The Route 40 in Patagonia

Fitz roy and El Chaltén, 40 national route

One of the most iconic routes throughout the entire Patagonian region is undoubtedly National Route 40. Known simply as Route 40, it is a road that runs vertically parallel to the Andes Mountain Range, filled with stories and majestic landscapes.

The Route 40: overview and general facts

National Route 40, also known as Ruta Nacional 40 or Libertador General Don José de San Martín (although it’s commonly referred to as Route 40), spans from Cape Vírgenes, Santa Cruz, to the Bolivia border in La Quiaca, Jujuy, Argentina. It’s a remarkable highway renowned for its numerous tourist attractions, running parallel to the Andes mountain range and passing through or nearby several national parks. As the longest route in Argentina, stretching 5,194 km from south to north, Route 40 traverses 11 provinces: Santa Cruz, Chubut, Río Negro, Neuquén, Mendoza, San Juan, La Rioja, Catamarca, Tucumán, Salta, and Jujuy. Along the route, travelers can access various notable destinations such as El Calafate near the Perito Moreno glacier, Esquel, El Hoyo, Lago Puelo, El Bolsón, Bariloche, Villa La Angostura, San Martín de los Andes, Junín de los Andes, Chos Malal, Malargüe, the Wine Route in Mendoza and San Juan, dinosaur fossil deposits in San Juan, hot springs in Catamarca, the Ruins of Quilmes, the Calchaquíes Valleys, the highest vineyards in Cafayate, and landmarks like the La Polvorilla viaduct crossed by the Train to the Clouds and the Puna. Route 40 also ascends to nearly 5,000 meters above sea level at the Acay pass in Salta, making it the highest route in the Americas and the world outside the Himalayas. It’s indeed an intriguing journey through diverse landscapes and cultural experiences.

Is the 40 route paved or gravel? This question is quite intriguing, as many people assume it’s gravel. However, it’s worth noting that the entire stretch between Bariloche and El Calafate is paved, so there’s no need to worry!

Is it a busy route? No, not at all. Traffic on this highway is generally light, averaging fewer than 1000 vehicles per day, except for two specific sections: the tourist route between El Bolsón and San Carlos de Bariloche in Río Negro Province, and between Pareditas in Mendoza Province and the city of San Juan. Pareditas is a necessary transit point for vehicles traveling between Mendoza and San Rafael.

With the exception of the mentioned sections, traffic is seasonal. In vast areas of Patagonia, the road is often impassable due to snow during the winter months, from July to September. Additionally, rivers along the route in northern Argentina experience significant increases in flow during the summer months, sometimes leading to road closures in areas without bridges.

How to visit Route 40 in Patagonia? Where to start?

If you are planning to visit the amazing Route 40 in Patagonia, you can rent a car on. And a good idea is to start in any of the head cities with airport, like El Calafate in Santa Cruz Province of Bariloche in Rio Negro Province. There are algo guided tours going from Bariloche to El Calafate and viceversa, with different stops in the destinations along the 40 national route. Other important points of interest are El Bolson and Lago Puelo Nat Park, Esquel and Los Alerces National Park, Bajo Caracoles and the Cave of the Hands, Los Antiguos, El Chalten and the Fitz Roy Massif, El Calafate, Perito Moreno Glacier and Los Glaciares National Park.

Accommodation in Route 40: Where to stay?

In some major cities such as Bariloche, Esquel, El Calafate, and El Chalten, for instance, you can discover a variety of accommodations and hotels catering to different preferences and budgets. These cities are highly tourist-oriented, so finding suitable lodging options is generally easy. Along the route, there are also opportunities to stay at Estancias, which offer a unique and immersive experience. Estancias are traditional ranches or country estates where guests can enjoy authentic rural hospitality, learn about local traditions, and engage in outdoor activities. Staying at an Estancia allows travelers to connect more deeply with the culture and landscapes of the Patagonian region, offering a memorable and enriching stay along Route 40.

 

How long is the route 40?

The route 40, in total from La Quiaca in the border with Bolivia, to the extreme south in Cabo Virgenes in the province of Santa Cruz in Patagonia, has a total extension of 5194 km. It´s the largest route in Argentina and one of the largest routes in the world. From Bariloche to El Calafate, there are a total of 1512 km along the 40 national route.

National Route 40 in Argentina has a prominent place among the 10 most memorable highways in the world: for the unique amazing landscapes, the total length, the extreme altitude conditions and the variety of regions it runs through. Of course, the most famous part of the route is the Patagonia portion, from the Lakes District to El Calafate, from where you can visit the Perito Moreno Glacier and other amaging glaciers in Los Glaciares National Park.

 

What is the best season to visit the Route 40 in Patagonia?

Certainly, venturing along Route 40 in Patagonia during the winter season is not advisable. Harsh weather conditions, snow-covered roads, and reduced daylight hours can make travel difficult and unsafe. The optimal time to explore Route 40 is during the summer season when the weather is more favorable. Generally, the period from October to March offers long daylight hours, ample sunshine, moderate temperatures, and clear roads devoid of snow, ensuring a more enjoyable and safer journey through Patagonia’s scenic landscapes.

The route 40: a long way along Patagonia

The Route 40 in Patagonia: From Bariloche to El Calafate

Route 40 is extensive, covering nearly 2500 km, allowing travelers to explore the vastness of Argentine Patagonia thoroughly from Bariloche in the lake region to El Calafate in the province of Santa Cruz.

The Route 40 in Patagonia: Bariloche, El Bolson, Esquel, and Los Alerces National Park

San Carlos de Bariloche serves as a significant gateway to the Argentine Patagonia, particularly for visiting the Lake District. From there, we journey back to Route 40, traversing the provincial boundary (between Neuquén and Río Negro) at the Alicurá dam. Pilcaniyeu lies at the junction with RP 23, connecting to the province through the south line. Finally, Ñorquinco awaits, offering a gravel road leading to El Bolsón at the foot of Piltriquitrón hill. Continuing our journey, we cross another interprovincial boundary into Chubut, encountering El Maitén and then Leleque, accessible from El Bolsón via Lago Puelo, El Hoyo, and Epuyen. Lago Puelo National Park, characterized by its unique plant species and diverse wildlife, is accessible from El Bolsón. From El Hoyo, we proceed southwards to Esquel and Trevelín near La Hoya ski center. Esquel is a departure point for visiting the breathtaking Los Alerces National Park, known for its ancient larch trees and pristine waterfalls, recognized as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site in 2017.

The Route 40 in Patagonia: From Esquel to Gobernador Gregores

After exploring Esquel and Los Alerces National Park, our journey continues southward through Chubut Province, reaching Tecka, Gobernador Costa, Alto Río Senguer, and Río Mayo before reaching the southernmost limit with Santa Cruz Province. We then proceed to Perito Moreno and Los Antiguos, with the latter situated on the south bank of Lake Buenos Aires. Perito Moreno, the administrative headquarters of the Lake Buenos Aires Department, offers access to attractions like the Cueva de las Manos, an archaeological marvel. Los Antiguos, the National Cherry Capital, provides picturesque landscapes and gastronomic delights. Moving forward, we enter Perito Moreno National Park, home to the Cueva de las Manos, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Posadas Lake, known for its sports fishing opportunities and stunning scenery. Gobernador Gregores, a city of approximately 7000 inhabitants, serves as the administrative center of Perito Moreno National Park, offering access to Lake Cardiel and Lake Strobel, renowned for sport fishing.

The Route 40 in Patagonia: From Gobernador Gregores to El Chalten and El Calafate

Continuing southward, we reach the access point to El Chaltén, located within Los Glaciares National Park, renowned for its trekking opportunities to Fitz Roy Mount. El Chaltén, declared the National Capital of Trekking in 1994, offers various trekking trails amidst stunning landscapes. Our journey culminates in El Calafate, situated on the southern shore of Lake Argentino, providing access to the iconic Perito Moreno Glacier, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. El Calafate shares Los Glaciares National Park with El Chaltén and offers diverse activities, including glacier trekking and lake excursions.

 

Picture of Ramiro Rodriguez

Ramiro Rodriguez

25 years working in travel market, as Sales & Marketing Manager in RipioTurismo, Marketing Manager in Nuevas Ideas Travel Consulting Group. Writer and travel lover.

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