Currency: Belizean dollars, 2/$1 exchange rate
Gas: reserve tanks only—much more expensive than Mexico. Fill up there before you enter Belize (about $5 per gallon)
Road conditions: Moderate. No police checkpoints
Fees: $9 per person to enter Belize, $19 per person to leave, insurance $27 for one week
Rule number one: don’t try to speak Spanish. Rule number two: drink rum. Rule number three: hold on to the big truck (don’t ask us to actually identify “the big truck.” You just have to find it, and then hold on to it).
Belize, like Mexico, has some side-of-the-road camping options if you seek them out. Our first night we stayed in Corazol, a town very near the northern border, and met a guy there named Jose. He watches boats for rent at night, and let us stay on their property on the main drag in town. It’s just after a bar called Jamrock. We used their bathroom and shower for free (after some persuading). It was Belize’s independence weekend when we arrived, so there was a lot of celebrating in the bars and in the streets. Corazol’s full of friendly locals and expats alike, and has that cool Caribbean vibe. Although it’s located directly on the Atlantic, there isn’t too much around to call a beach, if that’s what you’re after.
Finding a spot in the capital city of Belmopan wasn’t as straightforward. It’s centrally located in Belize, and also a bland city—not on the can’t-miss list. It was the first place we’d ever been kicked out of a camping spot, but that was because we chose one on the edge of the city’s wealthy expat community and their Neighborhood Watch was not pleased with us cooking up dinner near their landscaped yards. They did however direct us to a spot in the center of the city, which is useful if you ever find yourself needing a place to stay in Belmopan: near the governor’s mansion is a large park that’s basically just an open field, and the police station is visible from there. We stayed there as Belizeans marched by throughout the night, and fireworks went off at about midnight. No bathrooms or spigots nearby, but free.
The next spot was Belize’s standout: the tiny town of Hopkins. It’s pretty far south, but in Belize that doesn’t mean too much—you can drive through the whole country in a few hours. Hopkins is a mile and a half stretch of dirt road snaking the Atlantic coast, and we stayed at the Cool Spot by the Beach (yep, that’s the real name). The owner’s name is Shannon, and his wife works at the small food stand on their property, which is a small plot with a handful of palapas that’s right on the beach. It’s located by a large dock and has bathrooms for use. Shannon let us park our car at the Cool Spot for free, and we paid him back in kind by buying a few meals and coffee from his wife’s stand.
If you’re looking to get off the mainland and leave your overlanding rig behind, we stayed in a large, amazing palapa over the water on an island seven miles off the coast. It’s called the Island Project, and owned a successful restaurateur, Willow. It was an amazing night of dinner and new conversation on the Caribbean, and it’s possible to stay here for free or very low cost if you’re willing to volunteer.
Can’t miss: Parker—the Island Project Joel—Hopkins Madison—the Island Project Aidan: Hopkins
Hazards: Petty crime, Neighborhood Watches, tropical storms, Pantyrippas, Captain Breeze
Currency: Lempira, 21/$1 exchange rate
Gas:$5.06 per gallon
Road conditions: Poor. Lots of police checkpoints
Fees: $2 per person to enter, $35 for vehicle
Entering Honduras from Belize requires you to pass over the border and into Guatemala. The night before entering Honduras, we accidentally passed right by the migracion building because it’s very small white building that looks like a house, and it’s not well marked. We spent the night at a gas station in no man’s land between Guatemala and Honduras as an armed guard patrolled the spot the whole night, and witnessed people illegally crossing the border from sundown to sunup. They disregarded us completely and nothing happened, but we can’t attest that it was a safe situation to be in. Also, we had some explaining to do the next day when we arrived to the Honduran migracion building with no Guatemalan exit stamps. Returning to the proper building in Guatemala, they remembered our car and were very upset with us for not stopping. They wanted a bribe but after a long conversation, they gave up and gave us our stamps, and in the end shook our hands and waved us on with well wishes.
It should be noted that when paying exit/entry fees at the border, make sure you receive an official receipt, or ask for one. If they can’t produce one, the border tax is probably illegal, and might disappear after asking.
We had a specific destination in mind, about 20 minutes outside of San Pedro Sula. This city is known for being one of the most dangerous in the world, so we didn’t linger and went to meet our connection in Cofradia with one of Aidan’s high school friends. While there, our hosts, teachers at a local school, didn’t recommend being out alone at night for women, and we hung out behind a large wall topped with razor wire surrounding their house, the door almost always locked. Honduras seems like a place where you absolutely need a connection with guarded parking if you want to stay anywhere beyond tourist spots. Our hosts emphasized the dangers of this part of Honduras many times, and we heeded their advice. That being said, Cofradia is very pretty—located in a valley just below large misty mountains, and we had a lot of fun with our college-aged friends there. The best part was being able to feed ourselves on dollars a day: baleadas (quesadilla-like) are about 50 cents apiece and a liter of beer was about a $1.50.
We visited a waterfall called Pulhapanzak, an impressive waterfall that’s Honduras’ tallest. It’s located in San Buenaventura, about an hour’s drive from San Pedro Sula to the south. It’s about $3.50 to enter the waterfall. For about $500 lempira you can get a tour behind the waterfall. With just our $3.50 we were able to get extremely close to the waterfall on the walking trails and swam near the top.
Our next stop was a tourist spot near the Guatemalan border—the Copan ruins. It’s a colonial town with cobblestone streets and very, very steep hills to challenge your driving skills. Being cautious of the warnings we’d received about Honduras, we stayed at the Blue Iguana hostel for about $8 per person (after haggling). It’s a nice one, very clean, and they have the breakdown on everywhere to see and eat for cheap. Joel had visited Copan in high school, so the next night we stayed at the hotel he’d stayed at all that time ago for even cheaper than the hostel--$5 a person. It’s called the Hotel Clasico, and the staff there is very sweet.
The ruins themselves are a short walk from town, and cost about $5 a person. Eating baleadas, visiting the ruins, and strolling around town amongst the cafes and shops was a nice “touristy” break for us.
Can’t miss: Parker—Cofradia (for the company) Joel—Copan ruins Aidan—Cofradia Madison—Cofradia (for the unique experience)
Hazards: Major and petty crime, San Pedro Sula, bugs, out of control baledea consumption
Currency: Quetzales, 7/$1 exchange rate
Gas:$4.70 per gallon
Road conditions: moderate.
Fees: $3 to enter, $8 to exit
Guatemala is another country we’d received many warnings about, as well as a lot of encouragement to go anyways and enjoy its beauty. We didn’t do much camping in Guatemala as we had a few connections with hostels that were letting us work for them—they needed video and photos for websites. If you’d like more info on overlander camping, download an app called iOverlander. It’s a map with camping spots researched and marked by other overlanders, and has been an extremely useful tool for us.
The first long stretch was at the Jungle Party Hostel in Antigua Guatemala. We paid for secure parking while staying at the hostel. This beautiful colonial town has a market worthy of days of exploration (complete with a banger thrift store section), and the indigenous culture is very visible here.
The nightlife is fun, but things can get sketchy: we had our credit cards stolen at a bar, and stories of roofies slipped into drinks, thefts, and rumors of violent attacks aren’t uncommon. So it’s important to keep your wits about you while enjoying this gorgeous and fun country that has a lot to offer. If you’re in a heavily trafficked tourist area, secure parking is a must. We found that locals will emphasize this a lot.
The next place we visited was Lago Atitlan, an amazing memory of our trip. We stayed at Mr. Mullet’s in San Pedro la Laguna, which is known as the party town of the many lakeshore towns you can stay in. Like Antigua, we paid for secure parking while at the hostel. There is a lot to do here—sunrise volcano hiking, exploring the maze that is San Pedro, one of any number of Spanish schools, and boating. There are 19 towns to visit on the lake, and a very visible indigenous population. Again, if you want more info on overlander camping in this area, the iOverlander app is an irreplaceable resource. We visited San Marcos for the Trampoline, a large deck high above the lake that’s made for perfecting your backflip. Panajanchel is another community we boated to—this trip was for helping out a nonprofit there with some photo work.
Guatemala comes with a lot of warnings about safety, which are valid. In the words of a man we met back in Belize, “Don’t slip. This country is beautiful, but don’t slip.” The same goes for Guatemala.
Can’t miss: Joel—Full Moon Party at Lago Atitlan Parker—San Marcos at Lago Atitlan Aidan—exploring the non-tourist parts of Antigua Madison—Indian Nose hike at Lago Atitlan
Hazards: major and petty crime, garlic shots, dangerously low priced tequila