Zay Harding takes the road trip of a lifetime on one of the longest and most spectacular highways in the world: Argentina’s Ruta 40.
Immortalised by its role in Che Guevara’s ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ Ruta 40 is to Argentina what Route 66 is to the United States. It encapsulates the spirit of the country and for that reason it is often called La Mitica Ruta 40 or The Mythical Route 40.
Running the entire length of the country, from the border with Bolivia to the Southern tip of Patagonia, and along the edge of the mighty Andes mountains, Route 40 is a challenge for even the most experienced driver. Much of the road is unpaved, often gravel, or dirt and frequently washed out by rains. But Zay is not deterred.
Starting in the far north of the country, just 100 miles south of Argentina’s border with Bolivia, Zay travels through some of the most spectacular scenery in the country. He diverts East over the Andes and across the giant, brilliant white Salt Flats of the Salinas Grandes to the Humahuaca Valley where he takes in the kaleidoscopic natural wonder of 7 Colours Hill before stopping in Tilcara, the oldest continually inhabited city in the country.
After tasting the local speciality, barbecued llama, Zay explores the pre Columbian ruins of the Pucara on a hill overlooking the town before heading to the capitol of the North, Salta.
Salta is a beautiful old Spanish colonial city full of life but Zay heads straight for its Museum of High Altitude Archaeology to see its extraordinary display of the best preserved mummies in the world. The Lulliallaco Children were sacrificed to the Gods in an Inca ceremony over 500 years ago but they seem almost alive in the museum’s cryogenic display cabinets.
After a hair-raising drive across mountain passes in torrential rain Zay returns to Route 40 in the pretty little town of Cachi where he rests up for the longest leg of his journey.
Driving 500 miles south through some of the most spectacular scenery in the country Zay arrives at the awe inspiring prehistoric parks of Talampaya and Ischigualasto. Both parks were once the stomping ground for dinosaurs and have yielded some of the world’s best preserved fossils, but the parks are also worth a visit for their extraordinary rock formations. Talampaya’s 150 metre tall red canyon would give Monument Valley a run for its money and Ischigualasto’s Valley of the Moon is, quite simply, like being on another planet.
Moving on, Zay detours off Route 40 again heading deep inside the Andes to visit the National Park of Leoncito. Famous for its dry climate and strong reliable wind Leoncito attracts a unique group of thrill seekers. Thanks to the pampas strong winds and flat surface it is said to be one of the best places in the world to land sail. So Zay gets stuck in seeing if he can match the world record of 128 miles per hour powered solely by all natural energy.
But Leoncito attracts another kind of visitor as well. Zay hikes up into the mountains to visit Argentina’s premier Astronomical Observatory, CASLEO, where he discovers that a night under the stars here is like nowhere else.
For the final leg of his journey Zay returns to Route 40 and travels south into the green and fertile valleys of Mendoza Province. This is Argentina’s premier wine making region so naturally Zay pays a visit to one of its finest bodegas, O’ Fournier, with it’s ultra-modern design and eco-friendly production methods, is the perfect place for Zay to learn how to create a top notch Malbec.
A glass or two later and it’s off into the Andes again to end his journey beneath the tallest mountain in the Western and Southern Hemisphere’s, Aconcagua.
A huge thanks to the following individuals and companies:
Hotel Solar de la Plaza
Hotel La Merced del Alto
Hotel de Tourismo, Tilcara
Nevada de Cachi
Grace Hotel, Cafayte
Posada Del Sendero, Chilecito
O’ Fournier, Mendoza
Legado Mitico, Buenos Aires
Parque Nacional Talampaya
Parque Provincial Ischigualasto
Dr. Lucas Fiorelli
Dr. Oscar Alcober
The team at CASLEO
Dr. Ricardo Gil-Hutton
Pablo Jaramillo Benavente, Blokart Latin America
Mauro at Hostal Posada Don Lisandro
Jaime De Lara
Dr. Johan Reinhard, Lullaillaco archive
Lisardo Maggipinto, Lullaillaco archive
Municipalidad Indigena de Tilcara
Museo De Arqueologia De Alta Montana
Comparsa ‘Los Ahijaditos’, Tilcara
Branding Latin America
El Molle de Maiz Perez
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