Travel costs in Central America can vary quite a bit from one country to the next. To help you out, I created this overview.
Of course, different people have different travel styles.
So, I should mention the average room price listed here is for just a basic room in a hostel, hospedaje, or B&B, often using shared bathroom facilities. These are just simple places for you to sleep. For higher standards of accommodation, you can double or even triple the average budgets listed below.
Similarly, the suggested daily budgets here are for budget travel and backpacking, so they assume you’ll generally stay in hostels or guesthouses, eat local food, and use local transportation. The daily budgets are per person.
I’m listing prices in US Dollars for convenience. Even if you’re not from the US (I’m European myself) you probably have a better idea of its value than that of a Guatemalan Quetzal or a Nicaraguan Córdoba. In El Salvador and Panama, the currency used is just straight up the US Dollar, and the Belize Dollar is also pegged to the USD (2 BZD is always 1 USD).
For reference, 1 USD is currently equal to: 0.93 Euro, 0.82 Pound Stirling, 1.37 Canadian Dollar, or 1.51 Australian Dollar. (The exchange rates in this text are dynamic and updated daily.)
Only the base travel costs are taken into consideration. Not included are any pre-trip expenses like your flights, travel insurance, tourist visa fees, etc.
|Belize||$50 or more|
|Costa Rica||$50 or more|
Dorm bed average: $16
Budget room average: $47
Suggested daily budget: $50 or more
Belize is mostly known as a luxury and cruise ship destination, with prices to match. But if you’re just there to soak up the atmosphere, you can still travel in Belize on a budget. It’s easy to stay on the Cayes for a while and simply enjoy the sunshine and Caribbean vibe.
But splash out on activities and Belize gets expensive, easily on par with Costa Rica or many Western countries. For reference: a snorkeling trip on Caye Caulker costs about $30 USD, a cave tubing trip costs about $75 USD, and scuba diving the Great Blue Hole costs about $330 USD for three dives.
Meals definitely aren’t as cheap as elsewhere in Central America, but look around and you’ll still find budget eats in the $5 – $10 USD range.
Backpackers usually pay Belize a short visit, focusing on Caye Caulker and the border town of San Ignacio. While the Cayes are beautiful, so are cheaper islands in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula or Honduras. Mayan temples in Belize are interesting, but there are more impressive ones in cheaper Guatemala.
Belize budget travel tip:
- The suggested budget assumes you will be taking some tours. But if you avoid any organized activities, you can bring it down to a shoestring budget of about $30 a day. You will miss out on the most exciting stuff in Belize, though!
Dorm bed average: $10
Budget room average: $34
Suggested daily budget: $30
Day-to-day travel costs like lodging and food are incredibly low in Guatemala, with dorm beds starting around $7 and a half-decent private room starting at $20 or so. Meals are rarely more than a couple of dollars, though as usual Western-style food is more expensive.
Entrance to the Mayan ruins of Tikal is $20 though expect to pay another $13 or so for a guided tour. Guided hikes to the volcanoes around Antigua cost between $30 and $60. A full day of activities at Semuc Champey (caving, tubing, swimming around the waterfalls) costs about $40.
As a rule of thumb, if you use the so-called local chicken buses (converted US school buses), you’ll pay about a dollar for every 1 or 2 hours traveled. Faster minivan shuttles (mostly for tourists) cost more. A minivan from Guatemala City to Antigua costs about $15.
Guatemala budget travel tips:
- Flores, Quetzaltenango or Lake Atitlan are great to hang out for a while; on average the accommodation in these places is 30% cheaper than in Guatemala City or Antigua.
- Eat local! Forget about burgers or pizza: there is a lot of inexpensive and yummy Guatemalan food everywhere.
- Chicken buses are cheap but they also aren’t so comfortable. Be sure to ask about the safety situation (they have a poor reputation inside Guatemala City).
Dorm bed average: $11
Budget room average: $37
Suggested daily budget: $30
Travel costs in Honduras are at a similar level as its neighboring countries. The Mayan ruins at Copan Ruinas cost about $10 to enter. If you add entrance to the tunnels and a private guide, that cost can go up to $40.
An afternoon of white-water rafting the Cangrejal river costs about $40 per person, while snorkeling and ziplining tours range from about $25 to $50.
The Bay Islands are hugely popular for scuba diving. A three-day Open Water certification course costs about $330 there, which is among the cheapest in the world. Fun Dives are about $30 a pop (if you sign up for multiple dives), so scuba divers will feel like a kid in a candy store here.
Other than scuba diving and Copan Ruinas, Honduras doesn’t have that many established tourist attractions. But there are plenty of sleepy towns where you can enjoy the Latin American vibe and not spend very much at all.
Honduras budget travel tip:
- Book tours and activities when you’re there, not on the internet. Online prices are hugely inflated, particularly for any activities targeting cruise ship tourists. You can often find far cheaper deals in person at local prices.
Dorm bed average: $10
Budget room average: $30
Suggested daily budget: $30
El Salvador one of the cheapest countries in Central America. A dorm room in a well-rated hostel will set you back around $10 USD and a private room about $20-25 USD.
Food is very cheap, especially if you don’t mind the national dish of pupusas which can be found pretty much anywhere. Pupusas are a simple dish that is basically a corn and rice flour tortilla stuffed with cheese, vegetables, beans or meat. A cheese and bean pupusa almost always costs $.50 USD.
A normal meal in a local restaurant will be around $3-5 USD, while restaurants in tourist areas like El Tunco charge $10 USD or more for a main.
El Salvador doesn’t have as many tourist activities as other nearby countries, but as an independent traveler you can explore on your own and really save on costs. Surfing is the most common paid activity. The standard rate for surfboard hire along the coast is $10 USD a day. Private surf lessons are $20-25 USD for an hour.
Dorm bed average: $8
Budget room average: $24
Suggested daily budget: $25
Nicaragua is easily among the cheapest destinations in the world. The average cost of a dorm bed that we’ve calculated is $8, though it’s possible to find beds for as low as $6. Basic rooms with shared facilities in a hospedaje or guesthouses start at about $15.
A Nicaraguan meal of gallo pinto (rice and beans with some sides) costs as little as $1.50 – $2. Even in touristy San Juan del Sur you can get fresh lobster or a grilled red snapper with rice and salad for about $8. Western food will be more expensive.
Transportation is cheap with getting to the remote Corn Islands perhaps being the only exception. This usually takes a domestic flight — returns from Managua are about $160.
Most day trips and activities in Nicaragua (like hiking, surfing, kayaking) cost between $10-30 USD. A volcano boarding day trip near Leon will cost about $25 USD. A guided climb to the top of the active volcano Mt Telica costs about $25, or about double that if you go with the charity non-profit Quetzal Trekkers, which helps disadvantaged youth around the country.
Nicaragua budget travel tip:
- Accommodation on Ometepe Island and the city of Leon is about 40% cheaper on average than in the capital or in San Juan del Sur, making these excellent places to stick around for a while.
Dorm bed average: $15
Budget room average: $40
Suggested daily budget: $50+
Costa Rica has the most established tourism industry in Central America. It is known for its amazing wildlife parks, eco-resorts, beaches, and adventure sports. Prices are high as many tourists from the United States come to Costa Rica for vacations and are willing to spend. Costa Rica is not just the domain of backpackers but also of honeymooners, families, fishers, birdwatchers, and US retiree expats.
Most costs are about double that of neighboring Nicaragua. A typical meal in a local soda restaurant will cost about $5 to $7 (e.g., a plate of rice, beans, fried plantains and some chicken). Count on spending at least double that for eating in a tourist restaurant.
Luckily, if you use local transportation, you won’t have to spend more than a few dollars for a few hours of travel. The buses are of a more modern standard than the chicken buses of Nicaragua or Guatemala.
Organized activities can eat into your budget very quickly in Costa Rica. Zip-lining and canopy tours cost around $50, while kayak or hiking tours (1 day) are typically also in the $40 – $50 range. A guided two-hour wildlife night hike in Monteverde costs about $30, though some guides charge as much as $50 per person.
Costa Rica has a well-oiled eco-tourism industry, but if you avoid the premium side of things and do the local stuff, you can still travel on a budget there.
Costa Rica budget travel tips:
- Consider staying on the less-touristy Caribbean side where it’s a lot cheaper
- Try to avoid the tourist high seasons around Christmas, New Years, and Easter
- Skip the guided tours and explore nature independently (if you can do so responsibly). You can find walking trails listed on Wikiloc.
Dorm bed average: $13
Budget room average: $35
Suggested daily budget: $40
Panama is kind of the mid-budget country in Central America. While accommodation costs are close to Costa Rica, I still suggest a lower daily budget as many tours in activities are cheaper. For example, touring a coffee farm costs about $20, scuba diving is about $30 per dive (which is the same as Honduras), and a visit to the Panama canal costs about $15. For some ideas on where to travel, check out my top places to visit in Panama.
It’s easy to be a budget traveler in Panama, especially on the coasts. One possible bigger expensive is to cruise around the gorgeous San Blas Islands. You can do daytrips, but if you want to travel onwards to Colombia, a San Blas cruise will cost about $400 to $500 for 4 or 5 days. It’s an incredible experience and a better way to go onwards to South America than flying.
P.S. I do my best to keep the prices up to date, but they do sometimes change. Costs are based on my own travels as well as booking site data and recent updates from my contributors. If you spot an error, please share it in the comments.
This post was last updated on February 19, 2020.
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Excellent Central American travelogue from the viewpoint of “BACKPACKER TRAVELLERS” on a travel budget. I myself have travelled across 86 Country’s mostly on a “BACKPACKERS BUDGET” and hoping to travel to Central America .