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7-10 days to Panama?

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sam's picture
Joined: Nov 20 2008

I drove from USA to Panama in 1969 and planning to do it again in January.
I've figured we will need about 7-10 days from Texas to Panama City.
Is this a realistic time frame? We're not interested in doing much sight seeing.

atg200's picture
Joined: Feb 20 2008

Nope, not even close to enough time even if you do nothing but drive.

robertdjung's picture
Joined: Oct 31 2006

if you don't want to see a thing, yeah, you can do it in 7-10, depending on how hard you drive. I did the texas border to the border with Guatemala in around 35 hours. Got to figure that borders are only open certain times, you shouldn't drive at night for safety reasons, etc etc, but you could do it if you pushed.

sam's picture
Joined: Nov 20 2008

Thanks. I was figuring two days to get to Mexico City from the Texas border.
From Mexico City I figure two days to get to Guatemala City. Is that right?
Also, I note two highways into Guatemala. CA1 and CA2. Which is better?
I'm pretty sure we took CA2 back in 1969 (through Tapachula). I don't think they had the other road that is more inland.
Another day from Guatemala City san Salvador.
One long day from S. Salvador to Managua (Possible?)
Another day to San Jose.
Then two days to Panama City.
You are right. We do not want to drive at night. Please let me know if above itinerary makes sense or if it too ambitious.
Really appreciate your input so we can better plan the time, money, ect.
By the way. I was born in Panama and lived there until I was 50. So that is home, but we have been living in Orlando (FL) for the last 10 years. We still own a home in Panama. I'm fluent in spanish.

atg200's picture
Joined: Feb 20 2008

Your schedule is way too ambitious - what is even the point of a trip like that? It'll be cheaper and easier to fly there and rent a car, or fly there and ship a car.

San Salvador to Managua in 1 day is not possible - if you go through El Amatillo you can plan on spending 3-6 hours on the border crossings alone. Managua to San Jose in 1 day is barely possible if you get really lucky with traffic. Mexico City to Guatemala City in 2 days and Texas to Mexico City in 2 days would be very hard to pull off and very dependent on traffic in Mexico City. San Jose to Panama City in 2 days wouldn't be bad, but otherwise your schedule looks soul crushing.

Also remember that the big cities are really unpleasant for the most part. There is no reason at all to want to stop in Managua, San Salvador, San Jose, Guatemala City, etc. There actually isn't any reason at all to go to Managua - you'll add a few hours detouring into the city and the traffic. Same deal with Mexico City - you can save a lot of time just completely bypassing it.

Anonymous's picture

HI guys Im going to travel

HI guys
Im going to travel from Tampa Florida to Ecuador around NOv 09 or Jan10 will be my first time and i would like to see if is possible to ride in caravan with other people, im going by my self cause im planing to stay in Ecuador for at least a year or so, im in process of divorce and i think is time for me to do this adventure, i accept all kind of advices, best wishes for all.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)



Tress's picture
Joined: Aug 21 2007

[QUOTE=sam;782]Thanks. I was figuring two days to get to Mexico City from the Texas border.
From Mexico City I figure two days to get to Guatemala City. Is that right?
[COLOR=Red]Possible but seems like a stretch[/COLOR]
Also, I note two highways into Guatemala. CA1 and CA2. Which is better?
[COLOR=Red]Chiapas can be a little sketchy from what i hear so be safe[/COLOR]
I'm pretty sure we took CA2 back in 1969 (through Tapachula). I don't think they had the other road that is more inland.
Another day from Guatemala City san Salvador.
One long day from S. Salvador to Managua (Possible?)
Another day to San Jose.
Then two days to Panama City.
You are right. We do not want to drive at night. Please let me know if above itinerary makes sense or if it too ambitious.
Really appreciate your input so we can better plan the time, money, ect.
By the way. I was born in Panama and lived there until I was 50. So that is home, but we have been living in Orlando (FL) for the last 10 years. We still own a home in Panama. I'm fluent in spanish.[/QUOTE]

I know the entire Pan Am has been done in 16 days; Chile to TX i think is the official route, and that's not even the fastest so it can definitely be done. But for safety's sake give yourself just a little leeway cuz in my experience when you have to be somewhere at a certain time then your that much more likely to do things you might not otherwise do. Either way if you use the Cuota aka toll roads in Mex you can screw through there really fast, but after that the roads wont be nearly as good and time will slow, but im still confident it could be done, good luck.

atg200's picture
Joined: Feb 20 2008

Chiapas sketchiness is very much overstated.

robertdjung's picture
Joined: Oct 31 2006

[quote=atg200;786]Chiapas sketchiness is very much overstated.[/quote]

You CAN NOT miss Chiapas. It's a great area. There is no problem. Oaxaca had some issues in the city two years ago, you're completely fine though.

about the speed: again, you "could" do it, but i'm unsure why you would. It's certainly more expensive than flying if you're just going straight through.

What's your goal? Why drive straight through? Just curious!

sam's picture
Joined: Nov 20 2008

I was told by a friend that recently drove down and is in Panama now that I should plan on taking two weeks to get to Panama. Does this make more sense to you all?
I may have to scrap this trip. We have a special needs child at home and I cannot afford to be gone too long. Would really like to do it again though.
You are certainly right though, it would be a nicer trip if I wasn't rushed.
Thanks for all your input.

atg200's picture
Joined: Feb 20 2008

2 weeks is much more reasonable, though you still won't have time to actually see anything except the road.

sam's picture
Joined: Nov 20 2008

I also wanted to know.
1. What are the hours of operation at the border?
2. Do they close for lunch?
3. Average time spent at the border crossing

robertdjung's picture
Joined: Oct 31 2006

1) around 9-6 or so as I recall. It depends on which border.
2) if not officially, then they are short-handed. get there early if you can. (though I never did).
3) 1-3 hours

atg200's picture
Joined: Feb 20 2008

i spent as little as 10 minutes crossing into guatemala from mexico at la mesilla, and as long as 6 hours getting harrassed crossing into honduras from el salvador at el amatillo. the honduras borders will take the longest and definitely close for a very long lunch. for some reason i always seemed to get to borders around lunchtime(probably because i hate staying in border towns), but honduras was the only country where that was a major problem.

ddub's picture
Joined: Jun 22 2008

We (Self, Wife, Two children) drove down in September. Not a bad trip.
Toll roads in Mexico are a must for making good time; skip Mexico City, Guatemala City, and all other major cities to avoid traffic and getting lost.
Border crossings were 45 minutes shortest to 1.5 hours longest; this was timed from starting with the exit procedures of one country until completion of the entry procedures for the next country. Oh, and it was for one vehicle plus four persons. I did all the running around at the borders while the wife and kids stayed in the car; only twice did a border official actually want to see their smiling faces so I had to briefly get them from the car for a 1 minute showing to get their passports stamped.

Tramitadores-- (unofficial border helpers)
For the last two borders I used the tramitadores because I was tired of looking for unmarked offices and just wanted to make it easy. If you do use the tramitadores I recommend a quicky interview to weed out all the wannabees; I looked for someone who had contacts in the offices of both borders and who could work both borders for one price, I also looked for a team of two so that more than one thing could be happening at the same time. Avoid the super-young-still-in-high-school kids as well as the over-the-hill-can't-run-to-the-next-office folks; neither seems to have any respect from the people with real jobs behind the counter.

Driving Time-- (our kids are pretty good road trippers)
Border to Veracruz 2 days (excluding stop to surreal gardens of sir edward)
Veracruz to Tapachula 2 days
Tapachula to Taxisco, Guate 1 day (excluding stops to waterpark, amusement park, etc)
Taxisco to La Union, El Salvador 1 day
La Union to Rivas, Nica 1 day
Rivas to Dominical, CR 1 day
Dominical to Boquete, Panama 1 day
Boquete to Panama City 1 day
TOTAL: 10 days (we could have pushed harder, but this felt comfortable and safe for us)

We're not early risers so we did drive in the evening about three times and it caused us to be stuck in Rivas, Nicaragua due to a closed border - we we're hoping to be in Liberia that night.

Car prep - buy a basic fire extinguisher and two reflective hazard triangles, it's law to have them for some of the countries. We got new tires especially suited to wet driving conditions. New windshield wipers. And, I treated the windows with Rainex, bring extra to reapply every few weeks.

Once you cross the border you can take off your front license plate so the cops don't see a potential bribe until it's too late. Watch the speed limits entering and leaving every pueblito. Watch for potholes, people, and horses (especially in Honduras/Nicaragua). Quepos to Dominical is still dirt/mud; try to drive in the daylight.
Have fun, be safe, don't pay bribes, hope this helps!

Rob's picture
Joined: Sep 3 2008

thats alot of great info!

Rob's picture
Joined: Sep 3 2008

Sam,we r looking at the same trip, same time,same schudule,we would love to caravan since we havnt done this before,any help would be appreciated thank you!

sam's picture
Joined: Nov 20 2008

Ddub. Thanks for all the info. Very helpful.
Rob. Yes, it might be good to caravan. There will be either 2 or 3 of us in a 1992 Subaru so I'm a little concerned about the car making it. I've had a ton of work done on it lately and plan to sell it in Panama.
Do you also plan to drive straight down (10 days or so)?
We were thinking of leaving before the 15th of January.
Have you figured a budget for the trip?

kurtjfred's picture
Joined: Jan 5 2009

Hey Sam, I was just wondering if you had left yet and if so your status. A buddy and myself are heading to Panama City around the end of March. I've gotten alot of useful information from several people here. I would suggest you not listen to the pesimists and the ones who want to spend time questioning your motives. We both have wives and kids at home who will probably never do a drive like this so we are goin on our own. We also don't want to be away from them that long either. We are planning on leaving Northern California and flying out of Panama two weeks later. Donating everything we own along the way including the vehicle. A couple of coworkers have done this same thing a few times and also spent a lot of time doing missionary work in countries outside of Central America as well. I have been wanting to do this trip on a couple of restored motorcycles but we have a small pickup that is in excellent mechanical condition and was given to us for this trip. Two can cover more distance by trading off driving and we have made several trips all over Mexico. We have drove at night almost every time. Just use some common sense. If it is rural and livestock probable, SLOW DOWN! We made 1700 miles going South into Baja in less than 24 hours in November. Extra fuel tank of diesel in back and stopped very little. We have driven and seen Mexico for years now and want to see what's South of there. Actually considered shipping the motorcycles to Guatemala and flying in but decided against that. A free truck that gets 23 miles to the gallon and we figure the fuel will cost us less than $400 for the whole trip. A $460 one way flight back to San Francisco and we will have less than $1000 each into the road trip. Planning on stopping a few evening and spearfishing on the Pacific and visiting with a friend who lives in Nicarauga will eat up all of the free time we have. We both love driving and seeing the scenery and both of us can muddle thru enough spanish to usually get out point across. We are still trying to get more info on the border crossings but everything else is been covered we are hope. If you have time, I would like to hear you status. Best Regards, Kurt

sam's picture
Joined: Nov 20 2008

I did not leave. My father, who is 91, was hospitalized.
We have put off the trip for now. I was going to go with two other friends. I was not that crazy about three of us going anyway, as it would have been a little cramped in one vehicle. So we scrapped the plans.
You have piqued my interest again.
I'm not sure we could keep up with you if you plan to drive at night. I don't think that is such a good idea. I assume you are interested in caravanning together. Caravanning would be good for security and also if we have trouble with one of the cars. My very best friend (who lives in Panama) said three gringos in one car would be a great target for the bandits. I'm sure you have probably heard those same concerns. I lived in Panama 50 years and never worried about it. I guess I'm getting more cautious as I get older.
I speak fluent spanish having lived in Panama until I was 50. That is still home for us and my wife and I would like to return one day to live at least part time down there.
It would be nice if we could talk by phone sometime. Is there a way to get each other's phone numbers without posting it on this site?

robertdjung's picture
Joined: Oct 31 2006

You can send Kurt a private message by clicking on his name, and then private message. Sorry to hear about your father, Sam.

sam's picture
Joined: Nov 20 2008

Have you set the dates for your trip to Panama?

kurtjfred's picture
Joined: Jan 5 2009

Hey Sam

This is Eric, the guy who is going to Panama with Kurt. We are planning on leaving feb. 28. Are you still going to Panama? Eric

sam's picture
Joined: Nov 20 2008

Once you get to Panama

Dear Eric and Kurt,
I just talked to a friend in Panama who is a customs broker in Panama.
He confirmed what I had previously heard. When you get to Panama they will stamp on your passport that you are bringing a car into the country and that you have a PENDING OBLIGATION to pay the import duties if you plan to leave the car in Panama and fly out. YOU WILL NOT BE ALLOWED TO LEAVE THE COUNTRY UNTIL THE DUTIES ARE PAID.

Let me know and I will give you the name and phone number of this broker. You will need a broker to do all the paperwork involved and get the duties paid. He speaks some english so you should be OK. I had a furniture store in Panama (it's still there, different owner) and always used a customs broker for my furniture imports. This will take a couple of days at least, so plan for that.
Hope this helps you and other members.


kurtjfred's picture
Joined: Jan 5 2009


Hi Sam, thanks for the help and yes we would like his number to talk to him. We won't have two days to mess with this. We are spearfishing along the way as much as we can and don't have very much time to begin with, so the more efficient we can be getting paperwork done before hand will help.

phantomsouth's picture
Joined: Dec 27 2008

you can do it no problem

Sandcruiser's picture
Joined: Apr 13 2009

bad idea

that's a tight travel schedule. too tight for my taste.

We drove from Granada, Nicaragua (1 long day from San Jose, CR) to Brownsville, TX in about 7 days. It was a beating. Absolutely awful. I won't do it again that fast.

The biggest variable is border-crossings. You'll want to make sure you get a pre-dawn start every day to avoid getting stuck @ borders without daylight left.

If I were in a big hurry, I'd do it like this:

get to Brownsville, TX.
Day 1: cross border and haul tail towards Southern Mexico. You might be able to make it in 2 days, total, if you drive toll roads and drive at night (which is widely accepted to be a stupid thing to do).
Day 2: somewhere in Mexico.
Day 3: up early, hit the border into Guate. Pick the border you like. Spend the night in Antigua, Guatemala.
Day 4: up early, drive through El Salvador, into Honduras. Don't pause much or you won't make it through the border. Once over the border, you can drive hard to get to Choluteca, Honduras.
Day 5: Choluteca to Granada, Nicaragua. Not so bad a day. Maybe less than 8 hours driving.
Day 6: Granada to somewhere around San Jose, Costa Rica. By now, the 10-15 hour driving days are probably starting to numb your brain and your butt.
Day 7: 8 Hours to David, Panama. Not sure how far to Panama City.

So there you go. It can be done. But it will suck.

Here is an excerpt from when we did Antigua to Choluteca back in 2002.
(full story at http://www.sandcruiser.com/021219to021228.html )

5:32 alarm wakes us up
5:34 out of bed
5:35 upload waypoint coordinates for route and hotels to gps, make coffee
5:45 sunrise
6:00 hot water starts, take showers
6:15 load car
6:35 pull out of front gate
6:45 stop to take some photos of Guatemalan campesinos headed to the fields in multicolored clothing as the sun peeks above the horizon onto patchwork-quilt fields with mountains towering behind it all
6:55 driving again
7:25 stop for gas and directions
7:30 wrong turn
7:35 back on track
8:55 potty break
9:00 driving
9:01 stopped at wrong place to cross border
9:05 going again
9:10 guard at Guatemala-El Salvador border helped point us in right direction
9:13 made 3 photocopies for 18 cents
9:16 obtained Guatemala exit stamp in passports
9:22 started at El Salvador window (next to Guatemala window)
9:24 bought 2 tourist cards at $10 each, filled them out
9:30 got stamped into El Salvador
9:34 made photocopies of Guatemala car paperwork
9:38 fill out paperwork, wait in line, watch goats eat trash
9:48 still waiting at empty window #8
10:15 finally got checked out of Guatemala, walked over to window #11 in same office
10:19 started paperwork to get into El Salvador
10:22 guys signs us into book to enter El Salvador
10:23 go to bank to pay $1 entry fee for car
10:28 back to window #11 to process car
10:30 now window #12 where we are waiting
10:36 out to car where new person checks our belongings, our VIN#, and looks under hood
10:40 back to office to wait "about 10 minutes"
10:56 got photocopies made of entrance stamp, wait at new window
10:58 at window with papers waiting for very slow typist
11:12 vehicle papers done, back to photocopier
11:15 proceeding to gate
11:18 turn around and go back to get police to sign photocopies then to other window
11:22 get stamped
11:24 back to gate
11:28 change money
11:30 on the road in El Salvador
12:00 stopped along road to take a quick break and snap a photograph of beautiful coastline
1:15 stopped briefly for flagman because they are paving road
2:00 still driving, ate some snacks
3:00 still driving
4:00 stopped for gas and directions to border
4:35 arrive at gate before border where we wait because guard says border is too crowded right now. Helpers swarm Sandy insisting that we need to take one of them BACK up road a mile or two to get some sort of paperwork. Steve barely maintains composure after repeated kind words to leave us alone. Growls at one of them to leave. Now.
4:40 border helpers finally disperse
4:58 moving again
5:00 arrive at El Salvador border
5:08 at window after fending off helpers
5:20 out of El Salvador, across International bridge (about 1/4 mile long)
5:22 parked in Honduras
5:27 Passports stamped. Guy at window demands $1 fee. We pay despite knowing service is free
5:28 go to car paperwork window, find out we must go to office around corner
5:30 go to car paperwork office, explain to girl what we need
5:31 must wait for jefe (boss) to approve paperwork
5:40 Beebee goes and begs guy to stop talking to his friends because it is getting dark and she has no where to stay and she can't do anything till he approves our paperwork
5:58 Beebee follows guy into the office
5:58:30 guy glances at papers for 1 second, says "ok" (really and truly, barely looks at it)
5:59 girl finally STARTS typing (with 2 fingers) paperwork but stops frequently to chat with everyone who walks by office
6:08 girl finally finished whopping 2 page form (total typed words is less than 50 and she has made two mistakes in spelling)
6:10 back to car paperwork window
6:11 back across now-dark bridge to El Salvador to use computer, with guy from Honduran window because Honduras has no computers

6:20 we've been waiting five or ten minutes for guy to come back after he borrowed a bicycle from someone else, to go somewhere, with our paperwork. We don't really know where. Beebee is slightly frantic.
6:45 guy came back, we paid $8 for unknown reason (but got receipt), then crossed bridge back to Honduras where we make a photocopy of passport entrance stamp
6:50 crossing back to El Salvador because window guy didn't know password for El Salvadoran computer but needs to print out bill that we have to pay for car and can only do so in El Salvador because Honduras side doesn't have the right computer.
6:55 bill printed but can't pay in El Salvador, so crossing bridge again to Honduras to go to bank.
7:00 bank is closed, can't pay bill in Honduras either so we go to office to type up note that says we paid cash to window guy who will pay bank tomorrow.
7:09 two-finger typist girl is chugging away at computer, painful to watch. Steve considers offering to type it for her.
7:15 typist girl takes break or goes outside to flirt with boyfriend under guise of needing paper for the printer
7:20 paper jam in printer, Steve fixes it before they can say anything
7:24 paper printed "need photocopy", Steve point out that printer is capable of making another copy, typist girl and window boy are impressed with great idea.
7:28 Typist girl hunts for stamp and inkpad in desk.
7:30 one paragraph legal paper (and copy!) is finished, signed, stamped, countersigned. We pay window guy about $20 which he is supposed to pay to bank tomorrow (according to our little "legal" note).
7:40 We are finally back in car with paperwork in hand to enter Honduras
7:41 guy at gate insists that we need a photocopy of legal note. Bb almost cries, right there in front of him. Startled looking, he says we can go ahead.
9:05 Finally arrive in hotel in Choluteca after following semi-truck for most of horribly potholed road in the dead of night in Honduras. Awfully glad we know of hotel with parking and don't have to hunt.
9:10 car is parked, room is paid for ($14)
9:15 lukewarm shower feels great
9:25 dressed and headed to dinner
9:35 finish first ice-cold beer, ordered food.
9:48 beautiful plate of absolutely delicious fish arrives, drenched in garlic butter, with a crisp salad and a huge pile of bread as well as some beans and rice. We are happy.
10:15 back at hotel
10:30 sleeping in very hot hotel room with fan on full-force directly at us, considering opening front door to let in more of relatively cool night air but worried about security, we decide to just sweat it out.

kurtjfred's picture
Joined: Jan 5 2009

very similar days

We had several days that were practially carbon copies of what you just logged and described. We were surprised at how much time we actually were able to explore though.

Anonymous's picture
Matt Evans (not verified)

No problem entering Honduras from Guatemala at Ixnul

Several people have mentioned having trouble entering Honduras, so I thought I'd share that we entered at Ixnul (between Chiquimula, Guatemala and Copan, Honduras) in May 2007 without incident. I think it cost us about $12 for myself, wife and three kids ages 9, 7 and 5, and only took 15 minutes or so. Similarly easy time when we crossed back a few days later, too.

We were in a rented Nissan Patrol with Guatemala plates.

Anonymous's picture
andrea (not verified)

Which car rental company did you use?

My friends and I are flying to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and wanted to rent a car and drive to Panama. However, we can't find any rental cal companies that allow you to take the car out of the country. Which company did you use (that allowed you to enter Honduras with Guatemala plates?)