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Central America and Mexico

 
The Central America and Mexico region is a fascinating area full of vibrant cities, charming colonial towns, historic ruins and amazing scenery. There is so much to see and do here and the locals are well known for welcoming visitors with open arms.
 
Mexico is the largest of these countries and contains the busy metropolis of Mexico City with its stunning architecture and rich Spanish history. It is home to many historic Mayan and Aztec sites including Uxmal, Palenque, Teotihuacan and Chichen Itza. Mexico’s stunning coastline runs along both the Caribbean and Pacific Oceans, with Playa del Carmen and Tulum being two of the real gems.
 
Of course, the rest of Central America isn’t to be forgotten, with many wonderful attractions such as Tikal and Antigua in Guatemala, spectacular volcanoes in Nicaragua, the rainforest of Tortuguera National Park in Costa Rica, the tropical paradise of the San Blas islands in Panama and much, much more!
 
Did you know?
  • Ÿ Ÿ Mexico introduced chocolate to the world thanks to the ancient civilization of the Mayans.
  • Ÿ Ÿ More than 25% of Costa Rica’s land is dedicated to national parks, reserves and wildlife refuges.

Ÿ Ÿ The Panama Canal in Panama is the largest man-made waterway in the world and allows ships to pass from the West Coast of the USA to the East Coast.
 

Visa

 
A pre-arranged visa is not required to enter Mexico or any country in Central America for citizens of the following countries:
 
  • Ÿ Ÿ Australia
  • Ÿ Ÿ United Kingdom
  • Ÿ Ÿ The United States
  • Ÿ Ÿ Ireland
  • Ÿ Ÿ Canada
  • Ÿ Ÿ New Zealand
  • Ÿ Ÿ European Union
  • Ÿ Ÿ South Africa
 
For other nationalities, please visit the website of the relevant consulate.
 
Nicaragua – On arrival into Nicaragua you will be issued with a Tourist card, the cost of which is US$10.
 

 

Cash Withdrawals from ATMs

 
Be aware of your surroundings when withdrawing cash from ATMs in Mexico. In Mexico City assaults on people who have just used an ATM are not unknown, so try only to withdraw money during the day. Most ATMs in Mexico are in a small lobby that you can only access with your card but there may be someone waiting for you once you leave the lobby.
 

Time

 
Mexico -6/-5 GMT
Belize -6     GMT
Guatemala -6     GMT
Honduras -6     GMT
Nicaragua -6     GMT
Costa Rica -6     GMT
Panama -5     GMT

 

Money

 
Mexico - Pesos (MXP)
Belize - Belize dollar (BZD)
Guatemala - Quetzal (GTQ)
Honduras - Lempira (HNL)
Nicaraqua - Cordoba ORO (NIO)
Costa Rica - Colon (CRC)
Panama - US$/Balboa (PAB)

Please check websites such as www.oanda.com or www.xe.com for up to date exchange rates prior to your departure.

Mexico
 

Debit and credit cards are widespread in Mexico and are accepted at most larger hotels, shops and restaurants. Visa, MasterCard and American Express are the most widely accepted. ATMs (cajero automático) are also widespread but it is also a good idea to carry some cash as a backup. Foreign currencies can be exchanged at banks and foreign exchange bureaux (casas de cambio) and many hotels. US dollars cash is the most easily exchanged but Euros, Pounds sterling and Canadian dollars are readily exchangeable as well. Traveller’s cheques can generally also be exchanged at banks and cambios but the process can be more time-consuming than changing cash.
 

Belize
 

US dollars are widely accepted throughout Belize and if you carry these there is really no need to exchange them for the local currency. Change will be given in either US dollars or Belize dollars. Banking hours vary, but are typically Monday to Thursday 8.00am to 2.00pm and Friday 8.00am to 4.00pm. All the banks have ATMs across the country and most accept foreign cards. Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted credit cards.

Guatemala

 
ATMs (cajero automático) are easy to find in Guatemalan cities with screens on most offering you a choice of Spanish or English instructions. Try to withdraw cash midweek as ATMs are often empty by the weekend. Most Guatemalan ATMs only accept 4 digit PINs. As in most Latin American countries it is best to use ATMs in daylight hours and where possible choose an ATM inside a bank.
 
It is very hard to find Quetzals, the local currency, outside of Guatemala and if you do the exchange rate will be unfavourable. Money-changers are plentiful in Guatemala but you are safer changing foreign currency at a bank to avoid any scams. US dollars are also accepted as payment by many hotels, restaurants and shops, but the exchange rate may be lower than at the bank.
 
Visa is the most widely accepted credit card in Guatemala, followed by MasterCard and American Express with credit cards being accepted in high-end restaurants, hotels and stores, although stores sometimes charge a small surcharge for using credit cards.



 

Honduras

 
Apart from on the Bay Islands, US dollars are not generally accepted and so you will need a supply of the local currency, lempiras, Although informal money changers operate in the main tourist destinations, scams are not unknown and so you are advised to use banks or ATMs.
 
ATMs (cajero automático) are plentiful in the larger cities such as Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba, Comayagua and Santa Rosa de Copán as well as in the main important tourist destinations such as Copán Ruinas and Roatan. ATMs can be found at banks, large shopping malls, international airports and fuel stations.
 
Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted credit cards but can generally only be used in larger hotels and restaurants.



 

Nicaragua

 
US dollars are accepted almost everywhere in Nicaragua, but they must be in pristine condition without even the slightest mark or tear. The local currency of córdobas is usually easier to use, particularly at smaller businesses and in more remote areas and it is best to have a supply of smaller bills.
 
Foreign currency can be exchanged in hotels, foreign exchange bureaux (casas de cambio) and at some banks as well as at Managua International Airport. It is difficult to change traveller’s cheques outside Managua.
 
ATMs (cajero automático) are becoming increasingly available and are already common in the main cities such as Managua, Granada, León and Rivas. Generally ATMs are connected to Cirrus or PLUS networks but many ATMs also accept Visa and MasterCard.
 
Visa, American Express and MasterCard are the common cards, accepted at many hotels and restaurants.

Costa Rica

 
The local currency in Costa Rica is the colón. Some hotels and businesses will accept US dollars, but the exchange rate is not very favourable. There are foreign exchange bureaux at the international airports as well as in cities and towns. ATMs (cajero automático) are also widespread and are linked to the Cirrus and PLUS networks. Most machines only accept 4 digit PINs.
 
Credit cards are accepted by many businesses but there is generally a surcharge and often a minimum purchase amount.
 

Panama

 
Panama uses the US dollar as its currency. The official name for it is the balboa, but it is exactly the same bill. Panamanian coins are of the same value, size and metal as US coins and both are frequently used. It is very hard to use high denomination bills (US$50 or $100 notes) as counterfeiting is a serious problem. Many businesses will not accept any note higher than $20.
 
ATMs (cajero automático) are very common in Panama and again the main networks are Cirrus and PLUS. Credit cards, mainly Visa and MasterCard are also widely accepted in urban areas.

LDD, Emergency Numbers, Internet



Country Country Code Medical Police
Mexico +52 065 066
Belize +501 90 911
Guatemala +502 1500 or 125 1500 or 120
Honduras +504 195 199
Nicaragua +505 128 118
Costa Rica +506 1128 911 or 1117
Panama +507 911 or 103 104

Internet cafes are widespread throughout Mexico and Central America, being found in most towns and all cities. Wi-Fi is becoming increasingly common especially in larger hotels as well as some restaurants and cafes.

 

Climate

 
In general, Central America has a distinct wet and dry season. Temperatures are relatively similar year round, but rainfall varies considerably from nearly none at all to 30cm or more in a single month. Temperatures remain relatively high all year, especially on the Caribbean coast and high humidity is often a feature. The wet season runs from June to October and the dry season from mid-November to May. Despite these predictable patterns, it is not unheard of to have a sudden flood in the dry season or to have extended periods of dry weather in the middle of the wet season.
Most activities and tours are available all year.
 
Mexico, owing to its size, has a very diverse climate depending on the region. On the Caribbean coast the weather is very similar to that of Central America with its wet and dry seasons and unpredictability. However, the weather in Mexico City, which is situated at an altitude of 2,300m (7,550ft) above sea level, is far more moderate. Mexico City has pleasant summers and mild winters, with an annual average temperature of 18°C (64°F). Seasonal variations in temperature are small, but May is the warmest month of the year, and January the coldest, when night frosts are possible.
 

Cuisine

 
Mexican food has some of the most well-known and loved dishes in the world. The rest of Central America is lesser known for the culinary expertise, but there are still some excellent meat, rice and bean dishes. Seafood dominates the menu along the Caribbean coast and in the Bay Islands.
 
Mexico: Mexican cuisine varies by region due to local climate, geography and ethnic differences among the indigenous inhabitants. The north of Mexico is known for its beef, goat and ostrich production and meat dishes. In contrast, the Oaxaca region is known for its savoury tamales and celebratory moles. The mountainous regions of the west are known for goat birria (goat in a spicy tomato-based sauce). The three staples in Mexican dishes are corn, beans and chillies (hot peppers), ingredients that were already present before the Spanish arrived. Corn is consumed in all possible forms, but most importantly as a tortilla (a thin, round pancake made from corn dough). Tortillas are also used to make tacos and quesadillas, popular throughout the country. Drinks include tepache (made from pineapple), tuba (fermented juice from the coconut tree and pulque (ferment made from the maguey plant). Tequila, of course, is also offered and is usually served as a major ingredient in margaritas,with salt-rimmed glasses and lime  juice. Mezcal is a rougher version of tequila.

Belize: Belizean cuisine is influenced by all the various ethnic groups and is similar in many ways to Mexican and Caribbean cuisine. Beans, rice and chicken feature heavily and in rural areas the dishes tend to be simpler than in the cities. Barbecued chicken served with rice, beans and coleslaw is a standard Belize dish. Belizeans also make use of their abundant seafood in a variety of recipes, using conch, lobster, snapper and shrimp. Chinese food restaurants can also be found in almost every Belize town due to the influx of Chinese immigrants. Belizean rum is world-famous.
 
Guatemala: The traditional foods are based on Mayan cuisine with corn, chillies and beans as the main ingredients. Guatemalan food tends to be less spicy than Mexican food, with the chillies being served separately to be added as desired. Many dishes are also similar to those of Mexico including nachos, tamales and enchiladas. Cheese and tortillas also feature quite heavily. Meat stews (caldos) and soups (sopas) are popular dishes.
 
Honduras: The cuisine of Honduras also takes its influences from the various cultures of the country. A typical meal usually includes rice, beans, tortillas, grilled meat such as chicken or beef and a salad and may be served with chismol, a fresh, mild salsa made from tomatoes, green peppers, onions, cilantro and lime juice. Baleadas is another typical Honduran dish, a thick flour tortilla filled with refried beans, cheese, cream and sometimes also avocado or meat. Tacos, unlike those in Mexico, are deep-fried meat filled corn tortillas. Enchiladas are flat fried corn tortillas topped with ground beef, cheese and salsa. On the Caribbean coast and in the Bay Islands, seafood dominates Honduran cuisine.

Nicaragua: The cuisine of Nicaragua is a blend of criollo food and dishes of pre-Columbian origin and changes from the Pacific to the Caribbean coast. The majority of Nicaraguan meals are based on traditional Nicaragua foods such as corn, beans, rice, plantains, yucca and peppers. Gallo pinto is Nicaragua’s national dish and is made from white rice and red beans cooked together and then fried. Coconut milk or shredded coconut may be added and it may be served with meat, salad or plantains. Nactamales is another common dish – dumplings boiled in plantain leaves and stuffed with vegetables.
 
Costa Rica: Costa Rican cuisine is a blend of various cuisines including Spanish, Native American, African and Caribbean. A traditional dish is casado, a mix of black beans, rice, fried plantains, cheese, salad, and either fish, beef or chicken. Tamale is a traditional dish made from corn and representative of the indigenous population. Gallo pinto is a mixture of rice, beans and onion and can be served at breakfast, lunch or dinner. Salsa Lizano, a mild vegetable sauce with a hint of curry is the ketchup of Costa Rica!
 
Panama: Cuisine is varied and in the larger cities you can find many styles of restaurant serving everything from French cuisine to sushi, as well as Arabic, Mexican, Chinese, Indian and Italian. In more rural areas the cuisine is Panamanian featuring seafood and beef and taking on the influences of Afro-Caribbean, French and Spanish. Most dishes are served with coconut rice and native vegetables. A typical Panama meal usually includes meat, coconut rice and beans accompanied by local fruits and vegetables like yucca, squash and plantains. On Panama’s islands and along the coast, fresh seafood features heavily with mango and coconut.

Typical Mexican and Central American dishes include:
 
  • Tamales – Boiled pockets of corn dough stuffed with meat and served in banana leaves. Available in all of Central America, each country has slightly different versions.
  • Pozole – Broth from chicken or pork, with corn, lettuce, oregano, onions, dried ground chilli, lemon juice and radish. Pozole is a traditional pre-Columbian soup or stew from Mexico.
  • Mole – A spicy sauce that is poured over meat. Chocolate may even be added to this rich sauce.

Chilera - A spicy dressing made with pickled onions, peppers and other vegetables, typical of Costa Rica.


Carimanola – This is a fried yucca roll stuffed with meat and boiled eggs found in Panama.
 

Language

 
The predominant language of Mexico and Central America is Spanish with a couple of notable exceptions - Belize where English is the official language and the Bay Islands of Honduras, where English is the native tongue. In Utila a hybrid of Spanish and English has developed that can be very hard to decipher! Even in Belize, despite English being the official language, nearly 50% of the population speaks Spanish.

​City map - Mexico City

 


 

City map - Mexico City East