9 Coolest Road Trips You Want To Take in South America
Taking a South America road trip could include up to 12 countries (in 9 of which, the official language is Spanish)!
Throughout its 6.8 million sq mi (17.84 million sq km), you’re going to find amazing deserts, mountains, jungles, cities, and towns. They’re all connected thanks to the Panamerican Highway, which could carry you on a Canada to South America road trip since it starts in Alaska. It ends in Ushuaia, Argentina after 11,158 miles (17,958 km).
In this article we explore 9 of the coolest South American road trips, each in a different South American country. If you’re ready to ride through South America, sit back and get comfortable.
9 Astonishing South America Road Trips
Imagine driving a car or camper down endless highways with changing landscapes, shifting gears as you explore jungles, mountains, colonial cities, deserts, and coastline, all in the same car.
FUN FACT: You cannot make a North to South America road trip thanks to El tapón de Darién (the Darién Gap)—a 66 mi (106 km) rainforest in southern Panama and northern Colombia where it’s impossible to build a highway.
1. Pan American Highway
- Length: 6109 mi (9,833 km)
- Shortest possible time: 139 hours (5-6 days)
This is the biggest and probably the best road trip in South America. La carretera panamericana (The Panamerican Highway) starts in Turbo—a town in Antioquia, Colombia and goes all the way to el fin del mundo (the end of the world).
In Ushuaia, Argentina. If you drive nonstop, you could make it in 5 or 6 days, but being realistic, this South American road trip could feasibly last much longer (around 4 months).
The best time to do this is between October and February if you start from Colombia. While driving through Colombia and Ecuador in October, temperatures shouldn’t be too hostile. Peru could take the month of November, the last month of spring. Enjoying Chile and Argentina between December and February is the best since you’ll be there for the summer.
2. Route 40, Argentina
- Length: 3,227 mi (5194 km)
- Shortest possible time: 48 hours
La ruta nacional 40 (Route 40) is the Argentine road trip of a lifetime. It is the longest Argentine route to travel in and it will take you throughout 11 (of 23) Argentine provinces and parallel to the Andes mountain range.
|Jujuy||163 mi (263 km)|
|Salta||249 mi (402 km)|
|Tucumán||40 mi (65 km)|
|Catamarca||193 mi (311 km)|
|La Rioja||166 mi (268 km)|
|San Juan||225 mi (363 km)|
|Mendoza||420 mi (677 km)|
|Neuquén||420 mi (677 km)|
|Río Negro||91 mi (148 km)|
|Chubut||384 mi (619 km)|
|Santa Cruz||822 mi (1,324 km)|
While this chart takes you from Jujuy, in northern Argentina to Santa Cruz, in southern Argentina, the starting point of the route is in Cabo Vírgenes, Santa Cruz, close to Patagonia. The most amazing thing about this is that you’ll be 5 mi (9 km) away from Punto Dungeness (Dungeness Point), the southernmost point in the Americas.
Going in February is ideal since that’s the last month of summer in Argentina. You’ll have long days and short nights and avoid the cold winter weather.
3. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
- Length: 186 mi (300 km)
- Shortest possible time: around 10 hours
El salar de Uyuni (The Uyuni salt flat) is one of Bolivia’s most amazing places. You’ll need a 4×4 car for this rocky South American road trip. You’ll be driving in a desert full of salt! Towns and hotels are nearby in case you want to stay awhile.
To see the local flamingos, November is the time to visit this desert. December to March are also attractive. That’s the rainy season, so you get an incredible reflective effect to take otherworldly pictures.
FUN FACT: Uyuni’s salt flats are the biggest deposit of lithium on the planet.
4. Austral Highway, Chile
- Length: 770 mi (1,240 km)
- Shortest possible time: 23 hours 44 minutes
La carretera Austral (The Austral highway) in Chile might be one of the hardest road trips in South America because it is so long. It connects northern and southern Chile. This road is not fully paved, and many lakes and rivers surround it.
It goes through points in which you’ll need to connect through a ferry. Start your trip in Puerto Montt (Montt Harbor) in northern Chile and drive 16 hours to arrive to Coyhaique, passing through Chatién and the Pumalín national park first.
After in El parque nacional Queulat (Queulat national park), you’ll see glaciers! Keep driving southbound to El parque Cerro Castillo (Cerro Castillo park) and El valle Chacabuco (Chacabuco valley). From there, drive southbound 8 or 9 hours to Villa O’Higgins (O’Higgins Village) where the Austral highway ends. This should take around two weeks.
The best time to go is during the Chilean summer (between November and March) since the possibilities of extreme weather affecting the roads decrease.
5. Seven Lakes, Argentina
- Length: 66 mi (107 km)
- Shortest possible time: 2 hours
The shortest South American road trip on our list, El camino de los siete lagos (the route of the seven lakes) in Argentina takes as little as two hours.
Stop in the province of Neuquén and take this beautiful mini road trip to appreciate 7 wonderful lakes along the compact 66-mile journey.
|Name of Lake||Size of Lake|
|Lácar||19 sq mi (49 sq km)|
|Machónico||0.42 sq mi (1.1 sq km)|
|Villarino||2.5 sq mi (6.5 sq km)|
|Lago Escondido||0,088 sq mi (0,23 sq km)|
|Correntoso||10 sq mi (27 sq km)|
The best time to do this South American road trip is in the spring or in the summer in Argentina (between September and March). Since the Neuquén province is part of Patagonia, the winter (June to August) can be hostile there.
6. Quito to Guayaquil, Ecuador
- Length: 261 mi (421 km)
- Shortest possible time: 7 hours
This road trip in South America is special because you’ll be driving from Ecuador’s capital to Ecuador’s most populated city. While you can technically make this road trip in 7 hours, taking a couple of days to do it is preferable.
For your South American road trip itinerary, start off in Quito and drive southbound and see Ecuador’s biggest volcano, Chimborazo, which is only 30 miles (50 km) from the capital, Quito.
Keep driving to the province of Cotopaxi, where you’ll see the magnificent Cotopaxi volcano, Ecuador’s second biggest volcano. Arrive in Quilotoa and spend the night there.
On your second day, start from Quiltoa and drive an hour to La casa del árbol (the house of the tree), where you’ll be able to ride El columpio del fin del mundo (the swing of the end of the World) and see the Tungurahua volcano. Finally, drive south for around 3.5 hours and arrive in Guayaquil. From there, you could even take a plane to visit the Galápagos islands.
Taking this road trip any time of year is fine because the temperate weather in Ecuador doesn’t change much. The busiest tourist months are June, July, and August and mid-December to mid-January.
Hand-picked for you: A Traveler’s Guide to Ecuador: Culture, History, and Language
FUN FACT: If you start your road trip from northern Quito, you’ll cross the equator.
7. Route 10, Uruguay
- Length: 101 mi (162 km)
- Shortest possible time: 3 hours
While this South American road trip is short, La ruta 10 or la ruta Juan Díaz de Solís (Route 10) takes you along the Uruguayan coastline. You’ll cross the borders of three Uruguayan departments: Canelones, Maldonado, and Rocha.
Start at Plaza de Cagancha (Cagancha Square) in Montevideo, where every Uruguayan national route starts. Pass through the town of Piriápolis, then Punta del Este, then cross a circular bridge in Laguna Garzón when going from Maldonado to Rocha.
In Rocha, you’ll see La laguna de Rocha (the Rocha lagoon.) Surf in La Paloma (the pigeon) city. From there, you’ll have another hour to drive to Aguas Dulces, where Route 10 ends.
However, if you feel like it, you can drive another 52 miles (84 km) to reach the department of Chuy in Uruguay and cross the border to Brazil!
The best time to take this road trip is the Uruguayan summer between November and March.
8. Lima to Cerro de Pasco, Perú
- Length: 163 mi (262 km)
- Shortest possible time: 7 hours
On this road trip in South America, you start your journey practically from sea level and ascend 14,206 feet (4,330 m) by the time you reach Cerro de Pasco.
You’ll leave Lima and start on the Peruvian highway in the Andes. After 66 miles (107 km) you’ll arrive in Canta, having ascended 9307 feet (2,837 m). In the town of Obrajillo, taste some of the best trout ever. On your trip through the Andean plains, you may spot llamas, lakes, and Incan ruins.
After 129 miles (209 km), you’ll have ascended 14,143 feet (4,311 m) to reach Huayllay, home of El parque nacional bosque de piedras (stone forest national park.) From there only 34 miles (56 km) separate you from Cerro de Pasco, the mining capital of Perú.
The best time to do this road trip is between December and March, since it’s the Peruvian summer.
9. Coffee Axis, Colombia
- Length: 108 mi (175 km)
- Shortest possible time: 7 hours
El eje cafetero (The Coffee Axis) in Colombia is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so it’s worth road tripping through. You’ll travel through three Colombian departments: Caldas, Risaralda, and Quindío.
Start and finish in Salento, Quindío. Be sure to check out the El jardín botánico del Quindío (Botanical Garden of Quindío) and the town of Buenavista. Keep going to reach La terraza San Alberto (San Alberto terrace) and Pijao. Continue driving and find El parque del Café (the Coffee Park) in Tapao. Visit the town of Finlandia just before making your way back to Salento.
The best time to do this road trip is between June and October since those are the dry months in Colombia.
Learn Spanish Before Road Tripping in South America
Homeschool Spanish Academy can help you achieve fluency since we offer live instruction with friendly native-speaking teachers, flexible scheduling and affordable payment options. Knowing Spanish will surely enhance your road trip through South America!
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