Central America soars in popularity, backpacker data shows

Setting off into the Central American sunset; a dream for many, a reality for many more. It’s no secret that explorers are enticed to dive into gaping Mexican cenotes or wander through crumbling Mayan capitals. But in recent years, this cluster of culturally rich countries has seen a 70% increase in backpackers washing up on its scenic shores.

Riding solo

Woman with brunette hair leans against a pole while waiting for a golf cart taxi on tropical Holbox Isle where no cars are allowed, Holbox, Yucatan, Mexico.

When looking at our global community of solo travellers, we saw a 77.4% increase in lone wolves heading to Central America since pre-pandemic levels. Solo travellers seek out spots with excellent social life. Fact. And where is the most sociable hostel? Our 2022 HOSCARs People Person winner was Che Tulum Hostel & Bar in Mexico. Hostels throughout Central America have upped their game to attract solo travellers to lounge on hammocks and sip mojitos, all with a ready-made crew of like-minded explorers. There’s no shortage of sh*t to see, and we can guarantee island hopping the crystal blue waters of Bocas Del Toro is so much better with a new group of friends.


A region on the rise


A 2022 global analysis of hostel traveller’s booking data saw an increase of 67.8% in bookings to Central America since pre-pandemic levels. While regions like South East Asia and Australia previously caught backpackers’ eye, Central America now seems to be the destination on everyone’s bucket list. So, what’s changed?

The COVID pandemic saw countries rush to shut borders and turn away travellers in an attempt to curb infection rates. Many Central American countries, however, fought to keep borders open and tourism freely flowing. Countries like Mexico and Nicaragua allowed international travel throughout the pandemic, albeit restricted in periods of high infection, and lifted restrictions and entry requirements far sooner than other spots. On the flip side, many South East Asian countries had strict entry requirements until the first half of 2021. A 14-day quarantine with only your backpack for company? I don’t think so.

Enough about COVID, Central America also offers up a more convenient backpacking adventure for most. The fact is, this cluster of cultures is big on experience but small in size. With shorter distances to travel than neighbouring North and South America, a Central American adventure is a time and cost-effective option for the savviest of backpackers. Yes, we’re talking about you.


Calling all solo female travellers


Solo travellers are a special breed, and solo female travellers are no exception. While women have been running the solo scene for decades, more females than ever before are finally discovering how empowering it can be to venture into the unknown alone. And where are they venturing to in 2022? You guessed it. Our global data shows a 40.9% increase in solo females booking hostels in Central America, compared to a 29.9% increase in males. That’s a difference of 11%!

Safety is a key consideration for many female travellers, even more so when on their own. Whilst crime or violence plagues everywhere to some degree, Central America is relatively safe if you take the necessary precautions. Not only is there a solid year-round community of travellers to pick you up when times get rough, it’s also easy to get around; the locals are extremely friendly, and there’s cheap food (or booze) on every street corner. What’s that? You’re booking your flights already?


The best of the best


So which countries are leading the Central American charge? After publishing our 2022 trending destinations blog at the end of 2021, Mexico is currently the highest-booked country in 2022. Since pre-pandemic levels, bookings to Mexico have doubled, catapulting it from position 12 to 1 in just a mere couple of years. And it’s not hard to see why. Sure, Mexico may be famous for tacos and tequila, but the tantalising mix of spirited traditions, extreme environments and ancient civilizations make the birthplace of Cinco de Mayo one of the best places to add to your bucket list.

Closely following Mexico is Costa Rica which has soared from position 23 to 7, almost doubling booking figures. Destinations like Guatemala, Panama, and Nicaragua have also seen increases in bookings on a global scale.


Bring in the HOSCARs winners

Throwing it right back to HOSCARs 2022, our annual Hostel awards cast a bright light on the hostels travellers are most excited about. TWO (yes, two) of our winners were hostels in Central America: Che Tulum Hostel and Bar in Mexico and Palmar Beach Lodge in Panama were crowned People Person and Eco Warrior winners respectively. This exciting development shows hostels in Central America are conscious about socializing and sustainable travel (two of a backpacker’s favourite things, trust us!)

Not only that, Viajero Medellin Hostel in Colombia snatched the trophy for Digital Nomads worldwide.  Yes, yes, we know Colombia is TECHNICALLY in South America. But did you know… Colombia is nicknamed the ‘gateway to Central America.’ It also shares the same Caribbean coastline as countries like Panama, and we just KNOW travellers aren’t skipping it over on their Central American adventures. I don’t know about you but we’re counting this as another win. Don’t try and change our minds!


To wrap it all up…

So there we have it. Central America is a region of extremes. Whether you’re looking to lounge about on the Caribbean coastline or zipline your way above the steamy forest floor, there’s truly something for everyone in any of these countries.

Have you ever been to Central America? Let us know on our social channels!


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*Data was taken and compared between the periods of Nov 2021 – March 2022 vs. Nov 2019 – March 2020. Data was sampled from global Hostelworld bookings.

About The Author

Maya Hawes

Maya is our London-born Junior Copywriter with a love for all things extreme. When she’s not climbing rocks, she’s diving under them; always on the lookout for something new to get her blood pumping. She has a long-standing love affair obsession with Japan, despite the fact she’s yet to go there.

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