We were bound for Central America and were just passing through Mexico. An essential reference for Mexican Camping is Traveler's Guide to Mexican Camping: Explore Mexico and Belize With Your RV or Tent, by Mike and Terri Church (www.rollinghomes.com). A useful website for Mexico is http://www.ontheroadin.com/. As you can see our route took us down the Gulf Coast. We crossed the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and headed for Chiapas. We stayed in trailer parks on the Emerald Coast, at Lake Catemaco, and in San Cristobal de Las Casas. Otherwise, we found secure boondocking spots.
Entering Central America
You enter Central America either through Belize or Guatemala. Belize is English-speaking and less of a culture shock for North Americans. There are also good facilities for camping there (see the latest edition of the Church's book). If this is your first visit to Central America it is a good way to ease yourself in. Harriet and I did a trip 30 years ago in a rented VW bug. We left Merida in the Yucatan, went through Belize and Guatemala, ending up in Oaxaca. This trip took a little over two weeks. We don't recommend the RVer doing it quite this fast, but this little trip could be a good introduction to Central America. One useful tip for the timid traveler would be to stay in Belize, but take a short 1-2 day trip across the border of Guatemala to see the Tikal Ruins. These are the largest and most majestic ruins of the great Mayan empire, and are well worth a few days of exploration. It is in a national park - no pets allowed. You can camp (boondock) next to the visitors center and have the use of some modest facilities for $7 per day.
Guatemala is the first stop south of Mexico, and in some ways, it is the most interesting country in Central America. Over half the population is Maya, and the country is full of interesting culture, markets, volcanoes, Mayan ruins and great scenery. Lake Atitlan is, in our opinion, one of the most beautiful places on earth! The country is divided into roughly two parts: Peten in the northeast, and the West. You can stay in more or less developed campsites throughout the country if you plan properly. Entering from Belize your first stop would be Tikal Ruins where you stay in the National Park where showers and toilets are available. This is just a few hours from the Belize border. A few hours further is Sta. Elena, where we found a good boondock site, but if you want to get to a developed camping area drive a few more hours south to Poptun where Finca Ixobel is a mature eco-tourism resort. A few hours further is Rio Dulce, where you will find Brunos Hotel and Restaurant which has a few spots for smaller RVs. Larger rigs go to Planeta Rio (formerly Hotel Ensenada) on the south side of the river.
Belize has several developed campsites which are described by the Churches. We found some nice boondocking sites, including on the beach at Hopkins, at the Baboon Sanctuary, and by the river in Orange Walk. Like the other countries in Central America (except Panama), we bypassed the capital, Belize City. If you have time, visit the Cayes of Ambergris or Caye Caulker. There is great snorkeling, diving, and/or fishing off of the world's second-longest barrier reef. A great website for Belize information is www.Belize.com.
El Salvador is relatively unexplored by tourists. We had visited once before for a friend's wedding and were royally treated to the best of El Salvador. We paid our respects to our friends on this trip and stayed at the Marriot Hotel in San Salvador. We paid top dollar for a first-class room for ourselves and our dog, but we could have stayed in their covered parking lot for a dollar (plus tips to the guards)!
Nicaragua has two remarkable colonial cities and the largest tropical lake in the world. We are not aware of any facilities specifically for RVs. Plaxtons (Mexico and Central America by Campervan, ITMB Publishing - out of print) parked their RV at the Camino Real Hotel in Managua while they took a flight to the Corn Islands. We have found hotels such as this are receptive if you talk to the manager and utilize their restaurants and bars. Park in the far reaches of the parking lot (like you do at Wal-Mart).
Honduras is Central America's poorest country but we found it very pleasant and safe. The Caribbean coast provides a nice change from the highlands of Guatemala. The small coastal town of Tela provides opportunities for lounging on the beach and partaking in some interesting tours. The Bay Islands are reputed to have the best bargains for SCUBA diving, however, we could not fly out there with our dog so we stayed on the mainland.
We are aware of two "RV Parks": one near La Ceiba (see Updates) and another near Trujillo. We didn't stay in either, but Kirkebride/Regan stayed in them. Reaching these sites from either the Guatemalan or Nicaraguan border requires two days of travel, so some boondocking is required. However, nice boondocking sites are available near Guatemala at Copan, and Tegucigalpa at Valle de Angeles.
Costa Rica is the most tourist-friendly country in Central America. Many Americans and Europeans fly down there for holidays, and many decide to return to retire or just have a vacation retreat. The RVer will find many beautiful places to camp and even some real RV parks. The downside is that Costa Rica has some of the worst roads in Central America, but if you're not in a hurry and have your belongings secured you will be fine. There are so many parks, beaches, cloud forests and rainforests in Costa Rica that you could spend a lifetime there and not see it all. We have visited several times and seem to have only grazed the surface. Our "99 Day Trip" hardly did it justice. If you want an eco-tourism experience in a friendly, safe country you could drive directly to Costa Rica from Mexico in 4-5 days and wallow in the natural wonder of this place. On the other hand, Costa Rica lacks the indigenous Mayan culture you find in Guatemala and to a lesser extent in Honduras. If you are into native crafts and markets you will be disappointed.
Panama has the highest standard of living of any Central American country. You will feel right at home in Panama City. The Pan-American Highway is very good (and the only route through the country), but it has been known to have several speed traps, particularly around Santiago.