Wondering where to head next for a grand motorcycle adventure?
Here are some of the best motorcycle rides in South America that are all about marveling at gorgeous landscapes, imbibing the culture, and connecting with the people.
The journeys are affordable, the cuisine is great, and the excellent hospitality from the locals is the icing on the top. And some of these trips have 10 out of 10 scores on the excitement rating.
On top of that, the motorcycle import processes are simple and there are no visa requirements for US passport holders in most South American countries.
Admittedly, some of these rides will make you step outside your comfort zone. But the point is – it will be worth it.
So it’s time to slap your knees and with a burst of raucous laughter, utter those words ”Bring it on!”
1. Ruta 40, Argentina
|Route Name||Ruta 40|
|Length||2,700 mi (4,350 km)|
|About||This epic journey stretches across the entire length of Argentina, moving through an incredible terrain across 11 provinces and a whopping 20 national parks.|
Honestly, you’re looking at one of the most exciting motorcycling routes on the entire planet!
Welcome to the legendary Route 40 – a journey that will have you marveling at the Andean landscapes and the Lakes District. Starting from the town of La Quiaca on the Bolivian border, the route will take you almost to the tip of the South American continent.
Or else, you can do it in the reverse order, starting from the south. That will allow you to tackle the rough sections of the road first.
I won’t attempt to describe the beauty of the road as there is too much to overload the senses. Views of towering snowy peaks, rushing rivers, and incredibly turquoise lakes will keep you from getting tired.
And just when your fingers are numb from clicking too many images, you will enter the stunning Los Glaciares National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site!
Keep in mind, this is one of the looooongest roads in the world and needs serious riding skills. You will be crossing mountain passes above 4,000 meters (that is serious altitude) and battling the Patagonian crosswinds that will force you to crouch down. Also, the roads will be rugged with plenty of compact dirt and gravel surfaces.
The best season to go for this ride is during the late spring and the early summer when there will be no snow on the roads. That is during the months of October to December in Argentina. Some sections of the road are scarcely populated, so carrying a can of extra fuel is a good idea.
2. Carretera Austral, Chile
|Route Name||Carretera Austral|
|Length||760 mi (1,220 km)|
|About||Carretera Austral, which is Route 7 in Chile, is a 760-mile journey through the heart of the Patagonian wilderness. If you are seeking isolation from civilization, this route is a great choice.|
|Difficulty||Advanced to Killer|
Honestly, this route will compel you to stop frequently and savor the visual delights.
But be warned: a major section of the route is unpaved, so be ready for a bone-jarring adventure of a lifetime. And since the road conditions can change multiple times in a day, this route demands a ton of concentration.
Sounds like a Mad Max road trip!
The journey starts from the city of Puerto Montt in the Chilean Lakes District and ends at the town of Villa O’Higgins in southern Chile. From craggy mountains to thick forests and deep fjords, this route has all the ingredients that adventure lovers seek. In addition, you can take some time to take a boat trip from Puerto Rio Tranquillo to the San Rafael Glacier or enjoy the beauty of Pumalín Park.
The best time to ride through this road is between the months of November and April. Except in the major towns along the road, decent accommodation is hard to find. However, you can pack your camping gear as there are plenty of free camping grounds along the way.
Make sure to carry some food, as supplies along the desolate stretches are rare. Also, fill up whenever you see a filling station. There aren’t many of them along this route.
3. “Costa Verde” (Green Coast), Brazil
|Route Name||Costa Verde|
|Length||490 mi (790 km)|
|About||For riders looking for a short(ish) but rewarding trip, this journey from Rio de Janeiro to São Paulo over the BR-101 Highway is one of the best options.|
|Difficulty||Beginner & Up|
This trip is suitable for riders of ALL skill levels. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be rewarding for the ultimate motorcycle fiends among us!
As you drive out from the busy traffic of Rio, you will pass through emerald rainforests and some of the pristine beaches along the Atlantic coast. All along the route, you will enjoy the views of beautiful islands and the green slopes of the Serra do Mar mountain ranges.
Quite simply, you might find yourself blurting out “Oh My God!” at the views (or “Oh meu deus!” if you manage to pick up a few bits of Portuguese).
The ride also gives you the chance to explore the wide range of diverse dishes including some traditional seafood menus. If you are looking for Instagram-worthy shots, ride into the town of Paraty, famous for its old colonial architecture.
Another great option is to make this trip over the weekend. That way, you will find the town of Angra dos Reis turning into a lively den of rock and pop after the sun sets. Or else you can take a boat and head to the Ilha Grande nature reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
4. Ruta de las Lagunas, Bolivia & Chile
|Route Name||Ruta de las Lagunas|
|Length||320 mi (520 km)|
|About||If you’re looking for a route that will push you and your motorbike to the limit, look no further!|
|Difficulty||Advanced to Killer|
While the otherworldly landscapes are mind-boggling, the ruthless road conditions and the brutal winds on this road trip can rattle you to the bones. Plus, unless you ride in a group, you’ll end up riding alone most of the time! In other words, not a journey for the faint of heart.
Starting from the dusty town of Uyuni, Bolivia, the route moves across the Andes high plateau and ends in the town of San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. Before you start, spend a day visiting the world’s largest salt flat near Uyuni. Bigger than India’s Rann of Kutch, which you can also see on a bike if you find yourself in that part of the world!
Then start the main journey through the bright-colored lagoons and snow-capped volcanic peaks like the beautiful Cerro Tomasamil. On the second day, you will pass through a high-altitude desert and fantastically carved sandstone sculptures. On the third day, you will cross over to Chile.
The entire route is around 280 to 320 miles long (depending on the season and the weather, which can fluctuate to the extreme) and can be done in 4 to 5 days. Since there are no fuel stations en route, you need to carry a jerry can. In case of an emergency, you can buy fuel from the 4×4 tour drivers passing through the route. Food and shelter are available along the route, and you can also pitch your own tent.
Note, there are multiple road tracks running through the Bolivian Altiplano and it’s easy to get lost. So, don’t try to avoid the corrugations and stick to the main route. Otherwise, the slippery sand and mud might cause the bike to fishtail.
Lastly, make sure to spend a few days at a higher altitude to acclimatize before you attempt the route.
5. The Cusco – Abancay – Nazca Trail, Peru
|Route Name||Cusco – Abancay – Nazca Trail|
|Length||440 mi (700 km)|
|About||If you love riding through twisties, this is an unforgettable journey through the amazing landscapes in Peru. Spoiler alert: Machu Picchu, Amazon rainforest and Atacama desert are all within reach!|
The drive is around 450 miles long and there are plenty of exciting spots to visit along the way.
Before you start the journey from Cusco, take a day to visit the ruins of Machu Picchu, which is just northwest. You can do it on a motorcycle weather permitting, but remember that the route has plenty of dirt sections and can get quite challenging. In addition, you can also spend a couple of days taking a tour of the Amazon rainforest.
As you ride towards Abancay, the roads are mostly paved, and the ride conditions will be fairly easy. While heading through the fascinating Andean road towards Abancay, you can visit another Incan site in the Choquequirao Archaeological Park.
Once you head towards Nazca, the roads pass through the high mountain ranges and descend to the edges of the Atacama Desert. The winds can get chilly on the route with occasional snow storms. So avoid the journey during the winter months.
The next day, go for an aerial journey to view the mysterious Nazca lines. They have been linked to everything including aliens and ancient balloonists and the mystery remains unsolved.
6. Avenue of Volcanoes, Ecuador
|Route Name||Avenue of Volcanoes|
|Length||530 mi (860 km)|
|About||The Andean highland of Ecuador is probably the only place in the world where you will ride through tropical and glacial climates on the same day. In fact, it’s not easy to imagine the Amazon, Andes, and Pacific within a short distance of each other.|
|Difficulty||Moderate to Advanced|
Depending on the time you take on the route, the trip can be completed in 4 to 6 days. The ride starts from and ends in the capital city of Quito. The dramatic views start from day one, as you roll out from Quito and travel on the Panamerican highway and enter the “Avenue of Volcanoes.”
It starts with the views of the peaks of the Pichincha Volcano, Volcan Cayambe, and the snow-capped Cotopaxi Volcano. The route passes through colonial settlements to reach the magnificent sky-blue-colored Quilotoa Crater Lake. The whole area is a hiker’s paradise and can be explored for days.
The next section is through the beautiful grasslands around the Chimborazo Wildlife Refuge with the road moving past the spectacular sight of Chimborazo Peak. You can follow some of the off-road trails to get closer to the snow-covered peak. The weather is unpredictable on this plateau so be ready to put on your thermals on a few minutes’ notice.
Once you reach the city of Puyo, you have entered the Amazon basin. You can enjoy a canoe ride through the Napo River to discover some beautiful waterfalls.
In the last section of the ride, you will pass through the town of Baeza and head up the mountain roads to cross a pass at an altitude above 4000 meters. From the pass, the route heads back to the city of Quito.
How to Make the Most of These Trips: A Handful of Tips
If you love the smell of fuel and enjoy the adrenaline rush of riding on the edge of sliding, these are the top motorcycle tours in South America to try out.
Before I sign off, here are a few tips.
Many riders need some time to adjust to the traffic flow in South American cities. In fact, this is something you will need to adopt while riding through some routes in Africa and Asia too.
You may find that the truck and taxi drivers in South American countries are not as respectful of the motorcyclist’s personal space as you want them to be. But the locals are extremely friendly, and you can manage if you stay alert to your surroundings.
Crossing the borders in South America is no big deal and you don’t need local fixers to manage the process. So save your money and follow the standard procedure.
Since you will be riding through multiple climate zones and varied terrains, make sure to use reliable and protective riding gear. And try to learn a few Spanish phrases – the locals will surely appreciate it.
Time to dust off your heavy riding boots and take the next step.