Argentinas Ruta 40 /Route 40 Road Trip:
Argentinas Route 40, otherwise known as Ruta 40 or La Cuarenta, is one of the most magnificent & Infamous roads in the world! It spans 5000km (3,107miles) from north to south Argentina, on the western side of the Andes making it the ideal location for an incredible road trip.
On route you will pass through 20 national parks & some of the most spectacular scenery in the world! It covers 236 rivers, 13 great lakes & epic salt plains!
Adventurers adore it while others fear it…known for it’s notoriously poor surfaces & complete deserted stretches…it has humbled many egos.
Route 40 starts in La Quiaca in Jujuy province and finishes in Cabo Virgenes in Santa Cruz province.
For those brave enough to take the route you will have to negotiate through hairpin turns and a variety of terrain from dirt tracks to loose gravel. So with all this risk you may ask yourself is it worth it? I took the trip last year and the answer is HELL YEAH!
But you have to make sure you take precautions to ensure you have a safe & epic trip. I’ve heard many stories of people breaking down on a deserted stretch & actually going missing…presumed dead! So hopefully with these useful tips & guide you will have the experience of a lifetime without risking you life!
Facts about Route 40, Argentina:
- Route 40 The road was “constructed” in 1935.
- Route 40 Spans 5000km (3,107 miles)
- Route 40 is One of the Longest Highways in the world
- Route 40 is one of the Highest Altitude Highways in the world.
- Route 40’s Highest point is Abra del Acay in Salta, a whopping 4,952 meters above sea-level.
- Route 40 has 27 passes on the Andes
- Route 40 passes through 5 world heritage sites.
- Route 40 ends in La Quiaca, Argentina.
Route 40 crosses through the provinces of Santa Cruz, Chubut, Río Negro, Neuquen, Mendoza, San Juan, La Rioja, Catamarca, Tucumán, Salta and Jujuy.
Map of Route 40 Road Trip (Argentina)
Starting Point for your Road Trip:
Route 40 technically starts at it’s lowest point, a humble lighthouse Cabo Vírgenes, (Cape Virigns) at 39 m (128 ft) above sea level, in Santa Cruz, Patagonia.
We chose to start a little high up in Mendoza and take on the more scenic northern part of the route, we still ended up doing over 4000km because we did a road trip to avoid rental car drop off fees!
Where we started our road trip?
We started our road trip in Mendoza an Argentina city famed for it’s vineyards. We found this an easy accessible spot on route 40 as it was only a 5 hour 27 minute or 365 km drive from Santiago Airport.
Now although this may seem like a long drive, the other alternative Ezeiza International Airport (Buenos Aires Airport) is a 12 hour drive 1,162km from the closet point on route 40, as it’s on the east coast.
Our Ruta 40 Road Trip: Mendoza – La Quiaca
Distances: 1570km each way on Ruta 40. Total Round Trip 3040km + return travel from airport (730km) = 3770 km.
Where is the closest Airport to Route 40?
Closest Airport: Chile, main airport. Santiago Airport (Santiago de Chile)
Distance to Route 40/Mendoza from Santiago airport: 365km (5 hour 27minutes).
How long did it take?
We did this over 2 weeks covering an average of just 270km/day and stopping many times en-route. Of course you can do this trip much faster but we wanted to enjoy the adventure! You can even do it over a greater period of time & enjoy the road trip even more.
Option 2: San Carlos de Bariloche – South.
I have friends who started their road trip in San Carlos de Bariloche, the gateway to Patagonia and then drive south to El Calafate.
Southern Route: San Carlos de Bariloche – El Calafate.
We found this required a 18 hour drive covering 1500 km from Ezeiza International Airport (Buenos Aires Airport), just to get onto Route 40! So we chose to head north instead.
Which is better South or North Ruta 40?
Which is better for a road trip South Ruta 40 or North Ruta 40, this all depends on personal preference. I felt the northern part was more accessible, more scenic due to the altitudes and contained better quality roads.
South of Route 40:
The South of Route 40, is sparsely populated & more treacherous! The majority of it is unpaved & there are stretches of over 250km with nothing else around. So if your car breaks down here….good night!
Due to the above & easier transport links we decided to start our trip in the Northern part of Route 40!
North of Route 40:
As you drive further north, route 40 winds through the desolate plains of Patagonia and over the Breath-taking peaks of the Andes, close to the Bolivian Border.
You will also travel through the lush vineyards of Mendoza, and through the incredible national parks of Talampaya and Ischigualasto.
As you drive towards southern Patagonia, near El Chalten you will come to the incredible views at Fitzroy & Cerro Torres Mountain Ranges!
One of the most spectacular views along the way (weather permitting!) is that of the Fitzroy and Cerro Torres ranges which kick in when you get close to El Chalten in Southern Patagonia
You have to see the bright multi colored hills of Purmamarca in the Jujuy region of Argentina.
You will also travel through many of the most historic cultures in Argentina, such as the following:
- Pucara di Tilcara, historic site – NORTH – A National Monument and pre inca fort. Traces of humans have been traced back over 10,000 years.
- Cueva de las Manos, contains cave art which dates back over 13,000 years!
- Los Glaciares National Park, is a UNESCO world heritage site and the second largest National Park in Argentina, home to black chested buzzard eagles and epic ice cliffs.
- Calchaquí Valleys – Should also not be missed with environments from mountain deserts to subtropical forests.
- Mina Pirquitas (NORTH), in Jujuy – The highest town in Argentina, at 4,271 m (14,003 ft) above sea level.
Best time to take a Route 40 Road Trip:
Surprisingly you can travel around Cuyo and the north in the winter season! As summer rains tend to flood and badly damage route 40.
Where in Patagonia, the best time to take a road trip is between October to April as the winter snow and ice can be a challenge.
As we started our trip higher up in Mendoza we chose to head there at the end of Argentinas winter which is late September. Temperatures were between 9’C and 25’c which decreased as we drove higher altitudes.
Which car to use for your Route 40 Road trip?
Ruta 40 Horror stories – We heard so many horror stories before taking our drive down route 40. These include:
- Bricks Breaking Gas Tank & causing an unknown fuel leak.
- Cars getting stuck on the unpaved gravel roads
- Tires Blowing out.
- Cars Breaking Down & the owners freezing to death.
To mitigate alot of these issues here is a essential piece of advice:
Hire a Sturdy 4×4 with Good Ground Clearance.
Now you probably can do the trip in a smaller car and I have friends who came back to tell the tale, but to be honest why risk it. Yes you will save on rental costs but the amount extra is worth it, especially if climbing terrain as you head north.
Insider Tip: If you want to tackle Route 40 in a smaller rental & you tell the rental car company, they may refuse certain cars…so keep that in mind. ;).
Burst tires on Route 40?
This is a common occurrence, so check your tire pressures before hand and make sure the spare is pumped up to the correct pressure. Bringing TWO SPARE TIRES is a great option also, just to be on the safe side.
Practical Tip: Bring a few cans of the Flat Tire Emergency Pump up spray and an electric & manual pump, just in case.
Essential Car Tips:
- Ensure oil & water is checked.
- Ensure vehicle has had full service before (Rentals usually check these)
- Ensure 1 to 2 spare tires fully inflated to the correct pressure (Or slightly higher)
- Ensure Full Tank of Gas Upon setting of & bring extra fuel tanks in the trunk. (Gas Stations can be unreliable on Ruta 40!)
- Bring Roadside Fluorescent Vest & Warning Triangle in case you break down. Flare Gun is optional…although may be overkill!
- Bring Jump Leads, Wheel Brace and toolbox in case you have to make minor repairs enroute.
Local Tip to provide window damage:
The Argentinians swear by an old method used to prevent window screen cracking. This involves pressing your hand against the window screen, when a vehicle overtakes or passes in the opposite direction. We tried this a few times, but it’s hard to say if it worked.
Car Rental Tips:
When renting a car, I suggest opting for FULL INSURANCE, this usually covers minor external damages such as scratches and wear/tear!
Also enquire about damage deposit and be sure to take a full video & lots of photographs of the car before renting…make note of any damages with the car rental provider.
Essential Tips for Driving Route 40:
Break Down Cover?
The horror stories speak of many deserted stretches of Route 40 and if you break down you will be completely stranded!
Now although there are some parts which are like this, there are also usually a few other adventurers usually driving route 40 and even a few locals. So you won’t be completely alone for the most part.
If you break down:
- Flag down a passing Vehicle and ask for assistance.
- Bring a couple of Mobile Phones including one Satellite Phone as the signal can be average.
- Investigate the Issue.
- Put on your hazard lights and put your warning breakdown sign out of your vehicle.
- Worst Case, you can use a sleeping bag and stay the night in an area until someone drives past.
If you manage to flag someone down you can take a ride with them to town & bring a mechanic or tow truck.
Gas Stations on Ruta 40.
The Gas Stations on Ruta 40 are few and far between. So my advice is to Fill up in EACH TOWN! As we drove into some towns we found lines of vehicles going right around the corner, but trust me it’s worth the wait as the next town could have the same issue.
Clothing for Ruta 40:
The dry mountain winds & high altitudes & potential snow storms mean lots of warm layers are advisable.
- Warm Layers
- Light Breathable Layers
- Thermal & normal socks
- Face Mask/Scarf
- Lip Balm
- Sleeping Bag
How much cash to bring?
As you drive along Ruta 40, you will find many ATMS don’t accept foreign cards! We found this out on the road trip but luckily we had enough cash for the drive. Many hotels, Supermarkets & gas stations also have similar issues with foreign cards.
It turns out you require an Argentina Bank Account & card, to be on the safe side…or just bring extra cash like us!
Food on Ruta 40:
There are small towns to stop on Ruta 40 for food, but there can be a few hundred km between each town. So I suggest brining lots of ever fresh food & meal replacement drinks to keep you going on your epic road trip!
I also suggest bringing some coal & even having your own Barbecue!
Water on Ruta 40:
Similar to the food issue, bring extra water just in case. I suggest around 10-15 litres depending upon how long your traveling.
Our Ruta 40 Road Trip Itinerary
After flying into Santiago (Airport code: SCL) it worth taking the 25 minute drive (19km) to the centre.
Santiago, is Chile’s capital and largest city, nestled in a valley surrounded by the snow capped Andes you will find this historic gem.
San Cristobal Hill
The San Cristobal Hill is a real highlight, this giant lush hill is in central Santiago offers panoramic views of the city.
Take the funicular railway, hike or of course drive up to the top of the steep hill! You won’t be disappointed when you reach the summit which offers breath taking a panorama of Santiago.
For the clearest views of the city, head up just after rainfall when the moisture reduces the smog in the air.
The hill top Park is the largest greenspace in the city and even houses the national zoo, a botanical garden & even two swimming pools!
Hike Tip: Hikes take around a 90 minute round trip.
- Santa Lucia Hill
- Plaza De Armas – dates back to 1541.
- La Moneda Palace
- Costanera Center – Skyscraper at 1,000 feet (304 m) tall surrounded by the andes.
Drive: From Santiago to Mendoz via the HIGHEST Mountain South America ,Aconcagua. (363km) 5hr 41 mins.
Mendoza has a laid back vibe which will captivate you!
Known as Argentina wine country, Mendoza is famous for it’s wineries and vineyards. Be sure to go on a wine tour here.
Grab a few bottles of the local Malbec wine for the road!
As you drive through the city you will be awe inspired by art deco buildings and artistic plazas.
Fun Fact: Mendoza is the fourth-most-populous city in Argentina by population (937,154.) .
Highlights of Mendoza:
- General San Martín Park – A lush park with a lake & a rose garden
- Cerro de la Gloria – The Army of the Andes Monument.
- Plaza Independencia – A Lively square with grand fountains and towering trees.
Drive: Take the Drive from Mendoza to San Juan: 2 hr 30 min (178 km).
San Juan is a unique valley city which lies to the east of the Andes Mountains.
Things to do in San Juan:
Plaza 25 de Mayo
Head to the main city centre plaza, this is a classic argentine square surrounded by palm trees and with a grand central fountain. This is the ideal place to relax and do some people watching.
Fun Fact: The Former president of Argentina, (Domingo Faustino Sarmiento) was born here, there is a statue of him in the square.
Where to Eat?
This is the ideal location for a driving break, where you will find a few cafes, restaurants and bars around the edges of the plaza.
Casa Natal de Sarmiento – Home of the Former President!
Casa is spanish for home and Casa Natal de Sarimento is the former home of the 19th Century Argentine President, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento.
Here you will find a national monument dedicated to the man who was known as the “Educator of the Americas” and his campaigns for Womens right to education!
You can see the room where he was born, including his bedroom & desks and manuscripts. Guided tours are optionals.
Museo de la Memoria Urbana – San Juan Museum.
Learn about the history of San Juan including the notorious earthquake which destroyed it in 1944!
This Museum is FREE Entry with tours available, you can see old photos and newspapers of San Juan before the earthquake.
Be sure to try out the earthquake simulator to a fun immersive attraction.
Quebrada de Dique Ullum – DAM good Reservoir!
What did the fish say when he swam into a wall?? DAM! Thats exactly what you’ll find at Quebrada, this large hydroelectric dam creates the perfect reservoir. Many locals flock here during the summer months where they can go boating, fishing or just relax in the sun!
This is the perfect place to unwind after your drive so far, as you relax you will find the Andean Foothills contrasting against the turquoise waters of the lake.
You’ll have great views of the red Andean foothills contrasted against the blue-green water of the lake.
Bring a picnic or BBQ and relax here for the day, you will see many locals doing the same.
Where to Stay?
The Dam is 20km from the city, so you can spend a few hours here or stay at one of the hotels or campsites nearby.
National Park El Leoncito (Parque Nacional El Leoncito)
Spend the night in San Juan then take the drive to Parque Nacional El Leoncito in the morning. (213km) (3hr 30 mins).
The Beautiful National Park offers over 90,000 hectares of terrain which sits beneath the Andes. Here you can find Ancient Archaeolgical sites such as Rock Carvings and a variety of hikes.
There are three incredible hikes around the park, which include sights of herds of guanacos (llama-like animals), streams, and cascading waterfalls.
Discuss with Park rangers for info on camping, shower facilities, Barbecues and toilets. Camping is FREE by the way! However, it can get real cold at night so bring lots of layers.
Santa María is a small city in the province of Catamarca. This quaint city is authentic Argentina at it’s best.
Things to do in Santa Maria:
A nice plaza and nature park with a few things going on nearby.
Telar de Suriara – Llama Farm!
This is a cute local farm where you can get up close & person with a variety of local animals, from Llamas to sheep & mountain goats.
They is even a cute old women which is weaving all sorts of colorful local garments, from ponchos to hats.
Cumbres Calchaquies ( Mountain Adventure)
If you want to adventure to a mountain range which is one of the most pristine and Unexplored regions of Argentina, then this is the place for you.
Cumbres Calchaquies is a part of the Andes mountain range located just north east of Santa Maria. At it’s summit (Cerro de la Mina) its 4762 meters above sea level!
Here you will find small valleys and tiny towns such as Anca Juli , Las Arquitas , or Chasquivil. Lots of shepherds live in the town & many are only accessible on the back of a mule! (We discovered!)
San Miguel Tucumán – Detour.
As you head past the Cumbres Calchaquies Mountains, you will come to San Miguel de Tucumán, the capital city of Tucumán province.
Things to do in San Miguel Tucuman:
This is the cities vibrant hub and historic monument.
Museo Casa Padilla (Museum)
Museo Casa Padilla, the former home of a notable local family, and contains 19th-century furniture and art.
Museo Casa Histórica de la Independencia (Museum of Independence)
The Museo Casa Histórica de la Independencia commemorates Argentina’s emancipation from Spanish rule in 1816!
Ninth of July Park
This is the largest public park in the city!
The province of La Rioja in the north west of Argentina borders by the majestic Andes mountain range.
Things to do in La Rioja:
Botanical Gardens (Chirau Mita)
The La Rioja botanical gardens is a spikey Plant Wonderland! It is home to over 60 species of Cacti! This is definitely a unique place to visit.
The cities cathedral is an Argentine gem of Architectural styles! With towering arches & sandstone colors.
Talampaya National Park – Dinosaur Bones!
Talampaya National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site located just outside La Rioja and spans over 215,000 hectares!
Reddish Sandstone walls seemingly rise from the ground towards the heavens. Over 50,000 visitors flock annually to spot fossilised Dinosaur Bones and memorable views.
The Lost city is located within Talampaya National Park, a tour can be taken through the cryptic maze of sandstone walls & rock formations.
Fun Fact: Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges visited the region and wrote about it as the “City of Immortals”
La Quiaca is end of the line for route 40! But don’t disappear we have saved one of the most vibrant places till last.
Fun act: La Quiaca is 3,442 m (11,293 ft) above mean sea level.
Things to Do in La Quiaca:
Vibrant main plaza with central fountain.
Mercado Central Municipal:
A Beautiful Historic Church which is the end of line on route 40.
The Red Pond & the Eight Brothers Mountain Range
We left La Quiaca and traveled 12 kilometers along Provincial Route 5 heading for Yavi in order to see these two wonderful manifestations of nature.
Uyuni Salt deposit:
The Uyuni salt deposit is a unique spot on this planet. Anything is possible there and every day is different from the next. A magical place indeed, where God has simply left track of His existence.