Gringos Guide To Driving Mexico, Central America & Costa Rica
Which Route To Take While Driving Through Mexico

Which Route To Take While Driving Through Mexico

The drive through Mexico and Central America is a wonderful experience, however, it’s not an adventure for everyone. What type of person would like this sort of trip? First and foremost, you got to like driving. Any way you look at it, this trip is over 4000 miles of driving. If the open road turns you on, then this is a great trip for you.

Take Your Time Driving Through Mexico

Even though you could rush the trip, ideally, it is better to have an open agenda that isn’t too pressured by time. You don’t need tons of money but you should have a nice reserve for emergencies and potential car issues.

Places and conditions change, thus be prepared to make variations or detours altered from the original directions; though generally speaking things in Central America change slowly—except for Costa Rica where it seems different every time I go back, which has been every six months for the last decade.

There is no one correct way of doing anything and therefore if you find a way or route that you feel is easier or less complicated, please send your comments to us at DriveMeLoco so that your information may be included in the next publication and so that the loco community gets updated. We are stronger together.

Which Route To Take While Driving Through Mexico

There are three main routes through Mexico, one is along the Atlantic Coast (actually the Gulf of Mexico). The second is through central Mexico and Mexico City. The third is by the way of the Pacific Coast.

From Texas the four main entry points are:

  • El Paso
  • Piedras Negras
  • Laredo
  • Brownsville

The Pacific Route

There are several east-west, north-south links as you journey south through Mexico. The Pacific Coast route is the hands-down favorite among travelers and surfers. The roads are better overall, drivers don’t have to circumnavigate Mexico City, and there are plenty of beautiful sites along the way. I have driven all three routes and the Pacific Coast is my favorite by far, you won’t want to miss the following cities:

  • Mazatlan
  • Xtapa
  • Aculpoco
  • Chiapas

The route detailed in the city-by-city portion of this guide is the Pacific Coast route of Mexico, until Chiapas where I recommend diverting to the interior to see the jewels left by the Mayan civilization. From Chiapas, I always take the route into Guatemala heading directly for Antigua—Antigua is one of my favorite cities in all of Central America.

The Central Mexico Route

The Central Mexico route bogs you down around Mexico City, but this is the route most of the trucking companies and RVers take. Therefore, you’ll have plenty of accommodation and food options. Mexico City is an amazing place, but driving in Mexico City is not for the faint of heart. You could take one of the other routes and fly to Mexico City for a week to see the sites without having to drive it.

The Atlantic Route

The Atlantic route is just plain hard on vehicles and the scenic delightful places are fewer. My recommendation is to head for the Pacific Coast and then south through Mexico. However, if you got your heart set on the Atlantic please check out this post here.

From Guatemala you have two choices, continue through El Salvador or through the beautiful rolling hills of Honduras. Surfers may want to head to El Salvador and hit all the great point breaks. If you need a break from all the great waves you got in Mexico and would like to do some diving or spend some time in Copan exploring the Mayan ruins, then Honduras has some great options. If you are into diving there is some excellent diving in the east coast of Honduras.

Map Of Drive From California to Costa Rica

Gringo Behavior on All Routes

Most often once officials see your gringo face an unrestrained passage can be expected, usually, they ask a few questions and check your paperwork and send you on your way. In all my years of travel, I have only been hustled by the police around the USA border, most of the other officials are quite friendly.

In situations where you are motioned to pull over the officers will ask a few general questions and then check your vehicle or migration paperwork. No problem, always present a polite and respectful attitude and the officers will do the same. Idiotic, disrespectful travelers can expect a synonymous response from officials. The law of karma is always strong.

If you are traveling with a fluent Spanish speaker, have that person deal with the officials. All things being equal in these situations, have a woman talk to a man and a man talk to women when dealing with border officials or customs inspectors.

Have a great trip, be safe, and don’t drive at night.

Derek, Author Gringo Guide
Ojai, California

Last Updated: August 2021


  • E

    Hi there,

    I can’t find your contact info on your website so I apologize if this is the wrong place to post our questions.

    My partner and I are thinking of driving through central america start from LA. Is it possible to drive through all seven countries (Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama) ? Is it safe ? How many days do we need if it is possible ? We will fly back to LA from the last country. Do you happen to know the visa requirement for each country ?



  • Joe

    When was the last time you drove through Mexico? If I’m coming from FL, would you recommend to go to the Pacific Coast Route?

  • Michael Scott

    Hi, Im a Tico living in the US East coast fixing to move my family back to CR, however due to personal issues, flying isnt a choice at the moment but driving there, with a pit stop in Antigua then straight to Escazu for us..anyways, what route do you recomend to us, also what are the gas prices like from your point of view (driving full size 2002 Land Rover V8)..just any additonal info in your prospective would be great..thanks in advanced!

  • SteveK

    Would it be ridiculous to try driving a basic Honda Civic from the USA to Costa Rica? The Civic is supremely reliable, sips the fuel, has good traction and can handle some pretty washed out gravel roads. It won’t mind a few scratches and minor dents either.

    But do I really need some 4WD SUV type machine for such a trip?

  • Gringo Guru

    Depends on your objectives. I think the Pacific route offers the most diversity—but it’s not the quickest.

    ~ Gringo Guru

  • Gringo Guru

    All that info is in the book—and yes, you can visit Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama on the trip.

    ~ Gringo Guru

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  • Jack

    What kind of vehicle, brand, model, etc. is recommended for the drive to Costa Rica and touring the countryside in Costa Rica?

  • RF

    Hey there,
    There are two of us planning on passing through Mexico Summer 2013 (June-Aug). For Mexico we were originally planning on going down the west coast, then were considering more central route/passing through Mexico City. The reason for the route change was that it appears as if most the tolls roads, which are claimed to be safer & faster, head towards Mexico City.

    So, was wanting your opinion on which way to go, any certain areas you’d recommend avoiding, or any general advice regarding route to take.

    Thanks, really appreciate it.

  • john hotmail new finnegan

    I am in Costa Rica now with my U.S. car. I was told by a person(gringo) that if I drive to Panama I cannot return to Costa Rica for three months with my car. Has the law changed? Thanks. John

  • Rica

    I am looking for road partner from New mexico/texas border to limon costa rica. I speak fluent spanish and taking my old but reliable subaru.

  • Jim McCarthy

    Ready to go any time,..have new jeep.Would have to split expenses.Please call ASAP.I am in Arizona,…928 710 2950

  • Gringo Guru


    Yea, the central route is becoming more popular these days as the coastal route has more narco activity. Those toll roads can sometimes be very lonely places, I’d recommend traveling caravan style if possible.


  • Gringo Guru

    Anything with high clearance and good shocks, 4×4 is the best alternative.

    ~ DML

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