Many people are fearful of traveling to Mexico and Central America. They hear exaggerated stories on the news that spread like wildfire throughout the internet. Much of this is distorted way out of proportion.
I spent 6 months driving through these regions and can tell you that it is very safe to travel through these countries. I've had some of the greatest moments of my life and made very close connections on my journey.
If you asked me, I would say go out there and do it!
You Must see the beauty of Mexican culture, meet the indigenous people of Guatemala, and experience the rustic lifestyle of Central America.
However, there is one thing that you must be forewarned about.
Petty theft is pretty common in Central America.
So common I was once sitting at a table in Nicaragua with 6 other people who also got robbed in all shapes and forms. It doesn't happen to everyone and there were many more people who didn't get robbed, but it does happen.
It makes sense though. Look at the people that live in these countries. If you were at the point of desperation and had no other choice but to work 12 hour days for $10, you would rob people too.
The fact that I got robbed on my trip was entirely my fault. I don't blame anyone but myself because it was attributed to my own carelessness.
I was in Leon, Nicaragua with 2 friends I made in El Salvador.
Bryce was a surfer dude from Colorado who had been backpacking solo to hit some of the greatest waves in the world.
Fabio was this dark skinned Brazilian guy with a deep voice and a thick accent.
We decided to head to Playa Las Penitas to check out the beach and do some surfing. All of our backpacks were in the car.
Bryce and Fabio had all their possessions in those bags.
When we got there we rented boards and hit the waves. It was a great time. The beach was nice although the sun was strong.
I did a lot of smiling.
At this point I had already traveled through Central America for a month and a half and felt really comfortable being there.
Every few hours or so I would come out to get something from the car and check up on it.
I noticed there were a bunch of guys hanging around the entire time. I said "Buenos tardes," and they seemed like nice people.
I never got suspicious of the fact that they were hanging around my car for so long. There was also an open restaurant with a few people hanging out.
So I went surfing again and hung out at the board rental place.
At around 5 pm this large Nicaraguan man comes over in a panic and says, "Tu Carro. Tu Carro."
I run out to see what happens but he only tells me that I must move the car because they need to place a pile of rocks and wood in that area.
There was a bunch of construction going on so I moved the car but I decided not to move it into the spot that he wanted because I thought it was a bit strange.
Somehow in that time, one of the other guys managed to nudge something in my door so that it wouldnt lock without me noticing.
I go back to the board shop and Bryce is flirting with these 2 beautiful Nica's.
I talk to them for a little and tell him that we should go.
When we get to the car I notice the passenger door is slightly ajar.
I open the door and we find all the bags are gone.
It was one of the worst feelings of my life.
I lost my laptop, passport, license, credit cards, SLR Canon Camera, Iphone, Hard drives...
Most importantly, all my great music recordings and writings.
Fabio and Bryce had it bad too. Bryce lost everything he owned but his surfboard, shorts, and a t shirt.
Fabio lost his passport with his visa into the United States, his clothes, and an iPad.
We all start panicking and freaking out.... Well I did at least. Adrenaline was very high.
"We have to get the police," I say.
I speed over to the police station and say "Ladrones!," and explain to them in my broken spanish what had happened.
The cops were these 2 men, one was short and round, and the other was tall and skinny.
I felt as if I were in a 1930's Abbot and Costello Comedy routine but in Spanish.
They told me to go back and that they would come there in 10 minutes because they had to get into their uniforms. Silly!
When they arrived we had to explain everything to them multiple times. Fabio dominated the conversation since he spoke the best Spanish.
I told them there were witnesses and they looked at me like I was crazy.
Maybe I didnt say it right?
They didnt even ask anybody any questions.
The most they did was stop a chicken bus and look around for our bags.
Next they tell us to follow them. Maybe they have a good idea.
They jump on a dirt bike together and we follow them out to this main road that has absolutely no significance whatsoever.
The sun was going down and night was falling upon us.
We sat there on the side of this empty road watching these clown cops try to stop passing traffic with no success.
"This is getting us nowhere. Lets get out of here," I say.
But before we go the cops decide to ask us to pay for their gasoline.
Fabio turns around a yells, "We just lost everything! How can you stand there asking us for money when we lost everything. I would give you money for gas if you find our bags. I would give you double the money!"
We go back to the little cinder block police station and spend the next hour describing the details and everything we lost to the officers.
Around this time I get hit with terrible sunstroke and dehydration from the strong sunburn on my back. I could barely keep my eyes open, as if I was paralyzed. I hit rock bottom.
That night felt as if a wave of depression surrounded all of us. I think I cried too.
I cried mainly over the fact that I lost my computer backup with a ton of great writings and music.
I couldn't get over the fact how stupid I was for letting everyone down. I even considered calling the whole trip off and just driving home.
The next day we went to Managua with our police reports to the US Embassy to get temporary passports.
We stayed in a hostel in Granada and during that time I became close with Bryce and Fabio.
We walked the streets of Granada with the new friends we made from Germany, Holland, and Brazil, went to a bar and had a few beers. And laughed.
Once you've exhausted all your energy being depressed about how terrible your situation is, the only other thing to do is laugh.
I laughed. We laughed. I spent a lot of time laughing that week.
Every exit is an entrance somewhere else.
And so I began an even more minimal lifestyle with just a piano, some clothes, my car, and $150. I had no access to credit cards or debit cards. Nothing. It wasnt that much different than the way i was living before.
I was always frugal with my money but now I had to watch every expense I made.
But being in Nicaragua made that very easy. My meals cost me anywhere from $2-$4 each.
The whole experience made me realize how I can live comfortably with very little money. Of course, we all want more money, but its nice to know that if I lost everything I wouldnt have much trouble adapting to my circumstances.
Things that would have prevented this:
- Having hard to reach hiding spots for the most valuable goods in the car
- A strong and effective car alarm/deterrent
- Never getting to comfortable with traveling anywhere.
- Getting tints on all the windows
- Travel Insurance
If you are planning to travel to Central America and Mexico, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Do not fear traveling through Latin America, they are very safe as long as you are constantly aware of everything that is going on. Many people do it every year.
- Try not to be alone at night. I heard stories of people getting robbed at San Juan del Sur on the beach at night.
- Always be aware of everything around you. The moment you get too comfortable with traveling through Latin America is when bad things happen.
- Beware of the main tourist traps. There are people who wait around for travelers to show up to rob them. Its a routine thing for them. The main places where people get robbed are the main tourist cities and attractions.
- Always get multiple opinions about places to go, don't rely on one person to tell you where the best places are.
- Beware of putting your stuff on the top of the Chicken buses. I heard this robbery story countless times.
- Make sure to have a Passport and money wallet that is separate from everything else and is hidden on your body. I would even say that it is wise to separate your money amongst your stuff so that its not all in one place.
- I would suggest to bring more than 1 bag. If something does happen to that 1 bag, you lose everything. But if you have 2 bags you are much better off.
- Don't bring things that are really valuable. You are better off only taking the bare essentials.