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Drive from US down to Chile on Pan Amer Highway

Travel Forums Central/South America & The Caribbean Drive from US down to Chile on Pan Amer Highway

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1. Posted by Midstride (Budding Member 5 posts) 14y Star this if you like it!

Hey I'm new to this so I hope this hasn't been covered recently. My buddy and me want to drive to Chile from OHIO to go snowboarding this summer. I believe the most direct way is on the Pan - American Highway but I have a friend from Brazil that says it can be quite dangerous through certain portions... especially since everyone hates the US right now. Any one have any input?

2. Posted by IMonaghan (Respected Member 431 posts) 14y Star this if you like it!

Sounds like a great trip. there are a couple things to keep in mind though.

1st, you will need to have clearance from all applicable countries that you are going to pass through to temporarily import your car. This is usually done in the form of a carnet de passage taken out through various auto clubs and such.. Sadly this can be tricky for Americans because the USA does not recognize these carnets. I know there are ways around this, but I am not sure what they are so far, I am still researching this for my own road trip

2nd you cannot actually drive the entirety of the PanAm highway. There is a stretch known as the Darien Gap that seperates Panama and Columbia that is essentially un passable to most motor vehicles. From what I have found out about it it has only been done by motorcycle and an actual caravan of vehicles with tremendous resources, which was led by some European Prince in the 60s. This is ok as there are various RoRo (roll on roll off) shipping services available in that area that will take you around the Darien Gap... first and foremost is Wallenius Willhelmsen. which you can check out at

3rd The Pan AM highway(I've heard) is treacherous when you reach South America, they do not have the same engineering standards that we do here in the USA.. Lanes are more narrow and the road is not maintained as well as they are in the USA.. I have found driving in Central America for this to be true there as well.

With all this being said, I hope you decide to push forward with your trip. It would surely be an adventure that not many people can claim they have made before and one that I am hoping to make myself in the next year or two. Let me know what you wind up doing.

3. Posted by holdfast (Budding Member 5 posts) 14y Star this if you like it!

It's true that the Darien gap is not passable by car.... but there are transport ferries that hop their way down from panama to columbia. another option is to put you vehicle on a frieghter in panama or costa rica and ship it to columbia or ecuador. then role off and keep driving.

You don't need a carnet for Central america. you obtain your temporary vehicle permit at the boarder. some countries have national car insureance that you have to purchase at the same time. Mexico insurance can (and should be) purchased in advance. It's not much more expensive to get a full six months than it is to get one... so if you plan on making the return trip checkout getting the extended coverage upfront. You have to get Mex insurance through a special broker... but there are a few out there. For the most part insurance in Central America at least is almost pointless when not mandatory. I'm not sure about peru and chile since i haven't made it that far by car on my previous trip (drove down from Toronto Canada). Next time hopefully doing the drive from Alaska to Chile. Good luck and be patient at border crossings.

4. Posted by IMonaghan (Respected Member 431 posts) 14y Star this if you like it!

Thanks for the info Hold, I was wondering why I couldn't find any info about carnets for Central America.

Have you ever considered driving fully around the world Hold? It sounds like you like a good roat trip.

5. Posted by Midstride (Budding Member 5 posts) 14y Star this if you like it!

Thanks everyone... I will try to keep you posted on how our plans go, it will be one hell of a trip if we can pull it off.

6. Posted by hybridvigo (Inactive 1 posts) 12y Star this if you like it!

this sounds tempting....about how much would the whole entire trip cost in total?? i wanna start saving up money.

7. Posted by marcelkers (Budding Member 45 posts) 11y Star this if you like it!

no need for a Carnet de PAssage indeed.
As far as I know there are no RoRo services any more between PAnama and South America. Unfortunately for us travellers the swedish company has backed out again so you will have to freight the car. Might be worth looking for motorcycle travellers so you can fill a container and share the costs.
Do not ship it to Ecuador. In Guayaquil customs often(..) do require a carnet and when lacking one you must go linea recta with military excort to the border... Arriving overland at Ecuador, like the rest of South America, there is no need for a C de P. Weird but true

Have a look ate . Lots of overland info there . Mainly for motorbiketravelling but usefull for your cartrip too ofcourse.

[ Edit: Edited at Aug 9, 2006 11:18 AM by marcelkers ]

8. Posted by Bohemian (Budding Member 3 posts) 11y Star this if you like it!

Quoting marcelkers

Have a look ate . Lots of overland info there . Mainly for motorbiketravelling but usefull for your cartrip too ofcourse.

Wow, you answered my exact scenario without even being asked! Thanks alot Marcelkers!

9. Posted by robertdjun (Budding Member 2 posts) 11y Star this if you like it!

You can totally do this trip. My buddies and I drove from texas to panama in 2006, and had a great time. My best advice -- ask directions from no fewer than 3 people, take more time than you think you need, and just enjoy it. Stop everywhere. In a car, you get to see things that no person travelling by bus does. All the little stops. Roadside places to eat. It's completely different than bus travel. Anyway, our site for traveling and driving through latin america is Enjoy, and please post in the forums!

10. Posted by terileeh (Budding Member 4 posts) 11y Star this if you like it!

This is Teri-Lee and Steve from Reno NV. We are planning to drive to South America in August of 2007. Just had some questions. Steve and I dont speak much spanish but have about 8 months of lessons ahead of us. Are we going to be less safe not being fluent?
Also, we are looking to work when we get down there. We would like to work in Chile and do something involving publich health or some sort of an environmental feild. Any advice, ideas or connections. We are extremely open minded to working in other countries as well and are looking to work about 6 months. We would like to avoid teaching English.
Any help would be much appreciated

Teri-Lee and Steve