Right now I am in the early stages of planing a round the world trip hitting up all seven continents in a 12 month time frame. The first leg of this journey will ideally be a road trip down the Pan American Highway (More or Less) ending up in Santiago. I have been looking at other posts and realize that there are a few problems with this plan however... for one thing there is the gap between Panama and Columbia, second is the time contraint of trying to tackle this journey in two months and still get to see as much as possible and third, probably most importantly, I will be traveling with two other girls and am concerned about the safety factor. So I guess what I am asking for is some practical advice from someone who has made this trip already or who has been doing research on the subject and found out more than I have.
I need to know : Is there an option of taking public transportation down the route if we don't want to drive our own car? How much does it cost to ship a car around the gap? Can we realisticly make this journey in two months? and on a scale of one to ten (keeping in mind we are decently travel proficient and have all lived abroad but have limited spanish and lean more on the side of yoga than martial arts) how safe is it? Any help you can give will be greatly appreciated.
There is a number of threads that address crossing the Darean Gap; have a look here, and at the references supplied in that post. In short, it is possible both to ship a car and to take busses all the way, but the overland route south from the Gap is considered dangerous; south from Colombia I can tell from personal experience that it is all right again.
Timewise, 2 months should be sufficient, even though you won't have a lot of non-travel days. I don't do safety-rating; as I said, some parts are dangerous, some iffy, many are completely safe.
Is there an option of taking public transportation down the route if we don't want to drive our own car?
I think that this is a much more realistic concept. In addition to shipping a car around the Darien gap, there is a lot of paper work that is required to enter and exit a country with your own car. Buses are cheap and plentiful, and the buses that run along the Interamerican are mostly decent, comfortable and safe. You're best bet is to then fly from Panama to Columbia, and carry on from there via buses again.
As Niels suggested, two months is doable, but you'll be spending most of your time travelling.
As for safety, if you take adequate and sensible precautions (don't flash big wads of cash, don't carry around drugs, don't wander away with strangers to the middle of nowhere), you should be fine. I've run into a large number of women who have travelled Central and South America alone without any major issues.
Enjoy your trip!
Thanks guys your advice is very helpful. The more I think about it the more buses do sound like the way to go... I'll keep you posted
Has anybody done Central and South America by bus? Any suggestions about where to research routes and prices and such?
I've done parts of it. In Chile, one of the main companies in Turbus - but you'll need a little spanish to navigate the site.
In general, though, most major towns will have buses, and you can mostly book the bus the day of or day before with little problem. Probably the best thing to do is to start and pick off some places that you want to see, and then look and see what information you can find out about the place and the options to get in and out of there.