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.
We stuck around in South America for 9 years and so we asked others, “Why drive the Pan-American Highway?”
Here’s an overview of what they answered.
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 is not about the highway. Where the road doesn’t go is where your adventures begins.
Read More: Is 4WD a Must? – Driving in South America
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.
Meet Jarie Eek
Trip: From Alaska to Ushuaia
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.
Meet Andy Rover
Vehicle: a small bus
Trip: From Vancouver to São Paul0 (3 years)
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.
Read More: 9 Dramatic Mountain Passes in South America
Meet Tomas Cortijo Colomer & Dylen Drake
Vehicle: Ford Ranger 404
Trip: From Argentina to the US (2013/2014)
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.
Meet the Sparks Family
Vehicle: Camper Van
Trip: From Denver to South America
Read More: 9 of South America’s Most Legit Road Trips
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.
Meet Robert Kong
Trip: Explored the Pan Am
Best part is you can actually make it across all those countries at least for now… No war or revolutions for now.
Meet Dan Grec
Trip: From Alaska to Argentina (2 year)
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.
Meet Marco Brouwers and Yvonne van Ameijden
Vehicle: Land Cruiser
Trip: Currently exploring South America
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.
Meet Michael A. Lawrence
Vehicle: an old Mercedes-Benz station wagon he nicknamed Livingstone
Trip: he embarked on a PanAm trip to the tip of Argentina in. 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.
Read More: Best Camera for Travel
Meet John and Mandi
Vehicle: a van
Trip: from North to South America
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, peace 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.
Meet Yasha & Juergen
Vehicle: a Mercedes Benz Overland Camper
Trip: exploring South America
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!
Read More: How to Ship a Car (with specifics for South America)
Resources to drive the Pan-American Highway:
- iOverlander, where overlanders share GPS Waypoints on camping spots and other practical places.
- Facebook groups such as the Panamerican Travelers Association, Animal Travelers, Women Overlanding the World (women only).
- If you happen to be in/near the Netherlands around May, see if you can join over Overland Reunion. Read about it here.
Why did you drive the Pan-American Highway? Feel free to share your story in the comment section below.
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