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Gas Costs from Brownsville,TX to San Jose, Costa Rica

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europeon84caday's picture
Joined: Jun 11 2010

Hello Robert and fellow travellers (sorry this blog is a long one, but well worth it for new travellers to read).
This is my first entry and before I talk/ask about gas costs, I just I thought I would applaud everybody for making the effort to tell everybody about their problems/advice/highlights of their memorable treks on this site and to thank Robert for setting up this site. It must be a lot of work answering all these questions, especially the same questions over and over. lol.... But there is a reason some questions are asked repeatedly - i.e. gas costs, shipping car costs, border issues, police encounters/safety etc - without the answers to these issues and feedback from fellow travellers and Robert, many would-be travellers might be discouraged from travelling altogether. So having accurate and reliable information from former travellers is key to planning a trip and not giving up on it.
Personally, I have travelled to over 80 countries. In fact I am the former author of 'EUROPE ON 84 CENTS A DAY' (my book is not published anymore, google the title) and I was a guest speaker for 22 years at over 300 U.S. universities, so I am a bit of an expert on budget travelling. In fact, when I was 19, I hitch-hiked in 1976 across Canada in JANUARY!!, down the U.S. coast where I attended the Patty Hearst trial, through Baja, over to Mazatlan, along the coast, Mexico City, then through C.America to Panama - that trip only cost me $300 for 3 months!! lol, plus the airfare from Panama City to Miami. I feel the more you can stretch out your dollar without sacrificing your health and enjoyment, then this allows you to see more countries and travel for a longer period. Most importantly, as a student, if you can meet and stay with the people and return their hospitality by leaving small gifts or during small chores, then you will learn more about the culture than you could on any organized tour.
I have still travelled over the years, and especially the past 4 years with my son to tennis tournaments all around the world including China and Russia. He hopes to turn pro in a couple years, but first he will attend a U.S. university on a tennis scholarship this August. My plan is to drop him off at the school and then continue to Brownsville and follow this exiting itinerary on my own by car:

Mexico - Matamaros, San Luis Potosi, -Guadalajara/where my brother lives, Puerto Vallarta/Ixtapa, Manzanillo, Acapulco, Mexico City ( i will leave car outside of Mexico City - people have been fined by the crooked police in Mex.City based on not being allowed to drive during certain hours and their license plates or I might skip Mexico City altogether) , Puebla/Cholula, Oaxaca/Monte Alba/Valley of Mitla, San Cristóbal de las Casas/Palenque - (Misol-Ha and Agua Azul waterfalls); Merida/beach town of Progreso and see the Dzibilchaltun/ Uxmal/Cuzama/Izamal, Chichén Itzá , Cancun, Playa del Carmen, island of Cozumel
Belize- Caye Caulker,,San Ignacio/Mountain Pine Ridge
Guatemala - Flores, through Poptún and stop at Río Dulce, a small town on Lake Izabal, Coban, Antigua/ Chichicastenango / Panajachel / Lake Atitlán, Guatemala City,
El Salvador - beach area near La Libertad, San Salvador,
Honduras -Santa Rosa de Copan, Roatan Island, The Bay Islands, Tegucigalpa
Nicaragua - Granada, Ometepe, an island on Lake Nicaragua
Costa Rica - Monteverde, La Fortuna / Arenal, San Jose,Puerto Viejo de Talamanca ( then sell car in San Jose)
Panama - (wont' try to sell car in Panama- not worth due to huge duties), take bus from San Jose to Panama; visit Bocas del Toro (consists of 6 islands) Boquete, Santa Catalina, Panama Canal/Panama City - fly home

As you can see, this trip will require a fair amount of driving, so here are my questions. I have read some blogs where people (and one of them was Robert I believe) said it cost about $3.000 U.S. to drive from Browsnville to Costa Rica. I realize gas costs more, but that seems like an astronomical amount of money...I hope the cost would be a lot less for compact cars. I believe your vehicle was only getting 15 miles to the gallon??!!!
1) but based on driving a compact car, can anybody tell me, approximately, what their gas costs (diesel vs gas) were from Brownsville through Mexico (ignore my complex Mexico itinerary), Belize, Guat. El Salv. Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica????

2) I have read in these blogs that Toyota and Honda cars are the most reliable, pretty gas efficient, and the most common car in C.America (which makes it a lot easier and cheaper to get parts/repairs). So I am trying to find a Toyota or Honda car that uses diesel. I have been calling dealerships in the Niagara Falls, Ontario area where I live, specifically asking about diesel cars, but they say they haven't been made for over 20 years!! I could try and get a Volkswagon diesel, but as the blogs have said, I would have much better luck selling a Honda or Toyota. I plan to sell the car in Costa Rica (I won't take it to Panama). My questions are: will I notice a big difference in gas costs with regular gas vesus diesel/ If I buy a car that uses gas, will i have MORE difficulty selling it in Costa Rica versus a diesel car?

3) One blogger wrote: "Thanks Robert for the reply. We managed to sell the car just south of Dominical in Costa Rica. It cost us $3,200 in California. It's book value in Costa Rica was $6,000! We sold it for $2,500 as the import duty on such an old car (1993) was going to be $3,500!"... so it really only cost him $700 for the car plus gas/tolls/bribes etc etc for this trip - not a bad deal at all) So, if I pay $1,500 in Canada for, let's say, a 1998 Honda, will I get around the same amount in Costa Rica from a buyer, maybe more?
4) what would the tolls cost from Matamoros/Browsnville to Guatemala if one was to just use toll roads?
If gas costs are too high, then I may have no choice but to takes buses. This is not what I want to do. I want the flexibility of stopping where and when I want. I may try to off-set gas costs by asking anybody at hostels/hotels who might want to share the gas/toll costs.

So if anybody, can give me fairly accurate gas costs and answers to the other questions, it will help me out tremendously with my decision: Car vs Bus.

robertdjung's picture
Joined: Oct 31 2006

Welcome to the site Gil! I'm

Welcome to the site Gil! I'm very glad you've found us and will share your trials and tribulations with everyone!

1) We spent a ton of money on fuel. Gas is more expensive in CA than in USA. And you don't always go a "straight line". We also had a boat on top of a V-8 truck -- so we weren't getting great mileage. Funny, we never actually did the math on that to see what we were getting, but I'm sure it was about 12-15 MPG.

2) Toyota. Toyota. Toyota. You won't find a diesel in Canada / USA. You will come back pissed off and wanting one.

**If you're going to drive a small car, you don't need to find diesel. That's more a recommendation for trucks / vans which burn a lot of fuel.

3) I can't comment directly, but even if you just left it in CR, it was only $1500, and probably reliable. Consider that, and plane tickets.

4) I'm speaking off the top of my head here -- don't quote me. I'd say around 50-100 dollars on tolls from texas to guatemala, taking only toll roads. They are fast, efficient, safe, and BORING. You can make time, but you miss the country. You're be trading sights for time. Not a sin if you need to make time and will slow down once you hit Guat / Belize. I hated that we took tolls to Guat last time we went. Of course you hate the slow travel when you don't take tolls!

TAKE A CAR. Bus is fine, but you'll just love being able to stop at a roadside place where *no* white people stop and buy some juice. They'll love you. You'll see things that no bus traveler will. You can pick up people at hostels. You can go to places, like Agua Dulce, at your pace.

I'll respond again tomorrow with thoughts on the itinerary.

europeon84caday's picture
Joined: Jun 11 2010

Gas costs from Brownsville TX to San Jose

Thanks for you always entertaining reply and informative reply. I have been calling around and it is impossible to find cheap Toyotas and Hondas, though i have just found a $1,600 Concorde V6 automatic, certified, and it passed our E test (pollution test). The price is great and it is in good shape - do you think this car would be a good or bad choice for driving to Panama? I also found a Neon 2002 for $1,100 that passed the E test, but needs to be certified (not sure on that cost yet), but will all things being 'nearly' equal, which car do you think I should drive or neither one?
I need to doubl-check your answer about the $1,500 car - so if pay $1,500 in Canada, are you saying I would at least get $1,500 in costa Rica?
I look forward to any comments about my intinerary when you have time.
thanks Gil

Schneidfeld's picture
Joined: Apr 5 2010

If you're looking to save on

If you're looking to save on fuel costs, I'd agree with Robert in that a small gas engine (4 cylinder) is the way to go. Honda Civics come in a 4 door model (ideal for travelling), are very reliable, moderately priced, and are easy to find parts for when you do have problems. Same goes with similar toyota models (Corrola, Camry, etc.). Neons aren't known for being as reliable, and the Concorde would likely not get you the kind of efficiency fuel-wise that you're looking for.

We're driving from Winnipeg to Costa Rico right after Christmas in a 1984 Hyundai Pony lol!! Great on gas, simple engine (carbeurated) been driving it in Winnipeg's extreme climate for over 2 years problem free, it's made several treks out west to British Columbia, and best of all, it's really not worth anything, so if it does break down or we get in an accident it can be left behind without a second thought. Good luck & have fun!!

europeon84caday's picture
Joined: Jun 11 2010

Gas costs from Brownsville TX to San Jose

Thank you very much for your in-put about cars. That's hilarious that you are going to be able to rely and trust a 1984 car. That's great to hear, so now I don't feel so worried if I choose a 1990's car! I was pretty sure the Concorde would be a bad choice..lol, but here is a list of cars I have found in my area and any advice on the best choice and 2nd best choice and so would be MOST welcome. I will be taking the car list to my mechanic and get his expert opinion in order to narrow down the choices and then I can bring the car to him for an inspection on it's ability to survive a long trip like this.
I just got what i believe is some great advice for people driving a manual car: to help avoid problems with the transmission going up and down the mountains, the car salesman recommended adding a 'tranny cooler' - costs around $50. Do any of you agree with this? He believes driving an automatic up and down mountains a lot can create problems if the radiator etc etc is not up to snuff? Does this make sense too?

Certified E tested within one year
Hyundai $700 196,000km manual No Yes 2002

Neon $1,000-$1,200 _??___km manual No Yes 2002
needs new windshield, new brakes, tires good

Honda Civic under $2,000 242,000 km stick No No 2001
4 door

Mazda 626 $1,500 230.000km manual Yes Yes 1999
sunroof, burgundy

Honda Accord $1,200? 218,000km automatic No Yes 1996
no air conditioning, body very good condition
private owner – I know their mechanic

Honda Acura $1,000 270,000km autom No No 1994
car passed E test May 2009, shouldn't be a problem getting E test to pass
4 door cruise, sun roof, paint dark and blemished
Tim O’Brien formerly of Cullen

Honda Civic $1,600 320,000km No No 1995
salesman claims motor has been re-built (will have my mechanic check that claim)
if the claim is true, then sounds like this car would be a good one.

Okay, as you can see, choosing the right car on your trip is the biggest and most important decision of all. I welcome any advice/opinions asap so I can make my decision.
Gil Happy Travels

Schneidfeld's picture
Joined: Apr 5 2010

Cars, Cars, Cars

I'd stay away from the Neon, focus on the Honda's, as Rob was saying there are parts for these cars easily available, and they're very common cars, so if you do happen to have problems at least they'll be quick and relatively inexpensive setbacks. Mountain driving is definitely hard on automatic transmissions, so if you decide to buy an automatic car, for $50 a transmission cooler (basically a separate radiator strictly for your transmission) would be a good precautionary measure, especially since transmission problems are pretty much the most serious and expensive drivetrain problem you can run into.

The 95 Civic with the rebuilt engine (if this is true and the job was done properly/well) would probably be my first choice. Reliable, cheap on gas, and an engine that's known to be pretty much bulletproof, which is why you still see so many early 90's civics on the road with 300-400+ kilometers on them. Is this car an automatic or manual tranny?

Second choice would probably be the 01 Civic

Gotta run, let me know how it turns out, hope some of this has been helpful.


europeon84caday's picture
Joined: Jun 11 2010

Cars, Cars, Cars

Thanks again for your advice. I would have to have my mechanic make sure the rebuilt engine is for real re: the Honda Civic 1995. and check out the Honda 2001 too. I did show my list of cars to a couple mechanics today and one said the Honda Accord would be a good choice especially for $1,100 and it's fairly low km's since 1996. of course they also felt the Hondas Civic's would be good too.
I was just hoping to relax when driving everywhere and not worry about shifting gears. I do plan to visit many of the best sights Mexico and C.America have to offer, so that will mean taking the mountain route and steep inclines and maybe behind big trucks. But if the transmission cooler will do the trick, that may be the way I will go. It's a tough decision. I will let you know how I made out. I know I won't push the car and I will make sure I change the oil regularly.
Hey, I just went to the dollar store and bought about $100 worth of Canadian flags, hats, bottle openers, Canadian umbrellas that you put on your head and much more to give to kids along the way, especially the kids that pester you at the border, but also for the police and border patrols. Hopefully rather than pay money to these guys, I''ll just offer them a nice souvenir and see what happens.lol. I call it my "Bribe Box" which will be full of these goodies....I am also going to throw in 4 or 5 Playboy magazines too!!!

Schneidfeld's picture
Joined: Apr 5 2010

For sure, absolutely nothing

For sure, absolutely nothing wrong with the Honda Accord, although those cars came with optional V6 engines if memory serves, which wouldn't get as great of milage, and they're a (slightly) larger car which again will affect your gas milage. If you're travelling alone or with one other person, you may not really need the added space, totally up to you & the differences would be minimal anyways.

Probably a good idea to pick up extra parts for whatever car you end up buying, things like fan & serpentine belts, extra set (or two) of spark plugs, head light & tail light bulbs (don't want to give police ANY reason to pull you over looking for bribes), fuel filter (I've read several accounts of people getting bad gas & plugged fuel filters in small towns), have full size (not a donut) spare tire, small tool set, etc.

GREAT idea with the bribe box lol!! When are you planning on leaving again? You'll have to let me know how that works!

europeon84caday's picture
Joined: Jun 11 2010

new revelations about taking an automatic vs manual

I don't profess to be a mechanic in real life (just on TV lol), but I will try to explain why taking the automatic versus a manual is not such a bad idea, especially regarding the Honda Accord I am considering to buy. I realize gas mileage is not as good as a Civic, but even having more space in the Accord will allow for me to store my wood carvings I love to pick up on my travels...has anybody seen great wood carvings through-out Mexico and C.A.? And I may take other people with me from hostels who are willing to chip in on the gas.
My other mechanic friends ( I have two now), explained a few things to me and I hope I explain this right (excuse me if I don't). He said even if a Honda Civic manual has a good engine you never know how well the manual transmission system/clutch has been treated during 15 years of driving....and if that goes during your trip through the mountains of Central America you are in for a big repair bill, besides being stranded. At least with the automatic I have confidence that it should last a long time and the Accord actually has Drive 1 and Drive 2 which allows me to downshift or upshift (sorry, not sure on the terminology) when I am behind a slow truck up the mountain or going down a steep hill. I believe it's a 4 cyclinder. Regarding adding a 'transmission cooler (tranny cooler)' - he said that is a good idea as long as it can be placed without blocking or affecting the radiator - it's possible to create new problems, especially with the engine - so it's really best to think this through.
He strongly recommended that I make sure the 'timing belt and water pump' are very new. He said that is the last thing you want to break down on your trip, - if that goes, you are in big trouble.
Even though everybody says you can get parts fairly easily for Toyotas and Hondas in C.A, for my piece of mind, I will take a number of parts for the Honda Accord - two new tires (the Accord has huge trunk space!), belts, spark plugs, headlights/rear/front, - and if I don't use them, I can always take them back to the place where I bought them (keep receipt). Like you said, you don't want to give the police ANY REASON for stopping you.

I have some Spanish friends in my area who are doing some translating for me, translations in Spanish that I would present to the police officer on paper to avoid misunderstandings such as: "Sorry officer, I am sorry if i did anything wrong, I didn't do it on purpose, I don't have much money even though I am a gringo...will you accept this Playboy magazine instead?' or if I know the police officer is really lying to me..."officer, I know I didn't go through the stop sign because there isn't even a 'stop sign'....hopefully the officer will get a chuckle out of my translations to reduce any unnecessary tension or conflict. I have many more, that's a sample....I really recommend you make up your own sentences, since most of us don't speak Spanish,. I will let you know how they are received. Maybe just practice on any Spanish looking people in Winnipeg!!
I plan on leaving around August14/15, as i have to drop off my son at university in Mississippi (he has a tennis scholarship), so I thought I would just continue from there to Mexico and C.A. for a side trip!
Okay, if there are any mechanics out there, correct me or enlighten me about what I just said about the Honda Accord...please

Schneidfeld's picture
Joined: Apr 5 2010

Sounds like you're doing your homework!!

Great to hear you're getting multiple inputs & advice, sounds like you're asking all the right questions & planning well!! I'm guessing that your mechanically inclined friend is thinking that manual transmission cars may be more likely to have been abused by past owners, & thus more likely to have tranny problems, which does make sense. Overall I was under the impression that manual transmissions were more durable & could take more abuse than automatics, but I guess you have to consider the driver as well- people who are cautious/subdued drivers are more likely to drive an auto, and wanna-be racecar drivers tend to prefer standard, lol. Either way just make sure to have the tranny tested & inspected, because as you said, it can be one of the most costly setbacks.

The Accord's 4 cylinder engine is virutally identical to the Civics, so you're gonna get pretty similar mileage anyways, and it sounds like you'll be putting the extra storage space to good use, perfect!!

Good hearing back from you, and I think I might just call & price out a water pump, now that you mention it ha ha ha!! Cheers!

Rob in AZ's picture
Rob in AZ (not verified)

A thought about the gifts/bribes

I just returned from a drive across Africa, in cars we bought for 400 euro each. I personally think the manual has its merits for push starting, also one luxury we had was an inverter to power laptops and charge cameras etc. On the idea of gifts for children/bribes, bribes I understand as it can be helpful in a sticky situation, but giving gifts to children can be a touchy thing. It trains children in less developed nations that westerners are gift machines and basically rewards pest like behavior, conditioning them to do the same for those who come through next. I found it useful to play dumb with the language barrier at times, even with police when they asked for gifts. I brought soccer balls as gifts (our trek was to the world cup), 40 of them, deflated as we had compressors in the cars. Truth be told, it also trains border people the same way. We decided to only give gifts to people who had "earned" them, and been helpful to us. Payment for a job well done, it trains them to earn it by being helpful. Also we learned that the best way to give gifts is find a reputable NGO working locally and let them distribute them. If we were in a village and wanted to give a kid a gift, we found the biggest kid and gave it to him, as we found out that he was going to get it anyways, usually by force. If you give it to the cute little guy you are almost guaranteeing he is gonna get beat up. Also a recommendation on types of gifts, kids and adults may be able to do more positive things with balls/simple toys and items like pens or crayons. In Africa there are places where children cant go to school w/o a pen. Not sure how useful a hat umbrella is, or a flag to a street kid, but pens and shirts and balls, can have a big impact. I even traded a US brand surfing shirt for a paraglide ride in Puerto Vallarta some years ago, and traded many shirts for necklaces etc. from street vendors while in Africa...but we rarely gave a freebie. Our drive: worldcuptrek2010 dot com.

atg200's picture
Joined: Feb 20 2008

I wouldn't bother with more

I wouldn't bother with more than just a full sized spare. I don't think it is possible to drive more than 20 miles without seeing a tire shop along the highway. The other spare parts are a good idea.

Be careful with the bribe box and bribe notes. That won't go over well at all in Mexico, and it is possible that a police officer would use the written evidence as an excuse to shake you down for more cash. I think you would also have little chance at just handing out a playboy and a Canadian flag to get out of a traffic stop - they won't believe you if you say you are poor. Just look and act stupid, say "pago multa aqui por favor", give them $5 or so, be as insistent as you can that you won't pay any more, and they'll usually get frustrated and let you go(Panama is much more expensive for bribes). Playboys are more useful for streamlining customs stops, vehicle inspections, etc.

admin's picture
Joined: Feb 11 2009

good advice all around from

good advice all around from everyone!

Agree with ATG about the bribes. They're getting more legit in all but small time traffic incidents.

V6 or V4 -- if you've got a full car of people plus trunk plus someone's bag tied to the roof, you'd like the V6. Either will get you there, however.

Parts -- serpentine belt for sure, and know how to change it. Or just inspect it before you leave and change it if it needs it. If you take one for backup, if it's expensive you can always return it when you fly home!

Otherwise there's tons of fix-em-up shops everywhere. Spark plugs, etc for hondas, toyotas etc etc will be readily available in even the smallest town.

Tires -- shops are everywhere. Take a patch kit, and / or a spare. They are literally everywhere. I would NOT take two. If you bust two spares you're just doing something wrong! ;)

Even on our big truck we rarely even used the spare -- we'd just jack the truck up, patch it, and re-air it with a 12 volt air compressor (around $20).

I'd take a full size if you have the room, but wouldn't be put off with a tiny spare, and SLOWLY limping in to the next "Pinchazo", "Llanteria", or "Vulcanadora". All are names for tire shops, and you'll recognize them by the enormous tractor tire painted yellow hanging from the fence post out front.

There are great maps of the new mexican roads that are for sale in larger truck stops. If you want to make time, pick one up. On a four year old map, you might not know about a new road!

At the same time, I enjoy cruising slow on the back road.

Rob in AZ's picture
gil white (not verified)

bribes, car parts

Sorry for not replying sooner, I just bought my car yesterday. Remember I said i was looking at an automatic Honda Accord for $1,100, well it turned it out it needed about $2,000 worth of repairs. So i asked my mechanic (very thorough mechanic) if he knew of anybody else who had a car to sell...two days later he told me one of his customers had another HONDA Accord for sale, but a manual. This was already certifiied and E tested!!! My mechanic said i got a great deal - it has 300,000 km, but that's okay and the stick/transmission is extremely smooth - that's why it's great to buy a 'one owner' car, people who take care of their cars...so I now feel confident driving through-out Central America. I will keep all gas receipts and report back to everybody about my costs.
Good to hear there tire shops on every corner, just like donut shops. Thanks for the advice about only taking one spare full sized tire (i may or may not take one), a few spare parts of course.
Re: the bribe box - lol - I have to try showing my written note at least once to a police officer and see what happens and report back to you guys. For sure, I want to be careful. I'll be the guinea pig. Thanks for the advice...Gil

Rob in AZ's picture
gil white (not verified)

Honda Accord

I forgot to mention I only paid $1,450 for the Honda Accord!!!! Great deal, eh?

travlinman's picture
Joined: Aug 16 2009

1999 Suburban

I am planning on driving my '99 suburban to San Jose Costa Rica via Belize september 2010. I bought it new 10 yrs ago and have maintained it well. Is this a good choice car wise? I have had replaced both intake manifold head gaskets and it has gone through 3 alternators. Other than that nothing other than routine maintenance. I plan to bring spare parts and fluids but to be honest I would trust a Honda or Toyota more than my Chevy. I could get 5k for the suburban and look to buy a small Japanese car and have it made mechanically sound. I would like some feedback please.

Oh, also, is the east coast of Mexico safe to travel by road with all the violence being reported?

Thanks in advance all. Hank

robertdjung's picture
Joined: Oct 31 2006

that car won't sell for much

that car won't sell for much b/c it's gas. so you can weigh a low selling price against the comfort of driving it vs a small car. i think it's a perfect rig only if you can give up a few grand that you won't get back out of it.

you can get chevy parts down there, especially mexico. But make sure you explain that it's a CHEVORLET, not CHEVY, as I've learned there's some other car that is a "chevy" that is not a GMC chevy!

Anyway, point is, if you know your car and you know it's problems, that might save you some cash over a used honda for 2K and spending 1K getting it fixed up and selling it at the end for 2K.... Just as example sake I don't know what you're looking at exactly.

Either way, the space is awesome in a suburban and you can pick up folks from hostels!