Pan American Highway
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The Pan American Highway is probably the most popular Overland route in the world, and as such, is very, very achievable for the average person. No paperwork is required in advance and many countries are relatively cheap to travel through. People from almost all countries in the world can gain entry to each country for free for 90 days.
Crossing the Darien Gap is the major expense and logistical challenge of the journey.
The straight-line, minimum deviation distance from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Ushuaia, Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina is 30,000kms (18,000 miles).
Due to the extreme winters, it's advisable to avoid winter at the extreme North and South ends of the journey. That naturally means the journey is often completed in approximately one and a half years.
People that love riding their motorbike every single day will complete the trip in six months.
Obviously, you can go as fast or slow as you please and some Overlanders have taken many years to complete the trip.
This will depend on many variable factors such as the time you take for the trip and how often you camp and cook your own food. Many of the countries in Central and South America are relatively cheap, so expenses need not be high. Crossing the Darien Gap is the only expensive logistical challenge.
Some information from other Overlanders:
- Dan from The Road Chose Me completed the journey solo in a 4x4 in 22 months from mid 2009 - mid 2011 for $27,300.00 USD.
Arrive at borders early in the morning to avoid long line-ups.
Most borders are closed overnight, and it's not advisable to wait at the border when darkness falls due to safety concerns.
Safety in No Man's Land
Often when crossing borders you will be officially stamped out of one country, pass through a populated area that seemingly has no jurisdiction, then enter the second country. These "No Man's land" areas are not a good place to spend time, it's advised you move through them directly to the next official station.
You are certain to encounter locals offering to help you with paperwork to get across borders in Central America. They will usually have Identification (home made) and can be quite pushy, demanding and rude. Depending on the border and time of day, you may be surrounded by ten or more people yelling and trying to take your paperwork. These "helpers" will insist the process is so difficult you can not cross the border without their help, which is completely untrue.
Their help is really not needed, and so do not give them your documents. They will ask for outrageous amounts of money to give it back, after helping you very little. Often they will pretend to be officials to get you to hand over your documents. Only give your documents and seek advice from people inside official offices, or a uniformed Police officer with a badge.
Crossing The Darien Gap
The Darien Gap is a 160km strip of swampland that separates Panama from Colombia. You can read all about it at the wikipedia page Darién Gap. Only a handful of extremely well outfitted 4x4 expeditions have managed to drive through the gap. It's extreme 4x4ing and not without serious risks.
99.9999% of all people crossing the Daren Gap ship their vehicle in one way or another.
For traveller submitted reviews of crossing the Darien Gap (both vehciles and motorbikes) see DarienGap.info - Traveler reviews of crossing The Darien Gap
People on motorbikes can take advantage of the numerous small yachts making the crossing. Motorbikes are man-handled on and off at each end and ride on the deck of the boats covered in tarps. Almost all boats allow the rider to come along for the amazing trip through the San Blas Islands and some even take care of the customs paperwork at each end.
Costs are around $700.00 USD for bike and rider in 2010.
Hostal Wunderbar have a lot of experience organizing this trip for riders and come very highly recommended.
Shipping a vehicle
At various times a traditional ferry has operated across the Darien Gap. This is no longer the case.
By far and away the most popular option to cross the gap is to load your vehicle into a shipping container and use ocean freight to move it from Colón in Panama to Cartegena in Colombia, or the opposite direction. Note that people will have to make the crossing separately (usually flying or sailing).
Start by reading the Vehicle Shipping page to learn everything you need to know.
NOTE: Because this is such a popular crossing with Overlanders it's very likely you'll meet someone else heading in the same direction to share a large 40 foot container with. Not only will this work out cheaper, you'll have another Overland team to help work through the paperwork.
Common shipping agents
A Few shipping agents have become popular over the years for Overlanders.
- Seabord Marine Panama
Deal with tourists on a very regular basis and usually quote an "everything, no hassle" quote of around $1,000.00 USD to $1,200.00 USD per vehicle.
Ave. Miguel Brostella
Edif. PH Camino de Cruces, Local M2, Mezzanine
Tel.: (507) 360-5900 Fax: (507) 360-5940
Apdo. 0816 - 00665 Panamá 5, R. de P.
Tel= (507) 273-7488, (507) 273-8368, Fax: (507) 273-0727
Contact = Javier Sucre (Spanish & English), Vanessa Degracia
Tel = (507) 360-5914 / Fax = (507) 360-5910
GPS = 9.006061° -79.538382°
Web = Seaboard Marine
Email = firstname.lastname@example.org
- Barwil Agencia S.A.
Barwil are also extremely used to dealing with Overlanders and also offer a "no hassle" quote of around $1,000.00 USD to $1,200.00 USD per vehicle.
Panama Pacifico (former Howard Airforce Base), south of the city
International Business Park,
Tower A, 3rd floor, Office 401
N08º 55.67’ W79º 35.57’
Phone: +507 263 7755; Fax: +507 223 0698
Panama, Republic of Panama
Web: Wilhelmsen Ships Service
Many Overlanders have completed the task of shipping across The Darien Gap. Rather than duplicate the information here, the goal is to link to the most up to date sources possible. Please add links if you know a site that details the process.
- Shipping From Panama to Cartagena Part 1: Panama Very detailed writeup for the Roll-On Roll-Off (RORO) process, from April 2012
- Shipping across The Darien Gap Pt. 1 | The road chose me (From 2010)
- Vehicle shipping across the Darien Gap | Drive the Americas (Constantly updated)