The best time for Central America Travel
While Central America, Mexico and Cuba benefit from a pleasant tropical climate year round, the dry season is the most pleasant time to visit the region. The dry season runs from December to April and low season is typically May to October.
Other main considerations are that it can be very cold in areas of high elevation, which you will find in some areas of Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Mexico. Land along the Caribbean coast is susceptible to hurricanes between June to November, particularly during October and November.
This summary is only intended as a brief guide so please contact us to discuss in more detail.
Flights to Central America
Eclipse Travel can assist with all your flight arrangements, including international flights, round-the-world flights and internal Central American flights.
How to fly to Central America from Australia?
There are no direct flights from Australia to any country in Central America, Mexico or Cuba, which means flights via the USA (usually Los Angeles) are required. There are also alternatives to fly into some countries via South America, although this is typically longer and more expensive.
Can Central America be incorporated into round-the-world flights?
Yes, there are many options, some of which can be good value. Or if you are simply looking to combine South and North America on one ticket then there are other good alternatives we can discuss.
What is the baggage allowance for flights?
Baggage allowances depend on the airline however common international flight allowance is between 20-23kgs and 15-23kgs for domestic flights. All airlines allow international limits on domestic flights when issued on the same ticket.
Visas, Entrance Fees & Insurance requirements when travelling to Central America
What visas are required?
Cuba – When visiting Central America, Australian passport holders only require a visa for Cuba, known as a Tourist Card. Eclipse Travel can assist with obtaining this tourist card. You are also required to have a full passport valid for 6 months after the return date. A Tourist Card is valid for one single trip of 30 days duration, although the stay can be extended locally for another 30 days.
Please note – previously Cuban authorities would not stamp visitors’ passports, but only the Tourist Card, to avoid potential complications entering the USA. During the Obama administration the relationship with Cuba warmed. Some restrictions were relaxed and the Cuban authorities resumed stamping visitors’ passports. Recently restrictions have tightened again however Cuba continues to stamp visitors’ passports. Travellers planning to visit the USA after Cuba can explain the situation to the immigration officials and request that the stamp be placed on the Tourist Card however there is no guarantee they will agree.
USA – Please note that when flying via the USA you will need to apply for a visa waiver.
Canada – If travelling via Canada you must apply for a new mandatory entry requirement known as an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) that applies to all visa-exempt foreign nationals who fly to or transit through Canada effective from 15 March 2016. The authorisation is electronically linked to the passport and is valid for five (5) years or until passport expiry, whichever comes first. The cost of an eTA is CAD 7.00 per person and to view eTA-required nationalities visit here. Eligible customers can apply for an eTA online here.
What additional entrance fees or taxes can I expect?
On arrival in Nicaragua, Australian passport holders are required to pay a US$5 entrance fee. On arrival in Belize you will pay an entrance fee of US$18-20 per person.
Several countries also charge international departure taxes or airport fees usually between US$20-40 per person. Currently this charge is applied in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Belize, Guatemala & Panama. Departure tax is no longer charged in Cuba.
Travel insurance is essential when travelling to Central America. Please check the terms of your policy carefully, particularly with regard to limits of cover, and ensure you are familiar with the procedure for making claims. Once you have paid your deposit or full payment, certain fees will apply if you have to cancel your holiday and for this reason you should take out insurance at the time of paying your deposit, which should then protect you in such a situation.
Health & Diet considerations when travelling to Central America
What vaccinations are required?
There are many factors that need to be considered by you and your health care professional when assessing the need for vaccines and/or medication. This information is only a guide and not a replacement for professional health advice. Be sure to speak to your doctor or visit a travel clinic at least 6-8 weeks before you travel. The following is a list of our general recommendations:
- Yellow Fever – The yellow fever vaccination is recommended for those travelling to Panama, although outbreaks have occurred in other countries so please consult your doctor. If you are travelling to areas within South America prior to travelling to Central America it is often required that you carry a yellow fever vaccination card with you.
- Hepatitis – Both A and B vaccination recommended
- Typhoid – Vaccination recommended
- Diphtheria – Vaccination recommended
- Cholera – Vaccination recommended
- Rabies – Vaccination recommended
- Tetanus – Vaccination recommended
- Malaria – risk varies by the region and season. You are most at risk in some areas of Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama. Consult your doctor for the latest information.
What Causes Altitude Sickness?
The primary cause of altitude sickness is ascending too quickly. Many areas within Central America have altitudes which have been known to induce this illness. Given time, your body can adapt to the decrease in oxygen at specific altitudes. This is known as acclimatisation and generally takes one to three nights at a given altitude. If this is a particular concern to you, all our trips can be customised to give you more time to acclimatise.
Some general recommendations for people travelling to areas of high altitude: The day before you travel
- Get a proper nights sleep.
- Eat easily digestible food.
- Avoid alcohol.
After you arrive
- Avoid strenuous physical activity, particularly if this activity isn’t part of your normal routine.
- Drink at least one litre of water.
- Eat small quantities of food, preferably carbohydrates.
- Wear warm clothing.
- Avoid unnecessary medication like sleeping pills.
If you are having difficulty breathing or develop any abnormal symptoms then seek immediate medical help. Many hotels and also most of your tour guides will have a ready supply of oxygen which will help alleviate any potential problems.
Preventive Medications (requiring prescriptions):
- Diamox (Acetazolamide) changes acid balance which allows you to increase breathing and improve oxygen intake.
- Dexamethasone decreases brain and other swelling, helping to reverse the effects.
For Cuba we recommend hand sanitiser and toilet paper as the quality of paper in Cuba is poor. If staying at casa particulares we recommend taking soap as this is not always included.
Whilst we understand your dietary requirements are important and often vital to your health, sometimes due to cultural and language differences these are not always easy to convey when you are travelling. Eclipse travel aims to alleviate these concerns and on request will prepare translations of your requirements into Spanish.
In general we recommend using the local currency for each country within Central America as you will get the most value for your money. ATM’s are common in all major centres and even the smaller ones. As a backup we recommend a supply of US dollar notes in small denominations as every country in Central America readily accepts these and they can be very handy on border crossings.
Another option is Travel Money Cards which work as a bank card on your travels around the continent. Traveller’s cheques are very difficult to exchange in Central America so we do not recommend these.
Currency in Cuba
For travel in Cuba you need to obtain Cuban Convertible Peso or CUC which cannot be obtained outside Cuba. You can obtain this using your ATM card at the airport although we also recommend taking a supply of Euro, British Sterling, Canadian Dollars or Mexican Pesos which can be exchanged for CUC. USD can also be exchanged however an additional 10% fee is usually charged. AUD or NZD cannot be exchanged in Cuba. You will be able to exchange your money into CUC at the CADECA Exchange Bureaus or any bank. Please beware there is another currency in Cuba only available for local transactions called Cuban Peso (CUP) which value is 20 times less. This currency is not available for Tourist purpose. Please be careful not to mistakenly exchange your money into the wrong currency and only use approved Exchange Bureaus.
Credit cards can be complicated to use in Cuba but in general yes it is possible if you follow the below guidelines;
- VISA: This is our preferred card because you can use at any bank and also in most cash machines. It will work regardless of whether it is debit or credit.
- MASTERCARD: It will NOT normally work on cash machines which means you have to go inside a bank and use what the Cubans called a “POS” (Point of Sale). The catch: not all banks have the POS. In fact, most banks will not have a working POS.
- Cards issued by US Banks cannot be used in Cuba!
- Take at least 2 different cards in case one doesn’t work.
- We always recommend that you travel with enough cash to cover at least your minimum expenses in case these cards do not work.
Unlike the United States, tipping in Central America is not mandatory but like anywhere is much appreciated. Expected amounts differ by the country but we have outlined some broad guidelines for you as follows;
- If you are on a day tour or transfer, then depending on the duration a small tip of US$1-5 per person is appropriate.
- We recommend a tip of 10-15% in restaurants.
- If you are part of a group tour or cruise for multiple days then you should consider spending a little more. We suggest US$5 per person per day for any porters (ratio is 1 client: 1 porter, US$10 per person per person per day to the cook and US$10 per person per day to your guide. Most cruises will provide you with their tipping guidelines when on board.
Internet cafes are prevalent throughout all major centres in Central America and are generally inexpensive to use. Additionally, most hotels offer Wi-Fi or shared computers with internet access which is often included in the cost of your hotel.
Using your mobile phone with roaming can be very expensive. We recommend using Wi-Fi in your hotels to access programs like Viber or Skype to make free calls to your family and friends back home. Additionally, you can use calling booths or paid accounts with Skype in internet cafes as a very inexpensive way of making calls.
Electrical Outlets in Latin America
Most countries in Central America use the European style outlet with 110v. Visit the below link for more information on each country.
General Packing List
- Travel Insurance documents
- Itinerary and tickets
- Credit card
- Photocopies of important documents – keep in suitcase & an electronic copy on your email
- Suitcase or backpack – most of our tours don’t require a backpack but ask if you are unsure
- Day pack
- Medications (if required)
- First aid kit
- Clothes – jacket for cold climates, jumper, dress, shirts, t-shirts, long pants, socks, underwear, rain jacket, swimmers, hat. Smart casual clothes (if planning to eat at some nice restaurants)
- Comfortable shoes with good grip and sandals or flip flops
- Camera & Charger
- Laptop/tablet & charger
- For Cuba we recommend hand sanitiser and toilet paper as the quality of paper in Cuba is poor