San Pedro de Atacama (Chile) – Portezuelo Paranal – Paso Jama – Susques (Arg)
This route from San Pedro de Atacama to Susques is the main highway between northern Chile and Argentina and is an easier (and we believe less interesting) option than the unpaved alternative to the south via the Paso Sico. Going west-east as described here, the majority of the climbing is done right at the beginning on the tiring and dull climb out of San Pedro which takes a day or more. After that there isn’t a huge deal of climbing to do and you’re likely to get some nice tailwinds as the prevailing winds are from the west/northwest. If you cycle this in the opposite direction the wind will probably be a menace, but you won’t forget the 2,000m+ descent to San Pedro for a while. 10% gradients and few corners – check your brakes before you take the plunge…
The scenery is excellent for much of the route, especially the section between the turn-off to Hito Cajon and the Chile/Argentina border. Water can only be found at a couple of places on the road and basic food can be bought only at the Pueblo de Jama, so it’s a good idea to take all food you need with you from San Pedro (or Susques if you are going in the opposite direction). We were passed by over 100 vehicles each day of this cycle, so you should be able to get help if you get into any difficulties. Note that if you leave San Pedro unacclimatized you may have issues with the altitude as the road climbs straight up to 4,800m and stays over 4,500m for about 60kms.
|Total dist.||Stage dist.||Description|
|0km||San Pedro de Atacama (2,440m). Tourist town with all facilities, but no money in the ATMs on Sundays.|
|57.7km||After 1.4kms do Chilean immigration formalities. Then turn uphill for a gentle 12.3kms climb to 2,530m. Climb steeply for the next 32kms to the turn-off to Hito Cajon (4,665m) and the Bolivian Lagunas. Staying on the tarmac the climb becomes gentle for 12kms to the Portezuelo de Suco.|
|57.7km||Portezuelo de Suco (4,825m – GPS01).|
|42.7km||Descend gently and in 23kms come to a rest area (all the rest areas have walls where you could put up a tent and get protection from the wind) by a bofedal (marsh). Just after the rest area a stream (drinkable after treating it) which leads out of the bofedal runs alongside the road – this is the only water between San Pedro and the Pueblo de Jama. The road is flat for about 11kms, then it is an easy climb for 9kms to the Portezuelo Paranal.|
|100.4km||Portezuelo Paranal (4,836m – GPS02). The highest point on this route.|
|66.3km||Descend, steeply at first, for 14.6kms to a rest area by a salar. There is another rest area (4,240m) 22.6kms further on. From here it’s a gentle and easy 11.1km climb to a high point (4,410m), then 13kms to the border (4,290m) and a 5km descent to immigration at the Pueblo de Jama.|
|166.7km||Argentine immigration and Pueblo de Jama (4,100m). Possible to get very basic supplies, and water.|
|50.8km||Flat to Archibarca. Road is heading south-ish so sidewinds likely.|
|217.5km||Archibarca – only a few houses, but they were inhabited and there was water. There is a road to Catua from here, so if you fancy heading there and the road over the Paso Sico, turn right.|
|67.4km||Staying straight, in 8.8kms reach the junction with Ruta 70. In a further 27.5kms you are at a low point (3,910m) before a gentle and easy 10.9km climb to the Abra de Taire (4,110m). A fast 17km descent brings you to a service station (water, food) at the junction to Sey (turn R), but if you stay straight, on the tarmac, it is only 3.2kms to Susques.|
|284.9km||Susques (3,630m). Scruffy little town with ATM, accommodation, restaurants, shops but no bike shop. There is an internet place but it didn’t work when we were there.|
|Time taken – 3 ½ days and amount climbed – 3,650m||10 hours: San Pedro – Port. Paranal (2,860m climb, tailwind).
3 hours: Port. Paranal – Pueblo de Jama (400m climb, tailwind).
6 hours: Pueblo de Jama – Susques (390m climb).
|Traffic||121 vehicles our first day (we were so bored on the climb that we counted), and 100+ vehicles the other 2 days.|
|When we cycled||Early December 2010.|
|How much we had to push on this route||Not at all|
|GPS01||Portezuelo Suco||22.9250 S, 67.7030 W, 4,825m.|
|GPS02||Portezuelo Paranal||23.0725 S, 67.5047 W, 4,836m.|
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