Here is our ultimate guide to motorcycle touring in Patagonia – everything you need to know!
At a Glance
Culture shock: 4 / 10. Patagonia spans the southern areas of Argentina and Chile, both of which have a very European feel. Spanish is the main language and they are both well-developed. Chileans are sometimes known as the “English of South America”.
Road conditions: The best regions to ride still have a reasonable amount of unpaved / gravel routes, though inner Ruta 40 is largely paved in the south now. Main Ruta 3 on the Atlantic side is tarmac; traffic is light and relatively well-behaved. Off the main roads will normally be gravel. Watch out for long gaps between fuel stations and fuel shortages due to strikes – always fill up when you can.
Experience level: Intermediate – get some European motorbike touring under your belt first, and be prepared to get some advanced on-road riding skills and practice on dirt/gravel before you go.
Why you should go to Patagonia?
Patagonia was made for adventure riding. It’s one of the most beautiful and remote areas on earth and is home to the most southern point in the world reachable by road: Ushuaia. It’s a seemingly endless wilderness, with the granite massifs of Torres del Paine, colossal ice fields, vast flat steppe and shimmering turquoise glacial lakes; and remains pristine and sparsely populated. On some roads, hours will pass before you see another vehicle. But there’s enough infrastructure for you to stay in lakeside pine cabins, enjoy the famous Patagonian roast lamb, tender Argentine steaks and sip some of the best red wine in the world. The two most famous roads in Patagonia are Ruta 40 and Carretera Austral – make sure you ride both!
What’s it like to do motorcycle touring in Patagonia?
Tarmac/asphalt roads are generally in good condition and once outside towns, traffic is sparse. A large percentage of the rural roads are gravel / loose surface, but generally, they’re not too extreme and can be tackled with basic experience of riding unpaved surfaces. However, equally, if you don’t want to ride any gravel at all, you can ride all the way to the tip of South America on tarmac. Just remember there can be long distances between services and once in the south, never ride past a fuel station without filling up!
Be prepared for wild animals – in particular ‘rhea’, a large ostrich-like bird; ‘vicuna’, a small and quick version of an alpaca; and ‘guanaco’, a large and quick version of a llama. Also watch out for the weather: Patagonia is notorious for gusty, strong crosswinds, so extreme that you can scrub off your chicken lines by riding in a straight line and bikes do get blown over! Even in their summer (Nov-March), expect four seasons in one day.
You also need to factor border crossings into your riding day. You see, to be riding the best routes in Patagonia, you will be crossing between Chile and Argentina about 6 or 7 times as you criss-cross over the Andes – but don’t worry, they get a lot of bikes down there and the border officials are used to processing foreign bikes, so it’s normally quite efficient and quick (unless you arrive behind a large coach of tourists!)
Also remember that if you are heading down to Ushuaia, it is on Tierra del Fuego and you will need to catch a small roll-on roll-off ferry to cross the Magellan Straits at Punta Delgada. It only takes 20 minutes and you can pay when you are on board, it’s only about £7 for you and your bike.
When to go to Patagonia
As it’s in the Southern Hemisphere, the warmest and most settled months are December, January and February, but even then, there’s always the potential for snowfall rolling down from the Chilean Andes, rain on Carretera Austral (that’s why there are cloud forests and waterfalls!), strong winds gusting across the arid plains, and biting cold at night. Patagonia requires you to be well prepared and you’ll need riding gear that can cope. We always recommend a layering system of waterproof and breathable outers and insulating base layers so you can tailor to the conditions quickly and easily.
Where to stay in Patagonia
There are plenty of opportunities to wild camp and municipal campsites abound, with good facilities. Alternatively, there is a great choice of hotels, lodges, backpacker hostels of all standards. Peak season is November to March, so accommodation will be more expensive and the popular tourist spots can be heavily booked.
Must see/do in Patagonia
- The Carretera Austral – one of the best adventure riding roads in the world and built during the Pinochet era in the seventies.
- Torres Del Paine, a World Biosphere Reserve and recognised as one of the most magnificent National Parks in the world.
- Reach Bahia Lapataia in Tierra del Fuego National Park: supposedly the most southern place on the planet reachable by road.
- The insider tip is to go to Estancia Harberton, maybe a fraction further south (albeit on their private road!)
- Ride Ruta 40: one of the world’s longest roads, at over 3,100 miles, starting at the Bolivian border and south close to Rio Gallegos
- Visit the colossal Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park, a World Heritage Site and one of the few ice masses that is not receding.
- Stop on the Peninsula Valdez, to see penguins, sea lions and whales.
Getting your motorcycle to Patagonia
You can air freight to Buenos Aires with Motofreight and as of 2019 (pre-COVID), expect to pay around £1695 (one way) plus local destination charges, or sea freight it to Montevideo (Uruguay) for around £800 (one way) plus local destination charges (but can take 6 weeks +). Then you need to get it back. Alternatively, you can rent bikes locally: a BMW R1250GS will set you back around US$250 per day; a Honda CB500X is less at around US$130 a day.
What docs you’ll need:
- Passport – must be valid for at least six months beyond your date of entry. As of May 2020, no visas are needed for UK, EU, US citizens
- Driving Licence and 1949 International Driving Permit – Take your driving licence of the country you are resident, plus an International Driving Permit, which you can get from the Post Office in the UK.
- V5C Vehicle Registration Document –you’ll need the original to get your bike through customs/borders between Chile & Argentina (or the equivalent in other countries – US riders will need their title and registration documents)
- Motorcycle Insurance – for your own bike, you’ll need to buy local Mercosur insurance. This will be valid for both Chile and Argentina. Chile also requires you to buy a compulsory personal accident insurance called SOAPEX. No UK insurer will offer motorcycle insurance in South America.
Other need to know:
Take US dollars – they can be readily and easily exchanged for Chilean and Argentinian Pesos en-route.
Learn a little Spanish – it will make your trip easier and much more enjoyable, especially if you plan to go off the beaten track.
Study your routes – even latest edition maps/sat-navs can omit the newer Patagonian roads and can show dirt roads as main tarmac routes. Rather than buy GPS mapping, use Open Source Maps (Garmin only).
We are passionate about travel by motorcycle and whether you decide to travel with us for two weeks or five months, our aim is to give you a great touring experience, supported by years of relevant expertise. Why not try motorcycle touring in Patagonia with us? Book Patagonia today!