Driving Central America & South America.

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Schneidfeld's picture
Joined: Apr 5 2010

Hey folks,

Continuing to plan & prepare up here in Winnipeg, MB, Canada for our road trip to Central/South America. We're leaving on December 26th of this year, just trying to think ahead & make sure we're ready! Just a couple questions in no particular order, if you can share some wisdom and/or experience it would be greatly appreciated! Cheers!

- Most of what I've read has led me to believe that ATM cards are the safest and most convenient way to go. Are there any drawbacks (major charges for transferring funds from CDN dollars to the currency of the country I'm in)? Will my Canadian bank card work everywhere down there?
- Are there really ATM machines pretty much everywhere? How much cash is advisable to carry with you just in case?

- Planning on staying in hostels for the most part, wondering if a sleeping bag is a good thing to be carrying at all times, or not necessary? If it's a good idea, what's the coldest temperature I should expect at night between January & April?
- I was considering bringing a knife, as we're planning on doing exploring off the beaten path. Nothing Rambo-esque, just something smaller & straightforward. Will this cause a problem when crossing borders?
- Any items other than the usual conventional things which you'd recommend bringing withy you?

Panama to Columbia
- What are our options here? What kind of cost should be expected to get back & forth? How do we go about making arrangements once we're there & ready to move further south?

Think that's it for now, though I assure you there will be more ha ha ha! Any other tips, tricks, or advice you think would be useful is also appreciated. Thanks & happy travels!


Schneidfeld's picture
Joined: Apr 5 2010

Another question...

What kinds of things are good to bring along with you as gifts for people who help you out along the way down there?

atg200's picture
Joined: Feb 20 2008

ATM cards are easiest. If

ATM cards are easiest. If they are a Visa or Mastercard badged card they should work just about anywhere. It is a good idea to call your bank and let them know what countries you will be visiting and when - i've had cards deactivated for suspected fraudulent activity which is a pain when you can't make a phone call easily to clear it up. ATMs are common in bigger cities, and not so much in small towns or border towns. Don't carry more than $100 or so on you, though you should stash some cash somewhere hidden and safe in your car for emergencies.

Sleeping bags are nice so you have the option of crashing in your car, on the beach, mountain shelters, etc. It'll be really hot on the coast, and pleasantly cool inland.Any basic cheap sleeping bag will work fine.

Knives are not a problem through borders. I can't imagine why you would think that would be useful for self defense - never bring a knife to a gunfight. On the off chance you get held up or robbed just do what they say and they'll almost certainly let you go. No one wants the kind of trouble that killing a gringo will bring down.

The Panama to Colombia topic has been discussed extensively already - just search the forums here.

admin's picture
Joined: Feb 11 2009

knife might be helpful, but

knife might be helpful, but if they're sticking you up, they AT LEAST have a knife (like ATG says)

Getting through borders -- no one will ever touch your body, so you could certainly get something through. NEVER EVER EVER THINK about bringing a gun. You will go to jail, and "no pase va" (not pass go)... ;)

You have to stick the car on a boat and ship it. there's a thread with some contact info in here from a couple of months ago. People said CR was cheaper than panama.

That time of year the mountains will be COLD. Might be nice to have something.

Money: Don't do what my girlfriend does, which is withdraw a twenty every time she needs a twenty. Get a couple of hundred. Some times machines stop working, your card gets eaten, machines run out of money, whatever. Have money available. I took thousands in cash, strapped to my leg usually, and otherwise hidden somewhere. That's no longer needed, but I would always have a couple of hundred.

Example: Sometimes a gas station won't take credit cards. Now you've only got 20 bucks for a 30 dollar gas bill. Now what? And now you're hungry and need a place to sleep. But no money! Keep some stuffed somewhere.

Schneidfeld's picture
Joined: Apr 5 2010

Ha ha ha, I wouldn't even

Ha ha ha, I wouldn't even consider buying or bringing a gun, don't own one at home, certainly don't want one travelling!! Again, I did not ask about the knife for any reason relating to self defense lol!!

I'm actually not taking the car into South America, we're planning on driving as far as Costa Rica & putting it in storage, continuing on foot further south & then returning for it at the end. So I was actually asking about options for personal transportation from Panama to Columbia, just seeing what the options were. I'll definitely do some research on it, just looking to hear what others had done.

Duly noted on the money issue, I definitely don't wanna end up in any such jam. I'm going to be travelling pretty light, might sew a secret pocket into my shorts or something like that, & find a really good stash spot somewhere on the car. Thanks for the insights!!

Schneidfeld's picture
Joined: Apr 5 2010

Thanks for the tips, I'll

Thanks for the tips, I'll definitely get in touch with my bank to make sure I don't run into similar problems!! I think I'll probably keep a couple hidden cash stash's too for emergencies.

I'm not sure where you got the self defence angle regarding the knife?! I have no plans on taking any trouble makers, I often carry a general utility knife when camping in Canada, comes in handy at times, wanted to make sure it wouldn't cause any problems when crossing borders, as I'm sure every country has their own laws as to what is and is not permissable to cross with.

Thanks again for the help!!


Schneidfeld's picture
Joined: Apr 5 2010

Another Question- Dangers of having a Vehicle

Hey again,

So I've encountered a lot of the usual skepticism regarding this trip I'm planning from various people I've talked to, mainly surrounding the perceived dangers involved in travelling in this area. For the most part I've ignored it or shrugged it off, but somebody recently brought up a scenario which I hadn't thought of & had no real response to.

That is, what if somebody were to put something in your car without your knowledge for the purpose of getting it across a border? Not terribly concerned about this, as I feel like this would likely be an inconvenient/overly elaborate method of smuggling drugs or whatever, but it's something to think about none the less. Has anybody ever heard of such a thing actually happening, lol? I talked about it a bit with the friend I'll be travelling with & we pretty much just figured we'd do checks of the car (under the hood, undercarriage, wheelwells, trunk, etc) on days we planned on crossing borders, just as a precaution. The LAST thing we (or anyone else) would ever want would be to unknowingly be carrying anything illegal across a border down there!! Any insights or advice on this subject would, as always, be greatly appreciated.


robertdjung's picture
Joined: Oct 31 2006

drugs go north, not south.

drugs go north, not south. But either way, that would be an unneccessary risk for someone to do that. Then to retreive them they'd have to kill you, and it's just not what anyone wants. There's no way that would ever happen.

People will tell you that everything down there is dangerous. Use your head and you'll be fine.

Schneidfeld's picture
Joined: Apr 5 2010

Ha ha ha, for sure, but I do

Ha ha ha, for sure, but I do plan on driving north (to home) at the end of the trip. Thanks for the confirmation of this ideas craziness lol.