After our wonderful time spent in Chiapas, we said “goodbye” to Mexico and crossed into Guatemala. In the next 8 days, we would go on to cross 5 borders and drive over 1100 miles. We weren’t quite sure what to expect in Central America; it seemed that everyone had only negative things to say about their neighbors, so for example, many Mexicans we talked to told us to be very careful in Guatemala because it was very dangerous, Guatemalans told us the same about El Salvadorans, and so on.
Expectations of Sketchy-ness
So needless to say, we were a bit worried, especially with some of the things we had heard from others who had driven through, particularly with El Salvador and Honduras. Foreign plates are always a burden because they make you stand out and be susceptible to getting pulled over at any and every checkpoint. In addition, we were carrying a cargo box, 3 boards (including a bright red long board), and a spare tire on top of the truck — so it wasn’t just the plates that made us noticeable.
There was also the issue of the roads in Central America, many of which had apparently been either severely damaged or washed away entirely during the heavy October rains/storms. We were expecting to have many stops, delays, and at least a few diversions in the road.
We had an extremely positive experience in general. All of our border crossings were relatively headache-free (see below), and everyone we came across in each country was friendly and helpful (with maybe one or two exceptions). In some of the countries we were actually shocked when we realized that road-side officials were waving at us, and not waving to pull us over. Also, we were surprised that none of the countries’ officials we came across tried to extort us. In fact, we realized that being in Mexico had made us very wary of anyone in uniform; it seems Mexico’s infamous corruption hasn’t really spread south of the border.
Where We Went
We spent our first night in Antigua Guatemala, enjoying some delicious grub and the free camping at the police tourist office. The next day, we drove to Playa El Tunco, El Salvador, thinking we would only stay 1 or 2 nights. We ended up staying 3 nights, taking advantage of the small but fun waves, the cheap papusas, and the hostel hammocks. The next day we aimed to make it across both the Honduran and Nicaraguan borders and then head to my high school gym teacher’s surf school in Jiquilillo. Unfortunately, we were both pretty tired and ended up crashing in Choluteca, Honduras. The next day we bypassed Jiquilillo and went to Masaya, Nicaragua as I had heard they had a great market, and the next day we drove the short distance to San Juan del Sur. We stayed there for 2 nights, driving up to Playa Maderas to surf the very fun but ultra cold, crowded, and small waves. Finally, our next (and last, for awhile) stop was our future home of Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica.
Some Observations On Each Central American Border Crossing
Mexico-Guatemala (La Mesilla-Ciudad Cuauhtémoc border)
Note: Easiest and quickest border crossing, they didn’t even check our car
Fees: $2-3 per person to enter, $20 for car permit, $2 for car fumigation
Guatemala-El Salvador (La Hachadura border)
Note: Longest border crossing wait, perhaps because we crossed on a Saturday and/or because there were many truckers going through
Fees: No fees to enter El Salvador for us or vehicle, $5 municipal fee
El Salvador-Honduras (El Amatillo border)
Note: Definitely the most “sketchy” feeling border, we were practically assaulted by about 10 guys who latched on to our car and were all shouting at the same time because they wanted us to hire them to be our border-crossing guide
Fees: $3 per person to enter (as well as to leave the country, though there probably shouldn’t have been), $25 for car permit, $3 for car fumigation
Honduras-Nicaragua (San Marcos de Colon-El Espino border)
Note: Very mellow and small border crossing area; the only place we were given the option to pay an official off if we didn’t want them to spend all day searching our car
Fees: $6 per person to enter, $12 for car permit, $3.75 for fumigation
Nicaragua-Costa Rica (Peñas Blancas-La Cruz border)
Notes: Kind of confusing border crossing (honestly, Costa Rica, I expected better) but relatively easy and pain-free process
Fees: No fees to enter per person, $12 for car insurance