What To Pack - COMPLETE CHECKLIST For A Trip To Central America 
Updated: Jul 10, 2022
So, before I start with a complete checklist, let me tell you one thing: Less Is More!
This is a guide to travel as minimalistic as possible… (But still to have all necessary things!)
I also give you some "Pro-Tips" about things that I personally consider super useful, but are not that common among backpackers.
So, here is a complete checklist for your backpacking trip to Central America:
COVID-INFO: As of today you can enter Mexico, El Salvador and Costa Rica neither needing a Covid-test nor proof of vaccination. To enter Nicaragua, Guatemala or Honduras you need a negative PCR-test (max. 72 hours) if you're not vaccinated. In the bigger cities are certain regulations in place like wearing a mask or social distancing, but overall you can have a really free travel experience.
Table of Contents:
1. Most Essential Things
Let's start with the golden 3:
I always make sure these three things are safe when traveling. I keep them (together with some cash) at a safe place, usually in my fanny pack.
PRO-TIP: MONEY BELT! A great way to hide your cash is a money belt! It works like a normal belt but has a secret compartment to keep your cash safe.
Other important documents you might want to have:
Proof of Travel insurance
Proof of certain vaccinations
(International) driving license
It's also handy to have a copy of your passport with you.
VISA: Before traveling to any country check the visa requirements (& latest Health and Covid restrictions). For Central America, you don’t need to apply for a visa in advance, you get it on arrival (at least for most European countries).
2. The Right Backpack
Your backpack will be your new home, so better make sure you gonna take a good one!
First, you should think about the right size...
If you want to bring a bit more stuff, look for a 60 - 70 l one. Medium ones are 50 – 60 l, small ones around 40 l.
I wouldn’t go bigger than 70 l, because you have to carry it around all the time.
There are a lot of good brands out there like Deuter, Tatonka, Osprey and many more...
In South East Asia I traveled with a small backpack that counted as carry-on luggage on flights. The Deuter Aviant Carry On Pro with 36 l was just perfect for that and saved me a lot of money when taking flights.
However, in Central America I mostly travel by bus, so I decided for a bigger one.
I think the Tatonka Norix with 55 l is the ultimate backpack with the optimal balance of having enough space while at the same time not being too bulky. Right now, it has a huge discount on amazon! (It is also available with 48 l or 65 l).
Central America has an overall tropical climate. If you travel to colder places like North or South America, you might need a bigger backpack that fits more warm clothes. Also, if you want to camp, you have to bring at least a tent and a sleeping bag (and a mattress) which makes your backpack a lot bigger.
3. Clothes Checklist
From years of backpacking I certainly learned one thing: It is a lot more fun to travel light.
Still - before embarking on a new trip - I am easily tempted to pack way more things than I actually need. I really need to remind myself again that less is more...
So here is a checklist containing all clothes I packed for Central America:
PRO-TIP: PACKING CUBES! Since this trip I use packing cubes and it's a game-changer... The small bags help me to keep order in my backpack and give me more space as well since they compress the clothes. The start-up Travel Dude offers a high-quality set of packing cubes (including a bag for shoes) at a really decent price.
Jacket (1x) – One good rainproof jacket.
Sweater or Hoody (1x) – I would only bring one since it needs a lot of space. I love 2-in-1 jackets where you get a warm fleece and a rain jacket in one.
Shoes (1x) – One comfortable pair of running or outdoor shoes.
Sandals/Flip Flops (1x)
Board shorts or bikini (2x)
Jogging pants or leggings (1x) – Really useful for long flights or bus rides.
Long pants or jeans (1x)
Socks & underwear for a week
Open Shirts (2x)
Surf shirt or rash guard (1x)
Hiking shoes (1x)
PRO-TIP: NECK WARMER! A neck warmer is super handy for traveling! It doesn't need any space and makes a huge difference in keeping you warm. You can use it to cover your neck (and your face), or even as a beanie. Buff makes really good ones that come in all colors.
4. Drugs & Medication
I definitely recommend to carry some basic medicine with you. You never know if you get sick. It definitely saved me a couple of times. So, my "travel pharmacy" consists of:
Various pills against nausea, headache, altitude sickness, diarrhea etc.
Alcohol (As disinfectant. Bonus: To get salt water out of your ear, just put a drop of alcohol in it. It really works!)
Antiseptic spray & antibiotic cream (Open cuts can get infected quite easily in the tropics)
5. Other Important Things
Day back or gym bag
Sanitary bag (including toothbrush, shampoo, razor, cosmetics, etc.)
Fanny pack (for passport, important documents etc.)
Travel towel and/or beach towel, e.g. a sarong
Water bottle (optional with water filter)
Sunscreen (Buying sunscreen in tropical countries is always more expensive)
PRO TIP: ELASTIC BANDS! If you want to stay fit during your travels, elastic bands like a Thera band are just perfect! While weighing almost nothing and not needing any space you can do a small workout anywhere - wether you're at the beach or in a small mountain village.
Mini-kitchen: Knife, fork, spoon, tupper, salt & pepper
DIY-set: (super) glue, scissors, sewing kit, duck tape, rope to hang clothes...
Camping gear (Tent, Sleeping bag, mattress)
Camera (and tripod)
Kindle (or a good book)
Notebook + Pen
Jewelry & watch
Surfboard and guitar ;)
That’s about it. Once again, I travel minimalistic, and this is a guide for those of you who want to stick to the essential stuff!
If you found this article helpful, check out my other ones. I write about all things to know for traveling around Central America.
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Safe travels and enjoy your journey!!