Central America Travel Tips
The Spanish language is one common thing travellers will find in Central American countries. So it is a good idea to brush up on your Spanish before you visit this part of the world so you will be seen as a much more polite foreigner. Don't stress out about your pronunciation as the locals will make allowances for the fact that you are a visitor. This is one of several basic etiquette essentials you should be aware of when visiting Central America.
How to greet people in Central America.
Greet Central Americans with a happy "buenos días" in the morning and "buenos tardes" in the afternoon. Strangers still use a handshake for first introductions and sometimes a hearty hug (calledabrazo) will replace the handshake on your second meeting.
Hold back on the public displays of affection.
Central Americans are not as outwardly affectionate as their South American family. Females are sometimes kissed on the cheek, but if in doubt, a handshake will suffice.
The Fashion Police will frown upon revealing clothing.
Most Central Americans dress in a conservative manner although the younger generation tend to dress more casually. Whilst the Central American weather could make a traveller feel obliged to wear light clothes and shorts, be aware this type of dress is not acceptable in churches.
Save the fashion parade for when you get home.
Many Maya craftspeople are delighted to see foreigners purchase their goods, however for some indigenous people, seeing tourists walking the streets in native clothing may be insulting. Adding salt to the wound is if women unknowingly wear traditional men's clothing, or vice versa.
When visiting a house of worship there's a few things to remember.
Be quiet, dress appropriately and do not take pictures of people praying.
Sometimes common courtesy is not always common.
When on a bus, give up your seat to an elderly person or a woman carrying a child.
When dining the following etiquette should be considered.
When you arrive to the table, let the ladies and elderly sit first (and the waiters will pull out their chairs for them). Let your host sit at the head of the table and sometimes there may be place cards which allocates where you should sit.
It is courteous to ask your host "What do you recommend?" or "What's this restaurant's most popular dish?" Avoid being considered pompous by staying away from the most expensive items on the menu.
Talking business whilst eating it is not considered "correct," so be sure to have a few topics to talk about that you feel comfortable with. It's wise to avoid discussing things such as politics and religion.
Saying no to food that has been offered to you by the host is poor etiquette. When presented with foods you are not accustomed to eating, such as new meats or produce, don't be afraid to try them. Unless you have an allergy to certain foods it is an opportunity to experience the real cuisine.
Things you should not do at the table.
Try not to be a noisy eater or slurp your food. Don't serve yourself seconds if the host hasn't. Don't pull faces or show visual disgust for unfamiliar foods. Don't eat with your hands, and do not state that food in your home country "tastes better" or openly compare the cuisines.
Think before you take happy snaps with your camera.
One of the most important things for travellers to remember when travelling in Central America is that their culture views cameras and photographs very differently to other countries. Most Central American countries prohibit people from taking photos of any government buildings or structures. This even includes bridges. If you don't follow this protocol then you not only risk having your camera confiscated but also could end up in jail as this is seen as a threat to security.
Ask before you photograph.
Always hold off on taking pictures of people without their consent. In Countries with a large Indian population (as in Mayan or other Native American cultures), they see cameras in a negative light. To take someone's picture is to steal someone's soul. Always seek permission before you take photos.
And if you feel like giving gifts, it is good to remember a few things.
If you are invited to a Central American home; bring flowers, good quality wine or spirits, pastries and imported candy or chocolates as a gift. If you decide on flowers, do not give lilies as they mean death. Gifts should not be wrapped in purple or black when giving gifts in Costa Rica as they are significant colours during Holy Week.