Overland travel in South America is perfectly feasible with a private vehicle. But one important thing you have to do, unless you already live in South America, is to arrange for a container shipment or a RoRo shipping (Roll on, Roll off). Either to cross an ocean or to cross the Darien Gap (between Panama and Colombia). One of the major questions with regard to this subject is which shipping port to ship to, because there are ports that have relatively easy procedures while others are a nightmare.
It is important to remember that personal experiences differ quite a bit in this respect. Sometimes this has to do with the travelers, sometimes with their paperwork, sometimes with the customs officer or other Señores Importantes, sometimes simply because procedures have changed over time.
The information below is based on our experience of shipping to Buenos Aires (from Malaysia) in 2007 and from what I have gathered from other overlanders. Of course, feel free to add your own experiences in the comment section below.
1. Go: Shipping ports in Buenos Aires, Montevideo and Ecuador
At the time of writing most overlanders seem to agree that Buenos Aires in Argentina and Montevideo in Uruguay are the preferred ports to ship your vehicle to. Coming from Central America, Ecuador is considered a safe bet.
In these ports, customs clearance generally takes place according to some sort of procedure, as far as procedures exist on this continent, and when you are well prepared in terms of documents, customs clearances are in most cases handled relatively smoothly and without having to pay facilitation fees.
2. Don’t Go: Shipping ports in Brazil
Overlanders appear to be unanimous in their opinion of one country: shipping your car or motorhome to Brazil is asking for trouble – a statement confirmed by Brazilians as well. Brazilian ports are notorious for fleecing travelers and from the few stories we know from those who tried: customs clearance in Brazil is a lengthy and/or costly procedure – we’re talking weeks and thousands of dollars here.
3. Maybe Go: Shipping ports in Chile and Peru
Valparaiso (Chile) and Lima (Peru) on South America’s west coast are lesser-used ports by overlanders. Not surprisingly, shipment from Europe to these ports is often more expensive than to South America’s east coast. Having said that, from the U.S. it may be an interesting option when shipping your vehicle from the west coast of the U.S. or Canada. Experiences in customs clearance in both ports seem to show a fifty-fifty percent chance from very easy to complicated and expensive.
The Panama Canal
The hurdle between South and Central America is the Panama Canal, or the Darién Gap. Options on how to organize a container shipment or RoRo shipping vary per year and sometimes per month, which is mainly due to political and economic stability, or instability, in Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador.
Since the situations of shipping ports around the Darién Gap change so regularly, check with local authorities, the overlanders’ circuit, or forums on Horizons Unlimited and Expedition Portal to learn about the latest experiences, possibilities and prices.
This information may be outdated. We’d love to hear your experiences with shipping ports in South America. Which ones did you use, and how did it go?