Updated on March 12, 2021 by Asher Fergusson
After learning first-hand how tough it can be to pack for the varied climates and terrains, I’ve put together a packing list to help guide you! You’ll learn what to wear in Central America, what NOT to bring, what the seasons are like, and the answers to top FAQs.
Remember your smile, your patience, and a great sense of adventure! Enjoy your trip!
What to Pack for Central America – 17 Essentials
1. Day pack
This essential item will come in handy during excursions and hikes during the day. It’s also very practical when you are traveling by bus and the rest of your luggage is stored in the compartment underneath the vehicle. Make sure you keep your valuables (including IDs, visas and passport), water and some snacks for the day on your person in this pack.
Remember that the most spoken language in Central America is Spanish. If you are not familiar with the language, a phrasebook will come in handy. Do not rely entirely on internet solutions and translators, you may find yourself in a situation where an old-school pocket sized dictionary could save your life… figuratively, of course.
Central America is known for its amazing views of lakes and mountains, ancient ruins, and colorful cities. Make sure you carry a camera to capture all of it. Keep in mind that using your smartphone can attract the eyes of pickpockets. This is option is waterproof, in case you want to go on an underwater adventure.
Keeping your electronics charged is one of the most important things when you are traveling. Though, sometimes finding a place to do so can take precious time away from your exploration. Having a portable charger will allow you to maintain enough battery to supply your camera, phone and other small electronics.
Insurance must be a priority while traveling, particularly in Central America. From medical eventualities to the unfortunate loss of your luggage, having a plan B is always helpful to cover unexpected expenses.
A microfiber towel is always handy on a beach day or for hanging out by the pool. It can also be your best friend due to its small size combined with its handy stuff sack. Extra points for its quick dry time!
If you haven’t tried packing cubes before, you’re in for a treat. They will make packing so much easier and you will be super organized for the duration of your trip.
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8. Rain Shell
A lightweight rain jacket is always necessary in Central America. Rainy season extends from May to November, but small showers throughout the year are not unusual, and believe me: when it rains, it pours! You’ll be glad to have a little extra protection if you get caught in the middle of one!
10. Neck Wallet
11. Dry Shampoo
Keep in mind that some of the countries in Central America are in a state of development. Depending on where you go, there may be instances where water is unavailable, or just too cold to comfortably bathe. Dry shampoo will keep you looking fresh even when a shower isn’t an option.
It’s best to arrive prepared because the weather can be hard to predict. This reliable umbrella is compact, well constructed and comes with a carrying case that allows you to store your umbrella without getting surrounding items wet.
13. Bug Repellent
Central America’s warm, humid climate and abundance of jungle means that it can be a breeding ground for some pretty horrifying insects. Bug repellant is a necessity to prevent itchy bites, which can easily become infected.
Travel is hard on your body. Sleep deprivation, foreign microbes, and windy mountain roads can be a recipe for illness. It’s a good idea to keep some Pepto-Bismol tablets on hand in case illness strikes at an inopportune time.
With a plethora of clear days, and the proximity to the equator, it’s important to protect yourself from Central America’s punishing sun. This biodegradable option is great because it won’t hurt the environment if you wear while swimming!
A small pen is always a smart item to pack. You can use it to make notes about your experiences, or fill out your customs and immigration forms! This tiny addition to your gear will definitely be useful!
These small headphones are perfect for when you need to tune out. Listen to music, an audiobook, or watch a movie while in-transit with these. They’ll also help you drown out the sound of the people around you, so you can actually get some rest!
Other packing list items for Central America
What To Wear In Central America
The countries in Central America all have their own unique cultures, but they are largely united by the fact that they are primarily Catholic. With this in mind, it’s important to be considerate when visiting this part of the world, and wear conservative clothing, regardless of how warm it might be.
This means lightweight breathable fabrics like cotton or linen will be most comfortable. Athletic clothing also does well to help wick sweat, and offer sun protection. Pack layers, as temperatures can fluctuate widely at higher elevations.
The street style in Central America is quite similar to the United States, but just slightly more formal. This means pressed button-down shirts for men, and stylish dresses or blouses for women. It’s most important to dress for comfort, rather than fashion, but aim for a look that is cool (literally!) and collected.
When visiting Central America, women should favor practical, conservative clothing. While the culture tends to be slightly more formal than in the US, it’s not necessary to wear anything fancy. Instead, coordinate outfits that look polished but will still protect you from the sun, bugs, and will be comfortable in the heat.
Shorts and sundresses are totally acceptable, but try to keep the hemlines on the conservative side. Lightweight, loose fitting clothing will feel most fresh in the humidity and heat. When it comes to shoes, it’s good to have a couple of options. Comfortable, broken-in sneakers or running shoes are best for exploring. Flats or sandals are a more stylish choice for dinners out, or days at the beach.
A small or medium crossbody purse is the most practical handbag choice. You never want to carry more than you need. A stylish crossbody can hold the essentials and be held close to your body to deter thieves.
The men of Central America are masters of casual, well-put-together looks. Visiting men should take note! Button-down shirts and jeans or slacks are the typical uniform for locals. Men visiting Central America likely won’t be acclimatized to the heat, so pants may feel too heavy. Instead, opt for shorts paired with a t-shirt or button-down.
Be sure to bring at least one slightly formal outfit for nights out or fine dining establishments. Chino pants and a pressed button-down should be just the ticket! When it comes to footwear, be practical. A pair of comfortable sneakers is essential for days with lots of walking, while sandals are fine for beach days. Remember to pack a couple of light layers, especially if you’re headed to a high-altitude location, as it can be cool in Central America.
Dressing for Activities
Archaeological Sites – Central America is home to countless incredible archaeological sites, and it’s no doubt that your travel itinerary will include at least one! When visiting these landmarks, prepare for sun. Most of the sites are very exposed, with minimal shade. Pack a sun hat, sunscreen and bug spray. Athletic clothing will keep you looking and feeling fresh(ish) even if you’re sweltering in the heat. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes as you’ll be logging a lot of steps.
Cathedrals – The Spaniards spared no expense when constructing cathedrals throughout Central America. Even if you’re not interested in history or religion, these buildings are incredible sights to behold. Just remember, most cathedrals are still active places of worship and it’s important to behave respectfully. Don’t wear anything too revealing– ladies, pack a pashmina to throw over your exposed shoulders. Always keep your voices down, and obey any signs forbidding photography.
Visiting Markets – The markets of Central America feature everything from textiles and leather products to hand-carved toys and delicious food. They’re the ultimate shopping destination! Markets tend to be crowded so it’s crucial to take precautions against pickpockets. Keep your money and valuables close to your body, either in a small purse or a money belt. Also be sure to wear closed-toe shoes as your toes may be trampled in the commotion if exposed. If carrying a backpack try wearing it on your front, unless you have locking zippers.
Seasons in Central America
Wet Season (June, July, August, September, October)
Central America’s wet season runs from June through October. The temperatures and humidity are high during these months (both averaging in the 80ºs), and hurricanes can occur as well. If visiting during this time of year, packing can be a challenge. You need to plan for sun, bug, and rain protection, all while ensuring your outfits will keep you feeling fresh in the heat. Favor loose-fitting items, ideally with breathable fabrics. Remember, if your clothes get wet, it can be difficult to dry them again in the humidity. Aim for lightweight fabrics and synthetics. A rain shell or poncho is a wise addition to your packing list, but remember, when it rains, the air is still hot! Also be sure to bring sensible walking shoes or hiking boots, as you’re bound to encounter mud in rural areas.
Dry Season (November, December, January, February, March, April, May)
Central America’s dry season coincides with the high season for tourism. Average daily temperatures hover comfortably in the high 70ºs and humidity levels are lower as well. For visits during the dry season, plan to pack warm-weather attire– sundress, shorts, t-shirts, but include a few light layers as well. Temperatures can be chilly, especially after dark. A light sweater, fleece jacket, or pashmina will cut the chill without taking up valuable space in your bag. Take precautions, and pack a light rain poncho as well, because an occasional rain shower may still occur.
What NOT to bring to Central America
2) Valuables – Traveling with valuables can be anxiety-inducing. It’s a drag to feel like you need to be on-guard all the time, to ensure nothing goes missing or is damaged. Vacation should be relaxing, so leave valuables at home whenever possible!
3) Books – Books are bulky, heavy and magnets for humidity. Opt for an eReader instead. It’s often cheaper to buy ebooks and you can fit hundreds of titles on a device that’s more compact than the average paperback.
chinos and a button-down shirt.
5) Makeup – It’s easy to just toss your entire makeup bag into your luggage and go, but it’s not necessary. In Central America’s hot, humid climate you’re bound to sweat-off anything you apply. Instead of packing your whole kit, stick to a few essentials: tinted moisturizer with SPF protection, mascara and blush. You won’t regret all the space (and weight) you save in your bag!
What NOT to wear in Central America
When visiting Central America avoid wearing lots of expensive jewelry. There is no need to be glam, and it can just attract the attention of pickpockets. The same goes for flashy watches. Leave valuables safe at home! Also skip wearing heavy cotton fabrics, as they tend to soak up moisture and are nearly impossible to dry in the humid climate. Instead, favor light layers and guide-drying synthetic articles of clothing.
FAQs about Central America travel
1) What is the best way to get around?
The best option will really depend on the style of your trip, but you’ll have many modes available to you. Renting a car is a good option as long as you are not intimidated by the idea that traffic laws are treated more like guidelines than actual rules.
Central American countries tend to have very sophisticated public transportation systems. The vehicles are usually far from luxurious, but there are generally many buses leaving daily to anywhere you need to go. For getting around locally, taxis are usually the best option, though some countries have Uber.
2) Will I be able to communicate in English?
With the exception of Belize, the primary language of every Central American country is Spanish. Knowing basic Spanish phrases is really helpful. However, many individuals, especially those working in tourism and hospitality, speak at least a little bit of English. Arm yourself with a phrasebook and the Google translate app and you’ll be just fine.
3) Is it safe to travel in Central America?
Generally speaking, yes. Though, it is important to always use common sense and take precautions to avoid landing in a dangerous situation. Petty crime is common in big cities, especially, so keep valuables concealed from view, and always mind your belongings and pockets. It’s important to do research on your destination before arriving, to ensure you’re informed about the current state of affairs when it comes to crime and natural disasters.
4) Is it difficult to find vegetarian or vegan food options?
The diet throughout Central America varies from region to region, however, generally speaking, it is vegetarian and vegan friendly. Most meals can be easily modified to accommodate your dietary needs. The majority of dishes consist of rice, beans, vegetables, plantains, and meat in some combination. Vegetarians can request to be served without meat. Vegans may have a tougher time because most dishes are prepared using bone broth. Ultimately, finding vegan and veg-friendly restaurants will be easier in some places (like Costa Rica) than others.
5) Do I need vaccinations to visit Central America?
The vaccination requirements will vary depending on your country of residence and your destination. For the most up-to-date vaccination requirements for US citizens, visit the US
embassy website pertaining to the country (or countries) you plan to visit. To find it, Google “US Embassy + ‘country’”.
6) Is there reliable internet?
Internet connectivity will vary from location to location, as well as by season. In the wet season, storms can knock out power supplies and WiFi along with it. Of course, remote regions are always the most affected. In cities, it should be much easier to find stable connections, regardless of the time of year.
7) Is tap water safe to drink?
Tap water is safe to drink, in some countries and not in others. For instance, in Costa Rica, you can fill your bottle from the tap without concern, whereas in Guatemala that would be unheard of! Be sure to research your destination ahead of time before giving in to thirst. Alternatively, pack a Lifestraw so you’re covered in case of any doubt.
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