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Old 01-07-2016, 15:10   #1
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Question Best Central/South American countries for cruisers?

We are considering pulling up our U.S. stakes and heading south. I figure this would be the best forum to poll cruisers on best countries to lead the cruising lifestyle, sorry but could not find the expat cruisers forum! We do plan on buying a house wherever we land, but I figure liveaboards would have the most intimate knowledge of desirability from their unique perspective. Costa Rica is too expensive, looking at Panama, Honduras and neighboring countries. My wife says Ecuador has a vibrant cruising community due in part to the Galapagos. As long as I have internet I have a job, but don't care to work that much longer, so cost of living is an important factor. It's just my wife and I and our menagerie of furry friends. We are fans of The Sovereign Society, Robert E. Bauman, JD and International Living. So, if you were able to pick any country to live in and keep your boat, what would it be and why? And where to avoid!!! (Clearly we think the U.S. is not going to be very pleasant in the future).
Moderators please let me know if there is a more appropriate forum in which to post.
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Old 01-07-2016, 15:46   #2
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Re: Best Central/South American countries for cruisers?

Toss your lot into the Rio Dulce. Quite a few never leave.
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Old 01-07-2016, 21:38   #3
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Re: Best Central/South American countries for cruisers?

Yes, the Rio Dulce is a good option. Been my base for over a decade (home + boats). Guatemala is the most amazing and beautiful country in C.A.

Belize is a great cruising ground, but can also be an expensive PITA. Used to live there. Not far from the Rio, so many stow in the Rio for hurricane season and then cruise Belize.

Honduras has big problems now, but less so in the Bay Islands which are a very good cruising destination.

Really like Nicaragua a lot, but not really a cruising destination.

El Salvador has a beautiful Pacific coast, but again not a great cruising destination.

Costa Rica is a beautiful country, but expensive and not culturally interesting (homogenized + loads of tourists), and not a great cruising destination.

Have been migrating to Panama over the past few years. Lots of pros to Panama and the San Blas islands are awesome.
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Old 01-07-2016, 22:42   #4
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Re: Best Central/South American countries for cruisers?

Personally while I enjoyed the San Blas Is as well as the people I would not want to spend loads of time there although I know many do. We just arrived in Rio Dulce a few weeks ago so until we have more time there I don't want to pass judgment but other than the heat our first impression is good. The big advantage is the ability to cruise the Bay Islands as well as Belize, we really like both areas. You can also back track to Providencia or San Andreas which are also fun spots. Panama is OK but I wouldn't label it a good cruising destination although some might.
We really enjoyed Colombia, it's a very cool place but the cruising is limited and the check in process is a bit of a pain. Mm mm I guess I can see why the Rio is as popular as it is.
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Old 01-07-2016, 22:46   #5
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Re: Best Central/South American countries for cruisers?

Hi, we've done a couple of laps around the Caribbean, and have also done a lot of time on the W. coast from Alaska to Ecuador. Here are some impressions of central America from our cruising perspective. Since you mentioned Ecuador, we'll start in the Pacific.

Mexico:

The west coast is simply fantastic. We based out of Puerto Vallarta for about 8 years, using it as our hurricane season harbor, and we would cruise winters. The cost of living is quite good, safety concerns when it comes to crime against Norteamericanos has been pretty overblown. Medical care is good and cheap, and air/road access to the USA is easily available and also cheap.

This would be my absolute first choice as an expat destination for living if I wanted to also have a boat.

Costa Rica:

Off your list, and I agree. It's not really that good of a place to base a boat anyway.

Ecuador:
We only made one trip there, in 2004. There were very few cruising boats there at that time. We stayed at the Puerto Lucia yacht club in Salinas, and it is quite small and largely has local boats. I remember seeing about 5 cruising boats in a month there. I understand that this number has increased in recent years, but compared to the Caribbean or Mexico, there are still far less boats there, and probably not a cruising community that qualifies as vibrant in most people's book.

However, up in the mountains, it's absolutely spectacular, and all of the good things about Mexico apply there in spades. It's a very popular expat place for a reason.

Panama:

Marinas are pretty few and far between, and pretty expensive. It's a great place to cruise, for sure, but not necessarily a great place to have a boat year round on a budget. Shelter Bay's pretty reasonable, but it's a hell of a long way from anywhere. Bocas del Toro is also nice, but you might find it to be too much of a backwater for full-time living.

Guatemala has been covered. The Caribbean side of Mexico might be an option, too.

But, from our point of view, Pacific Mexico ticks an awful lot of boxes based on what you're describing.

Good luck.
TJ
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Old 01-07-2016, 22:47   #6
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Re: Best Central/South American countries for cruisers?

Spend some time in the wet and lightning season before you commit.
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Old 02-07-2016, 08:08   #7
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Re: Best Central/South American countries for cruisers?

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Spend some time in the wet and lightning season before you commit.
I enjoy the rainy season, but its not most peoples cup of tea. Good time to park the boat and travel.
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Old 02-07-2016, 08:23   #8
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Re: Best Central/South American countries for cruisers?

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Personally while I enjoyed the San Blas Is as well as the people I would not want to spend loads of time there although I know many do. We just arrived in Rio Dulce a few weeks ago so until we have more time there I don't want to pass judgment but other than the heat our first impression is good. The big advantage is the ability to cruise the Bay Islands as well as Belize, we really like both areas. You can also back track to Providencia or San Andreas which are also fun spots. Panama is OK but I wouldn't label it a good cruising destination although some might.
We really enjoyed Colombia, it's a very cool place but the cruising is limited and the check in process is a bit of a pain. Mm mm I guess I can see why the Rio is as popular as it is.
One cool (literally) thing about Guate (and Panama) is that you can escape the heat just by gaining altitude. Recently returned from Lake Atitlan, Guatemala which is one of the most beautiful lakes in the world and, due to altitude, quite cool (pic attached). We also really like the Alta Verapaz area (Coban, Guatemala). Beautiful highlands area (elevations to 9,500'). Mostly Mayan population. Amazingly, straight line distance is only about 75 miles from Lago Izabal on the Rio Dulce...quite a dramatic climb. So, if you have access to a private plane, you can travel from the Rio to Coban very quickly. Driving route is more circuitous and about 4 hours.

Similar in Panama, we've been living part time in Volcan at about 4,500', but its only a couple of hour drive to the Pacific coast (about 4 to the Carib coast). We just spent a few days on the hot, humid Pacific coast...and Im now sipping hot coffe while wearing a jacket in Volcan.
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Old 02-07-2016, 08:42   #9
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Re: Best Central/South American countries for cruisers?

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One cool (literally) thing about Guate (and Panama) is that you can escape the heat just by gaining altitude. Recently returned from Lake Atitlan, Guatemala which is one of the most beautiful lakes in the world and, due to altitude, quite cool (pic attached). We also really like the Alta Verapaz area (Coban, Guatemala). Beautiful highlands area (elevations to 9,500'). Mostly Mayan population. Amazingly, straight line distance is only about 75 miles from Lago Izabal on the Rio Dulce...quite a dramatic climb. So, if you have access to a private plane, you can travel from the Rio to Coban very quickly. Driving route is more circuitous and about 4 hours.

Similar in Panama, we've been living part time in Volcan at about 4,500', but its only a couple of hour drive to the Pacific coast (about 4 to the Carib coast). We just spent a few days on the hot, humid Pacific coast...and Im now sipping hot coffe while wearing a jacket in Volcan.
We are going to take your suggestion and head to the hills for a couple of months, that and land travel throughout Central America.
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Old 02-07-2016, 09:05   #10
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Re: Best Central/South American countries for cruisers?

We spent a fair bit of time in Panama, bought the boat at Shelter Bay years ago and really enjoyed San Blas and the Carribean side. I found Shelter Bay to be 1st class but pricey, perhaps its moderated a bit.
Panama, (apart from Colon and old parts of P city which can be and are dangerous), was a very safe and interesting country with a lot of variety and reasonable cost to live and enjoy and travel within in our experience.
It really lends itself to base out of and hop to other great spots such as Columbia, Bocas, Providencia etc on the Carribean side or backpack the rest of CA or south.
WE did not transit the Canal but backpacked the Pacific side and found beautiful coasts and islands that we will visit when we do.
I would give Panama a big vote to try out as a lot of people/cruisers have.

Lightning was always a threat and my biggest fear(boat has been hit once). We have spent time in Guate and checked out the Rio Dulce bkpking and hope to head there this winter with the boat.
I know HOT, WET is everywhere in CA but is the Rio Dulce prone to frequent Thunderstorm issues?

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Old 02-07-2016, 09:40   #11
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Re: Best Central/South American countries for cruisers?

Spent three months in the Rio Dulce a long time ago and thought it would be a great place to retire to and live on the hook.

But that boat's long gone and six years ago I retired, land-based, to Panama. Panama has a lot more going for it than Guatemala. The infrastructure is better, access to and from the States is great. A three-hour flight from PTY to MIA. Medical and dental care is generally up to state-side standards in the bigger cities.

On the Caribbean side you have Bocas del Toro and Porto Bello (forget Colon and while the San Blas are nice to visit you're NOT WELCOME to stay there long-term.

On the Pacific side there's the Boca Chica/Boca Grande area. If you need to access services a short trip over to Pedregal only a 35 cent bus ride from the country's second largest city, David (dah VEED).
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Old 02-07-2016, 09:40   #12
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Re: Best Central/South American countries for cruisers?

Bocas del Toro is a good spot.... look at the number of cruisers parked there.... drive to Boquete to get cool and relax because your boat is safe.

Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, Mexico? The crime is off the scoreboards..... just look at the murder statistics... nobody even mentions living in Roatan anymore.... Guatemala City? Looks like Syria last time I was there.

Go to Bocas.... you never have to worry about crime or a hurricane and beers can be had for a dollar. English is the most spoken language there as well. Red Frog Beach and marina makes Hawaii look dull.
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Old 02-07-2016, 09:41   #13
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Re: Best Central/South American countries for cruisers?

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We are going to take your suggestion and head to the hills for a couple of months, that and land travel throughout Central America.
The Guatemalan highlands are amazing...enjoy (Coban, Atitlan, Antigua, Chcichicastenango, Xela...).

Nearby El Salvador has great Pacific beaches/coastline (not so much in Guate...just a long straight black sand coast).

Nicaragua has some great options too like Isla Ometepe (way cool), Grenada, Leon, and world class tarpon fishing in the Rio San Juan.
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Old 02-07-2016, 09:51   #14
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Re: Best Central/South American countries for cruisers?

Cheap beer and no hurricanes I agree with regarding Bocas del Toro, but as a resident of Panama (on the other side in Chiriqui) there IS crime in Bocas. Not on a scale with places like Honduras, El Salvador or Miami, for sure, but there IS theft and there ARE crimes against persons.

In the last year a full-service marina opened up over on the mainland in Almirante.
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Old 02-07-2016, 09:59   #15
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Re: Best Central/South American countries for cruisers?

We absolutely loved Ecuador when we visited about six years ago. Had our boat in Bahia de Carraquez for a month on a mooring while we went backpacking inland. There really is no cruising as we usually think about it. There are not that many ports to visit and you need to get an internal zarpe to go from one place to another. This involves the use of an agent. Bahia was very nice but they strongly recommend the use of a pilot to enter the river and then only at high tide. Salinas sounds fine, but Guayaquil is not a very safe city. Also the coastal area was severely damaged a few months ago by the terrible earthquake they had a few months ago.

Spent some time in the San Blas and was not a big fan. Found the 'permacruisers' who live there to be generally quite cliquish and unfriendly. Also it was quite unpleasant to see the negative impact cruisers are having on the local people. Beautiful area though. There are other places in Panama that are much better suited for cruisers.
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