Patagonia has captured the imaginations of intrepid explorers for hundreds of years. Raw, wild, and astonishingly beautiful, this rugged region stretches from the Argentine and Chilean Lake Districts to the Tierra del Fuego. Due to its stunning glacial landscape, Patagonia has lately become a hot spot for cycling enthusiasts. For example, most serious cyclists will be familiar with the two principal bicycle routes Patagonia has on offer – Chile’s Carretera Austral and Argentina’s Ruta 40.
These two breathtaking cycle routes pass directly through Patagonia’s jagged peaks and wild steppe. Although strong winds, steep climbs and unpredictable weather make these routes challenging, you’d be hard pressed to find a more scenic cycling tour. Here, we run down all you need to know about these famed routes, plus some bonus information about a route between the two South American nations.
Cycle south through Chile on the Carretera Austral
Perhaps the most famous of the bicycle routes Patagonia has is Chile’s legendary Ruta 7, or the Carretera Austral. The route is about two-thirds gravel and about one-third paved. However, the Chilean government is slowly improving the road, with newly paved sections added every year. The most intrepid cyclists will opt to traverse the entire 1247 km stretch – however, there is some respite. Aside from the roads, the journey down the Carretera Austral will involve five ferry rides. Furthermore, although there are some long climbs, the Carretera Austral isn’t enormously challenging considering the magnificence of the landscape.
The road begins in the charming town of Puerto Montt, where adventurers can ready themselves for the journey ahead. You’ll need to make a few ferry crossings early in the trip, including a three and a half hour boat from Hornopiren to Leptepu. Afterwards, riders head south towards the town of Coyhaique, which marks halfway. From here, the road cuts through the Cerro Castillo National Reserve, before following the banks of the beautiful General Carrera Lake. Cochrane is the last significant settlement where you can stop for supplies before the final push to Villa O’Higgins.
Ride Argentina’s Ruta 40
The gorgeous views along Argentina’s Ruta 40 make it one of the most legendary bicycle routes Patagonia has. The 5000 km road cuts vertically through the whole western side of Argentina, carving the landscape from Bariloche to Río Gallegos. Along the way, cyclists will gain 1,500 meters of elevation and skirt the Gutierrez and Mascardi Lakes, encounter stunning views of Cerro Catedral Sur, and pass through Cholila, the Mapuche people’s “beautiful valley.”
Most cyclists begin at San Carlos de Bariloche, where they can relax and enjoy the city’s bars and restaurants. San Carlos also has a number of popular supplementary excursions, including the Seven Lakes and the Cerro Tronador hanging glacier. From here, riders head south to El Bolsón and through Cholila towards Esquel. Beyond Esquel, cyclists make for Perito Moreno – not to be confused with the Perito Moreno glacier. However, Argentina’s most famous glacier is a popular detour 600 km further south. Beyond the glacier, this epic route loops past Torres del Paine towards Río Gallegos.
Test your endurance between Villa O’Higgins and El Chaltén
One of the most challenging bicycle routes Patagonia has on offer is the Chile/Argentina border crossing. Encompassing two boat rides, muddy forests and 37 km of rugged off-road biking, this route is for serious mountain bike aficionados. However, for less hardy cyclists, there is an alternative road. This largely paved route passes Cochrane towards the Paso Roballos border post, joining the Ruta 40 towards El Chaltén.
Explore more bicycle routes Patagonia has to offer
Many will opt for a combination or a portion of these three itineraries to create their ultimate South America cycling tour. With so much to discover along the way, a Patagonian bike tour is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. So what are you waiting for? Time to start planning your bicycle route to the ends of the Earth.