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The Buses and Vans of the Pan-American Highway

Jim Yu April 24, 2013 Cars You Should Know 17 Comments


Last week, I gave you an overview of my 12,000-plus mile odyssey on the Pan-American Highway. This week, I am going to show you what I took along the way. I will start from the north and work my way south. I don’t pretend to be an expert on buses and commercial vehicles, so please chime in with any trivia that you may hold in your collective noggins.

Ford E350: Fairbanks, Alaska, to the Arctic Circle along the Dalton Highway. This van was bone stock, except for the Hella driving lights, satellite phone, and tires.


Chevrolet Express 3500: Whitehorse, Yukon, to Fairbanks, Alaska, along the Alaska Highway. This was one of the most peaceful, scenic, and memorable legs. For most of the trip, it was just me, the driver, and his daughter. We talked about Burma a lot and we stopped often to take pictures of wildlife, e.g. foxes, beavers. We picked up a veteran from Fort Yukon who was on his semi-annual trip to civilization. He tried to convert me and offered me home-made, and -caught, salmon jerky. See the lede photo for what the van and scenery looked like.

MCI buses: Oakland, California, to Whitehorse, Yukon: These Greyhound buses were the most uncomfortable buses of the lot. In northern British Columbia and the Yukon, the buses also act as couriers. Hence the trailers. The outpost pictured served the most amazing beef barley soup.


Scania buses: Tapachula, Mexico, to Panama City, Panama: Scania, Busscar, and Marcopolo are the most popular brands of buses in Latin America.


Marcopolo double decker bus: Lima, Peru, to Tacna, Peru. This was the most comfortable bus in the world. The seats reclined 160(!) degrees.

photo 1-1

Intermission. Here is a traffic jam in the Andes along the Chile-Bolivia border. I tried coca leaves for the first (and only) time here.


Hyundai van: Humberstone, Chile, to Iquique, Chile. After visiting the abandoned mining town of Humberstone in the middle of the Atacama Desert, I was shitting bricks because I didn’t know how I was going to find a ride back to town. Miraculously, a black Hyundai van appeared out of nowhere and picked me up. It was completely full and I practically had to sit on the driver’s lap. Here we are, descending to the port city of Iquique. Note the humungous yellow sand dune between the road and the city.

photo 4

Busscar double decker bus: Calama, Chile, to Santiago, Chile. These Brazilian-made buses are very popular for long distance routes.


Marcopolo bus: Osorno, Chile, to Punta Arenas, Chile. The 28 hour 15 minute ride was a breeze in this Brazilian-made bus. Note the painted Chilean and Argentinean flags. There are no roads in the southern third of Chile so we had to cross into Argentina to reach Chilean Tierra del Fuego.


Unknown make and model bus: Punta Arenas, Chile, to Rio Grande in Argentinean Tierra del Fuego. Though the route was short distance-wise, we had to get on a ferry to cross the Strait of Magellan. On our first try, we waited an entire day at the landing because it was too windy to cross. We were finally able to make it across on the second day. Here is the bus on the ferry.


Mercedes Sprinter: Rio Grande, Argentina, to Ushuaia, Argentina. We stopped for a bakery break in the town of Tolhuin. Did you know that Canadian beavers were introduced to Tierra del Fuego more than a century ago to stimulate the fur trade? Now, they are wreaking havoc on the environment.


To read my travelogues, click here and here

Images source: Copyright 2013 Hooniverse/Jim Yu

  • wisc47

    What about some of the commercial trucks? I would imagine there would be some Renault trucks in South America.

    • I remember seeing a new Renault fire engine in Calama, Chile. I didn't ride in any trucks, hence they are not mentioned in this post.

  • Scandinavian Flick ★

    That seems like it was an awesome trip! I can confirm that the buses in Peru and Chile are incredibly comfortable. In addition, the whole culture down there seems to be very welcoming of U.S. tourists. When I was visiting, they always went out of their way to show us their food, culture, and colorful art/textiles. I highly recommend visiting them.

    • Chile is by far my favorite country to visit. Great food and wine, clean, safe, nice but not pushy locals. It's got everything from deserts to glaciers.

  • It just shows, even riding a bus can be an awesome adventure. Bravo!

  • Syrax

    Busscar and Marcopolo were major arch-enemies here in Brazil, they're relatively close to each other. Busscar went bankrupt last September.

    • Manic_King

      I visited Brazil (at last) for 16 days recently, had perfect holiday, went from Rio to Ilha Grande then from Angra to Paraty and Ubatuba and back to Rio by bus and yes these were mostly Marcopolos. Especially Costa Verde company's buses were great.

      PS. Most bus drivers of Rio need to pass some anger management courses or something….their antics in traffic and speeds are just insane.

      • Syrax

        This isn't exclusive to bus drivers unfortunately, it's part of our driving 'culture'.

        Glad you had a perfect holiday. Angra and Paraty are great even in bad weather.

        • Manic_King

          For us, coming from Northern Europe with outside temperatures around zero deg. C when leaving and coming back, these 26-32 we experienced there were exactly the ideal range and little rain we saw didn't dampen the experience at all. Got right amount of sunshine not to burn too badly. Will be back next year, probably.

  • MVEilenstein

    This reminds me of the one (unplanned) trip I made from Rock Springs, WY, to Little Rock, AR when I was in college. I still shudder when I think about that trip.

    Great pictures, and great memories, I'm sure. Thanks for sharing with us.

  • Wolfie

    Nice article,and what about those pesky Canadian Beavers?
    Got to love a road trip.

  • Awesome. I badly want to do the Fairbanks-Deadhorse drive on the Dalton Highway–partly just because I've never been north of the Arctic Circle, but mostly because pictures of it look breathtakingly beautiful.

    • I am going with this company. I didn't go all the way last time because it was October. They stopped at the Arctic Circle and that's it. In the summers, they go all the way to Deadhorse.

    • C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

      I REALLY wanted to stay, overnight, north of the Arctic Circle, however, I learned, within the first three miles of dirt/gravel, the Dalton Highway/Haul road is not meant for privately-owned motorcoaches.

      Seven miles in, about, there is a rest area. It was the only place I could turn around. We'd already had one sliding closet door, which is mirrored glass, jump ship and particlise. I feared the rest of the machine may do the same.

      In retrospect, we should have just taken the 'toad' up there, to say we'd done it, but it'd had a bolt fall out of the rear suspension by Anchorage, so I wasn't feeling ultra-confident in it.

      Wanted to go all the way to Deadhorse, but I didn't think the public was allowed in that town…a company thing with the pipeline.

      Also, I could barely make Fairbanks/Deadhorse/Fairbanks on one 90 gallon tank. I don't mind risk, but I didn't want to have to ferry fuel if we ran out.

      • From what I've heard, you definitely need a rugged vehicle to do the drive, but nothing too extreme. Unfortunately I just sold my only vehicle that could be set up for the task.

        There should be public accommodation at Deadhorse, but there's no public access to the ocean. However, there are tour companies that have permission to escort you there. I also have contacts at companies with operations up there, so I might be able to finagle something that way.

  • Van_Sarockin

    Needs more vans. Let me know, next time you want to make that trip.

  • smithedward

    House Moving Says: I really love to see this all sene. thanks for sharing this, keep it up