There’s something quite different about how a road trip shapes your experience of a country. The way they make you feel, the variety of the experiences and the authenticity in your interactions. No mini-buses, itemised itineraries and being herded like cattle through major attractions, a mere witness to this new world around you.
See a country by car, however, and you become a part of the scenery. You’ll meet people who live and work in small towns, who barely speak your language. There’s freedom to your movement through the landscape, each day chasing the horizon, not knowing what adventures await over the next rise.
Probably the most well-known route to travel through South America, the Pan-American Highway is also the longest road in the world. Traversing two continents over an epic journey of 30 000 miles; the road begins in Alaska, covers the North American continent and only breaks for 160 km of rainforest between Panama City and Turbo, Colombia.
Known as the Darien Gap, this makes it impossible to cross directly between central and South America. But follow the tarred line as it hugs the western coastline and runs its way south to the continent’s tip, splitting in two and then ending in Quellón, Chile and Ushuaia, Argentina, and you’ll experience one of the greatest adventures of your lifetime.
Route 40, Argentina
Carving a path southwards over some 3 000 miles from Argentina’s northern La Quiaca, following the edge of the Andes mountain range, Ruta 40 winds through a variety of breath-taking scenery before ending in Cabo Virgenes in Santa Cruz province. Landscapes melt from arid desert into neat rows of vineyards, vast steppe and finally into broad expanses of Patagonian wilderness. While this road trip is not an easy one, and you should be prepared for all eventualities, it’s a magnificent way to experience the beauty that this country offers in its people and its landscapes. Be sure to stop in the winelands for a pairing of Argentina’s most famous offerings – Malbec and beef steak.
Carretera Austral, Chile
Officially named Route 7, Chile’s Carretera Austral begins from an offshoot of the great Pan-American Highway. This stretch of road offers a nostalgic view over 745 miles of coastline from the country’s north to south; hugging the coastline in the green pocket that runs between the country’s two natural borders – the Andes mountain range and the Pacific Ocean. Snaking through far-flung southern villages once cut off from the rest of the country, the gravel road takes you from rainforests to glaciers, past volcanoes, fjords and rivers.
The longest road through the Amazonian region, the Trans-Amazonian Highway opened this area to the rest of Brazil. Although it follows the mighty river for some time, unfortunately, the road doesn’t pass any virgin rainforest anymore. Rather it takes those who drive its over 2 400-mile length through rolling countryside, quaint colonial towns and past local vaqueiro as they drive their herds of cattle, some up to 1 000 heads strong, from different fazendas to the slaughterhouse. For a day spent in nature enjoying world-class art, visit billionaire Bernardo Paz’s Inhotim contemporary arts park; wander the expansive grounds and draw inspiration from the amazing creations homed here.