Mexico and Central America Ride Planning and Road Wisdom

Discussion in 'Americas' started by Jeff Munn, May 30, 2006.

  1. slideways

    slideways permanent ex-pat

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    The best method other than living in a Spanish speaking country to learn Spanish is the Rosetta Stone Spanish Speaking CD's.

    The more Spanish you know the better your experience south of the border will be.
    #41
  2. pilot

    pilot Slacker Moderator Super Moderator

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    I second that. Traveling by myself without knowing hardly any Spanish made me feel isolated, even in crowds. A weeks worth in Guatemala last winter really helped, but next trip I'm doing the emersion route for two or three weeks. :thumb
    #42
  3. ldeikis

    ldeikis Dirty daydreamer

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    I agree on both counts. I took a few years of high school spanish years ago and was blown away by both how much I remembered and how much more fun I had being able to flounder through conversations (this was on a trip to costa rica). I think being confident and not giving a damn if I looked like a fool helped, too. Since this trip is longer I borrowed a rosetta stone CD from a buddy and wow--amazing how you retain stuff learned that way. It takes a bit of discipline to make yourself consistently do a lesson a night (or whatever) but man, I can talk about children leaping off picnic tables til I'm blue in the face. I didn't get to the part where they try to explain that they've blown a seal in their KLRs shock absorber, though. Maybe that's in the third CD?

    :huh

    Luke
    #43
  4. Lone Rider

    Lone Rider Registered User

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    Everybody is different in regards to how they soak it up and use what they've learned.

    A few years ago while eating breakfast in Batopilas, hardybaker told me that if I didn't learn some spanish I was cheating myself. I don't mind traveling in countries where i don't understand the language, but knew he was right. And because I planned to start spending more time south of the border I decided to take a few classes.

    I did a week (5 days) of 3 hrs per day in San Cristobal a couple of years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. After I got back home, it felt like it was all lost, but on my next trip things kinda clicked again.

    Last year I did another week of 4 hrs per day in Antigua and that was fun. More was clicking and I would engage the locals more often.

    IMHO, one week isn't nearly enough, but I can't stay in one place for very long. I think 2 weeks of classes would be worth 3x 1 week in comprehension. Using (or at least trying to) is the key. Don't be shy and don't be afraid of seeming stupid. 99% of the people are helpful.
    Try asking for WD-40 (in what Spanish you know) in a ferreteria and watch the counter guys laugh. :D

    I'm planning to do another 4 hr per day week in both Oaxaca and in Grenada this winter.

    Donde esta la tienda economica parra muchas cervezas frias?
    #44
  5. Django Loco

    Django Loco Banned

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    Or....?Donde se queda una tienda que se vende cerveza bien fria y muy barrata?

    Lone, you are right, 5 days is not going to get it. Emersion only works if your emersed for at least a couple months and already have a good basic high school Spanish background. Best to find a night class or weekends
    or whatever at a local community college or high school.

    I've not tried the Rosetta Stone but I hear its quite good. But IMO, nothing
    can beat a really good language teacher. I've had many, started in
    7th grade in Spanish and took it all the way through college. A good teacher
    can change your whole experience.

    If you get a bum teacher....leave....go find a better one who has a very good
    sense of humor. They are out there.
    Spanish class is FUN! And its taught everywhere, not expensive.

    :deal
    #45
  6. Gustavo

    Gustavo Motociclista Errante

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    You guys are pretty funny. Spanish is a very easy language and it's written using the same Roman alphabet you already know (well, some of you know :lol3). Try traveling in China by yourself without knowing Chinese. Now think what it was like 10 years ago, when most Chinese you met didn't know any western languages (actually, I still find that to be the case, save for younger people) and the signs were exclusively in Chinese. :eek1

    Kidding aside, I have a good idea what some of you guys face when traveling south of the border. First time I went to China I got a whole new appreciation for what it was like to be illiterate, only I was illiterate and, for all practical purposes, mute and def because I had no ability to communicate verbaly with most people either. It was a good incentive to learn Chinese. :deal Should have no excuse not to learn some Spanish. It really is easy compared to Chinese. :evil

    Gustavo
    #46
  7. union7

    union7 Adventurer

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    Would it be a useful idea to pre-print answers IN SPANISH to typical questions that one may get asked at the border....people feel free to sugest what those answers may be (oh there are jokes in there me-thinks!)....:ear
    #47
  8. pilot

    pilot Slacker Moderator Super Moderator

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    Hmmm. I doubt it would be that helpful. You would need to have the questions with them and be able to understand the questioner for it to work. Many times, the person on the other side talks fast and is really hard to understand.

    The best thing is to understand the process and what is needed as far as paperwork goes. Then have them ready along with copies. You need your passport, drivers license, title to the bike, and mutiple copies of each. Be sure to double check the vehicle import permits for errors. If the VIN isn't right, you will have a hard time at the next border. I found out about an error trying to leave Guatemala once. They put the title number in place of the VIN. It took about fifteen minutes to figure it out.
    #48
  9. Lone Rider

    Lone Rider Registered User

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    Good advice.
    It's very easy to have a Z and 2 mixed up....been there.
    They speak way too fast for me and I have to slow them down by asking for one word at a time...:D The important words, that is.
    They know the process well and can help direct/point you. Most crossings are 'you' first and then the vehicle, but not always.
    It's normal for bikes to go to the front when there's a long line of vehicles.
    Know the exchange rates for every country you plan to visit - and not just US$ to theirs, although a little math will accomplish the same thing.
    #49
  10. Bicycle Phil

    Bicycle Phil Been here awhile

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    Great thread! Thanks Jeff

    Sooo...bump it is.

    I just read/skimmed through and will get a chance to put a lot of this advice to good practice soon.
    #50
  11. Jeff Munn

    Jeff Munn Just along for the ride..

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    Thought they could use this so I bumped it up.
    #51
  12. MJS

    MJS Long timer

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    My wife, daughter and I are leaving Feb 1 for a 2 month trip to Panama. I asked you if you thought this was doable in your original thread. (You said yes, so it's all your fault :D ).

    Anyway, your information has been invaluable. I definitely owe you a beer if our paths ever cross.

    Thanks,
    #52
  13. possum

    possum Possum

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    Best CA information guide I have seen yet. I only wish I had this available before my trip to Panama, it would have made the trip much smoother.
    #53
  14. Scalzitti

    Scalzitti Adventure Driven

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    THANKS! I'm planning a trip for the fall. I'll be using this post as a reference point for my trek. Nice that you took the time to compile this.
    #54
  15. MJS

    MJS Long timer

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    IIRC Jeff asked that this become an interactive thread. In the spirt of giving back to the ADV community, I am posting my experiences crossing borders on my recent trip to Panama. These were our personal experience, things can and do change. hopefully this will make it easier or help someone else out. YMMV

    Mexico to Guatemala, La Messill

    Do not stop on the Mexico side. As you enter Guatemala, there will be a fumigation stop. 12.50Q to have the vehicle sprayed, Next stop is immigration on the right. Here they confirmed we had an entry stamp for Mexico and then stamped our passport for Guatemala. Just south of immigration is Aduanna (next to the bank). We were asked for our passports and Mexico import permit. After they do the paperwork, go next door to the bank and pay 40Q then back to Aduana. Our time for two motos, about an hour.

    Guatemala into El Salvador at La Hachadura (Hwy 2)

    I found this border to be a bit more confusing although the officials spoke a little English. I ended up paying a helper $15 to save me the trouble of wandering around looking for the right office.

    As you leave Guatemala stop at the immigration office on the left side of the road to have your passport exit stamped. Cross the bridge to where there will be a waiting Salvador official who will check you passports. There are two blue buildings ahead. Trucks go all the way to the right; we went in the middle and parked.

    First stop is copies at 10 cents each. Located in the middle of the building on the left (east side), follow the signs. Have small bills, as they could not make change for a $20 when I was there and I had to ask a moneychanger to break my 20. You will need two copies of the following: Passport with Guatemala exit stamp, Guatemala SAT (vehicle import document) and vehicle registration (you can bring this from home if you want).

    Cross the street to the west building, go around to the other side where the truck dock is. Go to window 4 or 5 with the copies where they will process your Guatemala vehicle exit (Yea, you’re already in El Salvador)). The clerk inspected our bike’s VIN number at the end of this process

    Next step is to get your bike into El Salvador. Back to the building on the east side. Go through the same entrance as for copies but turn to the right for customs. They will want your passports and paperwork from the last window. They also asked if we had any food and what we were carrying (camera, tools, computer, etc.) for the customs declaration.

    Another inspection of the VIN numbers.

    Back to the building on the west, this time to window 1, 2 or 3. Here you will get your official importation document. I was able to process everything for two bikes up to this point; here the rider of each vehicle must sign the import paper. This could mean multiple trips to the window if you do not have someone to watch your gear.

    That’s it for paperwork. Total cost, 0 (except $1 for copies). We went to immigration station also because I could not believe that they would not want to stamp our passports. Nope, we were done. In addition, even though we said we were transiting through, they gave us a two-month permit.

    Next stop was the exit gate where they checked our import permit and the municipal tax collector extracted a $5 fee for each bike.



    El Salvador to Honduras at CA1

    The Honduran reputation for bureaucracy is well deserved. Leaving El Salvador you will need a copy of your Salvador import paperwork. First, a trip to the copy store. The officials in El Salvador were very helpful, even walking us from window to window. Copy in hand; it was trip to the inspection station for VIN verification. Once stamped, we were off and across the bridge into Honduras. Ignore any helpers around here.

    First stop is immigration a blue building situated in the middle of the road, Lots of money changers hanging around here. Passports produced, it was on to the vehicle importation maze. The first Aduano is about 500 feet from immigration. Park on the right where there is another blue building. Down a walkway to the first office where you will need two copies of your passport, drivers license and registration or title. In our case, they would not accept copies of the registration without seeing the original. We made color copies of all original documents before leaving and these were accepted (a little color goes a long way). The clerk will handwrite in the information on a multipart 9A-1 form and stamp your passport

    Take the completed form all the way across the street to a little window hidden behind a telephone pole. Pay $10 usd per vehicle for the clerk to type the form into the computer. Take the completed paperwork to the bank in the center building (between exit and entry lanes) and pay 532 Lempira ($28.50) per vehicle). Go to the window located south of the bank in the same center building for more processing. Get two copies of everything (stamped passport, international drivers license and bank receipt.

    Take all of this back to the first clerk for more stamps. At this point you should be finished and can head to the official at the inspection station, about ΒΌ mile down the road. There you will be asked for your passport and importation paperwork. Once your are past that point, you can go on your way.

    A note about our crossing, we elected to use a helper. No one in our goup had a good grasp of Spanish and unlike El Salvador; the officials were not very helpful. While waiting at immigration, we met a couple from El Salvador who lived in San Francisco. They were very helpful in negotiation the services we expected for our money. We found it best to negotiate for the total cost ($38.50 plus the helper’s fee). Pay all the fees yourself and then give the helper what is left at the end. We negotiated a rate of $20 per bike. While this might be a little steep, we spent less than 2-1/2 hours to exit El Salvador and enter Honduras. There are plenty of stories of 3 and 4 hour crossings into Honduras Compared to the time we would have spent trying to find our way around and the translation help, it was worth it to us. Our helper also got the clerk to process our paperwork after their lunch period had started. When we got to the final inspection station, we realized one document had not been stamped. The helper ran back and got it stamped while we waited. We may have been lucky; I would be very careful and always keep track of your own documents. You can decide for yourself if you want to use a helper


    Honduras to Nicaragua via Chouloteca

    We arrived at the border at 9:30 am on a Friday morning. This was an easy crossing as we were almost the only ones there. Leaving Honduras there is a blue building on the left for immigration. Go into the building and around to the side facing the northbound road. There is a window for Honduras where you will get your exit stamp and pay another $3 USD per person. When done there, move one window to the right for Nicaragua immigration. You will need to fill out another CA immigration form, and pay $7 USD per person.

    Drive across the bridge and look for the Aduana building. It will have a large truck dock and you will drive right into the parking lot. Take your passport, driver’s license and original registration to the window located on the truck dock (after you enter the building, turn right and go up the steps to the dock). We requested transit permits and did not have to pay anything here. You can buy the required insurance policy here or at another stop down the road (see below). We elected to buy it here. That was it, took us less than 45 minutes including the insurance.

    After you leave the customs area you will be stopped 3 times and have to present all of your paperwork. At the last stop, you will need to pay a $1 USD per person municipal tax.

    The pavement on the road south is in bad shape. We had no trouble with the motos except for the trucks. They will weave all around trying to avoid the potholes. This requires extra care when passing as they do not look in their mirrors before weaving.


    Nicaragua to Costa Rica on CA1

    There is only one crossing into Costa Rica. As you leave Nicaragua you will be stopped first by the municipal tax collector for $1 USD per person. If you have not done so already, make one copy of the Nicaraguan vehicle import permit. You will need this for Costa Rica Aduana.

    Take the road around the blue building to the left (follow the signs for Autos) and park on the east side of the building. Behind you will be another building where the busses park. Go to the east side of this building to the Nicaragua exit (Salida) window. They will want to see your passport and papers. The official will give you a small slip of paper (we’ll call this the exit slip) which will be stamped at multiple locations.

    You need to find the customs inspector to have your exit slip stamped. He is located in an inspection room which faces the bus dock. This room had three rows of long tables (but no sign over the door).

    Now take all of your paperwork to the building you were facing when you parked. Enter on the north side into a room with multiple windows. Start at the first window to the left. Here you will pay an exit fee of $2 USD. You will process through all three stations getting many stamps on your exit slip.

    Once you have everything stamped you can drive to the exit station. Circle around the bus building and follow the road south. The official at the station will check your documents and keep the exit slip and your vehicle permit.

    Congratulations, you’re out of Nicaragua.

    When you get to the Costa Rican immigration building pull to the left and park. Find the immigration office (to the north of the restaurant) and get a SICA form from the guard. Take this form to the end of the line and fill it out while waiting. This line can be long; when we got there, two busses had just unloaded. An hour later, there were only 8 people in line. The immigration officer will stamp your passports.

    As you leave the immigration office stop at the seguro (insurance) office before you go out the door. You will need copies of your passport, registration, driver’s license, Nicaraguan vehicle permit (you did make a copy didn’t you?) and your Costa Rican insurance. There is a copy machine in the office for this. Pay $7281 colones (about $14 USD) per bike plus $50 colones per copy. Take all of this directly across the street to Aduana. Fill out and sign the import form and your done here.

    Last stop is for fumigation on your way out of the border station. $2.50 USD per bike.


    Costa Rica into Panama via Rio Sereno

    This is the ADVRider crossing, YMMV. Expect no one to be in front of you at the border but it is a time consuming detour off CA1. I considered the drive itself to be worth the detour. You will drive directly into Panama without being stopped. It is up to you to find the correct offices and process your paperwork. (there are several roads to Rio Serno from Costa Rica, the process is the same no matter how you get there.

    Take the turn-off of CA2 at San Luis for San Vita. The two-lane road to San Vito varies from good pavement to potholed to loose gravel and washboard dirt. From San Vito head toward Sabalito. Take the road to Union from Sabalito. At the time of our crossing this road was a rocky, rutted jeep trail with some large potholes. As you approach Union the road will fork to the right and head steeply downhill. If you look to the right you will see an antenna tower. The tower is your destination. Follow this road into a valley and back up the other side. It will come out in the town of Rio Sereno, Panama. Go right through the town until you see a road to the right leading up towards the tower. Turn right and go past the two pest control stations to the building just past the police station. Here you will be stamped out of Costa Rica.

    Head back towards the pest control station and make a right down the dirt road to the Super Ahorro Market. Buy two tourist stamps for $10 USD ($5 each). Directly across from the market is Aduana for Panama. Just north of Aduana is the Panama immigration office.

    Present your passports and tourist stamps to the immigration office. Once your passport is stamped, go back to Aduana for your vehicle permit. They will want copies of your passport, registration and drivers license. After you have your permit, your bike needs to be fumigated. The fumigation office is in the same office as immigration. The fumigation fee is $1 per bike. located at the pest control station on the right. Head back through town the way you came and turn right at the intersection where you entered town. This will get you headed out of town on Panama 42, a great twisty mountain road with good pavement. As always, watch out for oncoming drivers who use the entire road.

    We were second on the scene of a head-on accident on this road. Two totaled cars but no major injuries.
    A special note about this crossing; we were allowed to keep all of our Costa Rican documents for our return trip. We simply said we did not know if we were going to return at the same crossing.


    Nicaragua to Honduras via Choulateca.

    This is the same crossing we used to exit Honduras. The procedure is the reverse of above. We crossed late on a Tuesday afternoon. The crossing was un-crowded except for the “helpers”. It took us a little more than an hour to enter Honduras. The Honduran customs agent spoke good English and was very helpful.


    Honduras to Guatemala via Copan.

    This may be the best option for entering or leaving Honduras. We crossed on a Saturday morning. There was no traffic, no “helpers” and only a couple of money changers who didn’t bother us. It took us about 45 minutes to exit Honduras and enter Guatemala.

    Guatemala customs, both immigration offices and the bank are contained in two small buildings located next to each other. Exiting Honduras, stop at Honduras Aduana and get your vehicle out. Then 100 meters down the road is the immigration office. We parked right in front of the office, look for No Parking signs. To the exit immigration window for Honduras, pay $1 per person. Second window over is Guatemala immigration. Then walk next door to Guatemala customs. One copy of registration and passport required (we made these in advance). After the official types the form, take the form and walk back to the bank next to the immigration windows) and pay Q40 per bike. Take form back to Aduana and finish the paperwork. You’re done. You will need to show the paperwork to the official at the gate. Reverse this procedure for entry to Honduras.


    Guatamala to Mexico at Talisman bridge.

    Processed the Honduras out paperwork at the Aduana building in the center of the road. Took Jeff's advice and didn't stop on our way back into Mexico. Special note: This border is reported to be open 24 hours. That may be true for immigration but the Aduana office did not open until 8 a.m. We had to wait a half hour due to an early arrival on our part. Plan accordingly.
    #55
  16. Muleboy

    Muleboy Been here awhile

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    Great information! I am so happy that this has resurfaced. I am planning on going to Panama and back Jan 08 and this information appears to be invaluable. Thanks for all of the hard work!
    By the way I am doing my trip solo so far but I am looking for someone to go with. PM me if interested.
    #56
  17. pilot

    pilot Slacker Moderator Super Moderator

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    Depending on timing, I may be able to ride some of the way with you. I'm not planning on going on to Panama, but probably atleast as far as Honduras.
    #57
  18. Lone Rider

    Lone Rider Registered User

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    There's an established crossing via boat between San Carlos and Las Chiles, by the SE end of the lake.
    My maps also show a road along the Pacific Coast, but I do not know if it's an 'official' crossing point.
    #58
  19. pilot

    pilot Slacker Moderator Super Moderator

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    We tried the coast road last year, no go. Got to see San Juan Del Sur, though. :D
    #59
  20. Lone Rider

    Lone Rider Registered User

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    Did the road just end, was it blocked, etc?
    It's shown on 3 different maps I have, from a track to a real road.
    #60