Central America: 10 Major Impressions
Русская версия We have just come back from six countries of Central America and want to share the main impressions from them. Undoubtedly, the countries are very different. Panama and Costa-Rica are quite rich, safe (this does not always apply to Panama) and expensive. El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are much more frightening and you must be careful travelling there, but these countries are especially charming and not spoilt by tourists. Locals are very enthusiastic and friendly with those few travelers who come to these countries (extremely few tourists come to El Salvador and Honduras). Nicaragua is a golden mean: there is a lot to see there, yet, without tourist crowds. Just to compare: entrance fee to the territory of volcanoes Masaya in Nicaragua and Poas in Costa Rica are 3 and 15 dollars correspondingly. Meanwhile, both volcanoes provide excellent views.
This is what we found most unusual and interesting in these countries.
The aforementioned volcanoes are everywhere in Central America: active and dormant, erupting and with lakes in the craters… You may come so close that sometimes you may see lava. This is hardly possible to come so close to erupting volcanoes somewhere in Europe.
You may even try a very rare thing – volcano boarding here.
2. The animals
are everywhere. While in Africa you have to pay huge money for safari , in Central America, there are so many animals that you often see them for free. That is why there is no millionaires’ industry of safari in Central America, and wildlife watching is comparatively cheap.
3. Amor, corazon, para siempre… Spanish language, especially its Latin American version, is certainly the language of love and friendship. Coca-cola vendors and bank employees, men and women will address you as mi amor or mi corazon (“my love” and “my heart”). You will hear love songs everywhere, lost and found, with amor, corazon, and several other obligatory words. Despite being quite primitive these songs are amazing.
4. Love is present not only in the language, but also in machismo of Central America. This was especially obvious in Nicaragua, perhaps, because we spent most of the time there. A 12 to 70-year-old man in Nicaragua is a macho actively demonstrating his masculinity, especially to white women. They do not care if a woman is escorted by a partner, still try to wink, blow an air kiss, or whistle. It is really interesting what is there in their heads, perhaps, they think that a gringo woman will leave her partner to jump into Latin American arms. Lonely female travelers should be especially careful since the border between sexual play and assault is not clear.
Another typical thing is street vendors, especially frequent in the public buses. Imagine that you are in the bus waiting for it to depart. Vendors of all kinds of things, sun glasses, water, food, come through the bus all the time, with the same vendor going through every five minutes. There are quite many of them in the same bus. People buy things very actively, every time the vendor goes through. Once we were going from Masaya to Leon, the route takes about two hours. People bought many things before the departure, and in an hour we stopped at the gas station. New vendors came into the bus, and passengers started to buy from them anew eagerly. They had been suffering for an hour while driving without vendors!
If you look for the paradise beaches, Central America is certainly a place for you. You should visit both Pacific and Caribbean coasts for white sands and palm trees.
7. Maya ruins.
Although for Maya ruins people mostly go to Mexico and Guatemala, we went to see the ruins in Honduras and El Salvador, and were very impressed. In El Salvador there is a Maya town comparable to Pompeii: it was covered with volcano ash after the eruption (people managed to escape), which is why everything was perfectly preserved and it is an important site to understand Maya everyday life.
Perhaps, the Copan ruins in Honduras are not so big as in Guatemala, but the buildings are considered to be authored by very skillful masters.
8. Gangs and other dangers.
In Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, the tourist cannot be as relaxed as in Panama and Costa Rica. When we arrived in San Salvador, we took a local bus and people in the bus were looking at us as if they saw white people for the first time in their life. Tourists do not use buses here. Our hosts say that before it was especially dangerous since gangs killed people in the middle of the day; nowadays, it they simply rob you threatening with a knife or a gun. When travelling by car all windows are closed and doors are blocked. In El Salvador and neighboring countries, there are two large gangs: they do not only commit crimes and deal with drugs, but also compete for the territory. To show its importance one of the gangs may blow up a bus or throw a grenade into a hotel, which is why simple people suffer. Little wonder that in 3 days in El Salvador we saw no more than 10 tourists. We were extremely lucky to stay with couchsurfer Franco and his family: they took very good care of our safety and without them we would not have seen even a half of what we saw.
9. Do not expect punctuality from your trip. You will have to relax and breathe deeply, if it turns out that the ticket office is open only two hours a day, and after a long wait, the ticket vendor simply does not come to the office. Due to being broken, you scheduled hotel shuttles will not come to pick you up, the planes will be late. It is very much like Africa pole-pole .
10. Logistics and borders.
Getting from point A to point B directly is almost impossible in Central America. Let’s take our transfer (not just by regular bus, but by the tourist shuttle) from Leon, Nicaragua to Copan, Honduras. It seems that you should just cross the border and then go straight until the ruins. Yet, the shuttle drove us to El Salvador (because he had to drop some tourists there), then… to Guatemala (that is how we unexpectedly visited Guatemala too) and only then to Honduras. We crossed 4 borders in 16 hours, and it is needless to say how much it took for border guards in every country to find out where Belarus is and what to do with our passports. This route was cheaper for the driver because of the gasoline, and neither the tour company nor the driver cared to tell us how strange the route would be. We were very much surprised, for instance, to know that we are at Guatemala, not Honduras border.
All in all, Central America is something very special. Although we constantly compared it to Africa, they are hardly comparable, and Central America is hardly comparable to something else in general. You should go and see it!
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