South America is often considered a great backpacking destination, and indeed it is, but with its wide-open landscapes and super long roads connecting rustic, almost time-forgotten villages with vibrant cities, the continent also lends itself to magnificent road trips. Here are five of the best drives in South America:
Ruta 40, Argentina
As iconic in South America as is Route 66 in North America, Ruta 40 allows you to drive the 3,000 miles distance between La Quiaca in the north and Rio Gallegos in the south. The most famous road in South America runs through Argentina’s picturesque Lake District down to El Bolsón and across the desolate but stunningly beautiful Patagonian plains. There are llamas and vicuñas to be spotted on the altiplano and detours can be made in Mendoza and Cafayate for wine tours.
Salar De Uyuni, Bolivia
Although, not technically a road, the surface of the world’s largest salt flat is incredibly smooth and ideal for driving. Like something from a sci-fi fantasy world, the seemingly endless moon-like flats have the look of fresh snow and it as all hemmed in spectacularly by the Andes Mountains. There are organized tours, but a self-drive trip is mind-blowing, but you do have to be prepared to rough camp, remembering to take appropriate precautions because the Salar de Uyuni are at an altitude of 12,500 feet. Such precautions include ensuring you have excess insurance incase you break down. Visit https://carhireexcess.insure/ to find out more about what this is.
Carretera Austral, Chile
Mostly constructed during the reign of notorious General Pinochet in the 1980s, the Carretera Austral connects Northern and Southern Chile. This is the ideal drive for seeing the diversity of South America without the obstruction of urbanisation. It is mostly a gravel road, unkempt in some areas, but it winds for 600+ miles through rainforests, past glaciers and volcanoes, skirting rivers, and fjords. It is a road where you embrace the wilderness and nature of Chile.
The Transamazônica, Brazil
This is no ordinary road, this is the longest road that runs the Amazon. Built in the ’70s to make the Amazon more accessible, the Trans-Amazonian Highway is 4,000 km long. Admittedly, there is an uninspiring stretch traversing the dry interior of North-East Brazil, but the route through the Amazon more than makes up for it. Running roughly from the Belo Monte Sam project westwards to the village of Lábrea, it passes the Amazônia National Park and through cattle country.
Transpantaneira And Estrada Parque, Brazil
If it is the stunning wildlife of South America that captures your imagination, hire a sturdy 4WD and pint its nose to the Wetlands of the Pantanal. The world’s largest inland wetland, the Pantanal is one of the most incredibly biologically-rich and pristine environments on earth. In the north, the main road is the Transpantaneira, which runs down to Porte Joffe; it is mainly unpaved and cross more than 100 bridges. In the more popular south, the road is the Estrada Parque. Both roads offer plenty of opportunity for wildlife spotting with 200+ fish species, 120+ species of mammals, 600+ bird species, and 100+ types of reptiles.