Central America

Mid October we left Central America (CA). So time for some evaluation 🙂

We arrived in Mexico on the 20th of January. Now, Mexico isn’t counted as being part of Central or South America, officially it belongs to the North American continent. But it is considered part of Latin America so we will include Mexico in our evaluation of Central America. We left Panama on the 12th of October. This means we have spend 8 months, 3 weeks and 1 day in CA. We have driven a total of 13.214km in CA.

We have visited the following countries; Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. We skipped Belize and El Salvador. After the very tough time we had in Mexico we decided to drive in a more straight line to Panama. From what we have heard El Salvador would also have been nice to visit, but well, you can’t have it all and we still don’t regret our choice. Also it has to be noted that El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua have established “free movement” across borders between them, but that is only beneficial for their respective citizens. For travellers this means that you can spend a maximum of 3 months in these CA-4 countries all together, so you have to plan carefully how much time you spend in each country. Also, for tourists there are no easy border crossings: It is the regular bureaucratic hassle to obtain the visas and TIP (Temporary ImPort) for a vehicle. So, what are our favourite countries?

1st place: Nicaragua (Marcia) and Guatemala (Kilian)

2nd place: Guatemala and Nicaragua

3rd place: Costa Rica

4th place: Honduras

5th place: Panama

6th-99th place: other countries

100th place: Mexico.

What we’ve liked the best and the least per country:


Our favourite things in Nicaragua were the Telica volcano, Masaya Volcano, Leon (city) and the Ometepe island. We were also pleasantly surprised by the, generally, good condition of the major roads. Nicaragua is also one of the safest countries of CA, unless you openly criticize the government. As a rule we do not discuss or get involved in politics or religion. Our least favourite part of Nicaragua was the incredible bureaucracy. This was also the reason we only stayed here for a month. In order to renew the TIP for the van we would have had to go through a multiple day bureaucratic process.


We loved Antigua which is our favourite city in CA. This is also the opinion of lot of other CA travellers. Here we enjoyed the beautiful Santa Semana and got to meet many other overlanders. It also has a very good climate. With one of the overlanders we climbed the Pacaya Volcano, which was relatively easy and fun. We also had a very good time camping at lake Atitlan. The incredible steep mountain passes however were really tough on our van. We stayed one month in Guatemala.

Costa Rica

Our favourite part was the release of baby turtles. We also loved our wild camp spot directly at Manuel Antonio beach, which was not only very beautiful but we also got to see sloths here. The Osa peninsula was also one of our favourites. We also really liked seeing Ara’s and crocodiles in the wild. Crossing in to CR was easy, there is much less bureaucracy here, the same goes for Panama. CR and Panama are the richest countries in CA and I can’t help but thinking this is partly due to the lack of expensive unnecessary bureaucracy. The negative thing about Costa Rica is that it is very expensive and especially the national parks are severely overpriced and in our humble opinion also overrated. With entrance fees ranging between $15-25 (for foreigners – nationals pay only a 10th of the price) so you can hike one or two trails for a few kilometres. The chances of seeing an animal here, besides monkeys, is also small because of all the people on those trails. We’ve spend 2 months, 3 weeks and 1 day in CR.


We had a great time driving the challenging off road track to Cusuco national park (there is an easier road). We really relaxed at the free camp spot of the Angeli gardens and brewery and we also enjoyed one of our first wild camp spots at the beach for a long time. Much less pleasant were the rather ugly and poor cities San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa (capital) and the trash lying around every where. Honduras is the 2nd poorest country in CA. Apparently Nicaragua is the poorest. However Nicaragua must be doing something right with the money they do have because the poverty is far less obvious than it is in Honduras. Honduras is a small country and we only stayed here for 2 weeks and 3 days.


We really liked the area around Ola and we had a great time with some overlander friends at Playa Reina. And the national parks were free or really cheap which meant we could go for a few hikes. Panama city and the surrounding areas are horrible, mostly because of the overpopulation and the traffic, which was the worst of CA. Panama is also extremely expensive. And the rainy season here was at its worst. We spend exactly one month in Panama.


We liked the Palenque ruins and the hot springs Agua Caliente near Cacahoatan. We also had one of the most beautiful wild camp spots so far; a secluded (private) tropical beach near Champoton. Unfortunately these nice things don’t make up for the negative things; the awful roads, the (mostly) umarked topes nearly killed our car. The awful traffic. The road blocks where locals want money for passing even though it is not a toll road. This is possible due to the complete anarchy that rules Mexico. The high crime rate and inefficient police of course. And the ridiculous bureaucratic rules that depend on the mood a single (custom) officer is having. It is also one of the most corrupt countries, nr.3 in the world, but at least we didn’t have to deal with that. Other overlanders we know did have expensive experiences here. We stayed 2 months and 2 weeks in Mexico, however 1 month and 3 days were spend in Cartagena, waiting for our car. We had originally planned to spend at least 6 months in Mexico, possibly a year.


What did we expect and what not?

We had expected to have to deal with corruption, especially from the police. However we haven’t had to deal with corruption once, lets hope it stays that way (so far in Colombia, so good)

We had expected that wild camping would be easy. If you google it you will find that wild camping is legal (or at least there are no laws prohibiting it) in all the CA countries. And on maps you will see huge natural areas with not a house in sight. However it proved difficult in most countries, for two reasons. A lot of the nature areas are fenced off private property. And secondly there aren’t that many roads into the natural areas. There aren’t many campsites either though. It wasn’t until Nicaragua that we could do some more wild camping again. In Costa Rica it was very easy at the coast but more difficult inland.

We knew we had to be more careful in this part of the world. But we were definitely not prepared for the high level of crime, especially in Mexico. We paid a high price for that.

We didn’t know that Costa Rica and Panama were going to be so expensive, more so than most European countries, Switzerland en Norway are perhaps equally expensive.

Things that we hadn’t really thought about but that we did notice

Everything is very noisy here. Traffic and people, barking dogs, lots of crowds. Stores often have speakers outside which play very loud music. Cars drive around with sound installations to advertise.

Generally people are friendly and helpful but a bit wary of strangers. Probably because of the lack of safety. They are also not used to people (wild) camping. Here if people say they go camping they mean they are going to stay in a wooden cabin, so glamping.

Kids here are really important. The fact that we chose not to have kids is something they simple can’t understand. Overlanders who have kids are more easily approached. We tried convincing them that Binkie is our kid, so far that hasn’t worked yet…

Everybody here is (very) religious. Churches are every where. People make a cross while passing a church and we have even had somebody pray for us. Public buses usually have something on the back like “in god we trust” Unfortunately that shows in their driving…

Because a lot of land, including natural features such as waterfalls, are private property, you have to pay an entrance fee for a lot of things that are usually freely accessible in Europe, for instance a hiking trail.

In some countries they use the imperial system instead of the metric system. In some countries they use both. This can get confusing. However all distances are being measured in meters.

Every country has its own valuta, but dollars are excepted every where. At some borders we could only pay in dollars. In Panama the US dollar has mostly replaced the Panamese balboa and the exchange rate is 1:1, so that was easy.

Plastic, plastic, plastic, plastic. Plastic is responsible for most of the littering here. Not surprisingly as everything is wrapped in several layers of plastic. Cookies for example are often individually packed and than packed together in more plastic.

Sugar is also an interesting item here. On one hand it is very difficult to buy chocolate that has regular sugar in it instead of a sweetener. On the other hand sugar is added to things you wouldn’t expect. Like tomato paste, coconut milk, natural yoghurt and whole grain bread. So if we are not careful our pasta bolognaise tastes like candy, which is not a recommendable flavour.

Although they grow cacao beans everywhere, chocolate isn’t easily available. Locals don’t like chocolate and we can’t blame them because the local chocolate is grainy and bitter. The good chocolate is imported from Europe.

Despite the fact that every country here has a rainy season that lasts between 2-5 months, there are almost no measurements to deal with it or prevent too much damage. Streets and houses just flood, roads get washed away and areas are closed of for days or weeks due to out of control rivers, washed away roads or landslides. That is just the way it is, every rainy season again.

Overall we would give Central America a 7 (1-10). Our travels through Europe,the Balkan and Asia we would rate an 8.5. We will see what South America brings, we have high expectations of especially Bolivia, Peru, Chili and Argentina. Hopefully they get fulfilled.


4 thoughts on “Central America”

  1. Hallo Marcia dank voor je uitgebreide verslag en mooie fotos .Nu maar kijken of jullie verdere reis wordt wat jullie er van verwachten.

  2. We hebben jullie al een poosje niet gevolg maar nu zijn we met het goede verslag en mooie foto s weer helemaal bij.
    Wij wensen jullie voor 2023 de gezondheid en plezier in het vervolg van jullie reis.
    De camping buurtjes uit Heukelom

    • Hallo,

      Dat is lang geleden, leuk! Fijn dat jullie van het verslag leuk vonden. De beste wensen, groetjes vanuit Ecuador


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