10 Best Road Trips in South America
When the high altitudes of traveling by plane have become too boring or stuffy for you, why not consider going...
When the high altitudes of traveling by plane have become too boring or stuffy for you, why not consider going on a road trip with some of your closest friends? In a lot of cases, it’s also cheaper to travel by road compared to flying. Also, unlike flying where you simply go from one location to another, going on road trips allows you to experience the wonders of the places you pass through on your way to your final destination. It’s true what they say – “getting there is half the fun.” It may even be most of the fun like in many of the routes on this list.
If ever you’re wondering where you should go on your next road trip, consider taking an excursion to the beautiful continent of South America. Doing so will allow you to experience its awe-inspiring landscapes and unique culture that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. When you embark on one of the ten road trips listed below, we promise that you won’t be disappointed – not even a little bit.
The Southern Patagonian Andes
The first route you should take on a South American road trip is the one that goes through the Southern Patagonian Andes. Driving through this route will make you pass through Argentina and Chile, two of the most popular countries in the entire continent. This route is perfect for those with an appreciation for nature and outdoor activities. The entire trip through this route takes around 10 days to complete.
First, you’ll pass through El Chaltén, which is a rather small mountainous village located in the heart the Los Glaciares National Park of the Santa Cruz province. The mountain chains here are not that steep, making them perfect hiking spots for beginners and veterans alike. If you’re a fan of camping and exploring the wilderness, you’ll also enjoy pitching a tent and taking long walks against a beautiful background featuring the Torres dal Paine and Fitz Roy. If you’re not big into sleeping in tents, El Chaltén also has a couple of serviceable hotels.
Afterwards, you’ll be passing through Ruta 40 – an iconic highway in Argentina similar to the United States’ Route 66 – going to Lago Argentino, which is famed for its glaciers and ice fields such as those in Puerto Bandera and Perito Moreno. Next, you’ll be heading on over to El Calatafe – located around 30 miles to the east of Puerto Bandera – one of the more populated stops featured on this route. Lastly, you’ll end up in the previously mentioned Torres del Paine for a one of a kind four or five-day trekking tour of its famous “W” route.
The Incan Heartland in Peru and Bolivia
Up next on this list we have the Incan Heartlands route, which goes through key locations in both Peru and Bolivia. You’ve probably learned about the culture in these parts from your time in school, but that’s nothing compared to experiencing it firsthand. If you happen to be a history buff that’s also quite the foodie, you’ll surely enjoy the seven to 10 days you’ll be spending on the trip going through this route.
Your first stop on this route is La Paz, which is found right on the foot of the Illimani Mountain in Bolivia. You’ll definitely be able to see the growth of the region when you pay a visit, as towering skyscrapers are juxtaposed with old houses and native structures. This is an ideal place to sample authentic Incan cuisine such as alpaca and guinea pig meat, chichi morada, as well as amaranth and quinoa. When you’re done stuffing yourself with all that good food, try booking a day trip in one of Copacabana’s beautiful lakeside resorts.
To get the full Andean experience, take a bus or train to the regions of Puno and Cuzco. Over there, you’ll see natural wonders such as volcanoes, deserts, and mountain ranges, as well as grasslands where various animals like alpacas graze. Puno and Cuzco also boast some of the best hotels and restaurants you’ll find in South America, so it’s definitely worth the visit. Finally, you’ll arrive at Machu Picchu where you can visit those traditional homes you’ve seen in travel guides you’ve read. You’ll also get a taste of Incan traditions and culture.
The BR-319 Highway in Brazil
On the off chance that you’ve already experienced the two scenic routes we just mentioned, maybe something off the beaten path would tickle your fancy. The colorful country of Brazil is home to what’s become known as the worst highway in South America – the BR-319. Similar to the Transamazônica, the BR-319 highway was one of the first roads built that goes directly through the Amazon rainforest. You may be wondering why you’d want to endure going through a route that’s filled with cracked pavement and possible perils. However, if you go here you’re definitely going to be in for a unique experience. A trip going through this road is surely one for the books.
If you decide to adventure here, you better be prepared since you won’t solely be going through land. Camping spots here aren’t necessarily the most peaceful or welcoming either. Since this road was built on swampland back in the 1970s by the Brazilian military, it’s obviously no longer in the best condition. Floods and other natural disasters have brought ruin to the bridges and other integral infrastructures that help keep this route together as well. You’ll have to go by ferry to get through certain spots on this infamous highway.
Salar De Uyuni in Bolivia
As opposed to the BR-319’s rough and rugged terrain, Salar De Uyuni in Bolivia holds the claim to having the smoothest road surfaces in the entirety of South America. Driving a car through here has often been compared to going down a freshly paved highway. There are no bumps in the road to prevent you from speeding through the vast expanse of these salt-filled plains. Before you unleash your inner Evel Knievel though, take all of the necessary precautions to prevent altitude sickness since the plains are located 12,500 feet above sea level.
You can book a tour to these white salt plains in one of the many travel agencies in the city of Uyuni. You may even get lucky and find a local that’s willing to take you there for a much cheaper price. If you’re feeling a bit adventurous, you could also rent a car and go brave the salt flats on your own or with the people you brought along for the trip. If you choose to go alone, you can also set up camp on the flats all by yourself, which has proven to be a very rewarding experience for many of the visitors who went here.
Birdwatching in Santa Marta, Colombia
If you just want to relax on your next getaway, a good option would be going on a road trip in Colombia. A trip through this region, which features six breathtaking locations, usually takes around 10 days to finish. This excursion is perfect for those who want to appreciate nature’s beauty through bird watching, since almost 2,000 avian species call this country home. You could also dabble in a bit of photography or just some good old-fashioned sightseeing while you’re here. You won’t run out of amazing sights to see in this particular route.
Your first stop here is Bogotá, which is rich in history that’s featured in their museums and historical centers. If you time your trip well, you could spend a Sunday here biking through streets that are temporarily closed off to the usually busy traffic. After a weekend of biking and brushing up on Colombian history, make your way north to the Chingaza National Park. This natural attraction is known for its forests, moorlands, and lakes. This is also one of the spots where you can observe Colombia’s rich selection of birds and other forms of wildlife.
Next, go to Pereira, a region famed for its coffee production. You can travel by horseback to one of the many haciendas in the region to enjoy a cup of newly roasted and freshly brewed coffee. After a short car or bus ride, you’ll find yourself in Jardin, where you can stay the night in beautiful accommodations and dine at swanky restaurants. It’s also good to watch birds here. Last, but not least, are Santa Marta and its mountain ranges, which is the most popular bird watching spot in Colombia. Santa Marta also features some wonderful beaches.
The 365-Curve Road in Argentina
For our next road trip, we find ourselves back in Argentina at the “365-curve road.” This highway is partly a dirt road, but a majority of it has already been paved. In reality, this road has more than 365 switchback turns, with the actual count being 370. We think that the “365” just sounds catchier then 370, but your guess is just as good as ours. This road’s Spanish name roughly translates to “the road of the snails.” This could be because of its shape – having multiple twists and turns – or simply because it takes a long time to go through its entirety.
The 365-curve road crosses the East and West Andes and connects the regions of Mendoza and Santiago. This road even passes by the Aconcagua, which is the highest mountain outside of Asia – truly a wonder to behold. The best way to experience this route is through the windows on the second floor of a double decker bus. Contrary to what many people might think, it’s actually quite easy to accomplish this since a lot of companies offer bus tours of the area. All you have to do is go to Mendoza and find one that fits your budget.
The Galapagos in Ecuador
On the seventh spot on this list, we have the Galapagos located in Ecuador. Let’s make one thing clear here, when we say the Galapagos, we’re not talking about the iconic island where Charles Darwin discovered all those new species of flora and fauna. You’ll need to book a plane ticket to get there. However, on the road, you could get very close. Plus, you’ll still get to see a lot of the wildlife that inhabits this special region. If you’re a big fan of nature, you definitely need to go through this route on a road trip at least once in your life.
This route begins in Quito, which is the second largest city in Ecuador. Once you leave the Ecuadorian capital, you’ll pass through a number of volcanic areas including Cotopaxi – one of the world’s tallest active volcanoes. After that, you’ll find yourself in Guayaquil, which is a city famed for its beaches – it is known as one of the gateways to the Pacific – as well as its more modern establishments such as hotels and restaurants. Like we’ve said before, if you choose to do so, you can charter a plane and fly to the Galapagos Island from here.
Costa Verde in Southern Brazil
If you want something short, but sweet, go on a five-day road trip across Costa Verde in Southern Brazil. This is ideal for someone who wants a quick getaway filled with sightseeing, good food, and beautiful white sand beaches. Your road trip here will start in Santos or Guarujá. The first option is better for those who want to pay respects to the culture of Brazil. Here, you can visit Brazil’s largest port as well as the Museu de Futbol, which is dedicated to arguably the best player the sport has ever seen – Edson Arantes do Nascimento or simply Pelé. On the other hand, the latter option is ideal for those who want to experience Brazil’s beautiful coastline.
You’ll then make your way through the BR 101 highway, where your first stop will be Ilhabela. This place is a great example of Brazil’s nightlife and party culture. Afterwards, you’ll drive up to Ubatuba, which goes directly through the Serra do Mar mountains. Drive a little bit more and you’ll make it to Catuçaba, which is best known for its relaxed ranches and horseback riding spots. Next is Paraty, which is deemed as one of Brazil’s most romantic cities – perfect for when you go on a trip with your significant other. You can take a detour by ferry to Ilha Grande if you want to experience serenity before heading over to the more populated Rio de Janeiro.
Carretera Austral in Chile
On the penultimate spot on the list we have the Carretera Austral in Chile, which is also known as the sole road from the north to the south. This route is more than 600 miles long. The roads are mostly constructed from gravel, which is perfect for those looking to go for an off-road adventure. However, you should expect a lot of construction already being done in and around the area. Drive through here and you’ll be able to see some of the most breathtaking mountains, rivers, fjords, and glaciers you’ve ever feasted your eyes on.
If you can, reserve three weeks of your schedule so you can experience as much as possible here. That may seem like a lot of time, but all that hiking, cycling, and trekking you’ll be doing can’t fit in just a couple of days. Just make sure that you get gear for all kinds of conditions since it’s hard to predict what the weather’s going to be like on this route. Also, stock up on as many of your necessities as you can before you leave Puerto Montt. At the end of the Carretera Austral, you’ll discover that you’ve found your way to Argentina’s El Chaltén.
Pampas and Playas in Uruguay
Finally, we have the Pampas and Playas in Uruguay. It takes approximately one whole week to traverse this route that goes from Carmelo all the way to the Inland region. You should go through this route if you want to get a taste, figuratively, of Paraguay’s ranches and beaches as well as, literally, of the country’s delectable cuisine. You’ll kick things off in the beautiful city of Carmelo, which is on the east of River Plate. After a couple of rounds of wine tasting in the local wineries, make your way through Colonia to the capital city of Montevideo.
Up next on this route is Punta del Este, which is an iconic city that’s home to some even more iconic beaches. You can make your way to the beaches at José Ignacio and La Barra if you find the shores near Punta del Este to be too crowded for your liking. You’ll then make your way to Cabo Polonio, which features a bounty of picturesque camping and trekking locations. Finally, you’ll go to Garzon where you can stay in a small and unassuming, yet beautiful inn. You can eat also some of the best food in the region at the Garzon restaurant run by chef Francis Mallmann. Horseback riding and bird watching are other activities you can enjoy here also.
Those are the ten most scenic and most adventurous road trips you can take in South America. This just goes to show that many of the countries in that continent have a lot to offer. No matter which route you choose to take on your next holiday, you can’t go wrong.
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