Driving to Costa Rica
Many people, for one reason or another, drive to Central America via the Pan-American highway. Some wish to have their cars so that they don't have to rent one when they get down there, some use it to transport themselves and their belongings for a permanent move, and yet others do it simply for the thrill and adventure. While there is a great deal of adventure to be experienced along the way, one may also receive equal doses of frustration, fear and danger if they neglect to heed a few commonsense precautions.
Firstly, make certain that your car is in good working order. Be sure that you have good tires and a new spare, and that the car's jack is fully functional. Four-wheel drive is not necessary, nor is it recommended. You can expect to find ample overnight accommodations along the way, so camping gear is not essential. On the other hand, an ice cooler with plenty of juice, soda and water can make life a lot easier.
You must have a valid passport to drive to Costa Rica, but visas are not required in advance. However, in order to avoid hassles, delays and having to tip border officials when entering a country, it is beneficial to get your passport stamped by the consulates of each country prior to departure. Car insurance is another issue that needs to be addressed before leaving the United States. U.S. and Canadian car insurance is ineffective south of the border. Nevertheless, it is a good idea to bring proof that the car you are driving is insured. In Central America, a special car insurance policy will be necessary, and this is better obtained before leaving the country. Sanborn's Insurance (www.sanbornsinsurance.com / (956) 686-3601) out of McAllen, Texas is the respected authority in offering liability and full coverage policies from the U.S./Mexican border all the way to Panama. Within Mexico, full coverage on a US$12,000 sports utility vehicle for 15 days will cost you about US$180. Liability only coverage on the same vehicle is a mere US$95. Prices for coverage within Central American countries will be a bit higher.
The first and longest leg of the trip begins with entering Mexico at the U.S. border. From Mexicali the traveling distance to Costa Rica is 3,700 miles, and from Brownsville it's 2,300 miles. The most efficient route through Mexico is through Brownsville and down the east coast, even if you are traveling from the West Coast of the United States. This may be surprising, but the faster U.S. highways shorten the driving time significantly. At the very least, driving through Mexico will take three day with no travel breaks. When entering Mexico, a tourist card will be issued with little hassle. If the car you are driving is financed, it will be necessary to present a notarized statement from the company you are financing the car from stating that you have permission to take the car out of the country.
The next section of the trip is traveling through Guatemala. It is recommended that you cross the border near Tapachula, Mexico, a relatively accommodating town for travelers, and then enter Guatemala at the town of Tecún Umanán. Crossing the border can take as longs as six hours, so get an early start on that day. From Guatemala City to Costa Rica there are two common routes. The shortest and quickest way is through El Salvador (which includes a small section of Honduras). Or you can opt to travel through Honduras entirely, which some would say is longer but more scenic and comfortable. The final stretch through Nicaragua to Costa Rica should only take a few hours.
A strong word of advice to all of those considering taking a road trip such as this: Do not drive through any of the above-mentioned countries after dark! Many of the roads in this part of the world do not have guardrails or even shoulders. In addition, drivers from the U.S. may not be familiar with the aggressive and often hazardous driving style of motorists from Latin America. Therefore, assuming the average daily driving period is between 6 and 8 hours, and that the average speed through this challenging terrain is about 35 m.p.h., road trippers should expect to be on the road from the U.S. border to San José for approximately three weeks.
For more information on driving in Costa Rica, visit Getting Around .