Booking lodgings ahead is rarely necessary except for during peak seasons – then it's best to book two to six months out, particularly for beach destinations.
- Hotels Come in every stripe; to save money try private doubles in hostels.
- Camping Organized campgrounds are not common, though there are facilities in national parks and reserves (particularly in Costa Rica).
- Guesthouses/B&Bs A good midrange option; usually family-run and small.
- Hostels Not just for young travelers, hostels range from quiet digs to party central.
- Lodges Ranging from rustic to high-end, these are good places to commune with nature, mostly in jungle or highland locations.
The cost of accommodations varies from country to country. Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala are the cheapest countries, while Mexico, Belize, Panama and Costa Rica (and many beach destinations) are more expensive. Features such as a private bathroom, hot water and air-con will drive up the price.
Reservations are necessary in tourist areas during peak season, particularly during Semana Santa (Easter Week) and the week between Christmas and New Year, when locals are also traveling around the region.
Prices do change; use any prices listed as a gauge only.
If you plan on camping, it's best to bring your own gear. Organized campgrounds aren’t common. Facilities at campgrounds vary widely, so make sure you know ahead of time if fire pits, latrines and water will be available.
Some hostels have dedicated camping areas. Some national parks and reserves (particularly in Costa Rica) also have basic camping facilities, but they can get crowded. In some places it’s also feasible to ask to camp on private land.
Guesthouses & Hotels
Guesthouses are generally small, family-run lodgings. Most rooms have a fan and shared bathroom (though you may need to bring your own towel and soap). Conditions are highly variable, ranging from nice rooms with a shared bathroom to rooms with a dumpy bed, smeared mosquito remains on the walls, and a smelly leaky-faucet shower down the hall.
In hotels, rooms with air-con and TV usually cost at least $20 more than a room with a fan. Breakfast is not usually included in the overnight rate.
‘Hot water’ can be lukewarm and working only at certain hours of the day. Be sure to inquire if your water is unexpectedly cold, as it may just be a matter of turning on the hot water heater. Beware of the electric shower – it's a cold-water showerhead juiced by an electric heating element. Don’t touch it, or anything metal, while in the shower or you may get a shock.
Used toilet paper should be placed in the receptacle provided, and not flushed down the toilet.
We’ve done our best to avoid listing places used by the ‘hourly’ crowd. If you stumble on some we’ve included, please let us know.
Hammocks & Cabins
Sleeping in a hammock can make for a breezier night than sleeping in a stuffy room. Many beach towns have hammock rooms or areas for the same price as a dorm. Cabañas (or cabinas; cabins) provide memorable stays on the beach or in the jungle. Amenities vary – many are simple thatched-roof huts with a dirt or sand floor.
Spanish-language schools arrange homestays in towns where the language-school scene is strong, including Antigua and Quetzaltenango (Guatemala), Granada (Nicaragua), Copán (Honduras) and Bocas del Toro (Panama). A similar option is turismo rural – community tourism initiatives with rural homestays.
Homestays usually offer private sleeping quarters in a local home, with bathroom facilities shared with the family. Meals are often included. It's usually an affordable room-and-board option, with the added benefit of giving you plenty of opportunities to practice your Spanish.
Hostels are found throughout Central America and serve all ages. Many hostels offer a few private rooms in addition to dormitories with bunk beds (which generally cost around US$10 to US$15 per person). Except in Mexico, Hostelling International (HI) membership isn’t particularly useful: most hostels in the region are independently run.