Pan-Am Hwy Trek

For the ultimate road trip, set your GPS for Patagonia via the Pan-American Highway
By Stephanie Lim, December 2014, Updated January 2015

For those who cannot imagine a vacation without their canine companions, a road trip is the obvious way to go. And when it comes to roads, the Pan-American Highway is the mother of them all. Stretching 30,000 miles from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to the southernmost tip of Patagonia in Ushuaia, Argentina, it traverses almost every type of terrain imaginable, from deserts to rain forests and tropical beaches to snowy mountains. If you’ve exhausted local options and have time for a more far-reaching adventure, you may want to give it a whirl. Here are some tips on planning for and enjoying a road trip with your dog through Mexico, Central America and beyond.

Can I really take my dog all the way to Patagonia?

Yes! The Pan-American Highway is a well-traveled route, and you will be sure to meet countless people touring with their much larger, much smaller or even multiple dogs (not to mention cats and the occasional bird). Traveling with a dog has many advantages. We all know that dogs provide us with a great way to meet people, and they can keep homesickness at bay if you plan to be on the road for a while. Having a dog around can also contribute to your own and your vehicle’s security when you’re camping or in an unfamiliar place.

That said, you know your dog best. If she has health or behavioral issues, or gets carsick, you might want to find a friendly place for her to stay while you’re away.

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What kinds of dog-related supplies do I need to bring?

Any special medications your dog may need and proof of an up-to-date rabies vaccination are critical. Otherwise, people keep dogs as pets in all of the Americas, and you will be able to find dog food, accessories and common medications like flea and tick treatments almost everywhere you go. Although rabies is the only required vaccination, it’s a good idea to also have your dog inoculated against kennel cough and parvovirus —boosters can also be renewed along the way.

Is it difficult to cross international borders with a dog?

It depends. Experiences at border crossings vary by location and by the inspectors who happen to be working that day. It is always a good idea to be prepared: check each country’s entry requirements a few days before you plan to cross. Most countries ask that you obtain a health certificate for your dog three to 10 days in advance and make this certificate available for inspection at the border, along with vaccination information. Vets are plentiful and will produce this document for free or at very little cost, although many will insist that it is not needed—and in most instances, they’ll be right.

Chile has the most difficult pet-related border crossing requirements. A health certificate from the previous country’s agricultural inspection agency (such as Argentina’s SENASA) is required; to get this, you’ll need to make specific office and vet visits, both of which come with small fees. If heading all the way south to Ushuaia, the Chilean border must be crossed at least twice; if you plan to do it in a short period of time, special transit paperwork can be arranged— just ask at the corresponding agency.

What health concerns do I need to look out for in the Americas?

It’s always a good idea to drop in at a vet facility periodically to see what the local issues may be. Heartworm is not a problem in South America, but intestinal worms are. In some parts of Central America, dry spells can lead to a proliferation of ticks, which can transmit ehrlichiosis, fatal but treatable if identified early. Additionally, South America has a problem with screwworm, a fly-like boring insect that can infect animals through open wounds and orifices. Stay current with your dog’s flea and tick treatments, and be sure to groom them regularly for ticks; when in doubt, visit the nearest vet.

How dog-friendly is Latin America? Will I find places I cannot visit with my dog?

In general, it is much more dog-friendly than the U.S. That being said, dogs are not permitted in most national parks, historic sites and anywhere with protected wildlife. When visiting these areas, make arrangements ahead of time to leave your dog in a hotel or kennel for the day—or, on the fly, have a local shopkeeper watch your pet; a small tip is usually appreciated. Depending on the area, you can always ask park staff to make an exception, as sometimes more flexibility is granted to visiting foreigners with well-behaved dogs on leash.

In terms of lodging, smaller, family-run campsites, hotels and hostels are your best bets; it’s a good idea to call ahead if possible. Many places are not used to travelers with well behaved dogs, so a simple display of canine obedience is often enough to gain your dog entrance into a place that may otherwise prohibit them. Demonstrate that your dog can sit and lie down on command, and learn how to say in Spanish that your dog is housebroken, doesn’t bite or bark, and will sleep in his own bed—if you have one, show the innkeeper a dedicated dog blanket or even a travel kennel.

How about crossing the Darién Gap?

Right. Crossing from Panama to Colombia means negotiating this stretch of jungley, roadless swampland. While a simple car ferry has been planned for some time, it doesn’t exist yet; most overland travelers ship their vehicles as cargo, cross either by boat or air, and meet them on the other side. With a bit of research, you may be able to find a passenger boat willing to take you and your dog to Colombia, with stops in the San Blas Islands. However, if you decide to do this, be prepared for a 30-hour, open-sea crossing that can be quite rough. The other option is to fly. High temperatures ground dogs between July 15 and August 15, however, so plan accordingly.

What else can I do to prepare for a trip like this?

The best resources for up-to-date pet and travel information are other travelers. Always check in with those you meet on the road to see what their experiences have been, as rules and management change frequently.

Article first appeared in The Bark, Issue 79: Fall 2014

Photos by Stephanie Lim

Stephanie Lim, writer and photographer, spent 20 months in a VW camper van driving from San Francisco to Ushuaia with her partner and their rescue dog.