When riding through Argentina there are roughly two main roads to chose from, Ruta 3 and Ruta 40. Ruta 40 is located in the west of Argentina and has a length of 5.194 kilometers along the border with Chile. Ruta 3 follows the coastline and is a bit shorter, 3,045 kilometers. Besides their enormous length, these two routes couldn't be more different.
Ruta 40 is mostly a magnificent ride and Ruta 3 a biker's absolute nightmare. It represents hundreds and hundreds of kilometers of flat, boring, extremely windy and 100% asphalted road. The reason why motorcyclists choose this road over Ruta 40 is that it is the quickest way between Buenos Aires and Tierra del Fuego. From Tierra del Fuego most motorcyclists take the Ruta 40 to start their ‘real' Pan-American adventure.
If you have the time, there are many ways to make Ruta 3 more interesting, you only have to know where to go! In this blog, I give 7 suggestions for Ruta 3 detours from north to south, which I have ridden myself, and would like to recommend to other motorcyclists or overlanders.
Ruta Provincial 1 around Viedma
The Ruta 3 starts in Buenos Aires and throughout the province of Buenos Aires, you pass through flat pampas and agricultural lands. I took some small backroads in between Roque Perez and Las Flores, but other than dirt tracks and fields filled with cows, there wasn't much to see.
I found an opportunity to escape the endlessness of Ruta 3 near Viedma, where I followed the Ruta Provincial 1 for 30 kilometers until I reached the coast at Balneario El Condor. Continuing perpendicular to the coast, I encountered thousands of colorful burrowing parakeets. It's their most important breeding site in the world. Seeing (and hearing) thousands of these birds is worth coming here.
From here I continued on the paved road until La Loberia. From there, a gravel road led me to a large colony of sea lions. Depending on the time of the year, between 6,000 to 9,000 sea lions can be seen here. You can't come very close, but at the visitor center they will give you binoculars when you pay the small entrance fee.
If you feel like it, you can continue on the Ruta Provincial 1 (most likely all gravel) to San Antonio Este. That day, I returned to Viedma where I stayed for the night. A small dirt road brought me back to the unpaved Ruta 51 and from there to Viedma.
Click here to watch episode 10 of my Patagonia to Alaska journey to see this ride from Viedma.
Peninsula Vales, near medium-sized town Puerto Madryn, is a Patagonian nature reserve and famous for its wildlife. This is one of the few places in the world where, if you are extremely lucky, can spot killer whales beaching themselves to hunt for sea lions. Even though those sightings only occur once or twice per week, you are pretty much guaranteed to see whales, sea lions, sea elephants, and penguins when visiting this nature reserve.
The entrance fee is quite steep with 850 Argentinean pesos (about $14) for a foreigner, but if you are interested in seeing an abundance of wildlife, it's definitely worth the money! Besides the marine wildlife, I also spotted guanacos, rheas (or nandus), maras (Patagonian hares), foxes, armadillos, and a tarantula!
The road within the park is paved until Puerto Piramides and turns into gravel tracks after that. The tracks are generally well maintained, so besides some corrugations (“washboard”) here and there, pretty easy to ride. When you are at Peninsula Vales, don't forget to check out Salina Chica, a small pink salt flat near RP2 on your way back to Puerto Piramides. I really enjoyed this ‘salty girl'.
The entire roundtrip from Puerto Madryn is 400 kilometers. To allow yourself enough time to explore the reserve with its wildlife, you can spend the night in Puerto Piramides. There are plenty of accommodation options, both guesthouses and campgrounds, available in this small, former salt-mining town.
Tip: the ATM in Puerto Piramides is usually out of cash and creditcards are not accepted here, so bring enough Argentinean pesos with you!
Click here to watch episode 12 where I visit the pinquins at peninsula Valdes.
Ruta Provincial 1 to Cabo Raso
Another brilliant escape of the Ruta 3 can be found near Cabo Raso. Coming from Trelew, make sure to first stop at Punta Tombo to see the largest colony of penguins in Patagonia. Up to 1 million Magellanic penguins are nesting here in their burrows. Provincial Route 1 is paved until 22 kilometers before Punta Tombo, where it changes into a well-graded gravel road.
Tip: keep in mind that the penguins are only at Punta Tombo from September until March. The rest of the year the penguins are not here and the park is closed.
After leaving Punta Tombo, it's just under 80 kilometers to reach El Cabo Raso on the well-graded gravel road of Ruta 1. Be prepared, you will not encounter a single vehicle while riding to El Cabo Raso. In this area are only a few big farms, but otherwise, nobody lives here or passes through this region.
El Cabo Raso itself is therefore very isolated and the ‘town' consists of just one family! They have a campground if you want to sleep in your own tent, but they also offer rooms in their house. They can provide you with delicious homecooked meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you would like to stay with them, it is best to make contact beforehand. They have someone in Trelew who handles the bookings for them.
If you feel like exploring a part of Patagonia where no tourist goes to and would like to have a private beach, then ask the owners of El Cabo if they can arrange the key of a nearby estancia for you. There, I had a very fun day riding my motorcycle on the tracks and checking out the marine wildlife on the beach. During that day I saw many sea lions and sea elephants from up close!
Tip: there is no telephone reception and no wifi at Cabo Raso so be prepared to go a little off-grid!
Going back in time: the Petrified Forest
This detour takes you back 150 million years in time! National Park Jamarillo Petrified Forest is one of Argentina's most important fossil sites. These trees lived during Jurassic times and before they got covered in layers of volcanic sediments, some of them were already a 1,000 year old. The largest specimens of these trees are 35 meters in length with a diameter of up to 3 meters!
After the exit from Ruta 3 to this petrified forest, you will notice that the scenery changes rapidly from the seemingly endless flat plains to a mountainous area with canyons! A well maintained gravel road (provincial route 49) runs straight from Ruta 3 to the national park in just 50 kilometers.
But, there is an option to make this ride even more interesting! Instead of riding back and forth on the same road, consider taking route 93 instead. After you exit Ruta 3, you'll see a fence. When I was there, there were dead foxes attached to it. Not the most friendly invitation to open the gate and take this road, but the warning is for the foxes, not you! It's a public road but because it runs through one or two estancias they have put up a fence.
The first stretch of route 93 is similar in scenery as the Ruta 3, boring and flat, but soon the track starts to become more interesting and mountains appear! Expect to see absolutely nobody except a glimpse of an owner of one of the estancias. Besides the usual guanaco, rhea and fox sightings, I also spotted dozens of maras that kept running in front of my motorcycle!
The total length of this detour is 133 kilometers.
Tip: in case you were planning to wild camp here, don't do it. The park rangers will firmly remove you when they find out!
In episode 16 of my Patagonia to Alaska adventure, you can see me at the petrified forest.
At this point, you either find yourself completely bored with Ruta 3 or you would like to find an even more secluded place. If you take the following detour, you will ride 200 kilometers on a gravel road without seeing any traffic or people. I think it was one of the most isolated places in Argentina.
Get off Ruta 3 just south of Tres Cerro and take route 47 towards the east, then route 62 to the south, and route 83 will take you back to route 47 who will return you to Ruta 3. The scenery on this detour is not much different from Ruta 3, it is still mostly flat and with only a few hills along the trail, but you will find an abundance of wildlife. I have seen flocks of guanacos and herds of free-running horses among others. The best thing is that you will have the place absolutely to yourself. I encountered one car, belonging to a gaucho of a nearby estancia and that was it. The total distance of this detour: 200 kilometers.
A little further south from this route, I made another detour. The views I had on this one were absolutely amazing. I rode alongside the coast with impressive high cliffs and small little beaches. It can get quite windy when you are high up the cliffs. But as it is only a detour of 30 kilometers, you should not miss it!
You can see me ride this detour in episode 17, called a crazy day in Patagonia.
Tierra del Fuego Alternative Route
The tip of South America acts as a funnel for riders coming via different roads. And as soon as they have all taken the ferry to the island Tierra del Fuego, there aren't many roads to choose from. Unless your trip ends in Ushuaia and you are shipping out your motorcycle from there, you will have to return on the boring Ruta 3 again unless you do what I did.
There is an alternative. This route will take you to a border crossing into Chile (Paso Rio Bellavista) and is mostly unpaved and free of traffic!
Following this route to the Chilean border, you will pass some beautiful places along the way to have a closer look at. Lago Yehuin, for instance, is the perfect spot to pitch a tent or to have lunch on the tiny beach. Laguna Blanco on the Chile side is supposed to be beautiful also. Unfortunately, I completely missed the exit to that lake, so I cannot verify it. But the absolute highlight for me on this route was the opportunity to see King Penguins at Parque Pinguino Rey, right at the shores of Bahia Inutil.
Even though the name of the Bay (“Useless Bay”) suggests there isn't much of interest, it actually has the only colony of King Penguins outside of Antarctica. Don't miss the chance to see these beautiful birds in the wild!
The scenery of this alternative route is still relatively flat, but a lot more fun than Ruta 3 via the San Sebastian border.
Tip: install the app “Fronteras Argentinas” on your phone and check beforehand if the border Paso Rio Bellavista is open. Like many other borders with Chile, this one is only open in summer time (November- April)
Click here for episode 19, where I take this route.
The end of the road
Ushuaia is the end goal for most motorcycle travelers. It is here where everybody takes a picture with the ‘end of the road' signpost behind them. This sign can be found when you follow the Ruta 3 a little bit further south from Ushuaia. But if you want to end your trip a little more adventurous, then I highly recommend riding the Ruta J until its ‘own' end of the road.
Tip: don't wait too long before riding this route. It was unpaved when I was there, but there were significant road works going on, so it might be completely paved in the future!
The route I took is 90 kilometers long, so allow at least 3 - 3,5 hours for the entire return trip. Most of the time, you will be riding right alongside the Beagle Channel with Isla Navarino in the background. For me, this was by far the best scenery on Tierra del Fuego.
And the best part is, that when you finally reach the end of Ruta J, you will find a small coastguard office. Don't hesitate to knock on their door as they will most likely invite you for a warm cup of coffee and a small chat!
These are my seven tips to escape the endlessly boring Ruta 3 for some interesting detours! You can find all the detours, and others, in Google MyMaps, click here for the different routes.