Chile and Argentina share more than 5,000 miles of border, most of them drawn on the imposing peaks of the Andes. With over 40 border crossings between the two countries spread over the mountains, the most spectacular and important one is Paso de los Libertadores, also known as the Paso del Cristo Redentor, in particular, the stretch that locals call it, rightly, Los Caracoles (Snails Pass).
The road still remains an adrenaline-pumping journey and is definitely not for the faint of lungs, heart, or legs. A quick glance at the map, at its sheer drops and serpentine twists and turns, confirms that this is no hype. It is the most important step between the capital of Chile, Santiago, and the Mendoza region of Argentina. The Argentina side turns out to be a gentle ascent, up relaxed through rugged mountain scenery of the area until the hole in the tunnel entrance. The drive is definitely worth it. Don’t forget your camera!
The crossing, in the summit, is actually a tunnel: the Cristo Redentor tunnel, located at 3,209 m altitude and with 3,080 meters long, of which 1,564 are in Chilean territory and 1,516 in the Argentine side. Opened in 1980, the tunnel is at an elevation of 3,175 m (10,417 ft), and the path can be closed during winter because of heavy snows blocking both ends and the threat of rockfall.
Its name comes from the 4 ton Christ the Redeemer of the Andes (Cristo Redentor de los Andes) statue placed in 1904 near the entrance of the Argentine side at an elevation of 4,000 m (13,123 ft). However, access by the Chilean side is another story.
The landscape remains the same, but the road gets higher with much more quickly, forcing a winding route so perfectly delineated that, seen from the air, looks like the coil of a refrigerator. The traffic is intense, especially for heavy vehicles facing this part with calmness and resignation, forming long convoys that slow pace, amounting port. Viewed from a distance the trucks seem snails.
This infamous road is tightly hairpinned and bumped, an exquisite winding mountain drive with sharp and blind curves and hairpin switchbacks leading the traveler over the mountains. The road includes some steep sections, without market central lines, is very narrow, scarcely wide enough for two cars to pass at the same time and it has not protections and there are no guard rails along this road. Los Caracoles is a series of hard switchbacks on an extremely steep incline. The road is covered with snow for the most part of the year. The snow together with nature of the road requires extreme patience and skill to negotiate.
The surface of the road is asphalted, and chains or snow tyres can be required troughout the year. However, this road is maintained pretty regularly and does not have a morbid accident record. Cargo trucks and even double-Decker tourist buses travel through the road on a daily basis, and it's quite an experience. This stretch of road should not be attempted by novice drivers.
Due to the unique location and the climb in elevation over thousands of feet (the pass reaches an elevation of 3,200 m (10,499 ft) above the sea level, and passing through remote areas, it is important when driving in these conditions to be prepared. Check weather forecasts before leaving home, and remember that it becomes cooler and often more prone to storms at higher elevations. Be prepared with jackets, water, and emergency kit in your car.