Self-drive Trip to Patagonia: From Buenos Aires to Bahía Bustamante

Patagonia Travel Posted on 05/20/2021

¡Hola! My name is Juan Etchaide, I’m the head of the product department, and a restless traveler. I grew up in Puerto Madryn, better known as the southern right whale sanctuary, and for Península Valdés, the most important wildlife reserve in Patagonia. In January 2021, my girlfriend Flor and I decided to drive from Buenos Aires where I’m currently living to Bahía Bustamante, the only village in Argentina specialized in seaweed harvesting and mussel farming. If you want to enjoy a self-drive trip into deep Patagonia, read my insider tips for the route!

1. How to get from Buenos Aires to Bahía Bustamante?

Bahía Bustamante is located in the province of Chubut, at 1700 km (1057 miles) from Buenos Aires. 

Flor and I decided to take National Route 3 since it’s the most straightforward route to reach Patagonia. Though we had to switch routes in the middle -a couple of other national and provincial roads- you enter Bahía Bustamante by NR3. 

As a native Argentinian, I love long-distance driving and this trip was certainly a long one. Without making any stops, this is an almost 20-hour drive on well-maintained roads. However, as I have part of my family in Puerto Madryn, which is 325 km (200 miles) away from Bahía Bustamante, we decided to make a short stop there and share with my relatives for a couple of days. 

(I swear I’ll tell you all about how to self-drive Península Valdés and Puerto Madryn in a next article!)

While Flor had to return to Buenos Aires for work, I continued traveling with my parents to Bahía Bustamante. Though they have lived in Puerto Madryn for more than 20 years now, they didn’t have the opportunity to visit the bahía. When they told me that I decided to transform my couple’s del-drive trio into a family trip!

The routes I follow to reach Puerto Madryn and then Bahía Bustamante:

  • NR3
  • PR51
  • NR22
  • NR251

Juant Etchaide, our travel agent in a self-drive trip from Buenos Aires to Bahía Bustamante in Patagonia.
Picnic time in a family self-drive trip into Bahía Bustamante, Patagonia.

2. My fears about traveling during Covid times

This was one of the first issues I have to figure out before hitting the road. At regular times, I will just fuel up my car, prepare my mate (our national tea-type infusion, the best mate on the road), and my luggage, prepare my playlist, and charge my phone. But making a self-drive trip in January 2021 demanded additional documentation required to travel the country during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

These documents were not that difficult to get, nor that numerous. And I finally discovered that the so-feared controls on the road were not that scary either (and not very frequent to be honest…).

Someone has told me that Chubut will be the toughest regarding the national guard controls but it really wasn’t. They just checked the validity of the documents and asked me if I have downloaded the Cuidar application, designed by the Argentinian government to download all the required documents. The app also reminds you to take a self-health test every 48 hours and declares that you don’t have any symptomatology compatible with Covid-19. 

To sum up: Though I got nervous each time they stopped me on the road everything went smoothly and hassle-free. I recommend having a printed version of the documents. Believe it or not, technology can always fail… 

The documents I needed for the trip:

  • The App Cuidar, which you can download for free.
  • The Traveler Permission to circulate (before your trip)
  • My ID (because I’m Argentinian). For any foreign traveler, your passport and other documents stamped by Inmigration at your arrival

3. What you can see on the route

I love this route because you can clearly see the transitions between the green, endless territory of La Pampa and the grey and rocky Patagonian steppe. There is an absolute feeling of isolation that rushes into your soul once you reach Patagonia. And a crescent fear of not getting to the next gas station (!). I will tell you about that in a couple of lines…

Personally, I was deeply touched by how the color palette changed from that almost fluorescent green to the deep blue of the sea, and the contrast with the white clay that forms the seacoast, when we were about to enter Puerto Madryn. After miles and miles of no human presence, reaching Puerto Madryn feels like entering a homely place, despite the actual dry weather of the area. 

On the road! Self-drive trip in Patagonia.

4. Watch out for the gas station on your road trip in Patagonia

Argentina is a wide country, even unpopulated in some areas. That’s why it’s really important to know before starting your self-drive trip to Patagonia, where are the gas stations along the route and if there is any part of the trip where you won’t be able to fuel up if you need to. 

From my recent experience, from Buenos Aires to Puerto Madryn I had no worries. I could easily find gas stations all the way. It was a completely different story when we drove from Puerto Madryn to Bahía Bustamante. 

We took only the NR3, which is only a two-way road and has intense traffic (mostly big trucks). To make this trip you have to be really prepared, which means taking an extra gas drum, watching out the speed in order not to run out of fuel and avoiding inconveniences with trucks. Think that the next station can be 100 km away from where you get stranded.

Couple self-drive trip to Puerto Madryn in Patagonia, Juan and Flor!

5. From Puerto Madryn to Bahía Bustamante by NR3

This is a truly arid, monotonous route and there is not much to see, but when you reach Camarones, just before entering Bahía, the ocean explodes into view! The Bahía Bustamante’s geography is really different from Puerto Madryn. Here the Atlantic ocean opens up to the plain view, and the coast is made of cliffs.

Camarones is 100 km (62 miles) away from the Bahía Bustamante. In this last part of the way, you will take a gravel road which is perfectly maintained by the local authorities. Anyway, before taking this road, always ask Camarones’ Tourist Office or Vialidad if the road is passable because there may have been heavy rain or others that you probably would not be aware of. Beware also of the animal you can bump into the road and take into account when controlling your speed. There are many, many guanacos on this road. This is a type of camelid, and it’s a big animal…

The last 62 miles to Bahía are a bit winding but I never got stressed. In fact, the smooth ups and downs on the way discovered a little green oasis of pasturing sheep. There are several sheep farms that can be visited before reaching Bahía Bustamante.   

Self-drive trip to patagonia, arriving to Bahía Bustamante.
Self-drive trip to Patagonia, the rocky coast of Bahia Bustamante.
Self-drive trip to Patagonia, fishermen in Puerto Madryn coast.

And once you get there ¡es una fiesta de colores! (it’s a party of colors!).

These were the most useful things I bring with me:

  • A binocular. Especially on this part of the road, you can find many animals like guanacos. But if you have binoculars you may also see an orca whale from the road! 
  • Water! You can never bring enough water with you. Drinkable water for humans, and water for your car engine
  • A car phone charger, and two portable batteries.
  • A suitable playlist to enjoy the landscapes. Check out the playlist we put together in our Spotify channel. This is a sound trip along with Argentina, from north to south.

Check out the other self-drive trips that my colleagues at the agency have designed for our travelers.

Have you any experience on self-drive trips? Please, share your inside tips on road-tripping with us and our community of intrepid explorers.   

Questions? Write to Us