Why settle for an ordinary American road trip when you can drive across all of the Americas?

The Ultimate Road Trip – Driving the Pan American Highway

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I’m big on road trips and traveling, so after a few extensive, long-term road trips across the United States, the next most logical idea was driving the Pan American Highway, or at least a pretty good chunk of it, as it stretches the length of North and South America, passing through some of the most incredible scenery on earth.

The Ultimate Road Trip - Driving the Pan American Highway travel, south-america

If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you know I’ve been doing some pretty big adventures every year:

First, it was road-tripping across the American West and living out of the back of my pickup truck which I converted into my home on wheels.

Then it was backpacking across Colombia before settling down as an expat in Medellin, where I met my girlfriend Andrea.

The Pan American Highway

I talked Andrea into coming back with me to Seattle and embarking on a great American road trip, before then convincing here that we should *drive* back to Medellin, Colombia where she calls home.

Now, the Pan-American Highway stretches from the northernmost reaches of Alaska to the very southern tip of South America.

We would “only” be driving from Seattle, and wouldn’t be doing the drive from Prudhoe Bay (in Alaska), partially because of time and money, but also because she didn’t get approved for a visa to Canada (boo, Canada, you suck!). We did make it a point to fly up to Fairbanks, Alaska before setting out, at the least though.

The Pan American Highway is a series of roads that connect Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina, stretching at least 19,000 miles (or about 30,000km), with the exception of a 100-mile gap between Panama and Colombia known as the Darien Gap. Despite the gap, the Guinness Book of World Records considers the Pan-American Highway the longest motorable road in the world.

Pan-American Highway Map

The Ultimate Road Trip - Driving the Pan American Highway travel, south-america

We drove from Seattle through all of Central America (eight countries)  over the course of 9 months, spending three months exploring the USA, three months in Mexico, and three months in the remainder of Central America.

To answer the question everyone always asks… No, it wasn’t as dangerous as you imagine. Be sure to read my article about the safest countries in Central America or my more detailed take about driving in Mexico and Central America.

> Don’t miss my article on the myths of Central America travel too.

From there we had to stick my ol’ 1991 Toyota truck into a shipping container in Panama so we could return to South America.

We settled down for about a year in Medellin so we could work, regroup, save money, and all that, and I stored my truck on the border for the remainder of the time.

The Ultimate Road Trip - Driving the Pan American Highway travel, south-america

After we were able to regroup our finances, we set out on April 30, 2017, to complete our road trip of the Americas as we drive all the way from Colombia to Patagonia — to the so-called end of the world!

Driving straight through along the Pan American Highway would be approximately 6,000 miles (equivalent to driving from coast to coast in the USA and then back again), though we most definitely zig-zagged our way down and took our time.

It has turned into the most incredible adventure of a lifetime, and South America was even more impressive than Central America and Mexico.

The Ultimate Road Trip - Driving the Pan American Highway travel, south-america

Finally, on February 18, 2018 (295 days after leaving Medellin!), we pulled into Ushuaia, Argentina, the end of the road and the most southern city in the world.

In total, we road-tripped through:

The Ultimate Road Trip - Driving the Pan American Highway travel, south-america

The Ultimate Road Trip - Driving the Pan American Highway travel, south-america

Read Next: How to Plan a Road Trip

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Why settle for an ordinary American road trip when you can drive across all of the Americas?

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The Ultimate Road Trip - Driving the Pan American Highway travel, south-america


Head Writer and Adventurer at Desk to Dirtbag
Ryan is an author, adventurer, perpetual wanderer, and self-proclaimed dirtbag (but that might not mean what you think). Originally from Seattle, he headed to Washington D.C. where he spent five years working for Congress before heeding the call of the wild. He set out truck camping to road trip across the American West, and then across all of Central America and South America. When he isn't on the move, you can find him living as an expat in Colombia. He is also the author of the best selling book: Big Travel, Small Budget that will help you travel more for less. Follow the adventures on social media or read more.

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Comments 21

  1. Hey Ryan,

    Loved your website, blog, and tips for us traveller wannabes!

    I have a quick question for you.

    On your travels, do you carry a smart phone? And do you prefer one carrier over another? (Like, do you like verizon but do not like ATT….)

    Thank you for your advice and tips on how to be a better traveller!



    1. Post

      Hey John,

      Thanks for the message. I definitely carry a smartphone… It is tough to imagine traveling without one these days, haha. It helps with maps, notes, taking photos, and a million other things. I use a VOIP service primarily, relying on WiFi and local sim cards on a country by country basis — here is what I do. If you want a US based plan that travels well, I would look into Google Fi, or T-Mobile.

  2. Hey Ryan! What’s up bud, I’m actually from Seattle and planning this very trip… tho I have been considering flying into Colombia and starting there as I have already done the entire west coast and Mexico and Central America… what are the chances of and advice on the possibility of finding and purchasing an overland vehicle in Columbia? Thought you may have advice as you lived there for a time 🙂 let me know what you think. Otherwise I may just quickly get to Colombia over land from Seattle if that’s the best option then take my time more once I’m in South America. Also what was the shipping cost across the Darien gap? Thanks!

    1. I’m a US born citizen and half Venezuelan half Egyptian and speak fluent Spanish more or less. If your currently in Colombia could be cool to Catch up on my way down as well! I plan on leaving mid September coming or October 1st.

    2. Post

      Hey Akram, your best option to purchase a vehicle is usually by buying a foreign plated vehicle directly from other travelers (who are finishing their trip). It is pretty common to hear about vehicles for sale in either Colombia or Chile/Argentina. You can usually get decent prices on already outfitted vehicles. The overland groups on Facebook have sales posts a lot. Or if you’re shipping across the Darien, it costs around $800-1,000… Or at least it did.

    3. Hi Akram,

      I started the Pan Am Highway a year ago and made it about halfway before running into communication problems — I don’t speak Spanish. Wondering if we could work together somehow since I’m planning to finish the trip to Argentina this fall (2022) as well. I really need help with Spanish — got all other bases covered. If interested give ma a shout at v8home@gmail.com.


  3. Hi Ryan, great to read about your adventures.
    This is Valeria and I’m writing you from Italy.
    I’m organising a 7 months on the road trip, with my husband and our dog, along the PAN AM HWY. We are now looking for a Van and I’m studying hard on the best route to take, the van shipping rules and all those stuff.
    I’m finding some useful advices but nothing concerning the best time to start the travel from Alaska. I know the best momento to visit this state in particular would be on summer but I was thinking about starting on may 2022 to avoid part of the crowd (hoping the COVID pandemic will be ended). However, this would bring us in Central and South America on the worste period at all. Hence, the best would be on August 2022… but it’s really a long time to wait.

    Your advice would be really helpful and I hope you will find some time to answer.
    I heard that some people suggest to have an older vehicle and others a more recents one. Do you think this is important to consider?

    Thanks again for your time,


  4. Hi Ryan,
    I have come across your page today and enjoyed reading it.
    I am planning to do the Pan American Highway after the pandemic. I would like to know if a foreigner can buy a car in the US ( you recommended Washington State)? As a foreigner would not have a local residential address and what about car insurance? I have been driving for 70 years and I enjoy the maximum discount for being a rating one driver for many years, would the US insurance recognise my rating? I am now 80, would this be a barrier to get insurance?
    Thank you

    1. Post

      Hey Peter, I can’t speak authoritatively on this since I’ve never had to go through it, but from what I’ve heard and understand, you as a non-resident can still insure a vehicle in the US. You will only need insurance for a short period of time — however long you plan on spending in the United States — and then will have no problem finding insurance where necessary at border crossings for each country. The US is the only place that may be problematic, but I don’t think it is a big deal either. I doubt that the US would recognize your driver rating from another country, unless your insurance is somehow affiliated with a US company. You may want to ask your current insurance company about that aspect. Good luck, let us know.

  5. Hi Ryan!

    Congratulations for your trip!
    I am in mind to buy a car in US to take the road to Patagônia and sell the car there.
    Did you have any problem with your Toyota?
    I thought a 4runner or RAV4 for gas or VW diesel like Passat or Jetta Variant.
    I intend to make camping along the journey.
    What could you tell me about?

    1. Post

      Never had any breakdowns with my Toyota, just normal mechanical maintenance stuff. There are free trade zones in the Southern end of Chile where you can easily sell any rig if you just want to offload it. I’d recommend a Toyota, they are very easy to find replacement parts and knowledgable mechanics — with the exception of in Argentina.

  6. Ryan,

    any suggestions on the best websites to download maps of the entire Pan American Highway or sections thereof? We are in the beginning stages of planning a trip starting in Texas south and then to the north to Prudhoe Bay at another time.

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  7. Hello Ryan,
    I’m so excited to got this article by searching for driving through the pan American highway on Google

    I’m Henry, a Chinese guy who driving around the world straightly by crossing Russia the whole Europe, and then shipping my offload vehicle to New York, and finally back to Beijing where the Dream start.
    In now supporting an old woman group driving through the pan American highway.
    The adventure started on June, but we got a problem now, their SUV was crashed in an accident and being shipped back to China.
    I believe the truck you was using for your journey is owned and registered in the US, isn’t it?
    I’m thinking and suggesting them to buy a used car in US to continue their journey to Ushuaia. Now they are heading to Alaska by a rented car
    Can rental is not a good solution cuz it’s not easy for Chinese to rent a car country by country in Southern America I guess

    1. Post

      Henry, so awesome to hear about your adventures, and sorry to hear about your friend that crashed their car. Doing a car rental to continue all the way to Ushuaia is probably not a possibility simply in terms of the title paperwork and taking a rental across so many international borders. I imagine the obstacles would be very significant, if not impossible. Better bet is to buy a used vehicle, as you suggest. I’ve seen quite a few other international travelers from Europe, Australia, New Zealand, etc, who buy a US plated vehicle for the trip and then resell it to another traveler in South America. Washington State is a popular choice for foreigners buying a vehicle for the Pan-American Highway (I’m from Washington, and got excited a few times to see another Washington plate while traveling in Latin America, but they were almost always not from the USA).

      1. thx for your prompt reply.
        btw, what kind of docs you were asked when you crossing the borders of those Latin America countries? I mean docs of your truck. the title? i just wondering what docs we have to prepare before entering those countries
        Also, is there any auto insurance can cover the whole countries out of the North America or you buy the insurance country by country? or you didnt have one ?

        1. Post

          You will need the title and a valid drivers license really. You might want to keep the registration up to date, but basically nobody in Latin America asks for that. You will need to buy insurance on a country-by-country basis as you cross the border. About the only place where you can get insurance online is for Mexico and Chile. Every border is different, but as a rule, Central America is more complicated than South America. There *may* be a special insurance you can get which would give you comprehensive global coverage, but you still might have problems with local police telling you that you need local insurance and thus should get both if you decide on a comprehensive global coverage — depending on the value of your vehicle, that might not be worth it. I just had basically liability coverage.

  8. Ryan,
    Enjoyed reading your blog and I’m envious/jelous actually. I would love to do much of the same. My interest has been more in South America; not sure why. I know you haven’t had time problem to our your South American adventure down to writing like you did for your Central American adventure, but can you help a brother out. What would be your best pick down south and why.

    I have been leaning towards Ecaudor, but not based on any task factual information, and I don’t have the resources to visit them all (Country’s that is), but have been told to stay out of Venezuela sure to safety concerns for US citizens. What’s your feeling on any of this, if you don’t mind a Floridian asking!?!.


    1. Post

      Hey Zed!

      Yeah, haven’t had the time to write about everything yet… But what are your looking for exactly in South America? Just a vacation, a place to retire?

      Venezuela is definitely a no-go right now.

      Ecuador is great, makes an affordable and easy transition since they use the dollar there.

      Colombia is amazing, friendly, affordable.

      Bolivia is also super affordable and cool, likewise with Peru. I’d say Peru has the best food of all of South America, and probably the most incredible mountain landscapes.

      Chile is the most well developed but also the most expensive.

      Argentina is incredible, specifically Buenos Aires, which is the most European of any city in Latin America.

      All depends on what you are looking for… Beaches, mountains, cheap prices, friendly people, great food, more rustic, or well-developed. They’ve all got their strengths and weaknesses.

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