Driving Central America & South America.

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Headed to Costa Rica

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julialee81's picture
Joined: Oct 15 2009

Hi my name is Julia and I graduate in 2010 and I want to move to Costa Rica. I was thinking about driving my jeep down with only my clothes and paperwork. Just wondering what all I need to cross all the borders on my way???? I am going to find a person or two that want to drive down and fly back leaving me in Costa Rica...not sure where yet. I need some tips on what to do. This website has been very helpful so far and I am looking forward to response. Thanks!

robertdjung's picture
Joined: Oct 31 2006

you're in the right place.

you're in the right place. Basics of border crossings are this:

1)paperwork (passport, title to vehicle)
2)money (to pay entry fees!)
3)patience (as some borders move like mollasses, some are fast)

Welcome to the forums!

wmconoly's picture
Joined: Oct 25 2009

travel to CR

My buddie and I are planning a trip to Nicaragua the first week of Dec.
I have lived in CR for 4 years and the last 3 in Nicaragua.
I hope you speak spanish? I do after 7 years and it is a must if you are moving there.
We can caravan as we are taking a small truck loaded a hobie and stuff for poor kids.
It is not safe for you to travel alone especially in mexico. Nicaragua is the safest of all the americas but very poor.
Would welcome any travelers to caravan with us if it fits into your schedule the first week of Dec..? Dec 15th starts the tourist season in CR and everything is double $ unless you are savvy.
Good luck....916-470-6224 Bill

suek's picture
suek (not verified)

Safety in Mexico and Central America

I'm just starting to research a trip and I noticed your comment that it's not safe to travel alone, especially in Mexico. (I've also heard that Nicaragua is very safe).

Are there particular areas that are especially dangerous? Is it mostly property crime, or are robberies common? I've felt safe on earlier trips to mexico, but haven't done a road trip there yet.

Also -- is a 4 wheel drive vehicle necessary? I have a front wheel drive van.

Any advice welcome!

robertdjung's picture
Joined: Oct 31 2006

I would say that you almost

I would say that you almost never would need 4x4 unless you're trying to access some super-remote beach that no one goes to.

About safety -- You'll find this a running joke on your trip... Whatever country you're about to enter "is dangerous". When you get there, they tell you whatever country you just came from is dangerous, and whatever country is next is too. But you'll be fine b/c whatever their country in is great.. They all do it, it's funny.

texastechattorneyatlaw's picture
Joined: Jul 4 2006


i concur with robert. Mexico is getting better by the year, although you should get through the border as quickly as possible. The local police are corrupt and might try for a bribe.

If this happens to you just remember it happens to everyone who travels in the border region...even other mexicans! So, smile and remember it is just a negotiatioin.

We had to pay $20 last time we went fishing in mexico but we were pulling a nice ranger bass boat and stuck out like a sore thumb.

The good thing was that they dont really care about the beers in our hands lol.

Check out journeywoman.com

travlinman's picture
Joined: Aug 16 2009

Nicaragua, safe?

Could you please elaborate some on the safety issue of various cental american countries. You said Nicaragua is the safest. With Daniel Ortega and the Sandinista party back in power that is surprising to say the least. Please educate me. Thanks. Hank

texastechattorneyatlaw's picture
Joined: Jul 4 2006

nic and safety

They are old now and haven't even acted on their political enemies. Talk to others who speak your language(s) when you get there. Stay on the beaten path at first and don't do there what you wouldn't do here...i.e. getting out of the car in the ghetto with a nice camera and photographing the locals.

DO NOT DRIVE AT NIGHT IN GUATEMALA!!!! If you are caught somewhre at night and must drive, get behind a bus or an 18 wheeler; stay close and if they don't stop for police stops they you don't either!!

We drove in all the rest at night without incident, however it is not advisable; drunks will sometimes fall down on the roads at night and many of the roads can be washed out in the rainy season.

You'll be fine, don't stress and drive in the daytime.

atg200's picture
Joined: Feb 20 2008


The Sandinistas got a pretty bad rap from the US press, but the Contras were thousands of times worse. Ortega is a nutter, but he seems fairly harmless. He has a lot of funny billboards - they are almost exactly the same as the ones Karimov has put up everywhere in Uzbekistan. Nicaragua seemed safer than Guatemala and Honduras, but not as safe as El Salvador, Belize, Costa Rica, or Panama to me. I also ran into less corruption issues there than anywhere else in Central America.

If you make it to Leon, look for an outfit called Julio Tours - its a block or so from the big park in the middle of town. Julio does a great Leon city tour, and has a lot of interesting stories from the war. He, and most other people in country that you talk to, give a very different story of the Sandinistas than you ever hear in the USA.

texastechattorneyatlaw's picture
Joined: Jul 4 2006

mexico not safe?

There was a travel guide written by a single lady concerning mexico. She traveled all alone and wrote a guide for the whole country. I am sure it is still available.

There is no single counrty that is the "safest". The most unsafe is the one whre you are unlucky.

Detroit is a very unsafe place for some people too.

Mexico has brand new toll highyaws and you can fly through safely if you want. Robert and i drove back from Guat to Tx in something like 40hrs flat total on toll roads, but they don't show up on old maps, so get the newest one you can find.

Speaking espanol will definately help.

If you have any trouble, remember to ask others for help and be leery of those who volunteer to help you.

suek's picture
Bill (not verified)

Driving to Panama in Jan 2010


I'm just starting to plan a trip to Panama through all of central america over the winter of 2010. I'm in Canada right now, but have a vehicle in storage in Texas. I will be driving from Houston into Mexico and sticking mostly to the west coast to surf and kitesurf. I also plan to spend time in Spanish emsion schools along the way. I've driven through Mexico twice before and do speak intermediate spanish. I'm looking for travel partners to join me and split costs for gas.

travlinman's picture
Joined: Aug 16 2009

driving to Panama

I too am planing a trip to Panama departing in early January. I was looking to caravan with other vehicles. My route is open and could take up to 3 months. Plan to leave my vehicle in Panama, fly home for a month and then fly back down to Panama and stay. Hank

suek's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

driving to Nica in Feb

Have yopu left yet ? I am planning on driving to Nicaragua in Feb sometime...

GenX's picture
Joined: Jan 15 2010

Traveling to Panama 1/18/10-1/28/10

I would hook up in a caravan of some kind if you would like.


texastechattorneyatlaw's picture
Joined: Jul 4 2006

costa rica

I like costa rica alot. Just two things i didn't like. 1, all the damn pedophiles and 2, very westernized and expensive (compared to all other central american countries).

The good thing is that you can actually find work there because there are so many ex-pats living and working there. It really helps if you speak a european language or two.

Jeeps are not the best vehicle (they don't really have parts for them there, so just make sure it is in really good working order). Also, get a waterproof container that you can lock and secure to the vehicle, otherwise you may not have anything left when you get there. I would also lock the hood if it can be opened without entering the passanger compartment. Take a spare and tools to change the tire. Buy a cheap compressor at wal mart and a plug kit to fix flats yourself.

Dont rush to costa rica... its a long way down there and you will be driving past some really neat places to see.

suek's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

drive to costa rica

m and my friance are going in jan 2010
looking for more poeple to go
this is my email

admin's picture
Joined: Feb 11 2009

hey it didn't go through!

hey it didn't go through!

suek's picture
yoshi (not verified)

I want to make the drive but no one I know is up to it.

I've been wanting to drive down to Costa Rica/ Panama.

I'm in Texas. I'd love to carpool with someone and split the gas and other costs.

Let me know if anyone wants me to come along.

I'm a normal guy, working on a master's degree, well traveled, learning a bit of spanish, etc..

suek's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Driving to Nica

I am leaving for Nicaragua in Feb. Not sure when as i need to do my taxes and waiting for my residency packet from the Nica embassy...

GenX's picture
Joined: Jan 15 2010

Ride or Drive

I'll be making the trip in January. If you would like to carpool or caravan I will try to work something out. jkaye@rr1.net