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International Road Trip San Francisco, California to Patagonia, Argentina. What car should I buy?!

I figured a lot of mechanics would be familiar with the VW Bus, but I don’t know if it can handle the roads down there. I love the idea of doing it in a VW bus, though.

I forgot to mention that my german shep dog, Bruno, is probably coming along for the long strange trip.

Why a VW bus? They are slow, poor to dangerous handling, and just about the most deadly vehicle in an accident there is. Do you have one or lots of experience with old VWs?

I imagine you checked, but just take a look at this to help plan your trip:

None of what you request is going to help if the rebels/drug cartel kidnap you and hold you for ransom. Therefore I suggest this for your journey.


thank you, government warnings like this have been in place for a long time, but really they’re meaningless. I lived in Tijuana for 20 years before moving to San Francisco, and traveled through Mexico extensively without any problems.

lol, nice one. Might need a gas tanker to follow me around too haha.

I just really like the VW bus, but for those reasons it’s basically off the list now.
I used to own a ford Econoline in high school, fun and roomy, but terrible on gas.

Also, fear should never be a reason for not doing something.

'Course, you can’t really sleep in it.

I’ve been in South America a few times for work…

Don’t get anything bigger then a Mid-size truck. I suggest an SUV like the Pathfinder or 4runner. You don’t see a lot of large vehicles down there and thus many roads are not made for them.

Going through Columbia…if you can ship your vehicle around Columbia…The cities are safe…but outside the cities you may need armed escort. Kidnapping of foreigners is very common in Columbia. I had to travel ONCE outside of Bogota…and my company provided armed escort for us…Some 10 years ago some bicyclist rode his bicycle through every country in the world…the ONLY country he couldn’t ride through was Columbia…they couldn’t guarantee his safety…He was able to safely ride through Iran, Iraq, Russia, China…but NOT Columbia.

Also be aware that many places in South America still sell LEADED gas. You may want to set something up so you can easily remove the catalytic converter and clamp a pipe in place if all you can get is leaded gas…then put the cat back on when you can run with unleaded or when you get back in the states. Leaded gas will KILL a cat in very short order.

Nissan and Toyota are very popular vehicles in South America. You’ll see far more newer Nissan’s and Toyota’s then GM or Ford vehicles.

VW Bus - Maybe the old one with the air-cooled engine. But you won’t find any new VW’s in South America.
Ford Econoline - Not bad idea…But if you break down you’ll have a very very difficult time finding parts.
Motorcycle - NO WAY NO HOW…Most of the roads outside the cities are dirt/mud roads. You’ll be stranded the minute you leave the cities.

Once suggestion was an 86-97 Pathfinder…I’d say 86-95 Pathfinder. In 96 - the Pathfinder was a unibody. For that part of the world I’d prefer to have a body-on-frame.

No matter what you drive it had better be reliable…Make sure it’s in good working condition BEFORE you do the trip.

When did you move? Before or after the mass graves with hundreds of innocent murdered people started showing up? Sorry, but things have changed in the last 5 years. Don’t ignore it.

“thank you, government warnings like this have been in place for a long time, but really they’re meaningless.”

My wife’s cousin is a long-time resident of Guatemala. He has been kidnapped once on the road, even though he takes extreme precautions. If you come anywhere near a drug plantation, it is not unlikely the owners will discover you. This might happen while you are sleeping on the side of the road. You may not know what is on the other side of a hundred meters of forest, but they can’t take chances. Or your truck may be too tempting to steal, and then those criminals will have to deal with you. If you understand that and it doesn’t bother you, then good luck and have fun.

Have you EVER traveled in the third world?? Slept outside in the Tropics?

Two stary eyed American college kids…As a ransom object, you two represent a $250,000 ransom request…Daddy will pay, right? They know that…If Daddy won’t pay, guess what happens to you…You speak excellent Spanish I hope. An absolute necessity for the kind of adventure you are planning…Your biggest expense will be vehicle costs and gasoline…Lots of very expensive gasoline…FORGET travelers checks, they are useless. You will need CASH or several ATM cards. Always have plan 2 sketched out. This could be a once in a lifetime adventure but it will take careful planning and lots of money to insure reasonable safety and comfort and avoid heartbreaking disappointment…

What kind of vehicle?? There is only one. A 4-cylinder stick-shift 4WD Toyota P/U. with a decent, secure, shell-camper. If you don’t start your journey with one, you will certainly end it with one, that or The Bus…(not a VW Bus, a public transportation bus)…Forget Bruno, not a tropical dog…He represents another ream of paperwork at every border…

Fear? No. Self preservation, maybe?

It’s one thing to do something that can cause you fear, and be exhilarating and exciting at the same time. Bungee-jumping, sky diving or riding a dirt bike fast for the first time are good examples.

It’s something completely different to wander unprepared into situations that can get you captured, or at the extreme killed.

Not to be too dramatic, but you need to be very cautious.

Be careful, keep your head down, and enjoy the scenery.

One more small detail that no one has mentioned, don’t know if its a big deal with you or not. You didn’t mention your time schedule. You only said you plan on leaving in the spring, If you intend to arrive in Patagonia within 3-4 months, you will be arriving at the beginning of their winter. Now add snow and ice to bad roads.


What is your plan for the Darien Gap?

There is a reason why you see the Toyota Hi-Lux pickup all over the world pulling heavy duty, too bad we don’t get them here.

I know of many people who have done this trip via motorcycle and lived to tell the tale, sure there are likely to be mechanical issues and border crossings will take longer than you expect but that’s all part of the adventure.

Gas in Mexico usually has the price set by the government from my experience and is probably cheaper now than what we’re paying in the US, I have no idea further south.

I have a friend right now who is riding around the world on his motorcycle and will be coming up through South America in the next few months, hopefully I’ll be able to meet up with him and ride the last bit with him.

Although it’s getting older I recommend the book “Lois on the Loose” before you set out. It’s a story of Lois Price (from the UK) who rode a 225cc(?) motorcycle from Canada to Patagonia and gives a good example of what some people go through.

Good Luck!

I have been lucky enough to have been in several third world countries, in fact I spent 20 years living in Tijuana, Mexico. I have slept in the tropics, too. Cash, always; I’ve never used traveler’s check.

I figured the dog would be a pain to bring across borders but he’s my best friend and has always kept me safe.
Even though I am too familiar with kidnappings and ransoms I am still very afraid of Colombian and Venezuelan “rebels”. I plan on having Mexican license plates and a Mexican driver’s license. However, I know that’s not a great deterrent, but it’s better than sticking our guero heads out of the windows and singing the star spangled haha.

I purposefully don’t have a time schedule for the trip, but I’m estimating six months to a year and a half. Peru, Ecuador, or Brazil for the winter would be nice, haha something close to the equator.

So for the Darien Gap, I would have to ship my car around it ($3k) or find and convince a ferryman to let me and the car ride through.

Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll look into it. Doing it on motorcycle would be great but as a photographer, I have a lot of camera equipment and at some point I’m going to lay the bike down or crash and my equipment has to be safe.