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Bus vs. Car through Central America

Travel Forums Central/South America & The Caribbean Bus vs. Car through Central America

1. Posted by Jeffh84 (Budding Member 2 posts) 9y Star this if you like it!

I'm planning on traveling through Central and South America by myself in March or April of 09. My original plan was to drive, but so far my friends have been extremely unsupportive of me doing this. Literally all of them are saying that I will be murdered, robbed, or thrown in jail for no reason, especially because of the fact that I'll be in a car with US plates. I know bad things happen in the world and it is of course possible that something could happen to me, but I've just been shrugging these warnings off as people who watch too much news. I figure as long as I keep to myself and don't cause any trouble, I should be ok, right? Today a friend told me "don't do it Jeff. You will die". Word for word.

Well its gotten to the point where I am at least CONSIDERING taking a bus through Central America instead. Before I make that decision though I wanted to get some advice from some seasoned travelers such as yourselves. Will taking a bus instead of a car "save my life"? Are my friends just way too sucked in to what they hear on the news?

By the way, I speak little Spanish, but I'm pretty sure I know enough to get around and get my point across.

2. Posted by fraluchi (Full Member 130 posts) 8y Star this if you like it!

Perhaps the times are not indicated to show too much of being American, which is meant for the flag waving number plate on a car. The coming months are going to be very difficult for the inhabitants of the various countries which are obviously going to suffer from the global financial recession. You may guess who they (not always correctly) blame. Some of the Central American countries are not too jovial in any case.
Apart from the documents hassle you will face at each border crossing you must remember that there is no road connection between Panama and South America (Colombia).
Go by bonafide bus, it's not more dangerous than anywhere else in the world these days, and it'll cost you less in $$ and frustration.

3. Posted by SDlance (Budding Member 4 posts) 8y Star this if you like it!

hello, i am goign to be doing the same trip around the same time... i will be sticking mostly tto coastal regions because it is more of a surfing focused trip, but being a fellow american it would be nice to travel with another if possible... let me know

- lance

4. Posted by GregW (Travel Guru 2635 posts) 8y Star this if you like it!

I will be murdered ... or thrown in jail for no reason... Today a friend told me "don't do it Jeff. You will die".

I don't think murder, death or jail are more likely because you a driving. (There is, no matter what you do, always a chance that any of them could happen, but they are pretty small). However, I agree with fraluchi's comments, and think you should take the bus.

Buses are cheap, frequent, clean and safe. A car is a big hassle, as you need to get proper documentation (google "carnet" for details), deal with border crossings and searches, ship the car from Panama to Columbia and then what do you do with it at the end?

On safety, while I don't think that driving a car with US plates would make you a target for violence, it probably would make you a target for thieves. I know a few people that have driven in the region ended up having the car broken into at night and having stuff stolen. In addition, I have heard from a few folks about having their tires punctured to give a slow leak, and when they stop to change it, someone else pulls over to "help." The nice "helpers" leave before the new tires are on, and by the time you get back to the car, your luggage is missing.

Really, much easier to take the bus.

5. Posted by SamSalmon (Respected Member 626 posts) 8y Star this if you like it!

Quoting GregW

....Really, much easier to take the bus.


Finding secure parking every night is a major hassle you don't need.

6. Posted by carla_fran (First Time Poster 1 posts) 8y Star this if you like it!

Hey Jeff,

I will do this trip with my partner (she is American I'm Brazilian). We will buy our truck and camper in America and start from philadelphia > california >down to central america> panama to equador> down to terra del fuego> up to argentina >uruguai> Brazil to Natal. We will try to do it in 6 months.
We will fly to US at the end of september and start it in october/2009.
Hopfully we will find other people doing the same or part of the trip so we can do it togher. Dont be scared bad things can happen in your own house.

7. Posted by Piecar (Travel Guru 933 posts) 8y Star this if you like it!

Often, when people ask this question, they have already made up their mind, so I could be wasting my time.....

Most drivers in CA don´t have any kind of insurance. This is why they are all driving cars that look like they went through the Malachi Crunch all the time. Most of them are Lousy Lousy Lousy drivers. That they are lousy makes your GOOD driving (I am supposing there) dangerous. Because you are living within a set of rules that they are not adhering to.

In Guat, at least, in the case of a car accident in which the police are involved, both parties are thrown into the jug until they can hash things out. Ever hear of Latin American Time? Yep. They really do´'t make a special effort to be expedient.

So, if you are going to drive....Make sure you couldn´t give a shit about the car. Have a contingency plan when the car craps out, and know first aid.

Good luck out there.

8. Posted by Jeffh84 (Budding Member 2 posts) 8y Star this if you like it!

After some advice from this forum and some research, I've decided to take the bus. Having a car does seem like more of a hassle than I would like, and plus I heard bus travel was real cheap and convenient down there.

To carla_fran and SDlance, I'll be starting this trip in September of 09 from Texas and plan to spend at least a few months in Mexico before heading down to Central and South America. I have no time frame at all and am completely flexible. So if you would like to do a small leg of the trip together, send me a message and maybe we can work soemthing out.

9. Posted by i c e (Full Member 326 posts) 8y Star this if you like it!

Hello Jeff and welcome to Travellerspoint,
I did not read all of the posts above but I can help you in your situation.
My family and I took a top end truck pulling a top end Fith wheel (RV) From Nogales to Guatemala and then drove the rest of the way to panama with just the truck. We did not have any security problems other than some one took a teddy bear that we had strapped to the front of the truck. If you decide to take a car send me a message and I can give you some creative safety tips.
We were able to travel at our own leasure and had the time of our lives. We were very concerned about finding a safe place to stay every night but found out that that is not as hard as one might think.
We stayed in Pemex through Mexico where they had all night lighting and security (even a convenient store with great coffe) and didn't charge us anything (other than the tips). Thoughout Central America we found a dfferent place every night but always found something wether a hotel, or hotel parking lot or even some ones restaurant where they let us put up a tent (again for free).
Yes the people are very poor and desperate. But they do not hate Americans or 'Target' every american they see to rip them off or attack them. I am sure there are plenty of tales of woe and it CAN happen to anyone but in general, Central America is relatively safe. The advantages of taking a bus are definately some good ones. But taking a car you are free to do and go where you like when you like.
This can be really advantageous when you are look for sper of the moment fun and adventure.
Either way I think you'll be fine. Personally I think a car offers you more safety (there are plenty of terrible stories on buses too) and comfort, you can listen to your own music, take a break where you like, back track to check out a cool site...etc.... I think you should do what you planned and what you want not what your friends or other influence you to do.

I will be leaving to do the same (smaller vehicles) thing in South America in six (well, five and a half. Yikes!) weeks. I know that we will have a new best time of our lives!

I think you will too.

Have fun AND be safe,