Category Archives: Borders

Mexico Bound – Version 1 & 2

Side Note: Due to the continued parasite issue, the assumption that Brett may have had a bout of Zika, and the fact that my back was destroyed… our volcano hike was out. Please don’t shame us, it really just didn’t work out this time


 

We peaced from the lake and headed northward, Mexican bound. This drive took us over some of the highlands, and through small bucolic pueblos which were so picturesque it was hard to envision them getting the majority of the brutalities during the 80s’. These places suffered incredible atrocities, but remain some of the most beautiful landscapes on earth. We were constantly yelling at each other to “Look!” out the window. Northern Guatemala, you are on the top of our bucket list.

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Then, we were at the Mexico border. The Guatemalan side was smooth and easy. After crossing into Mexico you must drive down into the border town, which is about 4 kms away. We did. We entered Mexico passport wise, and then were outright rejected vehicle wise. Because, being Sunday afternoon, some over-scrupulous border guard decided that our paperwork didn’t match. We have a lot of colourful words now for this situation, but at the time we were struck by sheer fear.

We were being denied because James Easton Brett (name on registration) did not match Brett James Easton (name on passport). This is besides the fact that the passport number matched on every single document, that we explained to him it was simply Panama, and here are all the other government documents we have that show all kinds of formats, and that the other border officials were trying to convince him it was obviously the same person. No. He said no, we would have to go back to panama to fix it. Or sign the back of the registration to sell it from James to Brett. Which is also a bad idea sir.

The other option was wait until Monday morning and talk to his jefe at 8am. So we spent a very dejected night at the auto hotel across the street feeling really sorry for our situation. We ate a lot of shitty candy and drank a lot of beer to feel better. It was like Panama all over again.

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8AM, we waited for El jefe. The official opened shop and whether he was the jefe or not we never found out because he simply processed us within 20 minutes and didn’t ask any questions. He easily and correctly assumed that James and Brett were the same people. Like ANY NORMAL PERSON WOULD ASSUME.

And then we were in Mexico!

We celebrated by visiting Lagos de Colon, the place we had meant to go originally but were denied by a official with a vendetta. It was stunning, and highly recommend it to anyone looking to cool down, spend a night camping, or to celebrate their border crossing.

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Brett Celebrated by getting naked. Obviously.

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Here we are with our immediately adopted Mexican family, and our very first Michelada.

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Northward-Bound Borders Collection: Honduras to El Salvador

Border:  Honduras to El Salvador

When: June 14, 2016

Where: El Amatillo

Time Frame: 2.5 hours (mid-day)

Process:

  • Park in front of immigration.
  • Exit out of Honduras. Free.
  • Aduanas/Customs is across the hall.
  • Documents Required (no copies):
    • Passport
    • Registration
    • Rainbow receipt received on import into Honduras

** Get ready, the El Salvador side is exceptionally more convoluted.

  • Drive through to El Salvador over a small bridge. 
  • Drive through into immigration building (righthand side). Entry is Free, no stamp given.
  • Official will pull you over to just in front of this building to review documents and protocols.
  • Documents Required (no copies):
    • Passport
    • Registration
    • License
  • Any passengers in your vehicle will need to exit and wait in the handy “waiting booth”.  Jessica was hit on by the military man. Then the owner of the vehicle will be directed to drive it into a building on the left (out of sight) for the vehicle version of a cavity search.
  • Drive the vehicle onto position over a large magnet and rollers. Leave the car running and in neutral. Exit vehicle, as directed.
  • They will turn on the x-ray machine, and slowly pull the vehicle through the machine.
  • Pick up your passengers and drive! Nearly 7 kms to the customs office. There is a customs checkpoint, so you cannot miss it. Official will direct you to turn left.
  • At this point, you will enter into a parking lot filled with only transport trucks. Drive to the second section of the lot past the little office. Park beside the office, but ignore this office for now.
  • Go to the largest and farthest building, used to inspect trucks & cargo. The office is located on the platform. Lots of people running around wearing the official burgundy La Coste pollo shirts can direct you.
  • Officials will ask if you want a temporary import (longer stay) or a transit permit (lasts 24 hours). We opted for the transit permit (free).
  • Fill out the permit form. Only about 50% applies to tourists. You will need to give a specific border crossing by which you will leave the following day then actually exit through that border. Some of the Spanish is a bit complicated (mainly due to the fact its for cargo carriers, not tourists) ask for assistance if needed.
  • Documents Required (1x copy needed of everything):
    • Passport
    • License
    • Registration
  • They held copies and originals for approximately 30-45 minutes in the office. We were directed to wait by our vehicle. Patience. Pee behind trucks if needed.
  • Eventually, they arrive with all documents and inspects the vehicle (including VIN). Once inspected, he hands all paperwork over to the little office you are parked by.
  • Wait.
  • Receive all documents and your Transit Permit. The permit will look pretty blank (because you are not a transport truck) except for a fancy sticker.
  • Drive out and back to the highway.
  • Make two copies of your stickered permit at the copy shop located at the intersection with the highway. You’ll need these on exit.

Notes:

  • Again, we were warned about these borders but had absolutely no issue. Besides a bit of confusion. No fixers. No scams.
  • Border official advised us to gas up at the first gas station (located after the border, but before customs). He also advised us to drive as far as we could, past San Salvador for security reasons. He said “Do not stop for anyone”. Maybe he was just being extra precaution, but we thought we would mention it.
  • If you are using the 24 hour transit permit, plan your route in advance. You need to exit El Salvador at the border indicated on the permit. Also, we advise to stay in San Miguel for the night if crossing anytime after early morning. Our progress through the country was pretty slow due to traffic, road conditions etc., and we didn’t make it as far as expected. There are no hotels or known camping (iOverlander) between San Miguel and San Vicente on the Pan American. Auto-Hotels only began popping up around the exit to San Vicente and there was absolutely no safe hotels in San Vicente (don’t waste your time looking). 

Northbound-Borders Collection: Nicaragua to Honduras

Given our shortened timeframe, and the warnings by many about traveling Honduras/El Salvador we decided to skip them this time. We know that many, many people have traveled safely into the beauty of these countries, but decided that we would wait until next trip to really explore them.

We were able to travel between Leon Nicaragua, to San Vincent, El Salvador in 12 hours (Leave 5:15AM, Arrival before dark 5PM). We would recommend stopping somewhere immediately after the border though, because after San Miguel there are few towns and fewer hotels. We stayed at a Auto-Motel (*wink wink 3 hours for 10 $).


Borders : Nicaragua to Honduras

When: June 14, 2016

Where: Guasuale

Time Frame: 1.5 hours (early, early morning 7AM)

Process:

  • Drive up to the border checkpoint, they will check your passport and give you a Customs Declaration to fill out.
  • Park on the left in front of the border office, get your passports checked (no stamps) at the exit side of immigration. He will instruct you to pay 45C (or alternately a terrible USD ripoff rate) for exit fee. Pay on the opposite side of the office. **If you do not have exact change, the bank is in the same building and can make it for you.
  • Keep exit receipts!
  • Once processed, return to your vehicle and find a customs official wondering around to inspect your truck. Again, picture someone dressed for business-casual day at the office. He will sign the back of the customs declaration form for you. You will then need to have a customs official sign the back of your Vehicle Import Document (originally received on entry in Nicaragua). Is this can be the same official or a different one, we are not sure. Both were wandering around the same area.
  • Proceed back to the immigration office, down the hallway from the cashier whom you paid the exit fee too.
  • Customs will process you.
  • Documents Required (no copies):
    • Passport
    • License
    • Registration
    • Vehicle Import Form(signed by customs officer)
    • Customs declaration (signed by customs officer)
  • No exit stamp from Nicaragua
  • Drive through to Honduras (over the bridge).
  • Park on the left side of the road, in front of the Border Offices.
  • Get an entry stamp for Honduras. $3 USD, receipt given.

***You’ll also need to have exact change. No banks in this neighbourhood, but they accept Lempiras or USD. Moneychangers can charge you a fee for change. 

  • Walk through the building to the other side. You will need to enter into the offices (just ask the Transito booths for permission). Someone will escort you to an office, to import your vehicle.
  • Vehicle import is $13 USD.
  • Documents Required (2x copies needed of everything):
    • Passport
    • License
    • Registration
    • Passport Entry stamp
  • No Insurance required (we did not ask about prices since we are only going to be in Honduras for a few hours).
  • You will receive 2 receipts: a receipt for the transaction and for the import itself (a rainbow receipt, hang on to this)

***Copy office located across the large tractor-trailer parking lot from the customs side of the building. We recommend checking it out if only for the lewd pedophile poster and ancient beast of a typewriter.

  • On leaving the border zone, again you will be checked by an official to make sure you have everything. They’ll kindly inform you if you need anything else, which we did (the rainbow receipt).

Notes:

  • We were warned by everyone about this border. We were warned about helpers jumping on your car, running after you, yelling at you. We were warned about scams from the officials and about sketchy transactions. We were 100% surprised to find this the easiest border of all time. No helpers to be found, no scams, happy officials, and even some that spoke english.
  • One of the warnings is of the police checkpoint in Honduras, immediately after the border. Apparently they typically extort people for not having warning triangles, fire extinguisher which are required in the country. We stocked up in Leon (check out the SINSA hardware store on the way out of town) in preparation.  However, there were far more police pylons then police at the countless checkpoints from border to border.  The one time we were stopped, he simply asked where we were from. We were also waved through both military checkpoints. Success!

 

 

 

Northward-Bound Borders Collection: Costa Rica to Nicaragua

Borders : Costa Rica to Nicaragua

When: June 6, 2016

Where: Penas Blancas

Time Frame: 2.5hrs (mid afternoon)

Process:

  • Pay exit fee at Costa Rican border. To the right of the road, down a small embankment. Looks unofficial, but they gave a receipt. $7 USD.
  • Off the main street, to the right, get your exit stamp at immigration. They need to see your exit fee receipt.
  • Costa Rican Customs Office is located in a strange location in relation to immigration. Drive towards North towards Nicaragua, past the immigration offices, then turn around and head in the opposite direction back into Costa Rica. The customs offices are located to the right; you cannot miss it, looks like a parking lot for semi trailers with no building visible. Drive to the southern end.
  • Customs office will cancel your importation, but needs one copy of the Importation form. No charge, and copy shop located nearby.
  • Documents required:
    • Passport
    • License
    • Vehicle Registration.
    • Costa Rican Vehicle Import Form (received when you entered the country) + 1 Copy
  • Now you are ready for Nicaragua….. and boy you better get ready for the craziest border crossing yet.
  • Loop back around as if you were starting the process again, but head all the way across into Nicaragua this time. **Nicaragua has relocated their Border offices compared to 2015 (right hand side of the road). They are now located on the left hand side of the road.
  • Park in the parking lot to the south of the building. Helpers, children and maybe baby ducks, will swarm you. You do not need them, politely decline their services. You can do it.
  • Receive a Vehicle Inspection Form, from a customs officer who will be wandering around the lot. Should look like an official, but on business casual day. He will fill out a small customs form, including various items you are carrying (example: Surfboards, ropas, “casa” by which he meant our roof top tent). He did not check anything besides our license plate, and opened the back door but did not need us to open the drawers.
    • You can pay him off if you want so he does a shitty inspection, but if you have nothing to hide… why waste the money. We did pay a helper $5 USD for this service, but seriously do not think it was necessary.
  • Take the Vehicle Inspection Form to a Police officer who should also be wandering around the parking lot. He will thankfully look more official, and will inspect the vehicle also. He needs to sign the customs form for you.
  • Pay for Nicaraguan insurance (unofficial looking tent to the left of the immigration office). $12 USD
  • Enter immigration office, receive exit stamp. Exit fee $12 USD
  • Walk through the immigration office into a big blank room with many tables and only one grumpy lady. We honestly have no idea what she does, besides take a dinosaurs age to enter and reenter your information.
  • Documents needed (no copies needed):
    • Passport
    • License
    • Registration
    • Vehicle Inspection Form
  • However grumpy she is, she is necessary. Once she approves you in her voodoo computer system, you can exit.
  • When you are driving out of the border zone, there will be someone checking to ensure you have all the correct clearances. If you are missing anything, never fear! He will kindly redirect you.
  • Pets: Customs noticed out cat, but completely ignored her. No documents needed. We did not declare her.

Notes:

  • This Border is literally the craziest to date, thanks mostly in part to the helpers rushing you all the time. They are persistent.
  • This crossing has the most steps out of all the borders so far but we have found it really helpful to simply ask at each official step “What is the next step” Or  “A donde vamos  despues?” Officials will always direct you.
  • The Police checkpoint is located before the turn off for San Juan Del Sur. They only needed to see our passport.

 

Northward-Bound Borders Collection: Panama to Costa Rica

Since we have been frustrated by the lack of information available for Overlanders traveling North, we decided to put together the Northward-Bound Borders Collection. The border information we have been relying on is for those going south, meaning we are trying to piece together information from various sources on the procedures going against the grain. It’s a lot of note taking, a lot of investigation, and really annoying. We appreciate all the monumental efforts of those before us (Overlandwiki, 30forthirty, Drive the Americas) but it doesn’t always apply to us.

So Northbound travelers – here you go – please enjoy our step-by-step process for overlanding borders the opposite direction.


Borders Collection: Panama to Costa Rica

When: June 5th, 2016

Where: Paso Canoas

Time Frame: 3 hours (mid afternoon)

Process:

**Warning** since we had so many problems on the Panama side, we can only advise on the process starting afresh on the Costa Rican side. We cannot offer any real advise for the Panama portion.

  • Drive through the Panama immigration/customs building once processed. Cross the main street immediately outside the border building and you will see a Costa Rican Border Office to your right about 200 meters down the road.
  • Request a Customs Declaration Form at an immigration booth. Immigration is located on the Northern side of the building. Complete the form and hand it in at immigration for a passport stamp.
  • Proceed to customs, located on the southern side of the building (other side from immigration). You will need to go inside and fill out the appropriate temporary vehicle import form.
    • Documents Needed (no copies required):
      • Passport
      • License
      • Vehicle Registration
    • A Customs Officer will come outside with you and inspect your vehicle. They did not check anything besides our license plate, and opened the back door but did not need us to open the back drawers.
    • Insurance is located back beside immigration on the Northern side. 90 days of coverage cost $37USD. It does not get refunded if you leave before hand.
    • No exit fees for Panama.
    • No entry fees for Costa Rica.

Pets: Customs noticed out cat, but completely ignored her. No documents needed. We did not declare her.


Additional Notes:

  • Panama side of the border is much more chaotic. Quite a few helpers who are very pushy. They can be helpful if you need assistance with your paperwork in Panama. They seem to work in cahoots with the border officials who often call them over for translation. Negotiate price ahead of time.
  • Although overwhelming at first, the general lay out of the border is in a straight line. When being processed in Panama, enter the building with your vehicle but do not drive entirely through as you’d technically be crossing into Costa Rica. Park somewhere along the offices. Someone will direct you if you are in the way.
  • Police checkpoint located within 20 km of the border. They needed to see our passports and our registration, and our vehicle import form.
  • Fill up on fuel before leaving Panama. Costa Rica is Fucking Pricey.