Route 40 is one of the hidden treasures of Patagonia. It is a question of traveling through very little traveled roads from the coast to the Andes.
Renting a 4×4 vehicle and making daily segments of no more than 300 KM to reach the rural accommodations (country stays) where they await you. This is a program for you if what you are looking for is:
- Drive a total of 1,500 KM (in intervals of no more than 300KM)
- Horseback riding or rural walks.
- Get to the lonely and hospitable Patagonia.
- Meet local people.
- Enjoy the Argentine gastronomy.
- Visit tourist places but also NOT tourist ones.
- Stay in country stays
How many km has route 40
With a length of 5,224 km that extends throughout the entire Argentine territory, National Route 40 is the longest national highway in Argentina and a popular travel route if you have a rental vehicle and time to travel it.
The southern end of Route 40 is located on the South Atlantic coast and the highway goes north following the Andes until it reaches Quiaca, on the border between Argentina and Bolivia.
Passing through a variety of climatic zones and landscapes, driving the entire route 40 is still a bit difficult as some areas can become difficult to access even with a 4×4 vehicle.
Much of the road is not yet paved, you can also find sections that are under construction where vehicles need to travel on a temporary gravel track next to the main road.
Route 40 Patagonia map (Argentina)
Originally Route 40 Argentina began as a connection between some sparsely inhabited places in the strategically border area with Chile.
Today it is a popular travel route and famous throughout the world for its beauty.
It is normal to only travel part of the route due to its great length and difficult conditions – an example of the latter is the Abra de Acay mountain pass, where the path rises to 4,972 meters above sea level.
Route 40 has been modified over the years. In the north there are still debates about which of the gravel roads (gravel) should be called National Route 40.
In the south there is still a 100 km stretch between Cabo Vírgenes and Río Gallegos. Therefore, the southernmost end point of Route 40 is at Punta Loyola, a small port town near Río Gallegos.
How to plan a trip along Route 40 Argentina
You should plan at least 10 days to two weeks for your Route 40 trip, even more if you really want to enjoy the route. If you are in a hurry, the road can be covered in 8-10 days.
Keep in mind that to travel certain places such as climbing the Abra del Acay in the north as well as to travel some ranch roads in the south you may need an all-terrain vehicle.
There may be ice and snow blocking some roads during winter. Therefore, spring, fall, and summer are the best seasons for your Route 40 trip.
Do not trust yourself when driving on Route 40
As already mentioned, some of the sections may require a 4×4 vehicle. Always try to leave early to arrive with natural light at the destination and do not drive segments of more than 350 KM (if it is gravel) or 500 (if it is asphalt).
You don’t run on Route 40 … you enjoy it.
Fill up the tank whenever you can, especially in Patagonia. First of all, there is no guarantee that the next gas station will have fuel available, plus the mountainous terrain means higher fuel consumption than you might expect.
Route 40 tour:
Route 40 Patagonia
Due to its long length, this is a word that we always use in Patagonia to plan where we take Route 40 to travel only one segment of it.
There are multiple starting points, depending on where you want to start the trip
Here we travel a long itinerary from South to North starting in Río Gallegos, province of Santa Cruz (you can take a plane from Buenos Aires to Río Gallegos and from there rent a rental vehicle)
Segment (Cabo Vírgenes) -Punta Loyola-Río Gallegos
Distance: 37 km (when the coastal road is finished, it will be 137 km)
Road surface: asphalt
There are plans to extend Route 40 along the coast to the southernmost part of the Argentine mainland to Cabo Vírgenes, although as of early 2011 nothing had materialized yet. Therefore, the official starting point for Route 40 is Punta Loyola, a small port town with some industries and a Norwegian shipwreck.
It is still possible to visit the cape by a gravel road (gravel) that leaves highway 3. There the Magellan path begins, and on the same cape there is a lighthouse and a Chilean border post.
Following the bay, the road enters the 2 Río Gallegos, one of the largest cities in southern Argentina.
Rio Gallegos-El Calafate trip
Distance: 460 km
Road surface: gravel (gravel) until “November 28”, then asphalt until Tapi Aike, gravel (gravel) until RP 5, asphalt until Calafate.
Highway 40 overlaps Highway 3 for 35 km, then turns west and follows the Río Gallegos valley. The next urban nucleus is located at about 235 km, from 3
The Turbio. It is the largest plant in Argentina’s coal industry, although production has been reduced since the 1990s, when it was affected by the economic crisis. After the city of 4 November 28, the highway turns north and joins Highway 5, with which it will overlap up to 5 Charles Fuhr.
Detour towards Torres del Paine
From Río Turbio you can take a detour to Puerto Natales and later go to the world famous Torres del Paine National Park with its snowy peaks.
El Calafate and Los Glaciares detour
El Calafate is located about 32 km west of the highway, but it is the only major city in this region and, as such, the best alternative to find a place to sleep.
The city is the gateway to Los Glaciares National Park, with its glaciers and its forested mountainous landscape. The road to the national park is completely paved.
Charles Fuhr-Perito Moreno
Distance: 656 km
Road surface: up to Tres Lagos asphalt, then more than 70 km of gravel (gravel) (possibly paved), then asphalt
Alternative routes: Between Lake Cardiel and Riera there is a shortcut that was part of Route 40 and is almost 50 km shorter than the current route. On the other hand, the current route through Gobernador Gregores is paved, but the shortcut is not.
After El Calafate the road follows the eastern shore of Lake Argentino, the second largest lake in Argentina, and then passes through Lake Viedma, the third largest.
El Chaltén detour
North of Lake Viedma there is a paved side road that leads to El Chaltén.
The road crosses the Patagonian plateau made up of a hard steppe, some hills and some small green valleys. It’s a bad place to get into car trouble on this lonely stretch of road.
The only important town is Gobernador Gregores with about 3,000 inhabitants and a gas station, although most of the people just walk past it.
150 km to the north there is a small hamlet “Bajo Caracoles” (100 inhabitants).
Then follows Perito Moreno, a town with 4,000 inhabitants and all the services you may need for a good stopover, including places to eat and sleep, a bank, a supermarket and a gas station. If driving between Los Glaciares and San Carlos de Bariloche, Perito Moreno is halfway there, making it a good place to spend the night.
Perito Moreno National Park detour
The Perito Moreno National Park can be entered from Tamel Aike, 89 km from the highway. With rudimentary infrastructure, this may be Argentina’s loneliest national park, but this also means that pristine landscapes of lakes and forests can be enjoyed at the foot of the Andes without hordes of tourists.
Cave of the Hands detour
From Bajo Caracoles you can reach 8 Cueva de las Manos, one of the most important archaeological sites in Patagonia. It owes its name to the famous paintings of hands, although there are also other cave paintings. 44 km from the highway.
Segment from Perito Moreno to Esquel
Landscape of streets in Esquel
Distance: 512 km
Road surface: asphalt
The landscape is still desolate after Perito Moreno, but after Río Mayo, some 110 km away, the road is paved again and you will go through small towns: José de San Martín, Gobernador Costa and Tecka (the latter has some natural attractions) . Eventually you reach the city of Esquel; with 40,000 inhabitants it is the largest city since Río Gallegos.
Esquel doesn’t have many places of interest, but its very beautiful location in the foothills and the range of activities available such as hiking, mountain biking, and winter sports make it worth a stop.
Esquel-San Carlos de Bariloche segment
Distance: 283 km
Road surface: asphalt
The section between Esquel and Bariloche is probably the most touristic part of Route 40 from the south.
The landscape includes dense forests and many lakes. The only notable town here is El Bolsón, a former hippie colony that has become a popular destination for mostly Buenos Aires tourists. On the other hand, 15 San Carlos de Bariloche on Lake Nahuel Huapí has become a city with great tourist activity, and is a gateway to the Nahuel Huapi National Park, the most visited in the country.
Route 40 Downtown
San Carlos de Bariloche-Chos Malal segment
Distance: 585 km
Road surface: asphalt
Passing Bariloche the road skirts Lake Nahuel Huapi, then continues on to San Martín de los Andes, a picturesque town on Lake Lácar. It is a popular destination thanks to its access to the Lanín National Park.
The next big city is Zapala (40,000 inhabitants), situated between hills of sand. Around Chos Mahal the road approaches the Andes again. Apart from some historical buildings, Chos Mahal is not a spectacular city but it is a good access point to the mountains.
Chos Malal-Malargüe segment
South of Malargüe
Distance: 334 km
Road surface: to the border with the Mendoza asphalt, then asphalt tracks to Malargüe.
After Chos Malal there is again a lonelier section and in some places the road is in poor condition. The volcanic and steppe landscape is little traveled by tourists but it has some things that are worth seeing such as the Tromen volcano. The only inhabited places here are the two small towns of Ranquil and Barrancas. Then follows the city of Malargüe with a good selection of accommodations.
Distance: 350 km.
Road surface: asphalt to El Sosneado, dirt road to Pareditas (better use the alternative route), followed by asphalt, from Ugarteche on the four-lane highway.
After San Rafael there are some typical landscapes of Cuyo, including steppes interspersed with green and populated oases. After Tunuyán, when the roads turn into a four-lane highway, it is a sign that you are about to reach Mendoza. Mendoza is the center of Argentine viticulture and, with one million inhabitants, the fourth largest metropolitan area in the country. It is also a starting point for trips to some of the highest mountains in the Andes, including Aconcagua.
Mendoza-San Juan segment
Distance: 165 km
Road surface: asphalt.
This relatively short stretch between two large cities is in good condition, but traffic is heavy. The only notable sight here is the sandy desert near Lavalle, the only such desert in South America. San Juan is an oasis city and an important agricultural center.
San Juan-Chilecito segment
San José de Jáchal
Distance: 409 km
Road surface: asphalt.
Leaving the oasis of San Juan, the road crosses a dry and rugged landscape. 130 km north of the provincial capital is the second largest oasis in the Jáchal valley with the city of San José de Jáchal. The highway bypasses this city of 20,000 inhabitants.
Villa Unión, in the province of La Rioja, is the next prominent city and access point to Talampaya. Then follow the Cuesta de Miranda, where the path passes next to a spectacular ravine. After a few smaller hamlets you reach Chilecito, the largest city at the northern end of the route and a bit more touristy. In the surrounding area there are several attractions: ancient villages, rock formations and one of the highest mountain railways in the world, which, however, has been closed.
Off the road is the Talampaya National Park with interesting rock formations and paleontological excavations. To get there, turn off at Villa Unión and drive south for about 70 km to the Puerta de Talampaya. To explore the park in depth, it is necessary to participate in a guided tour; in high season these tours are usually sold out.
Distance: 218 km
Road surface: asphalt.
To the north of Chilecito, the road crosses the valley between the Sierra de Velazco and the Sierra de Famatina, one of the highest areas of the Andes with some mountains that reach up to 6,000 m in height.
In the north of the province of La Rioja, the valley becomes the Campo de Belén plateau. At the northern end of this plateau is London, the second oldest city in Argentina (after Santiago del Estero). This very quiet and green city has two cities, but unfortunately few historical buildings remain. A few kilometers further north is Belén with a better selection of accommodations.
Route 40 North
Bethlehem-Santa María del Yocavil segment
Distance: 172 km
Road surface: asphalt.
Up next: some exciting scenery. Just after Bethlehem the road passes through a gorge, and then the valley widens again. One place worth stopping is Hualfín, a town surrounded by red rock walls.
The road rises 2,200 m above sea level and descends into the Calchaquí Valley, one of the highlights of the trip. When you start to see built-up areas, there are about 15 km to 32 Santa María del Yocavil, the largest city in the valley. Santa María offers a spectacular setting (with hardly any historical buildings), and there are many archaeological sites around the city.
Segment Santa María del Yocavil-Cachi
Quebrada de las Flechas
See also: Calchaquí Valleys
Distance: 235 km
Road surface: asphalt to San Carlos, then gravel (gravel) to Cachi.
After Santa María comes the most famous part of the Calchaquí Valley, a high altitude valley between 1,700 and 2,000 m above sea level. There are many things to see in a few kilometers. A worthwhile detour is the Amaicha del Valle, a Native American community of 4,000 residents with a large museum featuring local culture. A few kilometers further north are the Quilmes ruins, probably the best-preserved pre-Columbian site in Argentina.
Cafayate is the tourist center of the region and also a center for viticulture. The rock of the Quebrada de Cafayate also deserves a small detour.
After Cafayate the road becomes lonelier. There are several small towns with preserved colonial architecture such as San Carlos and Molinos. The next largest town, Cachi, is the center of the northern part of the valley. Cachi has a well-preserved center and there are several places to sleep.
Although the road to Cachi is passable in a smaller car, it is relatively challenging and can present several detours into mud, sand and gravel (gravel) without leveling.
Cachi-San Antonio de los Cobres segment
Abra del Acay
Distance: 145 km (over the Abra del Acay), alternative route 100 km longer
Road surface: asphalt to La Poma, from there a challenging to overwhelmingly challenging gravel (gravel) road
After Cachi comes the most difficult section of the route. Near La Poma the road begins to climb through the valley. After this the path becomes considerably steeper. An off-road vehicle is recommended, and the road can become impassable in both summer (due to rain) and winter (due to ice and snow).
The road winds uphill to Abra del Acay, at 4,972 m above sea level, the highest mountain pass in Argentina and one of the highest in the world (there are others higher in the Himalayas). From there, the descent path improves and leads to the mining town of San Antonio de los Cobres. A fairly poor city, it is the main settlement in western Salta.
Detour Salta / Alternatives to Abra del Acay
There are two ways to get around the Abra del Acay. Both routes are around 100 km longer than the pass through the mountain pass. They will pass through the capital of the province of Salta, with half a million inhabitants and one of the best preserved old colonial centers in Argentina.
San Antonio de los Cobres-La Quiaca segment
Distance: 380 km
Road: poor quality road to Susques, better gravel (gravel) to Santa Catalina, then asphalt
The 13 best places of interest on Route 40
Choosing the best attractions and destinations along Route 40, Argentina is not an easy task because there are many sites, natural and cultural monuments, historical landmarks, incredible landscapes and cultural events along its winding route.
Here we list the “Thirteen Best Attractions” of Route 40 that we consider unique and worth visiting. They are listed from north to south.
Attraction # 1: Cusi Cusi
The “Valley of Mars”
A multi-colored valley with ocher, red, pink, white and gray tones, located on the Plateau de la Puna in the province of Jujuy.
It is also known as “Valle de la Luna 2” (since Valley number 1 is Ischigualasto in San Juan). The Cusi Cusi Valley is located at an altitude of 3,800 m – 12,460 ft on a gravel (gravel) stretch of Route 40 between Susques and La Quiaca.
Attraction # 2: Salinas Grandes
Salinas in the Puna
Jujuy and Salta
The “Salinas Grandes” (which means “Salinas Grandes”) extend for 212 km2 in the highlands of the Puna at 3,450 meters high.
The vast surface of white salt contrasts with the deep blue sky. It is a temporary lake when it rains, and the salt is harvested using traditional methods. It is located on the border of the provinces of Jujuy and Salta, and the “old” Route 40 runs along its southern and eastern shore. National Route 52, paved, crosses it and connects Susques and Purmamarca.
Attraction # 3: Abra del Acay
The highest point on Route 40
The Abra del Acay is the highest pass on a national highway in the world and the highest highway pass outside of Asia: it stands at 16,050 feet. (4,895 m) above sea level.
Located in the Cordillera del Nevado del Acay de los Andes, it is a difficult mountain road between the towns of San Antonio de los Cobres and Cachi.
Attraction # 4: Quebrada de las Flechas
Incredible rock formations in the Calchaquí River Valley
A lunar landscape in the heart of the Calchaquí Valleys. Strange sloping layers of ash-colored rock protrude up to 150 feet above the surrounding terrain.
Its name means “Barranco de las Flechas”, where the “arrows” are the sharp angular slabs of rock.
They are part of the protected area, the Angastaco Natural Monument.
Attraction # 5: Shinkal de Quimivil
The Shinkal (or Shincal) is a National Historic Monument that preserves the Inca ruins.
It covers nearly 50 acres of what was once a provincial capital in the Inca Empire. More than 100 buildings, including a “pyramid”, are on the site.
It is located on the outskirts of the city of London (London), along Route 40.
Attraction # 6: Cuesta de Miranda
La Cuesta de Miranda, is a section of Route 40 that was famous for its dangerousness: a narrow one-lane road that winds through the Miranda River canyon. It crosses a gap between the 19,000-foot-high Famatina Mountains and the Cordillera de Sañogasta.
It is now a paved road and it is safe and easy to drive. It is located between the towns of Chilecito and Villa Unión in the province of La Rioja and its maximum height is 6,690 feet. (2,040 m) above sea level.
Attraction # 7: Talampaya and Ischigualasto
National and Provincial Parks and a UNESCO World Heritage Site
La Rioja and San Juan
Both parks are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Talampaya National Park is located in the province of La Rioja, and is next to the Ischigualasto Provincial Park in the province of San Juan.
They are known for their rock formations, dinosaur fossils, pre-Hispanic rock art, and their native animals and plants. You can get from Route 40 to Jáchal, Huaco or Villa Unión.
Attraction # 8: El Payén
La Payunia Provincial Reserve
El Payén or Payunia, is a volcanic region with large lava flows, basaltic rocks and volcanoes.
It averages 2.75 volcanoes per 10 square miles and disputes with the Siberian Peninsula of Kamchakta for the title of “most volcanoes in a given area” worldwide.
Its lava flows and lava fields are among the largest in South America.
Attraction # 9: Route of the Seven Lakes
Route 40 in the Patagonian forests and the lake region
Neuquén and Río Negro
Route 40 between the cities of Bariloche, Río Negro and San Martín de los Andes in Neuquén is known as the “Route of the Seven Lakes”.
Its name means “The Route of the Seven Lakes”, it is completely paved and crosses two National Parks, in the Andean forests and runs along the shores of more than seven lakes today.
The highway is aligned in the Andes, with its forested slopes, a pristine area protected by the Nahuel Huapi and Lanín National Parks.
Attraction # 10: The Cave of the Hands
One of the most important Paleolithic detachments in the world
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the caves of the hands offer a trip to the past to understand the life of the Indians of Patagonia.
Attraction # 11: Petrified Forest La Leona
The Petrified Forest closest to Tourism
Just 100 kilometers before reaching El Calafate is the most easily accessible Petrified Forest.
Attraction # 12: Perito Moreno Glacier
The most famous glacier in Patagonia
The Perito Moreno glacier is unique in that it does not recede, but advances, damming Lake Argentino, periodically bursting in a spectacular rupture of the ice dam when the pressure of the lake’s water breaks it.
It is located in Los Glaciares National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, near the city of El Calafate.
Attraction # 13: Torres del Paine
The most important detour of Route 40
Torres del Paine National Park is perhaps the most important detour from Route 40.
Its granite towers and its beautiful lakes and glaciers make it a must-see.