Can I drive from French Guyana to Costa Rica?-
Our Real Latin America Expert
It’s a multi-part question, and multi-part route, Amy. The most problematic section is between northern Colombia and Panama: the Darien Gap. There are no roads to speak of, nothing that’s suitable for anything other than a fully equipped expedition with 4WD and winches. But... with recent peace accords between FARC guerrillas and the government in Colombia this may improve, but not overnight. Shipping your vehicle from, say, Barranquilla to Colon is probably your best bet.
With regard to your third question, Journey Latin America offers (usually Oct/Nov) the Coq of the Rock Journey, a group tour that includes the spectacular Angel Falls, bird watching in Guyana forest, an insight into community life in a Guyanese village, a 30m high canopy walk, the Iles du Salut and the Space station at Kourou, and plenty more along the way. For more information on this trip read The Telegraph journalist Chris Moss’s article; he travelled on the trip in 2010.
1. Guyane Française (Cayenne) to Guyana (Georgetown)
December through to February is a mini-wet season along the coasts of French Guyana, Suriname and Guyana. This won’t affect your driving, since all the roads are paved on this section, but it might affect your enjoyment.
There’s excellent paved road all the way from Cayenne to St Laurent and petrol is available in Kourou, Sinnemary, Iracoubo and St Laurent. There’s a vehicle ferry across the Maroni river to Albina in Suriname which does not operate on Sundays; in Albina people will be happy to accept Euros for the less desirable Suriname Dollars (SRD).
Albina to Paramaribo has a good road that’s currently being improved. You’ll find petrol stations in Albina and Paramaribo, but none between, that I can remember.
There’s a good road from Paramaribo to Nieuw Nickerie that’s currently being improved, fuel available. The ferry from South Drain to Moleson Creek (Guyana) goes twice daily I think. Money changers here deal in Sterling, USDollars (USD), SRD and Guyana dollars (GYD). I’m not sure about Euros.
From Moleson Creek to Georgetown there’s a good road, all the way, no ferries. Petrol should be easy to find as there’s plenty of settlements along the way.
2. Georgetown to Boa Vista (Brazil)
There’s no road from Guyana to Venezuela. There is a 500km road south towards Lethem on the Brazilian border, but it’s unpaved beyond Linden at about 50km; the sand or laterite (dirt) road gets progressively worse until the ferry over the River Essequibo at Kurupukari. This whole section beyond Linden is often impassable owing to rain from early June to late August, but it should be OK otherwise. Petrol is available at "58", Mabura, Kurupukari; never miss an opportunity to fill your tank, since your next opportunity is in either Annai or Lethem, unless you manage to persuade a small settlement (there are very few) to sell you some privately. Minibus drivers who abound outside the Stabroek market in Georgetown can be quizzed on the state of the road etc before you set off.
The irregular flat chain-ferry at Kurupukari will not operate after 4pm, since south of here through the protected Iwokrama forest, the road is closed 4pm-4am. The road is open at normal times again after Surama junction. There are very few places to stay (58, Surama, Oasis at Annai).
Money changers are rare at the Lethem border, but you may find that the companies or drivers who operate minibus services (mostly Brazilians) either in Georgetown or in Lethem will exchange USD or GYD for Brazilian Reais (BRL). The Brazilian roads from Lethem to Bonfim and Boa Vista are excellent. There’s a bridge at the frontier, and fuel beyond, but few settlements along the road until you reach the bridge over the Rio Branco at Boa Vista.
3. Boa Vista to Caracas (Venezuela)
There’s an excellent road from Boa Vista to Vilha Pacaraima (frontier with Venezuela), with a few settlements and fuel stations. Fuel is much cheaper at Santa Elena in Venezuela, and even cheaper once you get further north of Santa Elena, but fewer petrol stations). Again there are few money changers at the border between Brazil and Venezuela; you’ll have more luck in Santa Elena, especially with USD or possibly Euros or BRL. The Venezuelan peso is weak, and volatile... hoteliers in Santa Elena may give you steer on how best to proceed.
The road between Santa Elena and Caracas is good and you can find petrol at settlements. There are many police checks until you reach the Angostura bridge across the Orinoco; the (paved) road gets very busy with heavy lorries from here to Caracas and beyond.
4. Caracas to Barranquilla (Colombia)
Westbound from here is the Panamericana: what passes for a motorway – heavy traffic, belching lorries – towards the cities of Valencia and Barquisimeto. The usual route to Colombia is via Cúcuta, skirting the Andes to the north or south; however if you’re aiming for Barranquilla, the less spectacular way over the bridge to Maracaibo is shorter. No-one in Colombia will be interested in changing your Venezuelan pesos – if you can, use them to buy petrol before you cross.
5. Colon to San Jose
Roads in Panama are good, and indeed extend southwards over the Canal, but eventually peter out; northbound there are plenty of options other than the busy Panamericana, either following (roughly) the Caribbean or the Pacific, and then into Costa Rica. USD are easy to change from Colombia northwards to San Jose. You’re almost there.