or "How to pass the Darian Gap"

For those who might continue driving  past Panama, the following section
is available to you.

Thanks to Todd Anderson, TEA0001@aol.com for much of the information in
this section.

Getting to Colombia just became much easier, at least for the immediate

Previously the only way to do it before was by putting your car on a cargo
ship.  Last December or January 1995, a company called "Crucero Express"
initiated ferry service from Colon, Panama to Cartagena, Colombia.

The service is great.  It's actually a small cruise ship, complete with
jacuzzis and casino.  The trip takes about 17 hours.  The best part is the
price.  Fare for one person was about $250 and fare for a passenger
vehicle was $225!  It makes the trip to Colombia three times a week.  The
price includes your cabin, dinner, and breakfast.

This is a huge improvement over shipping the vehicle.  First, shipping a
car can cost about $1000, more if you use a container.  Second, you can
travel with it.  And third, you do NOT need a carnet to enter Colombia
this way.  In fact, passing customs and immigration took me less than an

The office of Crucero Express is in Panama City. Below you will  find the
telephone  number.  Note:  make sure when you enter Panama from Costa Rica
that they fill in your paperwork correctly.  You will be leaving Panama
from Colon, not the border post that you entered.  The agents are not
accustomed to this and I didn't catch it.  When I got to the ferry, the
customs officials weren't going to let me leave.  I refused to pay a
bribe, and said that I would get on the boat anyway.   I eventually got

Once in Colombia, paperwork for the vehicle gets tricky.  You can,
however, get everywhere without a carnet.  This is good, since carnets are
essentially impossible to get.

What you do need, however, is a Libreta.  The only organization that will
issue it, however, is the Venezuelan Automobile Association.  Fortunately,
you can enter Venezuela without it and there is an office in a nearby city
that can issue it.  The cost seems to vary, but when I was there, it was
about $250, $100 refundable when the car leaves South America.  If you
sell it, you're out $250 (still a bargain).

If you were planning to go to Venezuela, and then Brazil, perhaps, this
works out conveniently.  If you were going to go the other way, you still
need the Libreta from Venezuela, then you re-enter Colombia (now you need
to use the Libreta), and then on to Ecuador.

For insurance, try Sanborn's.  They will give you one policy for Mexico,
and another for the rest of Central America.  None for South America.
Where insurance is compulsory, you may have to buy an additional policy
locally (Belize, Costa Rica, Colombia, Venezuela).  It is usually very
cheap, except for Venezuela.

Border formalities were very straight forward.  I never had to bribe
anyone, but I was frequently at obscure border crossings.  Hire a kid to
guide you through the "stamp collecting" getting in and out of Guatemala
and Nicaragua.  Venezuela was a nightmare!

When going to Venezuela, get your visa in Cartagena, Colombia, despite the
protests of  the consul.  It took me 72 hours to get my visa at the border
and get all of the necessary stamps!!  There are so few American cars
making the crossing, that there is no set routine for getting in.  I had
to write a short letter asking persmission (ask the guy for a copy of a
previous letter), make bunches of copies, wait, get insurance, etc, etc,
etc.  A bribe might have sped things up, but I was very stubborn (I never
paid an bribe once on my travels).  Insurance was really expensive.  I had
to buy a 12 month policy for about $70.  Shop around.

A great guide book to have is the "Mexico and Central American Handbook."
There is also a "South American Handbook," the bible on such things.
These books have super detail, but the information is quite dry.  You
might want an additional book for a more subjective point of view.

I had a 1982 Toyota Landcruiser Wagon.  This was the ideal vehicle for the
trip.  They are very popular all over Latin America (except for Mexico,
where they don't sell Toyotas).  I was able to find a water pump in a tiny
little village in Colombia.  They get bad mileage (about 15 mpg), but boy
do you feel secure.

For vehicle safety, I had wheel locks, the hood was chained shut, I had an
alarm and steering wheel club.  I had two big Rubbermaid Action Packers
chained to the bed of the truck.  I filled in the screws on my mirrors,
license plates and reflectors with liquid steel so that they couldn't be
stolen.  I welded on tow hooks and other hardware.

I had a great trip.  Generally no problems, except for the water pump and
tires.  Buy new tires before you leave.  I was never robbed or threatened,
although I was very cautious about when and where I went.  I even made the
whole trip alone!

This should be enough to get you going.  I can give you more details if
you know what you're looking for.  Let me know.

Todd did bring his vehicle back to the States, here is an additional

In Maracaibo (the port near Caracas, Venezuela), I found a shipping agent
who was able to get my vechicle to Miami.  The cheapest line I could find
(without a container) was $600.  I also had to pay $200 to the agent for
the effort, $300 for taxes and storage, $200 in Miami to get it out of
customs, plus $380 for emission testing, a new catalytic converter and
oxygen sensor.  I didn't foresee all of these charges, and probably would
have found the strength to sell.  Again, however, doing things like that
involve a HUGE amount of time and patience.  Fluency in Spanish and good
connections wouldn't hurt.

Final note: The phone numbers for Crucero Express in Panama are -  63-3322
or fax 63-3326.

The Carnet -

A Carnet is something like an insurance used by South American countries
to insure that you will not sell the car in their country.

It appears that securing a "libreta" is possible in South America and that
the need for a carnet is not required.  The carnet is more difficult to
obtain and much more expensive.  The only place a "carnet" can be secured
is through the Canadian Automobile Association.  Both Canadians and U.S.A.
citizens can use this service. AAA does not provide carnets.

Escape Magazine, Jan. 95, pp. 24-25 had an excellent article on this and
makes it within the realm of possibility.  If you wish send a stamped self
addressed #10 envelope to Honduras Travel Guide, P.O. Box 531, Mountain
View, CA 94042 and I  will send you a photocopy of this article.

Additional information:

From: jkaufman@best.com (John Kaufman)

The Darien Gap is circumvented using a ferry which leaves from the end
of the Pan Am Hwy. in Panama to the point where it resumes in
Colombia. The trip takes a full day.

Drive E from Panama City on the PAH to El Real, get ferry schedule
(doesn't leave every day) sign paperwork (you need car registration,
title, proof of insurance, driver's licence, passport) and drive onto
the ferry. 24 hours later you're in Turbio, Colombia, where more red
tape awaits. I've done this. Patience and a good sense of humor are
key (and Dramamine).

Good luck!

Thanks again to Todd Anderson and John Kaufman for making this information

About the Carnet -

george_gibbons@mindlink.bc.ca (george gibbons) writes:
I did not use a carnet but a libretta from theClub Automovil de Venezuela
after many calls it was couriered to me. The cost was 350.00us, of which
250.00us is refundable, on the return of the libretta fully cancelled.

George Gibbons also provided the following information about his return
from Colombia:

Subject:     Re: Canada to Tierra del Fuego
Received:    02/22/96

From: george_gibbons@mindlink.bc.ca (George Gibbons)
To: Brad Martin

We did talked together last September just before I left for South
America.  I drove a VW diesel van, l995 all the way down to Tierra del
Fuego. I had planned to come back by Brazil, but time ran short. The
distances were so great and because I had to come back to Canada for my
company year end, I had to take the shorter route.

In answer to your question it is now possible to bring your car back from
Colombia. The procedure takes about one day, first you get a form from the
Cruzero Express office.  After filling it out you go to the Panama
Consulate. The Consulate is near the airport and open from 9 until 1 in
the afternoon. There you request permission to bring your car back to
Panama. If you insist the clerk will do it right away and charge you about
10.00us.  When you have this paper you go back to the Cruzero office to
obtain a Bill of Lading. Then you proceed to the port for a customs check.
 Here a trained dog is used to check the car for drugs.  Afterwards you
have an agriculture check with 2 inspectors, one from Colombia and the
other from Panama.  They will put your car on a ramp and do a complete
power wash until both are satisfied.  Now you can now go aboard the ship,
when I crossed at the end of January they only charged 25.00us for the
car.  That's a real good deal.

When you finally come to Colon the same thing as described above, but in
the reverse order. It will take about two hours and than you are free to

I would like to mention that the insurance that you buy in the States,
contrary to what Sanborn tells you, is not valid in Colombia.  The
insurance has to be with a Colombian company and is compulsory.  The
police will check your papers and if you do not have the proper insurance
they will fine you (8 salario diario) about 50.00us.

Ask at port and the customs people will direct you to the insurance
provider. The cost is about 70.00us and the minimum is 90 days.

Should you require more information feel free to contact me with any
questions that you may have or refer people to me. I will be going back in
September, but this time I will go through Brazil.

Phone me if you would like to chat at (604) 850-8444 or (604) 859-2813

Thanks to George Gibbons for providing this information.
February 22, 1996

Additional Comment by Brad Martin:

Periodically I hear reports of those who have driven across the Darien
Gap.  So far I have not had the opportunity of speaking to someone that
has actually done so.  Until this is confirmed or becomes practical, it is
best to say it cannot be reasonably done.

Revised 2/22/96

Brad Martin    Author of "Honduras Travel Guide"
"The people of Honduras are its greatest asset."

There is a very good ferry-boat leaving Colon (Panama)
to Cartagena $90 person and car $50
Gran Colombiana Line
Have a good trip

Subject:     Motorcycling in Central America
Sent:        11/10/95  4:26 PM
From:        Pulangi@aol.com
To:          Honduras1@aol.com

Hello Brad,
I will attempt here to answer some of your questions.

In reference to theft, we were constantly afraid of the motorbike being
stolen.  The first question I would ask upon arriving at a hotel was "Tienes
una aparcamiento para me moto?" (spelling?, grammar?) and we had to turn down
many nice hotels because either myself or my girlfriend didn't think the
parking was safe.  We never once left the bike out on the street overnight.
As you might know most hotels are quite willing to let you park your
motorbike in their lobby.  After four months in Mexico and every country in
Central America except Belize, the motorbike was never once tampered with.  

As an aside, I was just as worried about the bike in downtown S.F. as I was
in Central America and while there, I made sure that it was in a lot.  I
often think I worried more than I needed to.  I met 5 other motorcyclists
traveling in C.A.: two Americans from Seattle whom I met in Mexico City and
again in Roatan, Tegus, and San Jose C.R.: a Kiwi and Aussie couple on a
small Honda enduro (half dirt bike, half street bike (ideal for C.A.) in
Tegus (the Aussie had been carrying a guitar with case on her back the whole
way down from San Diego): and finally, a Canadian whom I met in San Jose,
C.R. who had come down from Toronto (in about ten days) - he had dual
citizenship with Guyana and was  intending on going there, but he did not
know that there was no way across the Darien gap. -- none had reported any
problems with tampering or thefts -- I know for sure the Canadian and the
other Americans made it through Nicaraguan customs without any problem and I
suspect that the Kiwi and Aussie made it through as well.

I think motorcycling through C.A. has a fairly high level of danger when
compared to the rest of the Americas, mostly because of bad road conditions
and the lack of traffic law enforcement, therefore more crazy drivers (imo).
 Yes, we were threatened by a Mexican guy with a gun in a brand new, bright
red pick up truck, but I probably shouldn't have cut him off, and yes, I came
across a road block put up by the Indians in Chiapas, but none of the other
motorcyclists had similar experiences.  

I should add that the two Americans and the Aussie-Kiwi were intending on
going all of the way down to Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina, as were myself and
my girlfriend until she hurt her back in Guatemala and we had to stop for a
month to let her heal and then take it easy through the rest of C.A.

I think that the possibility of coming upon beautiful and (largely)
undiscovered places is so much higher in Mexico and C.A. than it is in the
U.S. and Canada it outweighs the frustration and hardship that comes with
motorcycling or driving through C.A.

I would recommend other motorcyclists and drivers not to travel at night,
because of animals in the road and the possibility of coming upon someone
without headlights.  Bring as many tools as you can, but don't worry too much
about breaking down, you can always find someone willing to help.  (I broke a
frame crossmemberroads), and was able to find a mechanic who took it all apart, welded it and
replaced everything for $50.  Make sure your suspension is good, and don't
overload on gear, you might want to skip the camping gear unless you have
clear ideas on where you want to camp. 

If you are on a budget, try not to rely on VISA too much, many of the vendors
(mostly in Guatemala and Honduras) try to add on to your bill the 8% and 10%
that they are charged for the service.  I also found Honduras to be the most
expensive to enter customs, I don't think I paid more than I had to (my
Spanish is ok and I am make sure I know what I am paying for), but I spent
$35 compared to an average of $25 for each of the others.

Alec Rottier

Posted by Brad Martin  "Honduras Travel Guide"
Driving to Honduras

Driving is most certainly a viable way to get to Honduras. I've driven it
many times and consider myself a veteran of the highway. From the San
Francisco Bay Area it takes me ten days, driving only during the day going
from 350 to 500 miles a day. Total distance for me is about 4000 miles. Each
time it becomes more enjoyable and in my opinion is safer than ever.

There are three routes through Mexico, one is along the Atlantic Coast
(actually the Gulf of Mexico), second is through Central Mexico and Mexico
City and the third is by way of the Pacific Coast. I've traveled all three
and the Pacific Coast route is by far the best, the road is in much better
condition. In addition you pass some really great places, Puerta Vallarta,
Mazatlan, Acapulco and delightful places like La Barra de Navidad and Puerto
Escondido to name just a few.

If your objective is to drive to Honduras, than the Central route bogs you
down too much in Mexico City and surrounding area. The Atlantic route is just
plain hard on your car and scenic and delightful places are fewer, if
Veracruz was not on it, it would be hopeless. Head for the Pacific Coast and
go right on down. I've driven it often without being stopped by the military
police even one time. However a new crack down is in progress to stop illegal
immigration into Mexico.  Increased road check points can be expected. Most
often once they see your "gringo" face they will wave you on. Strangely
Hispanics are harder on Hispanics.  However if you have a fluent Spanish
speaker, have that person deal with the officials. All things being equal in
these situations, border officials or customs inspectors, have a woman talk
to a man or a man talk to a woman.

Often when stopped, the police (or military) will ask where are you going
(donde viene?), just tell them the next tourist town.  Looking like a tourist
helps too.

Here are a few tips you might consider:

*  Contact the AAA for a map and the Mexico booklet. Ask also for current
road advisories. If you are not a member ask a friend to get this for you.

* Mexico vehicle travel information can be obtained from 1-900-454-8277
($1.99 per minute). This number provides very helpful information. The person
I spoke to had a heavy Mexican accent, but I was able to understand after
asking that something be repeated.

*  Get Mexican auto insurance, U.S. insurance is not valid. You can get it
when you cross the border or from AAA. It's not too expensive. I'm not sure
how much good it is, but just to be hassle free, it is worth it. You can
purchase only the time you need, no need to get a years insurance when only a
month or two is needed.

*  Make sure your vehicle is in excellent shape. You don't need a 4 wheel
drive, passenger cars are just fine. I drive older vehicles, Volkswagen ,
Nissan or Toyota. Parts for these vehicles are easier to obtain. One of you
should have at least a basic knowledge of auto mechanics. Check the car
before you leave, replace any working, but worn parts that may give you
trouble. Carry an extra set of all filters (air, gas and oil) as well as
belts. Have a good mechanic check it, if you have any doubts.  Tires and
spare should be in excellent condition. With todays excellent tires, one
spare should do the trick. Don't overload your vehicle with weight, this
could cause problems. Carry a tool chest with the basics as well as repair
tape and wire. Make sure your tire jack and wrench are in working order. You
can expect to use it at least once.  I have been told of new regulations
limiting you to two spare tires and two quarts of oil.  Both tires and oil
can be purchased in Mexico as needed. If you do decide to carry a second
spare, have it already mounted and ready.  

*  Don't drive alone, have at least one other person with you. It's a long
trip, make sure they are compatible, able to have patience and stand  many
days of driving. You'll be sharing quite an adventure.

*  Carry your auto registration and vehicle ownership papers with you. A
Mexican tourist visa is required. Have your passport, auto insurance papers,
Guatemalan and Honduran visas as well as photocopies of everything. 

We usually enter Mexico at Nogales (Mexico and Arizona), head for Hermosillo
and then on to the coast. Traveling on to Tapachula on the Guatemalan border
and then through Guatemala, Guatemala City, Esquipulas entering Honduras near
Nueva Octotepeque (Aqua Caliente border crossing).

Use the high grade gasoline, regular leaded is really bad as well as clogging
the gas filter.  Unleaded gasoline is available in Mexico, Guatemala, El
Salvador, and Costa Rica, but not in Honduras, Belize or Nicaragua.  To use
leaded gasoline you'll need a funnel to put the gasoline in your "unleaded
restricted" gas tank. I usually spend about 30 minutes and remove the
restrictor. Should you find yourself with a tiny hole, put a screw, washer
and nut tightly in and that solves that. You can then put leaded gas in your
vehicle usually without adjustment. It'll burn out your catalytic converter
of course.  Normally auto service is not required, however Mexican border
mechanics are expert at hollowing out or removing the converter if need be
(this is illegal in the US). Think in terms of putting in a used catalytic
converter when you return or putting your removed converter back on.

You can expect to pay $1.55 per gallon for Magna Sin in US dollars.  Magna
Sin is unleaded gasoline.  

You can also expect to pay rather high toll charges.  There are miles of new
highways (cuota) in Mexico that have been privately built, and Mexicans and
tourists must pay the fees. Usually, however, there is a non-toll road
(libre) going in the same direction for those who want to save money.  Most
Mexicans cannot afford the toll roads and they are eerily vacant.  The libre
roads are often two lane and crowded.

I'd like to emphasize that traveling during the daylight hours is
recommended. I try to do this as a general rule, getting up early in the
morning and driving to dusk. But I often break my own rule and go into the
evening to find a good place to stay.  I know people that have driven to
Honduras in five days from California, they do it as a group, taking turns to
drive and going almost continuously.  This is just too much for me, I like to
enjoy it more.

Challenging road conditions worsen at night, some Mexican drivers do not use
headlights claiming it is saving them gasoline, cattle or horses on the
roadway make it even more dangerous at night.  

You won't be traveling very far into Mexico before you will be encountering
speed bumps.  They are called "topes" (or sometimes  "bustos") and are
usually at the entrances and exits to small towns.  Some are concrete blocks,
others iron bullets in a row and still others are a stretch of rises in the
road called"vibradores" which give the car and everything in it a shiver and
shake massage. Sometimes these topes extend pretty high on the roadway, on
one trip I had an automobile that was rather low on the roadway, the tailpipe
and muffler kept hitting the "topes" and eventually came off several times.

Turn signals take on a different meaning in Mexico.  Often a left turn signal
on the vehicle in front of you is a sign letting you know it is safe to pass.
 Flashing headlights while passing lets oncoming cars know what you are

While in Mexico we stay in excellent motels costing about $25 to $35 a night.
If I absolutely have to, I'll go up to $45 or $50. I know college students
that find places to stay in the $10 range and less.  Restaurant meals are
economical averaging about $3 to $5.  The devaluation of the peso has made
little difference in many "tourist" areas as prices are pegged to the U.S.


Crossing from the U.S. into Mexico is not a hassle if you have prepared
yourself. Anyone driving through Mexico in route to Central American
countries must have a U.S. passport and the appropriate visa for each country
to be visited.

All persons who plan to visit the interior are required to obtain a tourist
card. Cards may be obtained upon proof of citizenship through Mexican
government tourism offices or Mexican consulates in the U.S.    They may also
be obtained at Mexican government border offices at official points of entry.

Persons planning to leave and re-enter Mexico during the course of their
travels should request Multiple Entry tourist cards and specifically request
this type of card.

All tourist cards are free and single entry cards are valid for up to 90 days
and must be returned to the Mexican border officials upon leaving Mexico.
Multiple Entry cards are valid for up to six months.

If the tourist card is not used for up to 90 days from the date of issuance
it becomes void and a new one must be issued. You must be out of Mexico by
the time your card expires or you will be subject to a fine.

Minors (under 18) traveling with only one parent must have a notarized letter
of consent, or when applicable, divorce, death certificate or guardianship


Mexico - can be issued at border, but getting a multiple entry tourist visa
in advance would save time and perhaps aggravation.  There is no charge. In
the off chance that the border official doesn't know what a "multiple entry
visa" is, it is recommended this be secured in advance.

Guatemala - must be obtained in advance through any Guatemalan Consulate (Re.
phone call to San Francisco Guatemalan Consulate 5/1/95), no charge to U.S.
citizens with passport.

Honduras - U.S. citizens with passports can have it issued at the Honduran
border crossing.  (Re. Honduran Consulate, 5/1/95).  However Mexico and
Guatemala may require you have ongoing visas. At least that is the official

General Mexican tourism information call 1-800-446-3942

Specific information for persons entering with a vehicle and desiring
multiple entry visas call  1-900-454-8277, cost $1.99 per minute, very
helpful information.  The person I spoke to had a heavy Mexican accent and I
had a difficult time understanding a few words, but when they were repeated
it I had no problem. 

After crossing into Mexico go to the Customs Vehicle Check Point (Aduana).
Usually this is just a few yards from the border crossing point. You will
than be required to fill out several forms: Temporary Import Permit, Vehicle
Return Promise Agreement and a form called an FMT that asks for information
such as your address, city, state, country and must be signed by you and will
be given to an Immigration Officer in Mexico. The FMT form  authorizes you to
stay in Mexico for six months with multiple entry. You then need to proceed
to Banjercito (Mexican Army Bank) with these three forms. There you will
complete the vehicle security bond deposit. 

You will be required to post a bond either by credit card, or cash bond or a
bond on the value of your vehicle if it is older then a 1988 model.  You sign
a form promising to return the vehicle to the country of origin, and you must
pay a $10.00 fee. By far the easiest way to satisfy this bond requirement is
to allow a charge of the $10 plus a small fee usually in the amount of $3 to
$5 dollars or $15 total. This can be charged to your Visa, MasterCard, Diners
Club or American Express card.  There are other ways of satisfying this,
usually by the deposit of large sums of money. More information on this is in
the Mexican book "Traveling to Mexico by Car" which is currently out of
print. If you want a copy let me have your address and I will send it to you.

The posting of the bond has been a source of aggravation for some of our
travelers. For more information may I suggest you refer to the AAA Mexico
Travel Brook, 1994 edition pages 17 through 19. If you are not a member and
can't get a friend to get this for you, please let me know, I'll copy it for
you. Also it is recommended you contact the nearest Mexican Consulate for the
latest update.

My recommendation is take a valid credit card with you, let them charge the
$15 and grin and bear it. 

Often persons traveling to Honduras carry lots of gifts, used clothing and so
forth to give away in Honduras.  Just be sure to declare this intention at
the border crossing.  I have been assured that this will not pose a problem
unless it is of such a quantity as to be considered commercial merchandise in

When exiting Mexico into Guatemala, you may be required to turn in some of
your papers at the border.  Be sure to hold on to your multiple entry visa
and multiple entry vehicle permission. When you return and cross from Mexico
into the U.S.A. you are required to turn in all your entry forms, be sure to
do this as your vehicle bond must be canceled.


When crossing from one county into another there are a number of scams that
the border officials like to use to get some of your money.  This is a
sampling of a few of them. They are presented as representative and it is
hoped that this will make you more aware as you cross the boarder.

Your car must be inspected before you will be permitted to enter the country.
 Please take out everything and bring it inside the inspection building.
After the inspection you will be permitted to bring it back to your vehicle
and repack again.

O.K. it is true your vehicle needs to be inspected, but this can be done at
your vehicle and it is really an unnecessary thing to take everything out and
put it back again.  Belize and Guatemala are especially good at this scam. In
Guatemala there are a number of men at the border that earn a living carrying
your possessions into the inspection building.  Almost always you can
negotiate with the inspector (usually the one assisting you with the papers)
to have the car inspected with everything intact, but you will need to pay
these "gentlemen" for their loss of work.  About $1 each or so will do it,
most often there are four or five to be paid.

If you don't have much, carry it in and you will see they will hardly look at
it, they just say O.K. and you carry it back.

Your possessions may cause you problems after you enter the country.  Other
officials may think you brought your things in illegally.  What is suggested
is they will make a list of everything you brought and that will give you
clear passage.  The charge for this official looking document ranges from $50
to $100. The official only wants to do you a "favor."

For the most part once you have entered into the country, if you are stopped
by police or military they could care less if you have an official looking
document.  If their intent is to get a bribe, that document will prove

You must have copies of all your documents.  Officials will claim they must
have copies of your cars ownership papers, or other documents. The copy
machine is broken or the official who does this is off today.  You must pay
extra to be allowed to enter.

Make extra copies of everything before you leave.  Have at least three extra
sets stashed away just for this purpose.  Of course it's a scam, but what can
you do.

Your car and perhaps you must be sprayed for insects.  There is a small fee
for this. Most often, just pay the fee, get sprayed and go on.  I've heard
people paying bribes to avoid this, the bribes are often more than the
spraying fee. Hopefully a little insecticide won't ruin your day, leave the
windows down for awhile.


If you are carrying merchandise then there are a number of additional
concerns you will need to address. These are relatively new regulations and
have been in effect for the last two years. It may be necessary to enter
Mexico at the border crossing just south of Brownsville, Texas. You will be
required to process Mexican paper work and a charge of $200 will be made (one
person was told $300). You then will be permitted to travel on the Atlantic -
Gulf of Mexico Route.  This is considered a gateway and intransit route.

There is a distinction between bringing personal possessions or gifts for
your family and friends and "merchandise."  Merchandise is obvious items
imported for resale.  The later must be pointed out at your time of entry and
you are not supposed to have a problem with it.

Mexico has really come a long way in the past ten years in improving
relations with tourists. Each year it seems to get easier, but this bonding
requirement and now restrictions on carrying merchandise has put a bit of a
wrinkle in it. I can understand the Mexican concerns, travelers may not sell
their vehicles and merchandise in Mexico under any circumstances.

Here is some recent information related to me:

They are driving a 1985 Toyota, 4 wheel-drive pick-up with a camper shell,
and two bikes strapped to the top!  They passed into Nogales with no
problems, but some 60 km interior, they were stopped at a *truck stop* and
presented the Visa obtained in San Fran. The policia (I don't know which
type) told them to go back to the U.S., drive to El Paso to the embassy
there, obtain a permit to drive through Mexico in their pick-up, and go from
there.  They did this, delayed insurance, drove to El Paso (via Albuquerque
for a few days to visit relatives) went to Embassy, passed into T.J. and
should be in Alcapulco tonight, all with no further problems.  Re-entering
the U.S. from Nogales seemed to be the most difficult, with our guys really
going thoroughly through the truck for drugs, with dogs, mirrors, etc. 
(Thanks to CarrellM@aol.com for this information)


Crossing from Mexico into Guatemala takes patience, best to start early in
the morning. First the Mexicans need to let you go. Be sure to indicate to
the Mexican border authorities that you will be returning and therefore need
to use your Tourist Card (FMT) and vehicle security deposit for the return.
 Then on to Guatemala where officialdom becomes an art form. There are so
many stops for rubber stamping your head will swim, lastly is the preparing
of the papers to actually cross. Sometimes, this step alone may take several

Driving in Guatemala should proceed with caution. It's the military you are
watching out for...  They will probably stop you several times. Most often
they want a small donation. But make them ask for it, rather than just
offering. We often take along used clothing to pay our way. This requires a
Spanish speaking person with finesse.  Watch your speed and traffic laws,
don't give them any excuse. Even after passing Guatemala City, keep up your
vigilance. When you get to Esquipulas, then you can relax. Don't worry about
the rebels, they are the least of your worries and chances are you will not
encounter them.

Try to cross Guatemala in one day. Get out of there as fast as you can. If
you do stay in Guatemala City, get a secure garage to store your car and
watch for thievery everywhere. Be forewarned, they can break into your car in
seconds and everything will be gone before you know it. It's a sad
commentary, but be forewarned.

Guatemala City is confusing to drive. You'll want to go on to highway 9 to
Honduras. Turn right on Puente Periferico and continue on to Avenida Marti.
It's easy to get lost. Head for Esquipulas, carefully check the route on your

Esquipulas is a great place to stay the night. I recommend the Hotel Cristo
Negro. If you have time, visit the cathedral. Esquipulas is a safe city for
tourists and visitors, relax, enjoy. Once you make it there, you done it,
it's on to glorious and safe Honduras.


The check point going from Guatemala to Honduras is called Aqua Caliente. If
you can't locate the name on the map, it's directly on the Honduran border
near Esquipulas. They are only open for crossing from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. You'll
need to allow time to complete the papers to cross and for a vehicle
inspection. Travelers can expect a lengthy and meticulous search of their
vehicles and belongings. If you arrive at Esquipulas late, my suggestion is
stay the night at the Hotel Cristo Negro and go across in the morning. The
Cristo Negro is completely locked at night, very safe! High walls completely
surround the hotel/motel complex. If the gate is already locked when you get
there, pound on the large metal door loudly. They'll let you in when you get
their attention.

You'll need to check out of Guatemala, this is easy, much easier than getting
in. In Honduras you'll go through some of the same things you did going into
Guatemala, but not as many, and not taking quite as long.  After you leave
the Honduran border, you'll have a final check point about a quarter of a
mile down the road, this is mainly to confirm that all entry requirements are
completed. This will be your final check point apart from any unexpected
military check along the way, perhaps you'll be lucky and they will have the
day off.  Please don't judge all Honduran roads by the condition of the one
going from the border to Santa Rosa de Copan. The roads will get better,
however, generally not as good as in Mexico or Guatemala unfortunately.

On your return trip usually you will be retracing the route that took you to
Honduras.  Crossing from Honduras to Guatemala requires checking out of
Honduras and new paper work for entering Guatemala. Your Guatemalan visa is
usually multiple entry so this should not be a problem. Strangely the paper
work from Honduras to Guatemala is not as bad as from Mexico to Guatemala.

When you return to Mexico several of the forms you used to originally enter
Mexico can be used for your return trip. For example the Tourist Card (FMT)
allows multiple entry, your vehicle security deposit allows multiple entry
and can be used for your return trip without the issuing of a new one.  If
there is any doubt check with the Mexican Consulate offices in San Pedro Sula
and Tegucigalpa. If you do not have vehicle insurance, it can be obtained in

When you finally make it back to the U.S. - Mexican border, before you cross,
go to the Mexican vehicle check point, they in turn may direct you to a
Banjercito (Mexican Army Bank) office. Turn in your Temporary Import Permit
and Vehicle Return Promise Agreement as well as your Tourist Card (FMT). Your
vehicle security deposit will be returned or your bond agreement depending on
which method you used to enter. DO NOT SIMPLY DRIVE ACROSS THE U.S. BORDER
WITHOUT TAKING CARE OF THIS.  Of course you can do it, and it's the simplest
thing to do.  But remember they do hold a bond on your vehicle, to avoid
problems, take care of this before leaving Mexico or it will come back to
haunt you. 

Have a great visit to Honduras! And please let me know any advice to pass on
to future travelers. The things I wrote here are constantly changing and
up-to-date experiences are appreciated.

Revised 6/5/95

Posted by Brad Martin   "Honduras Travel Guide"

Copyrighted 1994, all rights reserved.  This material may be copied online
but may not be reproduced in print or on a CD-ROM without written permission
from Brad Martin.  Material is continually electronically revised and