Why Drive the Pan American Highway?

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Driving from Alaska all the way down to the continent’s most southern tip, Ushuaia – or the other way around – is an increasingly popular road trip. Overlanders, as long-term travelers with their own transportation are known, may take from a couple of months to cover the roughly 10,000 miles up to years.

For some “Driving the PanAm” is literally following the highway from Alaska to Ushaia. For others it’s more than that. As one of our fellow overlanders said:

The PanAm its not about the highway. Where the road doesn’t go is where your adventures begins.

In 2007, we had the same idea. For nine years we followed stretches of the Pan Am but we mostly wavered off the Pan American Highway in search of other mind-blowing road trips on this continent. (However, instead of continuing to Central and North America we recently shipped the car to Asia).

For many ‘driving the Pan Am’ equals driving from North to South America and does not necessarily mean sticking to the Pan American Highway.

I was curious as what drove others to do this trip and I asked opinions on an overlanders forum a couple of months back, and I finally got to put this together in this blog post, which I think will give a varied view of what people like about the Pan-Am.

They either completed their trip or are still on the road. They undertook the journey by car, on a motorcycle, solo, as a couple, or with the family. As you will note, you don’t depend on expensive, fully equipped four-wheel drives to do it.

Jarie Eek on his motorcycle, from Alaska to Ushuaia

@Jarie Eek

This was the optimal challenge. Everything from challenging gravel roads to long boring paved roads. Mountains, valleys, rivers, sea, cold, hot, wet. I think that this trip is the trip that will give the most wonderful scenery, inviting the most beautiful roads, challenging roads, friendly people and with some luck not experience too dangerous occurrences.

Andy Rover took 3 years to drive from Vancouver to São Paulo in a small bus

Uniformity – they all speak Spanish! If you think of just the Pan Am west-coast road, then nowhere on earth has the same language and similar cultures for such a long distance! For me, this is the incredible thing about the Pan Am.

Tomas Cortijo Colomer and Dylen Drake drove with their two kids Eva and Coco in a Ford Ranger 404 from Argentina to the US in 2013/2014 .

@camperclan
@camperclan

You can experience from the most hardcore Western life experience to cultures living the most precarious conditions. From some of the tallest mountains to the most blue Caribbean beaches. From new cultures to some of the oldest civilizations.

The Sparks family drove their camper van from Denver to South America.

@When Sparks Fly
@When Sparks Fly

Because carnets** and visas are not required much on the PanAm, there is less need to do much route planning ahead of time. When we traveled in Africa, we had to really think about what countries we could visit on our carnet and plan embassy trips sometimes way ahead of time. Latin America is also very kid-friendly. Lots activities for kids and people that we meet all seem to open up a lot more once they see we are traveling with a child.

**Carnet = Carnet de Passage, read about it here.

Robert Kong explored the Pan Am on his motorcycle.

Best part is you can actually make it across all those countries at least for now… No war or revolutions for now

Dan Grec drove in two years from Alaska to Argentina in a jeep.

@Dan Grece
@Dan Grece

It’s extremely convenient and “do-able”. For the ~350 million people in North America right now, they can literally jump in whatever vehicle they want and drive all the way to Argentina in a few short months. No paperwork, no pre-planning, no closed borders, no civil wars, etc.

Marco Brouwers and Yvonne van Ameijden are exploring South America in a Land Cruiser.

@Dutchmylive

You hate it and sometimes you love it. The road gives you the freedom to go off the road and gives you the safe feeling to fall back on.

Michael A. Lawrence embarked on a PanAm trip to the tip of Argentina in an old Mercedes-Benz station wagon he nicknamed Livingstone. His trip was cut short by a car accident in Colombia, which forced him to move back to his hometown in Spain.

The mind-blowing experience that it is to drive from one tip of a hemisphere to the other.

John and Mandi are driving from North to South America in a van.

We chose the Pan-Am out of convenience, having a deeper rooted reason would be a bit more romantic but slightly dishonest. Breaking out from our corporate routines was absolutely terrifying, taking comfort in knowing that we could turn the van around and drive back to the U.S. (at least from Mexico and Central America) gives us a small, yet essential, piece of mind. The ancient ruins, beautiful places, and wondrous people call to us. Every continent and country offers personal enrichment, we are starting with our neighbors.

Yasha and Juergen are exploring South America in a Mercedes Benz Overland Camper.

@Dare2go

When we realised how much there is to see in the Americas, we decided to travel full-time in our own camping vehicle. This gives us the freedom to choose the roads-less-travelled, and to stop along the way whenever, and wherever, we find something interesting – like spotting wildlife, or a local festival, or even a beautiful camping spot. We can take as long as we like in places we love. A particular joy for us has been exploring the Andes – around every bend in the road, a new and amazing vista!

Resources for overlanders

  • Overlandsphere.com
  • You can join several Facebook groups (public or closed), among which Overland to Asia, Overlandsphere, and Panamerican Travelers Association.
  • If you happen to be in/near the Netherlands around May, see if you can join over Overland Reunion. Read about it here.

What is/was your motivation to drive the Pan Americana? Feel free to share your story in the comment section below.

For more on Road Travel, check out these articles:

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Thank you for your support — Karin-Marijke & Coen

5 thoughts on “Why Drive the Pan American Highway?

  1. We have been contemplating this recently for our future travel plans, this is all the more reason we needed to push us in that direction! Thanks for sharing all these different people who have done this! We will check them all out as resources when planning our trip!

    • Hey Megan, there are lots of resources. There are 2 FB groups of particular interest: Overlandsphere and Panamerican travelers association. You can also read blog posts of people currently on the road on: Overlanderstoday.com or Overlandsphere.com. Enjoy, let us know if you have any questions

  2. Hello, thanks for all the information.
    I’m planning on driving the pan american but it looks like there is no ferry anymore between Panama and South America. Does anybody knows if therés any other way to ship a vehicule (possibly less expensive than shipping a whole container)?
    Thank you

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