Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Our Plan: Drive from USA to the tip of South America

Since SparkleGirl and I got married a year ago, we have dreamed about taking a long trip traveling around the world. I wanted to come up with a main "goal" for our trip, and my first idea was to circumnavigate the globe by sailboat. SparkleGirl talked me out of the idea, pointing out that she gets seasick easily and that we didn't know anything about sailing. I reminded her that I spent a summer sailing on lake Mendota in Wisconsin during college, but to no avail.

After a few months of hard thought while drinking Pacifico beers, my mind made the following leap, see if you can follow it:

Yachting Around the World
Land Yachting Around the World
Land Yachting to the Tip of South America
Is it possible to drive from the United States to Tierra del Fuego, the southern tip of South America? Could I set a new record to be the first to try this? After a little research on The Google, the simple answer to both questions is NO.

The trip has been done by many people - Lonely Planet has an online guide on how to do it, and this couple are doing the trip for a second time in a 40 foot RV! Someone walked half of the way, some people have biked it, I am sure someone's grandma did it in her walker by now. It's hard to be the first at anything out there with 6 billion people competing with you. That's not even counting all the people that have lived since we stopped being apes or were magically put here, depending on your beliefs. I just need to think of a smaller niche to be the first person in, such as the first person to drive from the US to the tip of South America wearing a cowboy hat, or something. Let me know if you come up with any ideas for me.

The not so simple answer to the second question is a little less straightforward. The Pan-American Highway goes from Alaska to Argentina, except for a small section between Panama and Colombia called the Darien Gap. In the past you could at least get a guide and hike through to Colombia, and people have successfully crossed it using once again on foot, by bicycle, motorcycle, and off road vehicles. At this time, drug runners, rebel groups, and locals that are fed up with outsiders make it too dangerous for even a foot crossing. So, you can drive to the tip of South America, if you ship your car around the Darien Gap.

So that is our plan. Everything but the Darien Gap should be simple - just get on the Pan-American Highway and drive south. Oh, and of course a few other details we will be working out. Stay tuned...


  1. Nice to meet you:)
    I'm planning a very very very similar adventure as yours; drive from Windsor, Ontario to the end of the World (Ushuaia). I must do it. Most probably it'll happen towards the end of next year (leave sometime in September and reach the end by the end of the year). I have my wife on my side and must also find more amateurs, my target being MIN 2 cars. Anyways, as soon as my bunch of information is ready I'll start a website somewhere and will share it with you.
    When is your plan to depart the US?
    Good luck with your preparation,

  2. We have gotten a few similar comments - it seems there a number of like-minded people out there looking for adventure. We have a similar plan - leave in September from Florida (we will be visiting family there) and try to make it to the end by January. Then work our way back north as we feel fit. Best of luck finding others who share your dream!

  3. I'm curious, do you guys have any sense of how many miles you'll be logging on Caballo between your travels in the US and abroad>

  4. Hey I have had a similar dream and was building a monster truck to take, tried it when i was 19 and drove in a jeep cj7 and made it to costa rica and then turned around, this time around started in costa rica and am now in panama waiting to get the car shipped (a disaster that seems to be getting worse), some words of advice.... get a diesel, diesel is readily availabe, some places cheaper than gas and youll get alot better gas mileage, im doing it in a 78 landcruiser, its not built for speed but has destroyed all except for one trail where the mud was about as deep as the tires...the darien according to the lonely planet was crossed back in the 60's by an expedition group with like 3 cars and 9 local guides, there were 140 rivers and they had to build bridges at like 120 of them to cross them. shipping for the car looks to be around $1000..but its hard to get the time of day from the shippers (who usually do huge shipments) one car just isnt shit... anyway i think im going to ship the car (oh and you might have to wait a couple weeks to ship the car so be prepared) and try to hike the darien.... supposedly its a 2 week hike through treacherous jungle and if that doesnt kill you the guerillas might... but hey im here for an adventure... balls deep.... check out my website for pictures keep me posted maybe we can meet up.... oh and for the most part the road to all the way to panama city really is pretty good... guatamala is a little sketch be forwarned..... anyway good luck

  5. oh my email is johnniespaceboy@hotmail.com and or myspace.com/johnniespaceboy for pictures and what not.... let me know if you have any more questions....

  6. Hi Johnnie -
    Thanks for the advice but we're already ready to go with our Honda Element, so we're going to make it work. I don't think we plan on doing much heavy-duty off-roading, so we should be fine. And we are emotionally prepared for the hell of getting the car shipped and ready to sit around while we work out the details. And ready to bribe as necessary...

  7. Serban: We are actually leaving the U.S. the beginning of September, we may be on the road at the same time. Would be great to meet up and travel if we are following the same route.

    Johnniespaceboy: Thanks for the info, we are hoping to find someone else to team up on in a cargo container to get over the Darien Gap. Would be great if we met up at the same time. However, I am less adventurous than you - no way I am going to hike through the Darien Gap. Keep us updated on your adventure, I would love to hear about your Darien hike.

    Good luck to both of you, and keep in touch!


    1. I'd say, go for it. Nothing in this world should keep anyone from doing what they want!

  9. hi, i don't know how to ad my name. sorry. marcia-usa

  10. Hi Marcia,
    We have seen RVs around on our travels so far - in Palenque, Chiapas, and we actually stayed at a really nice trailer park/campground in Sayulita, Mexico, as well. There are whole books devoted to RVing around Mexico that you may want to check out (see http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Mexican-Camping/Mike-Church/e/9780974947129 and http://www.rollinghomes.com/Baja%20Book.htm). We just got into Guatemala and I haven't seen RVs yet, so I can't comment beyond Mexico. While the roads in Guatemala are comparable to those in Mexico (somewhat narrow, a little rough, littered with speedbumps) I don't know about the safety/security aspects here. It definitely seems like highway robbery is a little more of a concern here, and an RV would be a more obvious target. Additionally, you have to ship your vehicle across the Darien Gap, and I don't know what kind of size limitations there are for what you can ship. We plan on putting our car in a shipping container, but I doubt an RV would fit in something like that (who knows though). Let us know what you decide though, we'd love to follow your travels.

  11. Hi Marcia and Cornelius,
    I connected to your info through Joydrive and thoroughly enjoyed reading your posts. Sounds fascinating. We hope to meet up with Kelsey and Tom (Kelsey is my daughter) when they get to Tierra del Fuego so maybe you will still be there. We have travelled lots but not to SA so it would be a great adventure. In the meantime I am learning lots from all of you. Carry on boldly, Donna

  12. Hi All!

    I'm just now getting around planning a trip from AK to the tip of South America. I plan on either going solo or finding a reliable road dog. My concerns and questions for any of you would be this:

    1. What car should I take? I'm thinking of the Honda Element. Any better ideas?
    2. Cost. How much should I set aside for the unforeseeable? I.e., bribes, bail money, car shipping, extortion, etc....
    3. What have you guys encountered that I couldn't possibly have thought of until I'm out in the middle of nowhere? Like, should I bring a kit that transforms urine into water?

    Any and all help would be awesome!

    Happy and safe travels!


  13. hey all, my wife and I are planning to drive from the wonderful city of Tucson Az to the tip of South America any advice? We are driving a big ford 35o cargo van. We have driven all over Mexico so no problems or fears there.

  14. Hi - nice to meet you. In fact, we have built a wiki for people just like us who are interested in driving in Central and South America - it's called Drive the Americas. Information on border crossings, paperwork, getting your car ready, other people driving, hopefully everything that will make your travels easier. Hope you find it helpful. And when you do start your trip, make sure to email us through Drive the Americas, and we'll profile you as roadtrippers.

  15. Hey,

    I am also wanting to make the trip to SA. I plan to drive a SPORTSMOBILE there. I understand that the GAP is tricky and requires shipping the van but can anyone comment on driving South after that? What is it like for a USA automobile driving the rest of the way? Any trouble?
    Thanks for the help!

    Michael from Washington State

  16. Actually, driving in South America is a piece of cake compared to Central America. The borders are less chaotic, the police less corrupt, and the roads more secure. For information on shipping your car around the Darien Gap check out our website chock full of information on driving at Drive the Americas

  17. OK so this is the plan on how to reach SA.
    as far as getting there, i was thinking of a small truck like a Toyota or something like that those little trucks last a lifetime. i plan to lave next year, i live in southern California fontana, not to far from San Diego where i will be leaving from. i got my passport all set. haven't really started buying stuff. i thought what for? ill just buy it along the way. i do speak fluent Spanish, i have been to El Salvador and stayed out there for three months with family. my mom is from El paso TX. and my pops from El Salvador. the only thing that has me worried is Mexico. boy ill tell you i heard some stories. well that's not gonna stop me. my destination is Cali Colombia and maybe settle there and who knows maybe ill teach English or something. my friend Alfonzo will be with me once there i plan on staying there for a long time. i told my self if i wanted to come back i was going to work for it and get payed buy the ticket and fly back. so what do you guys think

  18. I think that sounds like a great idea. We have heard many scary stories ourselves about Mexico and other Central and South American countries. Just make sure to play it safe- stay off the roads at night, cross borders early in the morning, don't camp in remote areas or beaches, don't carry large sums of cash, etc.

    ¡Buen viaje!

  19. Hi,

    I’d like to do a Pan-American road trip this summer and need to buy a vehicle. My plan initially was to fly to Mexico City, buy an SUV, drive to Buenos Aires, and sell it there or ship it home. If someone doing the trip now would like to sell me their vehicle in South America, I’d be happy to agree to sell it back to them in the U.S. I can’t lease or rent it though because I believe ownership is an issue when crossing borders. Presumably a 3k+ mile trip through pot hole ridden Central America would depreciate the vehicle so we could discuss before hand simply selling it back for less than I bought it or paying for repairs or both.



  20. Hi Brian,

    Nice to meet you. I have a couple of recommendations for you. First, check out our other website at Drive the Americas. On this website we compiled comprehensive information on cars, borders, shipping, scams, gas and road conditions, hotels and camping - in essence everything we wish we had known about when we started this trip. We have a forum for roadtrippers on this website as well, and I know there are several cars for sale in Buenos Aires listed on this forum.

    Second, you may want to consider purchasing the car in the US. We met several Europeans who flew to San Diego, purchased a car, and went on their way. We only met one couple who tried to buy the car in Mexico and it sounded like it was a very difficult process.

    And you're right, you need to prove ownership of the car when you're crossing borders. Also check the your vehicle page of the Drive the Americas website for more information on purchasing vehicles, insurance, and vehicle modifications you might want to consider.

    Best of luck, and be sure to contact us when you do start your trip - we'd love to profile you in our roadtripper profile section of our Drive the Americas website.

  21. Why don't all you road warriors get together and travel in a caravan for safety and help with break downs?


  22. Most people assume it is more dangerous/perilous than actual reality. While we did travel with some other roadtrippers for part of the trip, it was for companionship, not safety. Don't assume this type of trip is dangerous. With some basic precautions (don't travel at night, know where you're going, ask locals what the situation is) you should be safe.


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