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I have been thinking about driving from USA (Texas) down to Panama.

My concern is about safety, such as whether the risk of getting robbed or killed would make this sort of trip dangerous?

One reason for this concern is that a colleague told me that drug cartels own the highways in Mexico. Not sure how true that is but it made me wonder if they expect some kind of payments?

I'm a 35-year old white male and would be traveling by myself. My car is not particularly fancy, it's a 2014 Ford Escape so a tankful of gas right now costs about $20 USD and can take me about 500 miles. It is registered in Texas, however, so it has the Texas plates (not sure if this increases the risks of getting mugged?).

Is this type of endeavor too risky nowadays? If I do undertake this trip, are there any particular precautions I would have to keep in mind?

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    It's the dodgy petrol that will get you if the cartels don't. – Gayot Fow Dec 15 '14 at 5:36
  • @GayotFow Montezuma's revenge sinks many a traveler as well ;) – easymoden00b Dec 15 '14 at 18:14
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    You may also want to prepare for the trip by ensuring that you are carrying extra fuel containers as some stations may only offer diesel and not petrol (gasoline); and I would make sure I have the 4WD version. Although looking at the pictures the car doesn't seem to have huge ground clearance; might be an issue. – Burhan Khalid Dec 16 '14 at 6:01
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Looking at the answers to other similar questions, such as...

Driving from US to Central America

Driving from San Antonio to Copan Ruinas, Honduras

Comparative safety of countries in Central America

...it looks like you might have to be prepared to bribe the police occasionally. Other than that I can't really tell you much but the answers in above questions, and the answer here by easymoden00b, would probably give you a feel for the level of "safety" (or lack thereof).

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I love long car trips. To enter Mexico you will need a car-import permission. Each country has special requirements as ownership of car, international assurance for the car, etc. If you are asked to fumigate your car at a border crossing, do not allow it. It is not necessary.

I've travel by days from USA to Costa Rica and is really very nice, a lot of hidden places that you definitely will lost if you travel by air. Just take the generally reasonable considerations: avoid do long trips (>1hr) in the night. At 1/2 gas tank level always refill at first gas station that you see. Often there are long roads without gas stations. In every country the first thing: buy local sim card in order you get Internet Access in your mobile phone. Use Google Maps to plan your trips and always be sure to use (as possible) toll roads. And be careful with circulation restrictions to foreign cars in Mexico City and surrounding areas (you can get a special permission in www.paseturistico.cdmx.gob.mx/pasetur/). If you do not speak Spanish prepare the most common phrases in order you can communicate to ask food, gas, directions or recommendations. Local people are generally friendly with foreign people.

In my experience, just in Managua (Nicaragua), traffic police are very very strict in transit rules. Just be sure you comply and avoid giving them money. Avoid San Pedro Sula (Honduras) and enjoy the trip.

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Not directly your question, but things you should have also asked: Check for consequences if you lose your car for some reason and Mexico deems it to be imported, charging you import tax. I'm quite sure there was a corresponding question on this site not long ago. And check what your insurance thinks about it. They may not be happy and not cover you at all on your way.

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I don't think it's extremely risky if you stick to Major thoroughfares. It would also be advantageous if you speak the lingua populi. If you're dead-set on this trip i'd say you should only stop in relatively well off areas. Mexico is not as lawless as the headlines make it out to be, at least, compared to other central american countries.

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    Other central American countries… like the ones you need to cross to reach Panama? Now, that's reassuring ;-) – Relaxed Dec 15 '14 at 18:54
  • @Relaxed exactly. – easymoden00b Dec 15 '14 at 19:16

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