Though we were able to fly to the US in June of 2021 for six months to get vaccinated and see friends and family, closed land borders meant that our truck was stuck in Mendoza, Argentina where it had been since we arrived there in March of 2020 as the pandemic descended. At the beginning of December 2021 we were able to fly back to Mendoza, reunite with our truck, and wait for Chile to re-open land borders with Argentina so that we could fulfill our obligation to drive our truck out of Argentina as soon as possible. Chile announced its land borders would re-open in early December, but just two days before the scheduled opening the date was pushed back to early January. This meant we had a month to get our truck back to being road trip ready after being parked in one spot for six months. We also used that time to take two local day trips.
December 2020 South American road trip driving route
Upon returning to Mendoza, Argentina from the US at the end of November 2022 we laid eyes on our truck for the first time since June of 2021. The truck’s batteries didn’t fare well during 6 months of disuse and the truck wouldn’t start. So we spent a week finding new batteries for our truck and giving the truck other forms of much-needed TLC and maintenance including changing the oil and oil filters.
Once the truck was back in running order we still had a few weeks until the land borders with Chile were scheduled to re-open, so we headed off on two separate day trips to places we had long planned on visiting.
The first trip was short but sweet (read: hard-core). We spent a good part of the pandemic in a small village in the Uco Valley near the city of Mendoza where we enjoyed spectacular views of the Andes (see above). From our vantage point, the Cordon de Portillo and the Portillo de Piuquenes Pass (aka Portillo Argentino Pass) seemed tantalizingly close and we finally had the time and the weather window to drive to it.
Thanks to the steep, rocky road, this turned into an epic drive adventure all its own during which we climbed up to 13,520 feet (4,120 meters) and averaged just 6 mph (10 kph). Get the details in our full post about the epic drive to the Portillo Argentino Pass.
Our second day trip in December of 2022 was to Reserva Nacional Laguna del Diamante. Deep in the Andes, Lago Diamante sits at 10,825 feet (3,300 meters) in front of Maipo Volcano which straddles the border with Chile. The dirt road that accesses the lake is only open a few months a year because snow and extreme weather make the route impassable during the other months. After driving past craggy rock formations and herds of guanaco to a high point of 12,075 feet (3,680 meters) we descended nearly 3,000 feet (914 meters) to the lake itself. Get the full experience in our post about this epic drive to Laguna Diamante.
Check out our December 2021 road trip driving route in Argentina in the map below.
And you can see what we saw out there on the road in Argentina and Chile in December 2021 in our dashcam drive-lapse video, below. It was, as always, shot by our Brinno camera which is attached to our dashboard at all times.
January 2022 South American road trip driving route
Pandemic travel restrictions affected our Trans-Americas Journey Road Trip the same way it grounded every other type of travel. But that changed in early January of 2022 when Chile finally re-opened a limited number of border crossings with Argentina and we were on the road again (almost).
After getting the truck in order and checking and repacking all of our gear (harder than it sounds after two years of non-travel), we drove out of Mendoza and headed over the Los Libertadores Pass. We’ve crossed at this border several times, but pandemic restrictions made things different during our crossing in January of 2022 including mandatory masks (of course), additional paperwork to leave Argentina and to enter Chile, and a mandatory PCR test when entering Chile.
We should be skilled in the art of border crossings after having done 80 of them so far, but our 81st crossing proved that even we are a bit out of practice after two years with no road tripping. For example, we failed to fill out and print out the newly required form to exit Argentina and the nearly non-existent internet at the border facilities high in the Andes meant we struggled for two hours trying to complete this form using a trickle of Wi-Fi. A kind immigration official eventually completed the forms for us on his PC.
Once over the border and in Chile, we headed to a friend’s house for a few days, then drove into Santiago where we spent another few days before heading south—all the way back down to Tierra del Fuego AGAIN so that we can more thoroughly explore the Carretera Austral which we drove through extremely quickly in March of 2020.
However, upon reaching our first stop out of Santiago–the beach town of Pichilemu–we quickly realized that maybe this wasn’t the best time to travel. January and February are the heart of summer in Chile and a time when many Chileans traditionally go on vacation. After two years of no travel because of the pandemic, it seemed like every single Chilean was on vacation at the same time.
Traffic was insane. Most hotels were full. Prices were jacked up. We managed to find an overpriced (but still somewhat affordable) place to stay for a few days in Pichilemu where we decided that instead of wandering down the coast at a leisurely pace, as we’d planned, we’d make a bee-line for the coastal city of Concepcion (not a hot vacation spot) where we were able to find a decent Airb&B (link save $20) from which we planned our next steps.
These included a lovely stay at the andBeyond Vira Vira hotel, in the lakeside village of Pucon (look for our review of this hotel soon on the Luxury Latin America website) in the shadow of the Villarrica Volcano. The drive from Concepcion to Pucon took nearly twice as long as it should have thanks to vacation mania traffic which included 20 miles (32 km) of bumper-to-bumper traffic between the towns of Villarrica and Pucon.
While we sat in traffic, we had to concede that traveling along the coast and around the lake and volcano district of central Chile was impossible at the moment and best saved for when we return from the south sometime in April. So we started looking for an affordable place to rent until late February when we drove our truck onto the Navimag ferry for a leisurely and scenic trip from Puerto Montt south to Puerto Natales.
Just as finding an affordable and livable place around Pucon seemed impossible with so many local vacationers in town, the Travel Gods smiled upon us yet again and we met Rodolfo Coombs who, among so many other redeeming features, owns a cabin in the hills outside of Pucon that he kindly let us stay in. And that’s where we very gratefully ended the month of January 2022.
Check out our January 2022 road trip driving route in Argentina and Chile in the map below.
And you can see what we saw out there on the road in Argentina and Chile in January 2022 in our dashcam drive-lapse video, below. It was, as always, shot by our Brinno camera which is attached to our dashboard at all times.
Here’s more about travel in Argentina
Here’s more about travel in Chile