Most seasoned travelers know that Central America is one of the best regions in the world for budget finds. It’s also now attracting more and more visitors from the States and beyond than ever before. From Mexico down to Panama, wallet-friendly opportunities abound, and when you score a deal, it feels like the sun shines brighter, the food tastes better, and the people seem friendlier. Whether you’re looking for a steal on a beachfront shack, the local cocktail, national park entry, or scuba diving lessons, set your fare alert on Kayak to the following countries and take a few budget-friendly tips on your itinerary from us.
Honduras's Bay Islands (Roatan, Utila, and Guanaja) are a world-class scuba diving destination surrounded by the world’s second-largest barrier reef. Off miles of pristine beaches, snorkelers and divers can share aquatic real estate with dolphins, sea turtles, nurse and whale sharks, and eagle and manta rays. Even better, the Bay Islands offer some of the cheapest scuba diving in the world.
On Utila, an open water certification at Utila Dive Center is just $309, and comes with four nights of accommodations at The Mango Inn. On popular Roatan, the budget-friendly enclave of West End is home to gorgeous Half Moon Bay where Chillies, a backpacker hotel, offers unbeatable rates. Lucky for divers, popular local dive shop Native Sons is also located on the property. West End Village is also the prime spot to refuel after a day of dives. Breezy palapa-style joints, like Velva's Roadside, offer delicious, cheap food with heaps of local flavor.
Costa Rica is a nature lover’s wonderland. With more than 25 percent of the country made up of national park;, biological, forest, and wildlife reserves; and wetlands and mangroves, this is the Latin American country to visit when you’re seeking green diversion.
In the south lies the Osa Peninsula’s treasure: Corcovado National Park. A maze of untouched rainforest harboring more than 100 species including toucans and spider monkeys, as well as endangered creatures like boa constrictors, squirrel monkeys, and a variety of wild cats, entry is $10 a day, and you can camp within the park for less than $5. Reservations (for both general park visits and camping) are essential.
On the central Pacific Coast, Manuel Antonio National Park is where the rainforest meets Costa Rica’s beautiful beaches and protected coral reef. Located near Jaco, a surfer’s paradise with laid-back lodging and a healthy dose of sand and sea, entry is also $10.
In the north, Arenal National Park covers a variety of smaller parks and refuges that are home to canopy tours, hanging bridge hikes, wildlife adventures, hot springs, and the country’s most active volcano — Arenal.
Before you hit the park or the beach, power up with strong, local coffee at the tiny Café Milagro, and if you have room in your pack, be sure to take a bag or two home. Or to get a taste of the region’s succulent tropical fruits, try a batido, or a fresh fruit smoothie made with bottled water or milk. Places like Café Liberia and Pan Pay Café are known for them, but they can be found almost anywhere.