The first time I stepped on Central American ground, I have to admit I had a bit of a cultural shock. It’s probably nothing compared to someone landing in India, but landing in Costa Rica was a bit overwhelming. After living in Central America for more than six months, I feel like I’ve gotten used to a lot of things I never thought I would have to! Some are great, other not so much.
If you’re planning on moving to any Central American country, or simply visit for a few weeks, this is a post you should read so you can skip a bit of the overwhelming part.
1. When You Get Out Of The Airport, Taxis Driver Are Going To Yell At You From All Sides
If you were used to taxis cars waiting politely in line for people to come out and request their services, you’ll experience an entirely different world. A trick to not get too overwhelmed at this point is to have your ride already set up. This way, you can find your shuttle and don’t have to deal with pushy taxis drivers. But if you need help, they are usually super helpful, so don’t hesitate to ask them where you can find your shuttle driver!
2. Power Outages are Frequent
It doesn’t matter where exactly you live in Central America; you’ll get power outages more often than you’d like. If you’re just traveling around the country and don’t spend much time at home/in your hotel, it’s fine. But if you want to get some work done on your computer, it gets a bit annoying. You have to forgive yourself for the calls you’ll miss because the power was out.
3. You Can’t Drink Water From The Tap
Don’t try it, except if someone tells you it’s okay. I know some hostel/hotel will have filters. Otherwise, just stick to bottled water. If you’re staying for quite a while, buying the big water jugs are a lot more affordable, and because you have to exchange the bottle, you don’t waste plastic. It’s also usually a lot cheaper per liter than the other options.
4. No Water Pressure Also Happens Too Often
This mean that if you were planning on flushing your toilet or washing your hands, you might not have the water to do that. There are a few ways around that, like having a water tank on your property that you keep full most of the time (either from city water or rain water). We’ve had that happen too often in Mexico; we’re so glad for the tank in Nicaragua!
5. Nothing Happens on Time
Especially in Costa Rica. If you’re expecting someone to come and repair something, you might have to wait the whole day for them. They said they’d come tomorrow? They actually meant in four days. Don’t expect people to show up on time and show up whenever you want too! 😀
6. If you leave food on the counter, ants will get it
Trust me. Don’t leave your dishes in the sink for more than 10 minutes, or you’ll have a bunch of new friends. The sooner you deal with your dishes, the fewer chances you have of having to kill a bunch of ants in the process. It also goes for fresh food: don’t leave anything that isn’t sealed (or that doesn’t have a skin if it’s a fruit/vegetable) out. They’ll find it, and they’ll eat it. My trick? Put most of the food in the fridge! (Or the oven if you need more space.)
7. Don’t be too surprised if you have a new rat pet
We had two in Costa Rica, and one in Nicaragua. Rats are something you’ll probably have to deal with if you rent something long-term in Central America. The trick to making sure you don’t get one of those? Keep ALL your food in the fridge! They ate through our rice bags in Costa Rica and there’s not much that can stop them from doing that. We even keep our popcorn kernels in the fridge now!
How do you get rid of them, though, if you get one? You can either try poison or traps, depending on what’s available. We were lucky enough that in Nicaragua, the cats around our house got him! (We know because he just disappeared after we put down traps and the cats were everywhere around the house.) Cats are great at catching vermin! (But don’t give poison to the rat if there are cats around, as they’ll get it if they decide to catch the rat!)
8. There Are Stray Dogs Everywhere
If you don’t like dogs or are scared of them, you might have a hard time in Central America. There are stray dogs everywhere. They aren’t mean at all, though! They usually just want someone to play with them or give them food. If you ignore them, they’ll ignore you. They might sometimes bark , but they very rarely bite. I’ve never had a problem with any of the dogs I’ve seen so far! (We actually bought some dog treats for when we get a visitor to our house!)
You’ll also see a lot of dogs with three legs or that have some raw skin. This usually happens when they get hit by a car. Since there aren’t that many lights around, it happens a bit more often than I’d like! But even though dogs end up with three legs sometimes, they’re still as happy! Maybe we should take some lessons from them 🙂
9. There are also a bunch of cats
That’s a bit more common, as I saw quite a bit of stray cats in Europe, but these are also quite a bit of them in Central America. What I found the most fun is that they are totally allowed in the restaurant (when the restaurant is outside). They’re a lot of fun, and I usually love giving them a bit of my food! They know where to find me and how to be cute enough to get fed… Cats are smart!
10. … And Don’t Forget the Chicken
If you hate roosters and chickens, you might have a hard time living in Central America. People love them and have a lot of them. I guess they provide free eggs, and you don’t really need to take care of them, so people here just let them be. There has been a bunch around our houses and we never really know whose they are. But they do come under our window and cock-a-doodle-doo!
11. People Are Loud
I mean… It’s not really the people themselves, but they do like their fireworks and firecrackers very much. If you hate loud explosion noise, you’re going to have a hard time in Central America. It happens all the time as people light fireworks that really only make noise and no pretty lights. It’s a bit annoying, and I still don’t get it, but it happens very frequently.
There’s also usually a lot of music at random hours. Central Americans like their music loud, so if you’re anywhere near the source, you’re going to have a hard time sleeping. I remember hearing a marching band playing music around 3 AM, on a random Tuesday night (it was around Christmas though, to be honest. It doesn’t happen all the time!)
12. Cars Are Loud Too
This is a major problem in San Juan Del Sur, in my opinion. If you want to stay right downtown, you’re going to have a hard time sleeping because the cars and motorcycle are just soooo loud! You’ll definitely need earplugs. Even staying a bit out of town like us is not enough. So if you think the party music is going to keep you up at night: think again! It might actually be those mufflers that are going to keep you awake!
13. Life is a lot more relaxed
If you live by the beach, you’ll probably notice this even more than in a city, but the pace is much slower in Central America. This is something I love, as nobody is running from one place to another. People here realize things are going to happen when they are meant to happen and don’t rush. It slows me down too, which is something I’m actually thankful for.
14. There is No Social Pressure
Even though some tourists like to dress pretty, I just wear whatever I want. Even if someone wanted to judge my (lack of) style, I wouldn’t really care. It’s too hot for me to care. When we were living in North America and Europe, I always felt the pressure of dressing up properly when leaving the house, but here if I want to wear a neutral tank top and some loose shorts, nobody’s going to care.
Some locals do dress really pretty too, but I ain’t wearing jeans in that heat!
15. The Grocery Stores Are a Lot Smaller
If you want to buy something super specific and hard to get, you might have to go to another town to get it. Fortunately, we always found what we needed in the town where we were staying. We had to adjust our diet and traded meat for beans, which wasn’t a bad change after all!
16. The Best Food Isn’t Always In the Best-Looking Restaurants
I guess this can apply to North America too, but the places I found had the best food were usually the locals restaurants, which look nothing like the expats restaurants (which target tourists). It’s good to ask around because you might overlook a place that has AMAZING food simply because the chairs don’t look ultra comfy.
17. The Cost of Living Is Extremely Cheap
Do you want to eat out twice a week and still have money in your bank account? It’s totally possible to do in Nicaragua. Beers are available for a dollar in most restaurants, which is five times less than in North America. Rent is also very cheap if you know how to look, and you can live down there for quite a long time!