Ruta 40


The Ruta 40 - known in Argentina, with affection and awe, simply as
' la cuarenta' - is one of the wildest and least-travelled roads on the planet.
It runs the whole length of Argentina, from La Quiaca on the border with Bolivia in the north, all the way down to El Chaltén and Río Gallegos in the south. And almost the entire length of the Ruta 40 crosses extraordinarily beautiful countryside: at times dramatic, at times eerily remote. Ernesto 'Che' Guevara travelled along much of it in his famous motorcycle jaunts, and his experience of the poverty and adversity he encountered helped form his revolutionary spirit. You can get a flavour of the toughest parts by travelling this southernmost stretch through Patagonia on bicycle, motorbike, or by bus, which might be quite enough adversity for some travellers. In the 14 hours it takes to go from Los Antiguos to El Chaltén, you're likely to see no more than a dozen cars, and this experience alone convinces you of the sheer emptiness of Patagonia. You'll also spot condors wheeling high above the Andes, the occasional Patagonian
fox, and not much else apart from the clouds, whipped into amazing shapes by the ubiquitous winds.

Along the way you could veer off the battered track to hide out at a number of isolated
estancias
, visible from miles away where you see a fringe of tall poplars protecting a cluster of buildings from the relentless wind. Many
estancias
in this area welcome guests, and you can enjoy horse riding, walking and the warm hospitality of their owners, who will share their experience of a hardy life. There's a wonderful national park to explore, Perito Moreno (not to be confused with Glaciar Perito Moreno, which is in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, further south). Estancia La Oriental is the best way to see the park's stark and beautiful landscapes, many of which are inaccessible by car. To the north of this stretch, the Ruta 40 has a couple of strange attractions. One which belies the incredible emptiness of Patagonia is the Cueva de las Manos. Near the small towns of Los Antiguos and Perito Moreno, in the beautiful canyon of the Río Pininturas, are caves containing thousands of human handprints, made more than 8000 years ago. Mind blowing, especially after travelling for 14 hours without seeing a soul. Just to the north, near Sarmiento, there's a petrified forest, with huge trunks of monkey puzzle trees turned to stone 140 million years ago.

And when at last you arrive at Mount Fitz Roy, whose great turrets of granite can be seen rising up
from the flat steppe from 100 km away, you may well think you've imagined it. It's one of the mos
t
magnificent sights in the whole country, made all the more spectacular by hours or days of relentless flat lands, with only condors and the clouds for company. For travel information on the Ruta 40, se
e www.turismo.gov.ar/esp/atra/ruta/mruta.htm (in English).

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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