Can you drive from North America to South America?

The short answer: no. The longer and more accurate answer is: yes, but not all the way.

Thanks to the Pan-American Highway, driving from North to South America is a much easier prospect than it was in the past. You can drive from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to the tip of South America, almost 25,000 miles using the Pan-American Highway. However, the Highway ends at the Darien Gap, a 90-mile roadless region of rainforests and swamps that basically renders it impossible to drive the whole distance to South America.

darien gap

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Keeping that in mind, however, it is entirely possible to plan a road trip that includes shipping your car to Columbia from Panama, and then flying there to pick it up before driving further south.

Given the fact that political stability has steadily been improving in Latin American regions, driving to the south is much safer than it has ever been. Factor in the road building efforts in many countries in Latin America, and you’ll find that your car should be up to the challenge as well! What you need to do is to plan your trip in advance so your entire journey is as free of stress as it could possibly be. Here are some of the things you’ll need to keep in mind for your trip.

Have your documents ready

Passing through borders is an intense bureaucratic process that can often be quite aggravating. Minimize your frustration by having all of the documents and paperwork you need ready. This includes your passport, driver’s license (both an International Driver’s License and one from your home country), vehicle title, vehicle registration, proof of registration and your visa if required. It is also wise to travel with your marriage and birth certificates, WHO Yellow Vaccination Card and proof of finances.

Make sure to make a ton of photocopies of all your required documents, and have an electronic scan of these as well.

Ensure your vehicle is up to the journey

A regular car should serve you just fine across the journey since most of the main roads in Latin America will be in good condition. If you’re planning on driving off the beaten track, or on making good use of secondary roads, you’ll probably want to look into buying a four-wheel drive. Your car should have comfortable seats, good ground clearance, cruise control, enough leg room for you to stretch out, as well as good tires. It should also have good braking and suspension, and excellent gas mileage, since the price of gasoline in most Latin American countries is higher than it is in the US.

Shipping the car across the Darien Gap

The shipping part is a bit of a hassle, thanks to the paperwork and logistics involved in the process. It takes a minimum of a week to organize the shipping, and at least a couple of days to fill out the forms and load and unload on either end. That’s why it’s so important that you get a head start on this and organize the shipping a couple of weeks before you leave.

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