Skip to content

The Great Andes Anticipation

“Before crossing the Andes, make sure it’s summer”. That basically described 99% of our conversations with others who’d done the crossing. There’s a twitter feed which is incredibly useful (Pasos Fronterizos ) which is fed directly from any crossing to Chile. We’d been intending to cross from Mendoza straight through to Santiago through Los Libertadores and being that we’d been spoilt by sunshine in Mendoza we thought it would be fine to cross the Andes. However, all weather checks and frontier checks decried that casual thought. “Chains MUST be used” and the weather showing highs of -10degC and strong possibilities of blizzards (and errant yetis) these were all the things advertised Friday, coupled with the knowledge that the Chilean side of the border was made up of switchbacks and crazy drivers and deep ice made for a bleak crossing attempt.

Highway 7 through from Mendoza ended up being a beautiful, cold but sunny road, unfurling towards the snowcapped Andes in the distance. With vineyards bordering both sides of the roads and hundreds of slow moving trucks making their way to the mountain border crossing, it felt very surreal.


Mendoza vineyards on Highway 7- what a view for the grapes to grow in!


Vineyards in the morning

Once across the first range of mountains, the valley between them and the snow-capped mountains revealed itself to have the most beautiful inland lake bordered by mountains. Still anxious about the prospect of ice and snow, we took our chance for a break. The scenery was so breathtaking that it was almost a distraction from setting off again! The road is single lane most of the way to the border so to make up time, we played overtake the truck which saved an incredible amount of time. The last 20km before the border were twisty, broken roads bounded with 1m of snow either side and a kilometre long tunnel which spat us out straight into Chile!


Alex contemplates the bikes and scenery


The beautiful hidden part of the Andes, just before the snow. And Alex, confused by the Go-pro video options.

We were commending ourselves on a road well traveled and time saved but didn’t anticipate the molasses-slow system of crossing the border. After queuing for 30 minutes, we finally were streamed into a moto-fast stream to be processed quickly(!) and were told to go to desk 4. desk 4 was, as it turns out, the last place we were meant to be. Clutching the bits of paper which had been thrust at us in the carpark, we queued and waiting for 4. Once at the top of four, we were sent to 3, 3 was kind and spoke a little French and said we ought to have started at 1 (logical) and then worked our way to 3. We queued at 1, went to 2, were sent to 3 but called over by 4, 4 was confused, sent us back to 3 who sent us to 4 who then sent us to customs, customs scowled at us, ignored our question and eventually said we didn’t need to be there at all. After our pinball 90 minutes at the customs desk, we staggered out to the bikes and were immediately warned by two strangers that we need to keep an eye on our bags and pockets whilst in Santiago. The anxiety mounting, we felt like we were entering an impossible country where everyone was after us.

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 02.56.10

From the helmetcam: Simon waits for the custom officials to check out his bike

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 02.57.41

Most of the border crossing Argetnina-Chile is tunnel, some open, most closed!

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 02.57.11

Switchbacks after the Chilean border

We managed to disentangle ourselves from the naysayers, and eventually made it onto the famous switchbacks which were fun, even for Alex. Once through the snowy switchbacks, we were greeted with honeyed dusk and more vineyards which completely uplifted our expectations of Santiago. This is important as because of the level of anxiety previously surrounding the crossing, both of us were worried and so kept expecting something bad to happen to hamper the trip. Similarly with the warnings we received for Santiago’s bag thieves, we kept expecting to be mugged at the traffic lights. But in reality, of course it’s fine- we met some bikers at the border who then rejoined us outside Santiago and helped us through the motorway toll, we then met a fellow BMW rider who kindly took us to his mechanic and helped Alex buy mega jerry cans to avoid further stress through the deserts coming. These were welcome kindnesses in exchange for the negatives we’d experienced. The couchsurfer we arranged to stay with on arrival didn’t respond to messages once we’d arrived, the hotel we booked in a hurry then didn’t have any rooms left and after a day of high anxiety expectations, your experience is clouded somewhat by your trusted methods going wrong. All these things feel far more terrible once you’ve achieved a personal greatness and when compared to the positive welcome you were expecting but were disappointed by. Everyone has a different level of capacity to deal with things, and we discovered that on Saturday as although we’d both managed to cross the Andes in the winter (something you should never do, apparently!) Alex still let the disappointments of accommodation cloud the achievement and the whole point is to not do that – although maybe it’s good to prepare for the worst case as then you are prepared for anything.


Impossible to cross the Andes without snow! Switchbacks in Chile.


In Chile, the sun burns bright


Schrödinger’s hotel – it’s not lost until you check if the booking is actually booked. Either way, there’s no booking. Also, there’s creepy alternatives, but still no booking. Or is there?


Chilean sunsets, what a welcome!



All content and images Copyright © 2016 Journey Limitless. Website designed by One Day Labs.