At La Libertad, we hung out at a resort before hopping on a bus to San Salvador ($1.50 each), our last stop. A must for El Salvador, we indulged in pupusas and dramatic TV melodramas. We flew home the next morning.
Two oceans, four countries, almost every mode of transportation - in two weeks. I felt refreshed and perfectly ready to be home.
On safety: A funny flight misunderstanding led Xiang and Olessia to arrive a day earlier than we had planned. They were in Belize City on Saturday. I landed early Sunday morning. We planned to meet at the airport curb at 10am, but as I deboarded my flight, I wondered: what if they weren't there? We rarely experience the time-warping discomfort of arriving in transit, trying to meet someone, without a cell phone or any mode of contact. As I dodged the crowd of local taxi drivers ready to pounce on a young unaccompanied foreign female tourist, I searched for them, but no one was in sight. I took a breath, then decided to figure things out with an empty bladder. Appreciating the sounds of Belizean Creole, a sense of adventure grew in me in the restroom while I weighed my options: go directly to bus station or find a way to call their hostel? When I emerged again onto the humid curb, I recognized Olessia walking away and Xiang's unmistakably cool sunglasses. I called to them. Our rendezvous had gone perfectly according to plan! This seamlessness became a theme of our trip. People warned us about the dangers of traveling through Central America, the unreliability of bus lines and sketchy preying locals; fortunately, we were never cheated, stranded, or abused in the slightest by anyone during the two weeks we traveled.
Our route: our starting location was constrained to Belize, but I would not recommend starting in Belize to those who can design their trip. It was very expensive and time-consuming to travel down the Belize coast the first day, and there weren't many options: either a chicken bus or an outrageously expensive taxi. While Villa Verano was beautiful, luxury resorts are less interesting cultural destinations in my opinion, and Belize was quite expensive.
I highly recommend Guatemala as a great starting or solo country to travel: Antigua, anywhere near Lake Atitlan, especially San Pedro La Laguna, since you can visit volcanoes, ancient ruin sites, local markets (bummed we couldn't make it to Chichicastenango), hot springs, macaw birds, coffee and cacao locations, nightlife, nature reserves - all in one massive country.
While I loved our time in Utila and highly recommend if you dive or want to get away on a very small island for a while, I would understand if people skipped it. Utila's really small and hard to reach (plus, that ferry ride is pretty rough, so don't go for just 1 day). Copan Ruinas in Honduras was also beautiful and worth visiting. Skip San Pedro Sula as a destination; it's a sea of fast food chains.
1.Budget for travel. Travel costs were the most expensive aspect of our trip. If you are on a strict budget, I would limit the amount of travel and stick around one or two countries. We covered a lot of ground and enjoy long bus rides, but it was more expensive than we expected.
2.How to get on a Chicken Bus: promptly rush the back of the bus to enter through the back door, or pay someone $1US to save you a seat. These buses fill up quickly - if you do not have a seat, you will be kicked off. However, Xiang and Olessia noticed that down the road from the bus stop, the bus driver will often pick more people up. This whole process took over twenty minutes. Your bags will be stored at the back of the bus, so you may want to sit toward the back to watch them.
3.Carry cash in the correct currency for border crossings. There will be currency changers on the border, but they need to make a cut, so it's a horrible position to be in if there's no bank around. You might need to pay to enter countries by land or ferry, so carry cash. Leaving Guatemala cost us nothing. Leaving Honduras cost $3 USD/64 Lmp. Belize was the most expensive to leave: $15USD/$30BZ to leave. Entering and exiting El Salvador cost us nothing out of pocket. Belize and El Salvador accept US currency; Belize is pegged to the USD ($2BelizeDollar to $1USD); the USD is the official currency of El Salvador. Honduras uses Lempiras (21 Lps to $1USD). Guatemala uses Quetzales (7.6Q to $1USD).
4. Get your stamps. The stamp exiting Belize is quite important. A few travel companions were stopped in Guatemala on our way to El Salvador, due to the lack of the "exit stamp" - travel between Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador are pretty lax, but Belize stamps were more scrutinized.
5. Diet-wise, Central America was fairly easy for two vegetarians to eat well. Save for the occasional long bus ride with only meat options at rest stops, we were able to find vegetable options. I love beans. We drank from water bottles, were fairly careful about not ever drinking or using tap water, so we didn't have any serious stomach problems.
When I return to Central America, I would love to visit Mexico, especially Palenque ruins; Leon, Nicaragua; the turtles in Costa Rica, and Cusco, Peru (thanks to Oliver).