Don’t Drive through Mexico or Central America: You Will Be Kidnapped, Killed, or Worse!

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When I told friends or family that we were going to spend months driving through Mexico and Central America, the most common responses were something along the lines of:

“Are you crazy? That’s so dangerous!”

“Better watch out for the cartel!”

“Hope you don’t get kidnapped…”

“Hope we see you alive again…”

And on and on came the negative reactions, with very little in the way of positive responses.

At times it made me question my decision.

driving in mexico and central america-1

But I took those comments with a grain of salt because they were all made by people who either hadn’t been to Mexico at all or hadn’t been there recently.

They also stood in stark contrast to the accounts of people actually doing it, sharing their experiences online, and essentially saying “come and see for yourself, it isn’t like you see on the news.”

"You're driving through Mexico? What are you, crazy?!" -- That was one of the most common responses... But what's the reality like when it comes to safety and security south of the border?

Kidnapped, Killed, or Worse

Obviously, we survived, or I wouldn’t be writing this post.

Even as the trip was unfolding, or after finishing Central America, I continued to hear comments that were completely at odds with my positive experience. I mean, let’s face it, there are a lot of myths about Central American travel, even within the region.

One time, in particular, stood out when we had just left Mexico and driven into Belize. It was at that time that I started sharing blog posts about the beginning of the journey.

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I shared one particular post about Baja California in an outdoor adventure bloggers group on Facebook.

I mentioned to the group that the security concerns were overblown and said we had just wrapped up an amazing trip through Mexico while encouraging others to consider a road trip south of the border because it was totally worth it.

Someone responded in the comments section with (paraphrased):

“So not worth it! In addition to the bribery, kidnapping is a national sport, or didn’t they tell you that? Go somewhere safe. There are many beautiful things to see in the USA.”

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The only part I agree with is that there are many beautiful things to see in the USA, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more to see in this world.

I was floored by their comment and couldn’t stop thinking about it as we drove through the tranquil Belizean countryside.

The perception of Mexico as being some horrifically dangerous, violent, and menacing place clashed so strongly against what we had seen and experienced firsthand…

From the big metropolis of Mexico City to the smallest little pueblos and even remote stretches of wilderness, everything was fine.

Having finished the trip, I can say unequivocally that the reality on the ground is not like what the news portrays, and not like what many naysayers say.

So what’s it really like? Where does myth meet reality when it comes to safety and security in Mexico and Central America?

Read More: The Safest Countries in Central America

The Reputation

For Americans, Mexico, in particular, has gotten a bad reputation over these past few years as the drug violence spirals out of control, but there are also other countries throughout Central America that commonly raise red flags like El Salvador and Honduras.

Read More: Common Myths About Central America

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To be fair, these red flags aren’t exclusively held by gringos up north, as the negative reputation(s) holds true even among Latinos and from one country to another within Latin America…

Andrea, my girlfriend, is from Medellin, Colombia. She grew up in the worst of times before and after Pablo Escobar, with violence and homicide rates that were double even the worst of the worst today in Central America, and yet she was genuinely worried about visiting Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

She was pleasantly surprised by all of them.

The Neighboring Country is Worse

I remember a few different Mexicans warned us about crossing into Belize, about how scary and dangerous it is there.

I didn’t pay much attention to the first person who said it, but by the third or fourth random person who warned us about driving into Belize, I began to doubt our decision…

But then drove over the Mexico Belize border crossing and everything was fine. Normal.

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It seems like every country thinks that the next one over is far more dangerous than theirs.

For the USA, it’s Mexico.

For Mexico, it’s Belize.

For El Salvador, it’s Honduras.

For Colombia, it’s Venezuela.

For Canada, it’s the USA.

And on and on.

Everybody seemed to think that some other place just beyond was more sinister or dangerous, and then when we got there, it turned out to be normal and everyone there said the bad place was somewhere else.

After spending more than six months in Central America, driving through eight countries (Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama), I can say, generally speaking, it’s all relatively safe and sane.

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I would not consider our trip to be “crazy” by any stretch of the imagination.

Nothing bad at all happened to us on the journey (beyond some travel sickness, police problems, and road blockades). Never robbed, never pickpocketed, never even had a towel stolen on the beach while we swam in the ocean.

Safer than the USA

I’ve heard many fellow overlanders remark that the USA is far more dangerous than south of the border, or they will say that it’s just as dangerous to drive into bad neighborhoods in big cities in the USA and that you basically just need to take the same precautions south of the border.

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I think that advice is disingenuous at best, and dangerous at worst.

In one sense, that might be true… You aren’t likely to be randomly gunned down in a movie theater, concert, or school (like in the US, but even in the States that isn’t “likely”), that’s thankfully not something you’ll need to ever worry about south of the border.

But for day-to-day crime, you’re at a higher risk of experiencing it in Latin America…

As an overlander and someone who has now passed a considerable amount of time in Latin America (also living in Medellin for a number of years), as well as being able to offer the perspective of Andrea (someone born and raised in Latin America), I think it is important not to downplay the safety concerns, but to provide a more realistic view.

While nothing happened to us, I don’t want to sugarcoat it and say that driving through Central America is all peace and flowers and carefree attitudes. We took common-sense precautions at all times.

The biggest concern for a foreigner in Latin America is, undoubtedly, armed robbery and other forms of theft.

It is far more common in Latin America and can happen in cities of all sizes — big or small. It happens to Gringos and it happens to Latinos.

It is something that you should be warier of in Latin America than you are in the States.

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For those quick to criticize, of course, there are plenty of robberies or thefts in the States. It can happen in big cities. It can happen while parked at a remote trailhead.

I know more people that have been robbed while living at home in the States than have been robbed while they were traveling abroad (but the reason why should be obvious: we spend so much more time at home, and thus increase the odds of something happening at home).

Of everywhere I’ve ever traveled in this world, the only place I’ve been robbed is in Washington, D.C., a few blocks from my house on Capitol Hill.

But pretty much every foreigner that has spent a considerable amount of time in Latin America has either a personal story of getting robbed or knows a close friend that has been robbed.

Big Cities

I agree with the overlanders who say that while driving in Latin America one should take similar precautions as big cities in the USA…

But there are still distinct differences between the two.

While traveling in any part of a big city in Latin America (not just rough neighborhoods) I highly recommend taking heightened precautions that you don’t need to take in the USA (unless you’re driving through like the south side of Chicago or something?), IE keeping your windows mostly rolled up, doors locked, only parking in secure, paid parking lots, etc).

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The bad news isn’t limited to big cities here… Things also happen in both small cities (usually only if they are touristy in nature) and medium-sized cities in Latin America. The more time I spend in Latin America, the more stories I have from acquaintances, friends, or friends of friends.

Let’s remember in Latin America you’ve also got a strange foreign plate that calls attention, and you’ve likely got a lot of gear inside that would be worth a lot, even more so in the local currency.

Break-ins happen in just a moment, and it can happen to anyone, anywhere. This point is very important.

Andrea’s extended family recently went on vacation to Panama City, to one of the nice shopping malls just before they were going to go to the airport, and they had ALL of their luggage stolen (from like seven people) from the van in a parking garage with security.

In Colombia, they frequently say “no dar papaya” (Don’t give papaya), because if you offer up papaya (which means anything in this context), someone will take it from you since you’re just “offering” it up.

Her family — even though they’ve all had “no dar papaya” ingrained in their heads since they were little — they gave papaya, let their guard down in a fancy shopping mall, and someone took ALL their papaya.

They returned to Colombia empty-handed, literally with just the guys’ wallets and the women’s purses (which luckily had the passports). They lost all their personal belongings and the new things they purchased and had to pay out for the damage to the vehicle.

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Rural Areas

I would never think twice about driving at night in the States. I’ve done it millions of times.

In Central America, it is a bad idea for a variety of reasons: the most frequently cited being the numerous speed bumps (which often appear without rhyme or reason), the prevalence of drunk drivers, and livestock or people roaming the dark roads with no shoulder.

Speaking from my personal experience of having spent lots of time road-tripping throughout the American West (from big cities to remote areas), you don’t need to be as preoccupied with any of these things as you are in Latin America.

But there are other, more pressing issues throughout Central America, like bandits or fake police officers.

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Have I driven at night in Latin America? Yes, but not by choice. It happened when I got held up by blockades in Oaxaca or held up for hours behind an accident in Honduras.

There can also be some regional insecurity issues that one needs to be aware of in the rural areas of Latin America. 

Just south of Los Mochis, a pair of Australians were pulled over at night by fake cops who then attempted to rob them.

From the accounts I’ve read, one of the Australians tried to resist the robbery (something you should never do) and was shot in the scuffle.

The robbers then killed both of them, drove their car to a remote field, and set their van on fire with the bodies inside. We passed along that same stretch of road a few months before them.

I can think of no reason why I would ever tell someone not to drive at night in the States (except for the weather), but driving at night through the state of Sinaloa (one of Mexico’s most dangerous) as the Australians did was just reckless.

We can’t pretend that driving in the USA is more dangerous than in Latin America, or some people may get lulled into a false sense of security, which is what I fear happened to the Australians.

General Tips for Security

  • Never wave around lots of cash or valuables. Be discreet with your expensive camera or cellphone, especially so in big cities.
  • Don’t keep a fat wallet in your back pocket which is ripe for pickpockets. I’d recommend a slimmed-down wallet in your front pocket, or even no wallet at all (just keep a small fold of cash in your front pocket or a money clip).
  • Never, ever leave valuables visible in your vehicle. Not even running inside the gas station or supermarket. There have been too many robberies when someone was just gone “for a minute” with lots of people around, in broad daylight, or even with the vehicle in the eyesight of the owners through a window. At a minimum, hide the GPS, iPod, or whatever in the glove box or below the seat. Every. Single. Time.
  • Use ATMs that are inside supermarkets, malls, or other big box stores. Avoid using ATMs on the street whenever possible.
  • While driving through medium and large cities, it is best to keep windows rolled most of the way up and the doors locked. Motorcycle robbers look for easy marks while stopping at stoplights so they can make a quick getaway.
  • Use pay parking lots whenever possible. This is especially important when parking overnight. I only parked 2-3 times on the street overnight, and while nothing happened, it is no fun worrying about your belongings all night.
  • Talk to locals. You should learn enough Spanish to have basic conversations and ask about safety and the route ahead. The answer 9/10 times is going to be that nothing ever happens here (aqui no pasa nada). Take it with a grain of salt though, since their tolerance to petty crime is often higher (you’d be surprised what has happened in a town where “aqui no pasa nada” when you get to talk more). Remember your foreign plate and vehicle full of valuables. That 1/10 times that they are warning you about something, well, you should definitely pay attention because that is a big red flag. Harry Devert was a motorcyclist who was killed in Mexico. He was warned more than a few times by locals that the route he was about to take was particularly dangerous (at one point he even needed a military escort). He didn’t heed the warnings and was never heard from again. The exception to this is when they are talking about other countries or places they’ve never been since the neighboring country is always more dangerous (see above).

All this doom and gloom.

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To boil it down, I think Central America is much safer than mainstream news media would lead you to believe and much safer than the reputation it has garnered.

BUT don’t be misled by other overlanders who say that it’s far safer than the USA and that nothing ever happens, unless you do something stupid.

That’s just not true, and unfortunately, sometimes it just comes down to random bad luck, as well, even if you’re doing everything else right. The whole wrong place, wrong time deal. 

Central America is quite safe, but don’t let that make you complacent.

Don’t put yourself in a position where you become the easy target.

Too many overlanders have been the victim of break-ins or robberies on the road. Many just chalk it up to being “part of the adventure” and having another story to tell.

It doesn’t have to be like that.

Take the precautions above, remain vigilant of your surroundings, and don’t expose yourself as an easy mark.

What is your perspective on safety and security in Central America? Any experiences (good or bad) that you’d like to share? Sound off in the comments below.

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Don’t Drive through Mexico or Central America: You Will Be Kidnapped, Killed, or Worse! travel, mexico, central-america


Head Writer and Adventurer at Desk to Dirtbag
Ryan is an author, adventurer, perpetual wanderer, and self-proclaimed dirtbag (but that might not mean what you think). Originally from Seattle, he headed to Washington D.C. where he spent five years working for Congress before heeding the call of the wild. He set out truck camping to road trip across the American West, and then across all of Central America and South America. When he isn't on the move, you can find him living as an expat in Colombia. He is also the author of the best selling book: Big Travel, Small Budget that will help you travel more for less. Follow the adventures on social media or read more.

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Comments 113

  1. Solid advice here,as a traveler/driver who’s driving the Pan American highway 3times ,thru tijuana Mexico to Panama Canal an back you offer up some knowledge..I like to remove my American plates an place a deerskull or coconut face on the front of my grill to throw off the check point guards,also I carry an extra pack of smokes to offer up or water at the checkpoints..I know you advised against this but I also travel extensively at night thru Mexico along the auto pista which averaged @$120 to the Guatemala border an with the “green angles”along the way never had any troubles an In Honduras I found traveling at night eliminating alot of check you stated in mexico city the cops will mess with you so I like to hire a taxi to take me thru the city,rip a US twenty dollar bill in half before giving it to the taxi an then they won’t loose you;) I also found tinted windows are worth it as the can’t steal what can’t be check point I’d also rip an US $100 in half an give it thr lil kids to go an find “el hefe” an on average it took me less than 30mins at international borders an they never check my vehicle! On newer vehicles I’d paint rust an different color fender with house paint to make my vehicle look less desirable too! Anyways those are my tips to add so you can take that how you’d like I also traveled with my with an 2 small children an NEVER had anytroubles or anything stolen;) best of luck an safe travels

  2. Wonderful Ryan! I love renting a car in Mexico and driving into the hinterland for “Magic Pueblos,” archeologicalo zonas, and small town plaza life. Two things you didn’t mention are that I had to get used to were the swarms of motorcycles/scooters and the disconcerting over-courtesy of other drivers.

    In town scooters seem to outnumber autos 10 to 1 sometimes. Especially among young families and teens. I felt like one of those huge sharks surrounded by pilot fish; they’re better at staying out of my jaws than I at keeping my eye on them all so focus on the inevitable pair directly ahead and let the rest flow around me like water.

    This leads directly into the extra-ordinary courtesy up and down the “great chain of being” that dominates in the mostly traffic sign/signal free streets where he who yields the most, best, wins!

    And don’t forget the parking space entrepreneurs. For about 5 pesos an hour ($0.25) local residents with a space in front of their house or business will help you squeeze you into a spot, keep double parkers at bay, and include unlimited banos use (great for the senoritas in your caravan).

  3. Ryan,

    I would love to drive through Mexico to El Salvador from USA. I was born in El Salvador. I am not concerned about Guatemala, but Mexico is what I am concerned about. What are your thoughts?

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      Honestly, they are all pretty much in terms of overall safety and security. There are just a bit more corrupt cops to deal with in certain parts of Mexico. In Mexico, stick to more common routes and always ask locals for the latest insights into local safety concerns or regions to be wary of.

  4. Ryan, your article was amazing.

    Me and a couple of friends are considering road tripping from Cancun to Panama City.

    Do you have any advice on car rentals and how it works going from country to country?

    Thanks so much

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      My understanding is that it is very difficult to cross borders with a rental car due to the documentation needed for each crossing (title, registration, etc). It may not be possible to do. I’d advise joining the PanAmerican Travelers group on Facebook and asking around for tips or info there. Let us know what you find out!

  5. Can you drive through Mexico and Central America with US plates? Any limitations with US plates? I know the advice about getting insurance for Mexico, how do you get insurance for Central American countries? Have you ever shipped your car to South America?

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      Yes, I drove my US plated vehicle all through Central America and South America. Had to ship the truck from Panama to Colombia — there is no road between them. Also had to ship the truck back from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Jacksonville, Florida at the end of the trip. Insurance can be handled at most border crossings, no problem.

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  6. Would like to know of any problems taking the ferry from lapaz to mazatlan ? Who would I contact for reservations? I am in San Felipe.

  7. Hey Ryan, I will travel from USA to Costa Rica dec1 2021.
    What should I b most concerned regarding safety?
    My son will join and we are Street smart.
    Driving an older regal in good condition.

    1. Tim I would love to hear of your experience. I’m planning the same exact drive and would love some first hand information

  8. Ryan,
    I enjoyed your post and generally feel the same about my time spent in Mexico over the last few years. I’ve spent time in Guadalajara for work and visited my in-laws in Michoacán. Both times I’ve flown and had locals get me around and for the most part, just laid low and tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, not flashing around money, doing extensive shopping…that sort of thing. Our next adventure is to spend a month in the beach town of Puerta Penasco. Our plan is to drive their from Washington and border cross in Lukeville. My questions are mostly regarding insurance and whether we can take our car that we have financed? Do you have a recommendation on an insurance to get? And what is the process for getting travel permits? Are they even needed in Sonora? Appreciate any advice/guidance you can provide!

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      Hey there, I don’t believe there is any issue with taking a financed car across the border, it would likely just affect the total car insurance cost. Check out my other post about Mexico auto insurance for details about what we used and how to buy it online before you cross the border. If you’re only going as far as Puerto Penasco, then you don’t need to get a TIP (temporary import permit) for Mexico. It is only if you go further on into Mainland Mexico, same deal as in Baja California. You only need to have auto and travel insurance in your case.

      1. Hey Ryan, Im moving to Costa rica from the US. I wasnt thinking of driving there but I guess Im going to entertain the thought. Im OK driving thru Mexico, but what should I expect from Guatemala and Nicarargua? Ill be making the first trip by a single vehicle, but we return to pick up my horses from quarantine in Huston Texas a month later. What kind of advice can you give us? We are not yuppies or preppy, we are smart and handy.

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          Hey Debra, honestly, there isn’t much of a difference to expect with traveling in Guatemala and Nicaragua vs Mexico. They are both pretty laidback and straightforward, and in some ways, less stressful than Mexico (less police corruption). I greatly enjoyed traveling through both countries. Guatemala can have some pretty rough roads though, so keep that in mind. Enjoy!

        2. Hi Ryan,

          I appreciate your advice, especially the one about avoiding traveling at night. I look forward to reading your book.

          Debra, my daughter, is moving to Costa Rica. She and a friend are looking at making the drive from Georgia to Costa Rica in a month or two. Any words of advice from the trip you took? We have a cousin who recommended not to make the trip so of course I’m concerned.

          Thank you,


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            The drive is certainly feasible, there will always be people who recommend against doing it (people who have not driven it themselves). While there will always be risks with travel, the likelihood is pretty small of something really bad happening. The trip itself is quite amazing and I would recommend it. Certainly follow the guidelines I’ve laid out here in this article and in others on the site. She would need to have a plan with what to do with the vehicle — I’m assuming they would drive back from Costa Rica — because staying long-term with a foreign plate isn’t really viable from what I understand, not without paying hefty vehicle import fees.

  9. Hi Ryan,

    we plan to drive to Mazatlán from Canada in January. I read you are from Seattle, we live just North of Spokane WA and will go that way. Can you recommend a good route to drive?

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      Sounds great! In January, huh? I’d say to head south through Cali and maybe into Arizona (depending on how you want to enter Mexico). Utah and that whole area is incredible but at that time of year it will be super cold. In terms of a route into Mexico, I’d still recommend going via Baja California and taking the ferry from La Paz straight to Mazatlan. That way you can also skip the more problematic areas along the border in Sonora and much of the “hot” Sinoloa area.

  10. Hi 🙂 Thanks heaps for your info!
    My bf and i are 31yo Aussies about to drive a rental car from mexico city to san miguel de allende for a night then to patzcuaro and morelia for pre day of the dead stuff and were thinking of driving by night (~9:30-midnight) from there to somewhere like Atlacomulco to stay the night before finishing the drive back to mexico city in the morning for the day of the dead parade … do you think this will be safe or a bad idea? And any difference being around day of the dead?
    Thanks heaps!

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      I would not recommend driving at night for a few different reasons, but there are also security implications as well. The vast majority of highway robberies (both buses or private cars) happen at night. That being said, it is quite unlikely. If you do, try to stick to toll roads which tend to be safer. As for Day of the Dead, not sure, but I’d assume that traffic might be extra bad going into Mexico City.

  11. I’ve been traveling in Mexico for 40 years. Early years I would get robbed by the police in boys town when I was a kid. I expected it and never had a problem. A few hours in jail and then reliesed with no money.. haha

    About 15 years ago I started getting worried for the first time.

    First time when going threw Monterey I stoped for gas and was approached by a local and he said you won’t make it with out getting kidnapped. It scared me I didn’t have any problems after that. I was headed to Mexico city for a few weeks.

    Second I time was also going threw Monterey. On my way to the Yucatan. I pulled off the freeway to get some cash before heading out. Immediately after pulling into the mall parking lot I was stopped by a guy asking me questions. I knew I was in trouble. After getting my money I walked out of the mall and a chevy van was parked beside my truck with two guys standing at the door. The would not leave. I finally paid the guard that has a gun to escort me to my truck. I left and they were behind me. I hit the highway and was gone. By the way, the guard told me they have spotters on the overpasses in Monterey and spot US plates. That is why they got me so fast after pulling off the highway.

    Third time was on the toll road in southern Mexico just before the Yucatan. A gang had taken over the toll booths and were extorting money. Not just from me, everyone. After I paid I left. About 20 KM down the road about 10 police cars and army troops were heading there.

    For the last several years I have been traveling all over S.E. Asia. Some in India. I have never had one problem about feeling safe. I was stopped by local police and fined, but no problems.

    Spent several months in Colombia, Bogota, Cali, down threw the coffee region. Never had a problem but was never out at night. But, I never felt safe. And the locals told me that if I went out at night I would be in trouble. Especially in the smaller towns away from the tourist areas.

    Spent some time in Peru, was kidnapped and robbed by a cab. After getting in the cab, he stopped picked up a BIG guy and they robbed me. Luckily they did not hurt me. This was in Lima.

    My thoughts on Mexico? It is by far the most dangerous place I have EVER traveled in the last 15 years. Add Colombia to that list also. I could walk around in Asia all night do what ever I wanted and never really felt unsafe.

    I grew up in southern Texas, so only went threw Laredo, El Paso, Brownsville. So, these are my experiences from southern Texas.

    I am heading out tomorrow for the Yucatan. I will get up very early and make it to Laredo, then try to get as far away from the border as possible before I stop.

    Northern Mexico is a shit hole IMO, and it is getting worse. Once in Southern Mexico, Yucatan. I was feeling warm and fuzzy again..

    All of my old buddies have had the same experience. Most will not go into Mexico anymore. It is a shame.

  12. Great advice. Stay alert, cautious, not flashy and no driving at night. I believe your experience is the norm. September 2018 I was driving throughout Mexico (Yucatan Peninsula mostly and down to Bacalar) and it was much like your trip. No incidents occurred and we felt very safe even in a rental car! 30yo female btw traveling with 32yo boyfriend. Definitely recommend! Also, our trip 02/2018 was throughout Nicaragua by foot and chicken buses and sooooooooo many people were scared for us and warned us (who have never been!) but it was the best trip ever all throughout Nica, of course they had riots after but I feel like that kind of stuff is everywhere. Never did you say it’s not risky but travel anywhere can be.

  13. Hello Ryan,
    I have not read all the comments on here, so if this topic has been discussed forgive me. I am in the starting stages of planning a trip from Canada through the Western US and in to Mexico, Costa Rica, Belize and Guatemala. Possibly other places as well it’s to be determined as of yet.
    Traveling with me is my wife and three children in a reliable newer diesel with a camper.
    I was wondering if you could provide links or suggestions to other sites who have done this type of trip and or blogged about it.
    The more information I have the better.

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      1. With all the censorship on Facebook I no longer patronize that site. Are there any other websites with similar information?

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          Not really, this is more of a community of people who are on the road or have done the road, so it is the best resource for up to date and first hand information.

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  14. Hey Ryan your story sounds amazing, am writing the question from Bocas del Toro Panama. im finishing my troopcarrier land cruiser soon and was hoping to drive all the way from Panama to Tulum. As a local Panamanian we are very concerned about security down in central america but hearing your story really helps boos our motivation. Is there anyway i can contact you for some advises on about some places where to not go and some road issues.

    thank you very much for sharing

    1. I have lived in central america many years, the wealth people here have drivers to protect them from liability if there is an accident. Iam currently in guatemala and everytime I drive here I come close to having an accident, compared to the states they are very aggresive inconsiderate drivers. The police only stand on the side of the road looking for expired plates or something wrong with the car. when i drive here i drive as fast as possible or else someone is honking at me or getting in my blind spot. speed limits are not enforced. I would not recomend any tourist to drive here not worth the headache also street signs and directions not very good.

      1. Post

        Don’t ever drive in Panama City then if you think Guatemala is bad — haha. Guatemala, on the whole, is pretty fine for driving in my opinion, but the big concern there is the monster potholes and poor road conditions.

  15. I am planning to drive to Merida in a few weeks with another female and my yellow lab. Coming into Mexico from Loredo. What are your thoughts about the best route and making pet friendly hotel arrangements? I would not take my car but didn’t want to put my dog on a plane.

    1. Post

      I didn’t personally drive much of that route you are proposing, but based on my own knowledge and talking to other travelers, I think I would go via Monterrey then head straight down in the direction of Mexico City (you may want to drive around) via Puebla and then over to Merida. Better than the coastal option, as far as I know. You didn’t mention if you also wanted to sightsee or just push straight through, buy Oaxaca is certainly worth the detour. In terms of the dog, that can be tricky… Some people in iOverlander have specifically mentioned pets yay/nay but you may just have to use an online portal like booking and filter for pets. Oftentimes paying a little extra can get you into places where you normally couldn’t…

  16. I can’t stand by and see the irresponsible advice being dispensed here by those clueless yet fortunate enough to have avoided the many dangers of traveling in Mexico. Trust the safety risk assessment of the US State Department that knows far more fact than these risky well-wishers. That assessment puts the entire country at a minimum level of “Exercise Increased Caution”, much of the country at “Reconsider Travel”, and some parts at “Do Not Travel” . “Violent crime, such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery, is WIDESPREAD.” Despite inaccurate comparisons spouted here, violent crime is at a much higher incidence in nearly all of Mexico than in concentrated high-crime areas in the US. In much of the country, violent criminals boldly operate with impunity as police presence is minimal to non-existent, and armed criminal groups operate unchecked. Especially as cartel’s drug operations are being impacted, they are turning more to kidnapping for ransom. In the worst areas, according to the USSD: “Armed groups operate independently of the government. Members of these groups frequently maintain roadblocks and may use violence towards travelers….Armed criminal groups target public and private passenger buses as well as private automobiles, often taking passengers hostage and demanding ransom payments” (Tell me where that exists in the US) In even the lesser risk areas: “Local police may lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents.” Where police do exist, they are often corrupt and can even be under the influence of local criminal elements. (See how safe you feel when you find yourself stopped for no apparent reason by a police officer, he asks to see your cell phone and then contemplates keeping it because it is better than his own – which happened to a friend.) The only place risk is acceptably low is in certain well-populated city tourist areas where police are concentrated to protect tourism interests. Going outside those areas, such as a cross-country drive absolutely takes you into high risk. Three women driving cross-country, as proposed in one post here – absurdly high risk. If you don’t believe that you are at high risk, or that you are not standing out and attracting criminal attention as a foreign tourist and a potential target, especially outside those few safer areas, you are fooling yourself.
    Don’t trust these lucky well-wishers here and educate yourself with the true risks, including the accounts of those attacked and kidnapped in recent years. The murder rate alone is 5 times that of the US. While data may suggest rape rates are as high or higher in the US, in reality experts estimate that over 90% of rapes go unreported in Mexico due to lack of prosecution and often fear of retribution.
    Yes other countries bordering, such as Honduras and Guatemala carry at least the same risks – with some of the same types of armed attacks on passing tourists. That doesn’t make it acceptably safe in Mexico.
    Just a few accounts to get you started on the realities:

    1. Post

      Thousands of foreigners drive through Mexico every year. Many, many thousands more travel on traditional vacations. As I say in this article, yes there are dangers, but things like the US State Department warnings are VASTLY overblown talking about the existence of every single possible bad thing that could happen or has happened like twice. EVERY State Department warning is filled with dire, scary, terrifying warnings. I’d love to see a State Department travel warning for the US and how that might read. I’ve never traveled anywhere that the State Department warning says “Everything here is just peachy, don’t worry about a thing.” Indeed, in this case, I think I DO know more about this type of travel in Mexico because they aren’t allowed to travel within much of Mexico. I did not “get lucky” whatsoever. My experience was the NORMAL, you might say that I wasn’t unlucky, sure (which is something OUT OF THE NORMAL). You must differentiate between crime that targets certain local people, crime targetting government employees like the State Department, and crime that affects tourists. The latter is very low considering the high number of people that travel through… It isn’t non-existent though, of course. Travel has risks.

      1. I travelled to the Mexican border Brownsville Texas pulling a 19 foot trailer. My goal was to get back to Costa Rica where I spent 10 years up to a time I had a lump in my throat and returned to Canada for treatment 3 years later cleared of my tumor I was returning.
        I stopped a RV park and told the locals what I was doing.
        They told me I was crazy and 10 miles over the Mexican border I would be robbed or kidnapped or something worse.
        They gave me many accounts of incidents they had or their friends had . It was bad,bad,bad.
        The locals of this RV many retires had enjoyed crossing the border for shopping, dental work ect but no longer do this . Since the migration of the Honduras and El Salvador migrants. the crime rate has risen 1000%.
        13 years ago I took this route pulling a 10 foot trailer loaded with furniture ect right to the top. You could not open it without stuff falling out. A beautiful trip all the way and only one bribe at the Honduras border.
        Mexico was a breeze.
        I could not believe that things were that bad. I went to the US border Patrol officers and asked for help or advice.
        They (4 officers) gave me the same advice.The chances of me getting through Mexico without any issues was 20% and only if I followed more of the back road and kept off the main roads.
        Basically I was informed that if I wanted to continue I should hire a Mexican to go with me as a mouthpiece and a protector.
        I sold as much of my stuff I had in the trailer and gave the food to the local food bank.
        I sold my trailer for $200 and returned to Windsor.
        4000 mile round trip and a loss of thousands of dollars.
        Costa Rica is in my soul and hopefully in a year Mexico and the migrant problem will settle down and I will try again but for now I suggest anyone going to Mexico go by caravan or better yet don”t.

        1. Post

          Hey Joseph, there are still many many who are doing the journey through Mexico right now even with the caravans and all that. Tune in to the PanAmerican Travelers group on Facebook for real, on-the-ground accounts of people doing the trip or to ask your own questions about the situation.

  17. I always like blogs like these. I have been talking to a woman in Central America for almost 4 years, we skype daily and really like one another. I live in the Washington DC area and am tired of it, and want to do more with my life. I want to live the Pura Vida, slow pace chill life that they have down in some of those countries, and of course meet this woman. I don’t really like flying, so I thought to drive down there. Of course Mexico is the biggest obstacle, so I like reading blogs about people who traveled through there. One thing I cannot seem to get is how people afford it? I’m not rich, my funds would be all out within a year. I’m also curious what made you officially start? Like the moment you decided “I’m done here, lets go” and packed up and left? That’s what I need, a swift kick to get me going lol

    1. Post

      Hey Chris, most people who make it work long-term are able to do so by freelancing online… I was basically in the same boat, money running out and so I started freelancing and living on very little to avoid going back to a normal work life. What made me officially start was losing my job… Before that it was something I wistfully thought about but could never bring myself to quit. So when I lost my job it was basically “now or never.” Best thing you could do now would be to start trying to freelance, then set a date for quitting like one year from now and tell your friends and family about your plans.

  18. I was really worried when I saw a link to this article: I figgered it would be more propaganda, more nonsense about our wonderful neighbors to the south. Mexico is great. The people are amazing. The land is gorgeous, and it’s basically one big peninsula with other even prettier peninsulas .

    I would caution any one against believing what they hear about other countries, especially when nearly everything one hears is negative. I would caution the very same thing even more so if one resides in the US, where nearly everything is propaganda nowadays and one must sift through tons of nonsense to find actual truth.

    This reminds me of a month-long educational tour I did in Australia back in my high school days in the mid-90’s, summer ’95 to be exact (yeah, I’m old…haha). Part of the “educational” aspect was that our group visited schools in the areas we toured and gave presentations on what life was like for a typical American teenager. (“Typical” was not accurate description of our group, as we all hailed from DuPage County, Illinois, just outside Chicago, and it was the 3rd richest county in all of the US back then; it still is today. I personally grew up in a suburb called Naperville; if you are familiar with this “storied” town, you will understand why this is important to the story shortly.)

    Since I actually like public speaking, I was nominated to give the speeches at all six schools we visited, all of which were junior high or high school levels. After speaking for thirty minutes or so, I’d ask if anyone had any questions. I shit you not, every single time, the first question was “Do you carry a gun to school?” EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

    As we all know, back then and even today, it’s *extremely* rare for any student to carry a gun to school, even in Chicago where gun violence is currently at nearly an all-time high. But because of the news reports Australian media focused on, everyone there assumed kids over here were just shooting each other as a matter of course.

    So don’t believe the hype, especially about nonsense like that, because I can almost always guarantee you that whomever is saying “Don’t travel here, you’ll get kidnapped or killed” has not been to the place in question. Yes, there are places all over the globe where people want to kidnap Americans or citizens of other wealthy countries, but these are not places where most average travelers are going to go.

    I find this especially amusing in regards to the violence in Mexico and Americans claiming it’s too dangerous to go there because it is the terrible *American* foreign policy and “War on Drugs” that has set the stage and basically encouraged such awful violence. Ironic.

  19. hi . we are planing to drive across the boarder from ussa to mexico , down baha and over to chapas . We are wondering how much it is in fuel ect to do something like that . i have traveled mexico by my self before and loved it and found it more then safe if your smart . i wonder how much more it will be to make the trip by car instead of normal buses ect . thanks

  20. Hey Ryan,
    I have enjoyed reading tour posts and hearing all the respones. I am an American living in the US and have been seeing someone from Panama.
    I have been there 3 times now and starting to get a good feel for the culture and have been driving quite a bit.( This will definitely sharpen your driving skills!) I have only visited via flying into Miami and then on to panama.. I have been thinking of driving my car down through Mexico to Panama. I have a Newer Mercedes and have had many people to tell me that It would be a Big Mistake to do this. If i had to rent a car i would rather fly. I was wanting to have my car while in Panama with my girlfriend as she lives there.
    What are your or anyone else’s thoughts on this.. I am definitely adventurous and do not scare easily but in my older age have learned to be cautious and that things do happen in this world of ours..
    Thanks for any advice..

    1. Post

      Hey Chris,

      Driving in Panama City is definitely the worst of anywhere I drove in Central America, so if you can drive there, you should be fine! I’m not sure how nice a rig you’ve got, but Mercedes are fairly common work vehicles and it is not unusual to see BIG fancy European overlanding vehicles which cost as much as a small house (or even smaller Sprinter vans which are also super expensive)… I’m not aware that those groups have more problems than anyone else might.

      The same rules apply for everyone… Always find secure, paid parking, never park on the street (especially at night), don’t ever leave anything of value in view (even a backpack with nothing of value inside could be a target). Realistically, it is very unlikely that you have your vehicle stolen, but there may be higher probability of a smash and grab type of theft.

      I think you would be fine and basically in the same boat as everyone else driving across, but the bigger question is what you will do with your car at the end? You only get X number of months in Panama with a foreign plated vehicle, so you will have to figure out what you are going to do in terms of 1) importing it permanently ($$$), 2) driving back to the USA, 3) storing it long-term storage locally or in a neighboring country (both Panama and Costa Rica are popular choices for ease).

  21. I am a Immigrado al Mexico. I have driven in all Mexican States and Belize. The only problem I ever had, which was not my fault, which was in Campeche, for driving too fast over a topes. It was all settled for two beers. Just a note you can purchase an annual automobile policy for Mexico valid with your driver’s license, which allows you to drive any vehicle not for hire in Mexico. The cost is $90 and it covers liability a Mexican attorney and a bond.

    I need information about crossing the borders into Central America, with my jeep, visas, automobile registration, insurance.

    Two items of information for your readers: 1. If you are 60 years or older you are a pentioniado and entitled to get in for free to most Mexican National Attractions, such as pyramids etc. South of Mexico City they wanted to see my proof of residency in the north they did not seem to care. You may take with you your spouse and minor children who have not reached the age of 14. Chaiapas is a very beautiful place and friendly if you are dealing with Mexicans and not indois. It is the only place in Mexico I felt it necessary to sleep with a flare pistol as a flare pistol is not a firearm.

  22. Hi Ryan,
    I have a plan to travel from Texas to Ushuaia with my 5 yo. daughter and my wife .
    I have a truck F-150 2018 4X4 which I will gear up for overlanding.
    My concerns are basically how safe is to travel with this kind of car with a family and what kind of gear would you recommend to have particularly for this part of the world

    1. Post

      Hey Roger, the things I wrote about here for Central America & Mexico basically apply throughout the rest of Latin America. I don’t think the vehicle will cause any other special attention — there are overlanders in much more extravagant vehicles. As for gear, I basically recommend things from my truck camping gear list, check it out!

  23. Hey Ryan I enjoyed the article, have read most of the comments and have also been struck with paranoia and worry spread by family and their friends from south/central america on driving there.

    So I’m planning to drive from NY all the way to Argentina, buying a used car which I’ll get checked out and I don’t really know much Spanish and I’m traveling alone. I’m planning to learn the language before I leave and as I go, but with that in mind and the fact that I’m not a big strong person, relatively young, 21, have driven across the u.s. and did a 500 mile pilgrimage on foot across Spain and went to Morrocco (without any money) all alone, would you say that someone like me would be able to get through this trip, in your experience? Heeding the advice given. And would say that in Mexico and the south American countries you’ve been to, that either sleeping in your car with the windows covered or via tent is at all safe? I slept in my car across the us,often in public parking lots outside of chain restaurants, or randomly on the side of the road or state provided camping sites. worst thing that happened there was being woken up by the police. Or would you say it’s a must to always find a garage (and if so how much did those usually cost you) and sleeping at a hostel or hotel or indoors?

    Thankyou and I see you recommend going from Baha California, is it necessary to take a ferry at all or in your experience would it be fine to go following the pan American highway all the way down?

    thank you and I appreciate your responses, it’s one of those experiences where I know i’ll be scared shitless until I actually get to the countries and it’s a matter of being aware of surroundings, dressing appropriately, not sticking out, putting ducktape on and trying to make my cameras look as invaluable as possible. And do you have any recommendations on how to maybe hide an american license plate? If it’s even possible to get a mexican one.

    Anyways thank you and hope to hear back!

    1. Post

      Hey! Sounds like you’ve got some awesome plans coming up! I totally think it is doable, provided you are somewhat confident behind the wheel (you will undoubtedly face lots of stressful situations). As for sleeping for free wherever, no, it isn’t like the U.S. and in general I would not recommend doing so without speaking to others (travelers & locals). We generally only free camped in parks or other nature areas, rarely in a parking lot (like at a gas station, hotel, or something). Things change from country to country though, for example, in Mexico we rarely camped outside of campgrounds after leaving Baja, but in Costa Rica, Chile, and Argentina, we camped frequently and almost wherever.

      You could follow the Pan-American all the way down Mexico, but Baja is cool and provides a nice gentle introduction to the journey.

      As for hiding your license plate, I wouldn’t recommend that either. You would just invite more potential problems from officials. If you are worried about the plate, you could buy a vehicle from another country and then sell to a traveler. Colombia and Chile are popular places to buy.

      Good luck, if you have more questions shoot me an email.

      1. Thankyou for getting back to me so quickly, I appreciate the response! I’ll take it all into consideration and will certainly avoid sleeping in my car or out in the open like that for the most part. Just one other questions I had and the rest is for me to plan/figure out as I go (which is most of the fun). But how was your experience with shipping your car from Panama to Colombia (easy to plan, something trustworthy and concrete, doable with minimal spanish?) I read your FAQ on driving in central America and you mentioned you found an agent. Was that something you were able to do online or after you arrived in the country.

        Anyways thank you again, it’s really valuable in this type of trip and I think in general to pass on the knowledge/experience you gained from making such a journey and I’m sure you and others have prepared a lot of travelers and probably definitely saved some lives from this. I’ve had silly thoughts of dirty my clothes/car, throwing some mud on my CT license plate for the first few days, but like a trip to every new culture, you can travel in fear and once you get there you just operate based on your surroundings and the general plans you have in place. These are big countries and good people live there. Caution is necessary, but fear will get you taken down quicker than anything else. Enjoy the rest of your travels!

        1. Post

          You can arrange for the shipment in the weeks beforehand, the most important thing is to try and find another traveler who you can share the shipping container with. You can reach out on one of the groups like PanAm Travelers on Facebook, or the agent may be able to connect you with someone else (I worked with Tea Kalmbach). Shipping from Panama is a fairly annoying and time consuming process, but you will get good directions from your agent and it is definitely doable with minimal Spanish, it’s mostly just two days of waiting/running around.

          If you are worried in the beginning, I’d recommend posting something in one of those groups and seeing if anybody else is traveling and wants to caravan for a little bit. That way you can travel “with” somebody else, feel more secure, and then go your own ways whenever you want.

  24. I’m of the approach that Mexico is safe until it hasn’t. God help you if you encounter criminal activity or are the target of crime. 1/2 of law-enforcement is corrupt and most crimes aren’t ever really legitimately reported. They will not help you. Some say there is US fear mongering about Mexico, I feel if anything, it is downplayed, as so many crimes and missing people are never reported on. I’m glad your journey was safe –but I am someone who is very adventurous and worldly and have been to Mexico more times than I can count. But since 2011, I will no longer go there or support their corrupt government. 133 politicians murdered this year. More journalists tortured/murdered than any country in the world. And there is never justice for any of the victims. It’s also the only country I know of where if you get murdered there–you are to blame. You must have been doing something nefarious and therefore caused your own death. Only in Mexico. Read borderlandbeat if you want a real view of the daily news in Mexico.

    1. Post

      You raise valid points about the state of affairs. Believe me, Mexico isn’t the only place where the murdered victim gets blamed. At least when foreign tourists get murdered in Mexico, they will begrudgingly admit that it was due to insecurity. Down in Colombia every foreigner that gets killed is somehow involved in the sex trade supposedly, at least that’s always the official story.

  25. Ryan, personally, I would not recommend travel trough Mexico to anybody unless it is an organized tour and that is even not safe. A tour bus crashed on the highway in Mexico killing several people. Back in May of this Year, a German and a Polish bicyclists were murdered in the Mexican state of Chiapas and their both bodies had been mutilated. All this over some cash and cameras. Not even the bicycles were taken.

    1. Post

      Yeah, that was another terrible story. Certainly not the first time, and probably not the last. As I mention in the article, you should always be careful. There have been about three terrible cases over the past 3-4 years. They are always shocking, but still if you consider the numbers of foreigners still traveling through, statistically it is very unlikely. That being said, it is still more likely in Mexico than other parts of Latin America.

      1. Hello Ryan.

        Thanks for the info about your experiences in Latin America.

        I thought about driving from San Antonio, Texas to Monterrey, Mexico in about two months and staying in Monterrey for a month or two to just relax and experience Mexico. But I no longer think it is a good idea. Not because of safety concerns while driving from Nuevo Laredo to Monterrey (which would be during the day, not night), nor due to safety concerns while living in Monterrey. I am worried about car theft in Monterrey. I do not want my car with Texas plates to be stolen.

        For this reason, do you think it is better to fly to Monterrey? What are the odds of having my 4 door sedan stolen while staying in Monterrey? I would not be driving it much while in Monterrey. Is car theft common in Monterrey? Do you know if there are areas of Monterrey where car theft is not an issue?

        1. Post

          I can’t comment specifically on Monterrey since we didn’t drive that way, but generally speaking in Mexico, I don’t really hear too many stories about foreign plated cars being outright stolen in Mexico or Latin America — it happens, of course, but it certainly isn’t common. You should always, always park in paid, private lots especially if you are parking overnight. Make sure that your lodging or hotel has a private, secure lot, and if you plan to drive out to different parts of town for the day, also pay to use the private lots. That is the easiest way to ensure the safety your vehicle and the lots themselves are not that expensive.

          San Antonio to Monterrey is pretty close, so driving certainly is appealing, but I think it more depends on what your plans are with the vehicle in Monterrey and whether it is necessary or if you feel it would be more of a liability than a benefit — hard for me to say in your case.

          Friends who have been to Monterrey really loved it and spoke highly about it, but I have never been — I would love to go.

    2. Hey Chris and other readers.
      Whenever I hear the stories of terrible things happening to tourists in Mexico I am always taken aback. I am a single, older woman and I spent a year driving my own vehicle around Mexico without any problems. I never Stayed in campgrounds but stayed in gas stations with security guards, generally giving some kind of “donation” to the guards. I was more careful in Chiapas and stayed in a hostel And I did not drive at night. I never had any trouble Except for police pulling me over for no reason and trying to get a bribe, mostly in Oaxaca. (Don’t do it!) I got Stopped five or six times by the military for about the first 50 miles or so from the border, due to violence that was occurring at the time, but they were always polite to me and let me go without any problem. Once past the “danger zone”, no one bothered me. Just wanted to provide my own experience, for what it’s worth.

  26. I really enjoyed reading your post. Thank you for your honest, upfront, and detailed information. It was very refreshing.

  27. My wife & I have lived in Guatemala for the last 3 years. I agree with your general assessment and warnings. In here is as safe as you “want” to be. Thives are looking for easy targets, especially if you are a female, male/female with an expensive phone exposed, a bulch pocket (pants/sheet). Motorcycle thieves sandwich you with 2 motorcycles in red-lights after they see valuables in your vehicle. Never oppose! Give what they want. They kill you if you don’t. When we go to the city, I don’t take “anything” with me. I hide my treasures in a hidden packet. Use common sense. It is safer if you go as group. If you want to buy something, ask a friend national to go with you. Let her/him negotiate for you snile you keep your distance from him/her. Enjoy it!

  28. Hey Ryan, great text.
    I’m looking for a trip to Mexico. I was thinking about renting a car from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta, to Mexico City, to Merida. Would you recommend it?

    1. Post

      That is basically the route we took. There is a lot of awesome stuff to see on the way… Depends on how much time you have though, and I’d be wary of heading into Chiapas if your time is limited (we hit lots of delays).

  29. Hi Ryan,

    My friend and I (both girls) are debating between renting a car to drive around Chiapas for about 3 days or to just choose Palenque or San Cristobal as a home base to take tours from. We would be flying in and out of Tuxtla. We’re concerned about the parking situation as well as the obvious “we’re petite people traversing Chiapas by ourselves” kind of thing lol. I’m curious to know what your thoughts are. Please let me know! Thanks!!! 🙂

    1. Post

      Chiapas was probably the most difficult stretch of driving for us in Mexico, to be honest. Since it is autonomous region, there is little law and order (even when comparing to the rest of Mexico) so there are semi regular to frequent blockades, and they aren’t just disturbances to make a political point but rather to extract money from travelers. We lost two full days of travel thanks to four blockades between San Cris and Palenque. There are also sometimes roadside robberies there, like the recent case of the two foreign bicyclists who were murdered in a (likely) botched robbery. Chiapas is amazing for the nature and everything, but it was our least favorite part of Mexico to drive through thanks to the people. I’m not saying don’t do it, just be prepared for stress and inconvenience that is far beyond anywhere else I’ve driven in all of Latin America (and I’ve driven all the way to the tip of South America now).

  30. I want to thank you for bringing this topic to a reality, we retired in 2010 and have been living in El Salvador since then, I have to say that so far we have never encountered any problems, we do speak spanish and my wife grew up there, it also helps that we live by the beach and have seen the number of Americans and Canadian citizens grow. We are thinking of doing a reverse and drive from El Salvador to the States and ossibly Canada……. Remember you have to approach this experience with an open mind and to know that you are outside your comfort zone…….

  31. The U.S. always give distorted information about Mexico. Things can happen but truthfully I would take my chances in Mexico before a lot of large U.S. cities. The U.S. has to blame someone or something there high crime rate on. Now we have to deal with a nut case in the White house

  32. Thank you so much for posting this. As a travel consultant, we battle with misperceptions about Mexico every day. Mexico is a wonderful destination! The crime rates in Orlando, Chicago, and Washington DC are significantly higher than those in Riviera Maya. It just makes me sad that the news has made it seem so out of control.

  33. So I am planning on driving my 2014 Convertible Stingray from California to Guadalajara. I am concern that because is a nice car my likelihood of getting robbed (or anything) is higher. I am a US citizen with Mexican heritage. I grow up in Guadalajara & the south border of Zacatecas. I know the road from Ciudad Juarez through Guadalajara, I have drove in the past different (less catchy eyes vehicles), however it’s been over 10 years driving experience through Mexico. Your feedback will be appreciated and if you have a suggested route let me know.

    1. Post

      Hey Israel, that could be the case… If I was in your position I would probably drive via Baja California to La Paz and take the ferry to Mazatlan. Just be sure to always observe the rule of never parking on the street, always use secured, paid parking lots, especially at night. If you haven’t yet, check out the iOverlander app/website for great info on hotels, parking, etc, as you drive.

  34. We were thinking of driving all the way to Panama from Canada with 3 kids. Do you think an RV would be more of a target? Have you seen any families overlanding?

    1. Post

      There are quite a few people who RV it south of the border, so I don’t think it would be any more of a target that other foreign vehicles used among the overlanding community. We have encountered numerous families on the road with small children in tow, there are even a number of them blogging about it, so I think you’ll find similar company pretty easily.

  35. Beautiful read!! I’ve been thinking about doing a similar road trip with my husband but have been a little freaked out at what we’ll find. (NOTE: I’ve NEVER been to Mexico).
    In your opinion, would it be safe for him and me (a skinny-ish girl) to road trip through Mexico, just the 2 of us? I’ve always wanted to visit but absolutely hate the thought of staying at a resort…
    Appreciate it! 🙂

    1. Post

      Well, yeah, I think so. We did just fine… My girlfriend is also a skinny-ish girl, and we never stayed at any resort… 😀

      If you’re careful and streetsmart, you shouldn’t have any major problems while traveling through Mexico.

  36. 35 years ago I traveled extensively through Mexico and central America by bus, thumb, donkey and on foot. I spent a lot of time on the Caribbean coast and had the time of my life. Unfortunately I have gotten old and cannot run as fast as I used to. My adventurous side is still intact but I am sometimes a grouchy old hot-head bastard and would not be nearly as patient with the sometimes maddening situations that come up in Latin America. I get into enough trouble with US drivers.
    I appreciate the accurate description of driving in Mexico and beyond, but I know I had better stay this side of the border because I am sure I would try to beat someone half to death if I caught them stealing anything I have worked hard to buy, think Paul Teutul, Orange County Choppers. Although I cherish memories of driving through Latin America I will just fly there and enjoy it as a destination and keep the rest as memories. Thanks for the great article Amigo……….

  37. I appreciate your attempt to rationalize the state of affairs in Mexico, and, in fact, I have made many of the same arguments about Mexico and attitudes toward it by its northern neighbors in the padt. But that was a few decades ago, and today security in Mexico is quite another matter.

    Despite living in the “safest” city within the Republic of Mexico, life here is a battle and deadly violence is always only a moment away in a culture where human rights and law are often discussed and rarely invoked. My Mexcan wife and I have been violently attacked downtown and in broad daylight. CCTV not withstanding, life here is all about who has “palanca” and justice will not be served. I’ve now had knives brandished at me a few times downtown or at Pemex stations, and my wife adamantly instructs me never to give any response to the violent outbursts of Mexicans as we are liable to be shot in our seats. Mexican friends and family are fearful of venturing on the nation’s highways–even the tollway “autopistas” where they say you stand a decent chance of being robbed, raped or killed.

    If you want to purchase land or a home, you must be paranoid that the seller will just disappear with your money, probably working in collusion with a notary and other officials. If you do purchase sucessfully, you will have to deal with paying carte blanche to associations which are purchased by the wealthy in order to stick it to the less fortunate. My neighbrhood has two such associations, one being owned by a guy from Tamaulipas (one of the travel warning states) who has purchased about four of these upscale neighborhoods plus the local soccer team…well, we pay for the team which will be in his name. Protest is likely to find you in the local morgue or just cast aside on some highway or even a local street.

    This is just the tip of the iceberg of my experience here over the past couple of decades. I have driven most of the country–north and south–and know of what I speak. In recent years, Mexico has descended into violent anarchy and shows no sign of improving any time soo, and remember…

    …El que no transa no avanza!

    1. Post

      Hey Don, what you’re saying here basically aligns with what I’ve said in the article… The problem in Mexico and much of Latin America is that there is an underlying insecurity mostly related to robberies and theft. That’s the deal: you can be robbed in big cities, medium cities, even small touristy towns or in the middle of nowhere. It doesn’t only happen in bad neighborhoods in big cities.

      But in terms of your Mexican family and friends being afraid to venture onto the toll highways, that is a bit exaggerated (although I wouldn’t travel at night). In virtually every country you will find plenty of locals who are overly cautious or afraid, but who haven’t traveled anywhere themselves — their advice should also be taken with a grain of salt.

      The fact that you’ve spent a few decades driving around the country with few if any major incidents should go to show you that it really isn’t crazy dangerous… Things can happen related to robberies and theft, but again you’re not at all likely to get kidnapped or killed as a foreign tourist in Mexico.

  38. Hi ryan thanks for great info. The wife and i are retiring in june and making the trip, gonna buy somewhere but want to stay from mexico to panama before making the decision. I know i cant cross the border with my gun, so what if anything can i have for protection or are we just helpless prey. Thanks alan and jane

    1. Post

      A common suggestion is a machete or bear spray if you feel the need for some sort of weapon for self-defense, though that’s really probably not necessary…

  39. Hi Ryan. I’m currently in Nicaragua and I’m considering buying a car and driving up through central America into the US and across to Florida. I feel slightly nervous purely because I’d be on my own, but I’m a “big strapping lad” as we’d say in England. I have re-read your post multiple times and think I definitely want to do it.

    However, my only confusion now is… What about crossing borders with a car, are there requirements, additional costs etc? If I’ve got Central American registered car, can I enter the US? What did you do for insurance? Is it only needed in the USA?

    If you could share your experience with me, or point me in the direction of a resource you used I’d be really grateful.

    Thanks, Kyle

    1. Post

      Hey Kyle, from what I’ve heard, it can be difficult or even impossible to enter the US with cars from developing countries like those in Central America, because those vehicles often don’t meet the emission standards for vehicles. I am by no means an expert on this though, so I would recommend joining the PanAmerican Travelers Group on Facebook and asking for more info.

      Check out my responses about insurance and border crossings and such in my Central America Road Trip FAQ.

  40. Hi Ryan,
    Its been 17 years since I drove down to Central America from Canada and hope to be doing it again in 60ish days. What route, in terms of less delays and current safety issues, would you recommend. I can cross anywhere into Mexico. My last trip was down the east coast (brownsville) and back up the west coast. Never had any problems other than losing a motor in Puerto Vallarta coming home. lol.
    Thank you

    1. Post

      Consensus has been to cross and go down Baja for a nice gentle transition into Mexico, which is why we went down that way as well. Then you can just hope on the ferry in La Paz and cruise on over to Mazatlan to continue your Mainland Mexico adventures.

  41. Hi Ryan, I recently backed out of a 10 hr road trip to Monterrey from Texas with my two female friends for some these same reasons you spoke of. I was hit a little backlash and attitude because the cost will be split between two now and not three. I am an activist for human trafficking and I couldn’t talk myself into the trip. I’m am pretty adventurous but 3 chicks driving through Mexico alone sounds like easy bait plus all the comments in my head about cartel, kidnapping etc.from friends and family,Your thoughts ?

    1. Post

      I think you would’ve been fine… I can’t speak to specifics about Monterrey, but plenty of women have traveled through Mexico. Check out the two gals who were traveling for many, many months (years?) without incident in Mexico and Central America at

  42. Hey Ryan, I have been considering a motorcycle trip through Mexico for many years now. Your perspective is one I appreciate….coming from actual first-hand experience. I am currently at the point that you were at in the beginning of your article as you were planning your trip and talking to others. Everybody treats me like I am suicidal for even considering traveling through Mexico. Here is the kicker…I am a cross-country motorcyclist, I have seen the entire U.S. and a lot of Canada. I yearn to experience Mexico. Living in and experiencing cultures outside the U.S. has opened my mind to a lot about the world that most people around my Midwest home can’t appreciate. My buddy, with whom I have shared most of my motorcycle travels, is also very open-minded, at this point having lived more of his life outside the U.S. than inside the U.S. We are going to do this trip eventually. My question to you is if you can think of any additional precautions we should take as motorcyclists and if you could lead me to some resources of those that have shared said experiences. Thank you so much for taking the time to document and share your travels. They are very intriguing.

    1. Post

      Hey Heath! Awesome to hear that you are planning a similar journey. There is so much out there to see, and I’m sure you guys will love it. Most of what I’ve said here applies equally to both motos and vehicles, and I can’t really think of much specifics that apply to you as a motorcyclist, since I don’t really have the perspective. Lots of people make the journey in moto though! One thing, definitely be sure you are a good defensive driver, because some drivers are pretty reckless down south — though it’s not too bad if you’re only going as far as Mexico. Make sure your gear locks down tight since the most common crimes are simply stealing things that are easy to grab. Maybe check out the Overland Expo (either east or west) so you can connect with more riders who can offer a better perspective and specifics to you. Here’s an interview I did with a buddy who did the drive in motorcycle.

  43. Is their an age restriction on driving vehicles down to Puerto Vallarta from California? I have a 2017 Ford 150, was thinking of bringing a travel trailer, and my two dogs. They are fairly large dogs. I know the vet requirements but heard vehicles had to be at least 4 years old in Mexico. Any RV or caravans along these lines?

    1. Post

      Hey, I haven’t heard of any restriction for either new or old in terms entering Mexico as a tourist. These are just temporary import permits, not for permanent residency or import which would be different. Look up the PanAmerican Travel Group on Facebook though, but it seems like a strange restriction to impose on tourists…

  44. Hi there!
    Sounds like an awesome trip.
    I have been wanting to do a road trip for as long as I can remember, but haven’t been able to yet for one reason or another.

    I have a couple questions….
    Do you think this is appropriate for a solo female traveler to drive through Mexico down to Panama?
    About how much did you spend on gas, food, lodging, permits, etc. during your trip?


    1. Post

      I think it’s absolutely doable for a solo female traveler. While I don’t personally know any solo female travelers, I’ve certainly heard of a few doing it on social media, whether by motorcycle or traveling with their pets. Lois Price is a somewhat known overlanding author who goes solo to all sorts of places. And there is a female same sex couple that is launching a book specifically about women overlanding around the world, check it out maybe?

      We budget about $75 per day as a couple, so if you’re traveling solo it would be a higher cost on an individual basis than our per person costs, but it is still surprisingly cheap. I just published an article about three months of our expenses in Peru, you’ll find some similarities.

  45. Yes. As a woman, I took my 14-year old and husband on an 1,100 mile drive through Mexico over about 2 1/2 weeks, including to some remote parts of Chiapas and through the lower jungles of Quintana Roo, near to the Belize border. We didn’t drive at night, we did get searched by some federales at one checkpoint between states (I think they were confused that a foreign woman was driving, honestly), but that was fine. The worst thing was getting lost on occasion in small towns, but then I just asked for directions. People were very friendly, and we speak a bit of Spanish, so that helps. The topes a.k.a. bumps in the road are fierce and tire-popping. And some rural roads have serious pot holes or can be narrow. Sometimes the traffic can be vicious in some cities as well. Otherwise, no problems. I’ve spent about a month in Mexico, not yet to Central America, and am considering a road trip through in the future, perhaps, and was trying to figure out if it would be as chill as in Mexico, which I have to say was really chill (we went to Yucatan, Tabasco, Campeche, Chiapas, and Quintana Roo). I am someone who has traveled around the world, hitchhiking in Jamaica (not such a great idea), driving through desert in Turkey (fantastic), been across the U.S. a few times as well by car, and everywhere in between, and Mexico was one of the friendlier places I have traveled and will always be one of my favorite places because of this. It’s very family-oriented. Everyone was extra nice to my son. The only downside, at all, was one Pemex gas scam attempt, and one round of vicious food poisoning of some kind from who-knows-what. The driving? No problem, and really pretty views.

    And I’ve been mugged once, in San Francisco.

    1. Post

      Awesome tips, basically jibes with my experience as well. Though a few more police problems (most common around any borders, either north or south). If you’ve driven all around the Yucatan and Chiapas, you’ll find the driving in Central America will be basically the same or even more chill. After Mexico we had basically no problems whatsoever, and people are generally friendly everywhere… I’m sure you’ll love it!

  46. Thank you for this! My husband and I lived in our truck for a while and are now traveling and living abroad in VN. When/ if we head back to the states we plan on upgrading our space to a van and living out of that for longer term. We have considered driving all the way to Patagonia but as you’ve said, there is so much fear that it is difficult to wade through it and find reality…. in the middle. I follow a few people’s life journey who have done this or something like it, so I know it’s an option worth thinking about. We originally thought about flying down and wandering for a year or so, but after living in the truck it has become more appealing to have our “house” with us.

    I started following you when I was researching how to build out our truck, which we ended up doing a very similar build. So I greatly appreciate you sharing an honest non-inflated account of what to expect.

    I will have to dig in and start reading all of your posts.

    Thank you!

    1. Post

      Thanks so much Laura! Glad to hear that you found the post helpful. Really I can’t recommend enough going down with your own set of wheels, the experience of traveling like that is so incredibly freeing, and I can’t imagine going back to traditional travel. I wrote this awhile ago, but still loving this lifestyle even after so many 10s of thousands more miles. Cheers from Cusco, Peru!

  47. Too Funny. I am a Special Agent who has been assigned to 7 different countries as a Law Enforcement Officer/Security Officer in Embassies on 4 continents. Your guidelines and suggestions read almost word for word from my New Arrival Security Briefing I give to all families assigned to my Post (1 – NA, 2-
    Asia, 2 – Eur, 2 – Africa),. Boils down to your frame of mind, don’t be so afraid that you cannot make any decision or precaution, don’t be so oblivious that you are unaware of danger. Live in a good situational awareness, use common sense, stay away from bad areas, try to speak to someone else who has gone before and if possible use the buddy system. Done. Condensed an hour brief into 30 seconds.

    I an headed to the general area you speak of and appreciate your suggestions.

    1. Post
  48. Ryan, thank you for the information on driving through Mexico. My plan is to move to Mexico. I want to drive my car but I have fears. I would feel safe if I could follow a caravan. Can you help me on this one??
    Thanks for our time. Sincerely yours, Jeanette Toensing

    1. Post

      Jeanette, check out the PanAmerican Travelers group on Facebook. You could ask there about people who are crossing the border at the same time and see about tagging along for awhile. There are many who make the trek, many overlanders travel together for fun, safety, friendship, etc.

  49. Ryan,

    Great article. I really enjoy your clear and honest approach. I’m inspired to read your other articles. I’m a big fan of facts – not hearsay and fear mongering from those who lack firsthand knowledge.

    Keep up the great work.



    1. Post

      Thanks Paul, I appreciate hearing that. There’s a strange mix of both fear mongering and downplaying it as overly safe, when the reality is somewhere between the two. I hope my article encourages people to travel south of the border, but not with rose-colored glasses.

  50. Always recall a friend’s experience. Bob was in Venezuela, driving a borrowed Jeep. The owner told him to leave nothing in the car when he parked it. He still got robbed. They took the gearshift knob and the floor mats!

  51. I would bet you’re experience is more the exception than the general outcome of most. Not that I would actually KNOW, I’m one of those that pays more attention to the ‘naysayers’ about those South of our border looking at us as a ‘meal ticket’ or easy pickings; heck, even OUR government advises against it more times than not. And I’m strictly talking about do-it-yourselves- see-the-world sightseeing/vacation trips. How many times have you heard/seen our illustrious government (Embassy) NOT come to the aid of someone in a ‘foreign’ land. In MY mind, TOO much risk with little reward

    1. Post

      Hey Mark, I appreciate hearing your thoughts, but I really don’t think my experience is the exception, rather it’s the other way around. I think if you’re not in the high tourist areas, that nobody really looks at you as meal ticket. I’d encourage you to consider it at some point down the road, but I know the process of even entertaining the idea of driving south of the border is often something that needs to “marinate” for awhile, sometimes years.

  52. My wife is from Mexico about 5 hours south of the border and we drive down once or twice a year to visit the beaches. I also used to work for a large manufacturing company that had 3 factories just across the border in Mexico and was usually in Mexico for work once or twice a week. I have never had any issues driving or walking in Mexico during my countless visits there. Most people are helpful and friendly, maybe even more so that in the USA. My advice is to not drive at night (hidden speed bumps, livestock and roads that often don’t offer much of a shoulder), keep your situational awareness up and don’t go looking for trouble.

    1. Post

      Appreciate hearing your perspective, Christopher. I think you’re absolutely right, the vast majority are extremely friendly and welcoming to foreigners, despite the sometimes terrible rhetoric they hear coming from the American government and many American people at times. Solid tips about the situational awareness and not looking for trouble.

  53. All good advice. One other tip I discovered while on a lengthy road trip up and down the length of Mexico: tinted windows are handy. They help hide valuables inside the vehicle and provide a small measure of privacy.

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