Saturday, February 21, 2009

Drive to Guatemala then Costa Rica

AllExperts > Guatemala

I can answer questions regarding driving to Guatemala from the states, which route might be safest, and pet friendly hotels along the way. I can also answer questions about how to bring your dog and where you can stay with a pet once you get here. If Antigua is your destination, I can answer basic safety questions along with helping find translators, English speaking realtors, and pet friendly rentals in the area. I can also answer questions about how easy (or difficult) it can be to get around Antigua knowing very little Spanish. Welcome to Guatemala!

My husband and I have spent three months a year in Antigua for the past five years. Last month we finally moved here permanently. We drove down from Washington state with three large dogs, so we're familiar with safety and road conditions through Mexico.

Associates degree in political science.

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Guatemala - drive to guatemala then to costa rica
Expert: Bethany - 1/14/2008

Hi Beth,

I guess my question is more logistically based as we have to be in San Jose CR on the 25th of Feb. Im going explain to you what I would like to do and hope that you can comment on its feasability and add to any questions I might have.

I'm an Alaskan and have driven my 22 foot (minnie Winnie) motorhome down from Anchorage and its now in Cabo San Lucas. Its older style motorhome but runs great. I have new rubber and lots of spare parts on board. I can speak fairly good spanish and my buddy from Aruba is fluent. I'm planning to put it on the ferry in La Paz to Mazatlan on Feb 11, 2008. We want to take the coastal road all the way down. I would like to stop in Tequila, Manzanillo, Ixtapa, for sure...are there any other spots you would recomend. Any advise on crossing the Mex/Gueatemala border? I assume we do this a Tapachula? Is there a safe hotel to stay at there so we can get up and cross the border when it opens?

Im hoping to spend the night of Feb 16th in Antigua Guatemala. Can you recommend a safe hotel where we can park our rig in town? Also, It would be nice to hire a guide and driver to tour us around the volcano and the lake and maybe go see the tikal ruinas. Is that possible to do in a three day period. So if we left Antigua the morning of the 20th of February is it feasible to drive to Managua in one day? It would be nice to spend 2 nights in Managua as I have a freind there. I dont know anything about El Salvador and was just planning on driving through. Any suggestions on what to do or stay or the borders?

Thanks for any help you can advise. I know I dumped alot on you, but I had to explain the whole itinerary. The big thing is that I have to be at the San Jose Airport to pick up my dad at 900pm on the 25th of Feb.

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Hi Kurt,

Sorry it took so long to get back with you. I had to do some homework on your time frames, get a hold of the driver (who's been at the volcano with a tour), look for RV parking in Antigua, and write this long winded email. I think I have a handle on it lol.

You asked for my advice, and my advice would be to get through Mexico (about 8 hours coastal route) as quick as you can. Things have really changed in Mexico in the last year or so. Tourists and middle class Mexicans are being robbed by criminals as well as the police, at alarming rates all over Mexico. The Mexican Government refuses to do anything about it and it's not getting much attention by US media.

When you travel through Mexico make sure you have 60.00 dollars between you and your friend in 10 dollar bills. Keep this in your wallet and keep any other cash you have extremely well hidden.
If you get pulled over in Mexico, the officer will usually demand you pay him 200.00 US dollars for the ticket they are getting ready to write you. If you don't pay, they will threaten to take you to the judge or police station. This used to be an idol threat, but not anymore. If you T them off they'll take you to the station, you will sit there a day or two and the "judge" will rule in favor of the officer anyway.

It's usually better to be very polite and tell them that you don't have that kind of money, that you got pulled over a couple of hours before and the officer made you pay 100.00 dollars. They will again demand 200.00 or jail. Again tell them you don't have that much money, that you paid all your money for another ticket a couple hours earlier, pull out your wallet and show them the 30.00. At this point they will either take the 30.00 and let you go, or tell you to get the rest from your friend. Most of the time they'll just let you off with paying them 30.00. They start out high hoping to scare a rookie that doesn't know any better. Whatever you do, don't try to tell them you have no money at all - in that case they will be more than happy to drive you to an ATM to get out 200.00, they know you have a credit card. You don't usually need to worry about this happening in Guadalajara or Mazatlan, but it's extremely bad throughout the rest of the country, especially in or around Mexico City. It's better to play dumb when being pulled over, speak as little or no Spanish if possible to avoid an argument or confrontation. Lots of pointing and cave man grunts will get you off cheaper and safer in the long run.

You're going to hit several military check points traveling through Mexico. As of a couple of days ago there were 6 between Mazatlan and Guatemala. The fastest way to get through them with just a quick search or no search at all, is to have a map handy on your dashboard, speak no Spanish at all, point to Panama and ask them if you are on the right road. Again - think cave man, let your hands talk for you. Most of them speak no English and will usually just wave you through to get you out of their hair. The last time we spoke any Spanish at a military check point in Mexico, it took over an hour to answer their questions and watch them search our luggage and car. We've never done that again.

As for the Guatemalan border...

Yes, you will cross in Tapachula. It's a large city with no shortage of hotels. You should have no problem finding a place for your RV.
I usually suggest people pay a Tramitador (don't know how to spell it) to help them get their paperwork through quickly. They only charge about 20.00 dollars US.
You can find them by asking one or two people at the border and they'll point them out for you.
You sit in your car, have breakfast or shop for about an hour while they do all the paperwork. Since you speak Spanish you should easily be able to maneuver the border, but the Tramitadors are a convenient, fast, and inexpensive way to getting your sticker for your car and your visa.

Make sure you have the title to your motor home (minnie Winnie), registration, proof of insurance, passport and drivers license. This will get you a sticker for your windshield and your visa. When you have these two items, you drive up about 30 feet, and pay around 3 bucks to get your vehicle undercarriage sprayed for weeds. You don't have to get out, and it only takes a few seconds. That's it, your done.

IMPORTANT - Do not forget to turn in the sticker you got for your windshield in Mexico at the Mexican Border before you exit. If you don't turn it back in, you can't get the vehicle back into Mexico for your return trip. If you're lucky enough to get your auto back into Mexico, it will be costly and time consuming.

The drive through Mexico is beautiful, but in my humble opinion, the farther south you get of the Mexico border - the safer you are. Guatemala, Costa Rica, Belize and so on, have gotten a taste of the tourism dollar and - they like it a lot! Where they have taken 10 strides forward in cleaning up their crime and corruption, Mexico has taken 15 steps back. I'm not suggesting it would be safe for you to drive through Guatemala with a 100 dollar bill taped to your forehead, but they've made great strides in tourist safety. It's still a good idea to use an armed guide to travel to out of the way places like the tikal ruins (great choice by the way), the lake and the volcano's. There are many back roads into these places, the police can't be everywhere and the thief's know it. They also know these places draw tourists and tourists have money.

Guatemala is hands down the most beautiful country in Central America. There is so much to see and do. The weather is always perfect. You can safely tour Antigua on foot with no guide. I feel as safe, or safer here, than I do in any city in the states. You can get a great rate at a beautiful hotel, dinner and a beer at several places for 5 bucks and the food here is excellent. It's fast becoming the hot spot of Central America.

You can tour the volcano, the lake and the Tikal Ruinas but it would be ashamed to cut yourself so short.
To be able to fully appreciate and experience each of those places, I would really recommend giving yourself 4 days. Each place you mentioned is incredible beautiful and it's really hard to rush through them.
Is there any way you could spend another day or two in Guatemala? Antigua alone is definitely worth allowing for a couple of days travel time.

It is feasible to drive to Managua in one day. If you leave Antigua at 6 AM you should be able to make Managua by about 4:30 PM and that would give you a couple of days with your friends. I haven't spent much time in El Salvador, we've always just driven through on the way to Panama, so I can't really recommend anywhere to stay there.

We are asked not to post any links, phone numbers, or personal information on this web site so I can't post the information on the parking, hotel or guide in Antigua. If you send me a private post I can email you all of the information. There is actually an RV park in Antigua. I can give you their phone number and also the numbers for a couple of nice hotels with 24 hour security that may (for a few dollars) let you park there while you are touring the lake, the volcano and the Tikal Ruinas. I also know of parking lots with 24 hour security, Let me know your preference on that, and your price range for a hotel. You can get a beautiful room in a beautiful hotel with real breakfast for 60 - 80 dollars. I also checked booking info for an excellent guide that's available for those dates.

Send me a private message and I'll get your contact info out right away.
I hope this helps. If you have any questions please don't hesitate to ask.

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Panajachel, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Panajachel, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
View of Lake Atitlan and volcano from my apartment balcony in Panajachel. Taken by Catherine Todd June 2008.