Traveling can get expensive sometimes. That's why I get so excited whenever I find a cool activity that can be done for free as I explore the Central American countries.
I realize that Central America isn't the most expensive region to travel to however over the years I have managed to find a couple of free things to do in each of the countries that I think are a nice treat, even if you are not a budget traveler.
Free Activities for Travelers in Central America:
Fort George Lighthouse
You will be able to see it easily. It is on the entrance to Belize Harbor. The lighthouse was funded by a man how never even set foot on Belize but loved to drive his boat along its coast. His name was Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss, a baron from England.
Even when he died, he left most of his fortune to the people of Belize. That is why each year they celebrate the day of his death as a national holiday. It is called National Heroes and Benefactors Day.
Visitors are not allowed inside of the lighthouse but it is a good place to visit for some awesome photos.
Visit Its Beaches
Belize has tons and tons of white sanded beaches in the Caribbean Sea. Many of them are pretty much deserted and you don’t need to spend a cent to lay down, swim in their waters and enjoy the views.
Make sure to stay until the sunset. It will be some of the best you have seen.
If you get hungry, don’t worry the coast is lined with small eateries offering tasty local food for low prices.
Tour the Local Farmer’s Market at San Ignacio
This is an awesome place to find colorful produce and extremely cheap clothes. A visit to it can take up to an hour. You will be so distracted bargaining and checking out the cool stuff they sell that time will fly by.
Pier and Seafood Market in La Libertad
If you want to get in on all of the action at this place you need to get there really early in the morning. around 6 a.m. If you do you will be able to see tons of fishermen boats coming back filled with their daily catch.
It was so interesting to see how the download everything and start bargaining and selling their product to other people who later sell it at the neighboring market.
There are also a few eateries inside the market. The seafood that they use to cook can’t be any fresher.
Enjoy El Carnaval
Tons of fun celebrations and festivals happen in Panama each year. However, there are a few that stand out, one of the best is definitely Carnaval. This is celebrated each year during the four days that precede Ash Wednesday. All you have to do is be on the street when the sun goes down. That's when you will be able to see floats and musicians paraded on parallel streets. Crowds pack the sidewalks and fireworks light up the night.
It is smaller and not as popular as the celebrations from Brazil But it is just as colorful and fun. You can experience it all without having to pay a cent.
Explore Amador Causeway
Amador Causeway is an icon of Panama City. This is a structure that connects three islands to the mainland. This is a fantastic place to go for a walk while you enjoy the amazing views of the ocean. if you enjoy working out each morning leave your hotel and come rot a jog, rollerblading or biking. Tons of locals do it.
Sunsets here are also amazing from here. Don't forget your camera.
Enjoy Walking Along Gatun Lake
This is a large artificial lake that was created in 1913 as part of the project of the Panama Canal. At the time of its inauguration, the dam built to make it appear it was the largest in the world.
Just walking along the shores of the lake is a great experience. The area is beautiful. The least populated areas of it are also known as great spots for bird watchers. Tons of colorful bird species live in it so have your camera ready.
Casco Viejo of Panama City
This is the old part of the city with buildings that go back as far as 1519. It was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1997. The local government is constantly working on renovations so it is kept in the best shape possible and looking like it did back in the colonial days of the region. The main attractions here, are its old churches.
There is also a section on the eastern side of the town you can see some ruins of old buildings. You even get to climb the bell tower of the ruined cathedral for a nice view of the city skyline to the west for free.
Surf in San Juan del Sur
San Juan del Sur is a beach located in the southern part of the country. This is a very popular place for locals and travelers to come to. They know that a good party and gorgeous places are waiting for them.
Surfers from all over the world come here to experience its great waves. If you have a surfing board you can ride some of those waves for free. If not, just relaxing all day at the beach is always a good idea.
Just as many other towns along Central America, this place has an interesting history so socialize with locals to learn all sorts of fun stories from its past.
Enjoy the Beaches and Trails of Ometepe Island
To get to Ometepe you first have to cross Nicaragua Lake. The island was formed by two volcanoes that emerged from Central America's largest lake. The easiest way to get there is taking a ferry from Granada.
The island has tons of beaches to relax in. They are almost completely empty most of the time. Because there are no strong tides or waves they are also a safe place for swimming.
Hiking to the top of the volcanoes does require a guide that you have to pay for or you will get lost. But there are tons of other trails that take you across plantations and small towns on your own without fear of getting lost.
This is the oldest city in the country and one of the largest ones. Its popularity is due to the fact that locals have managed to maintain its colonial look. Plus all of the buildings are painted in bright colors, making it even more appealing.
It was once the second capital of Central America (second to Antigua in Guatemala) during the colonial times. This also made it the center and target for horrible battles and invasions.
There is some historical fact to be learned with each turn. So go out for a walk and explore. But most importantly, talk to locals, you might get a history lesson from them.
This is a large city, it is hard to explore completely on foot, but it is worth the effort. Plus you can always get around in a carriage.
Visit the Cathedral of Leon
This cathedral is an important historic landmark not just for the city of Leon but for Nicaragua, so much that it was declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It was built between 1747 and 1814. From the very beginning, it was the largest cathedral in Central America and there is still no other Catholic church in the region to take its title.
You don't need to be a Catholic to enjoy it. Visit it for the artwork and architecture. You will be impressed with its beauty.
Visitors can also climb up to the bell tower but you do need to pay for that.
Costa Rica is known as a place with an impressive bio diversity. There are over 800 aerial species living in it, including Toucans, Scarlet Macaws, Motmots, Quetzals and more.
If you like searching for birds bring your binoculars and head out to some open space or a forest and get ready to see tons of different species. You can literally spend hours doing it.
A couple of the best birding spots are: Cordillera of Talamanca and Cordillera Volcanica Central; the Poas and Irazu volcanoes, Cerro de la Muerte and Chirripo National Park.
There are several entry free museums in Costa Rica. A few of them are:
- Museum of Precolumbian Gold (Museo de Oro Precolombino) – It is located under the Plaza de la Cultura in the heart of San Jose. This underground building contains exhibits that show you gold pieces of the Pre-Columbian time. There is also a small section of ancient Costa Rican currency.
- Costa Rica Jade Museum (Museo de Jade Costa Rica) – This museum features the largest collection of American jade exhibits in the world.
La Fortuna Waterfall
This gorgeous can be accessed through a short hike along the forest.The trail is almost like a snake that allows you to see different animal species, including toucans, monkeys and other local species. even if you go really slow or with kids, it won't take you more than 20 minutes to reach the waterfall.
Don't forget to bring your swimsuit because swimming in the chilly waters of the pools formed under it is a must when you come here.
Rio Celeste and Tenorio Volcano Hike
Go for a hike in the middle of a secondary rainforest as you enjoy looking at monkeys, sloths, colorful birds and other local animal species.
It is a short walk from the starting point to where you first see the banks of Rio Celeste. The trail will take you upstream along the river for a few minutes. You will eventually reach the point where two rivers meet and you will be able to see the most beautiful emerald waters.
Follow the trail for a while longer and you find a waterfall. You can swim here.
If you know of any other free activities around Central America that I missed please share them. I bet we will all love to know.