Things I Wish I’d Known When Travelling Central America
Prepare for the Stare
Being tall, female, white and blondish meant sometimes in the more remote places of Central, I would get called Barbie. This is not normally a comparison people usually make, but apparently in Belize and Guatemala, it is. People were shouting at us from everywhere. From vans driving past packed with >30 people, we got whistles, shouts and invitations – mainly into their pants. At first I was quietly stoked with the attention (after just finishing a snow season, my body wasn’t exactly “bikini ready”, so to feel the love from the locals was nice). After a day or so had passed though, it had just become noise to me and was no longer that flattering. Just be warned that you can never really fly under the radar in Central if you don’t look like a local, and you will be mistaken for a doll.
If you are like me and like to prepare for all types of weather when packing your bags – don’t. It will be hot in Central, meaning maybe rethink packing two pairs of jeans and sevem hoodies. Remember you will be carrying them around everywhere, and will be sweating like a true Mexican with all this extra gear on your back (I didn’t actually take seven hoodies, but knowing me I probably tried). The one thing you can never have too many of, however, is bikinis or boardies. You literally live in these. One time I sat in my bikini for one-too-many days and ended up with a rash on my bum, which was less than ideal when wanting to do anything pant-less. So maybe take a couple of pairs so you have a spare to wear on laundry day.
Keep in mind the usual “Slip, Slop, Slap and Wrap”, as there is nothing worse than been burnt when traveling. I was fairly lucky to not end up too lobsterish, but I did see the sun take its victims and it wasn’t pretty. Sunglasses will also come in super handy after a night on the tequila or rum!
Also, you don’t need to take a massive pack. I took a 70L one and it was way too big. We looked like dicks when people found out we were only travelling for three weeks and were lugging these giant packs around. Most people we met were traveling for 10 times what we were, and carried backpacks the size of the ones we used for our day gear. We looked like flashpackers: the worst kind of backpacker there is.
Speak Some Spanish
Maybe this is quite an obvious tip for those travelling Central America… but not for us! We honestly thought we would be alright with a “Spanish for Dummies” book. We did survive and managed to still have an amazing time without speaking Spanish, but it would have made our trip so so much easier if we had. Belize is an English speaking country so is super easy to communicate in, but Guatemala is not. This created some interesting times with the simplest of tasks, such as buying a Snickers bar, which took roughly 10 minutes. Although you can mime your way through most convos, when someone replies speaking super fast, no book is going to help. In hindsight it would definitely have been helpful to have either someone who could speak a bit of Spanish or at the very least, the a champion charades player as a traveling compadre!
But no lame tips I could ever give you will ever prepare you for the most amazing, beautiful and sometimes dodgy trip you are about to embark on. My biggest tip is to keep an open mind: this is the time for YOLOing!