Planning where and when you start will strongly influence your path and overall timeline. After all, you are chasing the seasons. While most US Citizens start from the front door, others may buy a bike or ship a bike in order to start in another city / country. Non-US citizens commonly ship into Alaska, Buenos Aries, or Santiago to start their journey.
Where to go
Crossing through several countries brings you the, fortunate, overwhelming ability to be able to see everything and everything. But how do you know where to go beyond the common tourist attractions without reading multiple books and opinions, such as mine, online. Well outside of those obvious areas I have found social media, namely Instagram, to be the best method of learning the small things a country has to offer. Straightforward, Instagram shows you a beautiful photo and, most of the time, the location it was taken at. Aggregate accounts are created to display the best of a country, region, or the continent itself. Find these (@discoversouthamerica @southamerica @chiletravel @earthofficial @highwaybrazil) and explore them for ideas. Additionally you can search hastags to see what a country has to offer. Finally, you can also find fellow traveler accounts for suggestions, like mine.
Another great source is exploring your planned path on iOverlander. Here you will find campsite locations, most with photos, and points of interests that might be on your path. While planning can lead to disappointment, it is always nice to know what is out there before you pass it.
Using Maps / GPS
Whether it is a paper map, GPS, or a smart phone, maps are available to get you where you need to go. I started my trip using paper maps but quickly changed to using GPS on my smartphone as the paper maps do nothing for you once you enter a city and the main road disappears into a metropolitan mess. To get around I use Google Maps and Maps.me. Both applications you can create an account and add bookmarks on the map of destinations you want to visit. They can both be downloaded for data-free use, which is critical, and do a fairly decent job at route planning. There is a difference between the two, so I like to switch back and forth.
Google Maps – It is a little difficult to download offline maps as you have to pinch and zoom, but it is possible. Primary use of this application is to get the best, real-time, route in major cities. Additionally you can set parameters to avoid tolls, highways, and ferries which will give you a planned route throughout the back roads. If you fail to download an area, and have no signal during the middle of your trip, the application will fail to reroute you and the path is lost. Time predictions are fairly accurate.
Maps.me – This application requires maps to be downloaded as there is no active internet connection. Downloading is simply done by zooming into an area you want to go to, or you can search the download database and download an entire country or region. This application uses open source mapping, which is more up-to-date than Google. While Google many annotate that there is a town on the road, Maps.me will actually have streets listed. When planning a route, Maps.me does not have options to change and simply routes the most direct method regardless of traffic. The time predictions have been extremely poor, in both too short or too long. Personally I use this map to find back roads to take from one city to another, without having it determine a route.
The Darien Gap
Logistically, and financially, this is the hardest portion of the trip. The Darien Gap is the portion between Panama and Colombia where there are no roads and its nearly impossible to drive through the jungle. Travelers are required to either sail, fly, or ship their vehicles. On average a motorcyclist is looking at a cost of ~$1500 and a few days waiting. I managed to do it all in 15 days that only cost a little over $700, though it wasn’t easy (click here to read more). There used to be a ferry service, though it has been discontinued since 2015. The following are the common options and how you can do it:
Sail boat – This is generally the path most motorcyclists choose from Colon, Panama to Cartagena, Colombia. For ~$1300 a rider and their bike sail along the coast visiting the San Blas islands for 3-4 days, food included. The Captain will help process all paperwork and guide you for leaving and entering the country. These trips book fast, so you will need to book at least a month or more in advance. Also, the sailing season itself is limited due to rough seas. The following are a few of the commonly used sailing services:
- Stahlratte – Limited sailing dates
- Blue Sailing (firstname.lastname@example.org) – only 1 boat cleared for motorcycles
- Mamallena (email@example.com) – only ‘Wildcard’ can hold a motorcycle
- Captain Jack’s (firstname.lastname@example.org) – only 1 boat cleared for motorcycles
Flying – A more costly method, however it is very flexible to your arrival date and is the most expeditious manner of crossing the gap. You can fly with your bike or fly it and sail. I do not have any experience with this method, though other riders have used the following:
Shipping Container – The slowest and, possibly, the most difficult method would be using a shipping container. The cost of this method varies as the container is charged as a flat rate and so one container is shared by multiple riders or cars to reduce cost. The best method for finding a shared container is to reach out on the Facebook group PanAmerican Travelers Association.
Shipping Home or Beyond
The most logical method is to go from north to south, or south to north, and ship the bike home or off into new adventure. I obviously am terrible a logic and failed to do this. I do wish I had planned a bit better as the shipping costs vs remaining on the road into random areas would have been along the same cost if not less. Nevertheless, shipping from South or North America is similar to the process of crossing the gap. Here are a few companies, that have services in key cities which are available to use:
- JCS Motorcycles – Worldwide shipping
- Moto Freight – Airline shipping to and from the UK
- Motorcycle Express – Air freight shipping only between US, Canada, and Europe
- Dakar Motors – Motorcycle shipping from Buenos Aries
- Freight Net – Ship to and from anywhere in the world, this site connects to multiple brokers.