Well we in the UK all know about difficult driving conditions. Think the dreaded jams on the A303, the speed restrictions on the M4, the potholes of Herefordshire. Driving in Latin America? Probably a piece of cake, I hear you say. And yes, there are plenty of destinations there where the state of the roads is far better than over here – South Brazil and Panama immediately spring to mind. And even Ecuador, where an ambitious road improvement and building programme has seen the network transformed in recent years. Highways expanded, minor roads paved, improved Sat Nav and Wifi reception - there is a whole heap of positives for anyone considering a self-drive holiday in Latin America.
Well, you think why don’t I just book a car on the internet – the agencies are international companies I have heard of – and off I go? Book my hotels on the internet before I go? Why do I need the advice and support of Journey Latin America? Hmmm. Well yes you could, but we think your experience will be enhanced and far more relaxing.
Of course it’s not really the same as driving in the UK: for a start you are on the “wrong” side of the road and it’s definitely not the best destination for anyone trying their hand at driving on the right for the first time. You have to choose your destination and itinerary carefully, and that is where we come in.
We have been designing self-drive holidays now for years and have always been ahead of the competition. We work alongside our trusted partners in Latin America, who research and test our suggested holiday routes and, as Latin American specialists, we’d never offer a route without trying it out ourselves as well. Nice work for some, you say, imagining an opportunity to have a free holiday.
But it’s not really like that – yes, we research and design routes, we try them out, taking copious notes about every twist and turn, the state of the roads, the mobile and Wifi reception, the distances, the timings. We look at road signs so we can explain any which may perplex you; we advise you about local rules and restrictions you may not have thought of. We select accommodation which we think fits nicely into the itinerary, which will be somewhere you’d love to stay after several hours of driving and include these in the holidays we feature on our website though of course those holidays are suggestions, you can choose different accommodation in conjunction with the advice of our expert consultants, or even tailor-make your own route.
We think we have designed ideal self-drive holidays.
Because we are so thorough, we have discovered little extras for you – unusual ways of getting from A to B, suggested detours, inside-track hints and tips; we have chosen the best guides. You will always be able to contact our local partner if you need help or advice or, in a case of emergency, our Journey Latin America 24 hour advisor.
Where possible we will offer alternative routes between daily destinations, so you can maybe choose a road which is a bit more remote, a bit more challenging; or stick to the main roads. We give you information about the highlights along the route, optional excursions to enrich your journey, and include a couple of unmissable experiences.
Before you go, you’ll receive a couple of documents from us: one is an Essential Information document with information about car hire and insurance in your selected country, the other is a detailed Rules of the Road which takes you through the labyrinth of driving regulations including the foibles and behaviours of native drivers for you to be aware of.
You can expand or curtail the holiday if you wish to tailor-make it to suit your budget or available time.
So how does this translate on the road?
Please don’t think you can rely on printed road maps (although in some remote regions they are the only source of information when you are on the road). There are surprisingly few. They are sometimes non-existent and often out of date. They certainly won’t give you information about the state of the road. Local Sat Navs’ software is also frequently out of date, sending you the wrong way down a one way street in a city, or into the middle of a field in the countryside. So, in many cases where we think it is helpful we will provide a mobile Wifi unit so you can use Waze or Google maps (not perfect but certainly useful) to check you are on the right road or even a Sat Nav with pre-programmed routes to your next destination. This is not necessary everywhere in Latin America by any means – but we are in the perfect position to tell you where it is.
Although we do check all our routes, time moves on and changes happen. So you need to be prepared and keep your wits about you. You may have to change a wheel if you get a puncture in an area where there is no roadside assistance, or no one around who speaks English – although car mechanics, like football, seems to be an international language, especially among blokes.
I have personally had the good fortune to experience our self-drive holidays in Brazil, Mexico, Cuba, Peru, Ecuador and most recently Panama. I absolutely loved them all. They are all so different. All of them well within the competence of the confident and experienced driver. In a rough summary I’d define just a few of the holidays we offer as follows, just as a guideline for you to choose the self-drive experience which suits you best. We offer many more: Uruguay, Baja California, Andean Argentina or Peruvian jungle – the list just keeps getting longer.
Good for first timers:
Panama. Great roads, little traffic outside the main towns, safe, many friendly, English speaking around. Our new holiday will be on our website soon!
Good for adventure lovers:
Ecuador. Our Back Roads itinerary takes you winding down from the Andean volcanoes down to the steamy Amazon jungle. Yes it’s remote, you probably won’t see other self-drivers, but you will be fully supported, and the scenery and bird life especially are breath-taking.
Good for nature and wildlife lovers:
Costa Rica. One of the continent’s best wildlife destinations, Costa Rica offers you the opportunity to explore at your own pace some of the vast network on national parks from the bird-filled cloud forests to the Caribbean coast. Try your hand at a few optional active adventures too.. ziplining, rafting, horse riding..
Good for history and culture lovers:
The stand-out holiday here is a self-drive trip rounds Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, dotted with a plethora of jungle-swathed Mayan temples and pyramids. Gorgeous beaches too.
Good for dramatic landscape enthusiasts:
Chile and Argentina. Imagine driving through the picture-book perfect lake district and up close to the glaciers of wilderness Patagonia in both of these exquisite countries. You might even choose to drive down the Austral Road, probably Chile’s most beautiful, in the remote Aysen region wedged between the lakes and southern Patagonia.
Good for emerging destinations:
Since peace arrived in Colombia the opportunities for visitors has escalated at an extraordinary pace. Now you can take a leisurely drive around the exquisite coffee country, and continue on winding roads up into the Andes and down to the magical Magdalena river and on to Bogotá. Every road in rugged, mountainous Colombia is a scenic delight.
“Never thought of that” destination:
Southern Brazil! Overshadowed by the delights of Rio, Amazonia and the tropical northeast, the southern, European influenced states with their excellent infrastructure are perfect for self-drive: courteous drivers, good quality roads, excellent signage. There are canyons to explore, Alpine-style countryside, superb summer beaches.
Go there before it all changes destination:
Cuba. Still a unique destination. Still so few cars on the roads. The friendliest of people, wonderful colonial cities to explore, super tropical scenery, sugary beaches. Our two self-drive holidays on the island cover comprehensively all the highlights.