Argentina is a huge country and enjoys a wide variety of geography. It therefore has a bit of everything in terms of driving conditions. Between major cities you can expect highways on which you can travel at 120 km/hr or more. In the far south, ripio (gravel) roads are the norm but this is changing fast as efforts to pave are underway. In the north, highway 16 cuts across the country from east to west (linking Resistancia and Salta). This road is not in the best of shapes but it is paved the entire way.
There are so many good roads in Argentina for riding a motorcycle that we could dedicate this entire site to talking about them. But there is one in particular that is considered one of the most challenging. Ruta 40. Although ruta 40 runs almost the entire length of the country, we only did the stretch from Perito Moreno to El Calafate, in a day (not recommended!). Here is what it was like:
Part 1- Perito Moreno to Bajo Caracoles
So basically we went from Perito Moreno, leaving at 5h45 am to the town of Bajo Caracoles 123 kilometers away (this town is not on all maps). In Bajo Caracoles there is a small gas station that is not on the main road but rather in the town itself (on the left hand side of ruta 40 when you first see the town). Some people have told us that if you expect to get gas here it is a good idea to first buy a coffee in the attached restaurant as some motorcyclist who have gone straight to the pumps have been told that there is no gas for them. When we were there we definitely got the impression that buying a coffee before asking for gas was a good idea based on what we saw with Argentineans yesterday.
The good news about this stretch of road is that the first 50 kilometers are paved. Enjoy it while you can because things are about to get worse, much worse. After these 50 kilometers the road turns to ripio (gravel) until you reach Bajo Caracoles. But the ripio in this section was actually quite easy. Basically we were able to go between 60 and 80 km/hr. In total it took us 2 hours to do this part.
Part 2 – Bajo Caracoles to the turnoff for Gobernador Gregores
Things start off ok for the first 50 kilometers with small bends in the road then you get your first taste of real wind as you drive a 50 kilometer straight stretch that gets pounded from the right hand side by gusts coming from nearby mountains. About here is where you start understanding what all the fuss is about. Were you were doing about 80 kilometers per hour your speed will (or rather should) drop down to a still respectable 50 kilometers per hour. Any more than this and you fall, but more on that later
Once done with the straight stretch the road bends towards the Atlantic and you are treated to 50 kilometers of freshly paved road. And then the hell begins…
Part 3 – Turnoff for Gobernador Gregores to Tres Lagos
Assuming you aren’t going into Gobernador Gregores but rather heading straight down the 40 you are in for 180 kilometers of nothingness and hostile wind. This is the real difficult part and the first section of this stretch gives you a taste of things to come. Where moments before you were zipping along with the wind at your back on a nice paved road going about 110 kilometers per hour or more you are now reduced to 3rd and 2nd gear only (4th gear will remain a distant memory for a while but there are stretches coming up later where you can see if it is still there!).
So right about now would be the time to explain exactly what the road surface is like.
First off, from Perito Moreno to Tres Lagos there are 457 kilometers of which 360 are unpaved. Between these two towns there is only one gas station in the village of Tres Lagos unless you detour to Gobernador Gregores.
The unpaved sections are of varying quality:
- hard packed dirt with some loose gravel (about 20%)
- covered in small rounded stones except for vehicle tracks where the stones have been pushed aside (sometimes 2 tracks, sometimes 3 and sometimes 4) (about 35% of the road is like this)
- Covered in large, mostly rounded, half-fist sized stones except for tracks (about 35%)
- Covered in half-fist sized stones everywhere (maybe 5%)
- Covered in small rounded stones over the entire width of the road (about 5%)
Thankfully there is no sand on this road but because of these varying road conditions listed above your speed can vary between 110km/hr to 25 km/hr (we even had to come to a complete stop on two occasions as the wind kept pushing us off course). The trick is to make sure you are not going 110km/hr when you should be going 25 or you might have to add your name to the list of those who have broken bones and wrecked motorcycles in this part of the world.
So you might read the above road condition description and say to yourself that it doesn’t sound too bad except for the last 2 types and you would be right except for the wind. On some of the road the tracks are barely visible because they aren’t much deeper that the rest of the road. This is because there isn’t much loose stuff on the surface to begin with. So you can easily zip along even in windy conditions without worrying if (when) you get blown off the track. In other words, the front wheel won’t catch in the stones that have built up on either side of the track if you can’t keep the rubber on the track because there is only a small 1 or 2 inch buildup of stones on either side. But what makes this road a killer is that the stones that have been pushed to either side of the track are often in piles over 6 inches high. So you find yourself driving in a track that is usually about 1 foot wide with 6 inches of half-fist sized stones built up on either side while you wrestle a 40 to 60 mile per hour side wind that isn’t always constant. If you get pushed into this going too fast you go down unless you make a split decision to turn into that little wall of stones in which case you will probably make it over but the wind will ensure that you won’t be able to stop until you are in the ditch on the other side of the road.
Part 4 – Tres Lagos to El Calafate
In Tres Lagos there is a gas station. It is about 1 kilometer beyond the turnoff for the town itself. Look on the right hand side. After you have filled up you are on paved roads the entire way except for 20 kilometers of easy hard packed dirt.
Police and military:
For the most part police in Argentina are honest but you will get stopped eventually and asked for papers. But one road deserves a mention, ruta 14 linking Buenos Aires and Iguazu. The police on this road have built themselves a reputation as being criminals by trying to extort money from foreigners, particularly those on motorcycles. Be especially careful near kilometer 341 (there are markers) as the most crooked of these police are active at the police roadblock you will find there.
The is a BMW shop in Buenos Aires.
Border crossing: La Quiaca Comments: Everything went well until we were asked to show our insurance papers (we did not have any). The official would not let us through until we purchased some in the neighboring town (1 kilometer form the border). Problem was that the 3 insurance offices were all closed. In the end, we convinced the official to let us go on without the insurance and promised to by some the following day (we did).
Cost for bike: Free
Cost for us: Free
Time it took: 6 hours!!!