Pasa de Jama is the northernmost road border crossing between Argentina and Chile with an elevation of 4,200 m at the border but reaching an altitude of 4,819 m in the Chilean side (route 27), 100 km from the border. This route is all paved since 2005 but it is occasionally closed due to snow, ice and strong winds. This border was actually close the 3 or 4 days before we crossed so we were constantly checking the weather conditions and we also called to the border in the morning before leaving our hotel in Tilcara.
Most of the road from Purmamarca to Jama (approx. 250 km) is uphill with occasional down slopes. Driving this route is spectacular and on the way you can also see the Salinas Grandes, one of the most visited places at Quebrada de Humahuaca (see our blog post about it here).
Different from some other borders we crossed around South America, this one (similar to Paso los Libertadores - read more here) is integrated, meaning that the process of leaving Argentina and entering in Chile is in the same building. It is much easier since we don't need to stop twice. Unfortunately entering Chile is always more complicated than entering in Argentina because they require you take everything from inside the car so they can scan and check if you don't carry anything that is not allowed (like fruits or vegetables or meat).
After crossing the border we needed to drive around 160 km more until the famous Chilean town of San Pedro de Atacama. This last part was the most difficult one for two main reasons: (i) the altitude and the consequent downhill, and (ii) some snow and ice still on the road. It was also one of the most beautiful km we've done in our trips around the Andes mountains. There's everything: snow, peaks, mountains, desert, volcanoes, wild animal (specially vicuñas) and great great views!
This trip took us all day and we arrived into San Pedro de Atacama only in the late afternoon (around 5pm).
Next stop: San Pedro de Atacama (Chile)
- Plan a full day to drive from Purmamarca (or San Salvador de Jujuy) and San Pedro de Atacama. The roads are all paved but it's always up and down hill, plus the time you spend on the border (here for us it was approximately 1 hour)
- It is a good idea to stop a few times while going up or down due to the altitude sickness. Don't forget you come from an altitude of approximately 2,300m to 4,819m so it helps a lot to stop the car and walk a little bit. Opening 2 or 3 cm of your window while driving also helps to acclimatize.
- It is common and legal (only in the north of Argentina!) to chew coca leaves or drink coca tea. We usually drink coca tea because it's tasty but you can find everywhere people selling coca leaves. That helps to solve the altitude sickness problems! But don't forget that this is not legal in Chile so you can't carry with you if crossing the border.
- ALWAYS check if the border is open in the early morning before leaving Purmamarca. It happened to us that the 3 or 4 days before we planned to cross the border it was closed. The best is to check the official web of Chile or their Twitter account (this last one is very efficient!)