Now that the pandemic has changed the way we perceived the world, and even our travel behaviors, some unexpected trends are gaining traction. Solo travel is undeniably one of them, with individual bookings leading industry sales as more people feel encouraged to explore new destinations by themselves (and create their own memories).
For years, Europe held the title of ‘Tourism Capital’ of the world, due to its well-developed hostel and backpacking scene, as well as excellent transportation links, which makes country-hopping an easy feat. As the Old Continent reopens, many expected it to reclaim that title after being stuck in a two-year loop of travel restrictions.
Surprisingly, its solo travel hegemony may have been challenged… By the most unlikely of tourist destinations:
Bookings For Solo Trips In Central America Are Soaring
According to new information shared by Hostelword, a booking platform specialized in hostels and affordable stays, the massively underrated Central America has surpassed Europe in hostel bookings for the first time since the company started collecting booking data, all the way back in 1999 when it was founded.
As the experts at Hostelworld confirm, Central America (and Mexico) are rising in popularity in the post-pandemic world, even more so than Europe’s leading tourist destinations like France and Spain. More specifically, Central America bookings are up 40% since 2019, and this can largely be attributed to solo female travelers.
For years, the enigmatic world south of Mexico, and north of South America had been ignored by tourists, particularly young women who had safety concerns regarding travel in the region. More often than not, the US Department of State issues stark travel advisories for Latin American countries, usually citing crime and violence.
As official travel guidance, they should be taken seriously, but we cannot discount the fact that travelers now want to see the world for themselves, and they have grown more and more independent in their own risk assessments. The recent data provides undeniable evidence of that, with some of Central America’s rising stars topping rankings for solo travel – regardless of advisories.
Countries like Mexico, Costa Rica and Guatemala have all made it to Hostelworld’s latest Top 10 Trending Destinations For Solo Female Travelers list. As suspected, Mexico is a leader in new bookings, with guest numbers up 79 per cent, while Costa Rica trails behind at 60 per cent, and Guatemala rounds the Central American/Mexico top 3 with a 55 per cent increase.
What Makes Central America Such An Appealing Destination For Backpackers?
While these destinations were already incredibly popular prior to 2022, they were not necessarily seen as solo travel hubs, especially due to the lack of a strong hostel culture in the European model. Additionally, connectivity between Central American countries has always been a big barrier – one that Europe managed to overcome ages ago with its successful Schengen Area.
Central America countries may not be as integrated as their European rivals, but recent projects have been announced with the sole purpose of easing obstacles for travel between neighboring nations. This includes new tourism routes across the Mayan World and increased flight frequency between capital cities.
On top of that, the continent’s central strip is incredibly affordable compared to traditional tourist epicenters in Europe: the aforementioned Guatemala has ranked as the least expensive country for solo travelers in Central America, with average daily expenses at USD 39,00 – still 29.68% cheaper than the cheapest city in Spain.
Europe may offer a myriad of options for long-term, solo travelers on a budget, but even then, it can be ridiculously expensive compared to Central America. Seeing that prices are going up further due to the ongoing crisis, and the nearby war in Ukraine, it should come as no surprise that backpackers are looking elsewhere for new life-changing experiences.
Moreover, Europe may have the highest concentration of castles, picturesque Old Towns and History spanning millennia, but it simply cannot beat Central America’s nature. Based on Hostelworld’s March 2022 Solo Travel survey, 74 per cent of solo adventurers said their priority when traveling is ‘looking for nature’ and ‘natural world experiences’.
Indisputably, it is home to some of the world’s most bio-diverse lands, where travelers can find tropical forests, unspoiled Pacific and Caribbean beaches, unique wildlife, and countless scenic hiking trails. Lastly, these countries’ more relaxed visa regimes usually allow for short or longer stays without the bureaucracy associated with lengthy visa applications.
When traveling on a US, Canadian, British or EU passport, backpackers generally do not need visas at all for Central America.
Solo travel is here to stay, and it seems like the Americas might be the new hotspot for backpackers, finally unseating mighty Europe after years, maybe decades of dominance. Be that as it may, we would like to reiterate solo travel does not come without its risks, particularly at a time when travel disruption is rampant.
If you are going on a solo trip, make sure you get insured for delays and cancellations ahead of flying: some of the best insurance providers, including HeyMondo and Safety Wing, offer pretty affordable (and comprehensive) policies. Lastly, make sure you check all Covid entry requirements that may still be in place at your final destination.
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Disclaimer: Current travel rules and restrictions can change without notice. The decision to travel is ultimately your responsibility. Contact your consulate and/or local authorities to confirm your nationality’s entry and/or any changes to travel requirements before traveling. Travel Off Path does not endorse traveling against government advisories