Traveling Central America is Not Always Easy or Cheap: Belize to Panama!

You remember my friends who are driving from Washington DC (they left just before Christmas 2011) to Argentina, right?   I met them in Mexico for 10 days (Chetumal, Lake Bacalar, Tulum…) and it was amazing.  They stayed with me in San Pedro for a week.  And then we met up in Honduras.  My planned 4 day trip was extended to 12 days so I could visit Omoa, Tela, Roatan and Guanaja.  Again…amazing.I returned home to Belize and they headed south.  I knew I was missing lots of good stuff.  The highlands of Honduras, Nicaragua (NICARAGUA!) and now Costa Rica.  I wrote a post a while ago…my Before I Turn 40 Central American Bucket List.  There are places to see.  The Panama Canal!  Time to meet them again.The distance between Belize City and Panama City is only 825 miles.   Shorter than New York City to Miami (a 1.5 day bus trip on Greyhound bus for $109USD).  Shorter than London to Rome (a 2 hour $100USD flight on something called Monarch Airlines).   Granted those are much more frequently travelled routes…but how hard can this trip be?  How expensive?  It’s really not THAT far.

Here are the routes I considered:

The train:  I have read Paul Theroux’s book “The Old Patagonian Express” where the author takes trains from Boston to Argentina in the late 1970s.  This transit option through Central America no longer exists.  Apparently most of these railroads were decommissioned in the 1980s and 90s and service has totally stopped in Nicaragua and Guatemala.  Oh well…the author makes most of the actual ride sound pretty hellish anyway.  (By the way, GREAT book.)

The bus:  It should be cheap, right?  Slow but cheap.  And you would have the option to stop as much as you want.  I could take care of most of my bucket list right here, right now! This would be the cheapest route.

  • Water Taxi from San Pedro to Belize City, 1.25 hours – $30 BZD
  • Bus from Belize City to Santa Elena/Flores, 5 hours and $40BZD and then Santa Elena to Guatemala City, $44 BZD, 9 hours
  • Here is the crazy/exciting part:  Tica Bus provides a bus service from Guatemala City to Panama.  $127 USD ($254 BZD).   Guatemala City to El Salvador, 4 hours (overnight in San Salvador), El Salvador to Nicaragua, 12 hours (overnight in Managua), Managua to San Jose, Costa Rica (12 hours), then drive ALL NIGHT long for 15 hours to Panama City.  (This blog describes that last leg pretty well…I Like Going Places.  Border crossings sound like hell).  OH LORD.

So what’s the total price of this trip of a lifetime?  A trip I can sit around and laugh about in 20 years?  $368BZD or $184USD.  Plus any overnight costs in Guatemala, San Salvador and Managua.  All the super cool stamps in your passport are free.  And…you can stop as much as you want.  Intriguing.  And something I thought about seriously…

The plane:  By far the most expensive.  There is only one airline that takes you from Belize City to Panama City, through San Salvador, TACA.   Prices range from $600 to $700 US dollars round trip over the next few weeks and the flight takes a few hours.

****TIP:  JOIN TACA’S LIFEMILES PROGRAM.  OFTEN YOU CAN BUY MILES OR REDEEM MILES FOR LESS THAN THE FULL FARE PRICE OF A TICKET***

Guess which one I chose…

I’m leaving on Saturday, flying to San Jose, Costa Rica and will flying back from Panama City just in time for Lobsterfest 2012.  In between, I’ll have lots to report back about…

And yes…I’m a total wimp.




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  • After reading the “I Like Going Places” blog posting you linked to, I totally understand your decision. I thought going to Mexico for half a day was way too many border crossings and too much paperwork, so can’t even imagine how frustrating going through all those countries on the bus and having to cross multiple borders would be. Have a great trip!

  • Thanks for the follow up on the campers. I wondered how they made out. I’m a very big fan of the Mexican ADO buses. I use them when ever possible around the Riviera Maya. I may have been tempted to take them. The big drawback would have been trying to get any sleep on them.

  • terriegym

    Great post. I need to travel from Belize city to Cali, Columbia,(or visa versa) next July. have no idea how we will do it. 2 small children make it impossible for the bus i think.

  • Robert

    You should watch Intransit.tv . He’s currently traveling down the Mississippi on a canoe.
    His last trip he took public transportation (Buses) from L.A. to the Panama Canal. He even stopped in San Pedro and Caye Caulker. Really good web show.

  • Me

    Totally cool…I will watch it. Belize to Cali? Only option is flying…but from Guat City, Cancun, San Pedro Sula, Belize City? So many ways…

  • terriegym

    We were supposed to come to Ambergris caye this year, but my eldest son is competing at the world games in Cali next year. so saving up for then. I cant possibly be that close and not come to AC next year 🙂

  • We flew from Belize to Panama at Christmastime this past year. It was only about 545.00 pp. Prices have gone up!