From the ocean oasis to the cloud forest, the colonial towns to the volcano treks, Central America’s diversity is both startling and splendid, especially given the small size of this landmass and the number of countries within it.
And from scorching summers to rainy winters, sunny beaches to cold high altitudes, the climate here is just as diverse – making this a paradise for adventurous travellers.
That said, all this diversity can also be something of a nightmare when it comes to packing, especially if it’s into a small backpack.
But don’t worry, I’ve whittled it down to the essentials, which after living and travelling in this part of the world for over a year, I’ve got a good idea about!
Also, if you want to save this list, then scroll down to the bottom of the article where there’s a downloadable copy.
Happy packing 🙂
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1x Rain Jacket
In the tropics of Central America, it can rain anytime, so I strongly recommend bringing a rain jacket with you.
Something thin, compact and practical, like this North Face Venture 2, is perfect.
1x Thick Hoodie / Sweater
If you’re staying or trekking at altitude in Central America, you’ll want to make sure you’ll be warm enough, so at least 1 thick hoodie or sweater is a good idea.
2x Thin Long Sleeve Tops
Helpful in the evening and to layer at altitude, try to go for a natural fabric like this cotton one, which will stop you sweating and smell less!
1x Pair Leggings
One of my travel essentials, ideal when you’re exploring everywhere from cities to national parks.
Leggings are also good under a casual dress in the fresh evenings or are comfy to wear on any long bus rides.
If you have room, take 2 pairs!
Great for going out in the evening, protecting yourself from mosquitoes or wandering around cities or churches when shorts won’t do.
2x Pair Shorts
Well, you’re going to need something for those beach days right?!
1x Set of Activewear
Perfect for hiking or if you fancy doing some yoga, running or generally not just partying when you’re in Central America!
1x Summer Dress
A great item for beach days or if you want to hit some bars in some of the more backpacker-orientated towns here.
You can’t take enough sarongs travelling in my opinion and, as they are so light, I recommend 2 as a minimum.
Perfect for use as a beach towel, a scarf, a bathrobe, a sheet, a laundry bag … the list goes on.
Check out my post about the 20 reasons why you should always take a sarong travelling for more ideas!
7x Singlets / T-Shirts
Choose a range of colours and styles that match the trousers /shorts you’ve selected, including plenty of casual loose ones for the day.
7 is a good number as it means you have enough to survive without doing laundry for a week!
8x Pairs Underwear
Small and compact, 8 pairs is a good number to save you a lot of washing duties!
2x Bras + 1x Sports Bra
Take 2 bras ladies and don’t forget you can always use your bikini top in an emergency!
I also recommend a sports bra for outdoor activity days or bumpy bus rides.
Compact and quick to dry, I love this black one from Nike.
1x Bikini / Swimwear
Well, you need something to enjoy those fabulous beaches in that’s for sure.
Hopefully they’ll get so much use, you’ll maybe see packing 2 sets of swimwear as worthy of the space in your backpack!
4x Pairs Socks
2x normal pairs for outdoors stuff, 2x ankle-length pairs for city days.
You can always double up on your daywear here to save room if needs be!
1x Sun Hat
Whether you want to bring a cap or a floppy hat or a large designer number, the choice is yours.
Just make sure you bring a sun hat of some description as part of your Central America packing list, because walking all day in the heat of the tropics can burn!
I love this one from Hello Sunshine.
Pair of Hiking Boots
Goes without saying that you’re likely to want to do some trekking in this part of the world and good hiking boots with appropriate grip and a level of waterproofing will definitely be necessary for your travels in Central America.
I love these Keen Targhee II which are perfect for this part of the world.
Trainers / Runners
Versatile, comfortable and essential if you want to see all the sights in this epic part of the world.
I highly recommend New Balance who create stylish city runners that you can still wear when doing your outdoors stuff too.
Known as thongs for the Aussies among you, jandals for the kiwis and flip flops for the rest of us, whatever you call them, these are an essential for your Central America packing list.
Personally I love my Birkenstocks, which I’ve basically lived in since the day I bought them in Istanbul.
The support they offer means you can sightsee to your heart’s content in them and never get sore soles!
Evening Sandals / Flats
Nonessential in my book, but many people like to take them especially if they are spending a lot of time in a city or planning to go out in the evening a lot.
Thin Toiletries Bag
To hook or not to hook, that is the question!
Either way, just make sure it is light and thin.
This one is a great, cheap option.
Shampoo & Conditioner Bars
I also go for shampoo and conditioner bars to save the plastic and keep the space down!
Although they are a bit pricey, they last for ages.
I always prefer a natural crystal deodorant as they last forever and are free from many nasty chemicals.
Keep in a ziplock bag to prevent from getting soap slime on everything you own!
Razor & Spare Blades
Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Floss
Nail Scissors & Nail File
Hair Bands & Hair Brush
Glasses / Contact Lenses if you wear them
Great for doing emergency washing, such as underwear in a sink, travel handwash is always a must in my backpack.
Choose a 30+ SPF or higher for those hell-strong summer rays and go natural if you can to keep the chemicals out of your skin.
This doubles as a great moisturiser, skin soother and aftersun.
SPF Lip Salve
Very important for those UV conditions and salty sea swims.Burt’s Bees are always my go-to as they never dry out my lips.
Natural Bug Repellent
See my post about how to make your own DEET-Free insect spray or else there are plenty of ready-made products on the market like this great one.
An ideal remedy for headaches, sore muscles and insect bites, tiger balm is super versatile and a travel must for me.
Tea-Tree Essential Oil
A powerful antiseptic, anti-mould, anti-fungal treatment.
Also great to throw in a few drops with your washing and ideal for freshening up smelly bags / laundry etc.
Get an organic tea-tree oil if you can.
Eye Mask & Earplugs
Key for sleeping on long bus journeys and in hostels.
This one from Alaska Bear is super comfy.
Paracetamol, Anti-Septic Cream & Band Aids
The only medicine you need to take!
The best way to deal with your time of the month when travelling ladies.
Check out the best prices for them here.
#5 Other Essentials…
I recommend Latrek, because they are cheap, compact, soft and don’t smell.
Love, love, love mine!
Good for hiking and beach days, this one from Pacsafe is perfect for your Central America packing list.
Very useful for locking up bags and valuables when staying in hostels, these don’t have to be expensive, just reliable!
Lots of people say you don’t need this, but I find it very helpful.
Choose a light, inexpensive one and make sure it has a bottle opener, corkscrew and knife – like this.
Filter Water Bottle
Laptop / Tablet
Camera, Lens, & Charger
I love my Sony A600 mirrorless camera, which I’ve used across the world.
Light, compact and study, it’s perfect for travelling.
Take large memory cards if possible – like 64GB ones – and double up in case you lose one or fill it up.High speed options are also good for processing.
How you going to charge otherwise?
This part of the world has the same type of plugs across the whole region – namely the US type – so you can getaway with just one for this area – great news for your Central America packing list!
However, I also recommend splashing out on a worldwide adapter – better value for money if you’re travelling elsewhere after Central America or anytime in the future!Skross are a great brand that I highly recommended.
Headlamp & Spare Batteries
Never travel without a headlamp and try to choose a product that uses commonly found batteries and has a red night-light function.
I love my Black Diamond Storm.
Passport & Photocopies
Credit Cards and Debit Cards inc. Back Ups
USD Cash in Small Thin Purse
Travel Insurance Policy
World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while travelling and claim online from anywhere in the world.
Alternatively, if you’re a long-term traveller, digital nomad or frequent remote worker seeking travel health cover, check out Safetywing’s Nomad Insurance policies.
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So that’s it, my ultimate female Central America packing list.
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