99 Days to Panama

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Do not be deterred from driving through Central America because of what you hear about the border crossings. You just need to take sensible measures, and have plenty of patience.

Here are some links that provide useful details for border crossings in Central America:

  • Check with each country before you go as formalities change.
  • Check the links above for  current visa requirements (also see Updates).
  • Be polite with the border agents as they have been known to change the rules.
  • You need the original title of the vehicle or a notarized letter from the lien holder.
  • Each person may only take one motorized vehicle into a country.
  • You must have one credit card and a driver’s license in the same name as the vehicle title.
  • Your passports need to have at least six months on them before they expire.
  • We recommend that you have several duplicates of each of your document as you will need to hand in copies at each border.
  • It is also advisable to make a copy of the completed permits for your vehicle and pet. This would have expedited transit at some smaller crossings when the agent didn’t have a clue how to fill in their forms.
  • We found that the less frequented crossings were the easiest.
  • The average cost was US$30.00 including tips to the border crossing guides
  • If you can avoid crossing during lunch time it will save you time.
  • The Tourist Card is identical at each country. If you can gather a stack of them you can have them filled out in advance and save time.
  • Often a line of eighteen wheelers will alert you that you have reached the border. Drive right past them to the front of the line.



Approaching El Amatillo on the Pan-American Highway.  The 18+  wheelers are waiting for customs clearance.  Just drive to the front of the line and proceed to immigration.  A guide will probably approach you  before you reach there (see below).

  • Transitos are enterprising locals who make their living by guiding tourists through the tangles of the border crossings. We advise using them as they can really expedite your transit. You pay what you think they are worth. We typically paid $4.00.  Make sure they know in advance which of them you are employing, and that they will be the only one(s) compensated. See El Amatillo, Pages 253 – 255 of 99 Days to Panama.  On more than one occasion we gave our papers to the Transitos and they ran off to handle the transaction for us. We have been told that this is not a safe practice and we should have asked the helper to show us to the next window. This assistance alone is worth the few dollars.
  • We were asked for U.S. dollars to pay for some of the formalities at each border, however, we have learned that if you say you don’t have U.S. dollars some border agents will let you pay in the local currency which works out cheaper. We still recommend you have a stash of dollars just in case.
  • All the government agents we met seemed honest, even if they did acquire the occasional pen or fresh produce. They enjoyed chatting about their country and were helpful and friendly. 
  • We suggest you enter Mexico at the major crossings simply because there is more space to park your vehicle while you are conducting the formalities.

We found the La Mesilla border between
MEXICO and GUATEMALA less traveled and an easy entry into Central America
.  It is a congested two lane road with locals and merchandise bulging beyond the sidewalks.

It took us just over an hour at a cost US$17.82, including the time and dollars to get the dog across. See DOG for information on how to get a dog all the way to Panama.

The El Florido crossing between GUATEMALA and HONDURAS was very low key with just a string across the road to mark the boundary. 

The NICARAGUAN border with COSTA RICA at Peñas Blancas is on the Pan-American Highway and is very busy and excessively officious.  At this port of entry we had to visit and revisit 21 locations to process through. (Details in Day 79 of 99 Days to Panama)

Crossing between COSTS RICA and PANAMA on the Pan-American Highway at Paso Canoas, is straightforward.

However, the northern crossing, on the Caribbean coast between COSTA RICA and PANAMA, is more dramatic. The bridge across the Sixaola River was built for banana trains fifty years ago. To cross over you must drive up onto an embankment with your wheels straddling the tracks. This shows us approaching the Sixola River border crossing, and two pedestrains who have just walked across from Panama.


As you cross the bridge you can look down and see the brown water of the river through the ties.



There was no one regulating the flow of traffic so it is a matter of luck as to who crosses first and in which direction. It might get the adrenalin rushing, but 3 loaded eighteen-wheelers crossed safely behind us, as have many other motorhomers we met.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                



When entering BELIZE all our meat and fresh produce was confiscated. The inspector asked us to put it all in a trash bag and I have the feeling he ate very well that night.

The only unpleasant crossing of the fourteen we made was between HONDURAS and EL SALVADOR at El Amatillo. This is a notoriously bad crossing and we were glad we had bypassed it going south. It took four hours. The specter of this abandoned, stripped motorhome hovered over us. The most uncomfortable aspect was when our transito multiplied into six people and the new leader demanded a hundred and fifty dollars for the crossing services. We eventually gave them fifty dollars. The official charges for immigration, aduana and cuarentena were $11.00.
Border fees averaged $30 including the tips for the transitos and charges to get the dog across. A couple of the smaller crossings were completely free. It took an average of two hours to exit one country and enter the next. There is nothing you can do to speed things up, except perhaps to cross first thing in the morning.  You might as well relax and take the opportunity to meet the locals and the tourists who are waiting with you.

We Paid to Cross the Borders

With Two People, a 22 ft Class C Motorhome, and a Dog

Your costs could vary  

  U.S. into Mexico (Brownsville)                         $        57.00

Mexico into Guatemala (La Mesilla)                 $        17.82

Guatemala into Honduras (El Florido)               $        13.10

Honduras into Nicaragua (Las Manos)              $              0 

Nicaragua into Costa Rica (Peñas Blancas)      $        37.71

Costa Rica into Panama (Paso Canoas)           $        22.75

Panama into Costa Rica (Guabito)                   $             0  

Costa Rica into Nicaragua (Peñas Blancos)      $        81.44

Nicaragua into Honduras (Guasaule)                $        52.32

Honduras into El Salvador (El Amatillo)             $        61.00

El Salvador into Guatemala (Anguaitu)              $         7.32

into Belize (Melchor de Mencos)     $        10.00

Guatemala into Mexico (Corozal)                      $        22.50

Mexico into U.S. (Matamoros)                         $        40.00

Total                                                         $      422.96

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