Prudhoe Bay, Alaska is the northernmost drivable city in the Western Hemisphere, and Ushuaia, Argentina is the southernmost. The two are the bookends of the Pan-American Highway, and it is, of course, possible to drive your own car all the way from the north to the south (aside from the Darien Gap – more on that later). But can you somehow do the same thing, top of the hemisphere to the bottom, but entirely via public transportation – that is, with no car of your own?
Let’s find out:
0h – Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Fairbanks, Alaska ($250)
The first leg of our journey begins in Prudhoe Bay, a town of just over 2,000 people at 70 degrees north of the equator. Beginning at Deadhorse Airport, take the Dalton Highway Express to Fairbanks, a 16 hour journey across 500 miles of Arctic Tundra.
16h – Fairbanks, Alaska to Whittier, Alaska ($322)
From Fairbanks, hop aboard the Denali Star route of the Alaska Railroad, which takes you to Anchorage. From here, catch the Glacier Discovery Train from Anchorage to Whittier, Alaska. This journey will cross 419 miles and will take 28 hours to complete.
44h – Whittier, Alaska to Bellingham, Washington ($772)
Now, embark on a monumental 99 hour journey on a scenic ferry ride with Alaska Ferry, passing vast oceans, glaciers, and wildlife. After four days on a boat, you arrive in mainland Washington in the continental United States for, at long last, some warmer air.
143h – Bellingham, Washington to San Diego, California ($189)
The long ferry ride leaves you at Bellingham Station. From here, take a series of three trains (Amtrak Cascades, the Seattle Metro, and Amtrak Coast Starlight) to Jack London Square in Oakland, California, a 14 hour trip on the tracks. Take a public bus to West Oakland Station, where you will board a seven hour Megabus ride that takes you straight to Los Angeles, the City of Angels. From here, take the Pacific Surfliner Amtrak and UC San Diego Blue Line to San Ysidro Transit Center at the borderline of the United States and Mexico.
169h – San Diego, California to Mexico City, Mexico ($99)
From the US-Mexico border, show your passport and take the official pedestrian walkway to cross into Tijuana, Mexico. In Tijuana, join Estrella Blanca buses for 40 hours, stopping at many western Mexican coastal cities along the way, until you reach Mexico City.
209h – Mexico City, Mexico to Guatemala City, Guatemala ($77)
From Mexico’s capital, take a 15 hour ADO bus ride to San Cristobal de las Casas in warm southern Mexico, where you will transfer to an 11 hour Adrenalina Tours shuttle across the Mexico-Guatemala border to Guatemala City.
236h – Guatemala City, Guatemala to Panama City, Panama ($137)
From Guatemala’s capital city, you’ll have the unique opportunity to connect the dots of all Central American capitals (excluding Belize and Honduras) on one Ticabus ride. For 76 hours (to fit in all the rest break stops), cross through San Salvador, Managua, and San Jose to reach Panama City.
312h – Panama City, Panama to Cartagena, Colombia ($529)
It is impossible to cross the land border of Panama and Colombia due to the dangerous and untouched Darien Gap. However, we can cross from Panama to Colombia by sea instead of land by taking a five day cruise as arranged by Hotel Mamallena, featuring three days of relaxation time on the beautiful San Blas Islands.
420h – Cartagena, Colombia to Buenos Aires, Argentina ($558)
From Cartagena, one of Colombia’s most historic port cities, take a 22 hour Berlinas bus to Bogotá, Colombia’s capital city. Then, from Bogotá, take an international Rutas De America bus (running every Monday throughout the year) for a full five days and 14 hours to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Along the way, you’ll pass Andean cities, mountainous landscapes, llanos plains, and verdant rainforests. I find it wonderful that, like the Ticabus in Central America, Rutas De America offers public transportation services that can see beyond borders.
577h – Buenos Aires, Argentina to Ushuaia, Argentina ($249)
For the final leg of our top-to-bottom-of-the-hemisphere-public-transportation-road-trip, we take a 41 hour Penguinas bus through Patagonia from Buenos Aires to Rio Gallegos. In Rio Gallegos, connect to an 11 hour Tecniaustral bus ride to Ushuaia, the southernmost drivable city in the Western Hemisphere.
After 629 hours (26 days and 5 hours), we’ve finally made it from the top of the world to the bottom – entirely by public bus, boat, train, and ferry!
The total cost? $3,182. I’m sure if I did more in-depth research I could cut that by half, but the point of this article is just to prove that you can traverse the entire hemisphere with no car or plane – just communal services!
Of course, this trip would be an incredibly monotonous 26 days if it weren’t spiced up with some daylong rest stops. While the trip already gives you three days in the tranquil San Blas Islands, you can add daylong stops at Denali National Park, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Mexico City, San Jose, Bogota, Lima, La Paz (including the petrifying Yungas Road, the “Road of Death,” pictured below), and Buenos Aires, to make it a much more interesting 37 day voyage.
Anyways, I strongly support the concept of public transportation – it brings people together and is much more efficient and community-focused than private transport. As I have discussed in previous articles, I support increased investment into public transportation, and theoretically the government subsidization to make it free for all.
This article reinforces the power of our worldwide public transport – a grid connecting humans from the polar oil fields of Alaska to the rainforests of Costa Rica to the Patagonian Desert.