What to pack for Central America

What to pack for Central America

Wondering what to pack for Central America? Geographically Central America is pretty large and the climate in Central America varies substantially across each country. Although it is generally warm you will also need some warm clothes and waterproofs. Especially, if you are planning on visiting any of the main cities as many of them are high up in the mountains. To help you decide what to put in your backpack here is my packing advice for Central America.

What to wear in Central America

3 reasons why you should travel to Central America during rainy season

Central America is a pretty dressed down part of the world. Although it’s fine to wear shorts and vest tops, on the whole. Be aware though that most people living in Central America dress more conservatively outside of the beach towns.

So, when packing you might want to swap the booty shorts for some floaty pants. Because of the Backpacker vibe, you won’t need to worry too much about what you look like, it’s not like backpacking around Europe where you will be wanting to look a bit stylish and not quite so backpacker scruffy. The 9 months I spent backpacking in Central America I pretty much just wore the same 5 tops and bottoms the whole time. Picking up the odd thrift shop bargain when something caught my eye.

Mix and Match your clothes

This is rule number one and it’s an important one. You need to make sure that you don’t have any single wear items packed. Everything in your bag should be mix and match. I  normally include only 1 patterned top and 1 patterned bottoms so that everything else will match. If you pack lots of patterned tops and bottoms you are going to be limited to what you can wear together. Before packing lay everything out and do a practice mix and match just to make sure everything goes well together.

Why you need to pack using Packing Cubes

Want to pack more but you don’t have space? Don’t worry just get yourself some packing cubes. I love using packing cubes as they save me so much space. These are the ones I use and love, I wrote a post on using them which you can read here.  If you are backpacking the slim ones are better for fitting into a backpack.

Pack easy to wash and quick-drying clothes

When choosing clothes I always try and choose things that wash easily (leave the dry clean only at home), don’t need ironing, are lightweight and will dry quickly. I also try not to bring anything heavy as it will also take up more space. I prefer to pick thin light clothing so I can squeeze a few more things in rather than larger heavier material that takes up space.

Central America Travel essentials

Travel Insurance

First things first, you are going to need some solid insurance. If you don’t believe me then read this. I personally use SafetyWing Digital Nomads Insurance which is an ongoing policy that just renews each month. But before that, I used World Nomads who are the company I would highly recommend if you are backpacking.

Reusable Water Bottle

In most cities in Central America, you can drink water directly from the tap. But having a good reusable water bottle is essential in Central America as you can buy large bottles of water and refill. If you are still a little worried then get a water bottle with a filter like this for peace of mind.

Bug Spray

I suggest getting an eco-friendly one for your body and then getting something a little more aggressive like this to spray on your clothing.

Vaccines 

To travel to Central America you should make sure you have had all of the normal childhood vaccines (Tetanus and Diphtheria, Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) in addition it is recommended to have hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, cholera, yellow fever and rabies. Although you should never take medical advice from a travel blogger, so please check in with your doctor’s office as they will be able to give you the most up to date advice. 

You will not need malaria pills in Central America.

Download my packing list

Luggage for Central America

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If you plan on covering a lot of ground then I would personally suggest a 65L backpack and a dry bag backpack as your main two bags. Then have a small daypack that can easily be packed when traveling. I’ve added images and links for the luggage I have tried and tested in Central America below. 

If security is a concern for you then I highly recommend getting in Pacsafe backpack for added security and peace of mind. I also wrote this blog post on the best digital nomad backpacks and this one about carry on luggage, just in case they are useful to you.

You are also going to need some packing cubes to help keep all of you things organized (and squeeze in a few extra items of clothing). Plus a good laundry bag, toiletry bag, and of course a shopping bag.

Right now I personally travel with a Mountaintop 70L because I was on a pretty tight budget and it was only $75. It is still going strong after a year and a half, although you can tell that it isn’t great quality so if you can stretch your budget my next buy will be an Osprey Women’s Aura. As well as my backpack I have also added a Chester Suitcase to my luggage… it’s been a life saver for my back, and I love the builtin lock to keep all my gear safe!

Other Useful Things to Pack for Central America

Over the years backpacking the world I’ve got packing down to a fine art and I have some essential items in my backpack that you might not think of. So here are some things you are going to need that you might not think of!

Laundry Soap and a Nail Brush – Unless you want to be doing laundry every few days, it’s best to just wash out your underwater in the shower each night. To do this I always travel with a bar of laundry soap and a nail brush. It also comes in handy to clean off marks and stains from clothes you are washing.

A Travel Washing Line – I love mine, it’s so handy and takes up no room at all.

A Sewing Kit – When you are traveling sometimes you need to make-do-and-mend.

Mini First Aid Kit – Goes without saying really! I also add in some extras like activated charcoal and other useful pharmaceuticals. 

Carabiner clips –  So useful for attaching things to your backpack!

Head torch – Equally as useful for camping as it is for reading in bed, or trying to find your way home in the dark.

Ear Plugs – If you are planning on staying in hostels you are going to need these!

A Whistle – I know many people worry about safety and want to protect themselves. I like to carry a whistle just in case I need to pull attention. It might not be as effective as pepper spray, but as that is illegal to fly with too many countries, this is a good alternative.

A Door Stop – Worried about safety in your room at night? Use the doorstop to block the door from the inside and make it harder for someone to enter the room.

Silk Sleeping Bag Liner – Another thing that doesn’t take up so much room, but will give you a lot of peace of mind if you need it. Sometimes you might either find yourself chilly or just not wanting to sleep in the bedsheets. So hopping inside a sleeping bag liner helps you get a good night’s sleep, wherever you are…

Umbrella – If you are traveling somewhere tropical it’s likely to rain, but still be hot. Having an umbrella in your bag will keep you dry without making you feel like you will collapse from heat exhaustion!

A padlock – I recommend getting one of these locks so you don’t need to worry about keys. They are TSA approved so you can use them to lock your luggage when flying as well as using it to lock your locker at the hostel.

USD – I always keep an emergency $50 USD hidden somewhere, just in case. USD is the most widely accepted currency, but you will need to ensure the notes are clean and crisp. Many places won’t accept them if they are marked at all.

Quick-dry towel – I have 2, a large one and a small hand size one that I keep clipped to my backpack.

A sarong – I never travel anywhere without at lease 2 sarongs. I use them to replace my towel, hang over my bed in a hostel for privacy. Wrap around my hair when it’s wet, sunbathe on… I could go on and on. I even make a dress out of mine when I’m at the beach.

A scarf – Another multi-use item that doesn’t take up much room. Scarfs are great for covering shoulders from the sun, or when entering churches. It will also help keep you warm, and they look cute!

Yoga Mat – I never travel without my yoga mat. I wrote a whole post to help you choose the best travel yoga mat here.

Spice Bag – If you are planning to do some cooking then I recommend making a spice bag so you don’t end up wasting lots of money or herbs and spices, or eating bland food for the whole of your trip. I put my spices into ziplock bags and then keep them in one of these clear bags

Ziplock Bags – I know, I know, more plastic. But they do come in really handy when traveling and you can wash and reuse them so you aren’t throwing them away.

Coffee Flask – Great for keeping hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold. It also saves you having to use disposable cups when you buy a takeaway coffee.

Aeropress – I do love my coffee, so traveling without my Aeropress is not an option haha. This is also another great portable coffeemaker/ mug if you aren’t a fan of the Aeropress. 

Clothing to Pack for Central America

You can see my full Central America packing list here on Amazon, and you can also download my free Central America packing list here. So I’m going to try and keep this section brief.

Right now I personally travel with a Mountaintop 70L because I was on a pretty tight budget and it was only $75. It is still going strong after a year and a half, although you can tell that it isn’t great quality so if you can stretch your budget my next buy will be an Osprey Women’s Aura. As well as my backpack I have also added a Chester Suitcase to my luggage… it’s been a life saver for my back, and I love the builtin lock to keep all my gear safe!

1 pair of Skinny Jeans

I’m obsessed with DSTLD jeans they are the best pair of jeans I have ever had. They have a high waist and are perfectly fitted. Although you might not want to wear these so much in the day they are perfect for dressing up with a nice top and jewelry if you are going out somewhere.

1 pair of black leggings

Love them or hate them, they are comfortable and perfect for traveling or going for a run. I can’t get enough of Girlfriend Collective Leggings, they are so comfortable! They are also lined but breathable so perfect for summer and winter. They have a super high waistband and a hidden pocket at the back where I like to keep some money and my bank card. Oh, and as they are made from recycled water bottles they are also good for the environment!  They are also perfect for hiking volcanos or exploring ancient Mayan Ruins in the jungle if you want to cover up from the mosquitoes.

Shorts – denim, hiking, and sports

I can’t travel without my denim shorts, I don’t care that they take up space and are heavy. If it’s hot they are perfect for every occasion. I can dress them up with a nice top and some nice jewelry and sandals. Or during the day I can wear with a plain top and sneakers. As well as a pair of denim shorts you should pack some hiking shorts and a pair of comfy sports shorts.

The hiking shorts will come in useful if you do any adventurous activities (see here) and if you choose well you can also dress them up for evenings. The sports shorts can be worn to the beach or lounging around the hostel. You will especially need these if you are packing for Guatemala as there are a lot of hikes around there.

1 skirt

I like to pack 1 lightweight mid-length skirt suitable for wearing during the day but can be dressed up in case I go anywhere.

4 or 5 tops

Normally I always have 5, 3 plane T-Shirts and 2 more dressy/ stylish tops. This gives me plenty of options. Although I always have 2 nicer tops I make sure they match with most if not all of my bottoms. Make sure you buy tops that will wash well and are good quality. You will be wearing and washing them a lot.

Jumper, cardigan, and shirt

I like to have one of each, and I normally wear all of them to travel haha. Make sure they are all lightweight and will go with (almost) everything you have. I travel with a black fleece jumper, a denim shirt, and a black wool cardigan and they all go with everything in my backpack. I also have one checked shirt which I alternate with my denim shirt. As I said it does get chilly if you are at elevation in the mornings and evenings so you will be grateful for bringing some warm things.

1 or 2 dresses

I like to make sure both dresses are lightweight and can be worn in the day and the evening. I personally have 2 short dresses just because longer dresses take up too much room. But if you can find a lightweight maxi dress grab it!

If you are planning on taking advantage of some of Central America’s amazing hikes make sure you have a quick try top (or 2) and some hiking pants. I know they aren’t very cool, but I do love my Craghoppers zip off pants!

Bras

If you wear them you will want 1 or 2 bras and a sports bra. I personally don’t bother anymore. I prefer something a little boob friendlier than having metal jabbed into my ribcage!

8 pairs knickers / panties

I know a lot of people say 5 but I like to just do laundry once a week so I always have enough for a week and a spare pair. They don’t take up much room and it saves me washing my panties in the sink each night! Laundry is very cheap in most Central American Countries. My normal laundry bill is $3 a week for all of my clothes and towel to be washed, dried and folded up. So you won’t need to worry about hand washing your clothes unless you are really on a tight budget!

Swimwear to pack for Central America

I like to have 4 tops and 2 pairs of black bottoms plus a swimsuit. In Guatemala, you might not get much use from your swimwear but in pretty much every other country in Central America they have incredible beaches that you are likely to spend a lot of time exploring. If you want to save space ditch the bras and just pack a few extra bikinis. I wore mine every day anyway because of the heat even if I wasn’t at the beach.

Sleepwear

I sleep in old clothes most of the time to save space. But if you prefer to bring sleepwear you are going to need full-length PJ’s for the mountainous areas and short and vest for everywhere else. My first night in Guatemala I was so cold I had to put on my jumper to get to sleep. The temperature often drops substantially in the evening in the mountains. But if you are in the jungle you will have the opposite problem.

Do you need to pack a coat for Central America?

Yes, you do. I have two coats my (fake) Down Jacket (I would NEVER wear a down jacket for ethical reasons) that goes into a little bag and a waterproof coat that also goes into a bag. If you will be there during rainy season make sure you have a waterproof jacket and an umbrella (it get’s hot in the jungle and you will get overheated in a rain jacket). I got good use out of both jackets in rainy and dry season.

What shoes to pack for Central America?

The most important thing about footwear is that it is, comfortable! If you are backpacking in Central America you are going likely to be doing some walking. I always like to have one solid pair of closed toe shoes that are suitable for heavy-duty walking and then a pair of sturdy sandals for when it’s too hot for shoes.

I would also strongly suggest investing in some hiking sandals suitable for wearing in the water. I wish I’d had mine in Guatemala when I went to Semuc Champey and If you want to do the ATM in Belize you will need them there too. If you are going to be hiking in Central America then think about investing in some good hiking boots I live in mine!

Optional footwear to pack for Central America:

Sneakers and Flip Flops. If you are more of a sneakers girl then ditch the shoes for a good pair of sneakers. I like to have a pair of flip-flops for the beach and showering in hostels. I normally don’t travel with them though I just buy cheap ones when I arrive.

Socks

It’s always with investing in at least 3 good pairs of socks that are quick drying and of good quality. I travel with 3 hiking socks and 2 normal pairs.

Hat

Depending on how stylish you are feeling pack something more in fashion or a simple baseball cap to keep the sun out of your eyes and your face. I have no room for a fancy hat so I just have a simple black baseball cap.

Sunglasses

Always check the UV protection even if you get a cheap pair. I travel with a nice (expensive) pair for walking around the city and a cheap pair for the beach.

Sarong

I have two and I use them all the time! They aren’t just great to cover up at the beach they are also perfect to replace your towel. I don’t have a microfiber towel anymore I just use my sarong. I also take them to the beach to lay on and I even use them to tuck under the top bunk bed to give myself some privacy while sleeping in dorm rooms.

Daypack / handbag

I have both! I love my tan crossover bag but I can’t travel without my Kanken backpack. It folds up small so it doesn’t take up much space and it looks good with everything.

Towel

If you prefer a towel to a sarong then make sure it’s a quick dry space saving microfiber towel. I LOVE this towel from MinxNY and it travels everywhere with me.

Lock

Make sure you have a lock for the lockers in the hostel. Most hostels with let you rent one or buy one but it’s always better to get your own.

Headtorch

I’m an adventure girl, so I never travel without my head torch. If nothing else it’s good for getting home at night and reading in bed! But if you do decide to go to any caves or hiking up any volcanos then you will be glad you have it.

Earplugs

If you are staying in hostels you need earplugs….that is all!

Waterbottle

You will find water filters in most places so make sure you take a good BPA free water bottle. Less plastic people, save the planet! I love this stainless steel one as it keeps my water nice and cool no matter how hot it is.

Swiss Army knife

I don’t go anywhere without mine! You have no idea how many showers, plug sockets, and doors I’ve fixed using it! Plus you never know when you might need a knife (or a bottle opener). Be the kind of girl who carries a Swiss Army Knife.

Bamboo cutlery and copper straw

I’ll say it again. Less plastic, save the planet! Single-use plastic is the devil and should be avoided at all costs haha. No, but really lots of places are now banning single-use plastic (hurray) so do yourself a favor and get ahead of the game by getting a bamboo set and a copper straw for your mojitos.

Shopping bag

See above. Always carry a foldaway shopping bag. Great for shopping and laundry.

Soap bar for washing clothes

A bar of laundry soap is less likely to leak and saves on your liquid allowance. I also like to pack a fingernail scrubbing brush for washing clothes. I use this for scrubbing the areas of my clothes more prone to soaking up smells.

Ziplock Bags

They come in handy for everything from storing food to protecting your toiletries from leakage. Make sure you wash and reuse though!

Travel Adapter

Depending on what country you are traveling from make sure you have a multipurpose travel plug adaptor. 

Hanging Toiletry Bag

It’s always good to have a hanging one so you don’t have to put your bag down in communal bathrooms.

First Aid Kit

Make sure it’s stocked up with bandages, mini scissors a small bandage, steri strips, paracetamol, ibuprofen, diarrhea tablets, constipation relief, and rehydration sachets. If you prefer more natural remedies then take a read of this post I wrote on essential oils. Also always carry Activated Charcoal with you, in case you want to know why read all about my scorpion sting incident here.

Carabiner Clip

I never travel without at least 2 carabiner clips – 1 big one and a few smaller ones. They come in so handy for everything from attaching my sandals to my backpack to clipping on my GoPro.

Blow up Pillow

If you are going camping then a blow-up pillow is a must and doesn’t take up much room. If you’re not then skip it.

Earplugs

I never travel without earplugs. I’ve had way too many bad nights sleep and there is nothing worse.

Poncho

I always have a plastic poncho, always!

Washing Line

This travel washing line is so handy and it doesn’t take up much room so I always keep it in my backpack.

Insect Repellent

You can make your own or buy one with a decent amount of DEET in it. I personally only ever use DEET on my clothes. I prefer instead to use a natural repellent on my skin.

Wet wipes

I always like to keep a little pack in my bag, just in case.

Tissues

Again just in case!

Hand Sanitizer

Toiletries

I’m a total hippy and don’t like to use anything with too many chemicals in. If you like going natural like me, here is a list of my favorite products you can find on Amazon.

Or if you are more into DIY then take a read of this post on Natural Products for travelers.

Sleeping Sheet

If you are staying in hostels it’s worth bringing one of these with you just in case. I actually used mine quite a lot because I was cold at night rather than the bed being dirty.

Photocopies of passport

I am obsessed with this. I have photos on all of my devices and photocopies in each bag. You never know when you will be asked for this and if you lose your passport having a photocopy makes it much easier to get a replacement.

Fake wallet

I like to carry a fake wallet with some old bank cards and a small amount of money that I can hand over in case of an emergency. I always keep my cash and bank card separate. When possible I leave my bank card safely locked up.

Toiletries to Pack for Central America

You can very all of the travel toiletries I recommend here on this Amazon list. Many things you can actually buy in Central America easily, so I wouldn’t stress too much about buying a lot of toiletries to travel with. But there are some things that are harder to get hold of and expensive in Central America, like shampoo! It’s all imported and I’m always shocked at how much it costs. So I always try and travel with my own.

Technology to take to Central America

Here are some digital things I’d recommend packing for Central America.

Smart Phone – If you don’t want to take your fancy iPhone traveling, then this is a great phone with a very good camera for under $300. It’s what I personally have and shoot a lot of my vlogs on.

Kindle – Save space by investing in a kindle and kindle unlimited. You will find most of the lonely planet travel guides are available to read for free with the plan. 

Lightweight laptop and external hard drive – I have a MacAir which is perfect for traveling. After losing all of my photos a few years ago I also always travel with a heavy-duty external harddrive.

Camera and Tripod – I travel with this DSLR but I also have this mirrorless camera which I often take if I want to use something more discreet. I also love this tripod as I can use it with all of my cameras (even my phone), plus it’s small and light enough to fit in my daypack.

Backup charger – I have these two and always keep one in my bag.

Travel adaptor – Get a worldwide one like this so you can use it wherever you travel to.

Portable WiFi – I never travel without my TEP wireless device. If you can’t live without WiFi I recommend buying or renting one.

Check out My travel books

The Solo Girls Guide to Traveling Without Fear

The solo girls guide to becoming a digital nomad

Book your trip now

Are you ready to book your trip?  To help you get the best deals and service here are the companies that I personally use to book all of my travel online. I always shop around before booking anything, but these are my tried and tested starting places.

  • Skyscanner – I’m a bit fan of Skyscanner, it is who I use to book all of my flights. I often will check other like Google Flights or Momodo, but I always go here first and it is who I book 99% of my flights with. 
  • Booking.com – I LOVE booking.com especially when I can book and cancel free up until a certain point, mostly because my plans are forever changing. It’s easy to use and has one of the widest selections. 
  • Airbnb – I’m not a huge user of Airbnb, but sometimes I do like to use it, and I ALWAYS check it before I book anything else. You can get some really cool places to stay here, and it is especially good in places like Cuba. If you don’t have an account and you click on this link then you will get $36 off your first booking.
  • Hostelworld – If you are looking for hostels then this is a great place to check first. They often have additional places that you won’t find on Bookin.com.
  • Agoda – Although I don’t use it as much as booking.com, Agonda is especially good if you are traveling in Asia as they really do dominate there. 
  • Worldpackers – If you want to travel on the cheap and save money on accommodation then you need Worldpackers in your life. You can read more about it here. If you click this link to sign up and use the code CLAIRESITCHYFEET then you can get a 40% discount on your membership! 
  • Book a Way – If you are traveling in Asia and want to pre-book your transportation then bookaway.com is a fantastic site to do so. They have buses, trains, and cars.
  • RentalCars – Looking to rent a. car while you are away? I always book through Rental Cars as they do a search of all of the big sites and find the best deals. 
  • Welcome Pickups – Very occasionally getting from the airport to my accommodation is a total pain in the butt, or I’m traveling in a group and it makes sense to arrange a pickup. When I do I use Welcome pickups.
  • World Nomads – If you are looking for flexible travel insurance then it’s World Nomads all the way. I wrote all about insurance here if you want a more thorough review. 
  • SafetyWing – AsI’m a Digital Nomad and not moving around quite so much anymore I personally use SafetyWing now for my health insurance. I wrote a full review here
  • Viatour – Sometimes it can be a little expensive, but I like Viatour for somethings, especially if you can get a discount code! It’s also great for inspiration. 
  • Klook – If you are traveling in Asia, then Klook is great! You can book all kinds of tours, activities, and train tickets, plus they even have sim cards and WiFi.

Claire Summers

Dancer, producer, traveller, photographer, cake maker, dog lover and knitter of Christmas scarfs.

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