If you’re heading down to Patagonia, there are two spectacular routes to choose from: Ruta 40 vs Carretera Austral. Ruta 40 is the famous 5,000-kilometer route in Argentina running parallel to the Andes mountains and crossing the provinces of Jujuy, Salta, Tucumán, Catamarca, La Rioja, San Juan, Mendoza, Neuquen, Río Negro, Chubut, and Santa Cruz. Carretera Austral on the Chilean side runs from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins for over a thousand kilometers. While shorter than Ruta 40, Carretera Austral is often referred to as the most beautiful road in South America and it is still less paved, more remote, and more awe-inspiring route in Patagonia than the parallel section of Ruta 40 in Argentina. If you’re riding to Patagonia and back, do both of these roads. But if you’re only going one way and need to choose just one, here are the pros and cons of doing Ruta 40 vs Carretera Austral.
Ruta 40 is probably one of the most famous roads in South America, and rightfully so: it runs across the length of Argentina offering stunning Andean scenery and cutting across the heart of Patagonia. There are plenty of things to do and see along the way, like the picturesque town of San Carlos de Bariloche or the impressive Perito Moreno glacier near the town of Calafate. Ruta 40 is about 90% paved, with the exception of a roughly 200-kilometer stretch in the South. Between the frontier settlements of Tres Lagos and Bajo Caracoles, the road turns into graded gravel, and there is no fuel for over 330 kilometers. If you want to stick to pavement, you can avoid this section by turning off at Gobernador Gregores and looping back near Bajo Caracoles to rejoin Ruta 40. Other than that, there is plenty of fuel, accommodation, and food options along the way.
Carretera Austral is a lonely thousand-kilometer stretch across an incredibly beautiful part of the Chilean Patagonia. Pristine turquoise blue glacial lakes, untouched wilderness of the Andes, and hundreds of miles of wild, stunning nature – and you can have this all to yourself, as Carretera Austral is less known and less traveled than Ruta 40. Austral is about 60% paved, with sections of graded dirt and gravel in between. Fuel, food, and accommodation are available in most little towns along the way.
The best way to enjoy Carretera Austral, or to rejoin Route 40 in Argentina, is crossing the border at Chile Chico. From there, follow the road to Puerto Tranquilo, then follow route 7 North. If you’re coming down from Puerto Montt, cross into Argentina at Chile Chico, otherwise you’ll have to loop back from Villa O’Higgins as the road ends there and there is no border crossing into Argentina.
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