Crossing the Andes, Which Way?

I’ve been in Lima just over a week now. I planned to stay for awhile so I could have some time and really dig in and get some work done. I’ve been working on my blogging workflow, I’ve hired a graphic designer to help spruce up the site and the videos, and I’ve spent a lot of time continuing my preparations for Africa. But most importantly – I’m trying to figure out how to get over the Andes.

Traveling through the Americas is very simple. My US Passport allows me to show up at almost any border without having to obtain a visa in advance, it’s very easy to get permits for the bike, and I understand enough Spanish to manage daily activities. None of this is the case in Africa. I’m required to have a CPD carnet, obtain visas, crate and ship the bike, and plan my routes. The process is a bit cumbersome so I’ve started to outline my steps on a page dedicated to the process.

The Original Route to Buenos Aires

My plan has always been to ride the Pan-American highway all the way down to Santiago, Chile and then cross the Andes at the Paso Internacional Los Libertadores. It’s a beautiful mountain pass that takes you from Santiago, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina. I crossed this pass in 2015 on my return from Patagonia and have always wanted to see it again. The views are spectacular and there are some terrific places to camp.

The view from my bus window when crossing the pass in January 2015.
The view from my bus window when crossing the pass in January 2015.

I really wanted to see this site again and so I’d planned to take the following route south from Cusco.

Oh Yeah: Snow.

Switchbacks on the Chilean road up to Tunel del Cristo Redentor in winter. Image Credit: Karora used by permission (Image in Public Domain)
Switchbacks on the Chilean road up to Tunel del Cristo Redentor in winter.
Image Credit: Karora used by permission (Image in Public Domain)

I mentioned my route to a few friends here in Lima and they told me I was insane to try to cross the pass in August. “It’s covered in snow, most cars need chains to get over the pass.” Oh yeah, snow. I’d forgotten something so basic, I’m now in the southern hemisphere and I’d last crossed in January – summer. I may need to find another route.

Option Two: Northern Chile to Salta

The roads a few hours north of Salta, Argentina. Photo Credit: Mark Wallace 2014
The roads a few hours north of Salta, Argentina. Photo Credit: Mark Wallace 2014

If at all possible I’d like to bypass Bolivia, not because I don’t like Bolivia, but it’s one of the South American countries that requires a lot more paperwork to cross. Bolivia requires a “Visa on arrival” with a hefty $160 USD fee. I have no idea what it will cost to get a temporary import permit for the bike. Bolivia is also a country where the roads are a lot more “off-road” than “road”. I’m not sure how I feel about riding that route alone at this point.

I spoke with Ivan over at Touratech, Peru and he suggested I take one of the northern passes in Chile. It’s well traveled. But, as he put it, it might still be covered in snow. No matter which way you slice it – the Andes are tall.

Option Three: Bolivia

La Paz
La Paz Bolivia. Photo Credit: Mark Wallace 2014

The more I think about it the more I think Bolivia might be the way to go. I really enjoyed my time there in 2014, it’s a bit warmer, and the views are spectacular. The photo of the boats at the top of the page are from a little village a few hours north of Rurrenabaque, Bolivia from a visit I made to the Amazon in 2014. Those are the views I’d love to see again.

I’d also be able to get a bit more off-road experience. I think it would make for better video segments. It’s a more difficult route, but that’s the kind of thing I like.

Which Way Should I Go?

I’m asking, what do you think? I have to be in Buenos Aires no later than September 1st. I have a hard deadline; I’m meeting a good friend there and I’ve already started to make arrangements to cross the ocean and get to South Africa. I plan to leave Cusco around July 12. That gives me roughly 7 weeks to make the journey. I’ll need time to write, shoot and edit videos, and get work done. That usually means three days a week of non-travel time.

So what do you think? Which option interests you most? Leave a comment and let me know.

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  1. So, given that your personal safety is always paramount, especially on remote mountain roads in winter, and as there are no trains from Santiago to BA, it seems as though Bolivia is the best option. We want to see the rest of your journey too LOL

  2. Definitely the Bolivia route Mark. Seems the obvious choice. But do you need to cut into Bolivia so far north? Is there a way of leveraging the better Chilean roads and cutting across farther south?

  3. Perhaps you should try to cross the Andes in Osorno (Chile)-Villa La Angostura ( Argentina). It is amazing!!!!
    Then you can go to Bariloche ( 100 Km) and from there to Bs As.
    But if you try not to do so many Kms, and you prefer go by Salta, then be careful. I Know people who has gone on vacation to Salta and decided stay there for ever and ever!!!

  4. Safety is the highest priority so if Bolivia is best in terms of safe roads, then that’s my vote. Don’t even consider a route that could potentially be covered in snow.

  5. I have done your first option in early November, we were delayed two hours in the mountains due to snow.

    I would suggest your third option but go further west to see the Iguazu falls, then go south to Buenos Aires. Yes you will need to pay for the visa at the border in Bolivia but when will you ever return? One note, you will need to pay a similar reciprocity fee when entering Argentina.

    1. That’s the route I took in 2014, but I was in a bus. I’m leaning toward Bolivia, the rain forest, and also Paraguay. It would be nice to see Iguazu again as well.

  6. I live in lima and at January I did buenos aires to lima though Mendoza and atacama desert rout. If I can’t help you at your decision I might say: you should considerate to do Lima – Cuzco though Ayacucho or did Huaraz First to reach Cusco. Is a beautiful ride and also you will see a it of amazing landscapes before reach Cusco. After Cusco you can make: Bolivia with a step at Arequipa trough the colca valley (chivay city) Arequipa city is a 150mil from chivay. So with it you can back to your rout again to Puno and la Paz. After la Paz you can do uyuni desert and cross back to chile to take route 5 straight to Santiago, Arica to atofagasta y suggest the coast rout, up at desert is only desert and you will see engouht desert until Santiago and make the paso caracol (paso Los Andes) between chile and Argentina to drop at Mendoza to buenos Aires is kind boring because is a 2 days straigh route and has no curves and the wind is strong over it because this place is flat but the landscape is pretty nice at same parts. I did this route over a 1983 Honda GL650 silver wing back this January it is was petty nice to travel but I did at clock. Same day I will back on the route and I hope to make it like you! Best regards and think about those tips for your adventure!!

  7. It seems like the consensus in these posts is leaning towards the Bolivia route: 1) because it seems to be the safest, and 2) you seem to want to see the places again that you visited previously on another trip through the area, more so than the other routes. I vote for the Bolivia route as well. I wish I could tell you about experiences I’ve had in the part of the world you’re in, but I’ve never visited any of these places. From the posts above, there seems to be some good advice as to which route or routes to take. You seem to be a very good planner, so I’m sure you’ll check them out and figure out which route meets your scenic and safety requirements. I’m enjoying your posts and am riding vicariously along with you. Looking forward to other posts and videos. Be safe.

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