Every couple of years my wife and I fly to Panama to visit her family (she’s Panamanian). This year (early April) I want to make the trip by bus to get a glimpse of Mexico and Central America. I would like to hear from those of you that have recently made the trip that way; your experiences, suggestions and cautions. A few of my concerns are: at border crossings what visas, fees or problems should we anticipate? Will we need the local currency during the crossings and overnight stops the bus makes and if so is it easy to exchange dollars? I am a US citizen, that means I’m required to have a round trip ticket to enter Panama but we may want to return by air depending on how the trip goes or because of circumstances at home, is there a simple way around the requirement? I’m looking forward to your comments.
From the Mexican Border Tijuana is 45 hours by bus to Mexico City (D.F.), while Laredo Texas and Brownsvill Texas ar but 12 and 14 hours respectively, Mexican Bus tickets can be purchased at Greyhound and other companies in Houston, San antonio, El Paso, Tucson, Phoenix, San Diego, etc. Do not hang around Mexican Border towns!!!!!
You change buses in D.F., Terminal TAPO, if in a hurry take Cristobal Colon/ADO Bus to Tapachula, Chiapas 18 hours where you may connect with the Tica Bus from Tapachula to Panama via Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, CR.... Tica Bus has a bi lingual website Google it. Do your homework. You may stopover on Tica Bus and purchase 1 way or RT tickets, 7.5 days on Tica Bus Tapachula to Panama, unlike in Mexico buses do not run all night in Central America. Border crossings are easy with US Passport. Bus Driver takes all the passports to Customs, small fees to enter and leave Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.
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as a US citizen you will not need to show a return ticket to leave panama. you are limited to stay 30 days with the $5 tourist card you get at the border crossing, which can be extended. i did this trip last year.
tica bus is the most convenient way to travel from mexico city, i believe, or maybe san cristobal de las casas down to the rest of central america, excluding belize. check out their website. there are plenty of chicken buses dropping you near the borders of each country which is cheaper and fun! but can literally give you a headache if you are not used to it.
there are money changers at each border crossing. make sure you bring your own calculator and count your money! also check the exchange rates online to ensure you are not getting ripped off too much. about a 5% commission is what the moneychangers make.
... i meant a return or onward ticket to ENTER panama. and if in case you were asked to have a return ticket, which i doubt, you can always buy it from the bus line you took into panama coming from costa rica. the bus driver will sell tickets for those who need one. i went from san jose to david, panama and saw that other central americans did have to have an outbound ticket and that is what they did.