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Time of Visit
Peter Van Glabbeek (Netherland)
7 years of bicycle touring experience including a 4-year long journey around the world
Cycled through 40 countries
Time of Visit
European, Australian, New Zealand, South American and North American citizens get a 90-day visa free of charge at the border or airport. You can always cross the border and come back the same hour to get another 90 days.
I entered Argentina once by airplane. I flew with Delta Airlines from Amsterdam, via Atlanta. My bike was in a bike box and they took it for free (2 pieces of check-in luggage of less then 24kg).
After that I crossed the border with Chile many times, every time receiving another 90-day visa.
Buenos Aires-Bahía Blanca-Comodoro Rivadavia, Ruta 3. Total distance: 1775km
I cycled out of Buenos Aires on the main highway to Ezeiza airport. Maybe it is illegal to do so, but I believe it is the safest and quickest way to get out of the city. There is a wide shoulder (with annoying bumps) and you stay away from dodgy neighborhoods. Expect at least 35km of suburbs and heavy traffic. After the airport it becomes a little quieter and from Cañuelas you can choose different ways to get to Bahía Blanca. The roughly 650km from Buenos Aires to Bahía Blanca is rather boring, unless you like cycling endless flat plains and talking to cows. The only way to enjoy this stretch is in a kind of meditative state or focusing on meeting the wonderful Argentineans. The Sierra de la Ventana, just before Bahía, is the only small range you will cross. It is great after all the straight flat roads.
After Bahía the roads get quieter, Ruta 3 still has trucks (I counted about 2 per minute). I choose Ruta 22 to the west and then Ruta 251 south. The last one has an amazing 100km without any feature, not even a slight curve. It is 675km from Bahía Blanca to Puerto Madryn. Be sure to take enough water and food, towns are about 120km apart here and because of the wind you might not make it in one day. Wild camping is always very easy. Hop over a fence, walk 200m more and pitch your tent between the thorny bushes. Sunset and the bright night will be amazing. The further south you go the drier the climate gets. You will see more and more wildlife. When you cross Río Negro you enter officially to Patagonia. Here you also find some houses with water and a small shop. Wind, mostly west, is forever a problem. Puerto Madryn and Peninsula Valdez are amazing places to watch marine wildlife.
From Puerto Madryn to Comodoro Rivadavia you will start to see some small hills. The wind gets worse the more south you go. It is always easy to hitchhike, but also a great challenge to cycle all the way. It is almost 450km, with very little human life between Trelew and Comodoro.
Comodoro Rivadavia-Río Mayo-Los Antiguos, Ruta 26, 40 and 43. Total distance: 440km
When I was in Comodoro Rivadavia I had to wait for the winds to slow down. One day it was blowing an unbelievable 110km/h. Rada Tilly, a bit south of the city is the best place to camp. It has a long beach and good camping. Later I decided to go inland on very quiet but paved Ruta 26 to Río Mayo an onward to Chile, hoping for less wind. Surprisingly the road climbs for a long time and crosses a mountain range. After 75km you will pass through an industrial village, fill up on water here. Sarmiento is an important and surprisingly green town 150km from Comodoro. Here you find food. The winter is still a very strong enemy. Start early when winds are less. 75km from west you find another good wild camp at Río Senguer. Another 50km takes you to Río Mayo (free campsite) where you find food and water again.
Now you are on the infamous Ruta 40. It is all unpaved here and takes you 90km south to Perito Moreno (village). Ask or look for Raul here, a fantastic person to meet. The paved Ruta 43 takes you in 50km to Los Antiguos and on to Chile. It is your choice: no wind in Chile or no rain in Argentina
Ushuaia-Río Grande-San Sebastian (Tierra del Fuego). Total distance: 300km
This road is all paved. It starts very beautiful between mountains, some glaciers, wild rivers and lakes. Closer to Río Grande it becomes drier, windier and empty. You can find supplies and a camping at Tolhuin (106km) and Río Grande (200km). San Sebastian is very small. The Argentinean side has a waiting room where you are allowed to spend the night. Consider the option of going west from Río Grande to Río Bellavista and then on to Punta Arenas, see my Chile article.
El Chaltén-El Calafate-Río Turbio-Puerto Natales. Total distance: 505km
Nowadays, many people take the ferries from Villa O’Higgins to El Chaltén. Around El Chaltén the hiking is great. No entrance fee for the park, free camping and great scenery, including views of FitzRoy. From El Chaltén it is about 215km to El Calafate. The first 90 you will do in three hours, because of the tailwind, the next 100 slower with a cross wind and the last 30 in walking pace against the wind. El Calafate is the base for visiting the Perito Moreno Glacier. One of the most beautiful sights you will ever see in your life. You can do this by bicycle as well, it is a 150km round trip, so take food and camp wild. Before 7 or 8 in the morning you don’t pay the steep entrance fee.
The shortest way from El Calafate to Puerto Natales is via the Ruta 40. Keep right 47km from El Calafate and turn right at km95. End of pavement, the coming 50km can be very windy. A few km after this turnoff you find a police station with a place to camp in the garage. Continue on the 40 to Estancia Tapi Aike (159km). Here you get water and there is some shelter from the wind behind some poor trees. Turn right here. The Cerro Castillo border crossing is 206km from El Calafate. You can continue in Argentina to the Río Turbio border crossing (263km). From here it is only 15km to Puerto Natales.
Trevelin-Mendoza, Ruta 40 and variants. Total distance: 1600km
The scenery on this section is very variable, but always great. You will see rainforest, dry pampa, dozens of blue lakes, huge volcanoes, Araucaria trees and the highest mountains of the Amarica’s. The area around Bariloche is touristy, further north, in Neuquén province, you will meet no tourists at all. I guess that about half of it is paved, the rest is in fairly good condition. The winds are a lot less as further south, and the climate gets quickly warmer when you move north. Traffic is almost non-existent.
When you leave the Carretera Austral via Futaleufú you enter Argentina near Trevelin. From here it is great to cycle north through Parque Naciolal Los Alerces. You will not see many Alerce trees, but you will pass many beautiful lakes with the quietest wild campsites and great swimming, all the water is drinkable. The road through the park is unpaved but well maintained. Take a couple of days worth of food and enjoy the silence. In Cholila (105km) you will find a shop and pavement again. More north you pass through the hippy town of El Bolson (180km), another great place to stay a few days or go for a hike. Bariloche (300km) is ugly and touristy, but its setting is amazing. Hiking in the area is fantastic.
Cycle on pavement around the beautiful lake to Villa Angostura (88km). From here starts the famous, unpaved 7 lakes road that takes you San Martin the los Andes (190km). Between San Martin and Junín de los Andes (235km) the scenery changes dramatically. You leave the green lake-district and enter the pampas. After Junín, take Ruta 23 that will climb for about 100km next to a river with views of the perfect cone of Volcán Lanín and great camping and swimming. Most of it is unpaved, but not bad. Aluminé (345km) is the biggest town in this area, you can stock up here. There are a few roads here to go to Chile, or make a lap and come back to Argentina. It is a great empty area, with amazing cycling.
Near Paso Pino Hachado (435km) you reach pavement, you are very close to Chile. Turn right to Las Lajas (475km) and then left on Ruta 21, which is partly unpaved. Also here a few options to cross to Chile. In Chos Malál (690km) you find food, accommodation and Ruta 40. You can follow the 40 for a long time or choose a shortcut that takes you through some interesting volcanic scenery. For this shortcut turn left at La Salada. It is good to ask around, as there are some forks in the road where you can take the wrong way and get lost. Anyway, after about 80km from La Salada you reach Ruta 40 again. Follow it to Malargüe, the biggist town before Mendoza. I have heard of two occasions of people having their bicycles stolen here, once from the camping.
At El Sosneado (50km), there is yet another shortcut. Now called Ruta 101, it is actually the old Ruta 40. Take food for some days, as this road is now extremely quiet with just a few tiny villages. Water you can get in the villages, which are less than a days cycling apart.
When you reach Ruta 40, at Pareditas (205km), Mendoza is not far any more.
Mendoza-Salta, Ruta 40 and variants. Total distance: 1360km
In general you can say about this section that it is mostly paved now. Wild camping is always very easy. The scenery is of never ending beauty; the climate is great with sunny days and cold, bright nights. Villages are not too far apart; you will find water and a shop almost every day. Beware of the very long siestas, from about 13:00 to 17:00 everything is closed.
In my opinion the most beautiful way to cycle out of Mendoza is on Ruta 52 to Villavicencio and Uspallata (107km). You climb from Mendoza (700m) to 3100m and then descent to Uspallata (2000m). From Uspallata go straight north to the beautiful village of Barreal (216km). This road, that used to be an Inca trail, is mostly flat, unpaved and there is nothing but some Inca ruins, an empty national park with an observatory. A few km north of the Inca ruins, maybe 50km from Uspallata, you will find the only water in a little stream. The 2 times I was there it always had water. Views are great: to the left the mighty Andes, with many 6000+m peaks and on your right a lower, completely barren, but colorful ridge.
Barreal becomes the beginning of a more populated valley. You can cycle on the east and west side of the river. If you take the east side, you come close to the very striking rock formations of El Alcazar, worth the 1km side trip. Calingasta (254km) is another fairly big village. From here you have two options. First, the very remote, unpaved and very beautiful Ruta 412, that goes straight north to Las Flores (387km). You will find water in the police stations of Villa Nueva and Tocota, after Tocota the ripio becomes really bad. Second, the 60km longer but completely paved Ruta 149 that goes northeast and then northwest to Las Flores. I found water hear at a road workers camp that might not be there any more. You can make a little side trip to Talacasto on Ruta 40, if you really need water. Las Flores is the starting point of the Paso Agua Negra to La Serena in Chile (see my Chile article). A little further on is Rodeo, a much bigger village.
This stretch is mostly paved and offers great scenery. You find several bigger villages, like San José de Jachál (48km), Huaco (85km), Guandacól (150km), Villa Unión (192km), Nonogasta (278km) and Chilecito. The only hard climb is the Cuesta de la Miranda (1860m). This climb between red rocks can be very hot and was still not paved in 2008. But work was in progress. In the tiny village of Miranda you find water.
This part is also not difficult. Almost all paved, great scenery. About 20km north of Chilecito you can choose between the Ruta 40 and the road that goes via Famatina, straight to Tinogasta (150km from Chilecito). From Tinogasta you can cross the Paso San Francisco to Copiapó in Chile (see my Chile article), or take the officially closed Cuesta the Zapato (unpaved and sometimes very bad) back to the Ruta 40 and to Londres and Belén (233km). If you choose the Ruta 40 it is 16km shorter to Belen and you will find supplies in San Blas (116km) and Londres (200km). Near Londres there are some fantastic ruins and some lost hippies live nearby. Belén (215km) is an important town. Continue on Ruta 40 through a beautiful canyon. You will cycle slowly uphill for a long time. A little after San Fernando (262km, water, some food) is the turnoff to Antofagasta de la Sierra (see below for this road). Continue straight to Hualfín (278km, food, water, hot springs). From here to Cafayate at becomes more remote, carry more water and food. You will still find something in Santa María (392km). Cafayate (470km) is a big town.
Ruta 68 from Cafayate to Salta runs through a magnificent, but touristy canyon. You follow a river downstream. The first part is quite empty; you find water and maybe food in Alemania (86km) and Viña (105km). Closer to Salta you pass some bigger towns, like El Carríl (150km) and La Merced (165km).
A very beautiful and interesting alternative is to keep following the Ruta 40 north to the Cachi valley. Soon the road becomes a badly corrugated dirt track. But the scenery is fantastic and the villages as well. Santa Rosa (56km), Molinos (111km) and Cachi (156km) have old adobe churches. In Cachi you need to buy supplies for 2 days. Turn right on Ruta 33 (165km) and climb to 3300m through a cactus forest. This is a national park; there is nothing but one park ranger near the top of the pass. A very long downhill will take you to Ruta 68 near Salta. There are some tiny villages where you can get water.
(You can also keep going north on the Ruta 40 to the village of La Poma and then climb the Abra de Acay, with 4795m the highest pass in Argentina, it claims to be 4895m. After that you turn right for a very long downhill to Salta.)
Paso San Francisco, Paso Agua Negra and Paso de los Libertadores
These three magnificent passes I have described in the Chile article.
Salta-La Quiaca. Total distance: 375km
For some reason almost no cars take the fantastic Ruta 9 from Salta to San Salvador de Jujuy (92km), basically one long climb and one long downhill with beautiful forests and a big lake. From Jujuy you can enter the Quebrada de Humahuaca on your way to Bolivia. You will climb gently to about 4000m. Every mile the valley becomes more beautiful. Take your time to visit the beautiful villages Purmamarca (152km), Tilcara (172km), Humahuaca (217km) and others. Read about the history, enjoy the sunshine and find the best campsites between huge cacti. After Humahuaca the climb becomes a little steeper for a while. You are cycling to the altiplano now, nights can be cold, days can be windy. At km 242 is the turnoff to Iruya, a remote and beautiful village. Abra Pampa (303km) is a place to get some water and food. This stretch is all paved, wild camping easy, food and water ready available, weather stable.
Paso de Jama (4600m), from Jujuy to San Pedro de Atacama. Total distance: 490km
It is a difficult choice: cycle the Quebrada de Humahuaca to Bolivia or the Paso de Jama to Chile, they are both very beautiful. The last one is definitely the hardest option, especially if you ride it from east to west. From Ruta 9 you have to turn west (km16) to the village Purmamarca (65km) and start climbing. It is a very long climb to the first pass, Cuesta de Lipán at 4170m! You descent a little to the Salinas Grande, a big salt lake at 3300m (120km). Here you might have the first headwind, but I had a quiet day. Another climb and downhill take you to Susques (193km), where you have to stock up on food and fuel for at least 5 days and water for 2 days. Now the road makes a huge curve around a vast and windy plain. It is a long way to the migration office in Jama village (316km). Get water and maybe some biscuits here. After that you have some up and downs, but the main problem is the wind and maybe the cold nights, expect -25C! Keep your water inside the tent, and maybe under your sleeping bag. You stay high for another 150km after the border. Just before the incredible downhill to San Pedro de Atacama you reach the highest point (around 4600m). Here is also the turnoff to Sur de Lipez and Bolivia, the border is only 5km away. You get your entry stamp for Chile in San Pedro de Atacama. Paso de Jama is all paved now and open year around.
Belén-Antofagasta de la Sierra (-Paso Sico and Paso Socompa) -Salta (779km)
Some people have probably noticed on their maps the very remote looking road to Antofagasta de la Sierra and then a very thin line that continues north. Not many have cycled it, but I tell you it is possible and very beautiful. I made notes and put them in an Excel sheet. Take at least 10 days for this very hard crossing, with a rest day in Antofagasta de la Sierra. The hardest part comes after that.
In the excel sheet I mention the turnoffs to Socompa and Sico passes. Do some research before you take Paso Socompa. It is open and there is immigration, as I know from a motorcyclist who took it. But it is very remote and a long, long way to civilization. Some stretches are very sandy; you might have to push. Take food, fuel and water for many days. Paso Sico is easier, but should also not being underestimated. I know cyclists that passed it. Expect bad road conditions (corrugations) and strong winds, take sufficient food and water.
The BEST route
In general I like the northwest of Argentina more than famous Patagonia. The great scenery of the altiplano and the high Andes, that is so different from Himalaya or Alps, keeps me going back there.
The Antofagasta de la Sierra route offers the most remote cycling and very beautiful scenery. Quebrada de Humahuaca and all the high passes are also fantastic.
The WORST Route
Buenos Aires to Bahía Blanca: flat, boring, windy.
Buenos Aires has by far the most bike shops and the biggest choice. Other big towns have bike shops and the basic Shimano stuff. Miguel Nitzsche in Bariloche can fix almost everything. He used to build steel bikes himself and has traveled by bike himself. Ask for him in a bike store. He would love your visit.
Bicycle Touring Gear Shops
I never saw Ortlieb panniers for sale in Argentina (the closest I know is Andes Gear in Santiago de Chile). Sometimes you can find 28 inch rims and tires, but not of good quality. For 26 inch wheels more choice.
Mr. Nitzsche can build a rack for you and might have a lost 28 inch rim or tire.
Camping Gear Shops
Again, best place to buy is Buenos Aires, but tourist towns like El Calafate, El Chaltén, Mendoza, Salta and Ushuaia also have good stuff for quite high prices.
For Patagonia, summer (December-February), but this is also the busy high season (only busy in the most famous areas). For the northern half of Argentina December-February is the hot and humid season, with some flooding. The rest of the year offers clear blue skies and it is never too cold. Nights can be very cold in the Altiplano (-20C)
November to April is the raining season in the northern half of the country.
I used the Firestone Road Atlas of Argentina. For sale in bigger bookstores and some patrol stations. I thought it an amazingly good map that shows most roads, also dirt roads, and even has most distances right. I costs only about 20 dollar for the whole country.
Spanish is useful
Average for Cheap Lodging
Camping’s are often free or cost only 1 or 2 dollar. Lodging can cost up to 7 USD in tourist areas.
Locals' Average Salary
200USD per month
Transport your Bike
: I flew to Ezeiza international airport in Buenos Aires and took a taxi to the downtown for 20 dollar. It is possible to cycle, as I realized later when I cycle out of the city passing the same airport.
: The ferries to Tierra del Fuego take your bike. I don’t remember prices.
: Argentina has an amazing long distance bus system. I took my bike for free, just put it in the luggage space without any packing.
Hitchhiking is very easy all over the country, the remoter the easier (if any car passes).