Pan-american Highway: History, Characteristics, Route, Curiosities

The Pan American HighwayIt is a route that crosses a large part of the American continent. It is a road almost 50 thousand kilometers long that goes from Alaska to Argentina. Due to its length, it is considered the longest road in the world.

It is also a very particular route because it crosses a great variety of different landscapes. The Pan-American Highway connects deserts, mountains, jungles, and cities across the continent.

Pan-American Highway in Mexico.  Source: FanHabbo [CC BY-SA (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Although the Pan-American route is treated as a whole, the truth is that there is a section between Panama and Colombia where the road is interrupted. Along almost 90 kilometers the road disappears in order to respect areas classified as natural reserves and thus not put the biodiversity existing in the place at risk.

The construction of this route began during the 1920s at a conference in which several representatives of the countries of the American continent were present. Although the idea was to unite America with a road, and despite the fact that its name suggests otherwise, it is not a single road but a set of roads.

Depending on the area, the route may be wider or narrower. There are even parts that are not asphalted or that do not have the best possible conditions.


There are historians who claim that the first steps to make the road were taken during the Inca Empire, that is, during pre-Columbian times in America. At that time there is evidence of the existence of a road that connected Quito with Santiago de Chile and that was 15 thousand kilometers long.

The official origin of the Pan-American Highway dates back to the V International Conference of American States. This meeting took place between March 25 and May 3, 1923.

In the mid-1930s, the first part of the Pan-American Highway was inaugurated in a meeting between Mexico and the United States. By the 1940s, the part of the highway that is in Alaska was created. Three years before, World War II had started and that is why it is believed that the construction of the route responded to military needs more than anything else.


The first proposals on a land route that would serve to unite the entire continent of America occurred at the end of the 19th century. At first, several countries spoke of the construction of a train, since they could take advantage of some tracks that were already available.

Laws were even created to support this Pan-American route, which in the end was not carried out.


The Pan-American highway stretches for more than 40 thousand kilometers on the continent but, depending on the country, each section receives different names.

Between Panama and Colombia there is a sector known as the Darién Gap, where the route is interrupted. The existing ecosystem has been respected and no pathway has been built that could affect the different existing species, many of them protected.

El Tapon interrupts the highway for almost 90 kilometers. Over the years, some companies and Panama have avoided construction in these areas of the Darien Gap.

To overcome the Cap it is necessary to transport the vehicles in boats. Drivers can also continue their journey by sailing or by plane to Colombia (if they go to the south of the continent) or Panama if they go north. The price to send a car by boat and be able to get around the Cap increases according to the size of the vehicle.

The highest point of the Pan-American Highway is reached at Cerro Buena Vista. The land route exceeds three thousand meters in height in this part of Costa Rica.

The Pan-American Highway passes through 13 countries in the Americas in total. During the rainy seasons, some parts are not suitable for travel due to flooding. These problems can occur in the central part of the continent between June and November.

Snowfall can also be a major problem. Avoid traveling south between May and August and north between November and March.

This land route was included in the book Guinness record for its great length, being considered by the publication as the longest driving route in the world.

Route (countries)

For the United States, its network of interstate highways are part of the Pan-American route. This highway system is more than 70 thousand kilometers long by itself. The piece that connects the United States with Panama is known as the inter-American route.

To the south of the continent, the highway passes through the mountain ranges of three countries: Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador. You can travel along the coast, on the shores of the Pacific Ocean when you cross the territory of Peru. Further south, after passing through the most desert areas, you reach Chilean soil.

After passing through Chile, the Pan-American highway returns to the east of the continent. You arrive in Argentina after crossing the Andes area and you reach the coast that faces the Atlantic Ocean. From there, a road that also comes from the north emerges and connects with Uruguay and Brazil.

There are also ramifications that serve to reach Bolivia or Paraguay.

The Pan-American route runs through most of the capitals of South America. From Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Asunción, to Bogotá or Quito.

In Argentina, the Pan-American highway is diversified thanks to different routes of the country’s land system. You can get to Patagonia, to finish the tour in the Ushuaia area.


It has been calculated that the entire Pan-American route can be covered in months, although the most common is that the trip lasts at least a year if stops are made in different places. You can travel from Alaska to Argentina in three months if you drive for eight hours every day.

Dean Stott traveled the Pan-American Highway on a bicycle. It started in May 2018 and it took him 110 days to get to Alaska, after leaving Argentina. The Englishman became the person to make the journey in the least amount of time using this type of vehicle.

In 2003 the record was set for the shortest time to travel the route on a motorcycle. It was achieved by an English couple in 35 days. The shortest time in a car was achieved by professional driver Rainer Zietlow and his team in just 10 days and 19 hours of travel.


  1. Anesi, C. (1938). The Pan-American Highway . Buenos Aires: [Tall. Graph. of the General Fabril Financiera Company].
  2. Borgel Olivares, R. (1965). The North Pan-American Highway . Santiago: Institute of Geography, Faculty of Philosophy and Education, University of Chile.
  3. Godoy, J. (1992). Pan-American highway . Bern: AG Druck und Photo Reithalle.
  4. [The Committee “Pro-Defense of Antioquia”]. (1963). The Pan-American Highway . [Medellín].
  5. General Secretariat, Organization of American States. (1969). The Pan American Highway system . Washington, DC

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