The Alaska to Argentina bike ride is one of the world's great long distance bike touring routes. Here's my experiences after 18 months cycling the Pan-Am Highway.
Panamerican Highway Bike Tour
Back in July 2009, I began cycling from Alaska to Argentina along the Panamerican Highway.
This was a bicycle touring journey which would take me 18 months to complete, finishing in the February of 2011.
It was a cycling adventure which would cover two continents.
Climates ranged from frozen tundras to humid rain forests. Terrain varied from the salt pans near Uyuni to cactus strewn sands. Punctures would be balanced by acts of kindness, cracked rims by generosity.
It was a true journey in every sense of the word.
Biking from Alaska to Argentina
Although you may be reading these bike touring blogs about the Alaska to Argentina bike ride some years later, you might still find it helpful if you're planning on biking the Pan American Highway.
It includes my diary entries for each day of the PanAm Highway cycle tour, insights, as well as little snippets of travel information you might find useful.
This bike trip took me to some amazing places in central and south America. Even if you're not planning on cycling the entire route, you might still find the detailed information worth reading.
What is the Pan American Highway?
A Pan-American route was first conceived in 1923. The idea was that it would stretch from the very north to the very south. There is no official route as such, but generally speaking it follows the main roads and highways of each country north to south predominantly on the western side.
How long is the Pan American highway?
The Pan American highway distance from the top of Alaska to the bottom of Argentina is approximately 30,000kms or 18,600 miles. Note: The distance varies depending on the exact overland route taken.
Where does the Pan American Highway begin and end?
The northern point of the Pan-American highway route is Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. The southernmost point is Ushuaia in Argentina.
Cycling from Alaska to Argentina on the Trans American Highway
I kept a travel blog when I was cycling from Alaska to Argentina along the Panamerican Highway.
By posting every day, I hoped to document my bicycle tour in a way which would be useful for others.
It also acts as a nice little reminder to myself of of this incredible trip as to where I have been, and what I have done!
Below, I have summarised each month and included links which will take you straight there.
At the end of this post, these is a little section where I answer some FAQ sent in by email on biking from Alaska to Argentina.
Cycling the Panamerican Highway
Here's some quick links to the bike tour across the Americas country by country. Like many people, I decided to go north-south when bikepacking the Inter-American Highway.
- Cycling North America
- Bike touring in Alaska
- Bike touring in Canada
- Biking The Pacific Coast Highway (USA)
- Bike touring in Mexico
- Bicycle touring in Guatemala
- Bike touring in El Salvador
- Bike touring in Honduras
- Bicycle touring in Nicaragua
- Bike touring in Costa Rica
- Bike Touring in Panama
- Bicycle touring in Colombia
- Bike touring in Ecuador
- Bike touring in Peru
- Bicycle touring in Bolivia
- Bike touring in Argentina
And now a more linear breakdown of the bike tour with more in-depth descriptions.
Cycling in Alaska
This was the start point of my cycling from Alaska to Argentina bike ride, and also the start of the Pan-American Highway.
The first section from Deadhorse back to Fairbanks is known as the Dalton Highway or Haul Road, and is a notoriously difficult section. I also cycled part of the Alaska Highway, and the odd gravel road or two!
For in-depth information and my day to day bike touring blogs, click the link below.
Cycling in Canada
After resting up in Fairbanks for a few days in order to give my knee a chance to recover, I hit the road once more.
There were some cold, wet days ahead before I crossed into Canada. Then there were some more, cold, wet days!
Along the way I met some other people cycling the Pan-American Highway, some going the whole way, and others doing sections of it.
Cycling in the USA
September 2009 – I carried on cycling the Trans American Highway through Canada, where I stayed with some wonderfully hospitable people.
I found a couple of days work on an organic farm sorting out potatoes. Towards the end of the month, I crossed over into the USA, and then started cycling through Washington State and into Oregon.
October 2009 – The Golden Gate Bridge, 5 dollar campsites, 2 dollar wine, and plenty of friendly cyclists all made this month of cycling from Alaska to Argentina a pleasure.
Special mention to Anne of Guadelupe who was a great Warmshowers host. We kept in touch, and we met up a few years later on a sailing trip.
November 2009 – I carried on cycling along the Pan-American Highway through the USA, and then crossed into Mexico. I took the Baja route, which meant plenty of dust, sand and cactus, and ended the month in Mulege with Bill, another Warmshowers and Couchsurfing host.
December 2009 – After taking two weeks off in Mulege where stayed at Bill’s place and worked on my websites, it was time to carry on my journey of cycling from Alaska to Argentina.
I had a few days in Mazatlan where I then caught a ferry over to the mainland of Mexico, and carried on down it’s west coast.
January 2010 – After an extended stay in San Blas, Mexico over Christmas and the New Year where I was also recovering from flu, the journey continued ever southwards.
I had ongoing problems changing gear on the bike due to a mechanical fault, and stayed in a mix of campsites, hotels and even brothels (yes, really).
February 2010 – There were some hot days involved in cycling through Mexico along the Trans American Highway, so it was always nice to have a cold coconut or two along the way!
Heading away from the coast, I stayed in San Cristobal de las Casas for a while, and then cycled to the Mayan ruins of Palenque where I met Oliver along the way.
Cycling in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras
March 2010 – Leaving Mexico behind, I cycled with Oliver for a few days into Guatemala where we visited Tikal.
Parting company, I then did a border crossing or two as I rode through El Salvador and into Honduras in this central American stage of my trip. Corrupt officials? – I didn’t see a single one!
Cycling in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama
April 2010 – Central America is quite a compact region, and during this month I managed to cycle through Honduras and carried on through Nicaragua, Costa Rica and into Panama. No, I did not buy a Panama hat!
It was not possible to cycle through the infamous Darién Gap when I was there. Instead, I would spend a few days in Panama City and then leap on a sailing boat for Colombia!
Cycling in Colombia
May 2010 – After sailing from Panama to Colombia, I cycled through this amazing country which I wish I had spent more time in. The people were incredibly friendly and welcoming, and I would go back there in an instant!
June 2010 – After cycling through Colombia, it was on to Ecuador. Think hills, mountains, big plates of food, irritating heel snapping dogs, and stunning scenery.
July 2010 – Ecuador gave a taste of things to come when I crossed the border into Peru. I have to say, that Peru is one of my favourite countries for bicycle touring.
Views and vistas defy imagination, there is a sense of true freedom and remoteness and the landscape is dotted with the ruins of lost civilisations. The cycling itself is tough but hugely rewarding. Again, I would go back to Peru in a heartbeat.
August 2010 – Day after day, Peru never failed to impress me. Of all the countries I passed through when cycling from Alaska to Argentina on the Trans American Highway, this was by far the best.
Rough roads and tough climbs were rewarded by great views and huge plates of food. When wild camping I saw some amazing sunsets. Have a look at some Travel Tips on Cycling in Peru.
September 2010 – I teamed up with Spanish cyclist Augusti for a while when I was cycling in Peru, and we shared many memorable experiences. Leaving Peru behind, it was on to Bolivia, which gives Peru a close run for its money in terms of being a favourite country to cycle through.
October 2010 – My money had started to quite drastically run out at this point, and I took several extended stays in places in order to do a little freelance writing work. I also met President Evo Morales (well, he walked by whilst his bodyguards kept a close eye on me!)
I also cycled across a salt pan – Check the YouTube video!
November 2010 – Not a lot happened in November in terms of cycling from Alaska to Argentina, as I took some weeks off in Tupiza in order to do some writing and improve my bank balance. I won’t leave it so late next time!
December 2010 – I finally left Bolivia, and cycled into Argentina. It was at the stage I realised that it was unlikely that I would reach my final goal of Tierra del Fuego as I was completely broke. Still, I had a good time In Salta for Christmas and the New Year!
January 2011 – After finishing off some freelance writing work, I began my cycle ride through Argentina. Wild camping along the way, I realised that I had to end my trip the following month. As an incentive, I had a job waiting for me back in the UK though.
February 2011 – My trip of cycling from Alaska to Argentina ended in Mendoza with a mix of feelings. I never made my goal of the Tierra del Fuego some 3000 more kilometres away, but I took away with me experiences and memories I will never forget.
Cycling the Pan American Highway
While I never made my goal of the Tierra del Fuego, I took away with me experiences and memories I will never forget. This is one journey that has shaped who I am today as a person, an adventurer, and someone who loves to travel. It's not always possible for everyone to have this opportunity in life so when it does come knocking on your door you should grab it with both hands!
I receive quite a few emails each week asking for advice on the Alaska to Argentina bike ride. As the most recent email had some great questions, I decided to create some useful information on cycling the Pan-American Highway.
Alaska to Argentina Bike Ride FAQ
Although it is some years ago since I cycled from Alaska to Argentina, I still receive emails from people seeking bicycle touring tips. I'm always happy to answer each one, hoping my experiences will help other people.
On this occasion, I thought I would take it a step further. Ben Stiller (no, not that one), who has recently cycled from Akron to Miami, had some great questions. I thought I would use the opportunity to write some useful information on cycling the Pan-American highway.
What was the average amount of money you spent each day?
I was on a pretty tight budget for this trip. Although I didn't keep an accurate account when on the Alaska to Argentina bike ride itself, I believe I spent $13 a day. My basic costs were on food and accommodation.
In North America, I mainly camped and also stayed at Warmshowers hosts especially when cycling the Pacific Coast Route. As I hit Central America, rooms in ‘hotels' became a lot cheaper (less than $10 per night. Half that in a lot of cases).
The amount also included repairs I had to make on the road. It did not include the cost of my flight back home. I have since written this article – How to cut costs on a bicycle tour.
What kind of bike did you use? Or was it multiple bikes?
I used one bike during the Alaska to Argentina bike ride. It was a Dawes Sardar which was the best I could afford at the time.
It had the basics that I need in an expedition bicycle, which are a steel frame and 26 inch wheels.
There are lots of touring bikes out on the market at the moment. I recently reviewed a great handmade British bike – The Stanforth Kibo+. There is a huge market for expedition bicycles in Europe. If you are in the USA, you might find that your options are limited to Surly.
How was the cell service out of the country? Is there any at all?
I couldn't tell you, as I didn't take a cell phone on this cycle trip! I am led to believe that there is good coverage all over Central and South America. You might even find that mobile data is cheaper in those countries than in North America.
My advice here, would be to buy a SIM card in each country you go through. You can also get global SIM cards through Amazon. They are convenient, but I am not sure that they offer great value.
How did you get past the Darien Gap?
It is not possible to ‘cycle through' the Darien Gap from Panama to Colombia. There are many other options available to get from one country to the other though. All of these options include a boat at some point.
Hundreds of travellers make the journey every year without any problems. In fact, one of the routes has become a ‘must do' in Central America.
This takes you from the Panama coast to the San Blas islands, where you spend some time enjoying the islands. The boat will then take you on to Cartagena in Colombia.
There are many boats and Captains making the trip, some offer a better experience than others.
I used the Sailing Koala boat. I believe the Captain has since bought a new vessel, but uses the same name. You can read about my experience here – Sailing from Panama to Colombia on the Sailing Koala.
What were any of the major differences when in Canada versus West Coast America versus South America in regard to the society or the people?
There were obvious differences in culture and attitude between people, which is a great thing. If we were all the same, the world would be a pretty boring place!
It's really difficult to describe in just a short paragraph though, and I don't want to generalise. Suffice to say, that 99.999% of people I interacted with were friendly, curious, and helpful to the crazy guy on the bike!
This photo is of me having a beer with the locals in Pallasca, Peru. Tradition dictates that people share the same glass, and pass it around. You can read more about that here – Cycling from Mollepata to Pallasca.
Were you ever in life-threatening danger?
This is actually quite an interesting question. It is a lot deeper than it first appears.
It really depends on a persons attitude to life in general. For example, a couple of times huge lorries came very close to me when cycling. Is that potentially life-threatening or not?
I once camped close to a family of bears on the Alaska to Argentina bike ride. Was that life threatening or not? I can honestly say that I have never felt that ‘Wow, that was the moment I thought I was going to die'. I prefer to think of it as some situations make you feel more alive than others!
Physically how taxing was the whole endeavour as the months passed?
The most inevitable thing that happens on a long term bicycle tour such as the Alaska to Argentina bike ride, is weight loss. It becomes very difficult, and also a little boring, to be taking in 4000-6000 calories a day.
During my recent 3 month bicycle tour from Greece to England, I dropped from 85kgs to 81kgs. This might not sound much, but believe me, I was eating ridiculous amounts every day!
My advice here, is to not be afraid to take time off the bike. Take a few days here and there away from the bike and not riding.
Plan on spending a week out every 4 months just chilling. Your body will appreciate it, and you will get to enjoy some of the countries you are cycling through at the same time.
Were you ever robbed, mugged, shot at while crossing through South America?
In all my travels, I have never been robbed or mugged. I have heard of other people bicycle touring that have had things stolen though. (Having things stolen is different than being robbed).
In fact I was more concerned about these things happening to me in the USA than in Central or South America. There are some areas in countries which should be avoided. One notorious stretch is in Peru. Read more about that here – Tips for bicycle touring in Peru.
What's the best strategy for crossing deserts?
I have cycled across a number of deserts on my travels. The toughest one was when cycling in Sudan. In terms of planning, the most important thing to consider, is how much water you will need.
Then you have other considerations, such as navigation and how much weight do you want on your bike. The longest I had to plan for on the Alaska to Argentina bike ride, was 2 days cycling across the salt pans in Bolivia.
Why did you not go the entire way to the end?
That's easy – I ran out of money before completing the Alaska to Patagonia bicycle trip!
Actually, I probably could have continued right until the end by borrowing some more. However, I was offered a well-paid job back in England, and it was an opportunity I couldn't turn down. I realised that it would help fund the next trips a lot more comfortably.
At the time, I was gutted about not finishing the Alaska to Argentina bike ride completely. Now though, I realise it was just another section of my tour through life.
By taking the job, I was able to put a more long-term plan in place. This has resulted in a number of opportunities which wouldn't have other wise occurred. These include sailing from Malta to Sicily, cycling from Greece to England, moving to Greece. and earning a full time living through this site!
If you have any questions about what it's like to bike from Alaska to Argentina or other cycling tours feel free to drop a comment below, and I'll do my best to answer!
One of the reasons I have been blogging since 2005, is to share my bike touring experiences so they might help other people planning similar trips. I also answer a dozen or so emails a week. Here's some of the questions I answered recently on cycling the Pan-American Highway.
Questions answered on cycling the Pan-American Highway
James recently contacted me through my Facebook page about a trip he is planning next year to cycle the Pan-American Highway. Some of my answers turned a bit lengthy, so I decided to make it a blog post!
Question – How much did you spend on supplies to begin the trip?
Answer- For the bike and the gear, I paid out about the equivalent of $1200. (Some small items of gear I already had, some I bought new).
This didn't get me the best bike, or the best tent – two key elements!
In fact during the trip, I used a total of three different tents due to mishaps.
Key takeaway point – Spending more on a good quality item upfront and looking after it, is cheaper than cutting costs at the beginning and having to spend more in the long run.
What gear do I use now? Check out this video on bike touring gear:
As for the bike – It wasn't ideal but it did the job. I chose a bike that at the time I could easily source parts for, particularly new rims and tyres as needed.
When I did the trip, this meant a 26 inch wheel bike was the best solution. I'm not sure how things have changed in the mean time, and I know that 700c wheels have become standard for MTB in developed countries, BUT, your bike is probably not going to need any serious maintenance until you get to central and South America.
I'd research availability of parts in those countries, and use that information when it comes to choosing a wheel size for the bike.
Bike touring is less about efficiency and having the absolute latest gear, but more about having a reliable bike that when it does need repairing, you can easily source parts for, regardless of their quality.
Question – How much did you have going when you embarked?
Answer – Total cost for the trip – Difficult to define, as I spent more than my own money, and came back in debt haha! I believe that the total cost for me would have been around $7000 – $8000 including bike and flights.
I recently completed a cycle tour across Europe for 2.5 months. During this time I spent 50% of the time in cheap hotel/guestroom accommodation as I wasn't on a budget.
My average expenditure per month on the road (no additional transport or gear costs), was $900.
How much does it cost to cycle around the world? I believe realistically, your living costs during the cycle trip could quite comfortably be in the $500-$700 per month range, allowing for a mix of wild camping and cheapy hotels from Mexico onward.
You should definitely look into Warmshowers – A hospitality network specifically for cyclists. Lots of great cyclists to meet in other countries who will host you for a night or two!
Question – Sponsorship for bike touring?
Answer – This trip was entirely funded by me, although I did pick up some odd work along the way, and borrowed some money at the end.
You have plenty of time to gain sponsorship (which I suggest you try), but consider what can you offer them? Have you got a great story to share, are you going to film and put videos on YouTube, how is a company giving you some gear going to benefit from the association? Brainstorm on this, but don't be shy in asking companies. Everyone has a marketing budget!!
Question – How far do you cycle in a day?
Answer – The actual cycling, I would say I average between 50 and 65 miles per day depending on terrain. This is quite a comfortable distance to manage. You'll find your own rhythm on this one, but if you do your initial route planning in blocks of 50 miles, I don't think you will go far wrong!
Do you have any questions about bike touring you would like answered? Please leave a comment below or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I might even do a YouTube live stream if there is enough interest!
You might also be interested in these other bike touring blog posts:
- Best Budget Bike Trainer
- Bike Touring Gear
- Best Pedals for Bike Touring
- Touring Panniers vs Bicycle Touring Trailer
- The Best Panniers for Bike Touring
- Choosing the best handlebar bag for touring
- Bike Touring Tool
- Best saddles for bike touring
- Is the Brooks Cambium C17 good for bike touring?
- Brooks B17 saddle
- Bicycle Touring South America
- Cycling North America