January, February 2004, North Argentina (blue line)
2003 – February, March , Patagonia & Pampas (red line)
It’s impossible to generalize. It’s a big country with great variety. Scenery can vary from 1 to 10. The west is spectacular. The pampas are dull and vast.
There were always issues to be confronted. In the Andes, it was cold and rainy for weeks. The gravel roads through the spectacular scenery were poor and dusty. The pampas are simply boring after a day. And the west winds are fierce. The paved roads are generally too narrow. The vibrant people add a lot.
Our most recent trip into the Salta area in 2004 was so good that it pulled up our overall rating of Argentina. Even around Mendoza we found better routes than in the south. Let it be said: It is strenuous and slow.
How We Rate This Trip
Northern Argentina With perseverance, the main highways can be avoided. The main roads are often busy, narrow and without shoulders. The secondary roads often require mountain climbs or are of poor rface quality but are very rewarding.
Patagonia & Pampas In the Andes, the roads are usually gravel and often chunky rocks, washboard, or soft, greatly cutting into your speed and your chances to look around. Often, there’s enough traffic to raise the dust. The paved roads seldom offer shoulders so you have to be vigilant. Toward Buenos Aries, the roads are still narrow but with more traffic. The shoulders are gravel or grass making it tough if there is traffic.
Northern Argentina. The main highways are awful especially since they seldom offer shoulders to ride on. The traffic is fast moving and it’s your responsibility to get out of the way. That being said the many secondary roads we found were very quiet.
Patagonia & Pampas. (3) They drive fast. Gravel flies when they take a scenic route on the gravel roads. You generally know how fast each car can go since that’s how fast they are driving. The roads are narrow which intensifies your sence of how heavy the traffic is. In the summer, the minor roads in the Andes get crowded and dusty with vactioners.
Northern Argentina. We were warned of the heat but it really wasn’t that bad. We simply bussed through the pampas for the most part. Around Mendoza and Salta and even Corrientes the temperatures were warm but not overwhelming. Rain especially in the NE is a reality. At altitude, the rains can be cold.
Patagonia & Pampas. In the Andes, even if you are theoretically in the rain shadow, being on the eastern slope, the summer weather can be and frequently is cold, rainy, and windy. In the pampas, the temperatures rise, the winds increase, and the comfortable transition area is small. Towards Buenos Aries, the winds die down and summer has great warm weather.
Northern Argentina. These are problematical. They blow up one valley but down the next and they are strong. At times they’re almost circular (around Mendoza) It’s impossible to ride down wind with regularity. The slightest turn puts you into the wind. From Mendoza to the Bolivian border, they are predictable in a given place but not necessarily understandable. Around Corrientes, the winds were variable from day to day.
Patagonia & Pampas. Through the pampas, the fierce west winds are notorious. We really didn’t catch them at their fiercest. However, around the lakes near Bariloche, the west winds were so fierce that we often walked with head or side winds to avoid the chances of being blown into traffic. Really bad. In the mountains, there were some days when the wind wasn’t a factor, but usually it was howling, but predictable.
Northern Argentina. Using the circuitous and strenuous secondary routes, the Northeast offers variety and spectacular scenery. From the Chilean pass over the Andes to Mendoza to San Juan there was excellent mountain scenery. The pampas are featureless and around Corrientes it was nothing special. We enjoyed the scenery around Salta.
Patagonia & Pampas. Some of the best scenery in the world followed by senses dulling stretches of the dry pampas. If it was only the Andes, we wanted to score it a 10. If it were the vast pampas, we’d score it a 2, so we have to generalize. We’re sorry we didn’t get to the Salta area which is reported to be really good biking in nice scenery.(The following year we went to Salta.)
Northern Argentina. We had virtually no advance information. Even the local bikers were not that helpful. We simply found our way hour by hour and often on roads not on our map. Trust me, take our routes since we worked hard to find them. We couldn’t find bike specific information even from CTC (British Cycle Touring Club).
Patagonia & Pampas. Everyone will give you an opinion strongly biased and generally not identifying with a biker. Of course, maps are very good, but road condition or terrain is not covered. They always can tell you everything about it, but it’s often wrong. Even local tourist offices will misinform you.
Road Safety: 3
Northern Argentina. Fast heavy traffic plus narrow roads equal perilous riding. The secondary roads are much quieter so are much safer. The main roads must be avoided. The rule is: Get out of the way.
Patagonia & Pampas. It’s always preferred to be able to escape the main part of the road onto a shoulder. But the shoulder is usually gravel or grass. Traffic is fast moving. Most give you room but a minority of drivers cut too close for comfort. On the gravel roads, we frequently were so involved with the road hazards that vehicles came upon us without us realizing that they were there. The dust cuts down visibility at times.
General Safety: 7
Northern Argentina. In spite of an attempted bike jacking outside of Mendoza (see road story), we consider Argentina a safe country. Like anywhere, the cities are less safe but still safer than U.S. cities.
Patagonia & Pampas. Outside of the big cities, especially Buenos Aries, it’s very safe. We were warned that anywhere within 150Ks of Buenos Aries, it was unsafe. This was a full exaggeration. Even in Buenos Aries, we were as safe as in any city of size. We were warned frequently in Buenos Aries, however.
Northern Argentina. After the devaluation in 2000, Argentina is very cheap. The food (especially the beef) is of very high quality for very reasonable costs.
Patagonia & Pampas. Our timing was perfect. The hotels listed in the guidebooks for $50 U.S. were costing us $20 U.S. The same for food. However, this will not last forever. Before the devaluation, Argentina was considered expensive and it will be again.
Northern Argentina & Patagonia & Pampas. The tap water always seemed safe. We had no issues. Coffee is generally poor since most Argentineans prefer Mate tea. Cold soda and good beer is always available. The Argentinean wines are always good enough for us.
Northern Argentina & Patagonia & Pampas. We had a lifetime’s quota of meat. Steak, steak and steak. It’s excellent. Salads are usually good. Italian food, including pizza, is very good. Deli stuff is very good also. A problem to get around is the meal timing. They eat small continental breakfasts, big lunches and modest dinners at very late hours. You have to work around this.
Northern Argentina & Patagonia & Pampas. Due to the devaluation of the peso, we moved up so the hotels and hosterias were pretty nice. If in the old days before the devaluation, I’m sure we would have rated this lower since we would have had to economize more.
Northern Argentina. The Northeast from Mendoza to Bolivia to Corrientes, there is a different attitude. There is instinctive kindness and helpfulness that is more pronounced here. A wonderful, warm people with a great joy of life.
Patagonia & Pampas. If you like Italy, you like the Argentines. They are handsome, spirited, flamboyant, egotistical and a joy to be among. Helpful, they are not. Don’t waste your time if you need a ride. Everything is done with flare from driving to sports, to dance, to food. It’s fun.
Northern Argentina. For the Argentines, its more about attitudes than culture. Toward the Bolivian border, there is some indigenous influence. In the Northeast, there is even a Middle Eastern influence especially, Lebanese. Around Corientes, there’s a very curious mixture of cultures resulting in very interesting music.
Patagonia & Pampas. The Argentines have their own style. It’s greatly influenced by Italy. They even have great pizza. To experience a tango is enough to bring this score to four. There’s an attitude of self-confidence that is palpable. This is current culture, not the time honored past as in Europe.
Northern Argentina. Around Salta there are many more historical colonial towns because of the Bolivian mines and the 400 year old routes to them.
Patagonia & Pampas. The colonial past is observable in the cities. The towns have retained very little. There’s always a plaza around which the most historically notable building are. Precolonial history is virtually non-existent.
TOTAL SCORE 81
Route Descriptions and Maps
Portillo, Chile to Uspallata, Argentina 96 Ks
It’s a 2Ks climb to Chile immigration. Still up long sweeping wide road, beautiful vistas. Not steep but there is less oxygen. At 6 Ks, there is a tunnel at 3185 meters altitude. Ride with a truck about 3Ks thru tunnel. The border to Argentina is in the middle of the tunnel. In Las Cuevas, 8.5 Ks (3151 meters) there is another tunnel that was about 500 meters downhill. A friendly trucker followed us with lights on to protect us through the tunnel. Then there was a steep down, sometimes narrow with great views down the valley. The road surface is sometimes rough cement. Wide road with trucks. Occasional short climbs. The road to Aconcagua (highest mountain in South America) at 20 Ks. We had headwinds. Argentina immigration (Horcones) is at 2800 meters. Puente del Inca is at 24Ks and 2700 meters. 31 Ks at Penitentes. Continue a gradual down on a narrow road with strong head winds. Some truck traffic. The scenery is beautiful. At 54 Ks, Polvareda 2400 meters. Sometimes there were short climbs and a rougher road. The scenery diminishes with some rolling hills up. The road is narrow and a little rough at times with fast traffic. It is flatter along the river into Uspallata, 1900 meters at 96Ks.
Uspallata to Potrerillos 54 Ks
(This route is best ridden in the morning to the South, Uspallata to Potrerillos and late in the afternoon from Potrerillos to Uspallata when there are strong tailwinds) This is gorgeous, down river and gradual. There are short tunnels around 16Ks. Variables: Wind (head) and traffic (especially trucks).Better early for less wind. Better New Years day or Sundays for less traffic. At 52 Ks,Potrerillos at 1354 meters.
Potrerillos to Mendoza 69 Ks
The river was your friend. Climb away from it for 11 Ks. Potrerillos is a day trip destination for Mendocinos, so on weekends the road is packed with cars. Timing is everything. This is a wide 2 lane road with no shoulder but a climbing lane. The scenery is less dramatic. Headwinds. Go down gradually to Pampas at 25 Ks. Featureless scenery. (See option 1 & 2)
Option 1 (the better way)
At 35 Ks left toward Refinerary. At 37 Ks right. At 40 Ks a circle, left to Dique Cipolletti (the bridge over the dry Mendoza river is at 42Ks). There is another circle at 47 Ks; the road is 2 Lanes with no shoulder but light traffic. Go toward My Drummond and then 1.6 Ks from the circle to a left turn over a canal at 49 Ks. At 55Ks, the road splits and circles back to Italia Avenue at 56 Ks then on Bisares Avenue, left on Darragueira Avenue, 59 Ks. Narrower, past wineries. This is a good route with a little more traffic but nothing heavy. 59 Ks go onto Old Hwy 81. 61 Ks on double Hwy, which becomes San Martin Avenue the main drag into Mendoza. This is busy, wide, slightly down, with a headwind. Urban. The Centro is 69 Ks.
Option 2 (about 1 K more)
Gradual down to 43 Ks, vineyards, winds from north, now. Bridge over old Hwy that we had to scramble down to. 49 Ks over dry Mendoza river. (don’t follow sign to right for Mendoza). After bridge on right is a poor neighborhood full of thieves, (boys who knock you off your bike and steal everything – see road story). Two lanes and busy, narrow shaded through many towns. Interesting. Finally took to side roads. San Martin is the busy road into the center. Always slightly down.
Mendoza to Uspallata – retrace above route.
Mendoza to Potrerillos 69Ks (see route description above)
Potrerillos to Uspallata 54Ks (see route description above)
Uspallata to Barreal 114Ks
Leave town and go 3 Ks north then left on a gravel road. Ford the stream, the rocks are slippery. On the other side of the stream, the asphalt starts again with a slight climb. The scenery is gorgeous. 10 Ks to the last place with cold sodas, etc. and at 13 Ks is San Alberto(a small city off the road) the asphalt ends. It’s a dirt road that climbs and crests at 25 Ks then flat, then down. The road is sometimes rough, soft and washboard. After it’s been graded, its better. At midday there’s a cross, sometimes tailwind and dusty. Wide open spaces. At 62Ks into the park. The reputed tarmac is mostly broken. Only 1/3 of next 36 Ks is tarmac with potholes, otherwise gravel. All gradual down and we had a very strong tailwind this day. At 99 KS, good tarmac begins and a fast down hill. No services and beautiful. It can be hot. At 112Ks, trees and the center at 114Ks.
Barreal to Calingasta vía Tamberias 44 Ks
By the main roads it is 39Ks. Also we think our route was hillier. The road starts out down a gradual green river valley. The road is paved, quiet and shady. Turn left at the junction to Sorocayense at 11Ks. Then 1/2K left toward Tamberias on bumpy gravel. Cross a bridge and, at 14Ks, it’s good asphalt along the edge of the desert. The road climbs up from the river, no traffic with good views. At mid-day headwinds and garlic fields. At 31Ks, climb into desert for 5Ks then down 6Ks along Calingasta River into the Centro at 44Ks.
Calingasta to San Juan 135 Ks
The traffic is controlled, one-way up to Calingasta in the morning and then down to San Juan after 3:30PM. The road is mostly good asphalt with patches of gravel and some broken asphalt. We had headwinds. (We sneaked thru the checkpoint and rode against the traffic. It was no problem because there is very little traffic). At 44Ks, there is a new bridge and new gravel road toward Iglesia. We did not cross the bridge. Just past the bridge is Pachaco (Sandwiches and drinks) then the road stays up, climbing above the river then, at 62Ks, down to the river level. Headwinds continued with great views. The road was washed out (see road stories) 71Ks over Rio Uraguay. The road is poor for 15Ks after 78 Ks. For us, the headwinds continue but not as strong, because curves give some wind relief. The road improves at 93 Ks, tarmac and wider valley. 97Ks over Rio Blanco (dry). Another detour up the mountain at the new dam, 104Ks, then down to the green valley. Less dramatic scenery and no traffic. Past Zonda through a mountain pass in a narrow valley through Rivadavia right on Avenue Jose I de La Roza, a wide boulevard with a bike lane, then 4 lanes direct to Center (Plaza) 135 Ks.
** San Juan to San Jose de Jachel 169 Ks (We only rode part of this)
Out Mendosa Avenue to Centenario Avenue to Hwy 40 (Hwy 40 before San Martin reported to be high crime area). 4–lanes to San Martin then 2-lanes with dirt shoulder. (On a Sunday, it was light traffic with following wind. Reportedly good scenery per Lonely Planet.)
San Juan to Vallecito, (toward San Agustin) 76Ks (68Ks on main road)
Go out of town on San Martin Avenue. There were too many busses on 25 de Mayo Avenue. Cross Ring Road, 3Ks. Take extension of 25 de Mayo to east. At 10 Ks, the road turns right. At 12Ks, there is a junction, go straight. 12.5Ks, T junction at Avenue San Martin, go left. Thru vineyards, shady, flat, pretty and quiet. Cross bridge to T-junction, 14Ks. Go right on Rawson Avenue. At 25Ks, bear right on main road. At 28Ks, take tree-lined road to left. At 28Ks, bear right along railroad tracks again. At 30.5Ks, left again on minor road. Go right on to a boulevard at 32Ks at the UPF station. At 38Ks, left to Caucette. (30Ks on Hwy) Go on Boulevard then out on quiet 2-lane, tree-lined road. 47Ks, there is a T-junction with main road. Go right on Hwy 20. At 51Ks, left on Hwy 141. The route is flat and no shade into the desert. Then climb into the wind. It’s tough. At 72 Ks is the top of the climb. It’s 76Ks to town. Featureless and very hot. We experienced a desert rainstorm at night with thunder, lightning and flash flooding.
Vallecito to Marayes 75Ks
40Ks to the Bermejo turn off. Flat, featureless with a light headwind in AM and hot. The road is 2-lanes and little traffic. It’s 71Ks to junction with Hwy 510. Go left, now more curves, and short hills to Marayes. (Dull)
Marayes to Astica 73Ks
The road improves after 8 Ks. More short hills and dips. It’s a narrow 2-lane road with no traffic. Before Chucuma, there’s a 10 K climb. 56Ks then down mostly to Astica 73 Ks (dull). (Better to get a ride through here.)
Astica to San Agustin 42 Ks
Little hills, 2-lanes, scenery is boring with no traffic. Winds are cross or slightly following.
San Agustin to San Ramon 53Ks
Hwy 510 to east, 3 Ks paved then gravel. Mostly good but in parts its chunky or soft or washboard. The route is still flat, very dull and hot. (You miss the Ischigualasto Park by going this shorter way)
San Ramon to Patiquia 65Ks
This is a very boring, flat, straight, mind-numbing route. Cross or follow winds, 2-lanes, gravel shoulder with almost no traffic and very hot.
Patquia to LaRoija 70Ks
On Hwy 38, light traffic but some trucks. Flat, hot with light winds here. The road is 2-lanes, gravel shoulder, olive plantations with mountain views on the left. Not as boring as the day before. La Roija is 4Ks in from Highway 38.
LaRioja to Chumbicha 89Ks
4Ks out to Hwy and the scenery starts to get greener and better with mountains on left. The road is 2-lanes, with a broken paved shoulder. Slightly rising but mostly flat with mostly east winds and light traffic.
Chumbicha to Catamarca 65 Ks
Now the winds are from the north but light. The desert is getting greener. The road gets busier. 2-lanes with gravel shoulder. Very straight. Up gradually then down gradually all the way to town. At 55Ks, look for start of paved bike path on the right. It ends just out side of town when the road gets wider. In town, rain control makes for dips at intersections. Elevation is 530 meters.
Catamarca to El Bolson 78Ks
(Catamarca to Tucuman on Hwy 38 is 240 Ks)
Out on Hwy 38 to junction with Hwy 1, 5Ks. Turn left on 2-lane road with light traffic, no shoulder. The scenery is green hills. Slightly climbing with a light headwind. At 13Ks, pass the turnoff for P. Blanca. Rolling hills, mostly up. At 25Ks, the turn for Las Pirquitas then climb 4Ks up above the dam and reservoir. Now more rolling hills up river valley. Winds swirl at times (storm to the west) and at 42Ks, there is a turnoff for La Puerta. Turn left thru town on the old road then back to New Hwy 1 at 48Ks. Then continue with the gradual climb. There are no stores on new Hwy. At 74Ks, Los Varelas, the end of the pavement and the start of dirt (new construction to El Bolson), El Bolson at 78Ks.
El Bolson to Aconguija ( Buena Vista) 73Ks
Slightly up the gradual valley to Singuil, 18Ks on a gravel road in good condition. This is the last chance for a store (it has no sign). Then climb with some down sections, serpentine. There are steep hills with lots of Gauchos, cows and horses. The road is rideable, mostly good, sometimes rocky and steep, sometimes sandy and soft and sometimes washboard but 90% is OK. Grassy mountains with wide-open spaces and beautiful views back to the valley. We had tailwinds. The pass is 2170 meters at 53 Ks with good views of snow capped mountains, if clear. Then down mostly for 16Ks to T Junction at 69Ks. Right on to the wide, soft gravel road with head winds. Then the final 1K is paved into (Buena Vista) Aconquija.
Buena Vista to Concepcion 79 Ks
(Heaven, Hell and Heaven)
Go out of town along the river for 14Ks rolling but mostly down. Beautiful views of mountains. There is traffic in Aconguija. It’s a long narrow town. Some tarmac. Cross the bridge and start to climb on gravel with little traffic. The winds were headwinds, then swirling. Then climb to Kanka Suma at 17Ks. The road is gravel that becomes better because it is harder. Serpentine switchbacks to 27Ks but with easy grades about 5%. Best climb of my life, fabulous views. Then even more gradual with spectacular views to the left. At 29Ks, start to gradually descend. At 32Ks, long views down to the pampas. Descent is tougher, rockier, steeper and the going is very tough and slow. Switchbacks, soft corners. At 44Ks, cross over Rio Cochuna. Now the road is straight and a little better but never good. Gradually down nice green scenery. At 61Ks, pavement begins. Fast, straight (nice change) with a slight decline. Before the bridge, turn left, at 78Ks. Plaza 79Ks.
Concepcion to Tucuman 80 Ks
Out of town across the old bridge to Hwy 38, 4Ks. 2 busy lanes with a shoulder. Bear left before a narrow bridge at 9Ks, then back to Hwy38 again, into Rio Seco. Left and take old dirt road north at 13Ks. It’s a de facto bike path between Hwy 38 and the old railroad tracks. At 22Ks, it’s paved across another old bridge. At 26Ks, back to Hwy 38, ride on shoulder. At 30Ks, turn left over R.R. to old road north. At 33Ks, under Hwy 307 (to Tafi del Valle). After Acheral, back to Hwy 38, 2-lanes with a shoulder. We again found the old road (always near the railroad tracks) to Famailia then either Hwy 301 (no shoulder) or the Autopista (Hwy 38) with a shoulder. Both have traffic. We took the Autopista and it becomes a double Hwy (no shoulder) but ok. The winds were fickle and light. It is 6 Ks into town from this road (so same distance on either highway) and 80Ks at Centro.
Tucuman back to Acheral 48Ks
Go out of town on Avenue Roca, a boulevard with a side road, 7Ks to Hwy 301, 6 lanes. At 10Ks, the road becomes 2-lanes with gravel shoulder. Some traffic but from 1:30PM to 4PM it’s quieter. After Lules, 23Ks, it’s a grass shoulder. There is too much traffic for this narrow road. Better scenery than on Hwy 38 (The Autopista) 38Ks to Famaila. There are still options to the west between Hwy 301 and the old rail road tracks but the roads are rougher here. At 40Ks, a junction and the road has a shoulder. Light and variable winds and late afternoon rains.
Acheral (400 meters) to Tafi Del Valle (2000 meters) 64 Ks
Over bridge and out route 307, paved 2 lanes, no shoulder. (At 5Ks, junction route #324, north to Famailia, 16 Ks, paved) Santa Lucia, 7 Ks. Supplies just off highway (junction with road to Monteros) 12 Ks, junction route 344 (to Monteros, paved) variable winds, gradual increasing climb 1% to 2% then 3% then 4% then 5%. There is light traffic with some buses. It is better to ride here during the week, more traffic on weekends. Go up into the mountains following a fast moving river on short choppy hills into beautiful rain forest mountains. At 28 Ks, switch backs. At the Indian Monument, there is a steeper climb above the river to 36Ks. Continue a serpentine climb to 47Ks, snacks and cold drinks. The route becomes more gradual with some traffic. It’s a good road and beautiful. At 51Ks, there’s a gravel road junction to El Mollar and the lake. Through the valley down then up to the Centro at 64Ks..
Tafi to Santa Maria 76 Ks
20Ks and 1000 meters climb with views back over looking the city. Over a 3000 meter pass then down into the desert. We had mostly tailwinds. The road is rough over the pass**. There are a few short climbs but mostly down to valley. This is a big time downhill to Amaicha, 2200 meters. At 57 Ks, left on Hwy 40 to Santa Maria. Follow down then up, all gradual, with light north winds. The traffic is light. At 67Ks, you cross the Catamarca regional line then descend. There is good desert scenery until you arrive at the Plaza at 75Ks.
**There was sleet and cold rain at the pass. It even rained in the desert. I didn’t warm up until after 3PM. Even the desert rivers had brown water running. **
Santa Maria to Cafayate 79 Ks
Leave town by crossing the bridge to the Hwy 39 junction, 2Ks. There are great views especially from the bridge of the snowcapped Aconquija range. Right (north) on a curvy paved road down the river valley through small villages. At 15Ks, sandy gravel starts at Tucuman Provence line. The road, Hwy 40, is flat and so-so consolidated gravel surface. The road varies between soft and washboard. At 27Ks, the junction and now there is pavement. This part is quiet with good scenery and light head winds. At 30Ks is the junction road to Quilmes (5 Ks on gravel). Now the road is excellent, flat and with light traffic. Colalao, at 46 Ks, where there is food and drinks. Salta District starts at 54Ks. In the afternoon, there were stronger headwinds. Good semi arid scenery and we were entertained by lots of squawking parrots. Tolombon is at 65 Ks. Vineyards start with some gradual long hills then down past wineries into Cafayate 79Ks. Headwinds negated the gradual descent.
Cafayate to the north on Hwy 40
(We did this as a day trip to check it out)
Follow Hwy 40 north through the beautiful vineyards of Animana on some gradual rolling hills but mostly flat and paved to San Carlos, 23Ks. Nice plaza with food and camping in town. The road is paved out of town to 29Ks, then gravel along a river. Desert scenery. I only sampled the gravel for 10Ks which was a little soft with a lot of washboard surface. The road is quiet and El Indio Bus runs thru here but it’s speed is cut down by road conditions. There were headwinds (from north) that got stronger in the afternoon.
Cafayate (1660 meters) to LaVina (1200 meters) 104Ks
2Ks to junction of route 40 and route 68, turn right on route 68. It’s 11Ks on a gradual descent to River Santa Maria. The road is paved and 2 lanes. There were headwinds from the northeast. Into the Red Rock canyon at 20Ks where there is a junction with a gravel road that connects to Hwy 40. The good road descended gradually to the Conchas river with light traffic. There are some hills and curves that keep the winds down. Santa Barbara is at 38Ks with a basic store. At 42Ks, there is a stiff 1K climb above the river. Now it’s straighter with more wind (headwinds). At 63Ks, cross a river and continue to follow it down on the other side. At 67Ks, climb away from the river for 3Ks then go back down to it again. At 82Ks, Alemania, a town off the road and with no stores. This is the end of the dramatic red canyons and the beginning of a much wider valley with less wind and a gradual descent. At 93Ks, Talapampa where there is a hosteria. The last 4Ks into LaVina are slightly climbing. The headwinds more than make up for the gradual descent and would be easier up than down.
LaVina to Salta (1190 meters) 87Ks
There are long gradual rolling hills. Winds are north but very soft and it’s 23Ks to Cnel Moldes. There are some views in a wide valley. The traffic was quiet but picks up after each town. At 48Ks, the countryside gets greener, wetter and more humid with tobacco fields and agriculture into El Carril. The traffic doubles and the shoulder is gravel. The road is straight and the traffic is fast. There is a slight rise into a headwind. Sometimes there is no shoulder with more traffic and trucks. This is not good riding. La Merced was at 62Ks and Cerrillos at 69Ks. The road is wide through the towns. Another 8Ks of 2 busy lanes then a boulevard at 77Ks. There is even a side road at times. Take Paraguay Avenue. At 83Ks, there is a bike path on the side. The Plaza is 87Ks.
Salta to Cachi 158Ks (see description above in reverse)
**Cachi (2280 meters) to El Carril (Hwy 68) 120Ks
(This is a side trip from El Carril to Cachi – described as a return trip)
This is a spectacular ride. Cross the river to Hwy 40 which is paved with a rolling gradual climb to Payogasta, 12Ks. Here is the only store on the route. Right on Hwy 33 with great views and good paved road. The climb into the flat expansive altiplano is mostly gradual. At 38Ks, is a turn for Seclantas on Hwy 40. At 49Ks, the pavement ends. It’s a rough and dusty gravel climb but the road gets better as you go. The 3348 meter pass is at 56Ks. Then there was an incredible twisting descent with great views. There were headwinds that increased during the day. After 20Ks, the down was more gradual along the river and straighter. The road condition is best near the top and it’s sometimes rough near the river. There are a few very basic stores which were closed. Cross over the river at 96Ks and follow down the other side. The road cuts into the mountainside right along the river and then crosses the river again into a wider valley. At 110Ks, the road is paved with a gradual descent to Hwy 68 at El Carril, 120Ks.
El Carril to Salta 38Ks (see description avove: Lavina to Salta)
Salta to Jujuy on Hwy 9 96Ks
**Option 1. Go north on Zuviria Avenue till running into Hwy 9 (if coming into Salta follow Mitre Avenue south.)
**Option 2. Go out of the city on Sarmiento Avenue passed the r.r. station and follow signs for Hwy 9. The busy road narrows at 4Ks (it’s better to follow the city streets as far as possible on the right (east) of Hwy 9). On Hwy 9, at 12Ks, cross the Vaqueros River and the road becomes much quieter. The sign post says 1609Ks (the distance from Buenos Aires). It’s a good 2 lane road with a gravel shoulder. There are rolling hills up a green river valley and at 16Ks is Rio Caldera at K marker 1626 where you can find supplies. At marker 1632, pass the dammed lake, and then climb 3Ks before it levels out. At side marker 1636K is a low pass then 16Ks down. The road follows every contour along the mountain side. It’s a curvy single lane track with lots of twists and turns. Almost no traffic. It’s a gradual descent thru a rain forest. This is a fabulous ride with a steeper descent around Marker 1648K. At 1653K marker, enter into a valley. There are rolling hills and agriculture in the widening valley. The junction with Hwy 62 is at marker 1662 along another dammed lake. At marker 1667 is El Carman and a tourist information booth. Now toward Jujuy on a wider 2-lane Hwy with more traffic which is now fast moving. At Marker 1685, it becomes 4-lanes. At junction before town, there are 2 options:
**Option 1. Continue toward the center on the Hwy. There’s a bike path on the right to avoid the busy hwy traffic.
**Option 2. Take Avenue Brown to right through town to bridge then swing on to Independencia Avenue to Center 96Ks.
Jujuy to LaQuiaca (3442 meters) (Bolivian Border)
At this time of year (January) the winds roar up this valley making it an easy climb. Mostly the road is gradual and the tailwinds give you a push making this the ideal way up to the altiplano of Southern Bolivia.
We took a bus and rode back to Jujuy so this is backwards.
La Quicaca (3443 meters) to Tres Cruces (3680 meters) 104Ks
(There’s a sign post that points out that it’s 5121Ks to Ushuaia, the southern most point by road in Argentina)
At first, Hwy 9 descends very gradually and at 10Ks we could still see La Quicaca behind us. Tailwinds were from the northeast and the route was almost flat. The altiplano has slight ups and downs. At 75Ks is Abra Pampa (3482 meters). The road turns more toward the east and the winds are now cross winds. At 82Ks, at the junction with Hwy 40, continue straight on Hwy 9 which is 2-lanes with a gravel shoulder. The traffic is very light with some trucks. There was a slight climb. Now there are headwinds that get stronger as you climb to a gradual top at 101Ks (3780 meters). Interesting rock formations. Tres Cruces is at 104Ks.
Tres Cruces (3680 meters) to Tilcara (2461 meters) 104Ks
You have to pump down hill because of the strong headwinds to Rio Grande, 14Ks. Along a river with great rock formations. The curves give some wind protection. There’s a 2K climb and steep 2K drop into the valley at 50Ks. Lighter winds before the drop into the valley then the winds become head on and strong. Humahuaca (2940 meters) is at 58 Ks, (60Ks at the Plaza). Out of town 2Ks to Hwy 9. Uquia (2818 meters) at 73Ks and a gradual descent along the river but traffic increases as you descend. At 103Ks, turn off to Tilcara. The winds roar up the valley more than negating the downhill. There are beautiful, colorful cliffs and mountains. The Plaza is at104Ks.
Tilcara to Jujuy 87Ks
Follow the road gradually down along the river with beautiful cliff views till Volcan, 45Ks. The winds are soft in the morning. After Volcan there is more traffic but the road is wider with a good dirt shoulder. There is a new road finished in 2004 that starts with a 3K climb (old road stays lower but has a tendency to flood) and then another 5 Ks back down to the original road. At 57Ks, there is a new road that was built but abandoned because of landslides. Because the old road was busy, we took this 3K detour through the slide area but it was a little dangerous so we don’t recommend it. At 60Ks, there is a steeper decent with less wind but more traffic. The road narrows at 72Ks. At Molinas, you can find the old paved road to the left at 78Ks. It’s quiet and good. The road widens at 80Ks and at 85Ks there is a Y, stay left on Cordoba Avenue. At the circle go straight and the road becomes a one-way on Salta Avenue into the Centro at 87Ks.
Jujuy to Salta
We took the same route that we took from Salta to Jujuy. An excellent ride. (see above)
Salta to Resistencia by bus
We took a bus from Salta to Resistencia avoiding the busy roads through the Pampas. The roads are narrow, the distances are great, the temperature is high and the scenery is boringly redundant.
Resistencia to Corrientes 20Ks
The quiet way out of town is on Avenue 9 de Julio for about 5 Ks to Avenue Eva Peron. At the statue, after Regimiento, go left to the junction with Hwy 16 and, at 15Ks, at another junction, go right on to the busy road with a shoulder and cross over the long bridge on the walk way which is separated from the vehicle lane. At 18Ks carefully take the off ramp to the left to Costunera along the river to the center at 20Ks.
Corrientes to Saladas 107Ks
Go 1K to Avenue Independencia then left on this 4-lane boulevard. At 6Ks, at the Rotonda, turn right on Route 12 toward Empedrado. At 12Ks, pass the junction with Route 3 that goes back to Corrientes (not sure if this would have been better). Continue on Route 13 which is 2-lanes, with grass shoulder, moderate traffic with some trucks. The winds are from the northeast, so sometimes following and sometimes crossing. This is very flat with pampas scenery. As the day goes on, a little too much traffic, a little too fast and with regularity you must get off onto the grass shoulder but it’s even with the road so its an easy off-on move. At 64Ks is Empedrado with restaurants. At 86 Ks is San Lorenzo and snacks. At 98Ks, you come to Route 27 and you go left to Saladas. There is a gas station with food at the junction. Go 4.5Ks to another junction and take another left for another 4.5Ks on broken asphalt. It’s very quiet into town at 107Ks.
Saladas to Mercedes 164Ks
Go 9Ks back to the junction with Route 12 where there is food and drinks. Left. At 52Ks, turn for San Roque, where there is food and drinks. The road is 2-lanes with a good grass shoulder. Through wetlands and grass lands with lots of domestic animals and wild birds. The traffic is light but there are fast moving trucks. The wind is north or north east. For us there was a tailwind that made it fast riding. At 82Ks, is the junction with Route 123, go left. This is all flat but now there’s a cross wind. Chavaria is at 101Ks with snacks and drinks and less traffic. Through scrubland with a few little rises. At 131Ks, Felipe Yofre and at 156Ks, there is a Shrine to Gaucho Gil. Junction with Route 119 is a 158Ks, go right to the junction for Mercedes at 161Ks and take a left to the center at 164Ks.
Mercedes to Paso de los Libres 135Ks
Head east from the Plaza on the 1-way Avenue. Juan Pujol 1K then go left 1 block to Avenue San Martin. Go out to Route 123, at 6Ks, then go right at K marker 114 over mild rolling hills. There was an abnormal wind change coming from the south so that we had cross and headwinds. The road is new asphalt, almost no traffic with big estancias and lots of cattle. At 64Ks, there is a basic store with food and drink. At 76Ks, a bridge over a river. Now the route is flat and at 115Ks there is a junction with Route 14. Go right to 120Ks then left toward Paso de Los Libres. This is a 2-lane road that’s busy. At 132Ks there is the international bridge, go left for 3Ks to Paso de Los Libres.
**We crossed into Brazil from Paso de los Libres Argentina. The international bridge is 3Ks from Paso de Los Libres. It is narrow and 2 ½ Ks long. It’s best to try and cross at a quiet time.
January 2003, This trip was Santiago Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina via Patagonia
Border to Esquel 64Ks
To Trevelin 39Ks, mostly easy hills, but the road is bad. Big stones like cobble or washboard or loose stones. Tough. Bumpy when hard. Occasionally smooth. Wider valley, big beautiful vistas, west (tailwind) strong in PM. Pavement in Trevelin, good road, gravel shoulder, much drier and warmer, long, gradual climbs and descents. 5Ks each. Mountains more distant. Some traffic. It feels so good 25Ks to Esquel. There’s a bike path for 4Ks before town!
Esquel to Villa (Parque Los Alerces) 50Ks
Out of Esquel toward Trevelin, 4 Ks of bike path. 8Ks more to junction for park, 4 more Ks of paved then gravel. Big stones for 2Ks then good gravel for 10 more Ks down to river. Then 4K gradual climb. Good views, headwinds (west). Some traffic, dusty but good road. After 25Ks from Esquel, paved road at junction (Trevelin 13Ks on gravel). Beautiful road for 25Ks to Villa mostly flat or gradual down, enjoy. Good scenery.
Villa (Parque Los Alerces) to Cholila 78Ks
Along the lakes, good gravel road in park. Some traffic with dust. Excellent scenery, winds behind. Some hills at 30Ks at Logo Verde, a 4K climb, then descend. Another climb of 3Ks around Lake Rivadivia. Out of park, a few hills but mostly flat in a valley. Bad road, slow, soft and washboard. 76Ks to junction. Cholila is 2Ks off the road to El Bolson.
Cholila to El Bolson 80Ks
2 Ks to junction, then 28Ks to paved highway. This gravel road is better but still a few bad spots. Mostly climbing, great views, light traffic, wind comes up in your face. This headwind continues all the way to El Bolson. Left on paved highway. Long downhill for 8Ks, a little climb, then down again and then flat. Usually there’s a shoulder. Traffic is light to moderate. A 4K moderate climb at 68Ks, then flat and finally down into El Bolson. A great ride in spite of the headwind.
El Bolson to Bariloche 120Ks
Narrow road with dirt shoulder up a river valley, mostly gradual. Very good scenery, strong headwinds (north). Top out at K marker 95 (25Ks from El Bolson. Down, mostly curvy 6Ks (K89) up 4 Ks, then long gradual hills. Light to moderate traffic. Sometimes less wind, protected. High point at K55 (65 from El Bolson). K45 along lake, no shoulder, take care for 8Ks. At K36 a dirt shoulder again along next lake, less wind, gradually down to another lake. At K13 climb away from lake for 4Ks, then down. Much more traffic, urban sprawl.
Through the southern Andes, we switched back and forth between Chile and Argentina. This section is in Chile too.
Border to San Martin de los Andes (In Argentina) 46Ks
A flat 5Ks to Nonthue (no town on road). Then a 3K climb. The gravel road is wide, harder, but washboard and dirt covered rocks. More traffic, more dust. Very good scenery. Hills. At 16Ks from border a 5K climb on scrabble. Tough. Light winds in A.M. Stronger winds behind toward San Martin. Down a little then climb again to 27Ks from border, better road. Gradual down mostly on harder road. Bumpy. Steeper into town.
San Martin de los Andes to Villa la Angostura (In Argentina) 112Ks
1K out of town, 6Ks along lake, then inland and up for 11Ks to top. Good road, wide, no shoulder. Tourist traffic, slow cars, great scenery. Easy grades all the way. Winds variable. Down 10Ks to junction Highway 63 continue on route 234. 10Ks from junction Lago Hermosa. Restaurant. Rolling Hills. At 53Ks from San Martin, the pavement ends. Begin 50Ks of dirt road. Mostly down on rolling hills. Beautiful, variable winds, with the temperature depending on sun, clouds or rain. Variable. Another 8Ks on a good dirt road mostly down to Hotel Pichi Trafal (a Christian foundation runs it; we stayed here). Climb up choppy steep hills 10Ks. Tourist traffic, no trucks, but lots of cars. Dirt road usually okay. Dusty at times. Gradual down ( mostly) for 10Ks to junction with Highway 65 to Villa Trafal (26Ks from junction). Villa Angostura (37Ks). 4 more Ks down. There’s a hosteria (food) off road 1K on the lake. Along the lake for 5Ks. A steep 1K climb off of lake. Some buses. Steep ups and downs. After 50Ks of dirt, left to Villa la Angostura (right to Chile). 11Ks on good paved road. Rolling hills, great scenery, moderate traffic until in Villa la Angostura. Right 3Ks to Puerto.
Villa la Angostura to Bariloche (In Argentina) 87Ks
3Ks back to highway from Puerto. 64Ks to junction with Route 237. Mild climbs and descents along the lake. Beautiful. Moderate traffic, dirt shoulder, good road, some trucks, tail wind (from west). Away from lake after 48Ks. A 3K climb and a 5K climb , then drift lower. Great ride with a tail wind. Views of Bariloche across lake. Terrain changes and becomes arid. Right 20Ks from junction to Bariloche. More traffic. Over river, now head west, head winds. Last 20Ks, just to get there. Head wind.
Bariloche to Llao Llao (In Argentina) 28 Ks
Busy road with tourist busses. Beautiful views. Some hills. Narrow with dirt shoulder. Timing is everything. Early or late is better and avoid the bus traffic. A hellish ride but lots of bikers on the road. Head winds.
Llao Llao (Argentina) to Ensenada (Chile) 49 Ks on bike Boat, bike, boat, bike, boat to Petrohue, Chile
Doable in one day going west. One and one-half hours in boat to Puerto Blest. 3Ks flat on good dirt road to connect with next boat. Twenty minutes between. Easy to connect. Twenty minute boat ride to Puerto Frias then 29Ks to Peulla, Chile on a pretty good dirt road. Argentine customs first, then 3.5Ks up, some steep, okay surface, 8Ks down, some steep, a little rocky but rideable, then gradual down along river for 15Ks, a few hills at end. Chilean customs, then two more Ks to port for last boat. Scenery is great, weather is variable, winds are light because of the deep valley. At Petrohue at 5:30. It’s 17Ks to Ensenada, 5Ks on a dirt (lava) road , then paved. Gradual descent down a river to Lake Llanquihue. All is easy going west. The other way, Puerto Varas to Boriloche, requires two days since you only get two hours to make 29Ks, 26 of which is up, 8 Ks of which is steep. The road is stoney at times. Very difficult to do in two hours, also add in customs time.
This route continues to Buenos Aires and Uruguary
Baroliche to Piedra 202Ks
19Ks out to junction, narrow, traffic, no shoulder, tailwind (west) crosswind near junction, good views, gravel shoulder mostly flat, 45Ks to Confluencia. Narrow, dirt shoulder, now foothills, light traffic, curvy down the river, sometimes no shoulder, some trucks, some small hills. Before Confluencia, headwinds, road is mostly north then swings east (follow wind again), climb from lake for 5Ks, then flat and down. 1518 Ks to BA over bridge then climb for 12Ks before Piedra, a long gradual down. Scenery becomes less and less interesting. Light traffic but fast. Piedra (1446Ks Marker).
Piedra to Picunleufu 94Ks (1352Ks Marker)
The pampas, some hills, gravel shoulder, west winds, uninteresting, light traffic, but fast.
Picunleufu to Arroyita 82Ks
Boring, flatter, the same, lake on left.
Arroyita to Neuquen 54Ks
Busier road, heavy traffic toward Neuquen. There is a paved shoulder, then four lane urban sprawl most of the way (1218K).
Neuquen to Gral Roca 45Ks (1173K)
Busy road, flat, gravel shoulder, which you ride on, fruit orchards, bad ride. Allen 19Ks, Gral Roca 26Ks. One town runs into the next.
Gral Roca to Choele Choel 180Ks
60Ks of fruit trees and traffic. Sometimes there is a dirt alternative along side of the road. Flat, into the desert. Much less traffic, moderate. 37Ks to Chelforo, gravel shoulder, some hills, dull and boring. Lots of trucks. Flatter further on, shoulder often overgrown with scrub.
Choele Choel to Rio Colorado 137Ks
Straight, nothing, overgrown shoulder, light traffic, slight climb. Store, cold drinks 934 K. Some hills toward Rio Colorado. West winds can be strong. Rio Colorado 2Ks off highway. K865. This was sheer boredom.
Rio Colorado to Medanos 126Ks
Rio Colorado to Bahia Blanc 171Ks
Over river back to the pampas more traffic out of Rio Colorado, but dies out. More boredom, straight flat. This is the pampas. Cattle. Medanos (2Ks off highway). 44Ks to Bahia Blanca. Cattle and wheat. More traffic, shoulder overgrown, but better before Bahia Blanca.
Bahia Blanca to Cnel Dorrego 97Ks
To junction Highway 51 (quieter than Highway 3), but Highway 3 looked very quiet so we rode a quiet 49Ks to junction with the new Highway 3. Very good ride, flat, follow wind (west), narrow and variable quality but good. On a Saturday, we thought Highway 3 would be quiet, but in the P.M., heavy fast traffic to the beach, junction 11Ks before Cnel Dorrego. Grass shoulder, bad to get off often. Mostly flat, last 11Ks to Cnel Dorrego. Headwind (north). No Mas (take the bus to Bahia Blanca.
Border to Concepcion del Uruguay 50Ks
Over bridge 3Ks then 5 Ks to turn for Colon (3Ks in and 3Ks out). Then 8Ks to junction Route 14, flat, narrow, no shoulder, some traffic, winds NE. 34Ks to Concepcion, Route 14, flat, nothing to see. Wide shoulder, traffic, and lots of trucks, not good. 7Ks before Concepcion, turn off Highway 14, four lanes, quieter than through town.
Conception del Uruguay to Gualequaychu 76Ks
Concepcion to Route 14, 7Ks then left, south two lanes with wide shoulder, moderate but fast traffic, dull scenery. 55Ks winds variable, stones, left on Highway 20. Two lanes, no shoulder, some traffic, take care. 14Ks to Gualeguaychu, 2 Ks before Gualeguaychu, turn to bridge to Uruguay.
Gualeguaychu, to Bridge International 36Ks
4Ks to junction for bridge, the 32 Ks to bridge. No bicycles allowed, must get a ride in a truck to customs on Uruguay side. Winds east (head) narrow road, no shoulder, little traffic, and a few 2% hills. Out of western Uruguay into Argentina across the Uruguay River at Paysandu/Colon and back across the river into Uruguay at Gualeguaychu/Fray Bentos.
Argentina has been great riding to Salta. We took a bus from Salta (overnight 13 hours) to Corrientes in the Pampas. The distances between towns and services expanded as we approached the Brazil border. This area is lowlands, rivers. It reminds us of Louisiana. There are swamps, cattle and horses. We have seen flamingos, cranes, egrets and hawks everywhere. The people have a thick accent, and a special music with accordions like Cajun. Even with strong tailwinds, we couldn’t get as far as Mercedes so we had to get help with a ride. There was only local traffic and 3 1\2 hours later we pleaded with a bus to take us. When we reached Mercedes we found all the hotels were full (there were 2). It was 10P by the time we found a room in a private house-that overcharged us for the first time in Argentina.
We checked into one of the two hotels the next day and stayed another night at half the cost. We stayed so we could visit the shrine of Gaucho Gil. The Argentines can venerate mortals like no other people (ie. Perone, Evita and Diego Maradona(soccer player)). The Argentines have raised a cowboy who looks like Wyatt Erp standing before a cross to saint status (the church doesn’t agree). Gaucho Gil works backwards, you go to him after something terrible happened and you survived. The walls of his shrine are covered with bronze plaques and mangled license plates from people who survived fatal crashes, floods, fires, fatal diseases or any personal disasters. We lit candles and bought red symbolic streamers for our bikes and visitors put stickers of Gaucho Gil on our back racks.
The next day we started for the border of Brazil , Paso de Libres, and our tail wind changed to a howling head wind. We blasphemed Gaucho Gil all day. We could not make the distance without a ride. We saw an older women and her granddaughter waiting at a rural bus stop at a crossroad. She convinced us that we must wait at the bus stop or the bus would not pick us up. She lived at a near by (20 miles) ranch that has 25,000 head of cattle. The 530P bus came but would not take our bikes. We pleaded to no avail.
Now, we were really screwed, there was hardly any traffic and it was starting to get dark. Then along came Hector and Mare in their 4-door pick-up. Small stocky Hector jumped out of the cab and into the back of his pick-up, motioning Peter to hand up the bikes before we spoke. His big black dog licked Peter`s arms as he handed up the bikes. Hector had a small ranch near here (400 head of cattle) and lived in Paseo de Libres. We rode in the cab and they gave us the grand tour on the way to town. He also negotiated a better rate at the hotel for us.
We showered and went to the square. A nice looking couple came up to us “We are so glad you made it!” We looked at them quizzically. The man explained he had been on the bus that would not pick us up. He saw our concern and understood our problem. When his wife picked him up at the bus in Paseo de Libres, he jumped into his car and drove back (40 miles one way) to get us. There was a truck at the bus stop and they told him they saw us get a ride. We shook hands, hugged and they disappeared. We were overwhelmed. Now we venerate an unnamed couple in Argentina and leave the Argentines to worship Gaucho Gil.