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Ruta 40: open roads and epic vistas in Argentine Patagonia

Argentina salta road through salta

Ruta 40 stretches down Argentina for over 5,000km, connecting the red rock valleys of the north with the sunny vineyards of the centre and the creaking glaciers of the south.

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Argentina Ruta 40 Esquel C Sally Dodge

The Andes remain a constant backdrop until, finally, the road turns east and crosses the vast steppe in the far south. When it reaches Punta Loyola, it simply runs out of land to traverse.

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Argentina patagonia lake district bariloche san martin seven lakes route 2 c andestreck

The north is a story for another day. Our focus here is Patagonia, which begins, as you'd expect, with a flush of alpine forests, azure lakes and snowy volcanoes in the Lake District.

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Peuma hue exterior landscape

South of the tourist hub of Bariloche, away from the noise and busyness, the landscapes open up, the air falls quiet and you start to feel the true immensity of Patagonia.

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Argentina patagonia ruta 40 bariloche peuma owner evelyn c peumahue

Patagonia does natural beauty like nowhere else. But it's the people like Evelyn who add warmth and character, providing the most welcoming hospitality you could ever wish for.

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Argentina patagonia bariloche peuma hue lake kayak horses family c peumahue

25 years ago she swapped the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires for the quiet life on the side of a lake. Her estancia is a lovely spot to soak up and explore the surroundings.

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Argentina patagonia bariloche peuma hue room 2 c peumahue

Throughout Patagonia, luxury accommodation is less about thread counts and designer shampoo, and all about warm welcomes, comfy beds, hearty food and spectacular views.

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Argentina bariloche Peuma Hue Asado C Peuma Hue

Asados are rooted in the culture down here, the centrepiece around which conversations flow, food is shared and stories are swapped. Vegetarians worry not, you'll be looked after too.

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Argentina Esquel Chubut River C Sally Dodge

From the lakes, Ruta 40 rolls you smoothly south through a region of trees and mountains, steppe and sky. The next stop brings the great canyons and ancient forests of Chubut province.

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Argentina Ruta 40 Alerces Esquel Lago Menendez from the glacier C Jeremy Wood

Los Alerces National Park is a place of lush temperate rainforest, sparkling blue rivers and glistening turquoise lakes, best explored on foot. Some of the trees are over 2,600 years old.

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Argentina ruta 40 Esquel Cliffs on route to Piedra Parada C Sally Dodge

By contrast, Piedra Parada is a place of dry canyons, petrified woods and salt lakes, best explored in a vehicle with a guide. The cave paintings here are even older than those alerce trees.

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Argentina Ruta 40 Esquel The River Chubut at Piedra Parada C Jeremy Wood

The Piedra Parada reserve takes its name from an ancient volcanic monolith reaching almost 245 metres high into the sky. Guanacos and rheas roam the plains below.

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Argentina patagonia ruta 40 chubut flamingoes c jeremy wood

The nearby Laguna Aleusco is one of the most important flamingo reserves in the Americas. In the breeding season, you can count brilliantly scarlet Chilean flamingos by the thousand.

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Argentina Ruta 40 South of Los Antiguos bend in road C Sally Dodge

South of Esquel, the landscape turns drier and the hills recede. This is the land of vast steppe, big skies and distant horizons. It's a lonely place to live, but a fascinating one to drive through.

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Argentina patagonia ruta 40 esquel fall colours c jeremy wood

Sometimes, it pays to stray off the main path. Such is the case down here, where turning off the Ruta 40 connects you to one of the region's great areas of wild parkland.

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Argentina patagonia ruta 40 parque patagonia guide guido vittone c matias rebak

If you've driven down Chile's Carretera Austral with us, chances are you've walked in the new Patagonia National Park, a true conservation success story. This is the Argentine side of the border.

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Argentina patagonia parque guanaco c hernan povedano rewilding argentina

Rewilding efforts have restored the landscape, helping to shift local industry away from unprofitable and ecologically damaging sheep farming to sustainable nature-based ecotourism.

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Argentina patagonia ruta 40 chubut condor c jeremy wood

There's plenty to keep your eyes peeled for in the sky. Cross your fingers and you might be treated to a sighting of Patagonia's most iconic bird species - the Andean condor.

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Argentina patagonia parque lago buenos aires antiguos portal ascension c rewilding argentina

The park is also a brilliant place to go for a proper walk. Our favourite hikes leads up to a stunning viewpoint of the lake, meseta mountains and white capped peaks beyond.

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Argentina patagonia parque lago buenos aires antiguos cerro castillo c beth wald rewilding argentina

The best base for the region is a B&B on the shores of Lago Buenos Aires. Stretching across into Chile, where it is known as Lago General Carrera, it's one of South America's biggest lakes.

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Argentina pagatonia ruta40 lagos del furioso ruta 41 c lagosdelfurioso

Coming off piste takes you momentarily off the smooth-going tarmac of Ruta 40 and onto the loose gravel of its scruffier sibling - RN41 - and past two rarely-seen mountain passes.

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Argentina Ruta 41 Roballos Valley C Sally Dodge

With barely another soul in sight, there's plenty of time to go slow, soak in the views and stop to get the camera out. Chile is right next door - in fact there's a little-known border pass here.

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Argentina patagonia parque roballos c rewilding argentina

Sometimes it's these simple things that stick with you. Just taking a slower road, seeing perspectives that others won't and experiencing afresh Patagonia's profound sense of space and scale.

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Argentina pagatonia ruta40 lagos del furioso lago posadas puyrredon istmus c lagosdelfurioso

The epic landscapes keep coming, no matter which road you take. There's a gorge to explore, a high plateau rich in fossils and, for a challenge, a hike to the base of Cerro San Lorenzo's glaciers.

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Argentina patagonia parque cañadon pinturas guanaca viewpoint c fabian bezunartea rewilding argentina

Back on the Ruta 40 again. This is the spectacular Pinturas Canyon - soon to become part of a vast protected area stretching into Chile. But it's not just the views that matter...

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Argentina patagonia parque puma 2 c hernan povedano rewilding argentina

A true highlight of any trip, if luck is on your side, would be to spot a puma in the wild. The canyon is something of a stronghold and having a private guide maximises your chances.

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Argentina Ruta 40 Cueva de las Manos Cave C Sally Dodge

There's no trouble getting close to the handprints of the Tehuelche, the ancestors of the historic hunter-gatherers of Patagonia. The prints have been in the canyon for around 10,000 years.

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Argentina patagonia mount fitz roy los glaciares national park patagonia

The final stretch takes us down past the milky green glacial Viedma Lake into true hiking country. El Chaltén is a tiny village watched over by the 'King of Patagonia'...

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Argentina el chalten fitz roy chris bladon

Mount Fitz Roy rises up from icy lagoons and through blankets of glaciers to a height of 3,405 metres. It is considered one of the most beautiful mountains on Earth, a notion we'd second.

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Argentina el chalten and fitz roy c john main pura client6

The Southern Icefield makes its presence known down here. There's actually an area of unclaimed land nearby, part of an unresolved border dispute between Chile and Argentina.

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Argentina patagonia el chalten looking at cerro torre chris bladon

El Chaltén is wonderfully set up for walkers, with hikes of varying difficulties and lengths. Get your boots on, grab a map, pack a picnic and let it all come to you...

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Argentina el chalten and fitz roy c john main pura client11

At the end of a good day's walking, there's nothing better than sitting down to a well-deserved beer or maté and falling into impromptu conversations about your day with other hikers.

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Argentina patagonia clouds chalten chris bladon

Before bed, it's always worth popping your head outside and appreciating the beauty up above. Look out too for Mount Fitz Roy glowing soft hues of pink and orange at dusk.

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Argentina drive calafate chalten chris bladon 2

The last drive skirts the beautiful lakes Viedma and Argentino to arrive at El Calafate, base for visits to the world famous Perito Moreno Glacier - one of South America's true natural wonders.

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Argentina patagonia estancia nibepo aike c hotel

The town of El Calafate is nothing to write home about. So you might prefer to stay on a 100-year-old working sheep and cattle farm to soak up a bit of authentic rural life, gauchos and all.

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Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

Wherever you stay, it pays to time your visit to the glacier right. This place gets busy. The freedom of having your own vehicle means you can visit early or late, when few others are around.

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Argentina patagonia calafate perito moreno boat tour nibepo south view point c glaciar sur Florian von der Fecht

Or you could join an exclusive small-boat cruise through icy channels to quiet lookout points and up to the face of the glacier in late afternoon. It's a fitting final hurrah from Patagonia.

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Argentina el calafate argentina flag chris bladon

Our journey ends at the glacier, but beyond Calafate the Ruta 40 will swing eastwards out to the coast, completing its 5,000km journey all the way from the deserts of the north.

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Argentina el chalten and fitz roy c john main pura client1

If you'd like to take the journey for real, October to April is the time to come and you want at least three weeks to do the journey. Please take a look at our self-drive or private-guided trip examples.

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Argentina salta road through salta
Argentina Ruta 40 Esquel C Sally Dodge
Argentina patagonia lake district bariloche san martin seven lakes route 2 c andestreck
Peuma hue exterior landscape
Argentina patagonia ruta 40 bariloche peuma owner evelyn c peumahue
Argentina patagonia bariloche peuma hue lake kayak horses family c peumahue
Argentina patagonia bariloche peuma hue room 2 c peumahue
Argentina bariloche Peuma Hue Asado C Peuma Hue
Argentina Esquel Chubut River C Sally Dodge
Argentina Ruta 40 Alerces Esquel Lago Menendez from the glacier C Jeremy Wood
Argentina ruta 40 Esquel Cliffs on route to Piedra Parada C Sally Dodge
Argentina Ruta 40 Esquel The River Chubut at Piedra Parada C Jeremy Wood
Argentina patagonia ruta 40 chubut flamingoes c jeremy wood
Argentina Ruta 40 South of Los Antiguos bend in road C Sally Dodge
Argentina patagonia ruta 40 esquel fall colours c jeremy wood
Argentina patagonia ruta 40 parque patagonia guide guido vittone c matias rebak
Argentina patagonia parque guanaco c hernan povedano rewilding argentina
Argentina patagonia ruta 40 chubut condor c jeremy wood
Argentina patagonia parque lago buenos aires antiguos portal ascension c rewilding argentina
Argentina patagonia parque lago buenos aires antiguos cerro castillo c beth wald rewilding argentina
Argentina pagatonia ruta40 lagos del furioso ruta 41 c lagosdelfurioso
Argentina Ruta 41 Roballos Valley C Sally Dodge
Argentina patagonia parque roballos c rewilding argentina
Argentina pagatonia ruta40 lagos del furioso lago posadas puyrredon istmus c lagosdelfurioso
Argentina patagonia parque cañadon pinturas guanaca viewpoint c fabian bezunartea rewilding argentina
Argentina patagonia parque puma 2 c hernan povedano rewilding argentina
Argentina Ruta 40 Cueva de las Manos Cave C Sally Dodge
Argentina patagonia mount fitz roy los glaciares national park patagonia
Argentina el chalten fitz roy chris bladon
Argentina el chalten and fitz roy c john main pura client6
Argentina patagonia el chalten looking at cerro torre chris bladon
Argentina el chalten and fitz roy c john main pura client11
Argentina patagonia clouds chalten chris bladon
Argentina drive calafate chalten chris bladon 2
Argentina patagonia estancia nibepo aike c hotel
Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina
Argentina patagonia calafate perito moreno boat tour nibepo south view point c glaciar sur Florian von der Fecht
Argentina el calafate argentina flag chris bladon
Argentina el chalten and fitz roy c john main pura client1

The legendary Ruta 40 follows the Andes all the way down the western borders of Argentina, from the deserts of the north to the glaciers of the south. A journey through the Patagonia sector uncovers a world of primeval forests, grand canyons, rewilded grasslands, Indian cave paintings and outstanding hiking trails around granite peaks steeped in history. There's no doubt that Ruta 40 is one of South America's great road trips. If it inspires you to come and see it all for yourself, you'll find a couple of trip ideas below to get you started.

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