Santiago to Tierra del Fuego | Motorcycle Adventure
Motorcycle Diaries Plus
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to ride a motorcycle through Patagonia, the experience can best be described as an adventure of a lifetime. Patagonia is one of the world’s must-see motorcycling destinations, known for its breathtaking scenery and unique ecosystem. And the best way to see it is from the saddle of an adventure oriented motorcycle.
Always ready for an adventure, I joined the knowledgeable and friendly team who run Compass Expeditions for a 17-day ride through Chile and Argentina. They call it the Patagonian Explorer tour for good reason. Much of the countryside we rode through is untamed. It makes you really feel like you’re blazing uncharted territory aboard your BMW F650 GS supplied by Compass.
Our group gathered in Santiago, Chile to get acquainted. The motorcycle ride started in Pucón, about 450 miles south of the capital city. It ended 2,100 miles later in legendary Ushuaia, recognized as the southernmost city in the world. Patagonia is a region that covers roughly 260,000 square miles. It extends from the southern part of Buenos Aires Province to the tip of Tierra del Fuego.
As we discovered, it’s a land of desolate beauty and very sparse population. To the west are the Cordillera de los Andes and vast expanse of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. East of the cordillera is semi-arid plateau that’s dominated by a low scrub called jarilla.
Patagonia’s climate is very changeable. But fortune smiled on us, as we experienced near-perfect spring weather throughout our travels (the South American spring is September to November). On average, temperatures ranged from mid-70s F in the north to low 50s in the south (although it did get cooler, at times dipping down to 40 degrees.)
Wind is also a fact of life in Patagonia. It was an almost constant companion as we rode across the steppe. We saw many signs along the road showing a tree bending in a strong breeze.
A large part of our ride was along Argentina’s famous Ruta Nacional 40. This is the route that Che Guevara took in 1952 on his Norton 500. He documented the trip in his book, The Motorcycle Diaries. Ruta 40 runs more than 3,000 miles, roughly paralleling the eastern spine of the Andes.
A good portion of the road surface is gravel, ideal for dirt biking. Long straight stretches carve through sweeping vistas of stark post-glacial landscape. Once we crossed the Strait of Megellan from Chile into Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, we followed Ruta Nacional 3. As part of the Pan-American Highway, the well-paved road cuts through mountain passes and spectacular scenery for the last 60 miles into Ushuaia.
Along the route we were treated to a variety of specially handpicked accommodations that added to the enjoyment of the whole experience. We bedded down in boutique hotels and unique hostels and spent a couple of nights in a classic estancia (ranch). Of course, we all consumed a hearty share of South American food and drink. Asado or traditional BBQ is common fare and South American wines, especially, are among the best in the world.
Highlights are too many to mention, but two in particular stand out. Parque Nacional los Glacieras is located in Argentina’s Santa Cruz Province and Perito Moreno Glacier is one of its star attractions. That’s no mean feat since there are 47 glaciers in the park. I wasn’t quite prepared for the blueness of Moreno’s ice or its sheer size (3 miles wide and 20 miles long).
For a change of pace, we camped in geodesic dome tents at Torres del Paine National Park. UNESCO declared it a World Biosphere Reserve in 1978. Arriving at the park, we were greeted by throngs of grazing guanacos. These relatives of the camel are on the protected species list and roam freely.
Only two of us embarked on an 8-hour roundtrip climb to see the Paine massif up close. The long trek was well worth the impressive view of the famed Los Cuernos and the emerald lake beneath them. For me, riding through the wildness of Patagonia was mesmerizing. I left knowing that I’d go back in an instant.