This is the practical and hopefully useful entry regarding the mechanics of borders and countries, going from the states to Panama.
My advice for the copies etc is to have a back up set of everything in a separate place from the originals, but trying to make enough copies ahead of time is
not really helpful, since there will need to be copies of passport stamps that are done on site, and in general, if there is a need for a copier, there will
be a little shop that will be open and happy to make as many copies as you need for less than a buck.
When it comes to converting money, through Central America the only country where I did not try to use USDs was Guatemala; everywhere else you can use
dollars and get change in local currency. perhaps the same is true in Guatemala, I did not try there.
Crossing the border at Reynosa is relatively easy: for cars and bikes, keep all the way over to the left, and stop outside the banjercito office. There, you
can make the copies and pass the migracion office. 7 days permission to drive in mexico is free; however there is a 29 peso fee for migracion. for more time,
there is a 20 usd fee I believe. As far as I have heard having insurance is necessary in Mexico; however on my trip down I was stopped several times and
never asked for proof. The route one takes through Mexico will of course be a big factor in what to expect in terms of road condition, accommodation, local
attitude etc. I took the freeway most of the way straight down the coast- highway 180- through tampico, to poza rica, veracruz, and then down toward
acayucan, to connect with highway 185/190/200, crossing into Guatemala at Talisman.
The crossing into Guatemala was easy enough- but there are lots of would-be guides, all wanting to help with paper work, all wanting a tip. For Central
American borders, just remember: Migracion out of one country, customs out of same country, migracion into next country, customs into next country. Try to
keep the bike and gear in sight, but in general there will be guards etc and if you can leave your stuff near one of these, you will probably be fine as you
go from officer to officer, making copies and getting things taken care of. Official charges for entering Guatemala were 52 local currency, about 10 usd. The
crossing at Talisman took me about 2 hours, in the middle of the day. The roads out in the outer part of the country were sketchy at, with the normal hazards
of potholes, topes, cows and pedestrians. However, the closer one gets to Guatemala city, the better the roads seem to get. I drove to Antigua in about four
or five hours; the first hour of the trip was laborous, but after that the roads were fast and good, and quiet enjoyable to ride.
Border info for crossing Guatemala to El Salvador: I arrived at 9:00 and was greeted by "helpers", as at the Guatemala border- but they were not overly pushy
or unpleasant. The papers that the Guatemalans gave me were exactly what were needed, and it was fairly simple to get the nec documents processed. there was
no line to speak of, and even better, no fee for customs There was a 2 usd fee for leaving Guatemala. However, there was a five dollar fee charged a little
later on, after leaving the office, but before the officer would let me into the country. this was fine. overall, it took less than two hours to check out of
Guatemala, and into El Salvador.
El Salvador was a quick and beautiful drive. Going along the coast, and then inland from La Libertad, I followed CA-1 most all of the way. The things to
watch for are cows on the road, and occasional curves that are sharper than the norm- but in general, if you like the twisties, this is a wonderful little
country to drive through. People cautioned me about the stickiness of crossing El Salvador, and some recommended making the extension through Honduras to
avoid El Salvador altogether. Perhaps I was lucky or perhaps the situation has changed; in any event I can say that I had no trouble at all with transiting
through El Salvador.
I arrived at the border with Honduras just as the sun was setting. At first I thought that the paper work was going to be easy- I had to go over to the
administrator, who is in a different office, and give her the docs, then after she stamped and checked everything, I DID have to get photo copies- I needed
16: two each of reg, title, passports one and two, lic, permission from El Salvador, plus four of a form that she made for me. This was the most invovled and
frustrating crossing of the cetral american section of the trip. but there is a place there as there always is I suppose to make the copies, and I got 16 for
$1. the cost for entering the country was $35- seems crazy high to me, but that was it, and the official said it was the same for all, no matter if in
transit or not.
Honduras was passed at night- it is an easy run, and although everyone was warning me about security, I did not have any encounters that would make me
nervous- besides all the pedestrians on the road, animals(domestic), curves, sometimes aggressive drivers(high beam game). I asked for directions 4 times in
the area of choluteca, and eventually came the way I wanted to, even with this, it took me just under 160 klicks- about 90 miles- to cross the country. There
are plenty of police check points in Honduras, especially at night- but the traffic is light, and in general, if you have the nerve to cross this country at
night, it will fly by.
Crossing the border to Nicaragua was easy. Be sure that you are waiting in the right line- and that the people in the office know where you are going/that
you are not a trucker. They bumped me to the front of the line to get checked out of Honduras, and then another klick down the road is the office for
entering Nicaragua. It is pretty easy- first go to the aduana, and there they do not need any photo cpies. wow, its great. it took the woman less than 10 min
I would say to fill out the forms, and then only to go to the migration window, which is in the same building, down at the other end from the aduana. it cost
seven bucks and took another ten minutes, now again this is at ten pm, so there were no other drivers to speak of, but in general, I felt like it was a
labor intensive but if slow time of the day easy system. There were military men greeting me on my arrival to Nicaragua, they just seemed interested in what
the trip was etc and did not give me any trouble at all. The fee to get into Nicaragua was 7 usd; ten minutes on the road, and police discovered I did not
have a local insurance policy. they fined me ten usd on the spot, and let me continue on to the next town- chinandega- where I would need to buy it. was able
to buy a policy pretty easy, for 12 bucks. foto copies- 1 cord each- 5cents or so, pretty easy, but only for Nicaragua, not both Nicaragua and Costa Rica,
like the officer said. So the lesson: buy a seguro (insurance policy) at the border when crossing into Nicaragua.
Roads were good to leon, (through Chinendega), but not far after that I took what was supposed to be the direct route to Managua(according to the signs), and
devolved into a semi-paved, pot holed, deserted track through the breathtakingly beautiful Nicaragua countryside. Perfect. I felt bad and at the same time
confident about not stopping for the road workers who whistled and waved me down, I am sure with the best intentions, for a tip. I didn't care- its not
prudent stopping out in the middle of nowhere with no other signs of civilization around- even if it is the middle of the day. Three places they called for
me to stop, and three times I rolled. After reaching Managua, and only just passing the population sign, then turning about, I was again on the CA-2, heading
south. Soon, there were changing environs from the lush tranquil hilly/mountainy area that I had traveled in the morning, to a windswept, high plains feeling
The border with Costa Rica opens at 6.30, but you can pay the 1$ exit charge before the border opens.
The system is pretty easy, pay the one dollar exit charge mentioned, check with the officer, proceed to the left, check in with migration, 2 usd for us
citizens. In the same area, get the police and the aduana personel to check the car/bike and then take the paper to the office adjacent to the migration
building there for another stamp. Proceed across the border, and in CR everything is pretty easy, and to me seemed logical. A few minutes to get the
migration, directly across the road through the complex is the aduana, after getting seguro in the same building with the migration. From there it is
necessary to go to get permission from the aduana bus, with the papers already given you there at the first stop. This was the least normal step- located
around at the back of a lot full of semis, a tech bus with people working at computers giving out permission. It took them 20 min to process me, and there
was no line- I could imagine this being a huge headache and sticking point later in the day or when more busy. Roads in CR are great so far, but there are
strong winds, left over from across the lake, potentially dangerous, blowing one off the road. good easy gas station a short way up the hill, 3 clicks past
the border. Hundreds of semis waiting to cross the border- to pass the rigorous drug check.
On the inter-american, after palmar in Costa Rica, the road realy goes to hell- there is no telling when a bad pothole will show up, and it was pure good
luck that I did not drive that section at night. Basically, the surface is good and it is possible to avoid the holes, but it is good to have light to see
Crossing into Panama:
stop at the first building, get migration, stamp and vehicle permit, processed in same area: there should be an option to suspend or cancel your permit, for
CR, depends if you will be back in 3 mo. or less or not. Then go to the next office, in Panama, first migration: for me, I had to check in at the window,
take my passport and the ticket that they gave me to another window, pay five bucks, come back and get stamped.
Then to get the seguro, you have to go either one office, directly across and in sight, or to another one which is 150 meters off to the right, through a
small market area, into a restaurant, up the stairs, and there you can find the copies and no-line seguro vendor. When you come back you need to go up the
stairs of the round central section of the migration / aduana area, get the one paper stamped that you will have from seguro, then downstairs to the office
where they will process the permission. They will need your destination, and a couple of signatures, this will take another half hour depending on the time
of the day etc. this is where the truckers are, and you may need to wait, but in general it seemed pretty efficient.
I just took the papers that they gave me from the aduana office, headed down the road, without ever physically checking with an officer. there is a check
about 5 mi down the road, but no one ever verified that the vehicle was infact the one mentioned there on the papers. Very nice trip in Panama, divided
highway as far as David, after that it goes to hell a bit and especially for the last 70 km before Santiago, the road is cracked cement, with gaps large
enough to cause serious concern.
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