With its vast open spaces, dramatic and diverse scenery and endless highways, Argentina is an ideal place for a road trip.

Hiring a car allows you to escape the crowds, explore at your own pace and visit remote areas that would otherwise be out of reach. Although Argentina’s main highways are generally paved, you can expect gravel and potholes on many minor roads, particularly in the south, though this just adds to the adventure. Roads off the beaten track are best tackled in spring or summer, avoiding the bitter cold and snows of the South American winter.

For Argentina's most rugged routes, you'll need a 4WD, but there are also plenty of laid-back day trips on sealed roads visiting historic sites, vineyards and viewpoints in some of the most scenic parts of the country.

Whether you’re looking for legendary routes such as the Pan-American Highway or little-known back roads through the wilds, Argentina has you covered. Here are five of our favorite road trips.

Scout new ways to explore the planet's wildest places with our weekly newsletter delivered to your inbox.

1. Ruta 40

Best route for epic adventure
Cabo Virgenes–La Quiaca; 5224km (3246 miles); allow 3–5 weeks

Argentina’s answer to Route 66, Ruta 40 is one of the world’s longest roads, stretching almost the entire length of Argentina. Also known as RN40, Ruta Nacional Cuarenta or simply La Cuarenta (“The Forty”), this epic highway starts in the far south in Cabo Virgenes, a windswept settlement on the Strait of Magellan, and finishes in the extreme northwest in the town of La Quiaca, which sits at a breathless 3442m (11,293ft) above sea level on the Bolivian border.

Between these two outposts, the highway traces the Andes, passing through 11 Argentinian provinces and scores of stunning landscapes, from vast canyons and rugged mountain passes to temperate rainforests and lush valleys cloaked in vineyards.

The quietest, and perhaps most atmospheric, section of the road runs from El Calafate, a touristy hub for outdoor activities on the edge of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, to the city of Bariloche in the Argentinian Lake District. For most of this leg of the journey, you'll largely have the road to yourself, with snowy Andean peaks to the west and the seemingly endless Patagonian steppe to the east.

Planning tip: The route is best attempted by experienced motorists in the spring or summer. Ruta 40 is now mostly paved, but it's useful to have a 4WD, particularly if you plan to explore some of the gravel roads (known locally as ripio) that branch off into remote areas of Patagonia.

Empty road leading to Chalten, Patagonia
You'll have the roads to yourself on some stretches of the route © Dmitry Pichugin / 500px

2. The Pan-American Highway

Best long-distance road trip
Mendoza–Ushuaia; 3300km (2051 miles); allow 2–4 weeks

A network of interconnected routes snaking right down through the Americas from northern Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, the 3000km (19,000-mile) Pan-American Highway is, quite simply, the world’s most epic road trip. But there's no need to follow the entire route – the southernmost section in Argentina is a highly memorable drive that takes in many of the country’s highlights.

The route starts in Mendoza province, the heart of the country’s famed wine industry, before heading east to the bright lights of the capital, Buenos Aires. Beyond the sprawling suburbs, the highway continues south, skirting the fertile grasslands of the Pampas, tracing the Atlantic coast, and then arrowing through sparsely populated Patagonia.

When you reach the far south, cut into Chile and take a ferry across the Strait of Magellan (this short hop is one of just two stretches of the Pan-American Highway that cannot be driven, alongside the Darién Gap dividing Panama from Colombia). It’s then a relatively short drive to the city of Ushuaia, where ubiquitous signs let you know you’ve reached "El Fin del Mundo" (The End of the World).

Planning tip: Although the Argentinian section of the Pan-American Highway can be driven year-round, the bitterly cold, snowy and windy winters in southern Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego mean a summer or spring journey is the best bet. It’s also important to make sure your car rental agreement and insurance allow you to cross into Chile (you may have to pay an extra fee for this).

A dusty car sits on an unpaved highway surrounded by the red sands of a desert landscape
Most roads in Argentina are paved, but a 4WD is recommended on some routes © Angelo D'Amico / Getty Images

3. Cuesta del Obispo route

Best for mountain views
Salta–Cachi; 160km (99 miles); allow 1–2 days

This drive from the charming city of Salta to the tranquil town of Cachi showcases the dramatic mountain landscapes of Argentina’s northwest. Heading southwest from Salta along RP33 – a largely paved provincial road – the route travels through the sunny Calchaquí Valley region, which is carpeted with high-altitude vineyards and dotted with clusters of attractive adobe houses.

The journey then continues over a precipitous mountain pass known as the Cuesta del Obispo (“Bishop’s Slope”), which features a dizzying series of switchback turns, before dropping into Parque Nacional Los Cardones, named for the tall cacti that stud this arid area.

Planning tip: Check the weather forecast before setting out along the Cuesta del Obispo route, as heavy rain can make it impassable. Although you can head back to Salta the same day, it’s well worth spending the night in beautiful Cachi, which is encircled by snowy peaks and set within striking distance of several wineries. Take time to relax and enjoy a few glasses of the region’s signature torrontés – an aromatic, peach-fragranced white wine – while soaking up the views.

A city lit up at night with car headlights making the roads glow
The city of Córdoba is the gateway to historical encounters in the surrounding province © roberto bowyer / Getty Images

4. Camino de la Historia

Best historic drive
Córdoba–Cerro Colorado; 170km (106 miles); allow 2–3 days

Often overlooked by travelers, Córdoba province provides some fascinating insights into the history of the indigenous peoples who originally inhabited this area, as well as the Spanish colonists who came later. Start in the city of Córdoba, founded in 1573 and known for its rich cultural scene.

The first section of the RN9 highway has been dubbed the Camino de la Historia ("Historical Route”), and it follows the colonial-era Camino Real del Perú (“Royal Road of Peru”), which once ran from Lima to Buenos Aires via the legendary silver mines of Potosí in present-day Bolivia.

On the way, you'll pass the evocative estancias (ranches) of Jesús María and Santa Catalina, which were built by Jesuit missionaries, who had a devastating impact on the area's indigenous inhabitants in the 17th and 18th centuries. Centered on striking whitewashed churches, the estancias – listed as Unesco World Heritage sites – offer museums and guided tours that lead visitors through this complicated period in Argentinian history.

At the end of the Camino de la Historia, you'll reach a collection of caves and mountain slopes covered with beautiful petroglyphs near the pretty village of Cerro Colorado. Created up to 1000 years ago, these ancient artworks depict humans and animals, scenes from everyday life, and abstract shapes and figures, providing a snapshot of a lost world.

People looking over the lakes of Nahuel Huapi National Park
The Ruta de los Siete Lagos takes in natural wonders such as Nahuel Huapi National Park © Tetyana Dotsenko / Shutterstock

5. Ruta de los Siete Lagos

Best scenic drive
San Martín de los Andes–Villa La Angostura; 110km (68 miles); allow 1–2 days

Gorgeous landscapes reminiscent of the Alps, numerous options for side trips, plenty of places to grab a bite to eat or stay the night – with perks like this, a leisurely drive along the Ruta de los Siete Lagos (“Seven Lakes Route”) is hard to beat.

Connecting the tourist hubs of San Martín de los Andes and Villa La Angostura, the drive follows Ruta 40 through two national parks – Lanín and Nahuel Huapi – taking in a particularly picturesque swathe of the Argentinian Lake District.

As you’d expect given the name, the highlights of the route are the seven eponymous lagos, which are lined with beaches, surrounded by dense forests and watched over by snowy mountains and volcanoes. All have crystal-clear waters that are ideal for swimming, kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding, though it may be hard to tear yourself away from the sublime views.

Planning tip: Snow can block off parts of the road in winter, so the Ruta de los Siete Lagos is best driven in the spring, summer or early fall.

This article was first published November 2021 and updated December 2022

Explore related stories

An off-road car driving through the altiplanos and mountains, Bolivia - stock photo
An off-road car driving through the altiplanos and mountains, Bolivia

Road Trips

Bolivia’s 7 best road trips

Dec 7, 2023 • 6 min read