Since we were basically quitting normal life for this trip we had a very finite amount of money in our bank account. With no income for over seven months I needed to be sure we would have enough money to last us the entirety of our trip.
I did A LOT of research to come up with a Central America Budget and came up with a per day budget for each country. Each travel guide, blogger, website, etc. has different information, and every traveller spends different amount of money on different trips, but I made our budgets based on the assumption that we would:
- Mostly stay in private rooms. We are cranks when it comes to nighttime noise and this was our honeymoon, so dorms were not ideal.
- Eat cheap, mostly. We love seafood, so we knew lobster and ceviche would be non-negotiable, but Logan is a great cook, so we planned on cooking some of our own meals.
- Take Spanish lessons in Guatemala, scuba dive in Honduras, and zip line in Costa Rica. We did not plan on doing every awesome activity available, but we made sure we had enough money to do the ones we really wanted to do.
- Take the cheapest form of transportation that we felt safe taking.
- Not party. We are really just not party people. Drinking is a casual past time. With dinner, in a hammock, or hanging out in our room types of settings. We definitely spend money on alcohol, but we knew we would mostly likely not be overpaying at bars.
Beyond a firm date near the end of the trip to meet a friend in Costa Rica, we did not have a set itinerary in Central America. We did make a list of places we wanted to go and tried to predict how many days we would want to stay there to more accurately predict how much we needed to set aside for each country.
We had nine weeks to get from Belize City to San Jose, and within that time we made it to five countries, skipping El Salvador and Panama in favor of spending a bit more time in the other five Central American countries.
These totals are for TWO PEOPLE. If you were traveling alone your costs would be approximately half (obviously…).
CENTRAL AMERICAN BUDGET (FOR A COUPLE)
Daily Budget: $90/day
Actual cost: $110/day
Accommodation: $203 ($25/ night)
Food: $222 ($24/ day)
Activities: $318 (Caye Caulker- snorkeling, San Ignacio-cave tubing, Cahal Pech, Green Iguana Exhibit)
Comments: Belize was one of our higher daily budgets because we knew we were spending time on an island (which is usually pricier) and things in general cost a little more than some of the other countries in Central America. We went over budget mostly from eating a lot of seafood and cooking none of our own meals. We would have gone over budget even more had we been able to visit the ATM cave (it was closed). Food, transport and accommodation are overall not expensive in Belize, but activities add up quickly.
Daily Budget: $60/day
Actual cost: $69/day
Accommodation: $178 ($ 12/night)
Food: $285 ($19/day)
Activities: $334 (Tikal, Spanish classes, hot springs in San Pedro, Semuc Champey, cave tour in Lanquin)
Comments: Guatemala is cheap. Staying on budget was incredibly easy, even with doing basically whatever we wanted. We did a week of Spanish lessons in Antigua, which was an extra cost, but we stayed with a local family and had all our meals prepared for us, so that saved us a lot of money. Transportation could have cost us less, but we almost always opted for the tourist shuttle, which is far more comfortable but much more expensive than the public transportation around the country.
Daily Budget: $110/day
Accommodation: $176 ($16/night)
Food: $266 ($24/day)
Activities: $757 (Copan Ruinas, PADI Advanced Open Water course)
Comments: We went way over budget in Honduras because of our scuba adventures (and mis-adventures). We only planned on getting Open Water certification, but Logan fell in love with scuba diving and we stayed a few extra days on Utila so that he could get his Advanced Open Water certification. Our hostel on Utila was included in the scuba course, but since I stopped the course we had to pay for my bed. Transport in Honduras was pretty expensive as well, with the ferry to Utila costing $28 per person EACH WAY, and the bus to Nicaragua costing $40 per person.
Daily Budget: $50/day
Accommodation: $163 ($16/night)
Food: $216 ($22/day)
Activities: $12 (Cathedral in Leon, waterfall on Ometepe)
Comments: Staying on budget in Nicaragua was easy. We even splurged a little and stayed at a beautiful finca on Isla Ometepe to treat ourselves for Valentine’s Day. A few less beers and we would have hit our budget goal no problem.
Daily Budget: $80/day
Accommodation: $527 ($28/night)
Food: $430 ($22/day)
Activities: $194 (Zip-lining in Monteverde, Monteverde National Park, Baldi Hot Springs in Arenal, Manuel Antonio National park)
Comments: Many backpackers skip Costa Rica due to its relatively high costs (compared to the rest of the region), but we actually ended up spending the most time there and it was the only country where we ended up under budget. I think because we were so concerned about staying on budget we ended up planning our nearly three weeks there more carefully. We made sure to stay at places with a kitchen and were much more particular about the activities we paid for. Additionally, my best friend from home came and traveled with us for two weeks, and her main goal was getting to the beach as much as possible, so many days we spent basically nothing.
OVERVIEW OF WHAT WE SPENT FOR 9 WEEKS IN CENTRAL AMERICA FOR A COUPLE
Belize: $110/day (x 8 days)
Guatemala: $69/day (x 15 days)
Honduras: $125/ day (x 12 days)
Nicaragua: $53/ day (x 10 days)
Costa Rica: $73/day (x 19 days)
Overall Central America Average: $83/day
Flights (Denver to Belize City and San Jose to Denver): $1320
Total without flights: $5,330
Total with flights $6,650
**All figures are rounded to the nearest dollar
Surprisingly, Belize was overall the most expensive country for us. Honduras was our highest daily budget, but that was solely because of scuba diving. Guatemala and Nicaragua are notoriously inexpensive and staying on budget there was no problem, but we were surprised at how easy it was to stay on budget in Costa Rica. By cooking our own meals and keeping our activities to a minimum we were able to spend less than we thought we would.
Could you do it for cheaper? Absolutely. We were really not that careful until the very end of the trip and we spent way more on accommodation that is necessary. I guess we are just pickier than most backpackers. That being said, it is easy to spend A LOT more. Excursions and activities add up quickly, and hostels do everything they can to get you to sign up for all kinds of awesome looking day trips. We were really glad we had researched and prioritized what we wanted to do before we began our trip.