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10 Top tips for travellers in Central America

Published November 30th, 2018

Are you planning a Central American adventure and wondering how you can make your hard earned savings go further overseas? We’ve teamed up with Travel Money Oz to share some solid tips on making your holiday cash stash go the extra mile for your trip. First of all, let’s just do a quick around the grounds on the countries you’ll find in Central America, and the currencies you will need in each.

- Belize: Belizean Dollars
- Costa Rica: Costa Rican Colon
- El Salvador: United States Dollar
- Guatemala: Guatemalan Quetzal (does anyone else just read that as guacamole pretzel? Just me? Ok.)
- Honduras: Honduran Iempira
- Nicaragua: Nicaraguan Cordoba
- Panama: Panamanian Balboa and United states Dollar

With so many countries to explore, many travellers choose to dedicate a bit of time to their trip. A long time means a lot of money though, Right? Not necessarily. Whilst you’re still gonna need to save your pennies, we recommend you follow the below 10 tips to know when to scrimp, and when to splurge whilst overseas, ensuring you make the most of your adventure. 

Tip #1 – Join a group tour.

A lot of tours have some meals, accommodation, transfers and day trips included in the one price. Not only does this give you a solid savings goal, and reduce the amount you’ll need to spend overseas, it also gives you peace of mind knowing you’re not missing out on must-see locations.
Plus you make heaps of cool new friends and have a tour guide (aka some street smarts) helping you get around.

Tip #2 – Day tours

For example, if you’re in Flores, Guatemala and want to check out the Tikal (Mayan) ruins on your own, you’re probably gonna need to catch a 4am bus to see it at sunrise (which is obvs a must do for the ‘gram).
A little bit of research shows that tours going for sunset instead are not only less crowded then venturing out by yourself in the morning, but it is cheaper AND saves you the 4am bus ride. Plus you can still guarantee a few likes on the gram with a sunset pic.
This brings me to an important point – even when you want to save money, the cheapest option is not necessarily the best option, especially in Central America.

Example – in Antigua (Guatemala), heaps of travellers hike to the dormant ‘Acatanengo’ volcano and camp. There are a bucket of tour options ranging in price, but the reviews on the cheaper ones reflect that it is, in fact, super cheap.
Investing a bit more in activities (especially those that are outdoors with potential for danger) will no doubt give you a waaay better experience to brag about when you get home. Think about it – you can tell your friends about the time you camped under a volcano in Central America and had a banga time, or tell them about the time the holes in your tent let some exotic animals in as unexpected snuggle buddies….

Tip #3 – Keep an eye on your funds

ATM’s and banks in Central America are nowhere near as reliable as those in Aus. When we say nowhere near reliable, we mean the ATMs often run out of cash and break down. Not to mention all the fees individual ATM providers charge customers for using their machine.
As you can imagine, this can be pretty rough if you a) get stranded without cash or b) keep getting stung with ATM fees. This is where a bit of forward planning comes in handy to avoid being left high and dry (read, poor AF). So:

- Make sure you leave Australia with plenty of funds.
- Don’t wait until the last minute to withdraw from an ATM (just in case those bad boys aren’t working).
- When you do withdraw cash, get out bigger amounts that will last you longer. That way you won’t be stung with heaps of niggly atm fees for multiple withdrawals

Tip #4 – Buy a surfboard

That’s if you are a surfer… If you don’t surf this is a pretty redundant tip so feel free to move on.
If you ARE a surfer, and are chasing the waves in places like El Tunco in El Salvador, it often works out cheaper to buy a board instead of renting it. Plus it’s a pretty groovy souvenir to take home. Cowabunga dudes.

Tip #5 – Eat where the locals eat

In many places, especially bigger, more westernised, cities the restaurants charge tourist prices. Follow the locals, or ask your tour guide, about places to eat that are more off the tourist trail.

Tip #6 – Learn some basic Spanish

No need to pay for lessons, just download one of the many apps that can teach you enough Spanish to get you though.

Not only will the locals love you for it, but it will make it easier for you to haggle for prices in the local language.

Tip #7 – Take advantage of Rate Guard

When purchasing your USD in store, be sure to add Rate Guard to your transaction. It’s free (yasss) and if the rate improves within 14 days of purchase Travel Money Oz will refund you the difference * (yasss but with way more enthusiasm).

Tip #8 – Spend more time in cheaper countries

Costa Rica and Panama are quite a bit more developed, with direct flights to and from the USA. This makes them busier and pushes up the prices a fair bit for tourists. I’m not saying don’t visit these places (seriously, DO NOT miss out on Costa Rica), just manage your time so you are in the cheaper countries for a bit longer.

Tip #9 – Talk to other travellers

If you are travelling on your own, take the time to chat to other travellers. A lot of them will have some great tips and tricks on how to save time and money based on their own experiences.

Tip #10 – Don’t exchange money at borders

Regardless of whether it is an air, land or sea border, there is always someone trying to make a side hustle out of travellers poor planning. Stock up before you go and load you Travel Money Oz Currency Pass with USD to use over there when exchanging if necessary. All in all, Central America is a pretty cheap, safe and easy region to travel providing you plan in advance and keep your wits about you. Head in to your closest Student Flights, and chat to the team about your plans.
Before you go, don’t forget to stock up on foreign currency with Travel Money Oz

This blog is provided for information only and does not take into consideration your objectives, financial situation or needs.  You should consider whether the information and suggestions contained in any blog entry are appropriate for you, having regard to your own objectives, financial situation and needs.  While we take reasonable care in providing the blog, we give no warranties or representations that it is complete or accurate, or is appropriate for you.  We are not liable for any loss caused, whether due to negligence or otherwise, arising from use of, or reliance on, the information and/or suggestions contained in this blog.

*Terms and conditions apply to Rate Guard. See for more information.

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Abbie Taylor

Abbie has 4 loves: travel, soft cheese, corgis and spending 'slightly' too much money on food. When she's not conforming to classic female millennial stereotypes, she enjoys finding and writing about places that ignite her love this lil old planet we call home. @abbieisabelle13