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The Epic Allure of the Pan American Highway

The Pan-American Highway is one of the world’s most ambitious and captivating road networks. It spans from the northern reaches of Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina, attracting many nomads, van lifers, and overlanders to make the trek. This iconic route embodies adventure, connecting diverse cultures, landscapes, and experiences, which is why it is on our bucket list of epic road trips. However, due to its length and complexity, preparations often take months or even years of planning.

Today, we’re looking into the history, challenges, and allure of the Pan-American Highway. Buckle up and get ready to embark on an epic road trip along the famous highway.

FIRST WEEK of Van Life on the Pan American Highway (Alaska to Argentina)

What Is the Pan-American Highway?

The Pan-American Highway, which drivers sometimes call the Pan-Am Highway, is a network of roads and highways that stretch across North and South America. It covers approximately 19,000 miles across the two continents. It was a visionary project in the early 20th century, intending to connect the Americas, foster economic ties, and promote cultural exchange.

Excitement blossomed post-WWII for the highway, as automotive and trailering communities started dreaming of more exotic locations. An issue of the 1945 Trailer Topics Magazine (pictured below) demonstrates this anticipation of the route’s completion at that time, with optimistic estimates for American motorists traveling its roadways extensively within the next 8-10 years.

December 1945 Issue of Trailer Topics Magazine, "Pan American Highway" by Maurice E. Gilmore
December 1945 Issue of Trailer Topics Magazine, “Pan American Highway” by Maurice E. Gilmore

However, the road construction proved to be more difficult than originally thought and thus remains technically incomplete to this day. But people didn’t let that stop their exploring.

Why Didn’t They Finish the Pan-American Highway?

While the Pan-American Highway connects many cities and regions, it remains unfinished due to the daunting challenge of bridging the Darien Gap.

The Darien Gap is a dense and inhospitable swath of jungle that separates Panama and Colombia. Environmental concerns, logistical difficulties, and political factors have continuously stopped efforts to complete this section of the Pan-Am Highway.

Truck camper in Alaska
You can drive from Alaska to Argentina on the Pan-American Highway.

Is It Safe to Drive the Pan-American Highway?

Safety along the Pan-Am Highway varies by region and country. While some segments are well-maintained and safe for travel, others may pose challenges like rugged terrain, remote areas, and border crossings. Travelers need to research adequately, stay informed about current conditions, and exercise caution, especially in less developed regions.

How Long Does It Take to Drive the Pan-American Highway?

The duration of a Pan-American Highway journey depends on various factors, including your starting point, destinations, and travel pace. Some adventurers complete the route in a matter of months. Others take years to explore the diverse landscapes, cultures, and attractions along the way. Some perform the drive in chunks, piecing the route together over multiple trips. For example, we have already driven the Alaska Highway and Dalton Highway through Alaska and Canada.

But, if you were to average around 300 miles per day, it would take about 60 days or 2 months to complete the drive. However, this average isn’t likely realistic for most people who will want to stop and explore the countries they are in along the way.

Pro Tip: Bust out these Top 10 Fun Road Trip Games to Pass the Time while driving the Pan-American Highway.

Truck camper driving the Pan American Highway
Driving the Pan-American Highway is a great way to explore different countries.

How Much Does It Cost to Drive the Pan-American Highway?

The cost of a Pan-Am Highway expedition varies widely depending on your travel style, mode of transportation, and spending habits. Expenses can include fuel, food, accommodation, vehicle maintenance, visas, and border crossing fees. Most people who have driven the Pan-American Highway before recommend expecting to pay about $50-100 per day. This honestly sounds about right to us, as our 15,000-mile trip, 6-month to Alaska and back cost around $16,000-$20,000, or about $100 per day.

We highly recommend a budget to manage costs effectively.

Who Has Traveled the Pan-American Highway?

If you’re looking for inspiration while planning your Pan-American Highway adventure, some YouTubers have documented their experiences.

Kombi Life is a YouTube channel to drive around the world. Their first step to achieving this goal was driving the Pan-Am Highway. While they have many other adventures in store, they think the Pan-Am Highway is one of the best options because it’s not a normal road trip. You can watch them slowly travel through each country and learn about the local culture on their channel.

We’ve also loved watching Overlanding Sophia’s van life adventure along the Pan-Am Highway. Chesca and Ben have traveled around the world in their van and started their adventure along the Pan-Am Highway in Alaska.

Additionally, while planning your trip, check out this video from FnA Van Life. They break down everything you need to know and what to pack before you hit the road.

While we haven’t planned our attempt yet, it’s never too soon to start dreaming!

Cait from Mortons on the Move driving RV
Don’t just limit yourself to North American exploration in your RV. Head south on the Pan-American Highway!

How to Drive the Pan-American Highway

Embarking on a Pan-American Highway adventure requires careful planning. Consider the following things while you plan.

Getting Visas

When embarking on this adventure, it’s crucial to research the visa requirements for each country along your route and ensure you have the necessary documentation. Visa regulations can vary significantly from one country to another. Therefore, a thorough understanding of these requirements is important.

Some countries may allow visa-free entry for a brief period, while others may require advance visa applications. Remember that visa processing times can also vary, so plan to avoid delays. Having the correct visas will ensure a smoother journey and prevent any unexpected border crossing issues.

Driving Permits For RVs

For travelers planning to explore the Pan-American Highway in an RV, it’s essential to be aware of permits and regulations that may apply in different countries. Some countries have size and weight restrictions for RVs, and you may need special permits to drive in some areas. Additionally, consider whether your driver’s license is valid in the countries you plan to visit.

It’s advisable to carry an international driving permit (IDP) alongside your regular driver’s license, as it can be a requirement in some countries. You can also look into the International Driving Permits offered by International Drivers Association in over 150+ countries.

Understanding and adhering to these regulations will help ensure a trouble-free journey in your RV.

Pro Tip: You’ll need to get a permit for a road trip to Mexico. Learn more about how to prepare in our guide on RVing South of the Border

Driving the Pan American Highway
The Pan-American Highway is filled with cultural richness, natural beauty, and thrilling challenges.

Crossing The Darien Gap

When traveling with an RV across the Darien Gap, one common approach is to use a ferry or cargo ship to transport your RV between Panama and Colombia. This method involves loading your RV onto a vessel for the sea journey, and it’s often the most practical option for RV travelers. However, finding the right ferry or cargo ship that can accommodate your RV can be a logistical challenge. The cost can vary depending on the size of your vehicle and other factors. 

DRIVING THE AMERICAS (PAN-AMERICAN HIGHWAY)

Driving the Pan-American Highway Is an Epic Adventure

The Pan-American Highway beckons adventurers with the promise of an epic journey filled with cultural richness, natural beauty, and thrilling challenges. While the road may be incomplete, it is the journey that defines this iconic route. Whether you dream of driving the entire length or exploring a portion of this vast highway, the Pan-American Highway offers a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that will leave you with lasting memories and stories to share for generations.

Would you consider driving the Pan-American Highway? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

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About Cait Morton

Co-Founder, Logistics Queen, Business & Content Manager, and Animal Lover

An Upper Peninsula of Michigan native (aka a Yooper), Caitlin is the organization, big-picture, and content strategy queen of our operation. She keeps everything orderly and on track.

With a background in Business Management, she supports and helps channel Tom’s technical prowess into the helpful content our readers and viewers expect. That’s not to say you won’t find her turning wrenches and talking shop – RV life is a team effort. She keeps the business and the blog moving forward with a variety of topics and resources for our audience.

Believe it or not, she is rather camera shy, though she co-hosts the Mortons’ personal videos and The RVers TV show.

Caitlin’s passion lies in outdoor recreation and with animals. Some of her favorite things to do are hiking, biking, and getting out on the water via kayak, SUP, or boat.

She also loves the RV life due to the fact that you can bring your pets along. Sharing information about safely recreating outdoors with your whole family – pets included! – is very important to her. Because of this, Caitlin spearheaded the launch of HypePets in 2023.

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Stephen Volk

Wednesday 10th of January 2024

Thank you for your many well written-researched articles. I knew there was reason to contact the U.S. State Dept. I’ll need multiple visas! Thanks for the IDP link. I’m not certain my satellite cell phone will connect from Tierra Del Fuego or Prudhoe Bay for that matter! Been thirty years dreaming Pan Am road trip. Always thought I’d develop a solar electric rv and named the adventure ‘Follow the Summer.’ Max out solar exposure. Dethleff’s 2018 experimental little camper with a big price and Winnie’s 2019 J38 (proposed as library/medical e-mobile) were close to qualifying as the beast of burden. Neither one came to market, that I’m aware. Still dreaming….70k watts continuous and….

The Mortons

Sunday 11th of February 2024

We look forward to hearing about how your Pan American Highway adventure goes. Safe travels!