few in El Salvador so the normally 4 hr trip from Antigua to La Libertad took 6 1/2 hrs.

So yes a good time to visit as normally only an hr or 2 of rain in the evenings or overnight.
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"I started out alone to seek adventures. You don't really have to seek them - that is nothing but a phrase - they come to you." Mark Twain

halfnine

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  • Added on: August 29th, 2010
Felix the Hat wrote:1. Panama. Very underrated. Awesome beaches, scuba diving, surfing, highland hiking, jungle trekking, Panama City.

2. Nicaragua. Beaches, revolutionary history, extremely cheap, volcanoes.

3. Guatemala. The most culturally distinct Central American country, heavily Maya, centered on the highlands, the best ruins in Mesoamerica (Tikal). Even cheaper than Nicaragua.

4. Costa Rica. Massively overrated and relatively expensive, it's still a great place to visit. Just not as great as Panama.

5. Honduras. Best and cheapest diving in the western hemisphere.

6. El Salvador. Tough country, nice people (the ones that aren't in gangs, anyway), good surfing.

7. Belize. Way overpriced, there's nothing here that neighboring countries don't have better. A lot of the people seem really inbred, especially the white ones.


I have not been to Panama or El Salvador, but otherwise would largely agree with the order.

IG

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  • Added on: August 30th, 2010
This is based on my 4 month trip to those countries 2 years ago..so things obviously change since then.

1. GUATEMALA- was there for a month, all over the country including Tika, Poptun, Lanquin, Chichi, Xela, Antigua. Nicest people, cheapest, lots to do f rom beaches, to volcanos and caves to cities..just loved it. I did spanish school there as well...best place to do it. Cheapest and good quality teaching!

2. If i can't vote for guatemala again, I'd say HONDURAS- also cheap, loved the islands and overall good vibe (good mix btwn touristy but not)

3. Costa Rica- not much to say...too expensive but still worth it. Puerto Viejo in the caribbean side is great beach town and not too touristy

4. Panama-rougher infrastructure but worth enough for Bocas del Toro itself

5. Nicaragua/El Salvador-> too scary for me...nicaragua just did not give me the 'vibes', had fun in granada but that's about all

6. belize- a bit let down overall..

have i mentioned my love of guatemala?:)

enjoy!

bakpakaddict

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  • Added on: September 1st, 2010
Having spent the last 4.5 months in CA, I just want to give a giant plug to the most underrated country in the region, El Salvador.

- Ridiculously interesting, RECENT, history with the civil war and the FMLN movement. Go to Suchitoto and take a tour with Jerry, go to El Mozote and Perquin.
- Unbelievably friendly people (everyone says the locals in every country are friendly, which is true, but in El Salvador we were approached countless times by individuals simply wanting to know what we thought of their homeland).
- Beautiful nature - Parque Nacional El Imposible... anyone?? Volcanos? Beaches?
- Hands down THE best hostel we've stayed in in 5.2 months travelling... the Casa Verde in Santa Ana. Ask Carlos to take you to Trenchtown.
- The Ruta de las Flores. Food festivals and a great hostel and bar in Juayua. Sunny streets and incredibly friendly people in Apaneca. Lagoons.
- The most sensationalized security situation in the area.
- And not to mention incredibly cheap - yes, the housing is pricey, but the buses and food were the cheapest we've encountered. By far.

Loved me some El Salvador.

Other than that, my opinion is that Guatemala is the most diverse and interesting country in the region. The Mayan culture is pervasive, it's inexpensive, and has an enormous range of things to do from jungle to mountains to ruins to waterfalls to colonial cities to spanish schools to... everything.

Just my 2 cents... everyone's different right?

busman7

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  • Added on: September 2nd, 2010
bakpakaddict wrote:Having spent the last 4.5 months in CA, I just want to give a giant plug to the most underrated country in the region, El Salvador.

- Ridiculously interesting, RECENT, history with the civil war and the FMLN movement. Go to Suchitoto and take a tour with Jerry, go to El Mozote and Perquin.
- Unbelievably friendly people (everyone says the locals in every country are friendly, which is true, but in El Salvador we were approached countless times by individuals simply wanting to know what we thought of their homeland).
- Beautiful nature - Parque Nacional El Imposible... anyone?? Volcanos? Beaches?
- Hands down THE best hostel we've stayed in in 5.2 months travelling... the Casa Verde in Santa Ana. Ask Carlos to take you to Trenchtown.
- The Ruta de las Flores. Food festivals and a great hostel and bar in Juayua. Sunny streets and incredibly friendly people in Apaneca. Lagoons.
- The most sensationalized security situation in the area.
- And not to mention incredibly cheap - yes, the housing is pricey, but the buses and food were the cheapest we've encountered. By far.

Loved me some El Salvador.

Other than that, my opinion is that Guatemala is the most diverse and interesting country in the region. The Mayan culture is pervasive, it's inexpensive, and has an enormous range of things to do from jungle to mountains to ruins to waterfalls to colonial cities to spanish schools to... everything.

Just my 2 cents... everyone's different right?



Well then there are 2 of us that are different then! :trinque:

Loved El Salvador so much that on my last trip to Antigua, when I returned to Hostel El Roble at Playa Diego for a visit, I put an offer on a casa there, will be going down in a couple weeks to complete the deal.

Sorry Juan3 but the prices there are just too good + pretty sure of a full time teaching position in the area but once the bridge near Esculinta is replaced it's only a 4 hr trip back to my beloved La Antigua! 8-)
http://blogs.bootsnall.com/busman7 | http://wwwlasbrisasplayasandiego.blogspot.com
"I started out alone to seek adventures. You don't really have to seek them - that is nothing but a phrase - they come to you." Mark Twain

Felix the Hat

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  • Added on: September 2nd, 2010
bakpakaddict wrote:- Unbelievably friendly people (everyone says the locals in every country are friendly, which is true, but in El Salvador we were approached countless times by individuals simply wanting to know what we thought of their homeland).


Can't disagree with this. One of the most endearing things about the people in El Salvador was how curious and friendly they were. The country is easily the least-touristed in Central America.

Piecar

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  • Added on: September 3rd, 2010
Well, it is dependent on what you like to do. Of the seven countries, with me liking to scuba dive and not much for lying on the beach (keep getting mistaken for a whale, and people keep trying to "save" me).

1. Honduras
2. Guatemala:
3. Nicaragua: Virgin territories. Very approachable people. Volcanoes. Surfing. Beaches. Cheap likeada borscht. Only Managua weighs it down. The place is barren of
4. Costa Rica: Read the million articles about the place....But CR is like a pretty girl who KNOWS she's pretty. The place is the second most expensive. The towns get more tourist oriented every year. and I find many of the smiles to be fake these days. Still the bosque is unbelievable.
5.El Salvador: The people are really great. I was in San Salvador and the amount of people who offered me their phone number to call if I needed help was impressive. The countryside is beautiful. I don't surf, and that's it's big claim to fame. Also, it has the least infrastructure for tourism in my view.
6. Belize The diving is terrific. They speak English. The people are friendly and laidback. It's more expensive than the rest, and the inner part of the country is not that great. BZE is a hole, Belmopan is on par with Managua for "bleh" ness.
7. Panama
Panama is a fine country. It isn't underrated, however, and after spending some time diving there, I find the diving to be substandard. there are many better places to dive in CA. Panama City, the town Felix talks up so much, has an area of nightclubs, and it has an "American" section. This seems to be what people like about the place. I didn't go to CA to go to a nightclub, and I didn't go to enjoy American conveniences. The only other place that is interesting in PTY is Casco Viejo. It's good for a about one afternoon. The country is at the bottom of many other countries that all have the same kind of jungle, beach and people. It is "more of the same" in my view. I like the country, don't get me wrong, it's just not a standout.
Good Luck Out There.

El Viajero

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  • Added on: September 4th, 2010
My favorites in descending order.

Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Panama, Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador


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