The Best Road Trips in Central and South America

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Part 4 of the of the Series: Best Road Trips Around the World

Best Road Trips in Central and South America continues our series of worldwide road trip exploration. Each of these articles feature a sampling of world travelers and their overview of the best routes in their respective regions.

I’m thrilled to introduce some of these writers to you as you may not have seen them yet. But get used to them as they are some of the up-and-comers in the industry, as you will see by their travel writing chops.

Get ready to discover some of the best road trips in the Americas!

*We have included the Caribbean Islands in this region for geographic reasons.

Dominican Republic

by Chris from Punta Cana Travel Blog

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Photo credit: Chris from Punta Cana Travel Blog
***This site may contain affliate links. Certain links lead to products or services that pay me a small commission at no extra cost to you. These are hand selected and I never suggest a product that I wouldn't recommend to my mom. Especially since she is the only one reading my blog. Hi Mom!

 A road trip in the Dominican Republic combines the best of both worlds: enjoying the incomparable freedom of a road trip and marveling at the amazing Caribbean beaches. 

 The Dominican Republic is one of the biggest Caribbean countries and offers plenty of sights to discover during a road trip: colonial cities, roaring waterfalls, beautiful landscapes, untouched scenery, tropical rainforest, majestic mountains, and cute fishing villages. 

It doesn’t matter if you want to explore the endless coconut groves of the Samaná peninsula, the fantastic hikes in the Central Mountain range, the blue lagoons, and rivers along the North Coast or the pristine beaches along the south coast of the country, the Dominican Republic is one of the best countries for an unforgettable road trip.

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    If you are looking for a Dominican Republic road-trip itinerary starting from Punta Cana, you can head east to Santo Domingo exploring the colonial city before entering the Cordillera Central for hikes and waterfalls. Along the north coast you find plenty of beaches, rivers, and lagoons, and to end your road trip, beautiful Samaná is one of the best destinations.

     If you are starting your road trip in Santo Domingo and have a little bit more time, you can also add the Southwest of the country, which is one of the most unexplored regions of the Dominican Republic, offering fantastic animal-watching opportunities.

     For whatever option you decide, the Dominican Republic is one of the best countries in the world for a unique, diversified, and unforgettable road trip.

     –Chris

    Ecuador Road Trip 

    by Tegan + Alex from Why Not Walk Travel Guides

    Ecuador-Best-road-trips-in-south-america
    Photo credit: Tegan + Alex

    Ecuador is an epic country for a road trip, with plenty of options for all budgets and interests, many of which are conveniently located near Quito and all accessible by bus or day tour. 

    Starting your trip out in Quito, give yourself a day or two to adjust to the altitude to avoid getting sick, and take advantage of the city’s gorgeous urban architecture, museums, and cuisine. Don’t miss the views of the city from El Panecillo, and the amazingly preserved colonial city center, el Centro Histórico. 

    The next stop on your road trip can also be a day trip from Quito, Mitad Del Mundo (or Middle of the World.) Here, check out  “the tale of 2 equatorial lines,” i.e. where they thought the Equator was, and where it actually is, about 250 meters away. The monument, where you can take a photo with one foot on each side of the line, is regrettably the incorrect one, but it’s still a fantastic day trip and a must-see in the area.

     For the next two days, visit the Cotopaxi Volcano and the Quilotoa Crater Lake for some of the country’s best hiking and most breathtaking scenery. Cotopaxi National Park is home to its eponymous volcano, where you can hike up to a glacier near the top. The hike begins at a parking area 4600 meters above sea level, and first ascends to the Refugio at 4800 meters, culminating at the glacier at 5000 meters. This is a challenging height due to the altitude changes, so consider bringing coca leaves or Diamox, as well as lots of water. 

    Nearby Quilotoa is a caldera lake, which is a geologic formation resulting from a collapsed volcano. It is known for its other-worldly turquoise waters (which are not a PhotoShop edit!) and spectacular views. The hike here consists of trekking from the top to the bottom and back, which is very steep and rather challenging, or you can enjoy the views from the top. I

    f you’re seeking to spend a few more days here, consider the Quilotoa Traverse, a 3-day hike that completes a loop around the top of the lake. End your road trip in Baños, known as the “adventure capital of Ecuador.” Here, you can bike, hike, whitewater raft, zipline, cliff-dive, and beyond to your heart’s content in the shade of the Tungurahua Volcano. Be sure to rent bikes to do the epic Ruta de las Cascadas waterfall bike ride.

    Tegan + Alex 

    Panama – Panama City to Cerro Punta

    by Joseph Monroe from The Culture Portrait

    Boquete-Panama-Best-road-trips-in-central-and-south-america
    Photo credit: Joseph Monroe

    One of the best road trips you can take in Central America is definitely the one that is in Panama’s countryside. This road trip begins in Panama City, passes through the town of El Valle de Antón, then goes to the town of Boquete and ends in Cerro Punta in the Chiriquí province. The whole road trip takes about 7-8 hours and is around 600 km. 

    The sheer scenery is what makes this road trip attractive, which covers passing through the crater of a dead volcano, Panama’s mountainous coffee region, cloud forests, and volcano area. 

    This road trip begins by driving from Panama City to the town of El Valle de Antón, a countryside town that is nestled in the crater of the dead volcano. It should take you around 2-3 hours to get to El Valle. 

    When you’re driving, make sure to stop at Quesos Chela, which is the most popular stop for locals that drive through Panama’s countryside, and will be on the way to the town. Quesos Chela is a mini-shop that features empanadas created with fresh, locally-made cheeses, which are so delightful that Panama City locals never get tired of them and always want them.

    The town of El Valle has its attractions in its own right, but some international visitors on TripAdvisor have stated that the drive up to the town is the real main attraction, describing it as “spectacular”, and “a breathtaking view of the mountains at every turn.” Indeed, the scenery is great, and you’re driving to the crater of a dead volcano after all. 

    Once you finish the drive and arrive at El Valle, there are a variety of activities you can do there, such as hiking, horseback riding, and visiting the town’s waterfall. 

    Leaving El Valle, the next stop is Boquete, in the Chiriquí province, Panama’s mountainous coffee region. The drive from El Valle to Boquete is around 5 hours. The town of Boquete is probably the most popular tourist town in the country of Panama, possibly beating even Panama City. The reason for that is its interesting activities and stunning scenery, which is even more stunning than El Valle.

    Your arrival into Panama’s mountainous coffee region in Boquete will definitely be the jewel of your road trip. There, you can do coffee tours and taste the world’s most expensive coffee, the Geisha coffee, visit cute farms, do a thrilling zip-line, see the famous quetzals birds, hike in the amazing surrounding area, take a detour to Baru Volcano National Park and hike the 11,397 feet Volcán Barú, from which you can see both the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean at the same time on a clear day. 

    Next, your last stop is Cerro Punta, also a town in Panama’s beautiful Chiriquí province. It is around a 1 hour and 50-minute drive from Boquete, which you’ll enjoy as it will allow you to keep exploring the Chiriquí region. In Cerro Punta, you can visit an orchid farm, and go strawberry-picking. 

    Overall, any nature lover and scenery addict will love this road trip in Panama, which offers any traveler amazing views and unique activities. 

    Joseph

    Patagonia

    by James Ian from Travel Collecting

    Rheas-Patagonia-road-trip-best-road-trips-in-central-and-south-america
    Photo credit: James Ian

    A road trip around Patagonia is hard to beat!  The road trip starts in El Calafate, Argentina, where there is an airport with direct flights from Buenos Aires.  From El Calafate, it is a four-hour drive north to El Chalten.  

    The road goes right by the end of Lago Argentino, a bright turquoise-colored lake, with the peaks of the Patagonian Andes in the background.  There is a good chance you will see your first sighting of wild vicunas on the side of the road.  You may also see UFO-shaped clouds that often form in the wind-swirled Patagonian skies.

    El Chalten is the Hiking Capital of South America, and there are several epic hikes, including Mount Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre.  This is a land of glaciers, endless icefields, iceberg-filled alpine lakes, and jagged snow-covered mountains.  Spend a few days there at least.

    As you leave El Chalten, fill up on gas – gas stations are infrequent and sometimes run out, so fill up when you can. Head back south, along part of the road you already drove and continue down through Esperanza (another gas station) and cross the border into Argentina. 

     The eight-hour drive takes across the wind-swept plains of Patagonia, past isolated ranches and, in spring, bright red flowering shrubs.  You may spot more vicunas and rheas (small emu-like flightless birds).

    Head down to Puerto Natales and fill up on gas again before spending the next week or so driving slowly through Torres del Paine National park.  There plenty of places to stay throughout Torres del Paine, so breaking your trip with several overnight stops gives you easy access to all the highlights of this picture-postcard perfect Patagonia park.

    When you have had your fill of breathtaking scenery, continue through the north entrance of the park and head back up to El Calafate.  End your road trip by visiting Perito Moreno Glacier and taking a glaciers river cruise nearby.

    James

    Guatemala

    by Daniel James from Layer Culture

    Guatemala-lake-aitalan-anita-wing-lee-best-road-trips-in-central-and-south-america
    Photo credit: Daniel James

    When looking for exhilarating road trips to do there is no better place than Central America. The possibility of crossing all 7 country borders by land, makes heading to a culturally rich country such as Guatemala a breeze and guarantees an experience unlike no other. 

    When headed to Antigua, which is a popular backpacker hub in Central America, why not choose to do a road trip over to Lake Atitlanwhich is home to some of the most beautiful scenery in the whole country? 

    Think Cloud Forests, rare wildlife sightings, and breathtaking high mountain views. Cloud forests are known as some of the most biologically productive zones on planet earth and are a true highlight on this trip. 

    Whether traveling via car, a local chicken bus, or private shuttle, the best to see everything as a passenger is when sat at the right-hand window. Just have a camera at hand ready. 

    For those without a car there is one direct bus that leaves Antigua at 7 am each morning and the journey takes around 3-4 hours depending on traffic and complications on the road. However, when in the road-tripping mindset, complications on the road should only add to the experience on a trip like this with all the nature to see around.

    Daniel

    Wrap Up

    Well, if one of these doesn’t get you fired up for a road trip in Central and South America I don’t know what will!

    Seriously, we want to thank all of the contributors to this post for their descriptions and pictures. Be sure to check out their websites for more details and inspiration on pulling off your own adventure.

    If you want to know more about other road trips in this series, be sure to check the first 3 articles. Part 1 covers North America, Part 2 takes us to Europe, and Part 3 explores road trips in Oceania.

    Stay tuned for part 5 later this week.

    Want More Road Trips?

    You can check out some of our road trips as well. Like our guide to Yosemite that will get you ready for hiking, camping, and everything else you need for an epic outdoor road trip.

    Or our Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks guide. It is long, but it covers everything you need to plan the ultimate Utah road trip.

    Speaking of camping, if you like to wake up with a big cup of joe we got you covered. Check out the best ways to make coffee when camping.

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