Driving the dirt roads of Patagonia requires you to take some general precautions and to drive slower and more carefully. The surface of dirt and gravel roads is not stationary; conditions change constantly. Small stones can build up, forming an unstable surface in which speeding vehicles can skid. Rain can form large puddles; for which, depth is impossible to discern. Bumpy roads can produce vibrations resulting in a loss of control of the vehicle. Give yourself time to stop, rest, and enjoy your adventure.
Services along the route are limited. Fuel supply is essential and must be considered before setting out. As a general rule, fill up with fuel whenever possible. Food supplies are also limited. We recommend that you travel with enough provisions for a complete day, taking advantage of opportunities to resupply, when you are in bigger towns.
Travel times are always longer than expected. Estimate that you will have an average speed of between 45-70 Km/h (30-45 mph) for dirt roads. Plan your itinerary according to this speed. Be prepared for delays due to road maintenance activities, detours or closures. In many sections, road signs are infrequent.
Depending on the time of year and weather conditions you encounter, it is very likely that you will need to be prepared for driving in snow and ice. We strongly suggest driving a 4x4 vehicle equipped with chains and other equipment for driving in these types of situations.
You'll also want to watch out for wildlife. It’s very probable that you will round a corner and find yourself face to face with cattle, sheep and horses. It’s just as likely that you will encounter huemul (Hippocamelus bisulcus), guanaco (Lama guanicoe), a band of ñandú (Pterocnemia pennata) or maybe even a pudú (Pudu puda). Always be prepared for these surprises by driving defensively. If you run into cattle blocking the road, stop, beep your horn and wait for them to pass. The same is true with horses. If gauchos are moving livestock, stop and allow them to control the movement of the herd. If you encounter wildlife, stop and observe. Please do not harass them or beep your horn. These animals are part of the natural heritage of Patagonia and it’s up to all of us to protect and care for them. It is especially probable that you will encounter wildlife in the following sectors:
- Just outside Cochrane, on the northern side of town, CH
- The Rio Bravo Sector near Mitchell Fiord, CH
- The Mountainous Pass on the way to Yungay, CH
- The Caiquenes Lagoon Sector (Road to Yungay), CH
- The El Vagabundo Sector (Road to Caleta Tortel), CH
- Route 40, AR
- Valley Chacabuco, CH
- The crossing area between Lagoon/Lake del Desierto and Candelario Mansilla, AR/CH.
Before travel, check that your vehicle is equipped with a functional jack, a lug nut wrench or wheel nut wrench, a spare wheel, and a fire extinguisher. Consider the distances between the places you want to visit. Carry extra food and fuel.. Before leaving, ask about route problems at the Police Posts. Make sure that equipment is properly covered, tied and secured, e.g., bikes, kayaks, luggage, and especially, hazardous materials. To minimize bouncing and discomfort, do not over-inflate your tires when driving on gravel roads.
During travel: always drive with the lights of your vehicle illuminated. Keep a good distance from the vehicle in front of you to avoid loose rocks, which may break your windshield or mirrors. Be cautious about the sides of the roads, gorges are very frequent. Sometimes, it is helpful to drive in the center of the road since it is more solid; however, always remain in the proper lane on uphill slopes, curves, and other areas where you do not have good visibility. Be a defensive driver. Pass only in straight stretches with enough space and good visibility. Always signal to announce your maneuver. If another vehicle is about to pass you, give way; slow down and give as much space as you can.
In the event of mechanical problems or minor accidents in Patagonia, you can normally flag down the first passing vehicle and they will give assistance. It is important to know your position in relation to help. Consider whether is it more efficient to go ahead or backtrack. Make sure that the position of your vehicle does not represent a danger for other travelers. Use warning triangles. If you need to change a tire, secure the vehicle with rocks or logs around the other tires to be sure it remains stationary. Make sure the jack is stable. If you run out of fuel, you can often buy it from other drivers, farmers and Estancias, or work crews in the route. It is unlikely they will approach you and offer fuel so, approach them and ask. If you require a wrecker or assistance, remember that services are limited and take time to arrive. You will need to decide whether to stay with your vehicle or leave it and go for help. Factors to consider include the severity of the situation, weather conditions, your supplies and the spirit of the group, in relation to the distance and the likely wait time for assistance. In the event of an accident, you are legally required to file a police report (Constancia) in the nearest Police Post. This is also a requirement of insurance claims.
In the event of a serious accident, implement the plans and protocols you developed prior to your travels. Make sure you have a plan and protocol for the management of serious accidents. If other options are not available, you can often communicate with professional services via UHF radio. Many rural homes and farms are equipped with UHF radios that can help. It is important to know the exact location of your vehicle. Look for road signs indicating the closest kilometer number, bridge names, etc, and if you have a GPS, take a reading. Note as many geographic references as possible to help assistance services find you.