Thanks for the advice guys. I plan on being gone around a year and a half. I speak pretty good spanish. I will replace and top off all my fluids and have a thourough inspection of the engine and everything else before I go. I will keep you all updated on the jeep's progress.
Do Not take a fiream into Mexico without prior approval. You could very easily end up in jail for a very long time.
For a long time. I would say that your chances of traversing Mexico without your vehicle being searched, the gun found, and you going to prison are virtually nil. Nor will the American consulate be able to provide you with any assistance since these laws are well known and publicized. They will just bring you some Time Magazines, a toothbrush, and wish you the best of luck. It may not be right, but it is the way it is. Ron --- www.juarez-mexico.com.
Old thread, but relevant to my current trip so thought I would post here to keep related info in one thread.
I live in Guatemala and we are currently on a road trip from Guatemala to Panama. I've traveled in Mexico, but never driven there myself so these notes only address driving in the CA-4 (Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador) and Belize (used to live there).
Currently on Ometepe Island in Lake Nicaragua (there is ferry service to transport you and your vehicle). Way cool place.
A few suggestions.
- Leave the gun at home. A lot of talk on this thread about guns -- very bad idea. Transporting an illegal weapon here can have serious consequences. It is a good way to get yourself shot and/or almost certainly thrown in jail (illegal weapons are a very serious offense in most CA countries...even if the locals have tons of them...remember you are not a local). Most robberies in the region are non-violent...just turn over the goods and go about your business...your cell phone is not worth dying over. Pull a gun, and someone is about to get shot -- probably you. And, if you do shoot a local with an illegal weapon you are in deep sh't. If the locals don't lynch you first then you are going directly to jail for a long time. And, other than recommending an attorney, the good old USA Embassy is not going to get you out...because after all you did break the laws of your host country.
- Security. Several of the countries in the region have high rates of crime, but these crimes typically do not involve tourists or foreign residents. They do involve those in the drug trade, gangs, and socio-political conflicts. Keep your nose out of those domains and you are not likely to have any problems. You can of course find yourself at the wrong time/place, but if you use common sense you can cut down way down on the odds of having a problem. I've lived in the region for about 8 years now, traveled extensively, and never had any issues (exept petty theft in Belize, but that's just part of living in Belize). The vast majority of Central Americans are honest, friendly, and hard working (the bad guys just get more press coverage).
- Roads. The major roads are generally good. You can get to most major destinations on good paved roads with just a few rough bits (hardly off-road conditions). Plenty of rough roads if you want them though. The last segment of the road on the Pacific coast in Honduras, just before entering Nicaragua, is full of big pot holes and becomes a bit of an obstacle course, but otherwise the roads on this route are pretty good.
- Off Roading. Be careful where you roam. I have friends in the region who do lots of off road on both bikes and jeeps, and I've driven extensively in the region with zero problems, but...it is very easy in CA to find yourself somewhere you should not be. In remote areas, it is best to a have a local with you who is known in the area (true however you are wandering here...Jeep or otherwise). Some remote villages are quite suspicious of outsiders (with just cause) and some of course are engaging in business activities they don't want you to know about. Having a local introduction can make all the difference between a great experience and a bad one. Make some local friends and get intros/suggestions from them. The typical Central American is friendly honest and proud of their country so are more than willing to help show it off.
- Repairs. Some of my best experiences in the region have started with a repair problem. Locals, even in remote areas, will suddenly materialize to help (even in remote areas, where you don't see them, but they know you are there). I've had local mechanics go way out of their way to help. Some have even refused payment. Others have charged me so little that I also gave them a tip. I've yet to find a dishonest mechanic here. By contrast, man I've been raped in the USA. And, people actually fix stuff here, the local mechanic may not be factory trained, and may not have exactly the right parts, but he can probably get you up and running again. In the larger cities there are some very good shops. Parts availability, at least in the major cities, is quite good. And the Jeep brand is relatively popular here, I see other good old Cherokees like mine pretty often, finding a mechanic and parts has never proven to be a problem for me (proprietary electronics aside of course).
- Border Crossings (CA-4). Generally no big deal if you are patient and have all your papers in order (do not ever try to short-cut the process...it can and likely will cause you more trouble than it is worth later). El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua all intersect at the Gulf of Fonseca (Pacific Coast). So when transiting this area you will have to clear in and out of each country in sequence until you finally clear into Nicaragua. It is time consuming and not very well organized, but you can get through the whole thing (including drive time) in a few hours. You will be approached by guys who offer their services to help you with the process. In my experience, they don't really do much for you, but they know where to go and the flow through the process and work with the officials every day. This is useful especially on the Honduran side in this area (Bahia Fonseca) because the office locations and process are not obvious. Of all the CA-4 countries, El Salvador pays the most attention at border crossings, they will likely scrutinize your passport, paperwork, and do at least a cursory search of your vehicle. Always be polite and patient, if you start the "ugly American" routine things are likely to get worse not better.
- Border Crossing Belize. Unlike the rest of the region, Belizean officials tend to have an attitude and not be very helpful. Also, the number one source of revenue (exceeding even tourism) is Custom's Duties. As a result, they are likely to be particularly interested in what you are bringing into the country...including your vehicle. This is especially true if they know you have any kind of ties in Belize: friends, family, own land, business, etc (don't yak about the buddy you are going to visit or Customs will pay much closer attention to you). They may, or may not, ask you to post a substantial bond for your vehicle (just depends upon the attitude of who you draw that day...as does every interaction with Belizean officials).
- Lodging. Lots of good lodging options along this route. Just check travel sites for info (although those areas less visited by tourists will have little or no info). I suggest sticking with the nicer, and more secure, options unless you know the area. Along the Gulf of Fonseca, where you may get delayed due to multiple border crossings, there are a few good lodging options along this route too, although most of the area is very rural.
- Fuel. Plenty of "gasolineras" along the route. Particularly at major intersections/towns. Fuel is not cheap of course, but it is at least readily available.
- Greasing the Skids. Officials in the CA-4 are generally friendly and helpful. But, if things are not going your way, NEVER offer any official an outright bribe, they will likely find this offensive, and this could land you in hot water and/or get you extorted for even more money. If you encounter problems then just politely asking the official for help is a much better strategy: "Es una otra solucion?" ("Is there another solution?". The Spanish is grammatically a little primitive, but it keeps the phrase simple to use and they will get the idea...use better Spanish if you know it...or maybe not...sometimes playing the stupid gringo works pretty well too). Often this will prompt the official to come up with a way to solve your problem...usually for a very modest fee. In the end you will probably make a friend, who will remember you on your return trip...rather than annoy an official who will also remember you later.
- Traffic Tickets. Enforcement of traffic laws in most of Central America is not common. Certainly not in Guatemala where I live (you might get a ticket for a drive by shooting, but insane driving is the norm). However, I've discovered that things are different in Nicaragua. I actually got a ticket here (for passing on a solid line painted right down the middle of about a 2 mile straight away...classic ticket-trap). This was not due to my being a foreigner...they were busting Nicaraguans too. But, as a
foreigner, they retain your liscence until the fine is paid. This of course puts a gimp your travel logistics. I've heard that the "otra solucion" approach works sometimes, but in my case the guys were not flexible at all. Back to Leon for me in a couple of days to retrieve my license.
- Signage and Directions. Signage in CA-4 typically ranges from totally absent, to inadequate, to down right confusing -- altough there are some exeptions. For example, we've found signage in Nicaragua to generally be better than their bretheren countries. Very common to encounter a sign that points the general direction to somewhere early on and then no signage at that last critical turn (happens to me all the time). Also, most Central Americans cannot afford a car. So, if you pull up at a gas station to ask directions, keep in mind that the guy pumping the gas has probably never actually driven a car and therefore does not really know how to get there (he probably knows the bus route cold though). However, he will not want to disappoint you so will still make an attempt at giving you directions (not a very good attempt of course...). Hint: ask directions from someone who is actually driving a car, or a bus, or a taxi. Another trick: hire a taxi as a guide. This can save you lots of time and trouble.
- Google Maps. Only a few years ago, there was very little info for CA on sources like Google Maps. Now, they have much more extensive information. I've most recently found good map/route info for Guatemala City, San Salvador (El Salvador), Managua (Nic), Leon (Nic), San Miguel (Nic), Rivas (Nic), even Isla Ometepe (Nic). The major routes like the Pan American highway are also good. I've driven these areas using Google Maps via mobile Internet connection (if you have an unlocked cell phone or modem then SIM chips and service here are inexpensive). They don't always get the routing quite right, but the roads are at least visible so you can stay oriented.
And best of all, it is a beautiful region of a road trip.
Update: back in Leon and got my license back w no problems.
Also learned something about this route. There are two routes between Leon & Managua, the old "viejo" hwy and the new "nuevo". The old has obviously been ignored for many years and altermates between sections of very bad asphalt and gravel (the gravel is generally better). In some placed the asphalt is so bad that routes have been worn into the road side to by pass it. Most of this route is very rural w no services and almost no traffic. If you break down here it is going to be a very long day. Strarting at about Puerto Sandino (pacific coast) the road is new and good all the way to Leon.
The new hwy is good its entire length and much more scenic because it runs near Lake Managua.
In Leon for minor repairs (ignition switch problems) and then on to San Juan del Sur and then cross into Costa Rica.
Last edited by curtis2010; 03-12-2013 at 10:01 AM..
...well the B-string mechanics in Leon did not quite get the ignition problem fixed. Acted up again on us in Marsella...this time the offending wire burst into flames...makes it really easy to isolate the problem that way!
Fortunately, we discovered there is an A-string "electro-mechanico" in Rivas. He came down to Marsella (about 30 minutes away) and very quickly had us back up and running with a provisional repair, clearly new his stuff, and we drove to his shop in Rivas to do it right...and re-do some other bits of aging wiring. He even dropped us off at our hotel. Rivas is on the way anyway and we should be back on the road to Costa Rica in the AM.
Route note: Took the more direct route to Rivas (straight from Marsella to Rivas as opposed to back tracking through San Juan del Sur and getting back on paved roads). This direct route is a dirt/rock road, but not bad.
Update: About 6PM Im sitting at the hotel having a cocktail and a nice Nicaraguan cigar...and was a bit surprised to see my Jeep pull into the parking lot. The mechanic finished the job and delivered it! I love this part of the world!
This guy drove to Marsella in the AM, made a temp repair, escorted us back to Rivas and to a great little hotel, did the repairs, and delivered. His total bill was C5,250 (about US$215) .
If you ever break down near Rivas Nicaragua, I highly recommend "Auto Taller San Juan". Byron, who worked on my Jeep, is not only a great guy but a very competent "electro-mechanico".
Also, we left most of our gear in the Jeep and, as has been my experience many times here, nothing was touched.
Another great auto repair experience in Centro Americana. All that guns and banditos crap is not representative of vast majority of wonderful people who populate this region.
Last edited by curtis2010; 03-15-2013 at 07:53 PM..
Today: Rivas, Nicaragua to Puntarenas, Costa Rica.
Long day due to about 2 hours at border crossings and 2 more due to a bad traffic accident.
Very good roads on this leg. A very easy route with good signage all the way.
Border crossings: at the Nicaragua-Coasta Rica border you get the same type of hustlers who start to show up begining at the El Salvador-Nicaragua border. You dont get these guys at the Guatemala-El Salvador or Guate-Honduras borders. Their niche is the fact that the process, and office locations, is not obvious. They are useful to help sort out the process and get you to next non-obvious office (few if any signs) and for this benefit I am willing to tip them (the equiv of US$10 seems to be the common asking price). However, I have learned they do have a couple of tricks to "gringo" you out of more money (yes to be "gringo'ed" is a verb here). Trick 1: get money from you to rush off and pay some fee - the actual fee is of course less than they asked you for or nothing at all. Short circuit this by going with them and paying each fee, or lack thereof, directly. Never give them a dime for anything always pay directly. Trick 2: Tell you that the inspection of your vehicle is going to be horrendous and may take hours, but for a little bribe, which they will deliver for you, you can avoid it. This is total BS, they just pocket the money and the search of your vehicle is cursory if at all. One schmo tried to tell me that the Costa Rican police might take up to 4 hours to search my Jeep because its has Guatemalan plates. I told him I had plenty of time and in fact there was no search at all.
Coasta Rican Insurance: My auto insurance is good in Costa Rica so when the guy told me I needed to pay US$30 for insurance I thought it was another scam, but I discussed w the officials, and another driver, and sure nuff under CR law any foreign vehicle must purchase insurance regardless of whether they have other coverage. This coverage is good for 90 days contiguous even if you leave and re-enter CR.
Views along the Pacific coast here are beautiful. Similar to California coast. Gringos have flooded the area around Jaco making it a bit like a little America. Not too our taste, but there are beautiful places along the coast which are less gringo-fied. Although CR is overall the most Americanized, and thus the most expensive, country in the region, but still a beautiful place.
El Golfito is a cool place and a convenient stop beacause it is not far from the Panama border. It has a nice mix of local flavor and foreigner boating community (we are "cruisers" too so this suits us - we went straight to the nearest sailors bar to chat w other cruisers in port here)
Tomorrow on to Panama. Probably stop in Boquete for a while since we have friends who live there and it is a beautiful place.
Good roads all the way, including a real 4-lane hwy, starting in Panama...haven't driven on one of those in years!
Border crossing was easy. There are guys there who offer asistance for a "propina" (tip) but nothing like the hustlers on borders a bit North. They are helpful and dont try to scam you. Insurance is available for purchase at the border (about US$15 for 30 days).
I've seen about a dozen Jeep Cherokees of the same era as mine (89) along this route today. Lots of gringos in this area so I suspect that many of them brought their Jeeps down like I did.
Boquete is a beautiful place and at about 3,000ft elevation has a very pleasant climate (my GF is already house shopping). Lots of gringos here...but its still nice. ;-)
Here for a few days and then on to Bocas del Toro...and the transition from land cruising to water cruising...my boat is docked in Bocas.
This route rises up from David (near Pacific Coast) crosses a steep mountain range and then drops back down to sea level on the Atlantic coast....all in just a few hours of driving. Awesome views in the mountains and as you approach the Atlantic coast.
Road is steep and winding in the mountains but generally pretty good and paved all the way. Must watch out for sudden uneven sections where shifting road bed has been repaired (not sure if this is due to slides or earthquake damage).
Got Jeep out of shop and test drove yesterday but I did not have confidence the root cause problem was fixed. Ran fine during test drive but died again today. Disconnected battery and sensors for a few minutes and it fired right up. Ran great otherwise.
Although we did not resolve this issue (admittedly a tough one due to intermittent nature), David is an excellent place to get work done. A number of larger garages and parts shops. Had a problem w a rear brake shoe (original reason for stopping in David). Could not find replacement, but did find a shop that refurbished old parts...they put my pads back in almost like new condition for about $7.00 per pair in 45 minutes!
Stored Jeep in Almirante and caught boat over to Bocas. There is a larger ferry which can transport your vehicle to Bocas but there is really no reason to since Bocas is quite small. You can walk town from end to end in about 10 minutes. And the larger ferry only runs once a day but the small boats run about every half hour.
Schedule consideration: I suggest avoiding travelling in Central America during "Semana Santa" (Holy Week). This is a huge holiday here in CA and some venues may be booked solid up to a year in advance. We got into Bocas (our final destination for a few months) just before Semana Santa.
So now the Jeep goes into storage for a while and we move aboard the boat...
On the road agian soon...moving the Jeep to a bonded warehouse in Panama City to store it for a few months. This in effect stops the clock on your temporary import papers. Plan is to drive back to Guatemala in a few months.
It was a bit of a challenge finding a bonded warehouse that would work w us. Their real biz is temporarily storing ship loads of imported products while the paperwork gets sorted out. One old gringo w a Jeep does not score very high on thier to do list.
But if you should ever need to do this: Trailmovil, a subsidiary of Crowley, is who you want to contact. They also have bonded warehouses in most other CA countries too.
Central America is always interesting because rarely does anything work out as planned....
Just returned to Bocas from Panama City. I did get the Jeep stored in an "Almancen Fiscales" but it took longer and cost more than I expected.
Some info and lessons learned below for future reference.
- TrailMovil was helpful but they were just was not getting it done. Maybe I was not working w quite the right people.
- It can be a challenge finding officials/brokers who know what you are talking about because this is not a routine process.
- TrailMovil refered me to a Customs Broker who did understand what I wanted to do. He told me I could just go to Customs and complete the paperwork. So I went to Customs (vehicle control department). Took a bit of discussion but they got what I wanted to do and refered me to a nearby broker/logistics service (Kinte, SA). The staff at Kinte understood exactly what I wanted to do and how to do it. They completed the bond paperwork and accepted the Jeep into their storage yard. Their storage rates were much higher (8 vs 5 $ per day) than what TrailMovil had stated but Kinte was actually getting it done and being in the City was costing me about $200 per day so any cost diff was fast evaporating with each day of delay.
- The English word "bond" has crept into the vocabulary here. In some situations it can be more clear than "Almancen Fiscales" because this phrase can refer to both a physical place or a process.
- After completing the bond process it is very important to return to Customs w the paperwork. They will record the bond and cancel the temporary vehicle import stamp in you passport...you cant leave the country legally w out doing this.
In the end between travel costs and storage costs I spent about the NADA value of the Jeep! Finanacially it would have probably been better to sell it or abandon it. But its not like such a long road trip makes much financial sense anyway...so what the hell....and I want to keep my Jeep.
I have posted several Baja trips over the years, and here are a few pics and thoughts on travel through Baja, Mexico.
Insurance - Some Insurers *Do Not* insure Jeep Wranglers for travel outside of the US. Instant Mexico does not (on their website). Check on this in advance. On my last trip into Mexico, I went with Baja Bound (located in San Diego, CA).
Photo in front of Instant Mexico - San Ysidro, CA
Rosarito Beach along Hwy 1
There is some real good eating just south of the border in Puerto Nuevo - south of Rosarito Beach. Lock up your Jeep and your belongings. Enjoy the great food. These dunes at K46 - Cantamar are just south of Puerto Nuevo.
30 min. South of Ensenada - Hwy 1 at El Palomar (Camping w/swimming pool)
South of Ensenada is a cool mountain range - with camping at the 8K ft. elev. Camping is cheap, but there are no facilities - pack in/pack out, as they say.
Between Colonet and Camalu, you can camp along the coast at a campo called - "Shipwrecks". Pretty cool spot. Populer with surfers, and not far from Hwy 1.
South of San Quintin is El Rosario - This is Mama Espinoza's Restaurant where you can score some big lobster.
Cataviņa is full of rocks, and has one of the best-known Hardcore Jeep trails w/free camping (if you make it in) called MISSION IMPOSSIBLE.