San Pedro de Atacama to Ollague

San Pedro de Atacama – Laguna Blanca – Licancabur – Laguna Colorada – Villamar – Alota – Ollague


A beautiful trip through the lagunas in southern Bolivia which is a very popular area with cycle tourists and backpackers in jeeps alike. There are a number of routes which can be taken in the Sud Lipez – the one we describe below goes round the west shore of Laguna Blanca (for access to Licancabur), goes northeast from Laguna Colorada to Villamar and Alota, then heads west from Alota to Ollague (for access to Aucanquilcha). The classic route for cyclists is to head north from Laguna Colorada, past Arbol de Piedra and from there north to Laguna Hedionda, San Juan and the Salar de Uyuni, but note that this is also the route almost all the jeeps take. Be prepared for lots of dust.

Like many of the routes described on this website, long sections are at high altitudes and the weather can be extremely cold and windy so ensure you have camping equipment and clothing of sufficient quality to cope with this. High season (May – October) sees plenty of tourist traffic on this route and in these months it is rare to go that long without seeing a jeep.

It’s best to stock up on all supplies before leaving San Pedro (or Ollague/Uyuni if coming from the north). While you can buy some very basic supplies the Bolivian villages on the way, don’t count on finding anything very exciting. The weight of food and the fact you need to carry a day or two of water at times makes for heavy bikes. Added to this, the road surfaces aren’t especially conducive to high speeds, so expect to travel slowly. Not such a bad thing when there are no end of spectacular views to enjoy.

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The long climb from San Pedro
Uphill towards Licancabur
Descending to Laguna Blanca
At Refugio Laguna Blanca
Clouds at Laguna Blanca
Laguna Blanca
The sandy road to Licancabur
Lagunas Verde and Blanca from high on Licancabur
Laguna Verde
Climbing to Paso del Condor
Descending from Paso del Condor
Climbing to Paso Sol de Mañana
Above Laguna Colorada
Llamas near Salar Capina
Wild camping above Salar Capina
View near Paso Salar Capina
Llama on the descent to Villamar
Valley on the descent to Villamar
Villamar
Church in Villa Alota
Volcan Ollague
Descending to Estacion Avaroa
Estacion Avaroa
Estacion Avaroa

Total dist. Stage dist. Description
0 km San Pedro de Atacama (2,440m). Tourist town with all facilities, but empty ATMs on Sundays. Do immigration formalities and get water before starting your climb.
45km Climb 2,270m to 4,665m on tarmac. Reasonable amount of traffic. No water.
45km Hito Cajon turn-off (4,665m – GPS01). Go left.
5km Downhill on ripio.
50km Bolivian immigration. Water.
8km Downhill on ripio for about 6kms to Eduardo Avaroa park office (150Bs entry) then further 2km to the refugio at Laguna Blanca.
58km Refugio Laguna Blanca (4,350m – GPS02). Accommodation, water, very basic supplies. From the refugio we went left (clockwise) round Laguna Blanca as we wanted to climb Licancabur. The main road goes right (anti-clockwise) round the lake and is in much the better condition of the two.
5km Sandy track to Laguna Verde. After 5kms get to a signposted junction (GPS03) – straight to Licancabur, R to Polques.
DETOUR TO LICANCABUR Go straight at junction GPS03. After about 4kms there are some shelters near Laguna Verde. Possible to hide bikes here, or if it’s not windy, continue on the tough track for a few more kilometers towards the volcano. Just above where the track ends, there are some Inca ruins which provide shelter from the wind and thus make a good base camp from which you can make a day excursion to climb Licancabur. Return to the junction at GPS03 to continue to Polques.
63km Junction GPS03.
5km From GPS03 junction, turn north and descend the sandy track for a kilometre to cross the stream between Lagunas Blanca and Verde. There are lots of tracks around, but head northeast and about 4kms from the stream crossing you hit the main ‘road’ again. Again it’s sandy.
68km Rejoin the main road which has gone round the east shore of Laguna Blanca.
14km Climb to pass.
82km Paso del Condor (4,735m – GPS04).
19km Descend, then flat to Polques, passing the Piedras de Dali which are to the right of the road.
101km Polques (4,390m – GPS05). Possible to stay the night, get food, water and very basic supplies. There are also hot thermals which you will get to yourself in the evening once the jeep tours depart.
25km Climb to pass.
126km Paso Sol de Mañana (4,944m – GPS06). Turn R at the signposted junction that is the pass.
20km Descend to Laguna Colorada.
146km Junction at south end of Laguna Colorada (~4,350m). R/straight to Park Office. (L to refugios and the road to Arbol de Piedra and Laguna Hedionda).
14km Flat road on E shore of Laguna Colorada.
160km Park Office – you’ll be asked to show your park ticket.
25km Climb 250m from Laguna Colorada, then descend before 15 flat kilometres to the Salar Capina mining camp. On the flat section the road splits into two and the two run parallel. We went on the left hand road. The roads rejoin again about 8kms before the mining camp.
185km Campamento Salar Capina. Possible to stay the night, get a basic meal and water.
9km Skirt eastern edge of Salar Capina. At a junction with a signpost (can’t recall what it said), go R (climbing) rather than sticking to the edge of the salar. After a very short climb, road descends to the edge of the Salar briefly before beginning the proper climb to the pass.
194km Begin proper climb to the pass.
7km Climb to pass. Initially steep but then flattens off.
201km Paso Salar Capina – 4,660m (GPS07).
22km Descend steeply down a pretty valley. During this descent there is a stream to wade. Go L at a junction 2km before Villamar.
223km Villamar (4,030m – GPS08). First proper village since San Pedro de Atacama. Basic shops, 3 hospedajes. For Alota, continue on the road through town.
39km Flat with little climbing.
262km Start of descent to Alota.
12km Descend to Alota. If you stick to the main road you have to wade the river before Alota. As you near Alota it may be better to ignore the desvio signs (they looked like they might stay there a while), follow the ‘closed’ road and cross the river on the foundations of a bridge. Join the main Avaroa to Uyuni road just west of Alota (and go R for the village).
274km Villa Alota (3,830m – GPS09). Nice village with plenty of accommodation options and some slightly less basic shops.
29km Leave town heading W on main road (go E for the main road to Uyuni). Climb to pass. The first 15kms were on a good surface as good as tarmac.
303km Paso Caquella (4,351m – GPS10).
50km Small ups and downs for 32kms. From ~4,150m begin 18km descent to Avaroa.
353km Estacion Avaroa, the Bolivian border post. It has a train station, immigration facilities and some old abandoned trains, but no shop or accommodation.
5km Head west and cross the border to Chile. All flat. Surface looked suspiciously like old tarmac on the Chilean side.
358km Ollague (3,710m). Village with guesthouses (Hostal Atahualpa and Hostal El Cuervo offer beds for around 10000pesos per night) which offer meals, 2 free internet places, and a couple of shops in which you will find a better selection of goods than anywhere since leaving San Pedro. Still not much fresh fruit or veg around though.

 

Details
Time taken – 7 days and amount climbed 5,310m 8 hours: San Pedro – Laguna Blanca (2,300m climb).
8 hours: Laguna Blanca – Laguna Verde (for Licancabur) – Polques (600m climb).
7 hours: Polques – Laguna Colorada (N end) (740m climb).
7 hours: Laguna Colorada – Villamar (610m climb).
4 hours: Villamar – Alota (210m climb).
8 hours: Alota – Ollague (850m climb).
Traffic Plenty on paved road to turn-off to Hito Cajon.
Tourist jeeps (very dusty) when on main ‘road’ from Laguna Blanca to Villamar, though only at certain hours of the day.
Nothing from Villamar to Alota.
Some lorries from Alota to Avaroa.
When we cycled Late June 2010.
Difficulty 4
How much we had to push on this route None on the main route. A lot on the detour round Laguna Blanca to climb Licancabur.

GPS Point Description Lat/Long/Altitude
GPS01 Hito Cajon turn-off 22.9170 S, 67.7966 W, 4,665m.
GPS02 Refugio Laguna Blanca 22.8220 S, 67.7837 W, 4,350m.
GPS03 Junction 22.7995 S, 67.8186 W, 4,350m.
GPS04 Paso del Condor 22.6679 S, 67.7548 W, 4,735m.
GPS05 Polques 22.5358 S, 67.6498 W, 4,390m.
GPS06 Paso Sol de Mañana 22.4254 S, 67.7879 W, 4,944m.
GPS07 Paso Salar Capina 21.8970 S, 67.5422 W, 4,660m.
GPS08 Villamar 21.7561 S, 67.4813 W, 4,030m.
GPS09 Villa Alota 21.4030 S, 67.5987 W, 3,830m.
GPS10 Paso Caquella 21.4455 S, 67.8438 W, 4,351m.



View San Pedro de Atacama – Ollagüe in a larger map
Nearby routes:            Ollague to Uyuni                 Salar de Uyuni & Salar de Coipasa                 Paso Jama                 Paso Sico

9 Responses to “San Pedro de Atacama to Ollague”

  1. Steve Fabes 22/05/2012 at 14:07 # Reply

    I cycled this route in May 2012. The only thing I would add is that the road surface between Villamar and Alota is no longer in good condition but was very sandy. I had to push for around two kilometres on this stretch. This may be because of the particularly heavy rain in the wet season of that year (even by early May most of the Salar de Uyuni was still underwater). Stunning scenery but be prepared for some seriously chilly conditions and gale force wind!

    Here’s a blog post describing this section of my journey – http://cyclingthe6.blogspot.com/2012/05/fear-and-loathing-on-altiplano.html

    Steve – cycling the 6

  2. Eric 11/09/2012 at 01:39 # Reply

    I know it is not exactly the same route, but I posted some update about Ruta de las Lagunas on

    http://www.tour.tk/tour-guides-south-west-bolivia.htm

    We also posted some comments about climbing Licancabur :

    http://pikesonhikes.blogspot.com/2010/07/volcan-licancabur-potosi-region-bolivia.html?showComment=1347327457357#c5207447143420645681

    Thank you for these really good website !

  3. Tihomir 02/06/2013 at 19:49 # Reply

    I cycled from the border to San Juan through Villamar, Alota and San Agustin in early May 2013. Here are some notes:
    – I took my bike on one of the transfers to the border from San Pedro de Atacama for the popular Lipez+Salar tours. The cheapest I found was 6000 CLP for the transfer (they also invited me for breakfast with them at the border). That saved me a long, tiring and kind of boring climb from San Pedro.
    – At Laguna Blanca (the entrance to the national park) there is a refugio that charges 50 bs, I camped behind it for free. They had the usual soup+spaghetti dinner for 25 bs. Fill your water bottles in the evening – in the morning the water in the tap is frozen as is the water in your bottles unless you cuddle with it.
    – At Polques the hot pool is amazing, especially at sunrise. Tourists flock between 7 and 9 am. The building across the road from the pool apparently serves food and can let you sleep on the floor. The building that is a bit further is an hospedaje that charges 30 bs for a bed, very nice people.
    – Close to Piedras de Dali there is a parallel road that passes closer to the rocks. This is very sandy.
    – Near the top of Sol de Manana there is a road that goes down to the geysir field. It is a kind of steep. A little bit further, to the left of the main road there is a hot pool with sulphur, boiling mud and all the other extras.
    – Before the top of Sol de Manana, where the road turns right, there is a shortcut, which is however very bumpy and sandy. It might be better to continue on the main road.
    – The refugios at Laguna Colorada are some 12 km to the west of the junction where the road splits after the descent. There is a canyon right at the junction which is perfect for camping. There were a lot of flamingos on the eastern shore of the lake and the light was perfect in the morning for pictures. At the park ranger office at the northeastern end of Laguna Colorada there is a small tienda that sells water and biscuits.
    – The miners at Salar Capina were very friendly and gave me a room, meals and water for 30 bs.
    – The road from Capina to Villamar is in very bad condition.
    – Some 15 km after Villamar there is a small canyon good for camping. Also, further, before the drop to Alota it could be nice to camp at the rock formations.
    – The river before Alota does not need to be waded, there is a “bridge” made of stones a hundred meters to the west.
    – If going to San Agustin from Alota, exit Alota on the main road going west and turn right a bit after a bridge (1 km from Alota).
    – The road from Alota to San Agustin is very beautiful although in bad condition. There were a few vehicles, some abandoned farms and many llamas. At the top of the climb there is a turnoff to a lagoon and condor nests, 6 km away. I did not go but it sounds like a nice place for picnic/camping.
    – San Agustin is a friendly village with shops and an internet place (if they have electricity).
    – From San Agustin on there is a lot of sand, but then the road gets much better.
    – in San Juan you can find bread in the afternoon around 4 pm. It gets sold out quickly. The lady who bakes it does not hear very well so knock hard on her door. Ask around for where her house is. Otherwise, one of the salt hotels there, Cabanas de sal, at the western end of the village, is absolutely amazing and very affordable. And doña Silvia has a soft spot for cyclists. The dinner and breakfast are very good and reasonably priced. All cheap hospedajes in San Juan were locked when I got there around 5 pm – the owners are often working in the field, so it is best to wait a bit until 5.30-6 (sunset).

    Generally I thought this route was logistically a lot easier than for example the Carretera Austral. In theory (only in theory!) one could even do this without a tent and there was no need to carry water for more than one day. There are many tour jeeps. Sometimes they pass only at certain times of the day. Between Alota and San Juan there were no tour jeeps, but some friendly locals in pickup trucks or on motorbikes passed me by. Africamericabike.com have a good description of this route as well.
    There was Entel coverage only around San Agustin.

  4. Marie et Sylvère 06/04/2015 at 17:14 # Reply

    Hi,

    We cycled from Chile to Uyuni (so in a northward direction) at the end of March / beginning of April 2015, and we wrote an update of the guide of tour.tk.

    If you are interested, you can download it by clicking on the link below :
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B8m1odylzgc8YVpZNksweXJBWTQ/view?usp=sharing

    Thanks for this amazing site, and good rides !

  5. Antonie 30/11/2015 at 23:53 # Reply

    I took a somewhat different route through the lagunas, going Villa Alota-Villamar-Quetena Chico-Laguna Colorada-Polques-Laguna Verde.

    Some information about the roads connecting to Quetena Chico (distances and elevations approximate):

    Villa Mar – Quetena Chico 85km
    Time taken: 9 hours
    Pushing: none, road condition similar to Villa Alota-Villamar
    Traffic: some between Villa Mar and Soniquera.
    1 car/hour between Soniquera and Quetena Chico

    0km Villamar. Go south, go straight after 2 km (R leads to Salar Capina). Flat until Soniquera.
    25km Soniquera. Village with 2 basic shops next to church. If you don’t need anything, take a sharp right just before descending into Soniquera. Climb steeply uphill for a kilometer.
    27km at junction upon arrival at highland plateau go R. Follow road until Estacion Sol de Manana.
    40-50km road descends and ascends through several quebrada’s and rock formations. Possible to get water and camp.
    50km start of long steady climb.
    60km top (4700m?)
    70km Estacion Sol de Manana. Entry National Park. Merge with ‘other’ AndesByBike route. Go R. (L goes to San Pablo de Lipez)
    85km Quetena Chico. Possible to buy luxury items such as bread and canned apricots. Hostal Condor (30 Bs) allows use of kitchen and washing of clothes.

    Quetena Chico-Laguna Colorada (50km)
    Time taken: 6 hours
    Pushing: none, some bad sections but always cycleable
    Cars: 3 in 6 hours
    General advice for this route is to take water (no resupply possibilities) and leave as early as possible to avoid the in-your-face headwind you will encounter at 4800m.

    0km: climb steeply uphill out of Quetena Chico. Road keeps climbing for 30k.
    5km: several abandoned houses
    15km: cycle through rock formations. Last possibility for shelter.
    30km: top (4800m?). Road keeps going up and down for another 10k.
    40km: crossing with another, clearly often used, track. Go straight and descend. Views of Laguna Colorada.
    50km: puesto de control at Laguna Colorada. Merge with ABB route. Left (south) goes to Sol de Manana, Polques and Laguna Verde. Right (north) goes to Villa Mar. Straight goes to Refugios Laguna Colorada (but access is prohibited since this is a breeding ground for the flamingos)

    Also note it’s no longer allowed to climb volcanoes without a ‘guia’. This costs 300 Bs. It’s not really an issue for Uturuncu, but at Licancabur the ‘guardaparque’ sometimes inspects the Inca Ruins just before darkness.

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