ROUTE 40: 5,000 km ALONG THE ANDES MOUNTAIN RANGE
Route 40 in the Northwest Route 40 is a mythical and fantastic route that makes many travelers dream. It is a truly great experience of approximately 5,000 km, a section over unpaved roads, from Magellan’s strait up to the Capricorn Tropic, going along Argentina through the extraordinary landscapes of Patagonia and the Andes mountain range. It starts at Cape Virgins, over the Banks of the Strait of Magellan and ends in La Quiaca, on the border with Bolivia, in the Jujuy province. The Argentine government launched a program to pave the route from beginning to end, redesigning the route’s outline.
National Route 40 goes through 11 provinces and 3 regions: Patagonia (Santa Cruz, Chubut, Río Negro and Neuquén), Cuyo (Mendoza, San Juan and La Rioja) and the Norte (Catamarca, Tucumán, Salta and Jujuy). It touches the sky at almost 5,000 m high, leads to 20 reserves and national parks, gets into five places declared World Heritages, goes around 13 lakes and salt mines, resumes the old path of the Incas… North to South tour, up to the “end of the world”.
ROUTE 40 IN THE NORTHWEST – Uplifted in Salta and Jujuy’s altiplateau
La Quiaca, on the border with Bolivia, in the far north of Argentina, ¡s 5,121 km far from Ushuaia! Route 40’s terminal is in the province of Jujuy. The 350-km section that takes you to Susques, en route to Chile and the Capricorn Tropic, may be the most difficult part of Route 40, a route that is not always passable. The first stop 70 km from La Quiaca, at Laguna Pozuelos, declared a natural monument and biosphere reserve. A lake in height where several water birds as well as the flamencos rosas make their nests. Then, the Puna, the altiplateau surrounded by peaks and volcanoes at more than 5,000 m high, where you can see vicuñas or alpacas suris, relatives of the ñandú, within a strange vegetation. Route 40 becomes a synonym of a total adventure. There is no infrastructure whatsoever but some small villages combed by the winds.
You may take Route 9, moving away from Route 40, and going across the unforgettable Quebrada de Humahuaca. A 155-km valley declared World Heritage because of its multicolor mountain landscapes, and Pre-Columbian and colonial remains of the towns. You will visit Humahuaca and its colonial houses, Tilcara and its Indian fortress, El Pucará, Purmamarca and its Cerro de los Siete Colores (Mountain of Seven Colors). It is pleasant to take some time in these welcoming towns, full of craftwork and folk traditions.
You can go south not to miss the beautiful Salta and its fantastic colonial heritage. Or in Purmamarca, you can go west towards Salinas Grandes, a huge salt desert at 4,000 m high. And towards San Antonio de los Cobres, at 3,740 m high, one of the highest towns in the country. This great Indian village was settled down around the copper mines, in harsh weather and with low-oxygen air. Llamas are raised and quinua, the Andean cereal, is grown. The Indian traditions are preserved, such as the celebration of the Pachamama, the mother Earth, which is held on August 1. San Antonio is also one of the stops of the famous Tren de las Nubes that departs from Salta.
We go back to Route 40 that goes South to meet the Valles Calchaquíes, 150 km of a dangerous route up to Cachi, a quiet stop located between white houses and paved roads. Afterwards, the towns of Molinos and Angastaco. The great cardons that even have their own Parque Nacional Los Cardones not very far from there, watch the route to Valles Calchaquíes, one of the most beautiful Argentine landscapes, a narrow route and mostly unpaved that winds red mountains and their strange shapes sculpted by the time and the wind, as the arrows of the Quebrada de las Flechas. This valley was named after the Calchaquíes, who offered great resistance to the colonización española.
And we arrive in Cafayate, first stop in the Argentine ruta de los vinos. Cafayate vineyard is specialized in a unique white grape variety: torrontés, developed particularly well in this sunny region of the province of Salta. Besides the visit to the wineries, Cafayate has a wine museum and a comforting atmosphere of a great farming town. We get in the provincia of Tucumán up to the ruinas de Quilmes, about fifty kilometers far from Cafayate. This archeological site in this Indian city of the Andean civilization established in the 11th century is one of the most important ones in Argentina. Then, Route 40 goes through the province of Catamarca up to the province of La Rioja and the Cuyo region.
What to see, where to go
– Natural parks: Laguna Pozuelos natural monument, Los Cardones national park.
– World heritage: Quebrada de Humahuaca.
– Fauna: water birds at Laguna de los Pozuelos, guanacos, llamas, vicuñas, alpacas suri.
– Archaeology: Tilcara and its Pucará, Quilmes ruins.
– Cities and towns: La Quiaca, Susques, San Antonio de los Cobres, Cachi, Molinos, Cafayate.
– Other tourist attractions: Salta city, Valles Calchaquíes, Cafayate’s wine road.
ROUTE 40 IN CUYO – Dinosaurs in San Juan and La Rioja, vineyards in Mendoza
To the north of the provincia de La Rioja, a beautiful wine region in Chañarmuyo before approaching Cuesta de Miranda, a spectacular deck made of scarlet red rocks surrounded by a mountain range at 6,000 m high up to Villa Unión, which gives access to two adjoining must-see sites, declared world heritages: the parques Ischigualasto y Talampaya. We can find these two paleontological and geological sites isolated in a deserted region: Talampaya, in the province of La Rioja, in San Juan, Ischigualasto, called Valle de la Luna (Moon’s Valley). It is the most important fossil deposit of the época del Triásico, when dinosaurs appeared. You can go around these stunning mineral landscapes accompanied by the park ranger to discover the cave-type art and the dinosaurs’ fossils.
We leave Route 40 just before San Juan city and the wine region of Tulum valley, specialized in syrah to take the parallel 149 route that leads to a secret Argentine marvel: the parque nacional El Leoncito. One of the purest places of the world in this dried-up lake, 300 starred nights a year, pollution-free, the ideal site to settle Argentina’s biggest observatorio astronómico. Going on to Uspallata, it crosses the national route 7 to Chile and goes across one of the must-see places within Mendoza: the parque provincial Aconcagua and the highest peak in America at 6,961 m high. This route is outstandingly beautiful, going along the park and over the Puente del Inca up to the Cristo Redentor erected at the border paying homage to the Andean Army of the Libertador San Martín.
You will go back to Mendoza, one of the eight wine capitals of the world, and one of the best gastronomic cities in Argentina. A true oasis for the production of wine and fruits, at the bottom of the Andes mountain range that here is over 6,000 meters high. From January to March, do not miss Fiesta de la Vendimia that is held throughout the region. In the summer heat, you can spend a nice time at General San Martín park going round the lake, along the rose plants up to Cerro de la Gloria and enjoying the panoramic view of this nice and exciting city, even after having lost many of the historic buildings as a consequence of 1861 earthquake. The vineyard starts at the city entrance, in Luján de Cuyo and Maipú, with the emblematic grape variety: malbec. Going south you will find Valle de Uco, the youngest wine region of the province, surrounding Tunuyán. Several wineries are open to the public and also offer tasting great-quality wines.
Before getting to San Rafael, we will take a path to the Laguna Diamante Provincial Reserve, on the border with Chile. An incredible lake at 3,250m high where Maipo volcano is reflected, this is where one of the most heroic events of the historia de la Aeroposta took place. In the winter 1930, Henri Guillaumet crashed in the surroundings and spent a week in the snow in glacial cold before being rescued by a child. San Rafael will be our last stop along Mendoza’s wine road. In the season, you may take part in the grape harvest selecting the best bunches and watching the wine-making process. You may also choose to take the spectacular tour of Cañón del río Atuel to the south of the city.
30 km before getting to Malargüe, the route that diverts to the mountain range takes you to the biggest ski resort in the country: Las Leñas, and to termas de los Molles with sulphurous hot water coming out in the open air. Two small striking mountain lakes: Laguna escondida and Laguna de la Niña Encantada, and a natural well of 200 meters in diameter full of milky water: Pozo de las Ánimas. In Malargüe, it is essential to divert to take some postcard pictures at the Castillos de Pincheira, mountain formations that recall medieval towers. And another towards Laguna de Llancanelo provincial reserve, a vast extension of salt water located in the middle of the desert. Lovers of ornithology will be thrilled with the 155 species of birds that come to make their nests on the islands and along the 120-km coast. El Payén provincial reserve and its volcanic cones are paradoxically a deserted landscape, a panoramic view almost moon-like inhabited only by guanacos. Back on Route 40, we make a stop over Caverna de las Brujas, at the same level as Bardas Blancas: you may visit one part of this witches caves with their stalactites and stalagmites. Then, we will go down towards Patagonia.
What to see, where to go
– Natural parks: Ischigualasto provincial reserve, Talampaya national park, El Leoncito national park, Aconcagua provincial park, Laguna Diamante provincial reserve, Caverna de las Brujas provincial reserve, El Payén provincial reserve, Laguna de Llancanelo provincial reserve.
– World heritage: Ischigualasto and Talampaya parks.
– Sports: strolling, trekking, skiing, golf, horse-jumping, rock-climbing, rafting.
– Fauna: guanacos, birds of Laguna Llancanelo.
– Cities and towns: Chañarmuyo, Villa Unión, San Juan, Mendoza, Luján de Cuyo, Maipú, Tunuyán, San Rafael.
– Other tourist activities: wine road, astronomy observation, geology and paleontology.
Lodging, hotels et estancias
– Province of La Rioja: Naindo Park Hotel in La Rioja, Paiman-Casa de huespedes in Chañarmuyo.
– Ischigualasto and Talampaya parks: Finca La Media Luna in La Majadita (Valle Fértil), Pircas Negras hotel in Villa Unión.
– Mendoza and surroundings: Park Hyatt in Mendoza, Hotel Huentala in Mendoza, Cavas Wine Lodge in Luján de Cuyo, Club Tapiz in Maipú, Finca Adalgisa in Chacras de Coria.
– Tunuyán: The Vines, Apasión Lodge.
– San Rafael: Finca Viñas del Golf.
ROUTE 40 IN NORTH PATAGONIA - Neuquén and Río Negro, the region of the lakes
After a long journey of more than 500 km across the Neuquén province, Route 40 gets into the green area of the lakes that go along the Andes mountain range. The first stop will be near Junín de los Andes, at the parque nacional Lanín and its araucaria forest. You may take a walk around lago Huechulafquen, on the south side of the outstanding Lanin Volcano, in the center of the territory of the comunidad mapuche. The pretty little mountain town of San Martín de los Andes by the Lácar lake offers several activities: you may go skiing in winter, go fishing in summer or take boat tours. We will leave Route 40 to arrive in Villa la Angostura, a charming town not far from Chile with access to parque nacional Los Arrayanes: there are paths that go between the trees of the myrtle family. You may continue towards San Carlos de Bariloche through Valle Encantado and its strange mountain formations called “God’s fingers”, “The Sentinel”, “Express Train”, going past Villa Traful and its observation site overlooking the lake. The landscape over Traful lake and the mountains are breathtaking.
Up in San Carlos de Bariloche in the provincia de Río Negro, a great mountain city whose style reminds that it was founded mainly by Swiss and German immigrants. It is located at the parque nacional Nahuel Huapi and its magnificent forest where you will surely come across a pudú (small deer) or a monito del monte, a marsupial. In winter, Bariloche offers the best ski runways in Argentina, and in summer it is one of the best sites for fishing truchas arco iris and brown trout.
After going past El Bolsón, Route 40 gets into the Chubut province and gradually offers a different environment up to the Patagonia with the enormous estancias and the steppes combed by the wind.
What to see, where to go
– Natural parks: Lanín national park, Los Arrayanes national park, Nahuel Huapi national park.
– Fauna: pudú (small deer), huemul (Andean deer), monito del monte (marsupial), huillín (kind of otter).
– Sports: strolling, rock-climbing, rafting, trout-fishing, horse-jumping, skiing, golf, sailing the lakes.
– Cities and towns: Junín de los Andes, San Martín de los Andes, Villa Traful, Villa la Angostura, San Carlos de Bariloche.
ROUTE 40 IN SOUTHERN PATAGONIA - From the petrified forest of Chubut to the glaciers of Santa Cruz
El Bolsón sets the limit between Río Negro and Chubut, between Northern Patagonia and Southern Patagonia. An original city, an old hippie shelter from the 1960s considered environmentally friendly. A beautiful valley at the bottom of Cerro Piltiquitrón and next to the parque nacional Lago Puelo, a turquoise glacier lake in the middle of a forest sheltering the huemul, the Andean deer. There are Mapuche communities living nearby.
160 km to the south, Route 40 gets to Esquel, a small city founded by the Welsh between the Andes mountain range and the Patagonian steppe. An old steam locomotive is back to the narrow rails and now, this “Trochita” offers a lovely ride for tourists. We are also at the entrance of the parque nacional Los Alerces that protects the biggest forest of larches or Patagonian cypresses, one of the oldest trees on Earth. Several lakes and rivers go across the park, which makes it one of the most pleasing natural stopovers. It was in Cholila where the famous bank robbers Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid were sheltered.
We go across the whole province of Chubut in more than 400 km, and just before leaving it behind, it is worth diverting west to visit the bosque petrificado de Sarmiento. A moon-like landscape full of fossilized logs that date back to more than 65 million years. Route 40 gets into the Santa Cruz province, going through isolated landscapes where you will only see some guanacos, foxes and ñandúes. The first stop is at Perito Moreno that was named after the explorer and naturalist Francisco P. Moreno at the beginning of the creation of the first Argentine natural park: Nahuel Huapi. Then at the Cueva de las Manos. At the Pinturas River Canyon, this cave of the hands is one of the most important Argentine cave-type art sites declared World Heritage. You may make a 70-km detour to get to the mountain range by Posadas and Pueyrredón lakes, where cisnes de cuello negro, flamingos and ibises go to make their nests. Once more, there the first Patagonian inhabitants left paintings at Cerro de los Indios, near Garganta del Oro, an impressive 150-meter cascade.
A section of approximately 500 km on a route that is partly paved leads us to El Calafate, the entrance point to parque nacional Los Glaciares, one of the most beautiful Argentine natural sites declared World Heritage by Unesco.
We must stop to take some time to go sailing Lago Argentino and to admire the Glaciar Perito Moreno and the other glaciers of the park. You can also stop a little farther in El Chaltén, to go around Viedma lake or walk at the foot of the Fitz Roy. We will still be by the mountain range that has become smaller getting to its end.
Cerro Castillo crossing point enables having access to the Torres del Paine Chilean park with the famous Cuernos del Paine, the glacier del Francés, milky lakes, Salto Grande enormous cascade. We still go along the border until getting thirty kilometers from Puerto Natales, a pretty Chilean port with small colorful corrugated sheet houses. Before heading straightly east, towards the Atlantic, in the loneliness of Patagonia, we can see the estancias and the incredible sheep-raising. A paradise for fishers and nature-lovers that will stop to watch the work done by the gauchos. We go past Río Gallegos, capital city of the province of Santa Cruz, 120 kilometers before getting to Cape Virgins: ground 0 for the new outline of Route 40. By the Atlantic, this cape sets the limit with the Estrecho de Magallanes and Chile that appears to the south of Argentine mainland. We are at the bottom end of the American continent. The only one thing missing is to enter the great island of Tierra de Fuego and to go ahead up to Ushuaia, the end of the world…
What to see, where to go
– Natural parks: Lago Puelo national park (El Bolsón), Los Alerces national park (Esquel), Petrified forest José Ormaechea, natural reserve, Los Glaciares national park (El Calafate, El Chaltén), Torres del Paine park in Chile.
– World heritage: cave-type paintings at the Cueva de las Manos and Los Glaciares national park.
– Sports: tours around the parks along mineral landscapes near El Calafate (Balcón de Calafate, Laberinto de piedra and Piedra de los Sombreros), at the bottom of Mount Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre (El Chaltén). Pesca deportiva in the river near Río Gallegos, overflowing with trout. Trekking on the glaciers.
– Fauna: huemules at Lago Puelo park. Cóndores in the mountain range region. Guanacos and ñandúes en route. Magellan Penguins at Cape Virgins.
– Cities and towns: El Bolsón, Esquel, El Calafate, El Chaltén, Río Gallegos.
– Other tourist attractions: La Trochita steam train (Esquel). Bosque petrificado La Leona and its fossils from trees and dinosaurs (El Chaltén). Breeding estancias and gauchos lifestyle. Cape Virgins Lighthouse.
Lodging, hotels and estancias
– Esquel: Cumbres Blancas lodge.
– In the surroundings of Cueva de las Manos: Posadas lodge, Antigua Patagonia by the Buenos Aires lake.
– El Calafate and El Chaltén: Eolo Lodge, La Estepa, los Cerros del Chaltén.
– Torres del Paine and Puerto Natales, Chile: Cerro Guido lodge in an estancia at the entrance of Parque Torres del Paine and Altiplánico hotel in Puerto Natales.
Exceptional circuits on Route 40
Argentina Excepción will take you along Route 40 Argentine on a 10,000-km tour in 37 days. A unique adventure from the Andean altiplateau up to Tierra del Fuego, going past the wine road, the lakes and the glaciares de Patagonia.
Circuits on Route 40 Argentina
Several different circuits enable you to go along a section of Route 40 :
Fly & Drive circuit Salta, Valles Calchaquíes, Cafayate, Quebrada de Humahuaca : 12 days in Salta region.
Wine and gastronomy in Mendoza and Cafayate : 13 days to discover Argentine wineries surrounded by spectacular landscapes.
Travel to Mendoza and the Valle de la Luna : 10 days on Fly & Drive circuit to discover the greatest Patagonian landscapes.
Bariloche and North Patagonia :10 days on Fly & Drive circuit to discover the greatest Patagonian landscapes.
Travel to Southern Patagonia : 11 days for two of the must-see places in Southern Argentina.
Glaciers and Torres del Paine : 10 days for South Patagonia from El Calafate up to Puerto Natales.
Trekking to the glaciers and Torres del Paine : 14 days to discover the touring sites in Southern Argentina.
Estancias and gauchos of El Chaltén and Torres del Paine : 14 days close to the glacier national park and the chilean park.