Stay on the trail
Once you step off the trail in the Central America forest, it's easy to lose it, especially if it's unpaved. In addition, you don't want to tramp the flora and fauna of Central America's fragile ecosystems.
Bring extra water
Central America has a tropical climate, which means heat and humidity. Even if it's not hot when you set out, the temperature can spike as the day goes on. Bring lots of water – Camelbaks or other daypacks with hydration bladders are perfect for long hikes.
Consider a guide
Some trails aren't safe for various reasons. In particular, robberies are known to occur on certain remote trails. If you're set on hiking someplace where the safety is questionable – such as around Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, or the Pacaya volcano – consider hiring a local guide. Also, ask around. If crime has occurred recently, it's probably not the best time to try that particular hike.
Bring a buddy
It's much, much safer to hike with a companion (or more than one) for numerous reasons. If one of you is injured, the other can get help. Crime is less likely to occur when you're not hiking alone. Also, lighthearted chatter lessens the risk of jaguar attack. (Kidding! Well, sort of.)
The earlier in the morning you set out on a hike, the better chance you'll have at spotting Central America wildlife. Plus, it's much cooler in the morning, with less of a chance of rain. Whenever you set out, wear sunscreen and bring extra. That tropical sun can be killer.
Check the weather
Central America weather is notoriously fickle, especially in rainy season. The sky might be cloudless and blue when you first set out, only to grow overcast—before the thunderstorm hits. Hiking in the rain isn't very fun, and it can also be slippery. Streams can grow more turbulent and more difficult to cross. Be prepared for sudden changes of weather with sturdy shoes, a flashlight and a plastic poncho. Keep your camera in a waterproof case or Ziploc bag.
Watch your step—always know where you're putting your foot down. Stones can be slippery or wobbly. Trails can be soft, muddy, or paved in loose gravel. Bring a basic first aid kit to deal with unexpected scrapes.
The vast majority of Central America wildlife is harmless. Even so, make sure to look, but don't touch. Many species are fragile or endangered.
Wildlife to watch out for
Even the less harmless varieties of Central America wildlife are extremely elusive, and won't bother you on your hike. However, it's important to keep an eye out for snakes, as several varieties of Central America snake are poisonous (another reason to stay on the trail!). They're typically not active in the hot daytime, but be wary in the late afternoon. Mosquitoes are a certain nuisance—wear bug spray with DEET, and bring extra in case you sweat it off.
Other hiking safety resources:
- 10 Hiking Essentials ("Whether you are going for a day hike or backpacking overnight, it is good practice to carry what we call The 10 Hiking Essentials.")
- The Top 52 Hiker Mistakes (… and how to avoid them!)
- Tips for Beginning Hikers ("With the right knowledge, adventurers avoid blisters, rashes, and injury in the wilderness while enjoying all the experiences of nature.")