Trip Logistics Part I: Camping in Central America
Once we reached Brazil, our trip changed greatly. While we still have a fair bit of driving left, we were no longer camping and crossing unknown borders every few days. We joined up with our mom, who flew down to meet us, and started to stay in hotels and go to World Cup matches. So, I will take some time to revisit the logistics of our trip. This is intended to be helpful for anyone interested in doing something like this themselves, but others may still find it interesting. Where applicable, I will try to include external links to more relevant information. Here are some quick descriptions of the places we camped in North and Central America.
Edit: I added some pictures from some of the other articles.
Campsite 1: Airey Lake Recreation Area, Mississippi, USA
GPS: 30.65456, -89.06265
Notes: Not much to say here. A small state campground in the De Soto National Forest. Free. I pulled in pretty late in the evening, and it was filled with boy scouts. I found a place to park and set up camp.
Campsite 2: Hotel in Laredo, TX
Notes: A hotel in Laredo, Texas near the Mexico Border. I picked David up from the airport and dealt with a few last minute car problems before we headed for the border the next morning. We were able to fill up with ice and other necessities.
Campsite 3: La Maliniche National Park, Tlaxcala, Mexico
GPS: 19.27899, -98.04343
Notes: La Maliniche is a large dormant volcano. Outside of town and up a fairly long gravel road. We pulled in after dark and did not get to see much. There was a closed gate at the entrance with a guard house, but we were let in without question when we told him we were camping. There were cabins for rent and lots of amenities, but we drove past and found a small clearing in the woods to make camp. We didn’t realize how high up we were until later, >12,000 ft! Felt very safe and it was surprisingly deserted.
Campsite 4: Rancho San Nicolas, San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico
GPS: 16.73383, -92.62206
Notes: A gated campground/small RV campground in the outskirts of the beautiful town of San Cristobal. The rancho turned out to be very popular among overlanders. We got there early, before the office was closed, and paid a small fee to park and camp. Cabins were also available. We walked up the nice, quiet street to buy ingredients for dinner, and cooked out the back of the car. We later met and shared a beer with a few other travelers from the US. http://www.campingsannicolas.com.mx/en/
Campsite 4: La Casa De Mamapan, Ahuachapan, El Salvador
GPS: 13.91879, -89.84818
Notes: A small but nice hotel in Ahuachapan, a short drive from the Guatemalan border. We made reservations beforehand, with the hope that we would be able to cross the Guatemala-El Salvador border that night. The only parking was on the street, but it was covered by the hotel’s security cameras. Warm showers and cold beer. The next morning we found a small cafe with Wifi just down the street. http://lacasademamapan.com/
Campsite 5: Laguna de Alegria, Usulutan, El Salvador
GPS: 13.49231, -88.49551
Notes: An extinct volcano lake. We had to pay a small fee to enter, a few dollars, but had the entire laguna to ourselves once we did. We arrived early and it’s possible that the gate closes after dark. A dirt road circles the lake, and there were many places to camp and make a fire. We found a flat spot near the water and did a little exploring around the laguna. Very nice.
Campsite 6: Parking lot for Masaya Volcano National Park, Managua, Nicaragua
GPS: 12.01291, -86.14209
Notes: Just past the Nicaraguan capital of Managua. We crossed two borders that day and arrived very late, hoping to find a spot inside the park to camp, but it was closed for the night. We pleaded with the guard, and he eventually let us park near the entrance as long as we promised to leave early in the morning. Far from ideal, but the guard was nice and the station was manned all night. We were far enough away from the main road that it felt safe, although large trucks passing in the night woke us up frequently. We can’t comment on the park itself, but the pictures online looked very nice. https://vianica.com/attraction/2/masaya-volcano-national-park
Campsite 7: Dominical, Costa Rica
GPS: 9.25263, -83.86642
Notes: Tiny town known mostly for surfing. We drove through town and out onto the beach and camped for free. The locals will try to charge you if you park too close to the road. We found a number of small restaurants, hostels, and bars and hung out in one with TV and Wifi. The locals were very nice and even tried to speak English with us. We met a few other (rowdy) Americans, too. Highly recommended.
Campsite 8: Riverbed in Piedras Blancas National Park, Costa Rica
GPS: 8.6853, -83.22681
Notes: We had a free day and felt like doing some exploring. We saw a marker for a nature lodge on our map, and decided to try to find it, which took us deep into the Piedras Blancas rainforest national park. We followed the faint road on our map until it ended, and finally had to ask a local where the lodge was. The “road” ended up crossing back and forth over the river from bank to bank. On the sixth or seventh river crossing we got stuck. It tooks us a long time to dig and winch our way up onto the bank, and by that time it was dark. We ended up camping on a riverbank in the rainforest, never having found the lodge. Sleeping in the truck was extremely hot and humid, and we were afraid to open the windows due to bugs/animals. I would NOT recommend trying to find this camping spot. http://www.anywherecostarica.com/attractions/national-park/piedras-blancas-national-park
Campsite 9: Balboa Yacht Club, Panama City, Panama
GPS: 8.93956, -79.55377
Notes: The Balboa Yacht Club was very important to our journey, although it still managed to somehow not quite live up to expectations. It is well known among overlanders as the place to stay in Panama City and figure out the problems represented by the Darién Gap. (The gap divides Central and South America and cannot be driven across. Instead we had to send the truck over in a shipping container.) Contrary to what we had read, though, the Yacht Club did not seem to be particularly welcoming to overlanders. We ended up parking a few blocks over and spending a lot of time and money on drinks and mediocre food, often times just to be allowed to use the bathrooms. But they did have Wifi, and proved to be an efficient base of operations while we sorted out inspections and paperwork for the Land Cruiser.
Campsite 10: Hostel Mamallena, Panama City
Notes: A very nice hostel in Panama City, catering mostly to backpackers. We spend our last night in Panama City there, after we packed up the Land Cruiser at port in Colón. It was clean and cheap and filled with cool backpackers from all over the world. We chose Mamallena because it was the only hostel that offered an early morning 4×4 taxi to the tiny port of Carti, where we would put ourselves onto a boat bound for South America. Most of the backpackers we met at Mamallena ended up being on the same boat. Highly recommended. http://www.mamallena.com/
Campsite 11: The MS Independence, San Blas Islands
Notes: One of the best “campsites” of our entire trip. We had fivecar-less days to make it to Cartagena, Colombia to pick up the truck. The four day boat trip cost $450 per person, which was actually less than a plane flight to Colombia plus meals and hotel rooms. We hung our with our new backpackers friends while the boat sailed through the San Blas islands, with frequent beach stops, swimming, and snorkeling. After two weeks, of living out of the truck, it was like paradise. We booked our spots well in advance, as the few boats making this trip fill up quickly. Highly recommended. http://independence-ms.com/
Part II will be about our campsites once we reached South America.