Few roads have as much history as the legendary Pan-American. This extends from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. To cross the route from the beginning to the end, you have to cross all the American continent.
At least 100 days are needed to travel the route. Some people does it in 6 to 12 months, some even take several years. There is also the alternative of splitting an adventure into stages.
Whether in a motorhome, car, a motorcycle or a bicycle, a trip through the Pan-American changes your life. Here are the individual sections of the itinerary so you can decide how you want to make this path.
Related links: Backpacking in Latin America: A Guide
1. Starting the Route: Alaska and Canada.
Prudhoe Bay is a town on the north coast of Alaska seen today by some as “the” starting point. In 1945, when the road opened, Prudhoe Bay already existed. From there you reach Fairbanks, near the North Pole. The road here is called Richardson Highway, but the experience of nature is diminished by the Alyeska pipeline. All this route of more than 2300 kilometers will travel through Canada and Alaska until it connects with the United States.
You drive through the beautiful Yukon territory. Around the Yukon River, bear families or herds of buffalo can occasionally be observed. In the sky you can see, at the right time of year, the aurora borealis.
A common way is on the roads of British Columbia 97 and 99. From there you can get to Vancouver to cross the impressive Lions Gate Bridge. Upon reaching the border, the route joins Interstate 5 in Blaine, Washington.
Example of the “official” route: CLICK HERE
2. United States.
The Pan-American has different variants in the United States. Interstate 5 in the border with Canada to the south. But it can probably be considered the longest. Drive through the state of Washington, which is in the northwest of the United States.
To the south is the city of Seattle, which is considered the cultural center of the northwestern United States. The next state crossing Interstate 5 is Oregon, where you can see the main cities of Portland, Salem and Eugene. In Oregon, you can visit the Lake Crater a popular sight.
On the route to the south, you arrive to California, where there are many citrus and avocado plantations, and it is probably one of the most spectacular stretch of road trip through the United States. After visiting Yosemite National Park, you can follow Route 101 to pass through San Francisco. And take advantage of crossing the world famous Golden Gate Bridge to the south.
From there, the road leads south along the Pacific coast. Finally, you will get to Los Angeles. Here it is better to spend a few days before returning to Interstate 5 and continuing along the coast towards San Diego. From there, nothing will be left to reach the border with Mexico.
If you deviate a little to the east, in Arizona, the climate and the desert landscape prevail. The most famous attraction in the state is, of course, the Grand Canyon, which means a detour to the north. The Pan-American route leads from Tucson on I-19 to Nogales, and from there, to the border with Mexico.
3. The Inter-American in Mexico.
In fact, the route of the Inter-American Highway (as it is called here), begins in Nuevo Laredo, on the border with Texas, and continues along Federal Highway 15, which leads to Mexico City. But if your step is through San Diego you will cross to Mexico through the city of Tijuana. First, it passes through the state of Sonora, which is dominated by the desert landscape. Here you can admire the cacti that grow up to 20 meters high.
The road leads the traveler through Hermosillo, the capital of the region, where you can stop in the town of Guaymas and swim in the Gulf of California. Then it crosses the fertile valley of the Yaqui River around Ciudad Obregón.
The next region to cross is Jalisco, one must visit the small town of Tequila. Then continue through the Federal 15 through Guadalajara, the second largest city in Mexico. The road now heads east through the mining region of Guanajuato until it finally reaches Mexico City. In this incredible metropolis you must at least stop to visit the old town and the Xochimilco neighborhood, with its floating gardens.
The trip to the south takes place on the Federal 190. The regions that pass on the road to Guatemala are impressive. Numerous indigenous peoples live here, some of whom are considered descendants of the original Aztec and Mayan cultures. In the southern part of Mexico there are also numerous historical sites of past advanced civilizations.
Related links: Palenque to Bacalar. Mexico’s Mayan Route.
4. Route in Central America.
Here we cross the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Central America. Here the Pan-American has a great logistic importance, since many places benefit from its proximity to it.
You will travel through Guatemala, a land located between volcanoes. You will find Mayan towns and colonial cities. The main tourist destinations: the impressive Mayan site of Tikal and Lake Atitlan.
You can come across Antigua, the city that was the capital in colonial times. After passing through Guatemala City, the road will continue to the border of the neighboring country, El Salvador.
This is the smallest country on the route, with lakes and volcanoes along the route as well. The Pan-American leads through the largest cities: Santa Ana and El Salvador. In addition to San Miguel in the east. Then to Honduras.
The Pan-American crosses Honduras only through a relatively small part of the country. The Gulf of Fonseca stands out, where there are several nature reserves.
In Nicaragua, follow the Pan-American highway to the central route through Estelí, then to Managua. It is advisable to deviate to the south that crosses the colonial city of León and the lake of Managua.
There, you can head south over the narrow strip of land between the Pacific coast and Lake Nicaragua. If possible to travel to the island of Ometepe.
Next is Costa Rica. Here the obligatory visit for travelers should be some national park. Because its bio-diversity, coffee and volcanoes.
Then to Panama, the last country in Central America. The Pan-American becomes a four lanes crossing the cities of David and Santiago until arriving at the City of Panama. On the way to the border with Colombia. Here to continue the trip in South America, you must take a ferry.
5. Pan-American in Colombia and Ecuador.
The Pan-American Highway in South America on starts in the Colombian port city of Turbo.
From the Caribbean coast, the route leads to the southwest, through the cities of Medellin and Cali, but also through the beautiful nature of the country, which is characterized here by wonderful green hills and valleys. In general, Colombia is a country where one must take the time to discover the different cultures.
The Pan-American here largely coincides with the Colombian route 25, that leads from Cali through Popayán and Pasto to the Ecuadorian border in Ipiales.
Although Ecuador is much smaller than Colombia, it offers a rich landscape. The Pan-American route initially corresponds to Highway 35, it leads through the high valley of the mountain ranges. It passes through larger places such as Ibarra, Quito and Riobamba. Near Quito, there is a special sight, a sundial located on the line of the equator
Shortly after Riobamba the road divides. From here two variants of the Pan-American are possible; one that continues through the Sierra, where, among other things, you can visit the tourist city of Cuenca. This route is especially recommended, since you can pass the border near Huaquillas and continue in Peru directly along the coast.
6. Crossing Peru.
Geographically, Peru is dominated by the Andes. These cross the country and rise in several peaks of more than 6000 meters. The indigenous groups, some of them descendants of the Incas, constitute a large part of the population.
Above all, the obligatory place to visit is Machu Picchu even when the visit to the ruins requires a small detour from the Pan-American.
The Pan-American Highway in Peru crosses the entire country and connects all the cities along the coastal region. The most exciting city along the coastal route is, without a doubt, the capital, Lima. With its 8 million inhabitants, it is the center of economy and culture. To the south, the coastal region is sparsely populated.
Finally along the coast extends the Atacama Desert, one of the driest regions on the planet. In the middle of the desert is also the border crossing in the second to last country of the Pan-American route, Chile.
7. Wines, beach and height in Chile.
The Pan-American, starts in Chile as Route 5, which leads from north to south through the country. This route is more challenging than it seems, since the country has on average only 180 km wide, but from north to south it has a length of 4275 km. You can hardly go wrong, just stay west of the Andes; whose impressive view will accompany you throughout the trip. The highest point of Chile is the Ojos del Salado Volcano. At an altitude of almost 6900 meters, it is also the highest volcano in the world.
In the region of Antofagasta you can find the Valley of the Moon, which is famous and popular with visitors for its spectacular sunsets. Further south, in the Coquimbo region, there are some beaches on the Pacific coast, where you can surf. In addition, the desert landscapes are a little less frequent in the north. Finally, in the Valparaiso region, the large wine areas dominate the landscape.
Arriving in Viña del Mar we finally come across the most important tourist city in Chile. A little further south, you cross approximately half of the country, and then you come to Santiago de Chile, the capital with more than 5 million inhabitants.
South of Santiago it is possible to continue on the Route 5. This way you can not reach Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost part of South America and the final destination of the trip through the Pan-American Highway. Therefore, you must take Ruta 60, which branches off to the north of Santiago and leads through the Andean chain towards Argentina.
Related links: South America’s Incomparable Beauty
7. The end of the road in Argentina.
Chilean Route 60 arrives in Argentina through National Route 7 to Buenos Aires. The road extends through several regions of Argentina. The main cities along include Mendoza, and San Luis. Further east, in the province of Córdoba, road turns a little bumpy.
When you finally reach Buenos Aires, the South American continent has been crossed from west to east and you have reached the Atlantic Ocean.
Here, the Pan-American Highway starts its unofficial routes. National Route 3 for those who want to reach the Atlantic coast. On the coast you will find several access points for whale watching.
Continue south through the pampas, towards Patagonia. The landscape becomes Mesetas, in the region of Santa Cruz.
The last important place in the Argentine continent is Río Gallegos. A little further south you will cross the Strait of Magellan. Here Tierra del Fuego is separated from the South American continent.
As there is no bridge over this strait, you must cross by ferry from Punta Delgada. Welcome to Tierra del Fuego one of the most remote regions of the world.
Back in the Argentine territory, continue along Route 3 along the Atlantic coast, through Rio Grande; the largest city in Tierra del Fuego with at least 50,000 inhabitants. From here, it is nothing to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world and the end of the Pan-American.
The route of almost 48,000 km is an unforgettable experience. Of course, no article, no photograph, can describe what it really is.
Our last recommendation is: Since in Argentina, continue enjoying the road: return along Route 40.
Related links: Route 40 An Adventure of 5000 Kilometers in Argentina.