Argentina: Off the beaten track

Lenght: ~250km (~155mi)

Duration: 2 to 3 days

Start: The route starts in Las Ovejas around 90km northwest of Chos Malal, Province Neuquén, Argentina.

Difficulty: In the beginning you face a well maintained dirt road, that is in good condition all the way to Laguna Varvarco Tapia. After around 110km you ride a pass up to almost 3000m. This section is very rocky and steep and stays rough for many kilometers. There are also several river crossings.

Special preparations: There is no petrol and no food for almost 250km. You find some small shops in Las Ovejas and Varvarco, but they are closed the whole afternoon. We would recommend to go shopping in Andacollo 35km before, where you can find a bigger supermarket. Las Ovejas is the last possibility to get fuel, but the petrol station only takes cash. Therefore it is easier to fill your tanks in Andacollo, too. The whole area is very remote, so you should make sure to not getting injured. Water is easy available by filtering or boiling.

How was it?

We discovered this amazing region by looking for a hot spring. Unfortunately, as we arrive in Las Ovejas, we don’t have enough cash anymore to fill our tanks, but the fuel level is adequate to ride to the hotspring location and return. 
The first part to Varvarco is not bad, but also nothing really special. But after this little village it starts getting interesting. A few kilometers more we decide to turn left into a dead end track, that leads to a fantastic viewpoint – Los Bolillos. This area is covered by eroded rock formations.
Back on the main track we reach a canyon section a little bit later. This area is full of basalt columns and the tiny winding road offers a fantastic ride through the canyon landscape. 
After we have left the canyon behind, we come to the hot springs at Termas Aguas Calientes and this region is absolutely unreal. You find several hot rivers flowing into the valley and you even have to do a hot river crossing (water has ~65°C/150°F). Where the little streams flow down into the valley, you have green vegetation nearby and cows chilling at these beautiful spots. Compared to most of South America, you have almost no fences in this region.
It is still early afternoon, therefore we pass the public hotspring to visit Las Olletas first. This place is a vulcanic area a little bit further, where you find a few hot runlets that made the soil very colourful. It’s ok to go there, since it’s not very far off the main track anyway, but not a must do.
Finally it was time to visit the public hot spring. We are both big fans of hot springs and we have been visiting many of them on our trip so far. Most of the public ones are often expensive and you sit in hot water with many other people, while the enviroment is not that nice. So we aren’t expecting very much, when we pass the entrance gate.
Surprisingly it is totally different. We park our bikes at a little parking lot right next to a little resort with some barbecues. There is only one more car and the resort is completely empty. Even more surprising – the entrance is free and we just have to register! Unreal, the hotspring must be totally shitty.
We can’t see the bathing area, because you have to follow some signs and walk a few hundred meters behind a little hill. So we jump in our bathing rags and follow the path. 
First we were absolutely speechless. This is the best hot spring we have ever seen in our life. It is almost natural and basically a few cascades with pools surrounded by mountains. The water temperature must be at around 45°C (115°F). There are no other people and you also don’t see the little resort, where we parked the bikes. We stay until it is almost dark and we have to look for a proper camp spot to spend the night.
After we have pitched our tent at a beautiful spot, we have a closer look on the map. It seems like we could follow this road all the way through the back country to Barrancas on the Ruta 40. The only problem is, we don’t have enough fuel for another 200km. So we decide that it is worth to ride back to Andacollo and fill our tanks the next morning.
However we want to visit Los Tachos geysirs first, before we start to ride. Sombody told us, that you can have a warm bath there, too. So we grab our bathing gear and follow a little trail into a gorge. After approximately 15min we reach the geysirs and it exceeds all our expectations again. The gorge is already beautiful. Beside the stream is green vegetation and there are two geysirs coming out off the ground. They are not very big, but are not fenced and everything is kept naturally, except of a little wooden bridge to cross the river. The cool thing is – you can sit into the hot river right next to the geysirs. You have to watch out the boiling water, of course. This is the second place, where it is a miracle, that we are totally on our own. Usually you have to share places like that with hundreds of other people.
Afterwards we ride all the way back to Andacollo, buy petrol and food and have another dip into the Termas Agua Calientes hot spring, after we have returned. Another 50km further we finally reach Laguna Varvarco Tapia and spend the night there. The sunset is fantastic and the whole place has a special atmosphere you can’t find very often anymore in this world.
The next morning the road gets much rougher and we have to do some beautiful river crossings surrounded by wild running cows and horses. A rocky winding pass track leads us to an elevation of almost 3000m. The landscape has changed and it is very rocky and alpine here. We can see some white peaks in a distance, before a bumpy downhill path goes into another valley. It is very remote at this point and we don’t see anybody else for hours.
The landscape is changing all the time now and so does the subsoil. Rocky, sandy, muddy, wet, dry – everything an adventure riders heart is looking for. After some time we reach Rio Barrancas, that we have to follow the rest of the route. Since this is a vulcanic region, the valley is fomed by very colourful rocks and soil. It gives a great contrast to the green vegetation next to the shiny blue river.
We ride all the way to Barrancas that day and there isn’t a single boring section. However we feel quite tired as we reach the municipal camp ground

Conclusion: The whole 250km are a complete pleasure and it was one of our best rides we have done on our world trip so far. We also met less people than on the famous adventure rider routes. The riding conditions are sometimes rough, but never a mess. So riding is enjoyable all the way and the landscape absolutely unique, too.

Leave a Reply