Female Packing List for Central America: Backpacking

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Not so long ago I had to plan my own backpacking packing list for Central America. Backpacking in Central America is an amazing experience regardless of how long you choose to visit and it much easier to pack for then you may think. Also, you don’t have to sacrifice your style while backpacking Central America – ditching your pretty tops for ugly travel clothing, but you should mix it up with practical pieces.

You definitely want to pack light while backpacking, as you’ll be carrying around your backpack a lot. Luckily packing for Central America is made easier by the nice climate, meaning you wont need to pack as much heavy winter clothing. This particular packing list for Central America is more focused on summer time or shoulder season backpacking, but gives tips for what to wear in Central America during the rainy reason as well.

One thing to take note of is that it doesn’t matter if you are backpacking for 1 month, 3 months, 6 months or a year – your packing list will likely contain the same items. As a backpacker you will be moving around the countries and across border often by local bus and by foot so packing light is a must.


When to Visit Central America: Weather and Seasons

Unlike the United States, Central America essentially only has 2 seasons; the wet season, and the dry season. If you’re travelling across multiple countries you may encounter different seasons depending on when you visit each country. Additionally, because there are so many countries in Central America its hard to give a blanket overview of their weather, but we’ve tried below.

Wet Season in Central America – roughly June to October: Why you’ll find temperatures similar to the rest of the year in most places, the rain that the wet season brings can make much of a different to your holiday. Beach areas will be looking at an average of 83F / 28, mountain and elevated cities around 58F / 14C, and everywhere else around 75F / 23C.

Dry Season in Central America – approximately November to May: You can expect similar temperatures to the wet season, however it will feel hotter due to the humidity, and the lack of rain to cool things down. Temperatures will be even higher in Panama and Costa Rica during this time with them moving into the high 80’s F / 30-35C.


What to Wear in Central America

How to dress in Central America

  • A light cardigan or flowy cover up, for winter also take a jumper: This is for cold nights and the occasional cold day. If you are backpacking Central America in the summer it will be too hot 90% of the time to wear these.
  • Underwear: Unless you’re beach hopping down the coast aim to bring at least four pairs, more if you don’t plan to hand wash.
  • Shoes: Sandals are a must in summer as your feet will sweat in enclosed shoes. If your visiting when temperatures are cooler you will be fine in simple tie up shoes or flats. Alternatively you could probably get away with wearing thongs / flip flops during the days like I did, only switching to sandals when we ate in nicer restaurants.
  • Tops: 4 – 10. Tops are generally pretty light weight so you can pack a few more, but also you will have to change them more often than bottoms. Take atleast one that covers your arms but the rest can be a mixture or tanks and short sleeves. Tank tops are worn often on the tourist trail, crop tops however are only really worn in touristy beach areas. Choose atleast one to wear that will cover sweat for when you do more active activities. In summer aim for tops that are flowy and will breathe well.
  • Dresses: 1 -3. If like me, you’re a fan of dresses switch as many as the tops as you like for dresses instead. Make sure you take at least one pair of shorts or leggings for active activities though. Pick one dress or top that can pass as something dressier for nicer dinners and if by some chance you come across a fancy nightclub.
  • 2- 5 Bottoms: In summer stick to shorts and skirts, and choose leggings or maxi skirts if you need to cover your entire legs. In cooler times of year add a pair of pants into your packing list. It doesn’t sound like a lot but you will change your mind after a week of lugging around an oversized backpack. If you get bored of what you’re wearing you can always throw it out and buy something new while you’re backpacking.
  • Hat: You can bring one from home or buy something at the markets on arrival.
  • Sunglasses: Bring at least one pair especially if visiting in summer.
  • Swimwear: Depending on how often you plan to go to the beach bring 1-3 pairs. If you’re visiting in the height of summer you might also want to bring a light cover up – this is the kind of weather where you’re likely to leave the beach with extreme sunburn.


What to Pack for Central America: Other Items

  • Sunscreen: You can buy this once you’re in the country but make sure this is something that is in your backpack. To secure it I suggest sealing in a zip lock bag or even just a plain plastic bag.
  • Luggage Weight Tag: These are ingenious, allowing you to weigh your luggage before checking in. They’re small and portable and can really help you when you need to rearrange your bags at the airport to ensure you’ll make it under the weight allowances.
  • Camera Gear: Camera gear is a little personal but make sure you bring whatever you have to take some pictures of your trip! If you’re buying a new camera for the occasion we suggest the Sony a6500 + 35mm or 19mm lens. Don’t forget a few 8-16GB memory cards as well, 1-3 batteries and your camera’s charger too.
  • Other technology: Your phone and charger, portable fan for hot days and a plug adapter.
  • Locks for your backpack.
  • Travel sized shampoo and conditioner. 
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste.
  • A small medical kit. I recommend re-hydration sachets, panadol and anything else to cure what you’re susceptible to.
  • A travel towel. These light weight, half sized towels are perfect for travelling and take up next to no space.
  • Makeup and other accessories. A lot of backpackers turn up their noses at travelling with makeup but personally, I still bring makeup backpacking. I don’t bring everything, but just the essentials.


Don’t Forget to Pack Travel Insurance | Central America Packing List

I claimed twice on travel insurance during my Central America trip and I’m really glad I had it. Once was for a stolen GoPro in Panama and the second one was when my laptop got water damaged (also in Panama).

Moral of story, you really want to be covered if you’re visiting Panama, right?!

But most importantly I recommend travel insurance for the medical coverage which, touch wood neither you nor I will have to actually use. Without it though you could land yourself in massive debt or be left untreated if something serious happens while you’re abroad, its just not worth the risk.

Head to the World Nomads website to check out their price estimator here (click here), the prices may surprise you.


Packing List for Central America: Safety and Health

Central America is not known for it’s exceptional health and safety standards, hence make sure you’re prepared. Pack a small medical kit with essentials as with the language barrier you may find it hard to get what you need in the moment. Driving and roads can also be concerns here so be careful and make sure you have adequate travel insurance (see above).

Keep a photocopy of your passport and any other essential documents in your backpack, as well as leaving a copy with someone you trust back at home.

Some other tips:

  • Keep an eye on your belongings at all times, even at a higher level than you would back home.
  • You also should never let anyone else hop in your taxi that you don’t know.
  • Try to carry small change and ask the taxi driver how much the ride will cost prior to hopping in. This way if he tries to overcharge you you’re not stuck in the cab. If he changes the price once you reach the destination, hand him what you think is fair and exit the cab, moving quickly into a public place if you feel safe to do so.
  • Don’t wander around at night alone even if its only a few blocks.
  • Don’t brazenly flaunt any jewellery or expensive belongings. You’ll be fine with nice cameras as long as you’re not waving them around or leaving them unattended.
  • Check with your hotel staff if a certain area is safe, or for directions.


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