From Qatar, the MotoGP circus heads west. A very long way west, out towards the western edge of the Argentine pampas, and Termas de Rio Hondo (a fun game for fans to play is to check every article written by MotoGP journalists and see how many times they have spelled Termas de Rio Hondo with an A on the end instead of an O). The Argentinian round of MotoGP is crucial to Dorna, giving it a foothold in South America, a key market for the manufacturers, and a region in love with motorsports.
Ideally, a Grand Prix in Argentina – or Brazil, or Chile, or Peru, or Colombia – would be held at a track near one of the great cities of the region. But the tracks build near Buenos Aires (or Rio de Janiero or Sao Paulo in Brazil) are all relics from a previous era, when rider safety was not the paramount concern it is today. So instead, MotoGP heads to the middle of nowhere, fortunately, to one of the fastest and finest tracks on the calendar. It is, by all accounts, a wild affair, though it is not a place I have visited myself. But from what I have been told, it is a memorable event to attend.
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Where is it?
The Autódromo Internacional Termas De Rio Hondo is located about 5km southwest of Termas De Rio Hondo, a small city of about 32,000 people located in the northwest of Argentina, about 2,000km northwest of the capital, Buenos Aires. The circuit itself lies on the edge of a reservoir, the Embalse Rio Hondo, and right next door to the "International Airport Termas De Rio Hondo" (though you shouldn't let the airport's name fool you).
How to get there?
Getting to Termas De Rio Hondo is the longest trip most MotoGP travelers will face. Despite the presence of an "international airport", it is extremely unlikely that you will be flying there: the airport is only open for flights on Fridays and Sundays, far from ideal for a MotoGP weekend.
The most common airport to arrive at is Tucuman (TUC), roughly 70km away, though it is also possible to fly through Santiago Del Estero (SDE). Getting to Tucuman is not particularly simple either: if you fly into the Argentine capital Buenos Aires, you will need to travel clear across the city from the main international airport (Ezeiza, EZE) to Jorge Newbery airport (AEP). This will require either a taxi ride or a shuttle bus.
From Tucuman (or Santiago Del Estero), it's another hour, either by taxi or rental car. I am told that because of the interest in the MotoGP round, the car rental places run out of vehicles and the airport staff hand over their vehicles to the car rental firms. Price gouging is the order of the day.
In the first year of the race, some brave souls investigated driving from Buenos Aires to Termas De Rio Hondo. This is doable, though it is a drive of almost 1200km. Those contemplating the drive were warned that car robberies were not uncommon. The UK government warns that theft from rental cars is relatively common.
You will probably need an International Driving Permit, which you can obtain from your national Automobile Association.
If you are staying in Termas De Rio Hondo, the track is relatively close by. Head towards the lake and you can't miss it.
Where to stay?
Accommodation can be hard to find in Termas De Rio Hondo, and it tends to be expensive. There are hotels of very varying quality in Termas itself, and a few scattered around the area. The worst case scenario is you have to stay in Tucuman or Santiago Del Estero, and drive and hour or more before and after the events of the day.
Hotel quality is varied. From modern, international standard hotels to less salubrious local establishments. There are places available on Airbnb, but you have to book them early. Also, like all Airbnb establishments, the quality varies, and you have to interpret the reviews left by previous visitors, as Airbnb's mutual reviewing system means both hosts and visitors are stuck playing a variant of Prisoner's Dilemma.
The atmosphere in town is … lively. Sleep is very much for the weak, so as a consequence, you will want to take earplugs if you are desirous of a good night's sleep. The party goes on all night, though this is less of an issue in some of the hotels on the outskirts of the town.
Camping is an option. There are a number of campsites around the town.
Food & Drink
Argentina is famed for its beef, and that is no exception in Termas. The meat stretches as far as the eye can see, with fans holding impromptu barbecues at the side of the road, and restaurants serving up steaks and cuts of meat in every shape and form. It is no place for vegans, or for the squeamish who think that meat grows in polystyrene trays in supermarkets and comes wrapped in clingfilm.
Apart from the strong slant towards carnivorousness, the food is generally very good, as is the drink. South America has become famous for producing some excellent wines, all of which are pretty affordable.
ATMs are few and far between in Termas De Rio Hondo. The one place they are common is in the casinos. Which is both logical, and requires a certain degree of self discipline to actually leave the casino with the amount of money you withdrew from the cash machine. ATM charges are high, so it is best to withdraw larger sums less frequently.
It is worth carrying US dollars, especially good condition $100 bills. These can be exchanged for Argentine Pesos when you need them.
This is probably the most expensive round of the year for most travelers. Though flights to Buenos Aires are not outrageous, getting from national capitals to Tucuman or Santiago Del Estero is a much more costly affair. Internal flights cost upwards of €300, putting total trip costs from Europe, Australia, or the US well north of €1100, and you can easily find yourself paying closer to €2000 for an economy ticket. (For comparison, for the same money or less, you could fly business between New York and London).
With Termas De Rio Hondo being a relatively small town, and MotoGP being a big event, prices are bumped up for everything on the race weekend. Hotel and Airbnb prices are about what you might expect to pay in a European capital city, upwards of €100 a night. Car rental suffers similar problems, a relatively poor region seeing a chance to cash in on a big event.
Given the costs involved, it is worth turning a visit to the race into a much larger trip, and combining it with a visit to Buenos Aires, Santiago De Chile, a climbing holiday in the Andes, or a trip across the region. If it is going to be expensive, you might want to try to get your money's worth.
It is also worth considering engaging a travel agency such as Pole Position to do all the hard work for you. The trip is going to be expensive anyway, so paying a little more to have someone else handle the complexity is a sensible investment. Getting to, say, the MotoGP round at Barcelona is entirely manageable for an individual. Turning up at Termas is a wholly different kettle of fish.
Reasons to go
Though the trip to Termas De Rio Hondo is arduous (Neil Morrison describes it as "probably the biggest expedition to a race"), it is worth the effort. The circuit is one of the best on the calendar, a fast and flowing affair that rewards skill and bravery in equal measure. If you want to go to a circuit and see the real speed a MotoGP bike is capable of, there are few places which illustrate it more plainly.
The real reason to go to Termas is the atmosphere, though. Saturday night in downtown Termas De Rio Hondo is as spectacular a biking affair as you will hope to see anywhere. The people are fantastic, welcoming and genuinely interested, though it helps (a lot) if you speak Spanish. The crowds assemble in the main square and party as if there were no tomorrow. Given that nobody bothers going to sleep, tomorrow is technically postponed until Monday anyway.
Termas on Saturday night is reminiscent of Jerez or Valencia in its heyday, before the fear of death and injury sneaked into the Spanish psyche, as it has in the rest of Europe. There are bikes, booze, and barbecues everywhere, a combination which is as joyful as it is potentially lethal. Hopped up cars, vans, trucks, bikes tour the streets, as the fans party through the night. Did I mention that you won't be getting much sleep if you stay downtown?
The crowds are a mixture of fans from all over South America, with flags of the entire continent proudly displayed by the fans. South America loves motorsports, and as one of the biggest motorsports events on the content, the Argentinian round of MotoGP gets a lot of love.
Non-racing reasons to go
Outside of the race, there are not a whole lot of reasons to visit Termas De Rio Hondo on its own. The scenery of the surrounding area is very pleasant, if not exactly spectacular. The city has thermal springs, and the Tara Inti nature reserve in the middle of the Dulce river, just south of the town.
But if you are going to spend so much money and invest so much time in getting to Termas De Rio Hondo, you may as well make the most of it. Several people who have been recommend combining it with a trip through some of the highlights of South America.
The obvious place to start is in Buenos Aires, the Argentinian capital. Though a little frayed around the edges, it is still one of the great cities of the continent, and filled with architecture of the colonial period. The historic city center is a beautiful and eclectic mixture of styles, imported by the French, Italian, and of course Spanish immigrants which came to the country in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
If the great outdoors is your thing, Argentina has a vast array of landscapes to offer. Obviously there are the Andes mountains to the west, with Aconcagua, the highest peak outside of the Himalayas. Or you can head south to the southern tip of the continent, and visit the Los Glaciares national park and see the glaciers calve into the bay, a spectacular if disturbing sight. Further south is Ushuaia and Tierra Del Fuego. You can see the ocean wildlife in Patagonia, the right whales and sea lions, albatrosses and penguins. Or you can head north and visit the Iguazu Falls, one of the most spectacular complexes of waterfalls on the planet, and the backdrop of many a Hollywood movie. There are plenty of opportunities to go hiking, mountain biking, and fishing, mountain resorts to spend a skiing holiday, and plenty of dirt trails to follow on an off road bike.
Reasons not to go
By now, the main reason not to go should be obvious: a trip to Termas De Rio Hondo to see the Argentinian round of MotoGP is an eye-wateringly expensive affair, if you are traveling from Europe, the US, or Australia. Travel and accommodation are very costly, and the locals like to engage in a healthy bout of price gouging. But then again, the point of hosting races at locations like this is to boost the local economy, and there is no doubt that they do this.
Travelers of a sensitive disposition and those who are expect everywhere to be picture postcard perfect would be well advised to stay away. Termas De Rio Hondo is, shall we say, a little rough around the edges. Packs of dogs roam the streets, goats, horses and other livestock use the roads among the traffic. Safety standards in the cheaper hotels are next to nonexistent, and they take a very different attitude to hygiene.
Though the food is very good, hygiene can become an issue. It is common for visitors to Termas to complain of what are often euphemistically referred to as "stomach bugs" picked up during their stay. And as previously noted, the meat-centric approach to food will not appeal to any vegetarians or vegans tempted to make the trip.
Despite the warmness of the people, crime and corruption is endemic in Argentina. Crime is a particular problem in Buenos Aires, especially if you get off the beaten track. Tourists are seen as an easy mark, and muggings and thefts from rental cars are common.
The corruption can be a bigger problem for visitors. The police can and will pull people over for no reason other than to secure a bribe. In 2016, police officers in Termas made the mistake of pulling Colin Edwards over, who posted about it on Twitter. That got the officers involved taken off the streets, but unless you are a former Grand Prix racer, you are unlikely to meet with the same luck.
Of course, it's not just the local police who are corrupt. Corruption is a way of life in Argentina, which has sadly suffered from a string of appalling governments, both military and democratic. Argentine politics is dominated by a form of corporatism which concentrates power in the hands of a small group of politicians and business leaders. This intermingling of business, financial, and political interests has turbocharged corruption in the country, and plunged it into one financial crisis after another.
Indeed, there were concerns that the first race would not take place due to the political turmoil in the country. The Argentinian government had expropriated oil company YPF from Repsol, and Honda was afraid the team equipment would be regarded as Repsol assets and seized if they entered the country. Fortunately, that situation was settled before the race took place.
The opinion in the paddock
The paddock is split on the Argentina race. Though almost everyone praises the atmosphere at the race, and regards the circuit layout as an example of what a MotoGP track is supposed to be, everyone hates the travel. The best case scenario is that the trip takes just under 24 hours. If anything goes wrong, it can take twice that. That is a bad way to start the weekend, and a worse way to finish it.
I have not been to Argentina, so my opinion is not worth much. The sole reason for not going is cost: I can afford to attend three European races for what one trip to Termas De Rio Hondo would cost me. But it is a race I would like to attend one day, just for the atmosphere.
Atmosphere: What's the atmosphere at the track and in nearby towns? (Higher is better)
Exoticness: How easy is it to understand local customs, culture, and cuisine, and navigate your way around? (Higher is more exotic)
Cost: How expensive is the overall cost of a trip? (Higher is more expensive)
Non-racing: How much does the region have to offer to people who aren't interested in racing? (Higher is more)
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