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Mexico/Latin America Road Trip

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1. Posted by rabudman (Inactive 31 posts) 7y Star this if you like it!

Hi all, I’m leaving the US and relocating to Central or South America but know little about either. I have traveled enough to know not to put much faith in stereotypes.
I will be leaving from Oregon, driving through California, into Mexico, etc…
I’m sure Mexico and Central America are not as dangerous as we are led to believe but any advice on what are the safest routes/roads? I.E. less crime…I’m not going to get car-jacked for a 6-pack or my watch am I? Advice ranging from the crucial to the mundane would be appreciated. Practical things like, do I purchase my electrical adapters before or after I cross the border? Does it matter? Can I bring a few food items across the border or not? I like to travel with a bit of road trip food.
Should I take the Baja? How much is the ferry?
Also, any advice on where a disgruntled American looking to keep working but getting off the grid might settle in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, Costa Rica or elsewhere would be greatly appreciated.

2. Posted by SamSalmon (Respected Member 626 posts) 7y Star this if you like it!

You can't just show up in any of those countries and settle-that is not going to happen.

Road trips are fun by bring lots of cash and print this link of names of car parts in Spanish.

Rolly Brooks site has all kinds of useful info

3. Posted by Calcruzer (Travel Guru 2003 posts) 7y Star this if you like it!

Well, the best advice is to probably travel east to Texas, then across to Monterrey, and then get south to Zacatecas or San Luis Potosi as quickly as possible making no stops between those cities and Monterrey. Stay away from the state on the east coast there--which just had their governor killed a month ago--and avoid Chihuahua which has had a lot of violence and drug runners.

As far as a place to kick back--I suggest the country of Costa Rica or Puerto Escondido on the southern coast of Mexico. Both are fairly American friendly and have very little in the way of drug violence or domestic rebel issues. Also, both are fairly cheap.

P.S. While Mexico is busy with a giant drug war, Costa Rica doesn't even have an army--since their neighbors are friendly and there aren't problems internally. Half of the country is composed of beautiful national parks. Haven't been there yet, but need to go sometime soon.

P.S. Some people think you can drive all the way from North America to South America--not realizing that there is a 50 mile area in the southern part of Panama/northern part of Columbia where there are no roads. So you can only drive as far as Panama if you are heading south from Oregon.

[ Edit: Add Panama road info ]

4. Posted by LSucettes (Budding Member 5 posts) 7y Star this if you like it!

I posted a slightly extensive explanation on 'safety' in Mexico a few months back. here's the link.

You're definitely not going get car-jacked for a watch. That's probably more common in Mexico City or Central America (except for Panama and Costa Rica), where a different type of violence exists.. The current war in Mexico is against organised crime.. organised crime, like the name says, is.. organised, they have specific targets and operate on a bigger and nastier level for financial profit.

You do need to take your precautions on any highway in Latin America, there's been a lot of cases where people see an isolated, pretty landscape, stop to take pictures and when they get back to their car, it turns out wallets/gadgets have been stolen.. that's vandalism coming from (usually young) people that live nearby in isolated (=poor) conditions.. of course not all of them are not to be trusted, some of the nicest people are probably those in rural areas, just take basic precautions, always keep an eye on your belongings.

You don't need electrical adapters in Mexico, but if you want to bring some just in case, I'd recommend you to buy them in the US, it's much cheaper.. and you'll probably understand exactly what you're paying for..

Entering via Monterrey is probably not such a good idea right now, it's been declared disaster zone since Hurricane Alex hit them a couple weeks ago and major roads are currently inaccessible.
Juarez is also not recommended, a car bomb exploded only yesterday.. it's the heart of the drug war and the violence has been escalating to terrorism levels, targeting lots of innocents.
Tijuana, for once, is probably the safest option at the moment, as the two big leaders of the local cartels were captured some months ago and even though violence will be back, right now it's enjoying a moment of relative quietness due to the lack of defined criminal leaders.

If you're traveling through Tijuana, you can definitely bring food, the customs are mostly just symbolic.. anyone carrying anything gets in.. unfortunately.

As for choosing between taking the Baja or Sonora.. I wouldn't know what to recommend.. the Baja Peninsula can seem very lonely but its type of tourism is on constant flow.. very reliable in case you need anything, familiarised enough with English at least to know what your problem is, and the nature is pretty much untouched right at the center, which makes for some stunning landscapes.
Sonora on the other hand.. is also desert but it's drier, hotter (think Arizona).. the people passing by aren't often tourists, they can be Southerners trying to make it to the border, more buses, organised crime chauffeurs coming from Sinaloa aka Cartel Central, the upside is that as you make it out of Sonora and enter Sinaloa, it makes for some nice contrast to drive through.. and Nayarit (after Sinaloa) is only greener..
That being said, if you choose Baja, you take the ferry in Pichilingue (near La Paz- pron: pee-shee-leen-ghae) and end up in the same 'green' state: Mazatlán, Sinaloa. The ferry costs around USD 300 per SUV/Pick-Up and 70 per passenger. Click here for more info.

I second Calcruzer on the places to settle in.. for the same reasons he stated. Just make sure you know some expats there for a smooth transition.. it's the only way to settle in and find a way to make money.. especially if you don't speak Spanish.

Good luck!

5. Posted by rabudman (Inactive 31 posts) 7y Star this if you like it!

Thanks for all the great information. This is a great website. I'm considering Mexico for the first six months of the journey.

I’ve now read that if I intend to drive my car (which is finance with bank), into Mexico I’ll need auto insurance from a Mexican company for the duration of my stay and also a notarized letter from the finance company giving the ok to leave the US with the vehicle.

Can anyone confirm this?

Will this same arrangement be required for each country? (Insurance from each country and notarized letter)

I hope to find a little casual labor along the way. I’m beginning to focus on Sayulita just north of Puerto Vallarta or the Guadalajara area. And, because of the slightly cooler climate and high population of Americans already living in the area, more specifically, Lake Chapala and the town of Ajijic.

Any suggestions or comments on these areas or ideas for other locations?

Thanks again for all the insight.

[ Edit: Edited on 22-Jul-2010, at 09:06 by rabudman ]