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Taking Buses Through Latin America

The Best Way to Get to Know the Countries

By Craig Guillot

Traveling overland through Latin America is becoming easier and faster. Driving your own car remains a challenge; bus transportation while cheap, fast, reliable, and actually quite comfortable, is the best way to get to know Latin American countries. Buses range in price and speed from the top-of-the-line ejecutivo (or deluxe) to the rock-bottom “chicken buses” (second class). The middle range first class buses put Greyhound to shame. With planning, one can make the journey from Laredo, Texas to Panama City, Panama in as little as four days.

Juarez and Laredo to Mexico City: Omnibus de Mexico (www.omnibus.com.mx) has two daily departures from Laredo.

From Mexico City you can either travel on to Chetumal and south to Belize or go straight across Oaxaca and Chiapas to the Guatemalan border. ADO makes the 1,450-kilometer, 24-hour trip between the Terminal Oriente in Mexico City and Chetumal on the Belizian border. To Chiapas, the most direct route is to Tuxtla Guiterrez: 1,000 kilometers, 17 hours, with U.N.O. From there, several Mexican bus companies including Ticabus have connecting buses to Tapachula (400-kilometers, seven hours) on the Guatemalan border.

From Guatemala City the Ticabus (www.ticabus.com) runs all the way to Panama City, connecting through all the capitals in between: San Salvador, Tegucigalpa, Managua, and San Jose. You can break it down into different legs or make the whole journey straight through with a couple of overnight stops in the capitals.

Melva International (3 Avenida 1-38, Zona 9, Guatemala City, 331-0874) makes the 268-kilometer trip between Guatemala City and San Salvador, El Salvador with eight buses a day. The trip takes about five hours. From San Salvador to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, King Quality (Bolv. Comunidad Economica Europea, Tel. 225-5415 in Tegucigalpa) runs two daily ejecutivo buses for the 9-hour trip. From Tegucigalpa to Managua, Nicaragua, or Ticabus remain the main modes of transportation, with numerous daily departures which take. 8 1/2-hours.

Between Managua, Nicaragua and San Jose, Costa Rica, the Pan-American Highway weaves around the shores of Lake Nicaragua, past breathtaking volcanoes and roadside villages. The highway pushes on into the dry Guanacaste region of Costa Rica before climbing higher into the mountains in the center of the country. The 450-kilometer, 279-mile trip takes 11 hours one way with Ticabus or Panaline.

From San Jose the Pan-American Highway stretches 900 kilometers (558 miles) to the Panamanian capital. Ticabus and Panaline (fascinationcostarica.com) both make the trip. Once in Panama City, there are no regular routes or roads through the Darien Gap. The most direct route to South America is a ferry from Colon to Cartegena, Colombia from where buses lead to Bogota and the rest of the continent.

The Bus Station (www.busstation.net) is an excellent source of information with transit-related links all over the world, including to Latin American bus companies. Bus Explorer (www.busexplorer.com) is an interesting site with information and pictures of different types and styles of buses around the world, including Latin America.

CRAIG GUILLOT is a freelance writer and photojournalist who currently lives in New Orleans, LA.