Uyuni to Sabaya

Uyuni – Isla Incahuasi – Llica – Coipasa – Sabaya


An at times surreal trip across Bolivia’s two biggest salars – Uyuni and Coipasa. The larger Salar de Uyuni is great fun to cycle on, but from Colchani to Isla Incahuasi you’ll often have to share it with tourist jeeps. Crossing the Salar de Coipasa was a magical and unforgettable experience – we saw no-one and nothing except sparkly salt for the afternoon it took us to cross to Coipasa island.

Make sure you clean your bike well after crossing the salars. The Salar de Coipasa especially will leave a salt deposit on your bike. Also ensure you wear sunglasses and sun cream – otherwise the strong altiplano sun and reflection off the salars will fry you. If you plan on camping on either salar note that there is absolutely no protection from the wind and also that the salt is very hard so it’s difficult to get tent pegs into it.

It’s also a good idea to check with local people on the current state of each of the salars. In wet season parts become inundated and difficult to cycle on – and the dates this occurs can vary quite a bit year on year.

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Heading into a gale on the Salar de Uyuni
Storm on the Salar de Uyuni
Flags at the Hotel de Sal
Salar de Uyuni
Salar de Uyuni
Salar de Uyuni
Isla Incahuasi
Volcan Tunupa from Isla Incahuasi
Salar de Uyuni
Salar de Uyuni
Llica church
Challacollo
North of Challacollo
The edge of the Salar de Coipasa
Salar de Coipasa
Isla de Coipasa
Llamas near Sabaya

Total dist. Stage dist. Description
0km Uyuni (3,650m – GPS01). Tourist town with all facilities, including ATM.
23km Take the main road north out of Uyuni, passing the petrol station.
23km Colchani (GPS02). Town with small shops, some pensiones to have lunch at and 2 hospedajes. Turn L (west) in Colchani at the signposted junction to get to the Salar de Uyuni.
5km Once paved road to the salar.
28km Reach the edge of the Salar de Uyuni.
8km Jeep track to the Hotel de Sal.
36km Hotel de Sal (GPS03). Water, expensive snacks, meals and accommodation available.
62km Good surface to Isla Incahuasi. Take the R of the 2 tracks that leave the Hotel de Sal towards the island, as this is the most direct route.
98km Isla Incahuasi (GPS04). All the tourists in Bolivia seemed to be there on the W side of the island when we arrived, but they soon left to allow us to enjoy sunset to ourselves. Water and meals are available. Alfredo (the island’s first resident) will let you stay in his ‘cave’ for a fee but you can camp on the island away from the buildings for free. 15Bs entrance fee to go onto the island (a guardaparque cycles round the island to check no-one is trying to sneak on!). For Llica take main track radiating northwest from the island.
22km Head towards Llica.
120km Alongside Isla del Pescado, which is a few kilometres to the south.
50km Continue across the Salar.
170km Exit Salar de Uyuni at (GPS05). Continue taking shortcuts across the Salar though as this is quicker than taking the road round the shore.
9km After 5 kms of shortcuts across the Salar join the road for 4 kms to Llica.
179km Llica (GPS06). Large village with accommodation, a number of restaurants, shops and decent internet. A brass band marched round the street playing the same tune continuously for the 2 days we stayed.
6km Leave Llica heading north.
185km Junction (GPS07). Signposted. Head R towards Tres Cruces.
5km Sandy surface.
190km Challacollo (GPS08). Small village with a nice church. Didn’t see any shops or inhabitants, but it looked lived in so probably possible to get water.
6km Continue heading NE.
196km Crossroads (GPS09). Go straight. R heads to a small (abandoned?) village.
5km Good surface on main ‘road’.
201km Junction (GPS10). We went R (very small climb) and this took us to Villa Victoria, where there was a family and we could obtain water. Unless you need water, better to go L at the junction.
2km Sandy surface to Villa Victoria (1.3km from junction). 0.7 km back to the main road.
203km Rejoin main ‘road’.
21km Continue heading E on a track. There were many tracks heading L (north) onto the Salar de Coipasa, but we ignored these, thinking the Salar might be spongy here, and carried on to join the Salar at a ramp. This is a few kms past the village of Tres Cruces (the track we were on did not go to the village, but passed a few kms to the N of it) near the only tree we saw all day. If the salt at the edge of the salar is solid it may well be easiest just to head onto the Salar at the earliest opportunity.
224km Ramp onto Salar de Coipasa (GPS11).
39km Magical cycle on the Salar de Coipasa. No traffic, tracks or rubbish. Nothing but whiteness and sparkly salt. First few hundred metres on the Salar were a bit spongy, but after the surface was good (though not as hard as the Salar de Uyuni, so our bikes got a lot of salt on them). Head for the right hand side of Coipasa island, where there is a small hill.
263km Leave Salar at (GPS12) and go onto Isla de Coipasa.
3km Good track to Coipasa village.
266km Coipasa village (GPS13). Accommodation, water, basic supplies. No restaurant.
19km Leave Coipasa on track heading NW. 4kms until track re-enters the salar (GPS14). Head north-ish across the salt, straight for the shore. After 9kms we hit a dirt track and 5kms later reached land (GPS15). 1km later this track meets a larger road at the small settlement of Buen Retiro.
285km Buen Retiro. Small settlement. Join main road and go R.
8km Pass 2 small villages on the way to the next junction.
293km Junction (GPS16). Main road goes L, but we took a good short cut and went R, heading straight for Sabaya.
7km Good surface to Sabaya.
300km Sabaya (GPS17). Large village with accommodation, plenty of restaurants and shops, but no internet.
Details
Time taken – 4 days and amount climbed – a massive 430m 7 hours: Uyuni – Isla Incahuasi.
6 hours: Isla Incahuasi – Llica (headwind).
8 hours: Llica – Coipasa (headwind).
3 hours: Coipasa – Sabaya.
Traffic Some from Uyuni to Colchani. Plenty of tourist jeeps from Colchani to Isla Incahuasi. Nothing from Isla Incahuasi to near Llica. A few vehicles around Llica, then nothing to Coipasa. Some near Sabaya.
When we cycled Mid July 2010.
Difficulty 2
How much we had to push on this route 0.5kms (sand)

GPS Point Description Lat/Long/Altitude
GPS01 Uyuni 20.4633 S, 66.8235 W, 3,650m.
GPS02 Colchani 20.3025 S, 66.9384 W, 3,660m.
GPS03 Hotel de Sal 20.3308 S, 67.0468 W, 3,660m.
GPS04 Isla Incahuasi 20.2439 S, 67.6239 W, 3,660m.
GPS05 Edge of Salar 19.8797 S, 68.1742 W, 3,660m.
GPS06 Llica 19.8507 S, 68.2485 W, 3,690m..
GPS07 Junction (go R) 19.8039 S, 68.2636 W.
GPS08 Challacollo 19.7661 S, 68.2636 W.
GPS09 Crossroads 19.7164 S, 68.2589 W.
GPS10 Junction 19.6777 S, 68.2392 W.
GPS11 Ramp onto Salar de Coipasa 19.5814 S, 68.0904 W, 3,660m.
GPS12 Enter Isla de Coipasa 19.2776 S, 68.2628 W, 3,660m.
GPS13 Coipasa Village 19.2778 S, 68.2782 W, 3,660m.
GPS14 Re-enter Salar 19.2583 S, 68.3076 W, 3,655m
GPS15 Hit land 19.1462 S, 68.3227 W, 3,660m.
GPS16 Junction (take shortcut R) 19.0763 S, 68.3422 W.
GPS17 Sabaya 19.0160 S, 68.3712 W, 3,700m.





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Nearby routes:        Ollague to Uyuni                 Sabaya to Sajama

14 Responses to “Uyuni to Sabaya”

  1. Yoko & Hiro 18/08/2012 at 16:43 # Reply

    Thank you for great information.
    We cycled the Salar de Coipasa on Nov,2011, from Coipasa island to the southern shore of the lake.
    It was very difficult to cycle because the surface was either spongy with water or bumpy with lots of crystals.
    So we also recommend to double-check the current state before entering the lake.

    Have a safe journey!

  2. santiago ramos 25/08/2012 at 21:15 # Reply

    i did the route described above but in reverse. i started from oruro to sabaya spending one night in Corque and one in sabaya. the road from oruro to toledo 45km is paved and flat. then its around 50 km on a dusty corugated road(some climbing but not much)to corque where there is basic acomodation half a block from the plaza and supplies. no internet but if you have a celphone there is entel coverage and should work on gprs or edge. then 20 km to Ancravi on dirt road and then 105 km of paved road to sabaya. the road to the north coipasa shore is as described however it probably better to follow it all the way to villa vitalina since the salt harvesters from this town will let you know the best and dryest route to the island. i had to back track to the salt mine since the flats were 15 cm under water on the east side of the island. mind you the way from vitalina to coipasa is also wet but not as much. in isla coipasa there is an unatended tourist shelter but a man named Urgel Manuel let me stay in his house for free and fed me as well. he lives a block south of the plaza. could not leave the island on the east side so had to circle it all the way to west side along the north shore to a salt harveswting operation. the follow the jeep tracks to try to intersect the rout on your page but had to spend the night on the salt 12km north of the shore as camping on the shore was probably more dangerous. magical night of absolute solitude. btw wind dies down after sun down so wind chill is not much of an issue but dont atempt if you dont have good camping gear.the ramp you described is unreachable if the salar is wet and is probably better to head straight to villa victoria. in fact i saw 6 or 7 jeeps take this route an then you probably avoid all the flooded plains and most importantly 20+ km of horrible sand and solitude. it makes no sense to head to the ramp. either in the coipasa island harvest or in chacollo you cas ask for directions and surely there are tire track on that route. make sure you are well stalked with water since there is no one to aide you befor 6 pm on any of the towns on the shore. llica is a biggish town and acomodation is available in the gobernacion. acrtos the street above the internet place but i suggest you avoid this place since the owner of this alojamiento is in lack o a better word a huge gaping asshole with a reputation around town for overcharging travelers. there is another hotel belonging to señor angel on the main plaza.. the rest of the route to incahuasi and colchani is very nice and easy and in incahuasi they charge 30bol to hike the island and 30 to stay at the shelter. they dont allow alfredo and his wife to host people anymore.
    thx harriet and safe travels

  3. Eric 26/08/2012 at 20:18 # Reply

    When we cycled : mid-august 2012
    From Sabaya to Llica

    Leaving Sabaya, the main track is easy to find just out of the west side of the town
    It leads straight to Villa Vitalina, where locals told us the Salar was too spongy to cycled on, which was probably not true.
    Anyway, we carried on to the next pueblo where a well used track goes from north to south across the Salar between the Island and the Chilean Border. We took shortcuts and the northern area was spongy, better to stay on the track, then it get hard but really bumpy and only the southern area is hard, flat and fast.
    Then the track follows the edge of the Salar to avoid the spongy southern area and it fnally joins the main track to Challacollo and Llica.

    The last 25km before Llica are a nightmare of unavoidable washboard and sand.

    Llica : We found pollo con papas fritas (but only in the evening) !
    Accomodation : there is one alojamiento that did not want our bikes in. They directed us to the Alcaldia which also has (very simple) rooms but hot shower (common) for 20 bolivianos each

  4. Eric 11/09/2012 at 01:03 # Reply

    We cycled from Llica to Isla grande (20km west of Incahuasi), then San Pedro de Quemez.
    Date : august 2012

    We did not take the jeep tracks across the Salarto go straight to Isla Grande. It was dry, but incredibly bumpy. We averaged 12km/h, impossible to go faster.
    We slept on Isla Grande, really nice “beach” on the eastern side. Should be possible to hide if the wind is really strong.
    From Isla Grande, it took us one day and a half to San Pedro de Quemez (Quemez on some maps). Salar still bumpy and the track on the western shore of the peninsula can be sandy. There is one alojamiento (25 blvs each) and one fancy hotel for the tourists with jeeps. We could stock up on food for the Ruta de las Lagunas : pasta, avena, flour, even potatoes, oignon and manzana if you are lucky. Salchipapa and papas fritas for dinner 🙂

    For those going south through ruta de las Lagunas and using the tour.tk well reknown pdf tour guide, have look in the comments here for our update (the road conditions are not up to date anymore) :

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

    Thanks a lot to Andes by bike for this really good website !! May be we will cycle another route one day !

  5. Alvaro Reyes 29/10/2012 at 19:34 # Reply

    We cycled this route in August 2012. We were going south, and had some big problems crossing Coipasa because it was covered in water.

    The locals directed us to a track which goes from the west side of Isla Coipasa, and skirts along close to the western shore of Lago Coipasa. The tracks are hard to follow, perhaps we took the wrong one, but it is very difficult to access point GPS11 if taking this route to cross Coipasa, as we ended up in spongy hell as we were off the main track.

    If you are forced to cross on the west side, check out Jeff Kruys’ blog, as he has some GPS points which can help guide you.
    http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/page/?o=1&page_id=76519&v=2YX

  6. Tihomir 02/06/2013 at 19:48 # Reply

    I cycled Uyuni – Isla Incahuasi – Jirira (Volcan Tunupa) – Llica – Tres Cruces – Coipasa – Sabaya in mid-May 2013
    – Staying on Isla Incahuasi was cheap and the people were nice and the trek around the island should not be missed.
    – There are good tracks from Incahuasi towards Tahua. Then there is a “ringroad” on the salar all the way to Jirira. There is no need to use the bad road on the land. In Jirira there is one family with a shop, alojamiento etc. They were not the friendliest people in the world but it did the job. It might be better to climb the volcano from Caquesa.
    – From Jirira and back to Tahua, it is possible to stay on tracks that pass between the islands that extend from the “peninsula” at a salt mine (19.9324 S, 67.7585 W). Then the tracks go mostly north and to go to Llica, we had to cut across the salar without tracks. The surface was not too bad. We had a thunderstorm with rain and bad headwind in the middle of the salar.
    – In Llica you can buy soup and empanadas on the street in the morning. The municipal building will let you sleep on the theatre stage if all rooms are full.
    – There are a few approaches to Tres Cruces (some 5 km from the main road). One is at near the tree, another one is further west and kind of obvious. No alojamiento there but a shop and it is possible to sleep on the floor in the community centre.
    – We entered salar de coipasa at a signposted place at 19.5452 S, 68.0600 W. Very good tracks in the beginning. There was even a road sign in the middle of the salar. Then the tracks split and are easy to lose, but if you aim for the little hill to the right of the island, everything is fine. The last few km before the island were covered with water. Bikes, panniers, shoes, clothes, everything gets wet and white.
    – There is some kind of alojamiento in the village on the island but we stayed with Doña Petronilla whom I cannot recommend more. She will cook huge meals for you and take care of all your needs. A very nice lady. She has hosted many cyclists. Her house/shop/comedor is on one of the corners of the plaza. Her tucuman (fried empanadas) are the best.
    – In Coipasa there is a place with ok internet in the evenings. It is also possible to do one or more short or longer hikes. A beautiful and lively place and nice people.
    – Since we did not want to bike through water on the salar again and have to clean the bikes again, we opted for an uplifted dirt road across the northern section of the salar. You need to bike some 10 km west from the village on the island, then turn right at 19.2775 S, 68.3624 W, bike across the salar on the dirt road and exit the salar at 19.2029 S, 68.3763 W.
    – The road to Sabaya is pretty good. A couple of km before Buen Retiro and on to Sabaya you can go on hard mud tracks. The main road looked a bit bumpy. These tracks was very fast. You hit the paved road at Sabaya at 19.0169 S, 68.3668 W.
    – In Sabaya Don Julian’s hospedaje is fine. There is very good internet at the university.
    – There was Entel coverage almost everywhere on this whole route.

  7. Dominic 08/10/2014 at 01:43 # Reply

    I did this last week, and my comments would be…
    1. From Uyuni to Colchani is half paved, and the other half is graded nicely as it’s ready to be paved.
    2. I went straight north from Villa Victoria. It was a terrible idea. The access to the Salar was pretty sticky so the bike wouldn’t roll much faster than 6-8km/h, walking was much easier. Then from there, it took a good while until it became rideable. Also, coming that way, about 800m east of the side of the island that Coipasa was on we had to cross a small river. I decided that if we went to the side of the island it’d get better. It didn’t. It got very muddy, and my bike got caked in sulphury smelling mud to go with the salt. Wish I’d gone to the Tres Cruces turn off.

  8. Samuel Hochheimer 06/12/2014 at 13:25 # Reply

    Ridden late Nov, 2014, N to S. Salar de Coipasa dry, one small water pool close to the south side of the island but easy to bypass. Tried to avoid heading for the ramp at GPS11 and aimed straight for Junction GPS10. Easy cycling for the first half after the island, dead flat and hard surface. After that much worse. The next 1/4 of the distance the salt had bulged up into ridges, 30+cm high. Bike had no problem cutting through, but they kill all momentum. The final 1/4 after that was some combination of loose broken salt and sand, barely rideable on 26×2.25 Ardents with a light load. Once within a km or so of GPS10 there are jeep tracks that head to Villa Victoria. All in all not sure if time saved by avoiding the ramp was just lost to slow going through the last bit of salt/sand.

    Thanks Pikes for the GPS points- fun to navigate on Coipasa by them!

  9. paul g 11/01/2015 at 20:50 # Reply

    Ridden north to south at the end of dec

    I took what appeared to be a cheeky shortcut linking salar de coipasa and salar de uyuni via a dirt road heading directly south from Tres Cruces across the ‘land bridge’. Around 15km, all nice and rideable, but things were less rosy upon hitting the salar de uyuni. Firstly there’s a maze of small islands to navigate through and then upon reaching the open salar the surface was very rough, with lots of ridges, making riding a nightmare even with my set up. A snapped seatpost later and I changed course to intercept the llica jeep tracks, which were a dream in comparison.

    Whilst this route shaved a day off the one described here I’d be hesitant to recommend it unless you can find a direct jeep track across the salar as opposed to freestyling it like me. There’s a chance one exists and in hindsight I should have asked at the last village of Chorcaza instead of simply ‘following my nose’. May be someone else can do a better job of it in the future and turn it into a viable route…

    Gpx track and more route info here:
    http://theridesouth.com/2015/01/06/riding-the-salars-without-a-seatpost/

    Cheers

    Paul

  10. Julia & Laurent 09/08/2015 at 16:11 # Reply

    We rode that route from Colchane/Pisiga (bolivian-chilean border) to Isla Incahuasi (and then Colcha K heading South to go to lagunas route) on early July of 2015.

    Pisiga to Pagador : 11 km on main road, little village from where you can take a sandy track to avoid the pass to Sabaya and heading East to the Salar de Coipasa entrance. Some very sandy parts, had to push a bit, then salted parts, you can find a track who leads you directly to Coipasa. We didn’t fin dit and made a mistake thinking we had Coipasa on our left hand. Actually it was Villa Vitalina town. We had to cross the Salar in very good conditions to go to Coipasa.

    In Coipasa town, we highly recommend Doña Petronila restaurant and unofficial Casa de Ciclista. She will warmly accept you in her house (little room), she’s installing a shower, and she cooks Tucumanes perfectly (15Bs full menu).

    Next day, Salar de Coipasa were hard and easy to ride from Coipasa to Tres Cruces, excepted the last 5km on the salar which were spongy and difficult to ride…very slow going and we didn’t find a real exit on our way to the little town. We finally found a very sandy track were we had to push.

    From Tres Cruces to Challacollo, we tried many tracks, one is very very sandy and horrible/impossible to ride, but if you stay as long as you can close/on the Salar, we think it’s better. 3 cyclists from Catalunya met in Llica crossed the salar from the West past of the Coipasa Island and tried to head South to exit in Rancho and 10 last km were very wet, some parts under water. From Challacollo to Llica, the road is in very bad conditions, lots of washboards and sandy. A Britain cyclist with fat bike didn’t have to push at all.

    Then from Llica to Incahuasi, easy to ride, with north-westerlies wind. Then heading south to South Lipez Ruta de las Lagunas, we avoid part of the main track between Salar exit to cruce to Colcha K by getting on the salar which was a pretty good idea although westerly wind was strong. In Colcha K, shops with good supplies, restaurants, water, internet can be found in the alcaldia…

    Suerte y exitos a tod@s, Andes is magic place to ride, buen pedal y buen viento !

  11. Axel BikeTrippers 18/09/2015 at 21:46 # Reply

    We cycled this route in late August from Sabaya to Uyuni.

    Cycling Coipasa was great but tough. Getting and leaving the salar can be very tough even if you follow the jeep tracks (sandy and salty). We had to push our bikes many times to reach Villa Victoria after Tres Cruces. Make sure you follow Pikes advice to reach Tres Cruces, otherwise you will definitely push your machine on several kilometers.

    The track from Villa victoria to Llica is horrible (sandy, washboards). Reaching Llica is a relief !

    Llica – Uyuni: a long day but easily doable if you are not planning to stay on Isla Incahuasi. Leaving Llica, when you enter the salar, make sure to follow the central track (right goes to Isla Incahuasi, left to North part of the salar).

    You can have access to the detailed uphill/downhill/mileage of our trip here: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/891018547

    Axel and Leticia
    BikeTrippers.com

    • Simon Laurent 20/10/2016 at 17:48 # Reply

      I cycled this route in octubre from Sabaya to Uyuni

      Some freshs informations
      Stay on the trails on the Salar of Coipasa to ride because outside it s very hard to cycle very bumpy,
      When you leave the Salar you could take the trail on the right to the shore of the Salar very nice to ride until Vila Victoria .
      From this part all the trail until Llica is very sandy and bumpy, you will have to push the bike during several kilometers.
      When you reach Llica there is a good place to stay and to rest at the Residencial Castro, very cheap 25 bls, Franz the owner will help you to host you, to clean the salt from the bike…. but in town i don t find place con internet.

      Ride the both Salar was amazing even if the trail are very hard and need a lot of energy.

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