3 of Argentina’s Best Road Trips

Argentina is an incredibly diverse country – and it’s also very large. To make the most of it, your best bet is to choose a region (or two), rent a car, and road-trip around.

Photo © iStock/Gassen

Having your own wheels is the ultimate in travel freedom, and is the absolute best way to find hidden gems and off-track spots. Unless you plan to do a full loop during your Argentina travels, it’s best to rent and return to the same place you picked up to save the hefty drop-off fee.

Salta and Jujuy Itinerary

These two provinces are unlike anywhere else in the country. Located in the Northwest and bordered by Chile, Paraguay, and Bolivia, everything has a traditional feeling here, including clothing, music, and food. Before the Spanish conquest, this area was inhabited by indigenous tribes, including the Quilmes and Humahuacas. Fun facts: Quilmes is the name of a popular beer in Argentina, and Quebradas de Humahuaca is one of the most stunning drives in the area.

Suggested route: Salta (a few days), Cafayate (a few days), Cachi (one night), Tilcara (a few days), Salinas Grandes (day trip from Tilcara), Purmamarca (day trip from Tilcara), Salta (finish).

Highlights of this area include:

  • Museums, architecture, parks, plazas, and restaurants in Salta City
  • Quebradas de las Conchas National Park on the drive from Salta to Cafayate
  • The amazing wineries surrounding Cafayate (don’t miss Bad Brothers, El Esteco, and Piattelli Vineyards)
  • Quebrada de las Flechas (jagged rock formations)
  • Old Route 9 with lush green scenery, rivers, and gorges
  • The traditional feel and food in Tilcara (try the llama!)
  • The colorful mountains in Purmamarca (best seen at dawn)
  • The blindingly white Salinas Grandes (salt flats).
Vineyards in Cafayate. Photo credit: iStock/xeni4ka

Mendoza Itinerary

Mendoza is most famous for its acclaimed wineries surrounded by Andean peaks, but there’s plenty to do in the area that doesn’t involve grapes. The city is actually a university town with lots of lively bars and restaurants attracting a younger crowd.

During your trip to Mendoza, we suggest driving out to the famous wineries of Norton, Ruca Malen, and Trapiche for lunch and wine (but just a glass, you’re driving!).

Then, drive to Aconcagua (22,840ft/6960m) the tallest mountain outside of Asia, and the highest peak in the southern hemisphere.

A 120mi (193km) drive through twisty mountain roads will bring you to the Aconcagua Provincial Park. A US $20 ($480 ARS) pass gives you access all the way up to the Base Camp (a six-hour return hike). Or, for a mere US $1.30 ($31 ARS), you can access the park up until the trailhead, which allows you about two hours of hiking.

Finally, after you’ve eaten, sipped, and hiked your way around Mendoza, it’s time to relax. Drive out to the Termas Cacheuta, about 90 minutes from town. Enjoy the thermal springs in stone pools with views of the Andes – there’s also a spa and restaurant.

Note: if you want to drive your rental car over the border from Argentina into Chile, you’ll need written permission from the rental company and the proper insurance to do so. Speak to the car rental agent before attempting to cross, or you’ll be turned away if you don’t have the correct documents. 

Aconcagua. Photo credit: iStock/pawopa3336

Lake District Itinerary

Patagonia’s Lake District is just that – a district of gorgeous lakes. It’s an incredibly scenic area, perfect for exploring by car.

There are many routes you can take, but here’s our suggested itinerary: Bariloche (a few days), Circuito Chico (day trip from Bariloche), Limay River (day trip from Bariloche), Villa La Angostura (a few days), San Martin de los Andes (a few days), Lake Lolog (day trip from San Martín de los Andes), Bariloche (finish)

Highlights of this road trip include:

  • Bariloche, offering views of the Andes Mountains, the Circuito Chico drive with hiking and lakes to explore, and great restaurants (try Alto el Fuego)
  • Fly fishing on the Limay River
  • Hiking around Lake Nahuel Huapi and Correntoso Lake in Villa La Angostura
  • Lanin National Park outside of San Martin de los Andes
  • Fly fishing and a picnic at Lake Lolog
  • Wandering the pretty streets of San Martin de los Andes.
Road near San Martin de los Andes. Photo credit: iStock/johannlourens

Packing for a Road Trip

Many areas of Argentina are desert, and you’ll often find yourself in the middle of nowhere – which is a good thing, if you’re properly prepared. This means having a full tank of gas, first-aid kit, a spare tire, tools, a map, data plan on your phone, a Spanish translation app or phrasebook, plus non-perishable food and plenty of drinking water.

Want to know more about Argentina? Listen to the World Nomads podcast. How drinking mate defines Argentinians, how to kiss properly when you greet someone, and meet Popi, the scientist who's saving penguins.

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