Upscale travelers are finally starting to get their due in Central America. It has taken time, but spurred on by the example and standards of several international chains, service and amenities have been improving across-the-board, particularly in the upscale market. The region's strong suit is still its moderately priced hotels, though. In the $60-to-$125 (£30-£63) price range, you'll find comfortable and sometimes outstanding accommodations almost anywhere in the region. However, room size and quality vary quite a bit within this price range, so don't expect the kind of uniformity that you may find at home. Almost all the big hotels have free parking lots, while the smaller, budget hotels have street parking.
If you're budget- or bohemian-minded, you can find quite a few good deals for less than $50 (£25) a double. But beware: Budget-oriented lodgings often feature shared bathrooms and either cold-water showers or showers heated by electrical heat-coil units mounted at the shower head, affectionately known as "suicide showers." If your hotel has one, do not adjust it while the water is running. Note: Air-conditioning is not necessarily a given in many midrange hotels and even some upscale joints. In general, this is not a problem. Cooler nights and a well-placed ceiling fan are often more than enough to keep things pleasant, unless we mention otherwise in the hotel reviews. And although power outages aren't a regular issue (at least in the region's cities) anymore, it is always wise to check out if your hotel has a backup generator in case things get uncomfortable.
Another welcome hotel trend in the area is the renovation and conversion of old homes into small hotels or B&Bs. Central America is still riding the ecotourism wave, and you'll find small nature-oriented ecolodges throughout the region, too. These lodges offer opportunities to see wildlife (including sloths, monkeys, and hundreds of species of birds) and learn about tropical forests. They range from spartan facilities catering primarily to scientific researchers, to luxury accommodations that are among the finest in the country. Keep in mind that although the nightly room rates at these lodges are often quite moderate, prices start to climb when you throw in transportation (often on chartered planes), guided excursions, and meals. Also, just because you can book a reservation at most of these lodges doesn't mean that they're not remote. Be sure to find out how you get to and from the ecolodge, and what tours and services are included in your stay. Then think long and hard about whether you really want to put up with hot, humid weather (cool and wet in the cloud forests); biting insects; rugged transportation; and strenuous hikes to see wildlife.
A couple of uniquely Central American lodging types that you might encounter are the apartotel and the cabina. An apartotel is just what it sounds like: an apartment hotel where you'll get a full kitchen and one or two bedrooms, along with daily maid service. Cabinas are the region's version of cheap vacation lodging. They're very inexpensive and very basic -- often just cinder-block buildings divided into small rooms; some come with kitchenettes. A posada is a small, usually family-run hotel, not unlike a B&B.
Wherever you choose to stay, make sure you keep your doors closed or you might have some unwanted hairy visitors. Pack a flashlight for those midnight runs to the kitchen, bathroom, or beach. If you're visiting an ecolodge or hotel in any area near the jungle, most accommodations have either screened-in windows or provide mosquito nets. The exceptions are the bare-bones beach shacks along the coast and rustic huts in the jungle.
Hotels listed as "expensive" throughout this book often offer much cheaper rates for travelers booking through their websites. Your best bet throughout this region is negotiating directly with the hotels themselves, especially the smaller hotels. However, be aware that response times might be slower than you'd like, and many of the smaller hotels might have some trouble communicating back and forth in English. Rates quoted throughout the book reflect double occupancy, and differences between low- and high-season rates are noted wherever possible. (Note that there are some bargains to be had during the low or rainy season.)
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.