Overlanding the Pan-American Highway: An Introduction
Testing out the bikes in the hills just outside Bogota, Colombia.
In July, 2022, my fiancée and I set off in our truck to conquer a route that we didn’t even know existed two years prior. It is known as the Pan-American Highway. The trip includes 13-16 countries, depending on your route, with an average duration of 21 months. A monumental challenge that we will never forget. At the time of this writing, we are currently staying in Huaraz, Peru, 13 countries down and 3 more to go. I cannot recommend this adventure enough and I wanted to share some of the insights we have learned along the way in the following short series of posts.
What is the Pan-American Highway?
The Pan-American Highway is more of an idea than a concrete route. Sure, there are a few countries that have a highway called the “Pan-American”, but you would miss out on so much if you didn’t turn off from time to time. The route only has two actual points that almost all travelers commit to, the start and the end. The rest is traveler dependent, based on your interests, budget, and timeline.
The two ends of the highway are Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and Ushuaia, Argentina. Both these places are relatively similar because they are the farthest points you can drive in their respective directions. Unless you are prepared for bitterly cold ice and snow, most people arrive in Prudhoe Bay between May and August and in Ushuaia between November and February. These intense winters are generally the driving force for the average 21 month timeline mentioned above. The rest of the countries, North to South, are as follows:
El Salvador (Optional)
Between the glaciers in Alaska, the beaches in Costa Rica, and the endless mountains of Peru, every one of these countries has so many unique experiences to offer. Driving between each of these terrains is my favorite, because you always know something incredible is coming next.
First night after crossing into Costa Rica. Free camping right on the ocean.
Why Overland vs Fly?
Overlanding gives you the freedom to go where you want, when you want to go there. There have been countless times when we were able to stay an extra week at an incredible location even though that was not the original plan. We have taken recommendations from locals for amazing places that we had never heard of and weren't on Google. We have been invited, free of charge, to stay in the homes of locals and to talk to them about their lives and stories. (One man even had a dozen peacocks roaming around his small property and he was happy to teach us all he had learned from raising them.) I am not going to lie to you, Overlanding can be more challenging at times than an all-inclusive resort vacation, but your return on investment is priceless. In one of the next posts, we will talk more about the pros and cons of different vehicles you can choose for your journey!
Breaking It Up Into Parts
The very first thing I want to mention for this trip is the option to break it up into parts. We had the opportunity to do it all in one go, but breaking the trip into two or three parts decreases the financial and time burden for many. You can break the trip into 3 parts pretty easily.
Part 1: USA, Canada, Alaska.
Part 2: Mexico, Central America
Part 3: South America
Other than time and money, the other reason I recommend splitting it up is to give you time to rest, reflect, and prepare for round two. Traveling for 21 consecutive months can be hard for some people. You can get tired and then won’t be enjoying the incredible trip you are on as much as you could. There are also so many things you will learn about overlanding, how you personally like to travel, and the Latin American culture while in the northern hemisphere. Taking a break will allow you to go back and make any changes you want based on those experiences.
The Pan-American Highway is something that you will likely never feel ready for. Trust me, when we started, my fiancée nervously crammed our camper full of every supply she thought we might need for the next several months. But as many have told me, you just have to start. You will figure out one thing after the next and soon enough you will have driven to Peru.