Ruta Nacional 40 is a route in western Argentina, stretching from Cabo Virgenes in Santa Cruz Province in the south to La Quiaca in Jujuy Province in the north, with a length of 5,000 km (3,107 mi), running parallel to the Andes mountains. Argentina’s Ruta 40 is one of the longest and most spectacular highways in the world.
The road, called National Route 40, RN 40 or Ruta 40, is paved most of its length, except in the south, where it passes through sparsely populated regions and may be stretches of more than two hundred kilometers completely empty except for the road itself. The southern part of the route, a largely paved road through sparcely populated territory, has become a well-known adventure tourism journey, although it is planned to pave the whole road. The attraction is actually international in scope, and many websites throughout the world advertise the private and commercial adventures associated with travel on this roadway.
This road has humbled many egos. It’s not for the sissies and shouldn’t be attempted by novice drivers. The road is in dreadful condition and requires strong nerves to negotiate it. From its southernmost point at Cabo Vírgenes, Ruta 40 meanders through the remote plains of Patagonia, winding northwards and flanked to the west by the magnificent peaks of the Andes. It passes by pristine lakes and bustling cities before reaching its highest point at Abra del Acay (an awe-inspiring 4,952 meters above sea-level) and finally reaches its end in the border town of La Quiaca – a true showcase of Argentina’s stunningly diverse landscape
Route 40 is the longest route in Argentina and one of the largest in the worldmore. The road includes some steep sections, without market central lines, is very narrow, scarcely wide enough for two cars to pass at the same time and there are no protections or guard rails along some parts of the route. The road crosses the provinces of Santa Cruz, Chubut, Río Negro, Neuquen, Mendoza, San Juan, La Rioja, Catamarca, Tucumán, Salta and Jujuy. The surface of the road is asphalt, gravel and sand, and chains or snow tyres can be required throughout the year. This stretch of road should not be attempted by novice drivers.
This road has humbled many egos. It’s not for the sissies and shouldn’t be attempted by novice drivers. Most of the highway runs alongside and sometimes within the Andes Mountain range, passing through some of the most extraordinary landscapes on the planet and connecting 20 national parks. One of the most spectacular views along the way (weather permitting!) is that of the Fitzroy and Cerro Torres ranges which kick in when you get close to El Chalten in Southern Patagonia. It starts at sea level, crosses 18 national parks, 18 major rivers, 27 passes on the Andes, and goes up to 5,000 m (16,404 ft) above sea level in Abra del Acay in Salta. There are a number of internationally important sites along this route, such as Cueva de las Manos, which contains cave art dating back some 13,000 years, Los Glaciares National Park, the second largest National Park in Argentina, and the Calchaquí Valleys.
The road was constructed in 1935. It crosses 236 rivers and wild landscapes, making it a perfect scenic drive. It’s one of the longest highways in the world. Its lowest point is at 39 m (128 ft) above the sea level at its starting point by the lighthouse at Cabo Vírgenes, (Cape Virigns) in Santa Cruz, Patagonia. At its terminus, in the border town of La Quiaca, Jujuy, its altitude is 3,460 m. (11,344 ft). Mina Pirquitas, in Jujuy, on the Ruta 40, is the highest town in Argentina, set at 4,271 m (14,003 ft) above sea level. From Ruta 40 you can access the mighty Andes as well as 13 great lakes and salt flats.
This is an exquisite winding mountain drive with sharp and blind curves and hairpin switchbacks leading the traveler over the mountains. To do the full trip requires a combination of vehicles, because much of the road is unpaved. Some stretches require just a regular car, others need a 4x4. The drive is definitely worth it. A drive not to be missed! Special care is required, though, especially further south where strong crosswinds and poorly maintained gravel (ripio) roads make it extremely easy to flip over. With its notoriously poor surfaces – just dirt and gravel in sections – hairpin bends, and endless straight sections buffeted by violent gusts across the deserted steppe, it is considered one of the world’s most epic drives.