<home>                                   Planning Your Trip

What to Take
Check Lists
Guidebooks and Maps
Water Treatment
Sample Itinerary

Planning can be one of the most fun parts of the trip. For general planning, the book Live Your Road Trip Dream by Carol and Phil White provides a how-to-guide that includes step-by-step information on planning "the trip you've always wanted to take, but didn't know how to make a reality". We have to admit that when we left home we had not done any planning of our route. We had an AAA map of Mexico and Central America, an ITMB map of Central America, Church's book on Camping in Mexico (if you buy this be sure you get the 3rd edition out in July, 2005), and Central America on a Shoestring by Lonely Planet.  Hopefully this information will help you plan your trip. Other links are included throughout this web site.  Sanborn's Insurance has a particularly useful set of additional links.  See also the references for South America if you want to venture beyond Central America.


  • The documents you will need are your passport and the title of the vehicle(s). If you are taking your pet, you will need United States Interstate and International Certificate of Health Examination for Small Animals (APHIS Form 7001). See DOG for details on transporting a dog throughout Central America and back.
  • Check with each country before you go as formalities change. There is an embassy representing each country in the capital city of most countries. You want the consular offices. In many large cities you will also find a consular office of the Central American countries to assist their nationals residing there, and to answer questions of potential visitors. Besides confirming their requirements, they can also provide maps and tourist information. The following links  are useful:
  1. Current Visa Requirements - http://www.wtgonline.com/ ,
  2. See also http://www.letsgo.com/destinations/latin_america/central/essentials/documents.php
  3. Visa requirements for U.S. citizens - http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/brochures/brochures_1229.html
  • Make a copy of each of your documents to leave at home, and a dozen more to take with you. You will need to hand in copies at each border. We thought it interesting that the color copies were considered to be originals.


  • Your passports need to be valid for least six months of your entry date.
  • U.S.  and British citizens do not need to get visas in advance, but Canadians, among others, need them for Nicaragua and El Salvador


  • You need the original title of the vehicle or a notarized letter from the lien holder.
  • You must have one credit card and a driver’s license in the same name as the vehicle(s) title. If the RV is in joint ownership it is even better should one driver need to return home unexpectedly, or one loses their driver’s license.
  • Each traveler can only import one motorized vehicle. You will run into problems, for example if you tow a dingy and have a motor bike as well.


  • Get an International Drivers License (available through AAA). A couple might be useful. Keep your other one in a safe place and only show the international one. The official has a document he can read and you have your regular license in a safe place.


  • Have at least one in each person’s name on separate accounts. You need one in the same name as the vehicle registration. Remember an individual can only bring in one motorized vehicle.
  • If a card is lost or stolen you will need to cancel it while being able to continue to draw out money on another account.
  • We could not usually purchase gas with our credit cards, in spite of the logos on the gas station windows.
  • ATM machines were available in most towns.

  • Insurance should be purchased ahead of time. Except for Mexico and Costa Rica, there is no way to buy insurance at the borders (Costa Rica requires you to buy insurance at the border on the southbound leg).   We spent half a day in Quetzaltenango looking for a place to buy insurance, and ended up spending $100 for 30 days of coverage for "civil damages" up to $6000.  Otherwise we self insured.  Sanborn's Insurance provides Mexican Car Insurance at the border. They accept applications for RVs and might cover the entire trip, subject to approval. For information contact Mary Stave's at Sanborn's Brownsville office: (956) 546-6644 or (800) 258-1658.  Nelson International Insurance is another group that advertizes Central American Insurance. They are located in McAllen, Texas and have provided Central American insurance for at least one of our readers.  A UK company selling auto and camper insurance for Central America is http://www.alessie.com/html/americas2.html.  We haven't confirmed that they cover big rigs. You may also obtain insurance directly from AIG. In fact, if you insure through Sanborne's or Nelson's it will probably be underwritten by AIG.  Kathe Kirkebride obtained $120,000 worth of insurance covering their nine month trip for $5000 premium.  Contact them for more information.  
  • People sometimes wonder about liability and what happens if you cause damage, hurt or kill a local in an accident without insurance. This is a scary proposition and perhaps would put off many to making this trip. Clearly in Mexico, which excercises Napoleanic Law, you need to have liability insurance and it is availble at the borders.  We have not found it possible to obtain liability insurance for the other countries in Central America except for "civil damages". One couple did have the unfortunate experience of causing a death in an accident (not their fault). It is worth reading their account at http://aaronandamy.com/?p=64.  The conclusion from this story and other anecdotes we have heard: personally take care of the victim's family.  Avoid conflicts with the authorities.  We fortunately have no personal experience to draw upon.
  • For South America, check out our South America page for further info.


The CDC web site has information on water treatment.  Tap water should not be consumed in Latin America.

You should use filters that are designed to remove Cryptosporidium and Giardia. They carry one of the four messages below on the package label.

  • Reverse osmosis
  • Absolute pore size of 1 micron
  • Tested and certified by NSF International (formerly the National Sanitation Foundation) Standard 53 or NSF Standard 58 for cyst removal
  • Tested and certified by NSF Standard 53 or NSF Standard 58 for cyst reduction

One such filter is the Sta-Rite F1 or F1Pb, available from The RV Water Filter Store.   Water may also be treated with Chlorine and/or boiling.  Chlorox bleach is sold in most grocery stores in Central America and proportions to use for water treatment are printed on the container. 

Travel Times and Sample Itinerary

When we go to Central America we usually want to transit Mexico as fast as possible, then we slow down in Central America.  Our record is four days from Brownsville, Texas to the Guatemala border at La Mesilla.  The following itinerary was prepared in response to a question: "what's the  driving time from the U.S. to Panama".  It's an aggressive schedule without stops for sightseeing, etc.  Definately the fastest way to Central America is  by the east coast.  Taking toll roads costs nearly $100 and saves 1-2 days also (thisschedule assumes that'swhat you do). There's a new toll road from Coatzelcoalcos to Tuxtla Guttierez in Chiapas, Mexico, which really makes the trip to Guatemala short. 

Fast Route to Panama City
Night   Hrs
1 Brownsville, Texas  
2 Tampico 10
3 Veracruz 10
4 Tehuantepec* 10
  Tecun Uman (Guate Border) 7
5 Coatepeque, Guate 1
  La Hachadura, El Salvador (Border) 6
6 La Libertad 3
  El Amatillo (Honduras Border) 8
7 Choluteca, Honduras 3
  El Espino (Nicaragua Border) 5
8 Esteli, Nicaragua 2
  Penas Blancas (CR Border) 7
9 Liberia, CR 2
10 San Ysidro de General, CR 8
  Paso Canoas (Panama Border) 5
11 Guabala, Panama 3
12 Panama City 10
* - Alternate: from Veracruz take the tollroad via Coatzalcoalcos to Tuxtla Guttierex in Chiapas. Continue to San Cristobal de las  Casa then on CA-1 to La Mesilla and the highlands of  Guatemala. This  will add a day to the  trip but it is the easiest entry into Gautemala. Follow CA-1 to Guatemala City then the either continue on CA-1 to an easy entrance to El Salvador or turn off to Escuintla and the coastal road.

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What to Take


These are all the things we took and a couple we wish we had had.  We were traveling in a small motorhome and had limited space. 

Please let us know if there are things you would like to add to the list. We want to share your ideas with everyone who is heading south.

  • There were no groceries on this that I didn’t see for sale in just about any of the supermercados throughout Central America. Belize was the least well equipped country, even in the capital.  Peanut butter was available but pricey, (what we brought made a great gift for ex-patriots) and we couldn’t find our favorite salad dressing and what was available was expensive.
  • The meat in Central America was extremely lean and therefore tough.  We were grateful for each piece of meat we took with us. Meat was readily available, but I found it hard to buy a hunk of meat cut from a side of animal hanging up in an open air market. I gave up on beef and went for the pork in the supermarkets and chicken in the mercado.  We also ate a lot of eggs.  For more edible meat take a grinder to make your own hamburger. It isn’t advisable to buy ground meat as there is a greater chance of bacterial infection, and the grinder in the shop might not be as clean as you would like it.
  • Fruit like apples were often available in the mercado and they looked great and often had the same stickers we have grown used to. However, none that we bought were worth eating. It must be a lack of care in shipping.
  • Fresh milk was not always easy to buy, so we kept some of the shelf milk that lasts months without refrigeration. You can get it in the major markets.
  • I should have taken more paper towels as the locally made ones were expensive and not very good.
  • Spares of other basics were not needed, except of course the irreplaceable special soluble toilet paper.
  • Two appliances we were glad we had brought were the small crock-pot and the George Forman grill. I could cook food in the crock-pot as we traveled. It was invaluable for that tough meat, and it didn’t add much to the heat of the motor home. (Don’t forget you’ll need an inverter and a long extension cord.) The grill also cooked quickly and produced little ambient heat.
  • A bread machine would be invaluable.  Flour (harina) and yeast (levadura) are available in supermarkets.
  • Take a level bubble and install this near the door of in the cab so you can check it quickly when parking.
  • Washing clothes wasn’t a problem, but getting the things dry was a challenge. It is not always appropriate to hang out your washing and we didn’t stay in one spot for very long. We didn’t see any coin operated laundromats.  Occasionally we found that someone in a town that would do laundry (wash and fold).  This service is probably available on most towns but you  have to ask. The laundromats are not advertised.  Sometimes it is just a lady in her home.
  • The stick-on hooks we had installed dripped off in the heat and humidity, so we resorted to screw-in hooks.
  • We hardly used the bicycles and I would not take them again if I intended to keep moving as we did. However, next time we would like to go more slowly and spend more time in some areas and then they would have been most useful.
  • We took masses of books, books on tape, CDs and videos but hardly used any. We thought we would listen to books on tape and CDs all the time we were driving but there was too much of interest outside the windows.  We didn’t get past the first chapter of  “Murder on the Orient Express”. We watched just two video movies but we did enjoy the boxed set of M*A*S*H*. We were not usually up for a long movie, but a lighthearted half hour was great. Twenty four episodes lasted the whole trip.
  • We brought seed packets to give away and they were invaluable. We always carried them in our pockets, and could give them to just about anyone. Some were flowers but most vegetables.
  • Soccer balls were good give-aways for families, schools and the like.
  • Ball point pens were a hit at the border crossings.  Bring many to give away.
  • I brought a spare wallet to carry money from the countries we were not it. John used it when he lost his. We kept “other country” money in envelopes in the file of that country.
  • Check the weather for the time of year and the altitude you will be experiencing. We were surprised at how cold it was in the mountains. A comforter came in handy.
  • Long sleeved shirts are useful to protect from insects or the sun.
  • If you are taking a digital camera and laptop computer, include CD burner or external hard drive for backup. Take digital pictures at the highest resolution.

  • We used an Iridium Satellite phone which we borrowed from John's company.  It worked everywhere as long as there was an unobstructed view of the sky, i.e. we weren't always able to communicate from within the RV or when in a jungle covered with trees!  The basic plan costs $32.95/month plus $1.49 per minute for air time (see http://www.gmpcs-us.com/index.htm).   They sell the phone for $1395 (model 9505a).  You might find cheaper ones on eBay.  They also offer other technologies.  Globalstar, using a Qualcom tri-band phone, seems to be a better deal but we have no experience with it.  The Iridium phone came with a data kit for connecting to the internet via a modem on our laptop.  When it works it is limited to about 300 Baud!  We couldn't get it to work very often.
  • The Direcway Satellite system is used by many RVers (http://www.direcway.com/).  It offers broadband and free phone access but requires that you make an initial invetment of $2000 or more and carry a big satellite dish which you need to set up. Its coverager is limited, reaching only as far south as Honduras. According to http://www.gmpcs-us.com/  Inmarsat is coming out with a Broadband Global Area Network (Bgan) which may be competitive with Direcway, but it isn't out in North America yet.  When it comes it will service all of Central and South America.
  • Internet cafes are plentiful although the computers are old and slow.  We compiled epistles on our laptop, transferred them to a floppy disk and copied them onto our web based email server.  Pictures were slow to upload.  Convert larger jpegs into smaller ones before uploading if you can.  It is best if you maintain a blog, web page or group to communicate through.  It saves having to have a huge address list copied each time you communicate.
  • I had a T-Mobile tri-band cell phone.  It worked in major cities in Mexico, all of El Salvador but little elsewhere.  If you spend any time in one country look into renting a local cell phone.  They are pretty inexpensive.  One source for phone rentals in Quetzaltenango is www.xelapages.com.

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Check Lists

We are fans of check lists. Use this as a starting point and modify to suit your needs. An asterisk (*) indicates items we think are particularly important but might be overlooked.








Bottled water: case, individual size


Butter substitute


Canned tomatoes




Coffee creamer


Coffee, Instant


Frozen meat


Herbs and spices


Instant Potatoes




Maple Syrup


Microwave popcorn




Orange juice, concentrate, frozen


Olive oil


Pancake mix


Parmesan cheese


Peanut butter




Powdered drink mix




Salad dressing*










Soup bullion


Spaghetti noodles


Spaghetti sauce






Teriyaki Sauce













Mattress cover


Pillows 4


Sheet sets x 2





Ant bait


Bach towels x 2


Back packs x 2


Batteries AA & AAA +?


Bicycles + cables and locks




Books on tape


Books, reading


Bungee cords


Camera & film


Camera charger


Camera digital




Door mat for outside


Duct tape / White


Electrical 12v fan


Flash lights


Masking tape


Mini vacuum cleaner*


Picnic chairs x 2, folding


Picnic table, folding


Playing cards & games (+ to give away)


Screw in hooks


Seeds, various packets*  (gifts)


Sewing kit


Shopping bags*




Snorkel & masks


Soccer balls & pumps




Thermal travel mugs








Wallet, spare


Work gloves





Authorized Papers in file & copies


Blanket to protect sofa




Food: 50lb bag of dry  dogfood


Food dish




Heartworm medicine




Water dish, non spill
















Green vegetables



















81 mg aspirin


Anti bacterial hand wipe (Purell®)




Bath Towels


Bleach (no additives for water purification)*


Book or CD on family health


Chemicals for toilette


Clothes line


Clothes pins


Detergent for clothes


Eye drops


First aid kit


Hand cream


Hand towels


Hydrogen peroxide


Latex gloves


Mosquito spray


Mouth wash


Nail clippers


Pepto BismalI® or equivalent






Skin so Soft® by Avon™ sun screen/bug repellant


Soap box & soap x 2




Toilette paper


Tooth brushes


Tooth mug


Tooth paste




Tylenol® or Advil® non aspirin anti-inflammatory & pain killer


Vitamins and Calcium


Wash cloth x 4





2 plug adapter with ground wire and alligator clip.


Inverter (150 watt or larger)


Extension cord, Interior


Extension cord, exterior, 100ft 12 AWG (15 Amp) to avoid voltage drop*


Polarity test plug


Power strip, interior


Shortwave radio receiver


AC adapter




Electrical Tape, Wire cutters, needle-nosed pliers





20 ft drain hose x 2 for dump*


Air-conditioning filters


Funnels for water and gas


Fuses, various


Spare bulbs (house)


1 micron water filter that removes cysts (see above)


100ft 5/8” water hose in segments that can be divided for easy handling







Jeans x2


Long sleeved shirt x3




Panties x 20


Rain jacket


Sarong x 2


Shoes, black sneakers


Shoes, Sandals


Shoes, Slip-on


Shoes, Smart




Smart outfit


Sox x 10


Sweat shirts x 2


Swim suits x 2


T-shirts x 10





Balloons & pump


Laptop Computer


Wash kit




Hip sack




Paints, brushes, paper etc


Swiss army knife




3m sponge/scrubber x 2




Bottle opener


Can opener


   Bread Machine

Cereal Bowls


Chopping Board


Cling wrap


Clip for chip bag


Cork screw


Crock pot*




Dish rags


Dust pan & brush


Grill* (George Forman®)


Ice tray


Jug with lid


Kitchen utensils




Microwave veggie cooker


Mixing / salad bowl set


Mugs x 4


Orange squeezer


Paper towels




Scissors – kitchen


Spirit level


T towels


Tin foil




Trash bags




Tupperware / storage


Veggie peeler


Washing up brush


Washing up liquid





Address labels




Blank disks


Books: 501 Spanish Verbs (conjugations)


Business cards




Copies of all important papers for each border crossing


Dog papers




File box + file on each country


File for each of us + RV


Guide books


Log book




Mechanical pencils


Medical insurance


Note pads


Paper clips




Pens (plenty of extras as give-aways)


Rubber bands


Sp/Eng Dictionary. American edition


Sp/Eng Dictionary:  Pocket size


Sticky note pads


Sticky tape





Bailing wire


Breakdown Diamonds


Breakdown flares


Can of Tire inflation


Truck Air Compressor*


Hydraulic jack and good lug wrench


Locking gas cap*


Oil filter


Oil x 2


Rags, auto


Spare belts


Tool kit


Windshield squeegee


Windshield sun deflector


Wire with alligator grip









Jeans x 2


Smart shirt




Plastic Rain coat


Shirts long sleeve


Shirts short sleeve


Shoes,  flip flops


Shoes, sandals


Shoes, closed


Shoes, smart


Shorts x 2


Smart  slacks


Sox x 20


Sweat shirt


Swim suit x 2


T-shirts x 20


Underwear x 20




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