Salta to Ushuaia: Argentina’s Legendary Route 40
Salta to Ushuaia
Est Driving Time25-32 days
- La Riojana Wines
- Talampaya National Park
- Ischigualasto Provincial Park
- San Juan
- Termas de Cacheuta
- Reserva Provincial Castillos de Pincheira
- The Witches Cave
- Lanin National Park
- San Carlos de Bariloche
- El Bolsón
- Los Alerces National Park
- Los Antiguos
- Cuevo de los Manos
- El Chaltén
- Perito Moreno Glacier
- Martillo Island
Leg 1 Salta to Ischigualasto Provincial Park
Est Driving Time10 hrs, 30 mins
Salta is fast becoming one of Argentina’s top destinations, with an enticing fusion of the old and the new at every turn - from colonial architecture and museums to clubs and shops. There’s no doubt you’ll be itching to hit the road as soon as you’ve picked up your Salta campervan, but be sure to factor in a few days to explore this city first. The Cathedral of Salta is a great place to get started, as it’s in the heart of Salta and a testament to the city’s culture and history. The cathedral’s 17th-century façade is a fetching pink colour and has been a national monument since the 1940s - note that it’s also stunning after dark when illuminated with a series of lights. Another historic spot is the Salta Cabildo, another national landmark and an old government building that has been rebuilt multiple times, and today serves as a spectacular home for the North Historical Museum and Colonial Museum of Fine Arts. And before you leave, take a stroll around the central 9th July Square, which is surrounded by top sights and impressive architecture, as well as enticing cafés and bistros.
When you’re ready to start out on your Argentina motorhome itinerary, strike out east on Route 9 and follow it as it makes a turn to the south.
Tucuman is a lively and rather warm city in the north of Argentina. It boasts a subtropical climate that sees hot days and mild evenings year round. While there are many attractions in the city, from the bar and café culture to various museums, the Government House of Tucuman is wonderful. Known locally as Casa de Gobierno de Tucuman, this grand structure incorporates French Baroque design with Italianate flourishes. A tour of the ornate interiors is a must and will give you the chance to visit the main White Hall, which is said to be one of the most impressive in the country. If you’re looking for something a little more thrilling, head west into the hills, where you can try your hand at paragliding or hang gliding in one of the top spots in the world for these adrenaline-inducing activities.
Leaving San Miguel de Tucuman, head south and follow Route 38 to your next stop.
La Riojana Wines
Argentina is one of the world’s most prominent - and most loved - wine producers, so no visit to the country is complete for the vino fan without a stop at one of its wineries. Not only is La Riojana handily located along your road trip route, but it’s also a province with 500 growers, making it the country’s largest wine cooperative, and one of the top 10 wine exporters in Argentina. Together, they cover more than 4,125 hectares of vineyards and create up to 40 million litres of wine every year. Much of this wine gets sent to the main winery La Riojana in La Plata, which you can visit for tastings and cellar door purchases. Naturally, the driver may have to sit this one out, or you can grab a spot in a nearby campground (such as the Campground Finca El Pinar) and let everyone enjoy the best the winery has to offer.
When you are ready to hit the road again, take Route 38 south, turning off at the small town of Patquia to join Route 150.
Talampaya National Park
The Talampaya National Park is indeed one of Argentina’s most mesmerising treasures. With dry red earth, mountains and canyons, and a sky wider than you’ve ever seen, the pure sight of it would be enough, but the park is also where footprints and fossils were unearthed from some of the oldest dinosaurs on the planet, as well as relics and petroglyphs from ancient local cultures. The canyon is the main attraction, rising almost 500 feet high in places and stretching a mile long. Visitors are not permitted to explore the park on their own, but there are many tour options available with experienced guides. You can go by bike, by foot, or by 4x4, all of which have their benefits. And for something truly unforgettable, try to line your visit up with a full moon for a night-time tour that will quickly become a highlight of your trip.
From here, it’s only a short drive to the neighbouring Ischigualasto National Park to begin the next leg of your journey.
Leg 2 Ischigualasto Provincial Park to Malargue
Est Driving Time12 hrs
Ischigualasto Provincial Park
The Ischigualasto Provincial Park is found just south of the Talampaya Park and is commonly referred to as ‘Moon Valley’ thanks to its striking resemblance to the sparse and otherworldly lunar landscapes. Much like the Talampaya National Park, this Valley of the Moon is also a UNESCO World Heritage-listed site. Between the two, they host a complete continental fossil record from the Triassic Period - 245-208 million years ago. From plants to mammals and vertebrates to dinosaurs, this area has offered archaeologists and historians a fascinating look into the past, all the while giving tourists a chance to explore a region of surreal beauty. A guide will be able to explain the park as it once was - from the bizarre ‘Bowling Field’ of spherical round stones and the ‘Submarine’ rock formation, to the area that was once a large lake surrounded by verdant vegetation that’s now an arid desert. Note that you can bring your motorhome into the park, but the roads can become difficult during the rainy season, so you may be best to book a ride with a tour agency if you arrive then (December to February).
From here, leave the park heading west to join Route 40 and begin following it south. This stretch of road on your way to San Juan is particularly pretty, so be sure to drive during the daytime to see it.
San Juan is a smaller city found along Route 40 and offers something a little different. Many of the structures are new after much of the town was destroyed after a major earthquake in the 1940s, so even though it’s a colonial town, it’s still quite modern. Plus, while it often gets compared to Mendoza (a little farther south), San Juan is less touristy and busy, so offers a calmer experience of Argentinian culture. Begin your visit with a stroll through the central Plaza 25 de Mayo, a tree-lined city park with statues, bars, cafés and restaurants dotted around the edges. Next, take a drive to Campo de Olivos, an olive oil farm just outside of the city. It’s one of many olive oil producers in the country, and one where you can visit the production line to see how the olive oil gets made, taste a few of the products and buy a bottle or two to enjoy during your travels. For a little history, stop by the Casa Natal de Sarmiento, a national historic monument where Argentine President Domingo Faustino Sarmiento was born, and is now a museum to his life. If you’re looking for a little more of that perfect Argentinian wine, make your way to Las Marianas, which is easily one of the most picturesque wineries in the country.
After San Juan, continue heading south along Route 40.
After a week or so of national parks and small towns, Mendoza offers a metropolitan buzz with an endless array of wineries and restaurants to visit. You could easily pass days on end trying the local fare, and there is a wide variety of wine tours available from the city into the surrounding countryside, so either take turns at being the designated driver or try one of the many guided trips on offer. In either case, make sure to include a stop at the Wine and Grape Harvest Museum, which is essentially one big ode to the country’s wine industry from the earliest days in the 19th century to the booming trade of today. The largest square in the city is the Plaza Independencia, and much like San Juan, this entire area was devastated by an earthquake and has since been rebuilt into a gorgeous green space with fountains, trees, street vendors, and musicians.
You’ll leave the city heading south, but before you rejoin Route 40, take a quick detour westward for a relaxing and surreal spa experience.
Termas de Cacheuta
It’s time to put your feet up and relax - the Termas de Cacheuta is a thermal hot pool unlike any other. This spa, hotel and restaurant hotspot invites visitors to stop in for the day for massages, mud baths, foot baths, jacuzzis, and more. The setting is the wild and spectacular Andes, right next to the Mendoza River, so the outdoor spaces include stunning views as you relax in the natural hot pools. There is even a garden, waterfall pool, and thermal cavern, so give yourselves plenty of time to laze in this little piece of paradise.
Once you’ve managed to pull yourselves away, drive back to Route 40 and follow it south all the way down to Malargue.
Leg 3 Malargue to San Carlos de Bariloche
Est Driving Time14 hrs
Malargue is a small mountain town that will give you an indicative feel of this rugged area of the country. It is largely used as a base for adventure activities in the surrounding area, including skiing and snowboarding trips to the nearby Las Lenas Ski Resort, which is one of the largest Andean resorts in the country. Within the town itself, the Malargue Planetarium - Planetario Malargue - is a new facility that has been built to accompany the observatory, and to make the most of the town’s idyllic night-time stargazing opportunities. To gain some insight into the local history, take yourselves on a self-guided tour through the Parque del Ayer, a lush woodland space in the town’s centre.
Before heading directly south, take a detour to the west to the Reserva Provincial Castillos de Pincheira.
Reserva Provincial Castillos de Pincheira
The Pincheira Castles Provincial Reserve is a protected reserve, home to a castle-like structure that has been entirely carved out by nature. Thanks to glaciers and rivers that have shaped and eroded this structure over time, it now strongly resembles an ancient fortification set amongst a gorgeous mountainous backdrop. Legend has it that it was once the hideout for a group of bandits, and it is a site of archaeological interest thanks to the many arrowheads found in the area. It’s less than 30 kilometres from Malargue, so you can make a quick trip to the spot before continuing south on Route 40.
The Witches Cave (Caverna de la brujas)
A limestone cavern formed from ancient Jurassic Rock, the Witches Cave is one of the largest in Argentina. While the depths of this magnificent cave system and its endless galleries and tunnels can undoubtedly be spooky, the name comes from an old legend in which the native Pehuenches people would celebrate rituals within the cave, and as they danced by massive bonfires, their shadows would look like witches upon the walls. Whether you believe this tale or prefer to make your own decision, the 5,000 metres of caves certainly make for a surreal adventure deep into the earth to see formations created millions of years ago. You’ll need to book a tour and be sure to dress warmly, as it can be cold underground.
After the cave, you have a long drive ahead of you before reaching your next major attraction at the Lanin National Park. There are multiple little towns along the way, so stop often to stretch those legs, prepare an epic playlist for the drive, and consider staying overnight somewhere on the route to break it up into two easy days of driving.
Lanin National Park
The Lanin National Park is the third largest park in Argentina and is home to more than 20 glacial lakes, as well as forests, rivers, and mountains. The towering and extinct Lanin Volcano dominates the park with a snow-covered peak of 3,776 metres, easily spotted from all over the region. For visitors, there is a vast variety of activities to do in the park. You can base yourself in the small town of St Martin de los Andes on the shores of Lac Lacar, where you can pick up information on top hiking trails in the park, or book in for a relaxing horseback riding trip, or an adventurous backcountry skiing tour. Popular areas include the Queni Thermal Springs, Corinas Lagoons, and Saltillo Waterfall, while the lakes add an element of water-based fun with kayaking and kite surfing. There are also numerous camping spots around the lakes, so you can effortlessly pass several days enjoying the great outdoors, and all the park has to offer.
Continuing, you’ll follow Route 40 along a particularly scenic drive to San Carlos de Bariloche.
Leg 4 San Carlos de Bariloche to Comodoro Rivadavia
Est Driving Time11 hrs, 30 mins
San Carlos de Bariloche
When you visit San Carlos de Bariloche - often known simply as Bariloche - you’re actually experiencing several places at once. You get the modern amenities of a small city, the striking scenery of the Nahuel Huapi Lake, and the unique surroundings of the Nahuel Huapi National Park. Naturally, the spot has become hugely famous for its natural beauty and is a favourite for many visitors for hiking, biking, mountaineering, skiing and snowboarding. Not to mention, it has cultivated a reputation for creating some of the best chocolate in Argentina. There are so many chocolate shops on the main street that you can take a tour and visit more than half a dozen of them, or just follow your nose to pick up a few treats after a hard day of hiking and adventuring. If you only visit one, make it ‘Fenoglio’, which was the first in the city and is famed for its traditional homemade recipes.
You have another gorgeous drive ahead as you continue south on Route 40 through glorious mountain ranges. This leg is another stretch you’ll want to complete during the daytime, so you don’t miss these views.
El Bolson is a laid-back town of craft breweries and hippy vibes, surrounded by the mountain ranges that will already be a hallmark of this Argentinian adventure. There are numerous hikes around the edges of the town and into the mountains, although if you need to give your legs a break, you can drive up to the Carved Forest on the sides of the Cerro Piltriquitrón mountain. If you’re in town on a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday, it will be worth your while to stop by the artisanal markets at the Plaza Pagano, where you can pick up souvenirs, taste local food, and try a few craft beers. To try even more of the region’s top craft brews, make your way to Cervecería Otto Tipp, a local favourite.
When you’re ready to continue, keep following Route 40 south. This time you will take a short turnoff onto Route 259 for a quick detour to another of the country’s impressive national parks.
Los Alerces National Park
Los Alerces National Park will prove that no matter how much time you spend in Argentina’s outdoors, it will never grow old or be enough. This spot is another UNESCO World Heritage site, its scenery comprising Andean peaks, alpine meadows, moraines, clear-water lakes, and mountainside forests. One of the most special areas is the alerce forest, as the alerce tree is the second-longest living tree species in the world at roughly 3,600 years. Sadly, the alerce tree is also globally threatened, so this national park is a critical factor in preserving both this species, and a number of other threatened and endemic species in the region. There are numerous camping areas in the park, and you can spend your time here hiking, fishing, sailing on the lakes, and checking out the beautiful scenery and local wildlife. Take your pick of a couple of the self-guided hikes to spot some of the best views of the park, and in Argentina as a whole.
From here you have another long drive that you can either complete in one big day or split into two easy days. You’ll make your way back to Route 40, drive south, then turn off to the east onto Route 26 so you can take a quick break from the main road to visit the coastline.
Leg 5 Comodoro Rivadavia to El Calafate
Est Driving Time18 hrs, 30 mins
Comodoro Rivadavia - affectionately known as Comodoro by locals - is your chance to spend some time lounging on the beach, catch up on life admin in a modern metropolis, and stock up your motorhome with supplies for the last couple of legs of the trip. As well as relaxing on the beach, you can also try your hand at racing a windkart across the sands or take a short drive down the coast to see the year-round South American sea lion colony at Punta del Marques. The city’s history is also deeply intertwined with the oil trade, as oil was found here by accident in the early 1900s. You can take a tour of the National Oil Museum to see how this discovery shaped the formation and growth of this city, and how it still affects the region today.
When you’re ready to get moving, you can either go back along Route 26 the way you came in to rejoin Route 40 and once again drive south, or take Route 3 south and turn inland on Route 43 to rejoin Route 40. Both options take about the same amount of time, but by taking Route 3, you’ll enjoy a little time following the coastline south before making your way back inland.
Los Antiguos sits on the shores of Lago Buenos Aires, a large lake that crosses the border into Chile. This spot is a lush agricultural area, with many of the local farms opening their doors to visitors to see, taste, and purchase a range of products from jams and preserves to fresh fruits and vegetables. The town is not only the country’s cherry capital, but an annual festival in January pits jam-makers against one another to find the best of the best. Of course, you can also spend time out on the lake, or try some of the many hiking trails in the area.
Next, make your way back to Route 40, head south, and once again turn off to the east for a quick detour.
Cueva de las Manos
One of the most celebrated attractions in Argentina, and certainly a must-see for any Route 40 road tripper, is Cueva de las Manos - the Cave of Hands. This ancient site is a remarkable example of cave art from approximately 10,000 years ago. There are hundreds of colourful outlines of hands covering the walls, making it a mesmerising and beautiful artefact, which is believed to have been created by the ancestors of the hunter-gatherer peoples of Patagonia. As well as hands, there are depictions of animals and other motifs, but out of the 800 or so images, the grand majority of them are hands (left hands in particular, one of which has six fingers). The site was discovered in the 20th century and has been an area of interest for historians and travellers alike ever since. Staff at the site offer a guided tour every hour for free, so you’ll be able to learn a little more about the history of this incredible spot when you arrive.
This next stretch is another long drive, so as you follow Route 40 south, don’t forget to stop for breaks whenever you feel tired - or simply whenever you’d like to jump out and take photos! You can complete it in one big driving day or split it into two. You’ll turn off Route 40 not far after Tres Lagos to take Route 23 back into the mountains.
El Chalten is the bright and wild village on the verge of the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares and widely regarded as the gateway to some of the best views and hiking in Patagonia. The two central (and most famous) peaks are that of Mount Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, both well worth the sweat it takes to climb them. While some hikers will arrive to challenge only the toughest and steepest treks on offer, there are also (relatively) more accessible routes that meander through woodland areas for the slower paths to the tops. An annual Trekking Festival takes place in March to celebrate this magnetic outdoor pursuit, and the population over the busy period (from November through February) can increase exponentially, so be sure to book a camping spot well in advance. It’s also a good idea to give yourselves a few days here, even if you plan on completing just one day-long hike, as the weather can be varied so you may like to wait a day or two for the sun to come out for those impossibly perfect views for your trek. As well as hiking here, you can try boat tours, ice-wall climbing, rafting, fly-fishing, and horseback riding - so you’ll need several days at a minimum to enjoy all it has to offer.
From here, it’s only a few hours back to the main road and down to El Calafate. Along the way, be sure to make a stop at Bosque Petrificado La Leona, which is home to a private ranch where you can spot rock formations, dinosaur fossils, and fantastic moon-like scenery.
Leg 6 El Calafate to Ushuaia
Est Driving Time15 hrs, 30 mins
El Calafate is a Patagonian city that, much like El Chalten, is something of a starting point for adventures into the surrounding region. The name itself came from a small dark berry that’s common in the area: it’s claimed that if you eat one of these berries, you’ll be sure to return. Before you head out of town, keep in mind that there are many things to do and see in the city. You can take a boat ride on Lago Argentino to view multiple glaciers, and floating icebergs dotted around the shores, or spend time in the town centre exploring the markets, craft breweries, bars, restaurants, and chocolate shops. One fun stop is the Glaciarium and Ice Bar, where you can learn a little about the glaciers in the surrounding area, then stop in next door for an icy cold drink in sub-zero temperatures.
But the real attraction of a visit to El Calafate lays in wait just down the road - the Perito Moreno Glacier.
Perito Moreno Glacier
It is often said that if you only ever visit one glacier in your lifetime, the Perito Moreno Glacier should be it. The glacier covers 250 square kilometres and is part of Los Glaciares National Park. Its water and ice come from the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, which is the third largest freshwater reserve on the planet, and unlike most glaciers around the world, the Perito Moreno Glacier is growing. To see it, you can either walk around the park area or purchase a ticket to one of the many boat tours that will get you closer to the massive ice structure. On average, the wall of ice rises 240 feet above the water, so seeing it from this level can be nothing short of awe-inspiring. If you can, try both options, as the walkways offer several impressive viewpoints over the glacier, and can get you close enough to feel the chilly air coming off this massive ice sheet. Take your time, see if you can spot the mighty crash of the occasional ice calving, and take plenty of photos before you leave.
After the glacier, you’ll drive back through El Calafate, follow Route 40 for a short while, then finally turn off this main route onto Route 5, which will take you southeast. At Rio Gallegos, you’ll turn southbound again, and shortly thereafter cross the border into Chile, then come to Punta Delgada, where you’ll cross over to Tierra del Fuego on a ferry. You’ll take the Bahia Azul ferry across in 20 minutes. There is no need to book a spot, and you will pay approximately 300 Argentine pesos per vehicle once you’re on board. After driving off on the other side, you’ll follow Route 257, cross back into Argentina, and make your way south on Route 3.
Martillo Island is the final detour of this road trip, and will quickly become one of your most memorable moments of the entire journey. Here is where you’ll take a tour to cross the Beagle Channel, then once you land on this small island, walk amongst a colony of Magellanic and Gentoo penguins (there are roughly 1,000 nests at the rookery September through to April). As well as penguins, you can spot other birdlife such as vultures, skuas, South American terns, and cormorants, and enjoy this remote and wild scenery on an island at ‘The End of the World’.
From here, it’s a 90-minute drive to your final destination of Ushuaia.
Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world and dubbed The End of the World. It’s a place of adventure, steep streets and excitement, so aim to give yourselves a few days here with your motorhome before handing over the keys. Ushuaia is where many ships depart for cruises to Antarctica, and where visitors can take their pick of outdoor pursuits, from hiking and kayaking to skiing, snowmobiling, and off-roading.
It’s a place of adventure, steep streets, and excitement, so aim to give yourselves a few days here with your motorhome before handing over the keys. A must see is the End of the World Museum, which narrates the heritage of Tierra del Fuego and includes some fascinating artefacts from the past, including a figurehead from an English vessel that shipwrecked here in the 19th century. You can also take the End of the World Train, which is a steam locomotive that picks you up in Ushuaia and takes you on a journey into the Tierra del Fuego National Park to learn about the convict history of the area and to see a little more of this spectacular corner of the world.
This is the only motorhome road trip on the planet where you can say that not only have you come to the end of the road, but literally to the end of the world. Your drive from Salta to Ushuaia covers a vast distance, and along the way you’ll have seen and experienced some of the world’s most impressive displays of nature and beauty. Note that you can just as easily complete this route from Ushuaia to Salta, modify the itinerary to suit your personal preferences, or tack on an extra trip at the beginning or end (cruise to Antarctica, anybody?), making it a highly versatile route that you can truly make your own. Of course, you may feel a little blue knowing it’s all coming to an end as you arrive at your final destination, but don’t forget that there are many more exciting motorhome road trips waiting for you all over the world.
● Cash (some ATMs won’t take foreign cards)
● Plenty of food (there are some long stretches on Route 40 without shops)
● Spare petrol
● Cool weather clothing
● Hiking poles
● Reserve water in case of emergencies