Camping through Mexico and Central America
“When we set out on our own trips it was almost impossible to find any recent information on border crossings, dealing with police or finding places to camp or stay with a car,” said Tom Cummins, the site’s co-founder. “Travelling like this will take you off the regular tourist trail. It also opens you up to more interaction with the locals. From asking directions to trying to figure out how to say ‘camping’ in Spanish, you get to meet lovely, genuine people trying to help you find a place to stay… even though they may not understand why you’d want to sleep on the ground or in your car.”
In El Salvador’s mountainous western region, we considered setting up camp in a field near the village of Tacuba, on the boundary of El Imposible National Park. But the custodian of the adjacent village church insisted we squeeze our vans in a tiny space between the church and his family home, so they could watch over us. This family, whom it was obvious had very little, invited us into their house to access water, walked us to the community “jungle shower” and plied us with homemade tortillas.
That evening, after a small Easter parade passed through the nearby country lanes and ended at the church, 20 or more curious locals crowded into and around our vehicles, fascinated by our lives on the road. They chatted and looked on, bemused and amused in equal measure, as we cooked, ate and set up for bedtime. If nothing else, we had provided their village with an evening of entertainment.
Briton Mark Prior, who is travelling from Alaska to Brazil (also the name of their blog) in a camper truck with his wife Sarah, said they have also found people to be refreshingly welcoming. “What we’ve been surprised at is how many different places you can camp and how often people say ‘yes’ when asked if we can stay,” he said.
Campers on the road also often stay in touch with each other through blogs and Facebook, swapping location tips and occasionally trying to meet up en route. Having a virtual camping community is useful, especially for allaying safety concerns about specific spots, an issue every camper takes seriously.
“Security is, of course, very important for us. The trick is not to let the fear get in the way of doing what you want,” said Andy Roper, who is on the Latin America leg of an around-the-world trip he is chronicling on Earth Circuit. He prefers to park his converted Renault Dodge50 in locals’ gardens, when possible, for safety and friendship.
For them, as for all campers, the decision on where to put up camp depends on whether they need a spot for the night or longer, and if they are in the city or countryside. “In built up areas, we would be happy to stop pretty much anywhere, using the same criteria we would at home,” Roper said. “We wouldn't sleep outside all-night bars in a very run down part of town but we'd be happy to park by on a busy road or unguarded supermarket car park. For a few days parking we want a location where we feel comfortable leaving the truck unattended while we’re on the beach or hiking – it wouldn't always have a fence or a guard, it might just be on the road outside of a friendly house.”
One time, Roper spent a week in the beachfront garden of a house belonging to a waiter working at a local restaurant in Sambo Creek on Honduras's north coast, but not every eventuality can be foreseen. The couple were advised to camp in an urban park – called Parque Las Americas - in central Mexico City and awoke to find the weekly fruit and veg market being constructed around them, with one vendor using their truck to hold up his canopy.