Whenever Lonely Planet releases a new edition of one of its “shoestring” guides, it’s a big deal. For better or for worse, this is the book most backpackers are going to be pulling out of their daypack as they move from place to place across multiple countries. So the new Central America on a Shoestring book carries a lot of responsibility on its shoulders. When you’re the book for a region, you’d better get it right when it comes to maps, hotel recommendations, and how to get from A to B easily.
Fortunately this is a tried-and-true guide is written by a collective of writers who know their particular region very well. Oddly enough, you get a bonus as well: the book also covers the easternmost part of Mexico, including the Yucatan and Chiapas areas. It’s 776 info-packed pages on navigating borders, taking chicken buses, and climbing volcanoes, as well as lying on beaches and finding the best place for dollar beers.
The things I find most useful about LP guides are in place in force here: good, easy-to-read maps and bus schedules telling you how long it’s going to take you to get to the next stop. There are more of these than in any competing guide I’ve seen. Plus the hotels/hostels have actual prices, not just some ambiguous range that requires flipping back and forth to a symbol key. Sure, they change, but not drastically—in dollar terms this region is quite stable price-wise. Plus I’ve been to a whole lot of places in this book and found the summaries on those areas to be accurate and bankable.
There’s been a trend the past few years to pooh-pooh guidebooks as irrelevant or outdated in the always-on-internet age, but the web is certainly not always-on in Central America and you’ll pay dearly on roaming charges if you try to access it from a smart phone. Plus what’s your time worth? Hopefully hours of your time spent vainly surfing around trying to find answers is worth more than the $17 this is going for on Amazon (under $15 for the Kindle version).
No, you shouldn’t treat this like a bible, eating and sleeping at the same places as everyone else, but as a guide book, it’s a terrific investment in keeping your budget down and avoiding frustrations.
If this is your first time out of the country and you’re heading south, you might also want to check out this book I wrote with Rob Sangster before you go – Traveler’s Tool Kit: Mexico and Central America.