Central America (Borders & More Borders)

We left Panama this morning headed for Costa Rica.  We decided Panama has the worst drivers we have encountered so far. At a fuel stop, one guy told me Panama’s worst national problem was “No Respect While Driving”.

It was somewhat discouraging to leave Panama City and actually drive south to get to Costa Rica, which is actually west of Panama, but the strip of land that divides Central and South America is narrow and curvy. By the end of the day we had spent hours facing a westward sun.

The Costa Rica border crossing was much more complex than we had imagined.  We would soon learn that all Central American countries have painfully slow, difficult to understand processes at the border.  We also quickly learned that it’s best to hire a local to walk you through the process.  20-30 dollars will get you a personal guide, sometimes with official connections.


The basic requirements of all countries are essentially the same; get your passport stamped at immigration and register your vehicle with customs.  What’s different for each country and maddening is the paperwork and layout of the procedure.  Most borders are dusty, filthy, incredibly hot, locations in the middle of nowhere. Semi trucks are usually lined up for miles waiting to cross the border.  For trucks in can take days.

For motorcycles, it’s easy to get to the front of the line of traffic, you just drive around the line. There is always a specific area for motorcycles to park which is always close to the starting point.  Once you identify your local expert (who must speak capable English), you are ready to begin the process. Did I say patience is the most important part of this process?
Each country is different.  Some require many multiple copies of everything.  Just when we wished we had brought a printer, you realize how low-tech can still come in very handy; remember the typewriter? By the way, if your looking to get rid of one, we know where they are needed and very helpful.  And for the most part, still very much in use everyday.

It’s important to keep looking for the humorous side of the process. Like when Dave began to emphatically explain to the officials that all these copies were “wasting trees”, and that they were going to eventually run out of storage space; wherever they stored all these copies.
What’s amazing is that we brought stacks of copies of everything.  But where the plans fall short is when you need copies of same-day passport stamps and forms they give you to fill out on-the-spot.  Since this is the case, you end up making copies of everything you need and leaving the copies you brought with you packed away.

At most crossings copies are pennies, if that. I’ve had a hard time figuring out how they are making so many copies so cheaply.  I guess when the copier resides in a small shack with a dirt floor, overhead must be pretty low.
There are some benefits to waiting at the borders; like getting your shoes shined; and there is always someone around to sell you a cold drink or a snack. Did I mentioned “patience”?