Central America border crossings

CENTRAL AMERICA BORDER CROSSINGS

Things to see and do in Guatemala

For a first time traveller the thought of navigating a land-border crossing in Central America can be a pretty scary idea. We've all heard the horror stories of crooked border patrol agents in shady, isolated border towns giving foreigners a tough time. We've now crossed 11 borders by land in Latin America and, take it from us, it can be as easy as 1, 2, 3. Obviously, there are a few tips and tricks you need to know, which we'll share with you in this post but, for the most part, just be mindful and vigilant and you'll have no problems at all.

We'll get to the hints and tips a little later. First, we'll tell you about the specific borders we've crossed so, if you're going the same way, you'll know what to expect. We've also written a guide to crossing land borders in South America, just in case you're heading that way too.

PANAMA ⇒ COSTA RICA


Costa Rica Backpacking Guide

Entry fees for UK passport holders: n/a

Exit fees for UK passport holders: $8 (£6.15)

The border crossing between the Costa Rican town of Sixaola and Guabito in Panama once had a pretty shady reputation (like a lot of Central American border crossings). Stories of corruption and "official fees" being relentlessly enforced rang out all across the backpacking community. These days it's perfectly safe, with the exception of the standard, run-of-the-mill border town weirdos harassing tourists.

The main bus will take you as far as the town of Changuinola. You'll then need to change to a collectivo for the 15 minute drive to border - $1.50 (£1.15). You can also take a connecting bus which takes 15 minutes longer and only saves you $0.20 (£0.15). Once dropped off head towards the bridge and turn right to the immigration office. Then, cross over the bridge where you'll find Costa Rican immigration on your left. From there, go down the slope on your right and the bus station is behind the shops. Take a look at the bus timetable here.

Check out our  Panama and Costa Rica guides.

COSTA RICA ⇒ NICARAGUA


Things to do in Nicaragua

Entry fees for UK passport holders: $12 (£9.25)

Exit fees for UK passport holders: $3 (£2.30)

Assuming you'll be arriving in Penas Blancas by bus, first thing you'll need to do is double back on yourself about 75 yards to a small window where you need to pay the $8 (£6.15) exit fee to leave Costa Rica. There will undoubtedly be a small line so you know you're in the right place. Very important that you keep the receipt! Back past where the bus dropped you off, enter the immigration office to the left to get your exit stamp. Cross over into Nicaragua and you'll come across the "tourist bus station" right in for the of the immigration office. There'll be a bunch of guys trying to sell you tickets but ignore them for now as you can get the much cheaper chicken buses a little further down the road. Pass through the immigration office where you need to pay the entry fee. The official fee is $12 (£9.25) plus a $1 (£0.75) border zone entry fee. Depending on the agent they may try and charge you up to $20 but just stand your ground and they will eventually relent. Once you've passed immigration and had your bags x-rayed, you will exit via the back door. Take a left here and you'll find yourself in a mini market where you can get some food, water or beers. This is also where you can catch the chicken buses from.

Check out our guide to Nicaragua.

NICARAGUA ⇒ HONDURAS

(with option to go straight to El Salvador)


Entry fees for UK passport holders: $3 (£2.30)

Exit fees for UK passport holders: $3 (£2.30)

To cross into the Honduran border town of Guasaule, the first thing you'll want to do is make a swift exit from the bus station as you'll be overrun by tuk tuk drivers. To get to the immigration office you need to get back onto the main road and turn right. It's about a 10 minute walk or you can take a tuk tuk which shouldn't cost more than $1 (£0.75) but that won't stop them quoting you much more. The office will be right in front of you where you need to pay your entry fee and put your bags through an x-ray. Cross over the bridge into Honduras and repeat. If like us, you want to keep going straight through to El Salvador, you can take a bus from here to the border town El Amatillo ( it takes aprrox 2-3 hours) and cross in to El Salvador as explained below. Wake up early if you plan to take this route!

HONDURAS ⇒ EL SALVADOR


Backpacking in El Salvador

Entry fees for UK passport holders: n/a

Exit fees for UK passport holders: n/a

The El Amatillo crossing is, without doubt, the most straightforward and hassle-free border crossing we experienced in Central America. All buses drops you off super close to the immigration office. A simple stamp in the passport, no bag checks or questions. Next up cross over the bridge and pass through El Salvadorian immigration which will be on your righthand side. To find the buses from here you'll need to walk up the hill for 3 or 4 minutes and they're lined up on the side of the road.

Check out our guide to El Salvador.

EL SALVADOR ⇒ GUATEMALA


Things to see and do in Guatemala

Entry fees for UK passport holders: n/a

Exit fees for UK passport holders: n/a

You have a little bit of walking to do for this crossing, but it's very straightforward. The bus drops you off in Chinamas and the immigration office is about a 10 minute, down hill walk away. At the bottom of the hill you'll find the office on your right hand side. Once the formalities are complete, cross over the bridge where you have another 10 minute walk, this time uphill, to the Guatemalan immigration office. As you're walking to the office there are dozens of market stalls on both sides of the road along the entire way. Some serious bargains to be had if you're after cheap clothes, hats and shoes etc. After immigration you'll find the buses waiting on the other side of the building ready to take you to your next destination.

Check out our guide to Guatemala.

TIPS


Backpacking around El Salvador

Here are few tips to help you become a pro at crossing land borders in Latin America

  • Do your research - If you're reading this then you're already doing a great job. No 2 crossings are the same so you should always read a few blogs so you know what to expect.
  • Check opening times - A few major crossing points are open 24 hours but, for the most part, there are usually set opening times. Border towns can be a little unsavoury so, where possible, try to avoid crossing in the dark.
  • Arrive early - There will usually be less people and this will reduce you potentially having to wait for hours in the sun.
  • Avoid tourist shuttles - The best way is to take a bus to the border town, cross over and then find the your next bus. Unless you're pressed for time or flush with cash you'll want to skip the shuttles as they can end up costing you FIVE TIMES as much.
  • Get your papers in order - Make sure you have everything you need i.e passport, immigration cards and vaccination certificates.
  • Currency exchange - If you need to exchange money at the border only exchange enough to get you where you're going. Be sure to check every note thoroughly.
  • Be careful who you trust - As a rule of thumb you'll do well to ignore anyone offering unsolicited help. Some people will try to sell you paperwork you don't need or say that they can get you to the front of the queue for a fee.
  • Bring supplies - Make sure to bring some food and water and have suncream handy. Prices can be inflated at crossings.
  • Keep your eyes open - Exercise caution and common sense and you'll be fine. Be mindful of your bag at all times and watch what's going on around you.

"‎Live your life by a compass, not a clock"  

– Stephen Covey