Spectacular glaciers glowing blue in the moonlight of the Andes. Vast sun-drenched plains, home to some of the best wineries in the world. Prehistoric cave paintings in isolated canyons where condors swirl overhead. If you’re ready for hundreds of adventures like these on the trip of a lifetime, try motorcycling down Route 40 through Argentina. Passing through 20 national parks, 27 Andean mountain passes, and over 18 major rivers, this is journey not easily forgotten.
Tours along this fabled roadway (made famous by Che Guevara’s The Motorcycle Diaries) usually begin in Salta, in the northern part of the country. From there, it’s about 3 to 4 weeks of riding until you reach your journey’s end 6,900km (4,300 miles) south in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, located deep in Tierra del Fuego. Air transportation is usually arranged between these two cities and the capital city, Buenos Aires.
This is not an entry-level motorcycle trip. Besides the length of the journey and the time involved, you’ll pass through several climate zones, from the searing heat of the Patagonian desert to the sub-zero alpine conditions in the Andes. Nor is Route 40—locally known at Ruta 40 or “La Cuarenta”—a smooth lane of blacktop: Expect hours of bone-rattling washboard road conditions, vast clouds of dust, and mud that will stick to your bike, your clothes, and your skin long after your ride is over. Distances between towns can be vast, and riders should be expected to endure the occasional hardship with the adventure traveler’s secret weapon: a sense of humor.
But those who can weather the hazards of this journey are rewarded with unforgettable thrills. Packs of wild guanacos (cousins of the llama) crossing the roadway are a familiar sight. The towering spires of Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre, and other snow-capped Andean mountains llama) crossing the roadway are a familiar sight. The towering spires of Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre, and other snow-capped Andean mountains loom overhead, because much of Route 40 follows the eastern spine of the Andes. The pristine beauty of the Perito Moreno glacier makes a visit to Los Glaciares National Park a must (see ). And the legendary hospitality of Argentine estancias (ranches), with sublime regional wines, and world-class food, await weary riders at each stop along the way.
Tours: Overland Patagonia ( 02944/438654; www.overlandpatagonia.com). Adventure Motorcycle Tours ( 760/249-1105; www.admo-tours.com). Lef Expeditions (firstname.lastname@example.org; www.lefexpeditions.com).
When to Go: Nov–Apr.