05 Feb The Route – Chile to Mexico
When I land in Punta Arenas near the southern tip of Chile, I’ll be approximately halfway through my trip, having completed the European, Asian, and Australian legs of the tour. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ll be able to obtain a visa for longer than I need in New Zealand so I can hang back and ensure I leave for South America when it’s there summertime, which starts around mid-November and runs generally to around the end of March.
The problem with planning this part of the trip is that the countries, like Argentina and Chile, are so vast and can experience all four seasons in any one day, so I’m bound to encounter bad weather. Ideally, what I want to avoid is any weather that will stop progress, like heavy snowfall or extremely low temperatures. Landing at the tip of Chile in Punta Arenas around the end of December, 2018 or, at the latest, the start of January, 2019 will mean I hit summer time and that gives me the best chance of making it the 2,000km+ across Patagonia.
I’ll get up to three months in Chile with the visa I will receive on arrival but, for the time being at least, I won’t be there very long. From Punta Arenas in Chile, I’ll make my way up to Torres del Paine near the border with Argentina and cross over at the Rio Don Guillermo border crossing around three weeks later in late January. For Argentina, I will get another three-month visa on arrival and I’ll spend at least two heading north up through Patagonia sticking to the east of the mountains. Once my visa time starts to expire, I’ll be looking at crossing back over the mountains and into Chile. There are a number of border crossings I can take, the most likely ones I can reach within the three month visa period is the crossing at the Cardenal Antonio Samore Pass (favourite option as it seems one of the very few crossings on tarmac roads) or, slightly farther on, there’s the Paso Mamuil Malal Pass but it seems the road is only part sealed and can close in heavy snowfall. Ideally, I’ll cross into Chile in late March 2019 and with luck, I will miss the worst of the weather in Patagonia.
With three months to explore Chile, I’ll head north again for around 3,000km until I get to San Pedro de Atacama around June, 2019 ready to cross into Bolivia. Here I can get a 30-day visa which can be extended by a further 30 days if needed. I plan to head to Uyuni to see the salt flats and then onto La Paz, the highest capital city in the world, before heading towards the Peruvian border at Desaguadero for the middle of July, 2019.
Once at Peruvian customs, I should be able to get a visa for up to six months on arrival, which gives me plenty of time to cover the 3,000km to the Ecuador border via the famous Machu Picchu ruins. I should reach the northern part of Peru around middle-to-late October, 2019, looking to cross the border at Huaquillas or Macara into Ecuador.
On arrival in Ecuador, I should be able to get a three-month visa although I might need to show evidence of onward travel again, although this doesn’t seem to be a certainty. It’s about 2,000km to the border with Columbia so I should arrive at the only safe border crossing in Tulcan around the middle of December, 2019.
Columbia is where things start to get a little tricky on this part of the route. According to the UK Government, they advise against all but essential travel to quite a number of areas; however, there does seem, at the moment at least, a safe route that zigzags its way around the no-go zones. With luck, these will still be open and I can make my way north towards Panama. Getting to Panama is also tricky as there are no land borders thanks to the area known as the Darien Gap, a mountainous jungle area popular with guerrillas and drug traffickers, with a tendency for kidnapping. In short, this area is a no-go. So my options are either to get to Cartagena in Northern Colombia and find a boat that will take me into Panama or fly out from Bogota, a decision I’ll make nearer the time. The boat is appealing just for the adventure but most are sailboats, no ferries, so getting my bike on board might be an issue and are more expensive than flying. Leaving from Bogota also has the downside of meaning it will take off over 1,000km from my time in Colombia.
Whatever method I choose to go with, I should make it to Panama by January 2020 where I can get a visa on arrival for up to six months – plenty of time to cross the country on my way to Costa Rica. It looks like I will need proof of onward travel before being granted my visa for Panama so I will look into cheap refundable flights or possible trains into Costa Rica before I enter Panama itself.
Panama isn’t that big. If I fly into Panama City, which is looking the most likely, it’s only around 500km to the border crossing of Frontera Costa Rica. I anticipate it taking me around two weeks to reach the border, meaning I’ll arrive ready for Costa Rica around the end of January, 2020.
Costa Rica will give me a tourist visa for up to three months but again requires proof of onward travel, something that I’ll worry about closer to the time. From the border, it’s about 700km to the border crossing into Nicaragua at Penas Blancas and I should arrive here around mid to late February, 2020.
Nicaragua grants me a three-month visa on arrival but again, I’ll need proof of onward travel. It’s also a country I’ll be spending very little time in as the border crossing at El Espino is only around 400km away. I’m planning to cross this border around mid March, 2020 and carry on into Honduras.
Once in Honduras, it’s a 500km ride to the border crossing of El Florido and I can get a 30-day day visa on arrival, so I should have plenty of time to make my way there. Honduras is currently rated as fairly dangerous to travel through so I will look closer to the time about exactly what the best route through will be. I should arrive on the Guatemala/Honduras border around ten days later, at the beginning of April, 2020.
Once I make the border with Guatemala, I should be able to get a visa on arrival for up to 90 days, plenty of time to make it to the border with Mexico only 500km away from where I plan to cross around the town of Malacatan at the Aduana El Carmen crossing, arriving around mid April.
From the border, it’s back to the land of vast countries as I make my way north up through Mexico. I won’t need a visa to enter, as I’m issued with a tourist card which is issued on my arrival. Mexico, as it stands, has very limited areas which the UK Government class as essential travel only but the situation can change quickly. I’ll be planning my way through the 3,500km ride to the USA border at Tijuana nearer the time when I have more up to date information but it’s likely I should arrive around three and half months after entering Mexico, sometime at the beginning of August, 2020.
Crossing the border into the USA marks the end of my South American leg and the start of the North American route. By this point, I’ll be three and half years into the trip if all goes to plan, with only two stages left: North America and the second ride through Europe on my way home to the UK.
Edited by – Emer Garry