While many of us are on a tight budget while in dental school, it doesn’t mean we cannot afford to explore the world. Here’s 10 reasons on why Central America is a great destination for full time students traveling on a budget.
1. It’s close
Central America(CA) is only a 2-3 hr flight from Miami, FL. Depending on where you’re heading, you can arrive to your destination in only 5 hrs of a direct flight. You can spend less time on a plane or jetlegging and more time vacationing.
2. It’s cheap
One of the biggest misconceptions about vacation budgeting is the daily spendings. Often times the bulk of the price comes not from accommodation or flight, but from the daily costs of food, entertainment, and shopping. Anyone who’s been to Las Vegas for a weekend can confirm this.
The biggest expense in CA is the activities. Ziplining ranges $60-90, national park admissions + guide often add up to $30, and water activities, such as snorkeling and scuba diving are $60-190.
With that said, there are plenty of exciting places to see and things to do that are free! There are amazing beaches both on East and West Coast, great nature hikes, traditional markets, and many old towns worth exploring.
3. It’s different.
There’s no place in the Unite States that comes close to CA. Unlike the States, CA is small — all of Belize, from Guatemalan border to the Carribbean Coast, is 140km, which can be crossed in 2.5 hrs. With that said, you can explore an entire country in a week, or even two in 10 days!
4. It’s diverse
Costa Rica is known for its Cloud Forest with 100% humidity, surfing beaches on the Pacific and reggae scene on the Atlantic coasts, waterfalls, volcano-heated hot springs, volcanoes themselves, animal reserves and sanctuaries.
Guatemala has a ring of volcanoes, Lake Atitlan surrounded by volcanoes with small towns on the edge of the water accessible by water taxis, world largest Mayan ruins where they filmed Star Wars, bat caves, underground rivers, natural springs and water pools.
Belize takes pride in its Barrier Reef just 25 mi away from the coast. A chain of keys (Cayes) along the mainland range from having 5 star all inclusive accommodations in San Pedro on the largest Caye Ambergris to smaller Key Caulker where the largest mode of transportation around the island is golf carts.
Panama City in Panama is a must visit for its Dubai-inspired architecture and Miami vibe. The Panama Canal also holds high historical and financial value to the entire region and has not lost its importance today.
5. It’s easy to get around.
You don’t have to do much planning because you as long as you stay in hostels you will meet who just came back from the place you’re going to or even better, are heading there next. It is very common for especially single travelers to go together even for just a short part of the trip.
6. It’s safe.
Unlike some of the South American countries, CA is safe to travel, even if you’re by yourself. Being a girl, I always make safety a priority while planning a trip, and CA did not disappoint me. You always have to be a smart traveler and obey by the universal rules i.e. don’t leave your camera unattended, be more cautious in bigger cities, do not walk around after dark in poorly lit neighborhoods, and lastly, don’t hesitate to ask around the hostel you’re staying at for safety status.
They are great accommodations which can serve as a vacation spots in themselves. They’re cheap. I stayed in accommodations for as little as $4.40 a night in a basic house with banana–leaf woven walls and plastic roof. On average, you can find beds for $10-12 a night, with breakfast included. Many places will also provide a shuttle to the airport if you’re flying in/out. Many also offer breakfast in the morning, allowing you to save on the first meal of the day, and have filtered water available for refill. Furthermore, they can book you for tours, excursions, and city-city transportation, all at very competitive prices. Most of them are very laid back and bring together terrific people and try to make your stay as easy as possible. Some even have laundry machines and fully equipped kitchens. Also worth mentioning is the location. I’ve stayed at hostels at the foot of a lake where the breakfast table overlooked 5 volcanoes, or with a rooftop deck overlooking landscapes, those situated on a dock above water, and those with pools on premises. And lets get real, it’s not like we’ll stay here later when we’re married with kids.
Enough said. All the fruit are fresh and cost pennies at the market and smoothie stands that will make amazing fruit drink mix your heart’s desires. Fresh fish savice, maki-maki wraps, stew in clay pots, spiral shaped hot dogs of a street vendor at 2am, guacamole and tacos all night at your rooftop hostel and the authentic dishes. The best part – the price. In Costa Rica, a dish of rice, meat/fish/liver, salad, beans, and mashed pumpkin ($4-6) are a staple. If you’re smart about where you eat, you can keep your food budget to under $10.
For all of you coffee fans, taking a coffee plantation tour or finding a local coffee shop that roasts their own quality coffee is a must on any trip. When in Antigua, Guatemala, Refuge Café is not to be missed.
10. It’s colorful.
One thing I’m sure all of us can appreciate after accepting library as a change of scenery from classroom, is seeing green trees, blue skies, frosting waterfalls, clear ocean waters. The houses are painted in various colors, people dress in ornamented elaborate outfits, and the markets flow with items of every possible necessity or lack of it, and yet still colorful! Even the table clothes will be colorful, I promise.
Lastly, It’s eye opening. Being focused on our dental career we often forget what is available or important to us in life. Travel is a great time to take a moment to reflect. You don’t have to worry about what you’re wearing, how you look that day, or whom you might run into. It is your chance to take time for yourself and do what makes you happy. Realize what is that re-energizes you.
Whether you like to squeeze 15 activities into your day, or just swing in a hammock all day, CA is the perfect place for it.
Do you have any vacation plans this summer? Tell us about your destination in the comments below!
~Dariya Momot, Temple ’15