Colombia to Patagonia overland

This article is an itinerary.

Colombia to Patagonia overland is an epic continental journey along the Andes across South America. This route starts from the sunny beaches of the Caribbean and crosses Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina before terminating on the icy shores of the Antarctic Ocean. Crossing 6 countries, spanning over 10,000 kilometers, this is one of the ultimate overland journeys in the world.

Understand

This trip can be divided up three similar sized segments each with its own characteristic.

Bus classes

Although it is entirely possible to do the entire journey in chicken buses, it is the balance of cost and comfort that makes overlanding fun. To the purpose, long distance buses fall under 3 general comfort levels: Semicama, Cama, and Cama Suite. These names tend to shift from country to country.

South America bus classes
Country Semicama (Half bed) Cama (Bed) Cama Suite (Bed Suite)
Argentina Semicama 40° Cama-Ejecutivo 55° Cama Suite 85°
Chile Semi Cama 60° Cama 65° Cama Premium 90°
Peru Semicama/Imperial/Especial 40-50° Cama/VIP 70-75° Super Cama 180°
Brazil Executivo 40° Semi-Leito 55° Leito 80°

Language

Spanish is the official language in all countries on this trip. Various indigenous American languages such as Quechua are also spoken in some areas, especially of Bolivia and Peru. Speakers of those languages may or may not be bilingual with Spanish.

Climate

Climate along the Pacific coast is mainly affected by latitude with the temperature getting colder the further south you go. Colombia and Equador are tropical. Once into Peru, the humidity starts to decline. South of Lima, the environment becomes very arid. The Atacama Desert, known as the driest place in the world, lies in Southern Peru and Northern Chile. Around Santiago desert gives way to subtropical rainforests. In Patagonia, climate gradually shifts from temperate to sub-polar, with evergreens gradually dominating the landscape.

In the Andes, altitude matters more than latitude. The rule of thumb is that temperature decreases by 6°C for every 1,000-meter gain in elevation. The central portion of the trip in Peru and Bolivia crosses the Altiplano, where altitude hovers around 4,000 meters. Daytime temperature is pleasant while nights can be freezing.

Prepare

Dress in layers to adapt to the diverse climates you will encounter along this trip. Start with T-shirts, bring a fleece or down sweater for the cold, and cover it all up with a water proof outer shell. Be sure to bring comfortable shoes/boots for the plenty of hiking opportunities you will encounter. Wear comfortable (loose or stretch) pants on the long distance buses.

Get in

By plane

Bogota, Lima and Santiago are the principal airports for those flying in from outside of South America.

Quito, Medellin and Cusco are more useful for those flying within South America.

In Northern Patagonia, Puerto Montt and San Carlos de Bariloche are good entry points, while in Southern Patagonia, El Calafate Punta Arenas, Rio Grande and Ushuaia are exit points.

Uyuni has an airport for those unwilling to endure the hardship of Bolivian roads.

By boat

Cartagena, is the principle port between Colombia and Panama. This is the only way to get pass the Darien Gap without flying.

It is theoretically possible to arrive by boat from the Amazon. Starting from Belem take the ferry to Manaus (5 days) then change ferry to Iquitos (5 days). Once at Iquitos, three options existː Yurimaguas (2.5 days), Pucallpa (4 days) and Coca (8 days). All three cities have motorable roads to the west of the Andes.

By bus

Since every major city west of the Andes has been covered in the Routes section below, the only remaining starting points lie far beyond the Andes on the eastern Atlantic coast. These bus rides are epic journeys in and of themselves.

From Sao Paulo, Ormeño runs a bus to Lima on the Interoceanic Highway (108 hours). Get off at Cusco to save 21 hours.

From Buenos Aires, buses to Lima (72 hours), Santiago (19-20 hours), Bariloche (20-23 hours) and Rio Gallegos (36 hours).

Route

Colombia

  Cartagena. Caribbean port city. Start of this journey.

  Medellin.

  Bogotá.

  Pasto.

  Las Lajas Sanctuary. Basilica straddling a canyon. 20-min from Ipiales by taxi.

Ecuador

Tulcan is a border town. Be careful with money changers as some may be crooks.


Peru

  Trujillo. is sizable city to stop in northern Peru. Near by are many sites of interest: Chan Chan (adobe constructed by Chimú), Huaca del Sol (largest adobe pyramid constructed by Moche).

Trujillo to Lima takes 9 hours.   Lima. Capital of Peru. This one third of this journey.


From   Nasca. you can see the Nazca lines and the lost city of Cahuachi.

  Arequipa.

  Cusco. Ancient capital of the Incas.

  Machu Picchu. Sacred city of the Incas.

  Puno. Sacred city of the Incas.

Bolivia

  Salar de Uyuni. Largest salt flat in the world.

From here on is a 3 day jeep ride to San Pedro de Atacama.

First day you will be traveling on the salt flat and spend the night in San Juan. The sights are the cactus island, train graveyard.

  San Juan. Tiny road side town.

Second day you will be traveling parallel along the Chilean border through Desierto de Siloli and spend the night by Laguna Colorada. The major sights are Laguna Hedionda, Árbol de Piedra.

  Laguna Colorada. Pink lake famous for its Andean flamingoes

Third day you will be traveling in the Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve before crossing the border to Chile at Hito Cajon. The major sights are Sol de Mañana, Termas de Polques hot springs and Laguna Verde.


Chile

  San Pedro de Atacama. Good place to rest and recuperate after the road trip. The lunar landscapes of Valle de la Luna is just outside the city.

  Antofagasta.

  Santiago. Capital of Chile. Two thirds of this journey.

  Valdivia. Sea side German town.

  Puerto Octay/Frutillar/llanquihue/Puerto Varas. German town by Lake Llanquihue.

Patagonia

Northern Patagonia (Chile option)

The starting point here is the port city of   Puerto Montt. . From here, 2 options exist:

1. Take the Navimag ferry to   Puerto Natales. (400 USD 4 days/3 nights). This is the most straight forward option. The ferry travels through Chilean fjords en route. Note, Puerto Natales is close to Torres del Paine. You will see the Southern Patagonia sights in the reverse order (south to north) as they are listed.

2. Overland on the Carretera Austral (Southern Road) to   Villa O'Higgins. . This is the more difficult option. Most of trip will be on pot holed roads with occasional ferry crossings. Towns are few in number and far in between. Taking this road all the way down will arrive at Villa O'Higgins. From there on it is a ferry ride across the border on Lago San Martin. From there on is a 20km hike until Laguna del Desierto. Taking another ferry across the lake will get you to a road that leads to El Chaltén.

Northern Patagonia (Argentina option)

The starting point here is the beautiful mountain resort town of   Bariloche. .

Linger a few days at Bariloche before heading south on the famous Ruta 40 (RN40) to El Chaltén (24 hours in a cramped mini bus).

Southern Patagonia (Chile and Argentina)

The three big ticket sights starting from north to south are:

  Monte Fitz Roy (near El Chaltén). many day hikes in the surrounding area

  Glaciar Perito Moreno (near El Calafate). massive glacier

  Torres del Paine (north of Puerto Natales). hike famous W trek (4-5 days) or full circuit (7-9 days)

Tierra del Fuego

For those who seek to go as far south as possible. There are 3 destinations from north to south:

  Punta Arenas. Southern most city on the South American continent

  Ushuaia. Southern most city in Argentina

  Puerto Williams. Southern most city in Chile

From Punta Arenas, take a 30 hour ferry to Ushuaia.

Alternatively, there are bus connecting Puerto Natales and Rio Gallegos with Rio Grande. From Rio Grande there is another bus to Ushuaia.

Stay safe

Even through violence in Colombia has greatly subsided in recent years, the section between Cali to Pasto (Mojarras) is not very safe. Avoid night buses or being outside at night.

Go next

The only thing further South is Antarctica

Alternative ways back

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Friday, March 04, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.