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18 year old girl travelling to Central America?

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Feb 3rd, 2013, 08:58 AM
  #1
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18 year old girl travelling to Central America?

I am eighteen years old. I am planning on taking a trip for about two weeks to Central America this summer. I want to keep the total cost for my trip (airfare included) around $1500. The two places that I have been looking at travelling to are Guatemala and Mexico. Which is better/safer? I'm extremely nervous about going on this trip especially because I will be alone. I have taken five years of Spanish.

While in Central America I really wish to see Mayan ruins and explore some of the older towns of the areas. What is the best way to do this? It would be so helpful if someone could provide me with an itinerary of sorts as well as safe travel tips.

One website I found suggested staying for two nights in Zona Viva in Guatemala City and visiting museums and the historic centers of the town, but I keep reading about how dangerous this city can be.. Any help is greatly appreciated!
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Feb 3rd, 2013, 09:49 AM
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I would go to Mexico. If you want to see ruins, head to the Caribbean side, between Cancun, down to Playa del Carmen, Akumal, and Tulum. Maybe also add Isla Mujeres and Cozumel (two islands).

Nothing wrong with Guatemala but it's trickier to plan and to pull off and not what I would recommend for an inexperienced solo female traveler, who's nervous already.

I just think you'll enjoy yourself more if you stick to Mexico for your first trip. Speaking Spanish will be a great help. And plan a two weeks itinerary along the "Mayan Riviera" (the overall name for the coastline of the towns I mentioned above.
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Feb 3rd, 2013, 09:59 AM
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I don't think Mexico is actually in Central America, I think it's part of North America.

I would agree that Mexico, specifically the Yucatan would make a great trip. You could combine your trip and include some lazy beach time with some time in the colonial cities, perhaps, Merida and Valldolid.

Buses are safe, clean and economical.

Generally airfares to Cancun are more reasonable than destinations in Central America.
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Feb 3rd, 2013, 02:20 PM
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For a first time trip I would go to Oaxaca City in Mexico. If you kept control of your finances you could do it on your budget I suggest going to a langauge school and doing a home stay. The home stay will reduce costs- lodging and 1-2 meals a day, plus Spanish immersion at the home. The langauge school because you will improve your Spanish, but mailnly because you will meet other people to hang out with and do things with. I suggest Becari Quintana Roo, but there are lots of great langauge schools. Oaxaca City and environs are, at least, historically safe. Lots of variety, ruins like Monte Alban and Mitla and a huge diversity of indigenous culture. Note Mexico is North America but it would be a great introduction to Meso America and the Spanish speaking countries in the new world. Use common sense and you will have a great time.
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Feb 3rd, 2013, 08:29 PM
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I would plan a week or 2 at a Spanish school - such a great way to get your feet wet in Latin America. Even with 5 years of Spanish you'll be amazed how far a good teacher and an immersion environment can take you. The schools can help with transportation arrangements and you can live with a local family - cheap, interesting, and productive both culturally and linguistically.

Your money won't go as far in México as it will in Guatemala or Honduras. Also, those countries have 1-on-1 instruction as a norm which I hugely prefer. I'll paste my opinions and experiences with Spanish language programs below; if I was to pick for you I think I'd choose Copán, Honduras but the 2 Guatemala schools I love would be great choices, too. Please let me know if there's anything I can do to help. Happy trails!
_____________________________

You can search for schools by country or city using
http://www.123teachme.com
but take the ratings with a grain of salt. Specific to Guatemala, try
http://www.guatemala365.com
but keep in mind that they haven't added schools for many years so some terrific ones (like the Cooperativa, below) aren't listed.

For bang for your buck, Guatemala leads the list of Spanish schools in CA, followed closely by Honduras. In both countries 1-on-1 instruction is the norm; in other CA countries and México it's hard to find and you pay dearly for it - sometimes 3 or 4 times what you'd pay for the same offerings in Guatemala. I HUGELY prefer 1-on1 instruction because I want my own strengths and needs, learning style, and desire for a break or a change of pace to drive the curriculum and instruction. Even in a small group - 2 to 4 people, that's unlikely to be the case as we're no 2 alike in this challenging language learning process.

In Guatemala Antigua, Xela, and the villages around Lake Atltlán are all popular choices. Antigua has the least effective immersion environment because there are dozens of schools and thousands of tourists at any given time so the infrastructure is largely English speaking. I'm not over fond of Xela; it's chilly at that higher altitude and it's a big (not so attractive imo) city and I'm just not a city person. The surrounding area is interesting, though, and here is a link to information about that area: http://xelapages.com/ . The lake is where I prefer to head.

In Honduras, I think Copán makes an excellent base for study - cute town, lots to do including museums, the ruins, a bird park, a butterfly place, hot springs, caving, and hiking. Although it gets a lot of visitors because of the ruins, they seem to be mainly day trippers or stick to their hotels and surprisingly few locals speak English (a good thing for Spanish acquisition). La Ceiba is a city and HOT so I haven't headed back there; the immersion factor is decent (though it's better in small towns imo because the locals get a kick out of helping you practice) and there are great outdoor activities in the area. The islands (and in general popular beachy places in all countries) make poor immersion environments but have their own appeal.

In any school, ask for what you want; if you're not pleased with your teacher or host family, fix it instead of going on week after week in a situation that doesn't fit your needs. I wouldn't commit to more than a week or 2 until you know the school and town is a good fit for you. Teachers in quality schools are so good at assessing your level and learning style that moving doesn't "cost" as much as you might think. If it feels right - don't move.

If you're interested in university credit for Spanish immersion study or volunteer and cultural learning projects, check out
www.liveandlearninlatinamerica.blogspot.com

Here's a link to my photo collections with blog and travelogue links on the main pages; I'll refer you to collections below.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/staceyholeman/collections

The following are schools I’ve attended and can recommend personally.

Academia Antigüeña is a good school in Antigua, Guatemala - strong teachers, cool activities, interactive host families, though I had 3 add'l students in mine which was common. Prioritizing homestays is really important in Antigua where many schools offer stays that are more like boarding houses than family stays. Several people have complained about staying with Olga, the secretary of the school, so I'd avoid that. Familia de Cesar Sactic is wonderful. Antigua isn't a good immersion environment but it's a good place to start if you haven't traveled in CA much. Guatemala 2009 collection http://www.spanishacademyantiguena.com

Cooperativa is my home away from home - I really love that place. Gorgeous garden setting overlooking Lake Atitlán in Guatemala - young, talented teachers, culturally important activities, interactive families (though a bit more humble lodgings than in the others), and heavy community investment. I have life-long friends there who have helped me start a non profit: http://www.becaproject.org
2007 and 2009 collections for study, 2010 and 2011 for more local photos - I'll be at least visiting there every year and usually studying for a few weeks. http://www.cooperativeschoolsanpedro.edu.gt

Ixbalanque in Copán Ruinas, Honduras is another great school you could consider - beautiful new school building, cute town, great staff and families. I've enjoyed their weekly activities, too, and there's lots to do in the area. 2005 and 2008 collections http://www.ixbalanque.com

Central American Spanish School with bases in La Ceiba and on Utila and Roatán is a good school; in La Ceiba my teacher and host family were really amazing. La Ceiba is HOT and I'm not much of a city person, though. The islands are poor immersion environments as English is widely spoken; lots to do though (I'm a diver). 2006 collection http://www.ca-spanish.com

Instituto Jovel in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico - beautiful school, well run, good staff and families. I enjoyed San Cristobal and surrounds but it's MUCH more expensive. 2010 collection http://www.institutojovel.com

If you contact any of them, please tell them hi from Stacey.
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Feb 4th, 2013, 11:47 AM
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Correct, Mexico is not in Central America, but that is how the OP phrased it. I still think it's the better destination for a somewhat timid and inexperienced first-timer.

With only 2 weeks to travel, personally speaking for myself, I wouldn't suggest a language school this first trip either. I'd want to spend it seeing the sights, not in a classroom.

Hopefully this is the first of many trips, and later on once she has some travel 'chops' down she can do a more intensive, emersion experience.
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Feb 4th, 2013, 12:39 PM
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I really feel you have that backwards, suze, especially for a traveler who admits to being 'extremely nervous'. Putting supported travel/language learning 1st and free travel later makes way more sense to me.

In language schools you choose 2-4 hours of instruction/day (or more if you're a die hard) and with 1-on-1 instruction you take breaks, tour museums, head up the hill for a hike or ice cream, etc. as desired; during the 'off' times you have opportunities for exploring, shopping, hiking, kayaking, volunteering, etc. The schools mean built in friends and activities including weekend options. Living with a host family means there's little to worry about for organizing meals or help when it's needed and it's an extremely cheap way to travel in the countries I recommend - $150-250/week including instruction, activities, and full room and board.

Furthermore, I have lots of personal experience with the schools I recommend, having traveled with or organized trips for teens to them in the past. I know they take the fright out of traveling to and in a developing country for the 1st time.

In addition, the added Spanish is an incredible boon to happy travel in a Spanish speaking country and is likely to help with college scholarships and language requirements.

Just my 2 cents' (or is that centavos' or quetzales'?) worth...
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Feb 4th, 2013, 01:17 PM
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I understand your perspective and know you are a much more experienced traveler than I am in this part of the world.

I can only speak for myself. No way would I have gone to Guatemala on my first trip out of the US.
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Feb 4th, 2013, 02:24 PM
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I'm with Suze. I wouldn't go to Guatemala as a first trip either. And, since the OP didn't mention being interested in a language school, I think some ideas for beach and colonial cities would be spot on.

Wonder if the OP will come back and tell us what she's decided.
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Feb 4th, 2013, 03:06 PM
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Okay, Here is my 2 cents. GO TO GUATEMALA. Don't travel at night even on the street. When you landing in Guatemala City have someone from your hotel meet you. The next day get out of the city and go to Antigua. Plan to spend about 3-4 days around the area. (Unfortunately I have to run or I could go into details) Bring earplugs as the rooms are no soundproof.

From there head to Copan for a few days for ruins. Which means back to Guatemala City and a bus. From Honduras I think Quiera(spelling) then onto Rio Duce(spelling) Then the biggest site of all Tikal. But by then you will have ran out of time.

If this interests you just ask.
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Feb 4th, 2013, 08:48 PM
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Feb 5th, 2013, 06:29 AM
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Spelling corrections Quirgua pronounced "Kity waw" has some the tallest stellas I have seen and it is a very interesting trip through the largest banana plantation in Guatemala, we took the staff bus up and caught a ride with security from the plantation down. Easily caught a collectivo to Rio Dulce, the largest fresh water large is located nearby and a trip down the river to Livingston is a must.

Things I would suggest to a traveler.
1: Do not go out at night( dinner is okay) definitely do not travel at night. Most morning start early, you have to catch a bus to do a tour etc.

2: Don't trust anyone very far, Don't loan your phone Ipad or money just because someone was nice to you for a few days. Don't let someone else you just met watch anything that you can't afford to lose. A lot of people have an angle. A lot of people don't.

3: You don't need a lot of toys, fancy clothes or backpacks. Blend in.

4: Always have no money even when you do. Keep that $100 in a safe place just in case. Like under the insole of your shoe who cares if its stinking and wet it will still spend.

5: Have fun


I recommend the first class bus from Guatemala City to Copan, from Copan we took a shuttle to a small town and caught a standard bus to Quirigua. Caught a Collectivo to Rio Dulce and caught a standard bus to Tikal. We always seem to leave northern Guatemala and head for Belize to go home.
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