The Pan-American Highway (Carretera Panamericana in Spanish) is a collective system of roads, approximately 16,000 miles (25,750 km) long, that nearly links the mainland nations of the Americas in a roughly unified stretch of highway. The roots of the Pan-American Highway emerged at the Fifth International Conference of American States in 1923.
The Pan-American Highway system is mostly complete and extends from Fairbanks, Alaska in North America to Chile in South America, though no route is officially defined in Canada and the United States. The notable stretch that keeps the highway from being completely connected is a section of land between the Panama Canal in Panama and northwest Colombia called the Darién Gap, which is a 54 mile (87 km) stretch of harsh, mountainous jungle. Many are opposed to completing the Darién portion of the highway, with reasons as varied as the desire to protect the rain forest, containing the spread of tropical diseases, protecting the livelihood of indigenous peoples in the area, preventing foot and mouth disease from entering North America, and creating a buffer for potential drug-trafficking from Colombia.
The Pan-American Highway passes through many diverse climates and ecological types, from dense jungles to cold mountain passes. Since the highway passes through many countries, it is far from uniform. Some stretches of the highway are passable only during the dry season, and in many regions driving is occasionally hazardous.
Famous sections of the Pan-American Highway include the Alaska Highway and the Inter-American Highway, the latter being the section between the United States and the Panama Canal. This part is quite popular among US tourists driving to Mexico.
No road in the U.S. or Canada has been officially designated as the Pan-American Highway, and thus the road officially ends at the U.S./Mexico border. The original route began at the border at Laredo, Texas and went south through Mexico City. Later branches were built to the border at Nogales, Arizona, El Paso, Texas, Eagle Pass, Texas, Pharr, Texas and Brownsville, Texas.
On the other hand, several roads in the U.S. were locally named after the Pan-American Highway. When the section of Interstate 35 in San Antonio, Texas was built, it was named the Pan Am Expressway, as it an extension of the original route from Laredo. Interstate 25 in Albuquerque, New Mexico has been named the Pan-American Freeway, as an extension of the route to El Paso.
The original route to Laredo travels up Mexican Federal Highway 85 from Mexico City. The various spurs follow:
- Nogales spur - Mexican Federal Highway 15 from Mexico City
- El Paso spur - Mexican Federal Highway 45 from Mexico City
- Eagle Pass spur - unknown, possibly Mexican Federal Highway 57 from Mexico City
- Pharr spur - Mexican Federal Highway 40 from Monterrey
- Brownsville spur - Mexican Federal Highway 101 from Ciudad Victoria
From Mexico City to the border with Guatemala, the Highway follows Mexican Federal Highway 190. Through the Central American countries, it follows Central American Highway 1, ending at Yaviza, Panama at the edge of the Darién Gap. The road had formerly ended at Cañita, Panama, 110 miles (178 km) north of its current end.
The southern part of the highway begins in northwestern Colombia, from where it follows Colombia Highway 52 to Medellin, Colombia. At Medellin, Colombia Highway 54 leads to Bogotá, Colombia, but Colombia Highway 11 turns south for a more direct route. Colombia Highway 72 runs southwest from Bogotá to join Highway 11 at Murillo, Colombia. Highway 11 runs all the way to the border with Ecuador, where Ecuador Highway 35 runs the whole length of the country. Peru Highway 1 carries the Pan-American Highway all the way through Peru to the border with Chile, where it picks up Chile Highway 5 to a point north of Santiago, Chile. The highway turns east there on Chile Highway 60, which becomes Argentina Highway 7 (and possibly partly Argentina Highway 8) to Buenos Aires, Argentina, the end of the main highway.
A continuation of the Pan-American Highway to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil uses a ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia, Uruguay and Uruguay Highway 1 to Montevideo, Uruguay. Uruguay Highway 9 and Brazil Highway 471 run to near Pelotas, Brazil, from where Brazil Highway 116 leads to Rio de Janeiro.
One branch, known as the Simón Bolívar Highway, runs from Bogotá, Colombia to Guiria, Venezuela. It begins by using Colombia Highway 71 all the way to the border with Venezuela. From there it uses Venezuela Highway 1 to Caracas, Venezuela and Venezuela Highway 9 to its end at Guiria.
Another branch, from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Asuncion, Paraguay, heads out of Buenos Aires on Argentina Highway 9. It switches to Argentina Highway 11 at Rosario, Argentina, which crosses the border with Paraguay right at Asuncion.
Other branches probably exist across the center of South America.
For tourism purposes, the Pan-American Highway is sometimes assumed to use the Alaska Highway and then run down the west coast of Canada and the United States, running east from San Diego, California and picking up the branch to Nogales, Arizona.
The Pan-American Highway travels through the following 15 countries:
See also Pan-American Highway (North America) and Pan-American Highway (South America) for a detailed description of the highway route.
- Microsoft Encarta - Pan-American Highway (http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761568725/Pan_American_Highway.html)
- Plan Federal Highway System, New York Times May 15, 1932 page XX7
- Reported from the Motor World, New York Times January 26, 1936 page XX6
- Hemisphere Road is Nearer Reality, New York Times January 7, 1953 page 58
- 1997-98 AAA Caribbean, Central America and South America map