Travel

Solo Travel Destinations in Mexico, Central America, & the Caribbean

By
Matt Wilson
on
December 28, 2020

Looking to travel alone to Latin America?  This guide will lead you as a solo traveler to the top places to travel in each country.  If you have the time, follow this guide from Mexico City through Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and end in Panama.  Each Caribbean country I recommend visiting has their own smaller section, including the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Cuba. 

Please enjoy this guide to solo travel through Mexico, Central America, and into the Caribbean. Stay safe, and don’t forget to challenge yourself!    

Top Solo Travel Destinations in Mexico

Mexico City

Mexico City is a great place to begin your travels through Latin America as a solo traveler.  Abbreviated as CDMX, “La Ciudad de México” has incredible food, culture and history.  I was incredibly impressed with how vibrant and cosmopolitan Mexico City was when I visited.  I didn’t once feel unsafe.

Young travelers will like the hip vibes of the Roma, Condesa, and Juárez neighborhoods. I stayed in Roma and loved that colonial mansions had been turned into restaurants, bars, and upscale apartments. There is plenty of nightlife in these “colonias”, or neighborhoods, and an abundance of places for late night tacos.  

Any trip to the “D.F.” or Distrito Federal (yes, this city has a lot of names!) should start with a visit to Bosque de Chapultepec.  Think of this as the Central Park of Mexico City.  Climb to the top of the hill to see the Chapultepec Castle for a great photo opportunity of the city below.  From here you can visit the anthropology museum, zoo, relax at the lake, lounge in the hammock zone, or even ride a roller coaster! 

As a solo traveler, you might be wondering the best way to interact with the locals, so for this I’d suggest heading to see a Lucha Libre wrestling match at Arena México on a Friday night.  All of the fans will be eating, drinking, and cheering for their favorite wrestlers.  I found the people I was seated next to incredibly friendly, and I had an absolute blast! 

Be sure to see a lucha libre match in Mexico City as a solo traveler!

To see a different part of Mexico City, I’d suggest going to Coyocán and exploring the authentic market next to the Frida Kahlo Museum.  Frida Kahlo is an icon for feminists, the LBGTQIA+ movement, and the Chicano movement in which Mexican-Americans stood together against racism.  The Plaza, or town square, in Coyocán is a great place to have a beer and people watch.    

Finally, escape the city to the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacán.  Be sure to hire an English-speaking guide to show you around and explain the history of this archeological site. This Mesoamerican city is still quite a mystery, and you’ll be able to find evidence of many ethnicities including Aztec, Maya, and Toltec in “the place where men become gods”.

Solo travelers love the Teotihuacán pyramids.



The Yucatán Peninsula

Where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Caribbean is another world-famous area of Mexico not to miss.  The Yucatán is known for its beaches, cenotes, jungle, and Mayan Ruins, including Chichen Itza, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.  

Skip the crowded Mayan Riviera towns of Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum.  While these places are popular with young people and try to be eco-chic, you’ll be contributing to overtourism and won’t receive the cultural experience you deserve while visiting Mexico.

Instead, head to Mérida, a much more authentic Mexican city.  Take a walk down the malecón, or boardwalk, and visit the Cathedral of Merida.  Visit Uxmal, an ancient Maya city that is less famous than Chichen Itza to westerners, but of equal importance to the Maya people.

Then go south to Campeche, one of the most colorful cities in all of Mexico. Along the way, stop at the Celestún Biosphere Reserve for a swim in this amazing preserved area.  Walk the colonial streets of Campeche and visit Fort San Miguel.  You won’t regret taking these suggestions and getting off the beaten path.  Don’t miss the national dish conchinita pibil, pork wrapped in banana leaves and marinated in their famous naranja agria, sour orange juice!

Popular travel guides: Solo Travel: The Ultimate Guide to Traveling Alone.

Belize 

I’d suggest any adventurous solo traveler to check out the small Caribbean country of Belize.  An easy boat ride from the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, one of my favorite parts of seeing Belize after Mexico is the stark cultural differences.  Belizean culture is similar to Jamaican culture in a lot of ways, starting with their Caribbean Jerk chicken, creole style rice and beans, and love of reggae music.  The official language of Belize is English, while many Belizeans speak Creole Patois, Spanish, one of the many Mayan dialects, or Garífuna, an African-Carib language.

My favorite place to stay in Belize is the island of Caye Caulker, where their motto is “Go Slow.”  Yes, I’ve actually been scolded for walking too fast on this island!  From here you can join a snorkeling trip out to the second largest barrier reef in the world.  Please select a snorkeling outfitter like our friends at Ragamuffin Tours that doesn’t feed the sharks and stingrays.  Of course, sipping a tropical drink at the local watering hole “The Split'' is obligatory.

Soaking up off the coast of Belize.

The town of San Pedro on Ambergis Caye is a fun day trip from Caye Caulker where you can visit the Belizean Chocolate Company whose chocolate is made from organic Belizean cacao.  I recommend renting a golf cart and exploring the island.  

Kayaking and fishing in the mangroves are two excellent activities you might want to try as a solo traveler.  Many solo travelers ask about trips to the world-famous Blue Hole.  Keep in mind that the water is deep here, so it’s not a snorkeling destination.  You’ll need to be a certified scuba diver, or you can take a helicopter or plane ride to take in the tremendous views from above.

Finally, travel inland to the jungle to go cave tubing down a branch of the Sibun River, where your guide will lead you with a headlamp.  The most adventurous will continue their trip across the border into Guatemala to explore magnificent Mayan Ruins…

Guatemala

In Guatemala, solo travelers love the three main areas of Lake Atitlán, Antigua, and Flores.  If you crossed the border from Belize, go directly to Flores, your main jumping off point for the Tikal Ruins.  Flores is a tiny island in Lake Petén Itzá, very close to Tikal National Park, and home to the largest Mayan archeological site in the world.

The Tikal Ruins in Guatemala are a must see! 

If you fly into Guatemala City, go directly to the old city of Antigua.  Surrounded by volcanoes, this city has incredible Spanish architecture, and is a great place to drink coffee and see sights like the Santa Catalina arch and the Cathedral by Parque Central.  The easiest and most popular volcano hike is Volcán de Pacaya, but if you are up for the challenge, Volcán de Acatenango is worth the six-hour trek.  You might even get to roast marshmallows over a volcanic steam vent in the lava field!

Finally, not far from Antigua is Lake Atitlán. There are a dozen different towns to explore in this region where you’ll find yourself surrounded by indigenous culture.  Go shopping for art, textiles, and jewelry on Calle Santander in Panajachel and bring home some colorful patterns Guatemala is famous for.  For bonus points, get off the beaten path to Jaibalito, a town only accessible by boat or hiking.

Roatán, Honduras 

While many solo travelers are concerned about safety in Honduras, a popular stop along the Central America backpacker trail are the Bay Islands of Roatán and Utila.  These cayes are 40 miles off the coast of Honduras in the Caribbean Sea and are known for being an amazing scuba diving destination and one of the cheapest places to get scuba certified in the Western Hemisphere.  

Take a music lesson in Steel Pan Alley, kayak and SUP through the mangroves, and enjoy this beautiful Caribbean paradise.  The farther east you get on the island of Roatán, the more remote it will feel.  

The island of Utila has a reputation for being slightly cheaper, appealing to a younger crowd, and is less developed. Be sure to eat Honduran baleadas, a flour tortilla packed with beans, cheese, and cream!

Nicaragua

Continuing down the Central American “backpacker trail” you’ll find Nicaragua.  I wouldn’t suggest spending much time as a solo traveler in the capital of Managua, as many parts of the city can be dangerous.  I’d recommend going directly to the small colonial cities of León or Granada. Both of these places are safe for tourists, boast beautiful architecture, and have good nightlife options.  Near León, you can get your adrenaline pumping down Cerro Negro with some volcano boarding! 

From Granada, go south to Lake Nicaragua where you’ll find twin volcanic peaks called Maderas and Concepción on the island of Ometepe.  This freshwater lake is actually home to bull sharks that can reach more than 11 feet in length.  These two volcanoes are challenging hikes and trekking with a local guide is mandatory. 

After your time in Ometepe, I’d suggest ending your trip at one of the incredible beaches that Nicaragua has to offer.  The Pacific Coast of Nicaragua near San Juan del Sur is a surfer’s paradise.  Beaches like Playa Maderas, Playa Marsella, Playa Hermosa, Playa Guacalito, and Playa Popoyo all offer a differing degree of being off the beaten path down dusty dirt roads.  

Yes, Under30Experiences ran trips to Nicaragua for solo travelers... hopefully they'll be back one day!

Eating fresh ceviche and drinking out of coconuts on these beaches was my motivation for moving to Central America.  In San Juan del Sur, having a beer at Henry’s Iguana Beach Bar is a classic stop for both Nicaraguans and visitors. 

Bonus points if you can make it to the Pearl Cays or Corn Islands, tiny pieces of paradise in the Caribbean Sea.  Many of these beaches are deserted, so bring a hammock and get ready to relax!  Please know that a lot of the well visited areas Central America can feel like cliché gringo scenes, so be sure to get off the beaten path whenever you can. 

Costa Rica

Just south of Nicaragua is the most biodiverse country in the world whose country’s people live by the motto “pura vida”, or pure life. Most solo travelers will fly into the capital of San José, but if you are going to the northern state of Guanacaste to visit beaches like Tamarindo, consider flying into the Liberia airport, where you’ll be just over an hour from the beach.  

Costa Rica has three distinct regions: the Pacific Coast, the rainforest, and the Caribbean.  If you only have a week to ten days in Costa Rica, I’d suggest first going to the rainforest, then ending your trip soaking up the sun on the beaches of the Pacific Ocean.  

The adventure capital of Costa Rica is called La Fortuna and is surrounded by volcanoes, geothermal hot springs, and is a stone’s throw away from Lake Arenal.  The best zip lining in Costa Rica is Sky Trek Arenal, and on a clear day you’ll get a perfect view of the Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal.  The views from this canopy tour are truly breathtaking and the zip-line reaches close to 40 miles per hour as you fly from one mountain to the next. 

Arenal volcano on a clear day!

Instead of visiting Arenal National Park, I’d suggest visiting Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park, where you’ll have a much better chance of seeing monkeys.  If going to the cloud forest is on your bucket list, consider going to Monteverde from La Fortuna.  As a crow flies, it’s close, but it’ll take you four hours whether you hike with a guide, drive, or take the “jeep-boat-jeep” tour.  

From La Fortuna, get ready for a long drive along roads that aren’t well-marked to go to the beaches in either Guanacaste or the Central Pacific region.  Skip the bachelor party / surf town of Jacó and continue south to Manuel Antonio where the jungle meets the beach.  Here you’ll find top-rated beaches, surfing, whitewater rafting, some of the top sport fishing in the world, three types of monkeys, and two species of sloths.  

There is so much to do in this region that I lived here for more than five years and still didn’t do it all.  As a local, I can recommend skipping Manuel Antonio National Park, which can be crowded, and instead going into the jungle with a private tour with Quepo Canyoning and rappel down a waterfall.  

Solo travelers love canyoning near Manuel Antonio National Park.

From Manuel Antonio, continue south and stop in the dusty hippie towns of Dominical and Uvita for more great beaches on your way to the crown jewel of Costa Rica--Corcovado National Park.  Guides are mandatory to enter the park, and you’ll need to do a good amount of hiking even to get to the park entrance.  The wildlife is absolutely incredible and your naturalist guide will be a huge asset on your trip.  If you want to check out Panama from here, head to the mountain town of Boquete. 

The hike to the entrance of Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica.

To see all sides of Costa Rica you’ll also want to venture to the Caribbean side of the country, which is much less inhabited than the Pacific Coast.  Tortuguero and Puerto Viejo are the two main areas you’ll want to visit.  Be sure to raft the Pacuare River and stay in the riverside lodge with Rios Tropicales.  To add an extra country to your trip, cross the footbridge into Panama and relax on the islands of Bocas del Toro, Panama.


Panama

Most travelers will arrive in Panama via Panama City, “the Miami of Central America”.  Flying in you’ll be impressed by the barges lined up to enter the Panama Canal and the massive skyline of this city fueled by the US dollar.  There aren’t a ton of tourist attractions in Panama City, but the neighborhood of Casco Viejo will give you a feel for this Spanish Colonial settlement.  Get a better understanding of how goods flow from the Western Hemisphere to the far east through the Panama Canal and the Miraflores Locks.

From Panama City I’d suggest heading to the San Blas Islands, an archipelago of over 365 islands inhabited by the Kuna Indians.  There are no resorts or hotels on the islands, making it a true backpackers' paradise.  Arrive by catamaran and sleep in a hammock on the beach.  One of the top things still on my bucket list is island hopping through the San Blas Islands all the way to Colombia.  

If you’ve arrived in Panama from Costa Rica, you’ll most likely find yourself either in the mountain town of Boquete on the Pacific side of the country or in Bocas del Toro, Panama on the Caribbean side.  

Boquete is a town deep in the jungle at the entrance of Barú Volcano National Park.  The town is much less touristy than Bocas del Toro or Panama City, however many expats do choose this town as a place to retire.  Boquete is a good town to get some shopping done and is rich in chocolate and coffee.  I always encourage people to make purchases in the lesser visited towns to support rural communities.  

Bocas del Toro, Panama is another destination along Central America’s solo traveler trail that is popular with backpackers.  Bocas del Toro, like San Blas, are islands in the Caribbean, but much more developed.  Bocas del Toro has a reputation for being a party destination, but if you get off of Isla Colon and out of the main town of Bocas, you should be able to find something that isn’t so “party hostel” focused.  

If I was a backpacker in my twenties visiting the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, I’d definitely add Bocas del Toro to my itinerary.  You’ll love the clear water and white sand, especially if you take a day trip to Zapatilla Islands.  Otherwise, if you are traveling from Panama City, hit the much more off the beaten path San Blas Islands. 


Puerto Rico

No passport?  No problem! Even if you don’t have a passport as a US citizen, you can still travel to Puerto Rico!  First time travelers from the United States won’t have to worry because the US dollar is the official currency, and you’ll still be able to use your cell phone without additional charges, depending on your plan. 

Fly in to the capital city of San Juan and go directly to colonial Old San Juan to dive into the rich culture and history of the “Enchanted Island.”  Dating back to 1508 and officially founded by Ponce de Leon, San Juan’s highlights include the massive Spanish fortresses of Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo de San Cristóbal, as well as the Bacardi Rum Distillery.  

If you are a solo traveler in Puerto Rico you should absolutely go inland to the El Yunque Rainforest. There are several hikes and waterfalls to see, including Juan Diego and La Mina waterfall. On a clear day, the tower atop Mount Britton gives you a beautiful view of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.

Puerto Rico has incredible rainforests and beaches to explore as a solo traveler.

Continuing further east, solo travelers should definitely take a ferry to the neighboring island of Vieques. Check out the waters in Bioluminescent Bay, also known as Mosquito Bay.  Sun Bay Beach, the town of Esperanza, and the famous ceiba tree at Parque de la Ceiba are all easily seen on a day trip from the main island of Puerto Rico.  

Finally, head west to the surf town of Rincón, Puerto Rico, another solo travelers' paradise. Adventure travelers will love the opportunity to surf, stand up paddleboard, snorkel, kayak, dive, and horseback ride depending on the conditions, as the waves can be massive here.  For a slower pace, relax on the beach or visit Punta Higüera Lighthouse and do the Rincón Art Walk. 

Popular travel guides: The Ultimate Guide to Solo Travel in the United States.

More Caribbean Solo Travel Destinations!

There are tons of places in Central America and the Caribbean to explore as a solo traveler.  Traveling the entire length of Central America from Mexico City through the Yucatán to Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama is definitely a bucket list itinerary for people who have more than a month to spare.  However, there are many other destinations in this region you could easily fly in and out of for shorter trips.  

Many seasoned travelers assume the Caribbean is devoid of culture because of its reputation for all-inclusive resorts and cruise ship ports, but every place has unique things to discover if you make the effort.   

Here are a few of my top picks for solo travelers in the Caribbean: 

Dominican Republic  

The DR or República Dominicana is a great place to get island vibes and authentic culture. 

In Santo Domingo, take a city tour to see where the country’s founders declared independence and visit the forts built to protect the island against pirates and European conquerors.  Top it off with a pit stop to the rum museum. 

Take a “guagua”, or local bus, a short ways from Santo Domingo to Tres Ojos National Park to see the underground lagoons.  On the north side of the island, venture up the cable car to Puerto Plata and visit 27 Charcos for the opportunity to hike to and swim in the 27 tropical waterfalls.  

Take a trip to Las Terrenas to enjoy the beaches, and for some time in nature, try horseback riding in Las Galeras.  


Jamaica

Jamaica is the birthplace of reggae, home to the Bob Marley Museum, and its unique culture has made the West Indies world-famous.  One of the top experiences available on the island is rafting down the Martha Brae River on a handmade bamboo raft.  

Visit Port Antonio, which is close to the Blue Mountains, where from the top of the Blue Mountain Peak hike you can see all the way to Cuba.  Also in this area you’ll find Frenchman Cove, rated as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.   


Cuba

Traveling to Cuba is a gray area for US citizens but there are plenty of ways to see this country legally.  There are eleven categories of approved travel for US citizens, the most popular being “Support the Cuban People” category.  While President Trump made it more intimidating for US travelers by banning staying in government owned hotels, cruises, and traveling under the “People to People” category, I recommend staying in “casa particulares” or locally owned lodging if you truly want to support the Cuban people.  Purchase your Pink Cuban Tourist Card (your visa) through your airline if you are flying from the US.  Finally, remember that credit cards and your ATM card won’t work in Cuba if you have a US bank, so be sure to bring cash.

Old Havana, or Habana Vieja, is one of the top tourist destinations in Cuba with their UNESCO preserved heritage site and the 1950s cars the country is known for.  Old Town has some incredible sites to see such as Plaza de la Catedral, the Cuban Baroque Catedral de San Cristobal, Bodeguita del Medio where Hemingway hung out, and Fort Castillo de la Real Fuerza. 

If you like cities, Trinidad is another historic UNESCO heritage site you are sure to enjoy.  You’d be remiss not to spend time on some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean like Varadero, Guardalavaca, or the beach that inspired The Old Man and the Sea, Cayo Coco.  

Viñales National Park (Valle de Viñales) and El Nicho National Park are both excellent options for trips into nature.  

Trips for solo travelers: Learn why more than 70% of our travelers are solo travelers!

Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean are incredibly beautiful parts of the world to explore.  Traveling through this region can prove to be cost-effective, allowing you to stretch your dollar farther, and travel further.  Many of these areas rely on tourism for their livelihood, but be sure to get off the beaten track whenever possible to support smaller local economies where tourist dollars don’t flow as plentifully.  Enjoy the tremendous natural beauty of these tropical countries and do your best to travel sustainably and protect paradise!  

For more information on solo travel check out my book, The Millennial Travel Guidebook: Escape More, Spend Less, and Make Travel a Priority in Your Life.

Matt Wilson
Matt Wilson is Co-founder of Under30Experiences and Author of The Millennial Travel Guidebook: Escape More, Spend Less, & Make Travel a Priority in Your Life. He is host of the Live Different Podcast, Millennial Travel Podcast, and formerly Co-founder of Under30CEO.com. He is committed to helping people live more adventurous lives.

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