San Pedro de Atacama – Laguna Blanca – Licancabur – Laguna Colorada – Villamar – Alota – Ollague
A beautiful trip through the lagunas in southern Bolivia which is popular with cycle tourists and backpackers in jeeps alike. There are a number of routes which can be taken in this area of the Sur 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). A popular variation for cycling in this area 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.
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.
|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 ok ripio.|
|50km||Bolivian immigration. Water.|
|8km||Downhill on ok 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 on an improved surface. 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.|
|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 so pushing is required.|
|68km||Rejoin the main road which has gone round the east shore of Laguna Blanca.|
|14km||Climb to pass. Quite gentle and although it’s a bit sandy the surface is far better than what has come before.|
|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. Surface often sandy and corrugated, but all rideable.|
|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. Pretty good surface and easy gradients.|
|126km||Paso Sol de Mañana (4,944m – GPS06). Turn R at the signposted junction that is the pass.|
|20km||Descend to Laguna Colorada. Ok surface.|
|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||Road on E shore of Laguna Colorada. Surface is a bit sandy but all flat.|
|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 and the surface was ok. The roads rejoin again about 8kms before the mining camp, and the road was sandy with washboard from this point until the camp.|
|185km||Campamento Salar Capina. Possible to stay the night, get a basic meal and water.|
|9km||Skirt eastern edge of Salar Capina on a good surface. 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. Rocky surface.|
|201km||Paso Salar Capina – 4,660m (GPS07).|
|22km||Descend steeply down a pretty valley but on a bad surface. During this descent there is a stream to wade. The road then flattens out for the last 10kms to Villamar, but there is lots of sandy washboard. 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||Good surface. Flat with little climbing.|
|262km||Start of descent to Alota.|
|12km||Descend to Alota. Road sandy with washboard. 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 are on a surface as good as tarmac, then it becomes a bit bumpy.|
|303km||Paso Caquella (4,351m – GPS10).|
|50km||Small ups and downs for 32kms, surface ok. From ~4,150m begin 18km descent on good surface 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 6 guesthouses (many of which are occupied full time by miners), 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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|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.|
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