Safety in Central America

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#1 Tue, 07/14/2015 - 12:31

Safety in Central America

I wanted to post our experience of traveling from Costa Rica to Guatemala last Monday – Wednesday (July 6-8) in a car with Costa Rican plates.  We traveled with two pets.  The pets were no issue whatsoever, all quickly stamped their entry. Our route was the primary one following the Panamerican Highway with the exception of San Salvador, where we followed CA-02 that follows the coast and leaves the country at Hachadura, where you cross into Guatemala. 
Other than incredibly poor roads (I busted a tire in the stretch entering Honduras from Nicaragua), and incredibly slow border crossings (infamously so El Salvador and Guatemala, both about 3-4 hours due to the vehicle) the trip was uneventful until we crossed into Guatemala, our destination.  At the border I started to chat with a Mexican man who was driving across the country on his way to Mexico.  Another man was in line behind us, following the same process but then, all of the sudden, I didn’t see him again while the Mexican and I were detained several additional hours. 
An hour or so later, about 13 kilometers from Escuintla and about a half hour of daylight left, a cream colored truck suddenly pulled in front of us, slamming on the brakes.  Four men jumped out the bed of the truck, screaming and pointing guns at us.  I thought they were going to steal the car and I was going to get us but they forced us in, one of them taking the wheel and drove the car into a nearby can field. 
For the next forty five minutes we were their prisoners, as they struck us and threatened my wife with torture and rape if we didn’t tell them where the money was.  All of our possessions were removed from the car into the cane field.  My head was covered and I repeatedly had the gun poke the back of my head.  They forced us to give pins to the cards and access to the computers. 
The criminals knew that we had been at the border and asked us about the Mexican man.  Now I remember the man behind me in line and how suspicious that was. I also suspect that the border agent (SAT, or really customs) held both parties up deliberately, but that is only a guess.
Finally they left us there tied up.  Thank God we were physically fine and the pets as well.  Eventually, we found someone who lent us a phone to call the police. 
This brief description can’t even begin to convey how terrifying the experience was.  I prayed for death rather than torture. 
At any rate, I can’t say whether this is systematic or we were just unlucky, but we were repeatedly warned by the Salvadoran officials about traveling there.  I, for one, will not be making the trip back.

Thu, 07/16/2015 - 18:32

Safety in Central America

Sorry to here about your terrifying experience! We will be driving from Sudbury, Ontario, Canada in Jan. and I'm perplexed as to the safest route to Panama.I was going to try to bypass most of Honduras due to the bad roads, bribing cops and robbers by driving through El Salvador but now I'm not so sure after reading your story. I want to stick to the main toll roads to stay away from scenes like yours. Any advice would be appreciated.

 

 

Thu, 07/23/2015 - 17:27 (Reply to #2)

Tim,

Tim,

I can't help you except to say that my wife asked around at the border until she found someone going our way with whom we could form a caravan.  Also, avoid night travel as much as possible, which is really a pain in the ass due to the lenghty border crossings.  Best of luck to you.

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 11:00 (Reply to #3)

panatim you do realize that

panatim you do realize that the incident occured in Guatemala after being detained by Guatemalean authorities so has nothing to do with El Salvador.

Two facts stick out, the CR plates and being on the road near sunset however I feel that it was an isolated incident as there has been nothing in the local news in El Salvador and there would be if it was a common experience.

BTW there are no toll roads after leaving Mexico and the Panam CA-1 and the Pacific coast highway CA-2 through Guatemal/El Salvador are the main routes.