Seven Legendary Motorcycle Routes in South America. Have you done all Seven yet? Likewise, are you looking at the same list as us?
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1. ARGENTINA & its Ruta 40 – one of the world’s longest and most spectacular highways.
2. CHILE, with its Carretera Austral – National Route CH-7 – sees little traffic as the highway passes through the most sparsely populated regions in the country.
3. BOLIVIA and its devilish North Yungas Road (aka “Death Road”) Nat Route 3. The single-lane road has earned international infamy as “the most dangerous road on earth.”
4. COLOMBIA & the notorious Alto de Letras – National Route 50. The almost impossibly steep route that crosses the Alto de Letras mountain pass is notorious among the cycling community. As the reputedly longest climb in the cycling world.
5. BRAZIL and its Trans-Amazonian Highway – National Route BR-230. Its legacy isn’t precisely a proud one, having essentially marked the beginning of the Amazon’s deforestation crisis.
6. PERU and its Desert Coast to Central Andes – Route of the Liberators (Route 28A.) Named after the brutal route Simon Bolivar’s volunteer army’s followed during Peru’s liberation from Spain.
7. ECUADOR and the Cotopaxi Volcan Road – Pan-American Highway (National Route 35.) Just south of Quito, this section is only 40km long. But it’s a pothole-riddled pig of a road, all rutted gravel and sandy grit.
When it comes to motorcycle travel, this mysterious and hugely varied South American continent has it all.
As a matter of fact, Motorcycle riding the continent for weeks on end, it’s rare that any two days seem like “more of the same.”
Furthermore, this is why South America is quite possibly the cream of the continental crop.
When it comes to bringing joy and exhilaration to a rider’s heart and a wide grin beneath a rider´s helmet.
Equally, this continent never disappoints. Not just once but continuously day, after day, it gives back.
South America is virtually unmatched in its geological diversity. It begins in the Caribbean north of the equator and stretches downwards to the Antarctic Ocean.
Uniquely, it is a land of record-breaking extremes.
- The mighty peaks of the Andes, the world’s longest continental mountain range
- The Amazon jungle, the world’s largest tropical rainforest.
- The Atacama Desert, the driest place on the planet.
- 12 unique countries and hundreds of different ethnicities, languages, and cultures
The South American continent has a network of epic highways and rural backroads that traverse these magnificent landscapes.
Here are Seven Legendary Motorcycle Routes in South America.
First up has to be ARGENTINA & its Ruta 40
The 5,224km long National Route 40 is one of the world’s longest and most spectacular highways.
Ruta 40 begins at La Quiaca on the Bolivian border’s dusty, arid high plateau in the North. The highway runs parallel with the spine of the Andean range to cross 11 provinces, 20 reserves, and National Parks.
I must not forget to mention the 126 bridges and 26 mountain passes, reaching a maximum altitude of 5,061m.
Surprisingly, the highway only stops where the land ends, at the southernmost continental tip of Cape Virgenes.
When heading south, things get twistier by the second. Furthermore, the route enters Patagonia through Bariloche. You will be amazed when you enter the picturesque alpine lake district.
The route becomes more profound further into the Patagonian wilderness. Also, the scenery grows more dramatic with every winding sweep of the road. Take a deep breath as it skirts past the jagged peaks of Monte Fitz Roy.
When the Andes meet the Southern Ocean. Above all be amazed by the icebergs of Laguna de Los Tres. Particularly, look for one of the stars of Patagonia, the Perito Moreno glacier. Now it’s a groaning and creaking tower of brilliant white and cobalt blue.
Ruta is 40 now, only partially paved. Whenever that pristine tarmac suddenly turns into a pot-holed mess of grit and gravel. You don’t need to be surprised.
We ride Ruta 40 on our: End of the World Expedition. Also as part of the Seven Legendary Motorcycle Routes in South America
Second is CHILE with its Carretera Austral – National Route CH-7
In the event, the silky smooth asphalt of the Chilean Route 5 of the Pan-American Highway may be a little tame for your tastes. In this case, take the road less traveled and ride the north-south length of Chilean Patagonia on the sublime Carretera Austral (Route CH-7).
On the positive side, most of its 1,240km length sees little traffic as the highway passes through the most sparsely populated regions in the country.
Route CH-7 does have a series of swooping curves. You will find them tricky going up and nerve draining when heading downhill and negotiating the many hairpin bends. Then remember you also have to negotiate the twisting mountainside paths in between each turn.
On the plus side, you will be speechless with the mind-blowing Patagonian scenery transforming every other day in front of your eyes. In fact, the beautiful beech forest to the never-ending glacial lakes locked in by snow-tipped mountain chains will astound you.
Watch out for the rugged steppe and river rapids gushing between steep-sided canyons and verdant alpine valleys.
Are you aware that to date, only around 40% of the highway is paved, mainly in the north? That is to say, the remaining portion is mostly gravel – gentle in some parts and thoroughly bone-shaking in others.
We ride the CH-7 on our: End of the World Expedition
Third, heads to BOLIVIA and its notorious North Yungas Road (aka “Death Road”) – Nat Route 3
Cut into the side of the Cordillera Oriental Range is a zig-zagging gravel goat track linking the Andean capital of La Paz with the Yungas region in the Bolivian Amazon.
The single-lane North Yungas Road has earned international infamy as “the most dangerous road on earth.”
Its 60km length includes 29 hairpin bends and a heart-stopping 3,500m of descent, and the rain and fog are almost ever-present. A mere 3.2 wide road straddles the sides of the mountain and its sheer precipices.
Misjudge a single curve will see you plunging a kilometer below into a graveyard of scattered wreckage.
Before a paved, dual lane alternative opened in 2006, landslides and collisions often claimed hundreds of lives every year. These days, the old route is one of Bolivia’s best-known attractions. With downhill mountain biking attracting thousands of daredevil tourists to what’s now an otherwise rarely used road.
Suppose you’re attempting the Death Road on a motorcycle. In that case, you’ll need solid off-roading skills to manage the precariously slippery surfaces. Drenched in parts by cliffside waterfalls that tumble directly onto the road below.
The climb from the steamy foothills of Yolosa to the stark, windswept La Cumbre Pass (4,650m) is thrillingly beautiful. Now and then, the mist periodically lifts to reveal breathtaking views over the altiplano and the vast expanse of the Amazon Rainforest.
We ride National Route 3 on our: Best of Bolivia Tour. And as part of the Seven Legendary Motorcycle Routes in South America
Fourth sweeps towards COLOMBIA & the notorious Alto de Letras – National Route 50
Between the small towns of Mariquita and Chinchina in Colombia’s verdant coffee triangle is a sealed stretch of highway with a rather impressive reputation.
The almost impossibly steep route, which crosses the Alto de Letras mountain pass, is notorious among the cycling community as the reputedly longest climb in the cycling world. It boasts a punishing elevation gain of 3,800m in just 80km!
If you’re attempting this route on a bicycle, you might be in too much agony to appreciate the scenery. Which would be a shame – it is absolutely beautiful.
With the benefit of an engine, the almost sheer vertical ascents and stomach-surging drops provide blasts of pure riding euphoria.
The 140km route begins just 485m above sea level, surrounded by lush tropical vegetation. Soon you’ll start ascending above the clouds and with luck when approaching the mist. You may well be lucky to see the mist parting to reveal tantalizing glimpses of the permanently ice-capped peak of Nevado del Ruiz. This peak is the fifth-highest in Colombia at 5,311m.
We ride National Route 50 on these: Colombia Tours as part of the Seven Legendary Motorcycle Routes in South America
Fifth is the life-changing (for many) BRAZIL and its Trans-Amazonian Highway – National Route BR-230.
Before the early 1970s, only the tiniest fraction of the great Amazon Jungle rainforest was accessible to outsiders. All that changed when the Trans-Amazonian Highway effectively sliced the interior of the then-pristine rainforest in half.
The 4,000km long Trans-Amazonian legacy isn’t precisely a proud one, having essentially marked the beginning of the Amazon’s deforestation crisis.
Grand visions of a paved highway from the Atlantic Coast to the Peruvian border never came to fruition.
Thanks to lack of funding, the annual October-March monsoon, and the unstable nature of the rainforest’s red soil. Lately, plans to revive the route to Peru seem to be slowly coming together. But the road remains largely unsealed to this day.
Less than half of the highway lies within the Amazon jungle itself. The eastern portion traverses through the mostly dry, uninspiring north-eastern interior.
The western half is far more preferable. You’ll quickly come up against properly remote, properly challenging dirt, mud, and river-forging adventure riding. The longest stretch of wilderness slithers through the Amazonia National Par. It is home to iconic Amazon critters like macaws and spider monkeys.
We ride National Route BR-230 on our: Trans-Amazonian Challenge as part of the Seven Legendary Motorcycle Routes in South America
Sixth comes to PERU and its Desert Coast to Central Andes – Route of the Liberators (Route 28A)
Peru is packed with so many ridiculously scenic road trips, particularly among the soaring mountain passes of the Andes. For our money, though, some of South America’s most unique and varied scenery can be covered in a single day.
Just take virtually routes east from the rugged Pacific coast south of Lima. Then through the dunes of the coastal deserts, and then up into the high grasslands of the Central Andes.
It’s hard to beat the 340km ride that starts in the sublime desert oasis of Huachachina. Then cuts west to the port town of Pisco. From Pisco, begin your ascent from sea level up National Highway 28A, also known as Via de Los Liberatores.
It was named after the brutal route Simon Bolivar’s volunteer army followed during Peru’s liberation from Spain. Cross a high 4,750m pass before descending into the colonial city of Ayacucho (2750m).
We ride Route 28A on our: Best of Peru Tour as part of the Seven Legendary Motorcycle Routes in South America
Finally, we reach the Seventh legendary route to ECUADOR and the Cotopaxi Volcan Road – Pan-American Highway (National Route 35)
Just south of Quito, this section of the Pan-American Highway is only 40km long. But it’s a pothole-riddled pig of a road, all rutted gravel, and sandy grit.
Road maintenance isn’t a high priority in Ecuador. So it’s no surprise that the route to Cotopaxi National Park is one of the gnarliest on the Pan-American. Streams flow directly over the road and have a tendency to flash-flood, making the route even more challenging.
That said, the narrow passage alongside Ecuador’s Valley of Volcanoes is visually stunning. With the ever-changing outlook switching between dense forest, to the lunar-like altiplano landscapes. An additional bonus is seeing the high tundra bursting with multi-colored wildflowers.
As the road skirts the western edge of the park. You will discover panoramas of the open grassland and Mount Cotopaxi. A classically conical volcano with a permanently snow-crowned summit, Ecuador’s second-highest peak at 5,879m.
We ride National Route 35 on both our: South American Express and Trans Amazonian Challenge. And now as part of the Seven Legendary Motorcycle Routes in South America.
Seven Legendary Motorcycle Routes in South America group Tours.
No one knows the Seven Legendary Motorcycle Routes in South America riding routes like the team at MotoDreamer. A guided group tour is one of the most enjoyable, safe, and seamless ways to visit some of the most remote regions in the South American continent.
Written by: Fiona Davies (extreme pillion rider and adventure travel writer)
Edited for SEO optimization by Mike Bowley at www.mikedbowley.com
We thought it would be great fun for you to explore some of the neighbors of Colombia with these next two articles on Peru and the three Guianas:
Peru has magical places that are not Machu Picchu. If you are curious and want to see them, grab a coffee and read on. As a Seasoned Adventure Motorcycle Rider, you may have well heard of Machu Picchu. It seems the whole world has Machu Picchu firmly in their head. But did you know there are at least eight more magical Peruvian places for you and your motorcycle?
The Three Guianas, the Forgotten Gems of South America. Have you ever heard of them? I promise you, once you discover them, you will never forget them.
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