3 Considerations for Traveling through Central American Countries
I have traveled through and lived in Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
2 months in Nicaragua. 4 months in Costa Rica.
After spending some time in each of these beautiful countries I want to share a few cultural considerations for you to keep in mind.
Before we dive into the post I want you to take a look at Matt and Jenn’s sensational blog Two Weeks in Costa Rica and enjoy Kara’s helpful Nicaragua travel guide as 2 suggested resources for this blog post.
1: Sunday is the Lord’s Day
Especially in small towns, Sunday is the Lord’s Day.
This is code for: virtually everything will be closed on Sundays in small towns. I mean everything. Meaning, buy groceries or other stuff on Saturday – mad rush usually at stores, late in the day – because everything is closed on Sunday. I Am Legend scenario here.
Note; buses tend to stop running after 2 PM as well, at least in Costa Rica bus stops outside of major cities.
Kelli and I traveled to Nueva Arenal on a Sunday. Bad idea for busing. Good news for the taxi driver who made a cool $40 because we had no other choice after the multi bus trip became a taxi trip after 2 PM.
San Jose has different rules in this regard. Big city. Many tourists moving through and locals bustling about. Stuff will be open on Sunday. But beware small town close downs, or traveling anywhere outside of main cities on a Sunday.
Take the day off.
2: Learn Some Spanish for a Richer Experience
Spanish is an easy language to learn.
Pronunciation is simple. As are the actual words and phrases commonly used on a daily basis.
Kelli and I are semi-fluent – Kelli is fluent; I am semi – so we can chat with locals in places like Nicaragua and Costa Rica with relative ease.
Totally different experience when you go from being Cave Man Gringo who use 1 English word and grunt and point to speaking some Spanish, connecting with locals in their native tongue. Eyes widen. Smiles brighten up faces.
People genuinely appreciate even a simple “Hola! Como esta?” or “De nada.” or “Hijo de puta! Da me mis zapatos! Payoso!” The last phrase was me telling a homeless guy in Nicaragua to give me back my shoes he had just stolen. I called him a “Motherfucker” and “Clown” too.
Anyway, learning even 10 words enhances your experience because locals appreciate you connecting with them in their native tongue. If they know English, you may get special treatment from drivers, etc, and a warmer meeting overall. But if they know Spanish, they will relax, open up and share what it’s like to live in their town, which is a really neat experience.
Tourist-related tension dissolves and you feel a bit like you’re a local too, getting the 411 in the native tongue from a chill person who can speak confidently.
Of course you’ll need to learn more than 20 phrases of Spanish to hold a conversation but 1-2 months of study and practice is well worth the experience of traveling through Central America with a working knowledge of Espanol.
3: Machismo Still Exists
Although seemingly a bit more prevalent in South America, machismo still exists some in Central American countries.
Perceptions are changing around the world. Awareness spreads daily, all over the globe. But in Central America, although habits are slowly changing, if you are a solo women traveler you may be hit on, kissed at (smooching sound or wolf whistle) or even asked out on a date by locals, albeit rarely.
In truth, most men go about their business. A few playful guys may do this stuff.
Annoying? Yep? Angering? Probably. But give 100% of your attention and energy to embracing the culture, and, to shifting your attention and energy to something else.
The machismo crowd wants your attention. Starve them of your attention and they fade away. Ignore them. Focus on the fascinating sights and sounds of these charming, beautiful, lovely Central American lands.
The majority of Central Americans are friendly, welcoming and warm. Focus on these folks. Where your attention and energy goes, grows.
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