head in the clouds
Before crossing the northern Andes from Chile to Argentina, you’ll have to climb paper peaks. But once you have conquered this bureaucratic mountain range, Pasa de Jama is waiting to lead you passed volcanoes, high altitude lakes and a lot of nothingness.
The route over the Paso de Jama starts in San Pedro de Atacama with filling out a stack of forms at the customs office. After you have formally left the country, you’ll drive another 160 kilometers through Chile before entering Argentina at an outpost that goes by the name of Jama.
During these 160 kilometers you’ll reach altitudes of over 5000 meters. Checking your car before driving into the sky is therefore not a bad idea. Better, it is a potentially live saving idea, as is stocking up on extra water, motor oil, food and the necessary papers to drive a rental car from Chile into Argentina.
After the thorough customs of South American customs, you take Ruta 27 towards the Paso. Elevation will pick you up at 2500 meters and gradually puts you down at the 4200 meters high border between both countries. Before that, you’ll have peaked at about 5000 meters on a road that’s deserted most of the time.
The thin and extremely dry air, burning sun, strong winds, occasionally freezing temperatures and non-stop up-‘hill’ road take a toll on your car’s engine as well as on your nerves. But, at the end you will be rewarded with bluer than blue skies and lakes, whiter than white salt plains and the tranquil solitude of the Andes.
After driving with your head in the clouds for hours, you officially enter Argentina at the Jama customs office. From the countless hairpin curves of Ruta Nacional 52 will put you back on the earth soon to be elevated again by the colors of the end of the line: Cerro de los Siete Colores.
In this valley of seven colors you find a pleasantville called Purmamarca. Though already in Argentina you are still in the Andes. So don’t be surprised by people chewing coca leaves while working the land with man and horse.