Sabaya to Sajama

Sabaya – Tunapa – Negrillos – Julo – Macaya – Chachacomani – Sajama – Tomarapi – Paved Highway


A nice and rarely cycled route through western Oruro province, connecting the Salar de Coipasa to Sajama National Park. The road is often in quite bad condition with sand and corrugations, but if you stick to the main road it is easy enough to follow and very rarely bad enough that pushing is required. There is scarcely any traffic on this route, but plenty of villages, so you don’t need to carry much water. The road goes through all the villages mentioned above, but not through Sacobaya or Khotasi as shown on some of our maps. Going south to north as we did you are always heading for the big volcanoes in Sajama National Park. The area around Macaya with its lake and chullpas is especially scenic.

Leaving Sabaya we headed anticlockwise around Cerro Pumari – the volcano to the north of town – to get to the village of Cruz de Huayllas. With hindsight it is probably better to go clockwise round the volcano – the two routes meet up at a junction (GPS01 in the description). If anyone cycles this clockwise route please let us know what it’s like.

Between Chachacomani and Tambo Quemado it is possible to do a side trip up the mine road on Acotango, to climb this 6,059m volcano.

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Sandy track to Cruz de Huayllas
Heading for Cruz de Huayllas
Going the wrong way to Cruz de Huayllas
Following llamas to a marsh
Don't go this way
Julo
Cruzani
Lago Macaya
Lago Macaya
Macaya
The road to Sajama
Sports pitch in Mogachi
Main turn-off to Sajama
The plaza in Sajama
Sajama
The short climb from Sajama to Tomarapi
Tomarapi church and Sajama
Alpacas and Sajama
Turn-off to Tomarapi from the main highway

Total dist. Stage dist. Description
0km Sabaya (3,700m). Town with accommodation, restaurants, shops, but no internet.
7km (This describes the route going anticlockwise round Cerro Pumari – it is probably better to go clockwise to get to the junction at GPS01.) Take the main road to the east end of Sabaya. At the police barrier go L and join the road that skirts Cerro Pumari (the mountain to the north of Sabaya) and passes between the football pitch and the mountain. Road carries on round the mountain and after 7 kms you reach the top of a short climb and your first views of Sajama, Pomerape, Parinacota and Acotango.
7km Top of short climb.
11km Continue on track, passing a few small villages. Plenty of washboard. After 5kms stay on the main track which becomes sandy and climbs a few metres – don’t go R on a smaller track (we got lost on this for half a day). In about 6kms you get to another junction.
18km Junction (GPS01). Routes round Cerro Pumari meet. Go northwest on this track in the direction of Cruz de Huayllas.
4km Washboard to the Rio Sabaya crossing.
22km Rio Sabaya crossing (GPS02). A bridge is under construction here, but in the meantime you have to ford it. Could be tricky to cross if the river is icy or there has been recent rain.
2km Washboard to Cruz de Huayllas.
24km Cruz de Huayllas (GPS03). Small village where you can get water, but we saw no shops on the main street.
3km Ok surface to junction.
27km Junction (GPS04). The main road goes L, through 2 small villages on the way to Tunapa. Go this way. We went R/straight, which was a mistake.
6km Very sandy ‘shortcut’. The 6kms took an hour and a half of mostly pushing.
33km Rejoined main road.
3km Corrugated surface to Tunapa.
36km Tunapa (GPS05). Village looked inhabited, but there was no one there when we camped.at GPS05, next to a house with a water tap.
11km Plenty of washboard.
47km Negrillos (GPS06). Large village, possible to get water. We didn’t investigate but it looked big enough to have a shop. Turn R and leave the village heading in an easterly direction.
5km Climb for 3.5km to 3,920m, then descend 1.5km to Tunari.
52km Tunari (GPS07). Small but inhabited village. Possible to get water. Leave the village heading north.
6km Plenty of washboard to Khea Kheani.
58km Khea Kheani (GPS08). Small but inhabited village. Pass through, sticking to main road.
17km Stay on main road which heads just north of west. Road climbs steadily.
75km Highest point (3,990m) on road until after Macaya.
13km Continue heading west, ignoring the small tracks heading off R (north). Head for the mast in Julo which can be seen a long time before you get to it.
88km Julo (GPS09). This and Negrillos are the biggest villages until you hit the main highway at Tambo Quemado. Water available and there’s a small shop. Leave the village heading north (if you went any further west you’d be in Chile).
5kms Road becomes a bit sandy.
93km Houses. No people around.
4km Cycle on the edge of a salar.
97km Cruzani (GPS10). Cross a small stream just before arriving at these few houses. No one around when we camped here – lots of bits of old bikes though.
8km Continue heading north from Cruzani. After just under a kilometre get to a junction and stay L on the main road. Arrive at some houses 4 km from Cruzani. There are a number of junctions, but most are signposted (follow signs for Macaya, not Sacobaya) and it is reasonably obvious which is the track to follow. 7 km from Cruzani turn R at a junction and in 0.5 km reach the Rio Lauca. Surface from Cruzani to Rio Lauca is sandy in places, but always rideable.
105km Rio Lauca (GPS11). This is the biggest river to cross on this route. Difficult to cross early on winter mornings when big slabs of ice are flowing downstream. The river is about 25m wide at the ford and deep enough to require the hanging of low-riding front panniers from handlebars.
8km 1 km after river, get to a junction (GPS12). Turn R and go round the north shore of pretty Lago Macaya (flamingos when we passed) to arrive at the village of Macaya.
113km Macaya village (GPS13). Small village, but is the centre for the nascent Circuito Ecoturistico Rio Lauca (ecoturismo_riolauca@bolivia.com). Information centre by the army base/road barrier at the north end of town. Guides can be hired to go to the stunning Pukara and Wila Chullpas (which are signposted off the main road before you get to Macaya). Leave Macaya on the main road which runs past the info centre and army base.
9km Climb to junction at 4,000m. Climb is gentle but surface is sandy with washboard. A bit of pushing required.
122km Junction at 4,000m (GPS14). Turn R (downhill) for the main road to Mogachi, or carry straight on for the direct road to Chachacomani. We went R, but this was a longer route and the road was bad. Not sure if the direct, smaller, road is worth gambling on.
5km Descend to Mogachi on a bad road. Cross a river just before town.
127km Mogachi (GPS15). Medium-sized, inhabited village. Head through the village and just after crossing the stream at the end of the village turn L (north) to begin climbing to Chachacomani.
12km Climb to Chachacomani.
139km Chachacomani. Large village with 2 basic shops but no accommodation. Continue heading north out of town.
1km Descend to a junction.
140km Junction (GPS16). We went L to Tambo Quemado. Go R for Turco, straight on for a road signposted to Lagunas.
3km Climb gently to the Abra de Chachacomani. (If heading for Acotango, see the ‘Side trip to Acotango’ tab. Coming from the signposted junction at GPS16, the turn-off is after 0.8kms at GPS26. If coming from Tambo Quemado, the turn-off is at GPS25, 1km south of the Abra de Chachacomani).
143km Abra de Chachacomani (4,365m – GPS17).
8km Descend 100m, then climb back 50m to reach main paved Tambo Quemado – Patacamaya highway.
151km Junction with paved highway (GPS18). The village of Tambo Quemado is 1km away uphill. Go R and descend to Lagunas and the main turn off to Sajama.
11km Descend to Rio Sajama, then climb to Lagunas 9 kms from where you join the paving. In 2 further kms arrive at the signposted junction to Sajama. Turn L. (Later, however we tried cycling to Sajama from the much smaller track that heads off the highway from (GPS19) 0.5kms east of the bridge over the Rio Sajama, near an army post. This was a much better way to get to Sajama, with less sand.)
162km Main junction to Sajama (GPS20).
11km Sandy road to Sajama.
173km Sajama village (GPS21). Village with pretty church and some tourist facilities. Many accommodation options, a couple of restaurants, shops and a new internet cafe. Possible to rent mountaineering kit and hire guides to climb Acotango, Parinacota, Pomerape and Sajama.
9km Leave Sajama heading north east. After 3.5 km come to a junction for Termales Manasaya (L), but carry on straight for Tomarapi. Arrive at another junction.
182km Junction. Carry on straight for Tomarapi.
6km 2 km from junction reach Laguna Huayñacota (dry when we passed), then 4 km more of climbing to Alto Tomarapi.
188km Alto Tomarapi (4,398m – GPS22).
4km Descend.
192km Tomarapi (GPS23). Small village with lovely old church, and a nice but very expensive Albergue to stay in.
Leaving Tomarapi you can take the main track which initially heads east (and is the shortest way back to the paved highway), or carry on heading north-east to go through Ojsani before rejoining the paved highway. We took the shorter route and headed east.
21km Descend for 5 km to houses at 4,200m. before climbing for 2 km. Then mostly descent to the main paved highway.
213km Reach main road (GPS24). If heading towards Tambo Quemado, this (signposted) junction is at KM145.
From KM145 it is 89 km to the turn off to Curahuara de Carangas (town 5 km south of the main highway with accommodation options), a further 40 km to the bridge over the Rio Desaguadero, and then 57 km more to the hole of a junction town that is Patacamaya (plenty of cheap accommodation and pollo al spiedo).
Details
Time taken – 4 days and amount climbed 1,800m 3 hours: Sabaya – Tunapa (280m climb).
6 hours: Tunapa – Cruzani (450m climb).
6 hours: Cruzani – Chachacomani (500m climb).
4 hours: Chachacomani – Tambo Quemado – Sajama (370m climb).
3 hours: Sajama – Tomarapi – Junction with paved highway (200m climb).
Traffic 8 vehicles in 3 days from Sabaya to Chachacomani. Some tourist jeeps on the sandy road to Sajama. 1 vehicle (an ambulance!) from Sajama to paved highway.
When we cycled Mid July 2010.
Difficulty 3
How much we had to push on this route It would be < 1km if the route suggestions above are followed.

GPS Point Description Lat/Long/Altitude
GPS01 Junction where routes meet 18.9981 S, 68.4792 W, 3,750m.
GPS02 Rio Sabaya crossing 18.9829 S, 68.5111 W, 3,750m.
GPS03 Cruz de Huayllas 18.9666 S, 68.5198 W, 3,750m.
GPS04 Junction 18.9409 S, 68.5219 W, 3,740m.
GPS05 Tunapa 18.8659 S, 68.5215 W, 3,770m.
GPS06 Negrillos 18.8271 S, 68.6115 W, 3,840m.
GPS07 Tunari 18.7905 S, 68.6105 W, 3,860m.
GPS08 Khea Kheani 18.7413 S, 68.6358 W, 3,860m.
GPS09 Julo 18.7005 S, 68.8908 W, 3,920m.
GPS10 Cruzani 18.6365 S, 68.9235 W, 3,870m.
GPS11 Rio Lauca 18.5935 S, 68.9703 W, 3,890m.
GPS12 Junction (go R) 18.5850 S, 68.9724 W, 3,900m.
GPS13 Macaya 18.5377 S, 68.9463 W, 3,880m.
GPS14 Junction at 4,000m 18.4697 S, 68.9133 W, 4,000m.
GPS15 Mogachi 18.4313 S, 68.8886 W, 3,960m.
GPS16 Junction (go L) 18.3500 S, 68.9459 W, 4,240m.
GPS17 Abra de Chachacomani 18.3254 S, 68.9554 W, 4,365m.
GPS18 Junction with paved highway 18.2733 S, 68.9979 W, 4,320m.
GPS19 Junction to Sajama (smaller road, better surface) 18.2208 S, 68.9437 W, 4,150m.
GPS20 Junction to Sajama (main, sandy road) 18.2144 S, 68.9167 W, 4,180m.
GPS21 Sajama 18.1365 S, 68.9746 W, 4,250m.
GPS22 Alto Tomarapi 18.0355 S, 68.9015 W, 4,398m.
GPS23 Tomarapi 18.0240 S, 68.8696 W, 4,280m.
GPS24 Junction with paved highway 18.0961 S, 68.7430 W, 4,030m.



View Sabaya – Sajama in a larger map

Introduction
This side trip from the Chachacomani – Tambo Quemado road heads off up the steep mine road on Acotango. The route is used by 4x4s up to 4,900m as the sulphur mine on the mountain is due to be reopened and work is being carried out to erect some buildings at this height.

The road becomes steep above 4,800m but the surface is in ok condition to 5,250m, above which it deteriorates. Strong cyclists might be able to ride most of the time to nearly 5,500m, and though the road continues a bit higher it is unrideable above this altitude. If you want to climb the volcano it makes more sense to stop and make a base camp at around 5,100m then hike up to the 6,059m summit from there.

When we were on the mountain there was no snow below 5,500m so we had to take all water with us from Chachacomani. There are 2 very basic (of the crackers and biscuit variety) shops in Chachacomani, so if you can it is best to bring supplies from better stocked villages like Sajama or Tambo Quemado.

Route Description

Total dist. Stage dist. Description
0km Turn-off to Acotango (GPS25) from the Chachacomani to Tambo Quemado road. Only turn off here (turn R 1km south of the Abra de Chachacomani) – if coming from TQ. (If coming from the other direction, it is possible to take the turn-off at (GPS26), 0.8km from the junction (GPS16) below Chachacomani. The two tracks meet after a few kms.)
10.6km From GPS25 climb not too steeply for 9kms. Here the road leaves a riverbed at 4,800m and the climb becomes much steeper.
10.6km Junction (4,900m – GPS27). Go R. Straight goes to new mine buildings.
6.4km Road continues steeply. Best to make base camp for climbing the mountain after about 2 kms. Vehicle tracks continue a couple of kms further to 5,250m. Above this the road is much worse, but continues for about 3kms to over 5,500m.
17km Our high point (5,500m – GPS28), slightly above the point at which the road becomes unrideable.
Details
Time taken 4 hours: Turn-off to Acotango – High Point at 5,500m (1,200m climb).
Traffic Some mine vehicles up to the mine buildings at 4,900m. Nothing above this.
When we cycled Late August 2010.
Difficulty 5
How much we had to push on this route 6kms (sand, steep)

GPS Points

GPS Point Description Lat/Long/Altitude
GPS25 Turn-off to Acotango (if coming from TQ) 18.3340 S, 68.9544 W, 4,330m.
GPS26 Alternative turn-off (if coming from Chachacomani) 18.3443 S, 68.9507 W, 4,280m.
GPS27 Junction (go R) 18.3632 S, 69.0157 W, 4,900m.
GPS28 High point 18.3648 S, 69.0465 W, 5,509m.

Nearby routes:        Salar de Uyuni & Salar de Coipasa                 Chachacomani to Panduro                 La Paz to Sajama

8 Responses to “Sabaya to Sajama”

  1. Eric 26/08/2012 at 20:08 # Reply

    When we cycled : mid-august 2012
    We went from Tambo Quemado (4300m) to Sabaya (3700m) (North to South), it took us 3 days (about 15 hours cycling)
    Over the 3 days, wind changed every day, even if mostly tail wind. But it grew strong in the afternoon until late in the evenings. Better to find a windbreak before setting up the tent
    Everytime we asked or looked for water, we could get it from a tap and it was drinkable, we did not even filter it and it was fine
    We saw at least 20 vehicles, including 4 tourist jeeps near Macaya.
    Overall we probably had to push about 2 km, but most of the washboard and sand can be avoided with side tracks.
    There was nothing really fancy to buy on the way, not even chocolate galletas, only salted or sweet plain crackers

    Near Mogachi (or Nogachi) : we took the shortcut and it was a bit sandy, requiring a bit of pushing. We cycled this part downhill with tailwind so it is probably much harder in the other direction

    Near Macaya : there was only militaries there, no other people and they told us that there was no road going around the nothern shore of the lake. We invistigate a little and could find nothing. We had to go around the southern shore, following the signs of the touristic route, leading to several chullpas sites. We got lost a little and the best option seems to keep following the signs leading to a Mirador Calanguilla, until you see a sign indicating the mirador 1 km to the right and Julo 8 km to the left

    Near Tunapa : 3km after this (empty) pueblo, we saw no short cut. We tried one 100m after the last house. It looked like a good track leading straight towards Sabaya, some 25km away, but the first 2km were really sandy so we went back to the main road going to Cruz de Huayllas.

    Near Cruz de Huayllas : we turned right, leaving the main track on our left. It leads to another small empty pueblo, and the track goes on to the main road Pisiga – Sabaya, with a bit of pushing required (sand).

    Sabaya : only 2 restaurants serving only almuerzo when we were there, still no internet and we had to ask 5 tiendas to get what we needed (the hardest was to get sugar in less than 5kg packages). We could find vegetables and bread. Nothing really exciting though ; we finally postponed our rest day to Llica, thinking there would be more to buy …

  2. Eric 26/08/2012 at 20:14 # Reply

    By the way : even if we saw none acording to the locals at least 6 more cyclists were on this track the same week as us. We followed a pair of Marathon XR for 3 days but could not catch up with them ! 🙂

  3. Tihomir 02/06/2013 at 19:47 # Reply

    I cycled from Sabaya to Sajama in late May 2013.
    – From Sabaya it might really be better to go clockwise. I went anticlockwise, following some local advice. Later I found out that what they meant was that there is a direct road that goes to Tunapa and bypasses Cruz de Huayllas. I misunderstood so I went the same route as you. Later some other locals were swearing that the direct route is fine and the river crossing is easy. That is still to be confirmed.
    – The sandy uphill that you skipped when you got lost was very very sandy. In fact, it is better to take the right turn where you got lost, but stay on tracks as close to the mountain as possible. In one km or so, these tracks lead back to the main road.
    – The bridge on the Sabaya river before Cruz de Huayllas has been completed. No need to ford there.
    – Negrillos has two shops and a health centre.
    – The very top of the climb between Khea Kheani and Julo can be avoided by a side track that goes around the hill. That was quite sandy but still rideable, yet it might be easier to just do the climb.
    – In Julo there is slow internet. The señora at one of the tiendas can help you find alojamiento and pan to buy. She will also cook for you.
    – After Cruzani the road was a bit different than in your description. Before reaching the houses at 4 km after Cruzani (I could see the houses) I had to ford a stream (not too big but deep enough to take some time) and then the road passed some newly renovated chullpas that were very nice. All the time I was following what was an obviously “main” road. Some km after the chullpas I did a right turn and then a left turn at a crossroad that was signposted. I took the road that was not to Sacobaya and arrived at the river wading point.
    – After Macaya I took the shortcut to Chachacomani. The surface was actually surprisingly good. I had to push for no more than 50 meters in total. The rest was alright. The real climbing starts about 2/3 into the shortcut road after a fresh water spring at some llama farms (good place for camping). Then I joined the main road and the climb continued to Chachacomani for another 5 km or so.
    – In Chachacomani I was accommodated at the shopkeeper’s house. He also serves dinner to the miners.
    – At Tambo Quemado it is not possible to extend your Bolivian visa (unless you exit to Chile and enter again).
    – The shortcut from the main paved road to the Sajama village is great. There is a small stream on the way, but look for the small improvised bridge.
    – At Tomarapi you turn right to go around the volcano and keep straight to go to Ojsani.
    – There are nice rock formations where the road from Ojsani meets the paved highway.
    – On the paved highway, on the way to La Paz there are a few small villages, some roadside shops and restaurants. In Calamarca it is possible to stay with Don Willi and Doña Eli, one block down and south from the church. They have hosted a few cyclists already. Africamericabike.com have a description of this route.
    – There was Enter coverage almost everywhere on this route.

  4. paul g 01/01/2015 at 19:12 # Reply

    Ridden north to south about a week ago in two days, overnighting in julo (possibly the worlds most depressing village…)

    Couple of notes:

    I took the shortcut south of Chachacomani and it was great, all rideable. For waypoint lovers (and I’m including myself here), going south you take a right at the junction at -18.3789, -68.2909, then shortly after bear right at the following junction at -18.4006, -68.1226.

    At GPS01I left the main track and went round the west side of Cerro Pumari (ie the opposite of the route described). Great route, one of my favourite sections and evidently little used by traffic. Mostly sandy, but never deep and all rideable with my set up (which, admittedly, is more badass than most). Lots of washboard for the 4km or so before linking up with the main paved road, but still definitely recommended.

    Overall another great route by the pikes, cheers guys!

  5. Fatcycling Dan and Gina 01/11/2015 at 19:38 # Reply

    Rode it south on fatbikes at the end of October 2015

    3 days from Oruro to Tomarapi, took an old now unused dirt road, merging off the highway earlier than the Pikes route. We expected to be charged 35 Bolivianos but the guard asked for 100 each. Considering only around 40k in the park followed we didn’t pay and took another route (which the Pikes entered the park on) out the next morning.
    Two days from there to Sabaya. From Kheakheani there’s a track that goes left off the main road, goes directly to Nekhechiripampa, bypassing Negrios. Then carries on directly to Sabaya making it a shorter trip.
    Sabaya: Two to three hotels charging 30-50pp. Internet at the government by the plaza.

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