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Old 06-19-2012, 08:42 PM
Location: Tucson/Nogales
17,374 posts, read 21,223,392 times
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The climate makes no difference to you? If not, lucky you! I've made 5 trips thru Central America the past 10 years, but I've very particular about climate, I stay clear of the hot/humid regions, so that puts me into the higher altitude areas of those countries.

Tegucigalpas, Honduras at 3250 feet, perfect! Guatamala City at 5000 feet, perfect, even if I had to wear a light coat at night! Matagalpa, Nicaragua, one of the higher altitude areas of Nicaragua, perfect! Jujuya, El Salvador, highest altitude area of El Salvador, perfect!

I chicken-bussed it all over Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, never any problems. I was scared stiff the first time in El Salvador, but made 2 additional trips there afterwards, the least touristed country down there, but if you're looking for bargains, they're there in abdundance and I found the nicest, friendliest people I've ever met! Perhaps it has something to do receiving very few tourists!

But what am I say! The media-buying, scare-mongers will evenutally win, and steer you to what they perceive as to be the safer areas of Central America!

Last edited by tijlover; 06-19-2012 at 08:44 PM.. Reason: Delete line
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Old 06-19-2012, 10:44 PM
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I've been to all of those countries except for El Salvador. I've never had a problem in either Guatemala, Nicaragua, or Panama. The most dangerous places in those countries are in the capitol cities--except for Panama, where Colon has the most dangerous reputation. I wouldn't want to spend too much time in Mangaua or Guatemala City, though the best places to go aren't in those cities to begin with. All the same Panama City has it's sketchier elements as well, though if you're careful it's a fine city for the most part. But if you're careful, I wouldn't cross Nicaragua or Guatemala off your list--I had no problems whatsoever travelling through those nations, though I'm a pretty inconspicuous traveler and I speak Spanish fairly well.

It depends on what you really want to do as to which is the best pick. Panama has a good mix--Panama City is the best major city in Central America--it feels like a mini-Miami in parts with a cosmopolitan mix and the Casco Viejo is one of the best colonial neighborhoods anywhere in the region. It's a fun city--it's got the best nightlife in the region and it feels much more international, though it's a little more expensive. From there it's a quick journey to rain forest or the Panama Canal, though the best beaches or further away on the Caribbean side. I didn't make it there, but the San Blas Islands are supposed to be amazing as far as a place to get away on native Kuna Indian islands, some of which are uninhabited isles surrounded by great snorkeling. Bocas Del Toro is where a lot of people go for a beach vacation though--the northern part of Panama is sort of looking to become the next Costa Rica.

Nicaragua is sort of the cheap, slightly-off-the-beaten path option, although it's trying to be the next Costa Rica in it's southern portion as well. Granada is a great little city--absolutely beautiful with it's restored colonial buildings on the lake. Good place to hang out if you want a base to explore the nearby volcanoes and rain forest. It's a very easy introduction to Nicaragua--there's a lot of foreign travelers these days. The real charm of Nicaragua is in the natural attractions--the island on Lake Ometepe is really unique as far as a. The Corn Islands likewise, are like going to a small West Indian island maybe 50 years ago, although they're changing fast. Leon is another great city if you're looking to see more of the artistic/bohemian culture of Nicaragua. It's a little rough around the edges though it's safe for the most part, and it's a good place if you're into seeing the history of Nicargaua. The Pacific beaches are nice in Nicaragua, although they aren't as calm or as good for snorkeling as Caribbean beaches in the Corn Islands or somewhere like Panama. San Juan Del Sur is pretty touristy though it's easy to chill there if you're looking to surf or just relax on a beach, though the beaches near Leon are much less crowded(sometimes too deserted) and have a nice wild feel to them. As far as safety goes, like I said, I had no problems in Nicaragua--the people are friendly and there's a network of tours and resource for travelers(that are much cheaper than other countries) if you want to get out for hike on a volcano or go kayaking. Even Managua which is a mess of a city wasn't that hard to get through although it's a place to just transit through unless you're more interested in the harsher realities of Nicaragua. There's a good all around mix of attractions in general though and while the infrastructure is a little funky, it's not too hard to get around.

Guatemala on the other hand is a completely different animal. If you want to see the highland Mayan culture, that's the place to go. Lago de Atitlan is a good place to chill out, take a boat to different villages, go hiking, kayaking, or just relax on the lake. The markets--even the ones that are famous for tourist visits, are fascinating to visit. But if you're looking for a beach vacation or something along those lines, it's not the place to go. As far as an exotic experience, it's the best place in Central America. I've heard that crime has increased since I was there a few years back, although I've spoken to people who went to the highlands and they said they were fine although they heard a few horror stories. But like I said if you're careful, you'll be okay in most situations. Most people will advise to always hire a guide when you're hiking up volcanos or in the jungle--not just for the safety aspect, but also because it's easy to get lost when there's often not a clear path. Just don't carry a lot of money and avoid beaches late at night.

If you're just looking for beach vacation that will be cheaper than the Caribbean islands and want to get a little taste of the culture of the area, I'd say Panama is a good bet. If you're feeling more adventurous and want to go somewhere you can get by dirt cheap and see a variety of attractions(volcanoes, beaches, colonial cities, rain forest), Nicaragua is a good choice. If you're really interested in seeing the native cultures and hiking in the highlands, Guatemala is tops.
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Old 06-19-2012, 11:47 PM
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The Deezus and Tijlover....awesome posts! Thanks for the contribution. I am taking close notes!
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Old 06-20-2012, 12:02 AM
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i'd recommend guatamala. it's cheap, off the beaten path, a lot of beautiful jungle (which has been destroyed in costa rica and panama to a much larger extent), mayan ruins, etc

If you're thinking about panama skip it entirely and book a ticket for colombia.

el salvador is small

and nicaragua just has less to see than guatamala.
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Old 06-20-2012, 12:29 AM
Location: Tucson/Nogales
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One of the pluses of El Salvador is they use the American dollar, no need for cambio's, a calculator, or standing in line at banks to exchange your dollars. How sweet!!!
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Old 06-20-2012, 01:55 AM
Location: The western periphery of Terra Australis
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You're blaming a whole country on the actions of two men?

Why don't we all judge all Americans on the actions of Ted Bundy?

You hope the place rots? Way to project your vengeful hatred on innocent people...
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Old 06-20-2012, 07:19 AM
Location: Leeds, UK
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Panama, because I hear Nicaragua is a dump
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Old 06-20-2012, 08:22 AM
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PosterExtraordinaire.....so you like Columbia better than Panama? I've read mixed messages on this board whether Columbia is safe or not?
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Old 06-20-2012, 10:27 AM
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Originally Posted by ctr88 View Post
PosterExtraordinaire.....so you like Columbia better than Panama? I've read mixed messages on this board whether Columbia is safe or not?
everything you get in panama (except the canal lol) you get in Colombia but better. As to safety, all major cities are as safe as the rest of latin america. the warnings, while now probably outdated, were based for the guerrilla activity amongst the narcos in the jungles. though again it is overblown.
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Old 06-20-2012, 11:16 AM
Location: State of Transition
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Well, based on tijlover's post that he feels Guatemala is safe, I would have to recommend Guatemala as the best place for a winter vacation. The climate is ideal in winter, and no place in Central America can beat Guatemala for scenery. Take a look online at the Lake Atitlan area. The village of Panajachel on the lakefront caters to tourists (not a bad thing, in this instance) with little hole-in-the-wall restaurants in the local style that serve yogurt-and-granola breakfasts, along with more usual fare. The last time I was there, there were a couple of small bars offering a modest night-life, though in Guatemala everything tends to shut down by 9pm. In the 90's, though, the Guatemalan gov't invested in tourism development in Panajachel, though--to what effect, I don't know. You can take a boat to other villages around the lake if you prefer a little more isolation.

I can't count the number of times I've been there, and every time, the scenery literally takes my breath away. The lake is well-served by buses from the capital. They stop at a town on a bluff overlooking the lake, and you take smaller local buses to get down to the lake. Visiting local weekly or twice-weekly markets in each village is a popular pastime. And of course, there are beaches and swimming. The lake itself is in an ancient volcano crater, and is ringed by 3 volcanos, and traditional Native villages.
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