The Mega Drive

Adventure driving at its finest is about the only way I can describe what we’ve been up to since our last post in Ecuador. After a gorgeous sunset, a full body massage at the spa in Vilcabamba (which is its own funny story…) and a few stimulating games of giant chess, we set out into the unknown in a big way. What would follow was over 1000 kilometers of dirt, mud, landslides, water crossings, bush camping, remote border crossings, construction, fog, rain and more taking us from the Amazon to the Andes to the Peruvian desert to the Pacific Ocean. I think we truly found the middle of nowhere during this adventure and couldn’t be happier with the Craggin’ Wagon’s ability to bring us through it all. (more…)

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Peru

Border: Zumba, Ecuador – Peru

We drove from Vilcabamba south to Zumba and crossed at the more remote of the Peruvian borders. It was pretty gnarly driving in the dry season, I can’t even imagine how it would go in the rainy season. Plan on 2-3 days of adventure driving in the middle of nowhere before reaching Chachapoyas.

Ecuador Side

  • Several buildings, each labeled, in a row on the left before bridge.  First one is Aduanas, park right in front.
  • Need copies and originals of registration/title, license, vehicle permit.  (If you don’t have a copy of vehicle permit before border there is a copy place on the Peru side.)
  • Aduana’s will stamp the vehicle out.
  • Migracion next, for our stamps.  You should have an entry paper with you to hand over from the Ecuador entry.

Peru Side

  • Cross the bridge and park before gate on bridge.
  • Go to Migracion, which is the 3rd building on the left.  Fill out the form they give you, both parts.  (They will want your whole name on the form, anything that is included in your passport.)  There is a money amount that you are planning on spending.  They did not require us to fill this part out. If they do require you to fill this out, we have heard the amount you claim can dictate the number of days you can stay.
  • Walk left and down a gravel road to police building to have them validate everything.  He will enter stuff from passport into computer and stamp the form that they gave you.
  • Return to Migracion for passport stamp.  Keep exit portion of paper for exit out of the Peru.
  • Go back to first building that you are parked in front of for Aduanas.  You will need original and copy of registration/title, driver’s license, driver’s passport.
  • He will check plates, VIN number, and look in vehicle.  Then he will type a bunch of information into the computer and give you a vehicle permit.
  • Fill out another sheet of information with your email address and thumbprint. They keep with a copy of your permit.

We ran into at least 15 water crossings, some mud stretches that we could not have slowed or stopped in without getting stuck, and a lot of construction clearing numerous landslides and other things. The border was very chill though. We had been given the wrong information on our paperwork by the northern Ecuadorian border.  For some reason they had us exiting the same border we entered. Also you should be given an a slip of paperwork that you filled out at the northern border, they did not give us this. So the immigration office was very confused. However, everyone was very nice and worked everything out with us.

We had seen other blogs mention that insurance is mandatory, but nobody has mentioned it to us.  None is offered at the border. We’ve been stopped several times and were not required to show it during paperwork checks either. According to Life Remotely, if you have a valid insurance policy in your home country, this can count as well. As a precaution I printed the law Life Remotely quoted on their site and my insurance from home an keep it with our vehicle paperwork.

Our Route

Peru Tips

  • Driving from Zumba to San Ignacio is a pretty long drive after a border crossing due to dirt roads and twisty mountains. We stayed in Jaen at a hostel right as we got into town. Right next to hostel Diamond. The place we stayed at only charged 25S and had secure parking.
  • Instead of going all the way to Chachapoyas, we should have stopped prior at the city of Gocta for the large waterfall (we had to backtrack from Chachapoyas to see it). Here there is a nice lodge and plenty of places to park. Ticket entrance for the hike is 10S per person. The rules do say you need a guide but we just started to follow people down the road and went for the very obvious hike without one as many other people did.
  • You could skip Chachapoyas by staying at the Gocta Falls and then driving straight to the Kuelap ruins and camping there before the long, long drive to Cajamarca.
  • Kuelap ruins is 70-80 km from Chachapoyas. We camped for free after paying the admission fee to the ruins. The people there directed our car to be under the lights. The bathrooms at the office are locked at night. Entrance fee was S. 15 pp.
  • Huanchaco is the place to go if you want to surf or be by the sea. Overlanders can get electricity and camping at a place called Haunchaco Gardens and RV park. Fee is 20S per person. You get showers, bathrooms, a great chill spot, good WIFI, and electricity is 2 extra soles.  We then moved to camp in front of another excellent hostel in the same town called La Gringa owned by a gal named Julia from Kansas. You can camp on the beach or parked in front of her hostel and use services as well. It was S.15 for both of us per day. Also hit up Surf Burger for a proper US style burger. You get a burger with whatever you want on it, including bacon and eggs, french fries (that are awesome), a shot of whatever alcohol he has on hand, and a soda; all for S.15. The guy is from New York and is a biker as well, so here is a shout out for him!

Salkantay & Machu Picchu Tips

  • The Inka trail requires booking in advance, the Salkantay can easily be booked when you arrive.
  • Machu Picchu + Huayana requires booking a few weeks in advance, Machu Picchu + MP Mountain can be booked when you arrive.
  • The Salkantay could be done self supported a lot easier than we initially thought. Each camp is at a little town, more or less, with tiendas selling basic snacks and drinks. This would significantly reduce pack weight not needing 3-5 days worth of food up front.
  • To shorten the Salkantay but not miss the best parts, take transports all the way to Soraypampa, spend the night there, and hike the pass to Chaullay on day 1. From here you can take transports all the way to Hydroelectrica if you desire. Personally, I would continue hiking from Chaullay to Playa or Santa Teresa on day 2 – there’s a nice trail. From there you’re on the main road to Hydroelectrica, hike or transport.
  • If you do hike the entire thing, stay an extra day in Aguas Calientes and book your MP ticket for the following day – you’ll have more fun at Machu Picchu if you’re not exhausted and your legs are fresh. Plus, Aguas Calientes is a pretty unique town to see.
  • For details of our experience, photos, and stats, see our two part blog post: Salkantay & Machu Picchu.

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Mexico

Border: USA – Tiajuana, Mexico

  • Be careful not to just drive right through, they will often wave you through and ask for nothing if you have American plates.
  • Pull over where they check peoples cars and get your passport stamped in the building. You can change money here too.
  • You can import your vehicle here if you like or wait till the ferry from La Paz to Mazatlan. Cost is approx. $200, returned to you once you successfully export it out of the country.
  • You’ll need to stop somewhere before you cross into the Baja Sur and purchase mandatory insurance for the country.

Our Route

USA and The Baja


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Mainland


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Mexico Tips

Coming soon…

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Colombia

Border: Colon – Cartagena

For shipping information refer to our The Darien Gap – Shipping Your Rig section. The border here is a piece of cake if you sail the San Blas Islands. Basically, the vehicle export part is handled during the shipping process. The passports are handed over to the captain for sailing and when you get them back in Cartagena, they’re all stamped up and ready to go. Easy.

Our Route

Colombia Tips

  • Colombia is not the Colombia of 10 years ago you will hear horror stories about. The people are amazing, the roads are safe to drive with numerous checkpoints, and there are lots of places to camp and hostels/hotels that will accommodate for good prices.
  • Be prepared to spend a lot of money at the peajes! Virtually every road you can drive on in Colombia is a toll road. We went through dozens and dozens of them and they range from $4 to $7 a pop. We spent well over $100, prob closer to $200 just driving.
  • The Refugio de la Roca at the La Mojarra climbing area–whether you climb or not–is one of the most beautifully stunning hostel/camping places we have ever laid eyes on. Amazing place, exquisite views, and it’s built right on the side of the cliff. It’s between Bucaramanga and San Gil. Amazing, go there.
  • Suesca is the best climbing in Colombia and not to be missed if you have trad gear.
  • If you hike Monte Cerade in Bogota, don’t bring anything you care about with you (see our The Most Expensive Picture I’ve Ever Taken – Ups and Downs on the Road post)
  • Seemed like south of Cali it’s best to find a hotel or hostel with parking if you’re going to lay up in a city. Stealth camping on the streets of this area would be risky (and we stealth camped 100% of Mexico’s entirety). You look at the street during the night and not a single car will be seen anywhere. Everything is locked up tight behind iron and spikes. Fortunately, you can get a hotel room with private bath for $10 in this next of the woods. Take advantage, it’s a nice change of pace from camping and hostels.

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Ecuador

Border: Rumichaca, Colombia – Ecuador

Colombia Side

  • Drive past DIAN and immigration office to parking lot and park.
  • Go to DIAN and turn in temporary permit and copy of driver’s passport.
  • Go to immigration window and have passport stamped.

Ecuador Side

  • Before you get to the parking lot there is a military inspection point. We were inspected mostly out of curiosity than anything else. They will wave you to the parking lot.
  • Go to immigration and get stamped.
  • Go to aduana on the left corner of the building.
  • Hand over title/registration, color copy of driver’s passport, color copy of Ecuador passport stamp for driver, and a color copy of license. (When we crossed on a Sunday all copy places on Ecuador side were closed so we walked across the border and got copies there – cost a US $1).
  • They looked at VIN and car and then gave us a permit. Some people are asked to buy insurance but we were not.
  • Make sure they right down the correct border you plan to exit on your permit to avoid hassle leaving for Peru later.

We arrived Sunday, June 23, 2014 at 8:02am and were done on Colombia side at 8:27. We
were done by 9:16 with all border crossing. They used to do a dot matrix on the passports but
have since changed to stamping. The only thing that slowed us down was the need for color
copies and since we needed the passport stamp too we still would have had to do that part
anyway.

Our Route

Ecuador Tips

  • The roads are generally in excellent shape here. The gas, as I’m sure you know, is incredibly cheap ($1.48 p/gallon at time of writing). The occasional toll road only cost $1.
  • SuperMaxi tends to be a reliably good place to get grocery-store-style supplies that you won’t find at mercados and other typical vendors.
  • Quito has a great brewery called Bandito about 5 blocks from the hostels in the old town area. Legit, American style IPAs and Porters for a good price. Tell Ryan we sent you. Great people there.
  • Also in Quito you will find the Guayunga Hostel which has parking for your rig INSIDE there hostel’s courtyard. It’s $5 per night for the car and $3.50 per person/per night to stay. Super nice people, it’s right next to the Secret Garden if you like to party, and the brewery is right down the street. $1.25 grande cervezas don’t hurt either. Wifi reaches the parking and they have electrical for you if you have an extension cord. Bam.
  • Drive the Quilotoa Loop, any vehicle will make it (see below for details).

Quilatoa Loop Info for Overlanders

We camped in a parqueadero in Latacunga, got and early start, and drove to Saquisili for the market to begin the loop.

  • The Thursday morning market is huge!
  • Plaza de Animales is on your right as you leve the town, but you must go there first and early if you want to see all the animals
  • The market really is rip roaring by 10-11am.  Every inch of side walks and streets besides the 8 plazas are taken up by this market
  • Plaza de Gran Colombia has the handicrafts like the stuff sold in Otovalo and the men with old fashioned singer sewing machines all in a row.
  • If you need fruits/vegs/fish wait for this market

Saquisili to Toacaso: 7km

Toacaso – Sigchos: 47 km

Sigchos – Chugchilan: 23 km

In Chugchilan a lot of people stop at the Cloud Forest hostel. Nice people, camping accommodations for overlanders (we opted to drive through to Quilotoa and stay there).

Chugchilan – Quilotoa: 23 km

Quilotoa

  • Crater Lake (Must SEE)
  • Plenty of hostels to stay at if needed.
  • $2 per person entry fee at the gate to the town
  • Camping is easy, free with entry into the town, and the people are helpful to point out places to do so.

Quilotoa – Zumbahua: 12.5km

Zumbahua – Latacunga: 67.5 km

We did the whole route easily on about half a tank of gas.  We filled up on the highway just outside of Latacunga before heading to Saquisili, however we did notice the occasional gas station along the way if you do need gas.

Rd report: Mostly paved roads, with some easy gravel parts until you hit Chugchilan where it turns to very bumpy dirt roads with construction.  This road will be pretty awesome in the next year though. We made the dirt road without any problem without 4 wd.

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The Darien Gap – Shipping Your Rig

We’ll cover this in two sections. The first section is information about the planning and coordination process that I wish we could have read somewhere prior to diving into it for ourselves. The second section will cover the process and paperwork – though this is covered in a lot of other blogs, much of the information out there is several years or more old and the processes and port specifics have changed a bit. This information reflects shipping as of April, 2014.

Planning & Shipping

First off, if you’re planning to sail the San Blas to meet your vehicle on the other side (which we highly recommend), then your planning begins a month or more in advance. Better get on the ball in Costa Rica or lay up in Boquette or you’ll be in Panama City for a long time.

The trick to the planning is that you’ll have three things to coordinate. 1) A sailboat, 2) A Shipping Partner, and 3) The actual container.  The sailboat is important. Read up, talk to people, and decide what you are looking for. Do you want a big party boat with lots of people, or a small boat that doesn’t,  or something in between? Once you figure that out, check the schedules online or contact a booking agent like Mamallena’s Hostel and figure out when a boat that you’d like will be leaving. Then schedule your shipping around that. Sailing with your shipping partner is definitely not a bad thing either!

If you go through an agent, which seemed like a good deal to us, make sure you get a schedule from them in advance and that it coincides with your sailing. We used Tea & Amy and shipped out of the Manzillo port in Colon. Our inspection was on Monday (with Tuesday on standby in case anything went wrong), and we put the van in the container on Wednesday (with Thursday in case anything went wrong), and then we jumped on our sailboat early Friday morning. Our sailboat got in the same day as our container, though there is a little leeway to be had there. I really don’t think an agent is necessary on the other side – my container partner and I both got our vehicles out at the same time as a different couple that shipped with us out of Panama who paid for and used an agent on the Columbian side. Be ready to take some cabs between your hostel/hotel and the two main places stamping and paper issuing happen (the DIAN office and the port) and make sure you have all of the necessary documentation and paperwork with you as well as a pair of pants and shoes for the port when you sail – you will not be getting anything out of your vehicle until it is back in your possession on the other side!

We had read in some blogs to take all of your electronics with you because of the temps in the container. I thought this advice suspect, did some research, and determined that this is not necessary. Anything you want to leave in the vehicle will be fine. It will get hot, but not hotter than electronics can handle. The only exception to that would be batteries. They will not perform as well after being exposed to high temps, but even that isn’t a huge deal for the short amount of time they’ll be in the box. We took a camera and an iPad with us leaving everything else on board – no issues. This is all assuming that they’ll be safe which bring us to our next subject…

Many of the agents and big shipping companies ship from the Manzillo port now. They DO NOT allow you to put your vehicle in the container. This means handing over your keys to the people at the port… which gives them ample time to look around for things to steal. Not as bad as RORO, but not ideal either. Our largest gear container cannot be accessed from within the vehicle and can only be removed via the back doors which we chained shut and padlocked. That kept all of our climbing gear and items we couldn’t fit in our lock box safe. They didn’t take any of our loose kitchen stuff, etc, but we did leave a crappy pair of binoculars on the dash and they were gone when we pulled it out of the container on the Columbian side.

We learned after the process from our friends at SouthToNowhere that there is a second port with agents in Colon that allow you to drive in and lock the container yourself. Sounds pretty ideal and likely the best way to go.

Lastly, hostels book up quickly in Cartagena. It is wise to reserve a room/beds before you leave on your sailboat. We stayed at Mamallena’s on both sides. They were awesome, especially on the Panama side letting us park in front and actually sleep in the vehicles at a discount till we containered them. Because our shipping partners were in on it and we had been at the Panama hostel for a bit as well as sailing through them, they gave us a great deal on a private room on the Columbian side – and trust me, you’ll went a nice shower and some A/C after the sailboat!

Paperwork

Panama Side

We found using an agent helpful. We also heard that the main shipping companies will not deal with individuals but cannot verify if that is true as we didn’t bother to find out. If you use an agent the process will go something like this:

Day #1: Monday

Doing this step on Monday gives you more time to fix anything with your paperwork that might need fixing in order to still get your van shipped the same week. Also, inspections do not happen if it rains.

  • Inspection by police. Our agent had us meet at the Balboa Yaught club with other shippers. She then had us follow her to the place of inspection (this was a super sketchy area of town and our agent also warned us). Inspections only happen 9am and 10am Mon-Fri. Engine must be cold for inspection so open hood upon arrival.  You will need originals and one copy of the following for inspection: Driver’s passport, vehicle title, Panama permit, Panama Insurance. There is a place to make copies right across the street from inspection place but they do cost $0.25 a copy. The guy who inspected our car only verified the VIN but I have read many blogs where people are turned away for other issues with their paperwork. We gave our copies to the inspector and he kept them. We were told to go home and return across the highway later.
  • Return to inspection place – the next office is on the other side of the 6 lane highway. You turn over your passport or driver’s license to security at the gate in exchange for a visitor ID. Once inside, ask for the Permission Certificate Office, you will not find it on your own. Also, you do not need your car for this step, so taking a $3 taxi split between shipping partners is ideal. This office opens up at 2:30 and closes at 5. Get there at 2:30. Wear pants and closed toe shoes or you will not be allowed entry. Only the vehicle owner is needed.
  • The office will issue a Police Permission Certificate. They will need original and 1 copy: Driver’s passport, vehicle title, Panama vehicle permit, Panama Insurance. Definitely double check that everything is correct once you are issued your Permission Cert – our shipping partner had several errors on his including someone else’s passport number!
  • For the next step you will need 3 packets with the following information: Driver’s passport, vehicle title, Panama vehicle permit, Panama Insurance, Police Permission Certificate.
  • Our agent received and took care of the Bill of Lading

Day #2: Wednesday

I would do this on Wednesday if you have a choice so if anything again goes wrong you still have Thursday to fix things.

  • Meet with your agent. Drive to Colon.
  • Go to Aduana’s. Our agent added the Bill of Lading (she also had copies of this) to our packets. To reiterate, for packets you will need 3 copies: Driver’s passport, vehicle title, Panama vehicle permit, Panama Insurance, Police Permission Certificate.
  • Customs will enter information into a computer and stamp the driver’s passport so that you can leave the country without the car. Customs will keep one of the packets and give back 2 packets. They will stamp and sign all 3 packets.
  • Then you and the agent will go to a building with numerous windows. Our agent took the paperwork and got the necessary stamp at an unlabeled window.
  • Port fee: $64, paid at another window with a receipt that you need to keep. Agent then gave us one of the copies of packet for our reference.
  • Drive vehicles into an inspection/parking area. Only drivers are allowed in here with agent. They will inspect the vehicle and then have a drug dog go through it. You are no longer allowed to drive your own car into the container if you ship through this port, so we had to hand over the keys. Remove anything on the dash or front that is within easy access. They don’t have a lot of time to go through your stuff we were told, but they did take some handy binoculars that we left on our dash. We had locked everything of significant value in the back.
  • Pay agent: $990
  • Take taxi home. All of this was completed before 2pm! Our agent was really on top of everything and I highly recommend her. This was Amy, Tea’s daughter. Taxi ride home was $65-85 split between however many people who took the taxi.

Cartagena Side

There are basically two places you need to go, the port and the DIAN office.

  • Start at the port, go to your shipping company’s window/office and get your new bill of lading for the Columbian port.
  • Take that document to the DIAN offices. They’ll give you a form that you’ll need to make three copies of (I made one extra thankfully…). You’ll also need up to three copies of your passport (and the page in it with your Panama stamps), bill of lading, and title. This office is supposed to schedule a DIAN inspector to arrive at the port the next morning and inspect the vehicle when it comes out of the container. We filled the form out and double checked with them that it was correct, but would later find out that we didn’t put the port address on it (which is doesn’t ask for anywhere) and so they never sent it to the port. (Fortunately, and luckily, we bumped into the inspector at the port the next morning and had our own copy of the form. She was able to use our copy temporarily until she returned to the DIAN office to make an official one. Lucky us.)
  • You arrive the next morning when the port opens at 7:30a, meet the DIAN inspector, and go get your vehicle out of the container. You drive it out, they check the VIN, and you park it next to the container and leave it for now.
  • You now take a cab back to the DIAN office where you will get a form signed by the inspector and her boss (which is why you have to cab it back to the DIAN). With this from you can now go back to the port and get the vehicle released.
  • Make a copy of the DIAN form. Take this to the port’s main office with copies of your title, passport, and bill of lading. They will produce a bill with your port fees. Ours were $180 which we were told about in advance by our agent.
  • Take bill to the payment window, pay, and get receipt.
  • Take receipt back to the window that issued the bill, they will now give you the release paper.
  • Take bill of lading, DIAN document, release paper, title, and passport back to where you parked the van. A port official will process everything, sign you out in a book, and send you on your way. At the vehicle exit you’ll have to show the paperwork again.
  • Congratulations, you have your rig back!

Don’t forget to swing by one of the many SOAT offices and purchase the mandatory Columbian auto insurance. You have a lot of checkpoints in store and you won’t be getting through them or a police stop without it. The easiest way to find a SOAT that issues insurance for autos is to ask or take a cab.

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Central America

Border: El Ceibo, Mexico – Guatemala

Mexico Side

  • You will drive through a bunch of people waving you on and encouraging you to park with them.  There are many tuk-tuks there as well and you almost want to park here.  Do not.  Go just a little further to the governmental buildings. (These are actual official looking buildings).
  • Park near the end towards immigration.
  • Go first to the Bancomar to export your car. They will want your sticker that you placed inside your car. Bring all your import car paperwork.
  • The Bancomar guy will take a picture of your van, look at the VIN number, give you a receipt for your deposit back, and then you are done with him.
  • If you did not remember your FMA receipt from the initial visa you will have to pay another M$280 for paperwork to get out, if you have your FMA receipt from the bank (not the passport visa) you don’t need to buy this. If you do not have it, buy at the Bancomar place prior to going to immigration.
  • Go to immigration, the office is right outside on the left.  They will look at your passport, ask for your FMA receipt, stamp your passport book, and you are done.

Guatemala Side

  • As soon as you drive across the border, which is about 5 meters from immigration, park right in front of the RV (yes, not so official on this side).  Go into this office (Aduana), give them the originals and copy of driver’s passport and title (or registration).
  • They will send you to the RV directly behind them – to immigration.  Here they will stamp your passport.
  • Back to Aduana.  They will look at the stamped passport book. Then send you for the import fee.  Money changers next door will give you a pretty fair deal especially if you know the exchange rate.  We needed 180 Quetzales for import fee for the car.  Insurance was not required.
  • They sprayed the car for a small fee as well.  Then done.  Fairly easy border.

We arrived exactly at 9 am, when the border opened on Sunday only to have the Bancomar guy be late :D.  So we waited for about 45 minutes.  With our bad Spanish it took a moment to figure out the prerequisites needed, but they were patient with us and we got through fairly well.  I had unfortunately misplaced my FMA receipt so we ended up repaying for mine but I was able to find Eric’s.  But with all the hassle we still finished the border up by 11am.

Border: Guatemala – El Salvador

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Guatemala Side: La Hachadura

  • This border you might run into a line of stopped semi-trucks, drive around them.  “Helpers” might come and try to help you; they will do so for a fee.  I prefer to not use them, especially since they don’t necessarily know more than we do after researching it on-line.  Don’t be worried about going around the semi’s – they are in a different line than people crossing as tourists. They do not get upset.
  • Park at right hand side of blue building – go to immigration for the exit stamp.
  • Walk to 1st building with “Ingreso” on it, here they will cancel you permit paper.

El Salvador Side

  • Park next to immigration on the Right.
  • Get the passports stamped at immigration which is the first office outside.  They will not actually stamp your passport, but they will enter a bunch of stuff into the computer.
  • Next go to the Aduana office, just a little further down in the same building.  Approach the counter and give over your cancelled permit paper, a copy of driver’s passport, and title with originals.  He will enter a bunch of things on a form and inspect the car.  He asked us how many computers we had, how many surfboards, how many cylinders the car was, etc. Then he entered this in a computer while we sat in chairs waiting for him.
  • He handed us back the originals and vehicle permit.  No money was paid.
  • We were not required to buy insurance at this border.

*Some blogs noted that there might be a $5 exit fee and sometimes insurance around $10.

Border: El Salvador – Honduras

Sunday, March 16, 2014

El Salvador Side: El Amatililo

*Note: Some blogs noted that you can be asked on the Honduras side at inspection for proof of warning triangles, fire extinguisher, and spare tire.  We bought some triangles at the gas station right before the border.

  • Again drive around semis. 😀
  • Before we got to the official buildings we were stopped at a checkpoint by a man in a white shirt – very official looking, standing next to a booth.  This was apparently the Aduana booth.  (On the right side of the road).  They wanted 1 copy of permit without stamp. They took our permit and stamped it.  Then they needed 3 copies of permit with stamp.  So we went across the road to get copies.  Gave it back to the official, who will stamp it, check VIN then done here.
  • Drive approximately 3K to official building and take a LEFT!!! (Do not go the obvious way with all the semis.  You will arrive at an official border building.
  • Immigration building – stamp out.
  • Need a copy of vehicle permit w/ stamp for checkpoint.  They will review this and your passport.

Honduras Side

  • You will reach another checkpoint before you get to the border buildings.  The official will want originals and copies of title, license, driver’s passport.  Then he might try to escort you to Aduana’s.  They won’t do anything with you until you go to immigration first.
  • Drive forward, park in front of large building on the left.
  • Go to immigration in the right building.  Grab a paper at the window to fill out while you are waiting in line.  Need one per person. Stamp is $3 pp.
  • Next go to Aduana in the left building.  She inspected our car first – VIN # only.  She asked for all the specs like make, model, year, liters, cylinders. We were told they would ask us for extinguisher, triangles, and spare tire; but she did not do this.
  • Then back to the office window while she typed things in the computer and we filled out a customs form.  (This took a long time for us as she refused to do anything quickly, answering her cell phone for a chat with a friend and then ordering something over the phone as well).  She then gave us a print out of vehicle permit (make 4 copies of this).
  • You will need for Aduana’s 3 copies of the following: vehicle permit, driver’s passport stamp, registration or title, driver passport, driver license, copies of a receipt of payment (paid her for permit).  She will make all the copies into 3 packets. She will keep 2, 1 will be given away at the checkpoint.

Border: Honduras – Nicaragua

*We did the border crossing from El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua in one day.  It wasn’t bad.  On the Honduras side, we got just enough money changed over for a nice pizza at Little Caesar’s Pizza before we got to the Nicaragua border.  Some blogs noted that there were as many as 14 police checkpoints, we did not run into any but again we crossed on Sunday, which seems to be a magical day for us.  The Honduras side was warned to be a little sketchy.

Guasaule, Honduras

  • Official/police will ask to see vehicle permit, and then wave you forward, STAY LEFT.  Drive past the sketchy buildings to the back, where there are 2 grey buildings.
  • Go to immigration: stamp out
  • Walk around directly behind immigration in the building to a door that requires you to pull a rope in order to enter. (A guard let us in) This is Aduana’s.
  • Cancel permit – they will keep original and mark stamp in passport.

Nicaragua Side

*Stay right while driving

Semis again – you know what to do.

  • Fumigation $3 and keep the receipt (sometimes it is not open apparently)
  • Park outside of grey building. Go into the first door to immigration – get visas $10 pp tourist card fee, $2 tax pp.  (There is an ATM here that gives out Cordobas, but it wasn’t working when we were there.) They will give you a receipt, keep it just in case.
  • Then Aduana office for vehicle permit. They will need originals/copy of driver’s passport and title. They will inspect car and check VIN.
  • Last checkpoint will ask for all paperwork and receipts.

Run for the hills and cold beers after doing all these borders.

Border: Nicaragua – Costa Rica

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Nicaragua Side

  • You will get stopped at a check point; they will check everyone’s passport.
  • Give the vehicle permit to another man at this check point, they will scribble on it and hand it back.
  • Drive to set of buildings ahead and turn left – drive past customs/immigration and park.
  • Go to the Exit immigration window and pay $1 pp exit tax, proceed to immigration window in the same building.
  • At immigration window, fill out your tourist card and take extras for Costa Rica :D. Pay another $2 fee and keep receipt.
  • Head across the street to a window marked Aduana.  This is to the left of the Duty Free shop but in the same building. This man will take your vehicle permit and give you a customs form to fill out.  He will stamp and sign this.
  • He will then have you go get your car inspected by a guy wandering around in a white shirt with a DGA logo.  He will stamp and sign your customs form after looking at your VIN.
  • Then lastly go back across the street to the immigration building and enter at the left side for a police officer to sign your customs sheet.  They also may be wandering about.
  • Keep the customs sheet for the checkpoint. They will take the “overly stamped” customs sheet and keep it.

*Note: we were sent to the police too soon and he signed and stamped the wrong thing, then told us we were done.  It seems best if you get to Aduanas and the inspection first.  The inspector was inspecting other cars with a clipboard and not too hard to find.  The aduana window was a dark window – did not look open.

Costa Rica Side

  • Stay to the right and stop at the fumigation, this can cost CR $2175.  (We were just waved through w/o fumigation).
  • Drive by the building on the left, park on right, close to entry at the fence.
  • Go to immigration and get stamp.  Nice official building.  Fill out your extra tourist card info to hand in.
  • Walk out through the metal detector and conveyor belt.
  • NOW, HERE IS WHERE THEY MAKE IT COMPLICATED.  There are 2 Aduana offices. One is marked and on your right in a yellow building that you have already seen once you head to immigration.  DO NOT START HERE.
  • Go get insurance.  This office is through the fence, past all the parked semis, in that empty looking building at the very end.  Go to the window and give the person here your title, driver’s passport, and license and copy of each. Pay $40 for 3 months. (They will not let you do less).
  • Go to the copy shop which is just down the stairs and to the left in a booth in same area.  You can give him any number of change and he will not give you anything back :D.  Make copies of the insurance and a copy of entry stamp in driver’s passport. 
  • Now go back to the first Aduana building (remember the yellow one). He will want originals and copies of: driver’s passport and entry stamp, insurance, and title.  They will check the VIN and the car have you fill out a paper on the specs of the car, and then give you a sheet to take to second Aduana office.
  • Now go back to where insurance office was, go to the end and go in.  He will ask for all the copies, enter more stuff in the computer and finally hand you a vehicle permit.
  • GET out of there and run for the hills! 😀

Border: Costa Rica – Panama

Paso Canoas, Costa Rica

  • Park next to Costa Rican immigration building on Left. Go to the end that you first see as you drive by.  Fill out an exit form and hand to the window marked Salida.
  • Go left from Salida window and then right to get to Aduana office which is inside a nice air conditioned room.
  • Ask to cancel vehicle permit, fill out a form. Hand over original permit papers and driver’s passport. They will check VIN.  (Ours did not even leave the room)
  • They will keep original but hand back form with stamp for proof of cancel

*We literally were through this border in 15 minutes – it was awesome! In between the 2 countries is a large area of shopping that is duty free.  In the middle is a bank where you can change over the Costan Rican money to American dollars again.  Do it here, it will be your last chance.  Now drive through the crazy area to the largest building – a dirty white building.

Panama Side

  • Park at the other end of the immigration next to fumigation. Now go the small booth across from the main building marked Seguridad.  Get insurance for your car.  They need original and copies of: title and driver’s passport.  They charged us $15.75.  She gave us insurance and a copy of insurance.
  • Now go to immigration.  Some people had to pay for a stamp here; other’s had to prove that they had at least $500 in a bank account.  We just had to have driver’s insurance with the promise that we were shipping our car out.
  • Now we needed to go up stairs to an office and have our insurance stamped.
  • Then down to the office marked Capturo and Manifesto for permit. Make sure if you are shipping across the Darien Gap that you double check every number, that chasis are labeled with your VIN or n/a, and that engine number is also noted as the VIN. Make them do it right or you will have to find somewhere in Panama City or Colon to fix it.  They will want to know from what port city you are shipping from, so know ahead of time. (Panama City or Colon)
  • Then go through the brown door kiddy corner to window you were just at.  A man here will have you fill out a declaration form and check your car’s VIN. He will sign and stamp your vehicle permit.
  • Lastly, pay for fumigation.  Apparently, this changes from day to day as well, we paid $8, and some friends, behind us at a different crossing paid $3.

Our Route

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Central America Tips

Coming soon…

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