South America

Tackle Argentina’s Mighty Northern Route 40

Laura Pattara

Laura Pattara  |  22 August 2017

Argentina's Ruta 40 is one of the longest and most spectacular highways in the world.

Discover our tours in Argentina and on the famous Route 40

Think you’ve got what it takes to tackle the Argentina’s legendary Ruta 40? Buckle up and find out!

Argentina’s Ruta 40 is often described as one of the most spectacular highways on the planet. It stretches for than 5,224km and traverses rugged and utterly mesmerising landscapes. Vertiginous peaks, dramatic rock formations, luscious forests, lakes, rivers and endless arid horizons will be your companions, as you travel from sea level to a breathtaking Andean altitude of over 5,000m. You’ll cross 18 major and 210 secondary rivers, surpass 27 Andean passes, drive alongside 13 great lakes, blinding white salt flats and 18 national parks, all the while covering 11 Argentinian provinces, including the wine-growing region of Mendoza and wonderful Santa Cruz, Salta and Tucuman. Ruta 40 isn’t merely a ‘scenic drive’: this is one of the most outlandish road trips in the world and an unforgettable way to discover the diversity (and enormity) of Argentina.

Argentina's Ruta 40

From the hot and dusty northern border with Bolivia to the frozen wonderland of southern Patagonia: Ruta 40 brings you the best of Argentina in one long, windy and unforgettable road.

And what’s not to love about that?

Ruta 40 through the years

Even today, tackling Ruta 40 is considered a test of endurance, one might say, especially as not all of it is sealed and the fact that most of it, in fact, covers remote and uninhabited land. When it rains you risk getting bogged in a metre of mud. During the driest months, instead, you’ll be covered in fine dust from head to toe.

Yet if you think driving down Ruta 40 would be challenging enough nowadays, spare a thought for the poor souls tasked with the job of actually building it, back in 1935. The road’s length and actual route have changed somewhat over the years and this has partly been due to tourism. Touted as Argentina’s prime highlight, the one which offers you the chance to visit the most celebrated treasures, Ruta 40 now starts south at the seaside town of Cabo Virgenes near the Magellan Strait and winds its way north, hugging and crossing the Andes until it reaches the Altiplano, on the border with Bolivia at Cienaga de Paicone.

Be prepare to live magical moments

La Cuarenta, as locals call it, isn’t all immensely remote. Parts of it, especially around gorgeous Bariloche and, of course, Mendoza, are always thriving with vehicles and visitors. Yet if you’re after some solitude and want to experience travelling in wide open spaces with merely your truck-mates for company, then you’ll certainly satisfy your wish. The road’s at-times inhospitable ruggedness is what attracts visitors, and intimidates them, in equal measure. The Argentinian government has pledged to have the entire road paved but this has not happened as of yet. Some say it’s all the better for it.

Up until 2004, the Ruta 40 was divided into two sections: Sud and Norte, with the northern section, between Salta and Mendoza, being the most coveted. That’s because this is arguably the most diverse section of the entire roadway and takes passengers on a whirlwind journey from the peak of Andean Altiplano to flourishing and verdant vineyard-covered valleys in the south.

If you have but 2 weeks up your sleeve then it’s the Northern Route 40 you’ll want to tackle. A journey of almost 1,300km through some of the most dramatic and jaw-dropping landscapes in all of South America.

The ruta 40 will take your breath away

Highlights of Northern Route 40

The wonderful thing about travelling along the Northern Route 40 is that highlights come in all shapes and sizes. Yes, you’ll no doubt be overwhelmed by the beauty of well-known places like Bariloche and can excitedly anticipate the delectable delights of renowned culinary hubs like Mendoza. Yet it’s the in-between treasures that will probably be the most memorable. The small, unassuming yet stunning villages, the warmth of locals and their endless hospitality. The archaeological secrets are hidden in this remote land of a thousand ancient cultures, and the natural highlights that make this country a UNESCO hub, with quite a few heritage-listed parks to explore.

On this two-week overland journey, we cover half a dozen points of interest and find this a fab balance between soaking up the Ruta 40 driving experience and discovering the exceptional attractions that entice adventurous travellers to this region of Argentina in the first place. Yes, it’s a great drive and a wonderful bucket-list achievement but do keep in mind that the primary reason Northern Route 40 (in particular) has become so coveted is that it brings you to face to face with a phenomenal array of Argentina’s best highlights.

Although most of this section of the Ruta 40 is paved, many of its nearby attractions are on the unpaved road, so along with remoteness, you will certainly experience plenty of fun drive times. Our custom-built AT trucks will get you there and back safely and comfortably. Well, ‘safely’ for sure and ‘comfortably’ will be highly dependent on how many potholes we can swerve around!

Each stop offers multiple options for both active and relaxing activities. From winery tours and degustation dining to tours of Inca ruins, amazing colonial-era architecture, indigenous villages and plenty of cultural options as well. There really is something along Ruta 40 for everyone.

Just take a look at a few highlights along the way…

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The visual spectacular that are the salt plains of Salinas Grande

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Salta – The St Francis Basilica is only one of Salta’s precious architectural gems. This is, without doubt, the most beautiful city in northern Argentina

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The breathtaking ‘Hill of Seven Colours’ frames Purmamarca village. This whole region is littered with multicoloured peaks, valleys and gorges. A photographer’s dream come true!

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Along this section of Ruta 40, set deep within splendid gorges, you’ll discover some of the most charming indigenous villages in the whole country. Don’t worry…you’ll have plenty of time to meander at will

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Driving along Northern Route 40 – ‘This ain’t no ordinary road trip!’

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Spellbinding rock formations along the way. This is the famed amphitheatre near El Cafayate

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Talampaya National Park – The overwhelming and imposing nature of the sights in Northern Argentina have a truly humbling effect on the soul

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There will be plenty of wildlife  along the way. Mostly, of the fluffy vicuna and alpaca kind!

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Mendoza – Because there’s nothing better at the end of a full day’s drive along the Ruta 40, than a glass of Argentinian wine and a BBQ of world-class sirloin

We could go on and on and on about the unmissable Northern Route 40 experiences. But instead of waxing lyrical about it, we’d prefer to show you.

Want to come along on the most spectacular drive of your life? Here at Viva Expeditions, we are in the habit of running truly EPIC adventures along the Northern Route 40 overland adventure tours (even if we do say so ourselves). Our experienced and trusty guides and drivers will take you on whirlwind journey for two amazing weeks: they’ll tell you when it’s one of those ‘sore bum days’ on the road or just how many excursions you can take ay the next stop. They’ll serve up the best of Northern Argentina on a silver platter for you and all you have to do is buckle up and come have the time of your life.

Contact us for more info.

Discover our tours in Argentina and on the famous Route 40

Learn more about Argentina and South America in general on our blog 

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