So you’d love to ride to Ushuaia one day, but there’s just not enough time to take off for months on end – yet, you can’t wait to go? While riding South America, I met several riders who were traveling the continent one chunk at a time. Laurynas, a US-Lithuanian rider I met in Ecuador last year, has an ambitious plan to ride all five continents on his BMW 1200 GS – but because he can’t leave work and family for prolonged periods of time, he’s doing it in installments instead. End of All Roads team has a similar idea, tackling one region at a time until they ride around the world; so if you want to ride South America in bite-sized chunks, here’s how you can go about it.
The Darien Gap Crossing
Riding from the US and Mexico, then crossing Central America is pretty straightforward: ride South until they speak Spanish, then continue riding. However, once you reach Panama, there’s a choice; leave the bike in Panama City, fly home, do what needs to be doing, then come back and cross the Darien, or is it better to store the bike in Colombia for the time you need to be home?
The Darien Gap crossing can be done in several ways. One: stick the bike and yourself on a sailboat, spend several days sailing the Caribbean, get off in Cartagena, then ride further or leave the bike there until you return from home. Two: stick the bike in a container on a cargo vessel, fly from Panama City to Cartagena, pick up the bike, carry on. Three: fly self and bike from Panama City to Bogota, then carry on. The third option is the most expensive, the first one, probably the most rewarding; however, it all depends on the time you have. If in a hurry, flying might be best, if on a budget, the container option will be the most reasonable.
Leaving Your Bike in Colombia
Once you’re across the Darien and in Colombia, you’ll get a three-month TVIP (temporary vehicle import permit) from Colombian customs. This means that your bike needs to leave Colombia before the three months are up; you can leave the bike in the country and fly in and out, as long as you take the bike out of Colombia after those three months are over. So for example, if you’ve crossed the Darien and entered Colombia in March, you can fly home, get your work done, see your family, and fly back in mid-April, which will give you 1,5 months to ride to Peru – plenty of time to explore all that Colombia has to offer.
Where do you leave the bike, though? One option is to ride to Bogota, locate a dealership of your bike’s make and model, and ask them to store your bike for you. They may or may not charge you a small fee, but they’ll keep the bike safe until you return. Alternatively, ride to Filandia and visit Steel Horse Colombia: it’s an overlander hub and hotel owned by a British couple, riders themselves, and they will happily store the bike for you until you come back. Having visited Steel Horse several times, I can personally attest the hosts are 100% reliable.
Now onto Ecuador: since this is a small country by South American standards, you can cross it in a month or so and leave your bike in Peru. However, if you do need to fly home from Ecuador, reach out to Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental: they are an American-French owned motorcycle tours and rentals company, but they love connecting with overlanders and have a large motorcycle maintenance center, so they may be able to store your bike or point you in the right direction. For Ecuador, you also get a three-month TVIP, so there’s plenty of time.
Peru is massive, and if you want to explore it all plus fly home and return, you may need more than three months in the country. The good news is, Peru offers 180 days for you and your bike per year, which means that after your initial three months are up, you can either do a border run (to Ecuador, Bolivia, or Chile), return the same day, and get another three-month permit to stay in the country, or you can extend your bike’s TVIP with the help of Around the Block Moto Adventures. I have never tried to extend my Peruvian TVIP and relied on border runs, but it’s up to you.
As for where to store your bike in Peru, Lima is probably your best bet. The guys at Bigtrail Center Peru run a big ADV bike shop and are usually happy to host overlanders, and they’re 100% trustworthy when it comes to storing your bike.
Chile gives you three months in the country; back in 2013, I successfully extended this with border runs, but double-check upon arrival as the regulations may have changed. If you’re planning to leave your bike in Chile, Valparaiso is a good place to do it: Villa Kunterbunt in Valparaiso is where you can safely store your motorcycle until you return. As a bonus, they can also help you with shipping if you decide to transport your bike to another continent from there.
Argentina is the same as Chile – three months in the country – and you can either store your bike in Ushuaia or leave it in Buenos Aires. I don’t have any personal recommendations for storage, but as a general rule of thumb, big dealerships in major cities will probably happily help you out!
Featured image: rtwPaul