Ruta 40 Patagonia is an iconic highway snaking its way up the western side of Argentina for over 5,000 km (3,107 mi). Though the northern section of Ruta 40 can still be a bone-shatteringly bumpy ride along an unpaved road, the popular southern part – from Bariloche down to El Calafate – has been largely upgraded, lending itself to rather more comfortable adventures. Read on for the highlights of a Route 40 Patagonia tour: a 5-star road trip!
Why Ruta 40, Patagonia?
“The most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what’s in between” Norton Juster, author/architect
Ruta 40, Patagonia has all the makings of a classic road trip, but seems to slip under the radar of many tourists. It’s easy to see why: Argentina is the 8th biggest country in the world, and has more ‘must-sees’ than can possibly be visited in one trip! But if you hanker after something a little more unusual, or you’ve already hit some of the big sights in the North, here is what a trip along the most popular southern section of Ruta 40 has to offer:
The natural world
Ruta 40 follows ‘the spine of Argentina’: the Andes mountains. Think jagged, snow capped peaks that look like a child’s drawing, rising above great swathes of seemingly uninhabited plains. The Ruta 40 Patagonia tour is essentially one long photo opportunity, from alpine lakes and ancient forests, to the unique Patagonian wildlife, including the Andean Condor and the Argentine Grey Fox.
The (modern) world of people
The starting point for the Ruta 40 road trip is Bariloche, one of Argentina’s biggest tourist draws in its own right. One of the main ski destinations in winter, the location in the Andes foothills beckons to summertime adventurers with hiking routes, cycling, horse riding and rock climbing. The town is also known for its Swiss inspired architecture and abundant chocolate shops to match. Ruta 40 continues on through more remote country, where you can get a taste of life on an estancia (ranch). The Argentine Gaucho is a signature image of the country, part of a strong cultural heritage that the descendants are proud to show off.
The (ancient) world of people
Tear your eyes away from the mighty Andean summits for a moment and take in the typical Patagonian towns, including Cholila, where the infamous bandit, Butch Cassidy, hid from the authorities. The main attraction, though, goes back much further in history: approximately 8000 years further back. Pinturas Valley (Valley of Paintings) contains prehistoric cave paintings from the Teheulches people, the highlight being the hundreds of colourful handprints adorning the walls of Cueva de las Manos (Cave of the Hands).
A spectacular finale
This could be filed under point one, but it really deserves its own section: the Perito Moreno Glacier. One of the most well known of 350 glaciers in Las Glacieres national park, Perito Moreno is located near the town of El Calafate at the end of the Ruta 40 Patagonia tour. As well as just drinking in the incredible sight of 250 km2 (97 sq mi) of ice from various viewpoints, you can actually go hiking on the glacier itself. A not-quite-so close up view is provided by regular tour boats, where you might see and hear the glacier ‘calving’, which is when chunks of ice from the face of the glacier plunge into the water below as it advances.
When to go and what to take
At higher altitudes, snow can make the journey more difficult in winter, so you’ll be better off planning a Ruta 40 Patagonia road trip in the Southern Hemisphere summer: October to April.
As for your packing list, that depends on what you want to do! Active types should bring their outdoor gear: for example, sturdy walking boots, thick walking socks and cycling clothing. Bicycles and climbing equipment can be hired when you’re there.
Patagonia is notoriously windy, so everyone is advised to bring a windproof jacket and sunglasses. Also, it’s easy to forget the sun cream when it’s cold and there’s a wind blowing, but the sun is stronger at high altitudes, so make sure you come prepared.