Despite being an experienced backpacker, seasonaire, surf-hunter and world wanderer… there was something about Central America with its tales of drugs, guns and gangs that made me nervous. To be honest, I was so nervous that I almost cancelled my trip. So heavy was my fear to travel to the murder capital of the world to find waves that I seriously pondered the idea of going home to Australia to try my luck with the sharks. But a week into my trip, I met girls half my age, travelling alone and not blinking an eye. I sat down with a few of them for some travel tips that would set me up for a few months of surfing and backpacking Central America (if only I knew about the surfboard ding repair kit before I left!). Here’s what they said:
#1 Go with the flow
This is good advice for backpacking anywhere in the world. Keep your plans fairly loose as you never know who you will meet or what story will twist your ears and inspire a change in direction. Sometimes things won’t go to plan like buses, food, or your morning surf. At that moment, remember to go with the flow.
#2 Bring at least two different types of debit card
In many of the tourist areas there are stand-alone ATMs that for some reason don’t seem to accept a lot of travellers debit or cash cards. Take a few different ones with you to ensure you will always be able to get cash out (Visa electron, Mastercard debit, Cirrus etc).
#3 Stock up on plenty of suncream
Suncream is a hot commodity in places like Nicaragua or anywhere off the beaten path. If you surf, bring zinc or a similar sunblock as you will not find this here either.
#4 Hide an emergency $100 somewhere in your bag
If all goes wrong, then you can grab the $100 to pay for what’s needed.
#5 Pack sturdy flip-flops & a pair of sneakers
Nothing is more annoying then the plugs on your cheap flip-flops breaking or not being able to cut the trail on your way to a volcano or waterfall. Take a pair of cheap sneakers so you can rock hop and jump without cutting your feet.
#6 If you are planning on surfing…
Bring a ding-repair kit. A full kit with the fibre glass and everything, not just the sun-cure gel. You’ll be hard pressed to find this anywhere in central and paying for a repair to your surfboard is expensive ($40USD). You could even sell your repair kit to other surfers for good money as everyone is looking for one. If you have an epoxy surfboard this is even more important to bring. Good luck finding an epoxy repair kit.
#7 Carry small bills – no $100
Before you leave, make sure you have lots of small bills and break down any $100 notes. I found many shops reluctant to take the $100 note as they were sceptical that it could be a counterfeit note, or simply they just don’t have the change to break the note for you.
#8 Split your credit and debit cards up
Don’t store all your cards in one place. If someone does break into your room, hopefully they won’t find your stash. Think the chest pocket of your shirt, under the insole of your sneakers or in your first aid kit.
#9 In your first aid kit, carry…
In addition to your standard first aid kit that would include plasters, bandage, painkillers etc. It is a good idea to bring with you the following items that are hard to find but vital when required: Antiseptic wipes, iodine or hydrogen peroxide or tea tree oil, steri-strips or butterfly closures that can be used to close small wounds and liquid spray plasters. Definitely pack an after-bite ointment that could ease the scratching.
#10 Insect repellent is your best friend
The mosquitoes are vicious in central America. A great alternative to insect repellent containing DEET or picaridin (chemicals that melt plastic and your clothes), is a citronella-based moisturiser or other natural insect repellent. I find that Tigre Balm works as a repellant and as an after-bite care.
#11 Carry a mosquito net
Prevention is always going to better than cure. Nothing is worse than a bad night sleep because you’re being eaten alive by mosquitos. If that kid in the hostel insists on keeping the window of your dorm open, you can sling your net up and wake up bite free.
#12 Don’t leave the hostel without…
A $20 note or equivalent in local currency. If you get into trouble or a local won’t stop following you on your way home at night, that $20 can come in handy to make the problem go away. Hopefully this never happens but if it does, as it has for many travellers I met coming up through Costa Rica and Nicaragua, you’ll be thankful you have that extra 20 bucks!
Got anymore travel tips unique to Central America? I’d love to hear them! Let me know in the comments below.
Cover image by Kinder Goodall.
Editor’s note: If you are after travel insurance for your next surfing adventure, Still Stoked recommends World Nomads. Prices are really reasonable and they insure actions sports (including heliskiing!) without charging a mega premium. You can also purchase the insurance after you have left home for your trip and extend the trip online during your trip; something that is quite unique to World Nomads and really helpful if your plans change as you travel.