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While it may not be as cheap as South East Asia, Central America is still an incredible budget-friendly destination. Some countries are significantly more expensive than others (looking at you, the Caribbean Islands!), therefore if you’re wanting to explore Central America on a budget in 2023, there are certain countries you should consider.

In this post, we are sharing 6 of the top countries in Central America to travel on a shoestring budget in 2023. These countries will likely have a much lower cost of living than your home country with affordable food, transportation and accommodation options. 

For each country, we spill some of the best places to go and a budget and will also give you a rough idea of a daily budget and the best time to go. 

*The following countries are listed from cheapest to most expensive. 

>>> Need some help saving up for a trip? Check out these money-saving tips!

>>> Check out this post to learn how to travel on a shoestring budget!

>>> Check out the cheapest destinations to visit in Asia in 2023

1. Guatemala

Guatemala is often overlooked as a destination in Central America, with many favouring exotic trips to Costa Rica.

Situated just below Mexico and bordering Belize, Honduras and El Salvador lies Guatemala. Guatemala may be less developed for tourism than Costa Rica, however, it is a country brimming with incredible scenery and wildlife. Plus it’s a lot cheaper than Costa Rica (Costa Rica has a daily budget of around £70 per day, in Guatemala you can spend as little as £20 per day!!).

antigua guatemala cheap country in central america

Things to do in Guatemala 

There is so much to explore in Guatemala. Landscapes range from jungles and volcanoes to beautiful beaches and small coastal towns to big cities alongside ancient ruins. Guatemala also has a strong Mayan culture, making this one of the most fascinating places to get up close to this ancient culture. 

In the northern jungles, you’ll find the Mayan temples of Tikal. Further south you’ll find the beautiful volcano-ringed lake of AtitlanSemi Champey is another place that can’t be missed in Guatemala which is a series of cascading natural pools deep in the jungle.

Other unforgettable things to do include hiking  Volcan Tajumulco Volcano, visiting the cultural melting pot of Livingston (especially if your next stop is Belize or Honduras), shopping at Chichicasenango Market to be immersed in Mayan culture or going surfing in El Paredon on Guatemalas Pacific coast.

A trip to Guatemala isn’t complete without exploring the beautiful historic city of Antigua which is a great place to start your budget-friendly adventure.

Daily budget: £16 - £30 per day

When to go: During the dry season from November to April 

lake in guatemala cheap countries in central america

2. Nicaragua

Further south in Central America, wedged between Honduras and Costa Rica you will find Nicaragua. This beautiful country is also often overlooked by travellers, however, it makes an excellent and safe budget-friendly alternative to other more expensive countries. 

Nicaragua is brimming with delicious food, welcoming locals, incredible sunsets and even better beaches for surfing. This is truly one of the most up-and-coming destinations in Central America and it’s cheap!

Nicaragua is known as the “Land of Lakes and Volcanoes”, which is what it is most well-known for. 

Things to do in Nicaragua

One of the best things to do in Nicaragua is hit the beach! This is one of the best places in Central America for surfing. It draws fewer surfers than more touristy countries like Mexico and Costa Rica and so you will often find you have incredible surf beaches all to yourself! 

The best surf spots are all located along the eastern Pacific coast of the country with the most popular beaches being the ones near San Juan del Sur. You can also find good surf further north in Playa Maderas and Playa Majagual. The further north you go the fewer crowds you’ll find.

Other things to do in Nicaragua include hiking up or sandboarding down active volcanoes, visiting Ometpe Island, exploring the architecture of Granada or escaping to the tropical Corn Islands.

A trip to Nicaragua wouldn’t be complete without hiking through the jungles of Miraflores and checking out the old capital of Leon. Don’t Indulge in the yummy street food and sample their famous rums, all without breaking the back.

Daily budget: £20 - £30 per day

When to go: During the dry season from November to May

3. El Salvador

On the Pacific coast and bordering Honduras and Guatemala you will find the rarely visited, El Salvador! El Salvador is one of the least visited countries in Central America, due to its violent wars in the mid-late 1900s and its not so flash reputation when it comes to gang crime.

However, in recent years the government has taken steps to reduce crime, making it safer for travellers. Thanks to its sorted past, it is still very cheap! If you are travelling to El Salvador, especially solo, it is still important you take some precautions to keep safe including researching where you’re staying, not displaying valuables, not carrying excessive cash, and making sure you don’t walk alone at night and take private taxis where you can.

What El Salvador lacks in size, it makes up for in its rich culture, natural beauty and incredible ancient history. If you love exploring ancient ruins and relaxing on beautiful beaches on the cheap, then El Salvador might be the destination for you. 

el salvador cheap country in central america

Things to do in El Salvador

There is so much to see and do in El Salvador! Some of the best things to do that can’t be missed include visiting the Mayan Ruins of Joya de Ceren, relaxing on the beautiful beaches of El Tunce and Playa El Zonte and hiking to the top of Santa Ana Volcano.

Other must-do activities include exploring the capital city of San Salvador, visiting the Mayan archaeological site of Tazmul and learning about the interesting and tragic history of the civil war which happened from 1980 to 1992.

Daily budget: £20 - £35 per day

When to go: During the dry season from November to April 

el salvador cheap country in central america

 4. Honduras

Next on our list of cheap countries to travel to in Central America in 2023 is Honduras. Honduras is a beautiful country bordering Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. It occupies a vast section of the Caribbean Coastline, making this an amazing place to get Caribbean Island vibes on a budget. 

Honduras is home to beautiful jungles, mountains for hiking, amazing diving sites, Mayan Ruins and incredible national parks full to the brim with wildlife.

Similar to El Salvador, Honduras has a violent past with plenty of unrest during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, which has meant it doesn't have the best reputation for tourism. This has helped to keep living costs low for travellers visiting the country. Today, developments have been made to make Honduras a safer place. It is becoming a popular spot for intrepid backpackers looking to get off the beaten path. 

Similar to El Salvador, travellers should take precautions to ensure their safety as Honduras does have a higher crime rate than other places in the region.

Things to do in Honduras

Some of the top activities in Honduras include exploring the Copan Ruins, diving in the beautiful Bay Islands, visiting the colonial city of Gracias, hiking in the Pico Bonito National Park, soaking in the hot springs of Yuscaran, island hopping to the tropical Cayos Cochinos and hang out by Lake Yojoa.

Daily budget: £25 - £40 per day

When to go: During the dry season from December to April 

5. Mexico

Mexico is one of the best countries to visit when you are on a budget. Mexico is a country of great diversity with so much to see in every corner. It has some of the best street food in the world, incredible ancient history, vibrant culture and beautiful deserts, jungles and beaches.

Things to do in Mexico

While some places in Mexico are more expensive and geared towards luxury travel such as Tulum, Cancun and Cabo, this certainly doesn’t represent the entire country. Like many places on this list, you are in control of how cheap or expensive you want your holiday to be in Mexico.

Head inland to visit incredible towns with a more authentic Mexican feel such as Oaxaca, Puebla and San Cristobal. Don’t miss the pyramids in Mexico City or the Mayan ruins in the jungle in Palenque. Head to Playa Del, Cozumel. Isla Hotbox or Mazunte for beautiful beaches without breaking the bank.

What’s more, Mexico is a beautiful destination year-round, is easy to travel between cities via bus and is easily accessible from the United States.

Daily budget: £25 - £55 per day to get everything you need. Expect to spend more if you are visiting the Yucatan Peninsula.

When to go: Peak season is June - September. Visit during the off-season or shoulder season (October & November or April & May) to save more money.

>>> Check out these hidden gems in Mexico

6. Panama

Finally coming in as our most expensive cheap country to visit in Central America in 2023 is Panama. This is another amazing and affordable country to visit in Central America. Panama is a long thin country at the bottom of Central America. It acts as a bridge between Central and South America, bordering Costa Rica in the north and Colombia in the South.

Panama has incredible biodiversity and wildlife, yet as with other countries on this list is overshadowed by the more popular (and pricey) Costa Rica! Exploring all the natural jewels of the jungles and seas of Panama is one of the best ways to explore this stunning country.

While Panama is a little more pricey than other countries on our list, it is far from the most expensive destination in Central America. It is also relatively safe and well-developed with modern infrastructure, a strong economy and a higher standard of living compared to other countries in Central America, making this a great destination to visit.

Things to do in Panama

Panama is best known for its cultural history, beautiful beaches, lush rainforest and booming economy. Diving, snorkelling, hiking and wildlife spotting are all popular activities in Panama/

Must-do activities in Panama include visiting the Panama Canal, exploring the historic heart of Panama City, Casco Viejo, hiking the Chiriqui Highlands, visiting the tropical San Blas Islands and going deep into the Darien Gap rainforest. Visit the beautiful beaches of Bocas Del Toro, go up into the mountains and coffee plantations of Boquete and marvel at the waterfalls and jungles in Anton Valley.

Another unforgettable experience in Panama is visiting Embera Village. The Embera are an indigenous group located in Eastern Panama who are famous for the preservation of their traditional way of life. A trip to Panama wouldn’t be complete without admiring the impressive skyscrapers in Panama City!

Daily budget: £30 - £60 per day

When to go: During the dry season from December to April