Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Ultimate Vehicle for Central and South American Travel?

At first, we thought that a VW camper van would be the way to travel to South America, after finding the VW Vagabonds site. That plan did not seem like a very good idea after finding out the prices! How does a hippy afford paying 20-30k for a 9 year old camper van? I started looking around for alternatives, and came across the Honda Element ECamper. This is what led us to looking at a Honda Element. SparkleGirl found that the ECamper guys were not the only ones that saw a correlation between the Honda Element and a VW Camper. Look what the Car Talk Gurus said about the Element: reminds us a bit of a modern day VW Microbus. That, too, was cheap, funky, and very practical. But unlike the Microbus, the Element is safe, plenty powerful, heated and cooled inside, and it'll start every day. -Click and Clack
We started thinking seriously about the Element, but before deciding on the ECamper, we went through the alternatives:
  1. Lay the seats down to sleep: You can lay all the seats down to an almost flat position, but then where would we put all of our stuff?
  2. Buy the Honda tailgate cabana: You can spend more on accessories for the Element than the price of the car. Works for small trips, but once again, do we move everything up to the front seats each night. Call me Mr. Safety Patrol, but I did not get a warm fuzzy feeling thinking about a small piece of fabric between myself and a Guatemalan jungle. Knifes and mosquitoes would not be deterred.
  3. Use a regular tent: Great in the outdoors, not so fun setting up camp every night for a year.
It was decided this weekend- we are going to put down the $500 deposit for the ECamper and travel in style. We can worry about who to get the car from later.


  1. I just returned from 2 1/2 months in south america and was wondering about the possibility of driving down there from Portland for the adventure and learning experience of it. So i googled and idea and found you. This is very cool. i will keep checking back and seeing what you're up to. Good Luck!!!

  2. We won't be leaving for another couple of months, but we plan to continue posting info as we plan more and actually leave on the trip. We're very excited...

  3. Anyone interested in a journey of a life time?
    Only if you’re truly serious about a journey south within the next 45 days should you contact me about coming along.
    Cash: at least $5,000-$10,000us
    You must have a calm & composed personality under pressure and not under pressure.
    Must have good to excellent abilities with 4 or more of the 8 listed below:
    1. Bi-lingual English & Spanish
    2. Mechanical (auto)
    3. Good to Excellent Cooking skills
    4. Navigation GPS & map reading
    5. First Aid Basics
    6. Excellent driving skills
    7. Sing (kidding)
    8. Good sense of adventure

    I’m an easy going Texan, more details about me once we have determined that you meet the above requirements. Reason for needing someone to come along is simple, to absorb some of the costs of traveling south. After 3 years of planning I’ll be departing Texas driving south to Costa Rica then onto Peru. This will take place on or near June 30th 2008. I’ll be driving an SUV which has been modified extensively for such a trip. My original plan was to go solo so I look forward to hearing from soon!

  4. Hi,
    I'm driving to brazil from los angeles at the beginning of july.
    When are you all leaving? Do I hear a caravan...?


  5. We have wondered if we'll start seeing cars we recognize on the road - seems like there are a number of people contemplating similar plans. You know what our car looks like - wave hello if you see us!

  6. We plan to go in november,anyone going around that time.?
    We plan to take a 4 Runner and are going only as far as Paraguay.
    We like to go along the Pacific,Brazil will have lots of rain starting in november.Where is the best place to take a cargo ship?
    Any info. would be helpful.

  7. Hi Ingrid and Henry,

    Sorry to be so long in responding. We will be leaving for Mexico tomorrow (Sept 3) hope to hit Argentina by February. That said, we may will be playing it by ear, and if that seems too fast (or too slow) we will change our plans accordingly. We'll be driving South along the Pacific side as well.

    It seems that shipping the car around the Darien Gap will be probably the most difficult and frustrating aspect of this trip. There are numerous other blogs where people describe how they have accomplished this feat - I've included a couple below. Hope they're helpful. I think patience and money will both be needed in significant quantities, but it will definitely be worth it.

    Shipped from Costa Rica to Equador:

    Shipping from Panama to Colombia:

    Shipping from Panama to Ecuador:

  8. this is exactly why we bought the E... I wanted another VW bus but needed something that wouldn't break down on trips to the coast. It's like a grown up version!

  9. Hi;

    VW campers remain among the best options for this kind of travelling, and they don't necessarily break down if you know what you are doing. Check out our pan-american experience in a 1982 diesel Westfalia:

    Planning another run in 2010, with a Westfalia of course. Regards, Cris

  10. Oops, that link didn't work, try:


  11. what road will you take from Panama into Columbia?

  12. Actually there is no road between Panama and Colombia, so we shipped out car from Colon Panama to Cartagena Colombia. If you want information on the shipping process, see our Drive the Americas Website.

  13. Hi,

    I’d like to do a Pan-American road trip this summer and need to buy a vehicle. My plan initially was to fly to Mexico City, buy an SUV, drive to Buenos Aires, and sell it there or ship it home. If someone doing the trip now would like to sell me their vehicle in South America, I’d be happy to agree to sell it back to them in the U.S. I can’t lease or rent it though because I believe ownership is an issue when crossing borders. Presumably a 3k+ mile trip through pot hole ridden Central America would depreciate the vehicle so we could discuss before hand simply selling it back for less than I bought it or paying for repairs or both.



  14. Hi Brian,

    Nice to meet you. I have a couple of recommendations for you. First, check out our other website at Drive the Americas. On this website we compiled comprehensive information on cars, borders, shipping, scams, gas and road conditions, hotels and camping - in essence everything we wish we had known about when we started this trip. We have a forum for roadtrippers on this website as well, and I know there are several cars for sale in Buenos Aires listed on this forum.

    Second, you may want to consider purchasing the car in the US. We met several Europeans who flew to San Diego, purchased a car, and went on their way. We only met one couple who tried to buy the car in Mexico and it sounded like it was a very difficult process.

    And you're right, you need to prove ownership of the car when you're crossing borders. Also check the your vehicle page of the Drive the Americas website for more information on purchasing vehicles, insurance, and vehicle modifications you might want to consider.

    Best of luck, and be sure to contact us when you do start your trip - we'd love to profile you in our roadtripper profile section of our Drive the Americas website.

  15. Hello! everyone
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    From Austin, Texas to Caracas, Venezuela
    here is my website I created.
    thanks and good luck

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