5 of the best road trips in Argentina

Argentina’s distinctive reputation looms large in imaginations oceans away from its borders. There’s so much to take in, and such immense distances to travel to do so. 

And as flights whoosh past the wonderful bits and bus travel doesn’t serve many sights beyond the highways, the best option is to see the nation with your own wheels: where you can pull up and branch off where and when you want. 

These road trips encompass a huge array of landscapes and cultural icons: suave cities and mesmeric deserts, Andean peaks, pampas, Che Guevara sights and wine country delights. 

Drive prepared – in a vehicle stocked with ample drink, food and fuel – as distances between settlements can be big, and prepare yourself for an epic journey. Here’s our guide to the best road trips in Argentina. 

Ushuaia, at the southern tip of Argentina, marks the end of the Pan-American Highway © Andrew Peacock / Getty Images

1. The Pan-American Highway

Best long-distance road trip
Christ the Redeemer Tunnel–Ushuaia; 4353km (2704 miles); allow 2–4 weeks 

Commencing the final Argentine swathe of its cross-continental journey in dramatic style at the Christ the Redeemer tunnel – linking Chile and Argentina via a lofty Andean pass – the Pan-American Highway is the planet’s most epic road trip, bar none.

This mighty matrix of roads kicks off in Northern Alaska, snaking down some 30,000km (18,640 miles) through the Americas to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego.

The highway’s southernmost section through Argentina first runs through Mendoza province, the heart of the country’s fabled wine industry, before trundling east on Ruta 7 to capital Buenos Aires.

The highway swivels southwest on Ruta 3, brushing the Pampas and Atlantic coast, then arrows through sparsely populated Patagonia, passing Puerto Madryn (stop here for whale-watching) to the far south. 

Here, cut into Chile and take a ferry across the Strait of Magellan into Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost tip of mainland South America. It’s then a straightforward romp to Ushuaia and, as myriad signs hereabouts proclaim, “El Fin del Mundo” (The End of the World). You needn’t put the brakes on here, either: Ushuaia is the prime jump-off point for Antarctica excursions.

Planning tip: The far south’s bitter winters mean a spring or summer trip is best (September to February). Ensure your car rental agreement and insurance lets you enter Chile (you may have to pay an extra fee for this).

Ready to plan your trip to Argentina? Here are the things you should know 

People looking over lakes, woodland and mountains from a viewpoint
Pause on the Ruta de los Siete Lagos, the final leg of Camino del Che, for its stunning scenery © Tetyana Dotsenko / Shutterstock

2. Camino del Che

Best route for revolutionaries and history lovers
Buenos Aires–Bariloche; 2438km (1514 miles); allow 1–2 weeks

Ernesto “Che” Guevara is better known for helping bring about the Cuban Revolution, but he spent a good 25 years of his 39 years in Argentina, his country of birth. 

The Camino del Che (Che Trail), visiting the places most associated with his early life, actually begins far northeast in Misiones Province at Caraguatay, the Guevara family farm, but logistically picking up the route in Buenos Aires is best.

Guevara embarked with amigo Alberto Granado on his adventure, later published as the Motorcycle Diaries, from Buenos Aires’ affluent Palermo neighborhood. Your journey starts here too. Head northwest from Buenos Aires, tracing the Río Paraná’s tropical-feeling delta to Rosario. 

This rejuvenated river port sports an impressive waterfront walkway, the Costanera and, some blocks back at Entre Ríos 480, Guevara’s very first home, Casa Natal de Che Guevara (a private apartment today). 

Proceed northwest to Argentina’s second city Córdoba, dazzling with its Jesuit Block collection of UNESCO-listed 17th-century colonial buildings. A short jaunt out of town is Museo de Che Guevara in Alta Gracia, an inviting property standing in as a museum remembering the former Guevara family home here.

Next swing southwest through the flat, fertile pampas grasslands to hit Patagonia at Neuquén and the Andean foothills at San Martín de los Andes. 

This loveable lakeside city is where Guevara and Granado got waylaid on their travels, lodging in a hay shed now preserved as La Pastera Mueso del Che, a small Guevara museum containing the hay bale Che supposedly slept on. 

The trip signs off with its most captivating section: the Ruta de Siete Lagos (Route of the Seven Lakes). This meanders from San Martín to Villa La Angostura, via a septet of beautiful bodies of water, through National Parks Lanin and Nahuel Huapi. Dip in for kayaking and wild swimming, or just gawk at blue-green-grey sparkling lakes, inky forests and jagged summits.

From Villa La Angostura, the Lago Nahuel Huapi lake shore bends around to ravishing lakeside Bariloche, backed by more pointy peaks.

A vineyard at the foot of a mountain range
The Ruta del Vino goes through Argentina’s major wine-making regions © Edsel Querini / Getty Images

3. Ruta del Vino

Best for wine lovers
Salta–Mendoza; 2022km (1256 miles); allow 1–2 weeks

Argentina is a major player in the South American wine industry, and by far the world’s biggest producer of fruity red Malbec. And this oenophile’s odyssey is, by its very nature, sublime: wine-growing country is typically fertile and backed by bewitching upland scenery. 

Starting in serene, sophisticated city Salta, RP33 – a mostly-paved provincial road – skitters through the chiseled Eastern Cordillera mountains, negotiating the vertiginous switchbacks of Cuesta del Obispo, dropping into arid, cactus-rich Parque Nacional Los Cardones and reaching pretty Cachi.

South of here is Cafayate, renowned for its crisp, aromatic white Torrontés wine. The route rolls over the rugged Calchaquí valley region, blanketed in high-altitude vineyards that win an equally high proportion of accolades for their distinctive character, to Catamarca.

After this wine-lovers can motor to La Rioja, home to some high-quality red wines. Cross the Salinas Grandes salt flats into Córdoba Province, do the out-and-back from Deán Fuentes to Colonia Caroya, known for its salami as well as its wine, then continue to San Juan and southwest to Mendoza, Argentina’s biggest wine-producing zone. 

The roll call of viticulture-themed diversions in Mendoza, world capital of Malbec, is long – there are even wine spas to sample – and you could extend this tipple-rich trail south into Uco Valley, fabled for its flavor-packed wines.

Planning tip: March to May, Argentina’s autumn, is a particularly good time to do this trip as it’s when the grape harvest takes place.

Empty road leading to very pointy mountain peaks
You’ll have the roads to yourself on some stretches of the route © Dmitry Pichugin / 500px

4. Ruta 40

Best route for epic adventure
El Calafate–Bariloche; 1626km (1010 miles); allow 1–2 weeks

Speak of Ruta 40 (La Cuarenta) and adventurous Argentines go all misty-eyed: this is the nation’s ultimate road trip, as significant here as the USA’s Route 66 and with scenery to make you gasp.

The full thing spans from the Strait of Magellan up to the Bolivian border in Northwest Argentina, but this stretch, best tackled south–north, includes the most stunning landscapes and those most associated with the route.

El Calafate, base for forays out to Argentina’s most accessible and spectacular glaciers, like Perito Mereno, and home to a handy airport, is your launch point for this one.

Go round the ridiculously blue lakes of Lagos Argentino and Viedma, and detour on RP23 to trekking mecca El Chaltén, where the most alluring treks is to the viewpoint out to sheer-sided Mt Fitz Roy. 

The next section to Esquel is mighty remote save for the odd estancia or one-horse service town, but still offers side trips aplenty, such as to the ancient cave art in UNESCO-listed Cueva de los Manos area.

Esquel is worth a pause for hiking in Parque Nacional Los Alerces, festooned with Alerce trees up to four millennia old. The last leg terminates in Bariloche on glimmering Lago Nahuel Huapi, where serrated peaks swoop above the ice-blue lake waters.

Planning tip: This is best driven by experienced motorists in the spring or summer. Ruta 40 is mostly paved, but a 4WD is recommended, particularly if you plan to explore rougher gravel road branch-offs into remoter areas. 

A dusty car sits on an unpaved highway surrounded by the red sands of a desert landscape
Most roads in Argentina are paved, but a 4WD is recommended on some routes © Angelo D’Amico / Getty Images

5. Ruta 25

Best route for Welsh culture and whales
Esquel–Puerto Madryn; 757km (470 miles); allow 5–7 days

End-of-the-line station on the Old Patagonian Express (La Trochita) train line, Esquel is a hiking center in Chubut Province close to Parque Nacional Los Alerces, an ethereal bastion of some of South America’s oldest living things, alerce trees.

Founded by 19th-century Welsh immigrants, Esquel remains a hub of Welsh culture along with other towns on this drive. A slew of settlements in Chubut are even more Welsh than Esquel: places where Welsh high tea is served and the Welsh language is still spoken. 

One is Trevelin, 25km (16 miles) southwest of Esquel. Your out-and-back run here cuts through farming communities in the pea-green Andean foothills, and you could even brush Parque Nacional Los Alerces’ lush edge by taking RP71.

Back in Esquel, it’s a lengthy, brilliantly isolated drive across Argentina’s breadth. Switch from Ruta 40 to Ruta 25 near Tecka to traverse more arid scenery: mountains take a back seat, despite some thrilling returns to form roadside canyon walls at spots like Estancia Cañadon Carbón. 

Just before the journey’s end at Puerto Madryn is verdant Welsh township Gaiman, where British royal Princess Diana once took Welsh high tea. And this road trip ends with an almighty splash – Puerto Madryn is perhaps South America’s best bet for hooking up with a whale-watching trip from nearby Peninsula Valdés: orcas and southern right whales can be spied.

This article was first published Nov 4, 2021 and updated Jun 1, 2024.

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