Planning your trip

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The idea of creating a road that could span North, Central, and South America was first proposed at the Pan American conference of 1889. Today, you can drive almost 25,000 miles from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to the tip of South America, except for the 54 mile (87 kilometer) Darien Gap in Panama.

Due to increasing political stability throughout Latin America and the massive road building efforts in many Latin American countries, there has never been a better time to take to the road. To get yourself in the mood for your upcoming travels, we also have recommended books and movies about Latin America. This article should give you a good overview on what you need to do to plan your trip, whether you are driving through only one country or a dozen.  Also check out our related articles: Travel Health and General Border Crossing Tips.

When to Travel

Since the Americas cover almost every climate of the earth, when to travel is dependent on your location. The most important thing to remember is that may not want to be in the northern reaches of Canada or Alaska during November through January, or Tierra del Fuego in South America during May to October. In Central America, the seasons are not dictated by the temperature, but the rainfall. The rainy season runs from April to November, which may make driving in rural areas difficult. In northern South America, rainy seasons depend on whether you're on the coast, the highlands, or the Amazon. Check out some recommended travel guides for more specific information about weather.

Telephone

You can buy cheap phones in Central and South America, the best price comes from the company Movistar. The phone will cost around $30 USD which includes 300 minutes, and refill your account at any Movistar location or at many convenience stores. Calling USA or Canada costs about $1 USD per half hour. Another option is to use a computer and Skype to call. Calls to the US are $.02 USD a minute. If your family and friends have basic computer knowledge, have them install Skype themselves - Skype-to-Skype calls are free, and the connection seems to be even better than calling a regular phone. You can also find Skype at internet cafes.

Language

Learning the language of the countries you are visiting can make your travels easier and more rewarding. The dominant languages of North and Central America are English and Spanish, and Spanish and Portuguese in South America. Many travelers spend time learning Spanish while traveling, and Guatemala is known as one of the least expensive places to learn. A ballpark price for 4 hours of learning one on one with a native Spanish speaker, including room and board with a local family costs $175 USD a week. Other options include purchasing Rosetta Stone if you have a computer. Pimsleur Spanish Audio CDs are also a great way to learn Spanish in the car during those longer driving days.

Documents

Lots of documents and paperwork are needed to transport you and your vehicle across borders. You will need:

  • Passport
  • Driver's License (both from your home country and an International Driver's License)
  • Vehicle Registration
  • Vehicle Title
  • Proof of Insurance

You may need:

  • Marriage Certificate
  • Birth Certificate
  • Visa (depending on your country of origin)
  • WHO Yellow Vaccination Card (proof of vaccination against Yellow Fever)
  • Proof of finances
  • Visas - depending on what country you are from and where you are traveling, you may need to apply for visas months in advance.  Check with your government to determine which countries will require visas.  

You will also need copious amounts of photocopies of all of the required documents every time you cross a border. These can be simply organized by placing multiple copies of each document in a clear sheet protector and collecting these in a binder. That way all copies are organized and you can quickly find the document you need. Store the originals somewhere very safe, and only use them when necessary. It also is a good idea to electronically scan all original documents, and email yourself and a couple of friends or family these electronic copies. That way if there is some catastrophe and you lose all originals and copies, you will be able to access the copies online.  Check out the information on a specific country for exact document requirements. 

Your Vehicle

See the vehicle page for more information on vehicle ownership, insurance, and suggested modifications. Also check out the roadtripper profiles to see what vehicles other roadtrippers are using for their adventure.

Camping and Hotels with Parking

There are many camping options in Mexico. Tent camping, car camping, and RV options are found throughout Mexico, and roadtripper recommended options can be found at the Mexico-camping and hotels pages. If you are staying in a hotel, it's worth asking if they have a secure parking lot or a night watchman if your car will be parked on the street outside. If not, it may be a good idea to look for a parking lot, as parking at night on the street, especially in cities, is a risky proposition. Recommended hotels with secure parking are also included in the pages Mexico-camping and hotels pages. Additional information about hotels and camping across South and Central America is also available in each country's section.

Routes and Distances

You may want to plan out your route beforehand, but remember that the road conditions will cause you to drive much smaller distances than you would in the United States or Canada. You can check bus schedules between cities to estimate times of travel, but it's always a good idea to start your driving early in the morning to ensure that you are off the roads before it gets dark.

Watch out for broken glass: If you see broken glass on the street, this is a tip off that people are breaking into cars.

See also more information on Roads and Driving.

Currency

In general it is a good idea to check for the latest exchange rates before you enter a country, as many of the border crossings do not have banks. Make sure you bring plenty of money to the crossing so you will be able to pay all fees. If you need money exchanged at these crossings, you can usually find men walking around with large wads of cash who are willing to exchange your money. If you don't know the exchange rate, you run the risk of getting ripped off. Useful information on exchange rates can be found at exchangerates.org. Having a hidden stash of American dollars or travelers checks in your car for emergencies can also come in handy in a pinch.

Weather

Temperatures in Latin America vary widely. The coasts will be very warm, but the highlands through the middle of Mexico and Guatemala are at elevations high enough to be cool during the day, and downright cold at night. Plan on bringing pants, sweaters, and jackets for the higher elevations. It's also worth checking the seasonal rain schedules, as the rainy seasons tend to be sweltering hot.

Sun, 07/08/2012 - 15:23

50,000 miles.....Really?

Ok, someone confirm this distance for me please. I know it is far but I think its more like less than 20,000 miles. I mean, if I remember my geography correctly, 24,000 miles will get you completely around the earth one time.

Keep on trippin

Dale

twowheelsthreeamericas.wordpress.com

Sun, 07/08/2012 - 17:19

Correct!

Oops - looks like this was off by a factor of 2 - it's been corrected.  For future reference, you can make any changes to this site as it's a wiki - read more about how to contribute!

Mon, 10/22/2012 - 03:38

If it is all about geography

If it is all about geography then there is no need to be explore it more.Half problem is solve yet.We only need to plan and organize our trip.


Germany equestrian

 

 

Sat, 03/30/2013 - 15:31

Do US or Canadian passport holders need visa?

Do US or Canadian passport holders require a VISA at any border crossing along the way to Tierra del Fuego?

Thu, 01/16/2014 - 14:37

Planning our trip USA ->ARGENTINA

Hi there,

 

THank you for this awesome site and information. It has been really inspiring reading about all the stories of people who have made the cross the america's trip!

We have a few questions:

First, we are all females aged 22-30 from USA and ARGENTINA. 3/4 speak fluent spanish and have spent considerable time living in Mexico, Argentina and Peru. We are also traveling with a dog who I adopted while living in Mexico.

Question: Are their certain highways known for being more dangerous through central america? People are very worried that we are all females on this trip. 

Also, is there any more info about shippin the dog/car from Panama to Colombia. This seems to be OUR biggest concern at this point.

Lastly, is there a recommended brand of Car that will be easier to get replacement parts? We are looking into converted camper vans...VW? Chevy? Ford? GM?

Thank you and blessings for a new year!

Namaste

Tue, 10/21/2014 - 21:02

crossing from Panama to Colombia

I would like to receibe information about this subject, for some reason so far I did not find

the correct answer in terms , what is the best way to do that and how much cost

Thanks

Carlos

 

Sun, 09/20/2015 - 09:38

Hiring a campervan

Many people intend renting a motorhome in Canada and explore their favourite destination in an interesting manner. They should try booking the motorhome a few days before starting their journey, so that they don’t have to face trouble due to unavailability of recreational vehicle on the prescribed dates.

Fri, 02/26/2016 - 15:16

If not for the Darién Gap (a

If not for the Darién Gap (a rainforest break of approximately 100 km (60 mi)) the Pan-American highway would be a reality!