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Quick Tips: Things to Know Before You Go Ride Latin America

 It is all about the journey, not the destination, so take it nice and easy.

Published on 06.29.2018
Quick adventure motorcycle tips for riding Latin America

So you got your passport, time off of work, and you want to point your front wheel to the south and ride through Latin America. We know you probably have your spare tubes, spare underwear, and Quicksteel packed away for when things get really hairy, but you might be forgetting some things. Just because Latin America is closer than say, Asia or Europe, some riders might underestimate the cultural differences.

We got some tips from Court Rand, Founder/Co-owner of Ecuador Freedom, about what riders might overlook when heading to Central and South America for the first time. Court is an American who had the dream of setting up an adventure bike travel company in South American and he has traveled extensively throughout all of the many countries between the US and the very tip of Argentina. While each country is unique, with their own rich histories, cultures, and people, Court explains that if you do plan on riding through Latin America, there are some universal tips to help.

Slow Down, It’s Not A Race

Adventure Motorcycle tips Latin America
Courtesy freedombikerental.com

We don’t mean riding speed, (though do be careful to obey traffic laws). We are talking about mentally and culturally. Don’t let a rigid itinerary dictate your pace and don’t freak out when lunch takes way longer than you think. We can speak from experience that most Americans are accustomed to a certain speed of service when dining and down south, you need to about double the time you are used to it taking.

“Latinos are known for this (sometimes in a negative way) – but you need to embrace a slower pace here. You are going to ride only about half the miles you would ride in the States. Take your time to stop for a longer lunch of carefully slow-cooked meats and stews. Enjoy a beer with the locals. This is the experience. Don’t focus on getting somewhere! Enjoy the journey.”

Learn A Touch Of Spanish

Communication is key, in both relationships and adventure bike travel trips. Obviously the more Spanish you know, the easier it will be to communicate, but if you don’t have the time or resources to bust out Rosetta Stone, Court suggests these few phrases to remember.

You should know how to say practical things like fill the tank “Llénalo”, where is the bathroom? “Dónde está el baño?” and how much? “Cuanto cuesta?”, bring the bill please “La cuenta por favor”… Everybody will ask you “De dónde eres?” – Where are you from? And “Dónde van?” – Where are you going? Then they ask how fast your bike can go because they hardly ever see bikes over 200cc.”

Adventure Motorcycle tips Latin America

Some other helpful phrases that we’ve used are:

Please = Por favor
Thanks = Gracias
Help me = Ayúdeme
Flat tire = Neumático desinflado
Hotel = Hotel
Camping = Cámping or Acampar
Mechanic = Mecánico
Motorcycle shop = Tienda de motos
One more = Uno más

Carry The Real Deal

Losing a passport can be a serious pain in the behind. Often times international travel guides suggest that you carry a copy of your passport, as well as the original. The copy typically suffices and if it gets lost, stolen, or misplaced, you still have the original. But Court warns that there are roadblocks throughout Latin America that check your immigration status and a copy of your passport generally DOESN’T work. They want to see the original or a notarized copy of the original.

This also leads into Court’s suggestion on dealing with shady officials, be it police or border agents. For the most part, in Court’s experience, officials are on the up and up and don’t trump up charges to demand a “tip” to get out of the fake trouble you are in. But, it can happen from time to time.

“I just take their picture or tell them my GoPro is running and they don’t try it.”

Handling emergencies

Adventure Motorcycle tips Latin America

Adventure riding vacations can be fun, until they aren’t. Getting hurt while riding is just a part of riding, not that we make a habit of it, it just happens. Make sure you have emergency contact information on you, as well as a couple people stateside who know what you are doing and that might be able to help with logistics. If you need to cut your trip short and fly home, someone in the US that can work from this side is a huge help. Also think about health insurance while traveling.

“Make sure you have a good travel insurance plan like World Nomads, because your standard health insurance may not cover you abroad.”

Riding on the beach in Baja

Carry Some Stash Money

There are different currencies in each country and it is always good to have some of whichever country’s money you are in for everyday purchases. Most of Central and South America have favorable exchange rates for the US dollar and using local currency is a good way to make sure you aren’t paying too much for things. But, if you forget to change your money or run out, most establishments will take US money. And in some countries like Ecuador and Panama, the US dollar is the primary currency.

Sean Klinger Author ProfileAbout the Author: With his sights set on doing what he loved for a living, Sean Klinger left college with a BA in Journalism and dirt bike in his truck. After five years at a dirt-only motorcycle magazine shooting, testing, writing, editing, and a little off-road racing, he has switched gears to bigger bikes and longer adventures. He’ll probably get lost a few times but he’ll always have fun doing it. Two wheels and adventure is all he needs. 

Author: Sean Klinger

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4 thoughts on “Quick Tips: Things to Know Before You Go Ride Latin America

  1. Is the correct pronunciation “Yay-na-lo” for fill the tank? Or, is it “Yay-En-a-lo”? Definitely “Uno Mas”, you betcha! What is the impression of the individual countries’ locals with respect to: Respect? Is there an noticeable increase of disrespect / “disfavor” for American tourists? For instance, Pence’s peculiar “don’t come to us” speech in Brasil. I don’t understand what he was thinking when pitching that message to a Brasilian audience, but the point here is, things change recently with regards American policy to our South / Central American neighbors, and I’m wondering if that change is reflected in the “boots on the ground” behavior towards us?

    • Hey Bob, It is pronounced “Yeh-na-lo”. Interesting point you raise. As far as we know treatment of American travelers remains positive in places like Baja, Ecuador and Costa Rica for example.

  2. Having read a number of trip reports on other sites, I can definitely second the GET A GOOD TRAVEL HEALTH POLICY, including an evacuation policy!! That’s in case you’re critically injured and need to get out of there back to the US for care. And be sure it covers stuff like Careflight.

  3. Phil from World Nomads here, thanks for the shout-out, appreciate it and that’s great advice. However, can I get intending m/c tourers to check their policy wording (regardless of insurer) to make sure “motorcycle touring” is definitely covered. Some insurers only cover incidental m/c use and not touring. As with everything in the planning stage, be thorough.

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