Cafayate to San Antonio de los Cobres

Cafayate – Cachi – La Poma – Abra del Acay – San Antonio de los Cobres

A magnificent route through the Valles Calchaquis over the Abra del Acay, Argentina’s highest road pass. From Cafayate’s vineyards the road undulates up a lovely valley to Cachi before continuing upwards to La Poma. From Cachi to La Poma the scenery is sublime, with tiny, centuries-old adobe settlements scattered along the road.

After La Poma the climb to the pass is steep and unrelenting, and there are a number of river fords to negotiate. The final 15kms are at an average gradient of 7% and as the pass is at nearly 5,000m this makes the climb very hard work. On its own this is a great route, but combining it with a crossing of the Paso Sico to San Pedro de Atacama makes for an unforgettable 10-14 days of cycling.

Supplies can be bought in Cafayate and Cachi (and other villages like Molinos and La Poma which are off the main road). From La Poma to San Antonio de los Cobres there is nowhere to buy food. There are houses from which to obtain water all the way to La Poma and after Saladillo the road remains by a river to about 4,050m. In the few kilometres after leaving the river there are a couple of decent camping spots and the road crosses a little stream – still over 600m below the pass, but the last water source before the pass. There is no reliable water source on the initial part of the descent from the pass either.

We obtained information about this route from Stefan Roman’s useful site.

Sadly our camera was broken for most of this route, so we don’t have any photos from north of Cachi.

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Total dist. Stage dist. Description
0km Cafayate (1,630m). Nice wine-growing town with tourist facilities including ATM.
162km Head north on paved RN40 for 23kms to San Carlos. 7kms after San Carlos the tarmac ends and it is 132kms of ripio to Cachi, passing through Molinos (2,130m) en route. The surface is often a bit sandy.
162km Cachi (2,380m). Pleasant town with accommodation, restaurants, shops.
56km 13kms of paving to Payogasta, where Ruta 40 leaves the tarmac and turns L (north) towards La Poma. Pass through a number of small villages slowly gaining altitude, arriving at the turn-off to La Poma (3,000m) after 43kms. The ripio is fine and not sandy. La Poma is not on the main road – go L at the junction to go through the village.
218km Turn-off to La Poma (3,000m).
48km Continue straight at the junction. The last settlement on the road is Saladillo, 18kms north of La Poma. From La Poma to the Abra del Acay the surface is generally fine, but there are a number of river crossings. The first is through a side stream, then 22kms north of La Poma comes the first of 5 crossings of the main river.
266km Abra del Acay (4,966m – GPS01).
45km Descending from the pass it is 32kms to the junction with RN51. Intially the surface is loose, but it improves lower down. Turn L (west) on RN51 for 13kms to San Antonio de los Cobres.
311km San Antonio de los Cobres (3,760m). Town with accommodation, restaurants, good supermarket, ATM, internet.
Time taken – 6 days and amount climbed 5,400m 9 hours: Cafayate to Molinos (1,380m climb).
4 hours: Molinos to Cachi (800m climb).
5 hours: Cachi to La Poma (920m climb).
7 hours: La Poma to Abra del Acay (2,200m climb).
4 hours: Abra del Acay to San Antonio de los Cobres (~100m climb).
Traffic Some traffic as far as Payogasta. From there a few vehicles to La Poma. Virtually nothing from La Poma to RN51.
When we cycled Early June 2010.
Difficulty 4
How much we had to push on this route 5kms (wind, steep)

GPS Point Description Lat/Long/Altitude
GPS01 Abra del Acay 24.4366 S, 66.2391 W, 4,966m.


Nearby routes:        Susques to Salar de Pocitos                 Paso Sico                 Antofagasta de la Sierra

6 Responses to “Cafayate to San Antonio de los Cobres”

  1. Hugh Wooster 16/11/2013 at 11:36 # Reply

    Hi, I cycled this route recently, arriving in Cafayate 14th November 2013.

    San Antonio de los Los Cobres to La Poma; I stayed in the excellent Hospedaje Sumaq Samay where the owner will make you a simple breakfast at 6am should you wish. This was a hard day of cycling but the road quality up to the pass wasn’t an issue, being sandy in places but nonetheless rideable. The surface between the pass and La Poma is a complete hodgepodge and would make climbing the pass from the South harder. On the descent the road was more rocky than sandy as well as being fairly narrow. Be prepared to get your feet wet crossing the many streams and muddy on the small sections currently being worked on. Take one of the two main roads into La Poma, found next to the big signs for La Poma,but not accompanied by an arrow, otherwise you’ll have to cross another river, like me.

    I cycled at a leisurely pace and clocked 7 hours and 45 minutes of actual cycling with 1440m ascent and 2186m descent.

    La Poma to Cachi; less intense day of cycling and a very leafy municipal campsite awaits with a good supermarket just over the road.

    Cachi to Angastaco; initially the road follows the river through diminutive villages but soon it abandons the irrigated oasis in favour of the much drier canyon landscape inland which is almost devoid of any shade. There are plenty of small shops in the more populated places and Molinos has a pleasant shady plaza where I lunched. Angastaco is one of those places that is always just round the corner, in this case over the next undulation. The last 10k were frustratingly tantalising. Be prepared for a series of steep climbs here just before Angastaco. Just where you want them.

    Angastaco to Cafayate; the road is initially undulating and dry before leaving the canyons and dropping back to the river, idyllic villages and greenery. Once you hit tarmac 23km before Cafayate you’re home and dry.

    I would really recommend this cycle; the scenery was just stunning the whole length of the route and it could easily be split up. In hindsight I would divide the ride from Cachi to Angastaco simply because it’s so gorgeous round there.

  2. Cass 05/07/2014 at 13:00 # Reply

    We rode the route north in early July.

    The prevailing headwinds at this time of year can add further challenge to the climb – and the descent!

    To confirm, there are plenty of supplies available in Molinos and La Poma. La Poma is worth the detour to visit the old part of town, a couple of kilometres away from the main settlement. It can then be inked back to the main road via a footbridge.

    Reading the latest route description, I believe the route must have been recently graded up to the pass – it’s very well surfaced, with just the odd bit of softer terrain. On the way down, the quality is more of a mixed bag – it looked like they were working on a few sections.

    If you’re heading north, splitting the climb up into a couple of segments makes sense, to help with any potential acclimatisation issues. Riding in winter meant we were on the lookout for huts/houses to duck into. There are plenty on the way up, including a shepherdess who has a house at around 3850m, beyond the last of the river crossings.

  3. Albert Lee 06/06/2015 at 01:37 # Reply

    I rode this route from South to North, in early June 2015. The air temperature stays 17-25 degrees, higher at lower altitude.

    1. Cafayate to Molinos:
    Nothing has changed since the original route description, camping at Molinos Municipal Camping is 35 peso per person per night, strong hot shower, wifi at the plaza is not working but if you go to the hotel next to the Molinos church, they have free wifi and no password required.
    There is camping municipal and shops to buy food at Angastaco as well. Molinos has shop to buy food.

    The road condition greatly improves after Santa Rosa, it is only sandy and soft for the initial 20km after the tarmac finishes.

    2. Molinos to Cachi:
    Seclantas, the town north of Molinos, has shops that you can buy food and there is Camping Municipal here. Camping Municipal at Cachi is 25 peso per person. strong hot shower but only between 1700 and 2000. the road between Molinos to Seclantas was being worked on but it is already in very good condition, The wifi at Cachi plaza is working well, fast and free.

    3. Cachi to La Poma:
    Road slowly climbs, very little traffic after Payogasta. 3 hostels in La Poma, no camping municipal, wifi at the plaza was not working. there are shops you can buy food here.

    4. La Poma to La Poma +35km
    The last house before the pass is at 3919m. The farmer who lives in this house now makes living from selling items to tourist, there are 2 ruins not far from the farmers house which can be a camping site. I camped at the first hairpin, about 2km past the farmers house, altitude is 4027m

    5. La Poma +35km to San Antonio
    There are plenty of streams to collect water, there is even a sizeable stream to collect water at 4700m, also at this spot it is a possible camping site. Last collection for water is at 4850m, there is virtually no traffic at all a long this route, I only met 1 car and they offered food and water.

  4. Clive & Liz 12/12/2017 at 20:09 # Reply

    We cycled from San Antonio to Cafayate in November 2017 and have these comments. We took 1½ days from San Antonio to La Poma to stage the ascent of Abra Acay, camping at S24.3781 W66.2439 (quarry and stream, plus abandoned building nearby) at 4200m to acclimatise (more). The initial 10km descent from the pass has dramatic views and was steep; that would be a tough ascent. La Poma has a campsite (west end to town). Cachi (pleasant tourist town) has a good shady municipal campsite by the swimming pool (south end of town) with supermarket one block north. The ripio before and after Angastaco was in poor condition; we were very happy to reach the sealed road at km post 4371!

  5. envourchonsnosvelos 19/07/2019 at 13:57 # Reply

    Hi Harriet and Neil and thank you for the details of this route !

    We are a French family with 3 kids (5, 7 and 9 years old) and we have been travelling from Lima (Peru) to Patagonia for 1 year. We have 2 tandems (adult-kid) and a kid bike.

    We did this route at the of October 2018 from San Antonio de los Cobres to Payogasta (between San Antonio de los Cobres and Cafayate). We did not want to go to Cafayate directly because some cyclists told us that it was very sandy between Payogasta to Cachi to Cafayate. So next Payogasta, we went to La Cuesta del Obispo – Chicoana (south west of Salta) – La Viña – Quebrada de los Conches – Cafayate.

    This ride is absolutely amazing, particularly the south part next the path Abra del Acay ! We cycled from San Antonio to Payogasta, we took 6 days (without breaks).

    For us, the 2 main difficulties were the water and the food because we were not able to do lot of kilometer a day. In this post, we describe how we did which can be of help for families.

    So, some tips about this route :
    – Day 1 : from San Antonio de los Cobres to wild camp 1 by the river (24.301074 S, 66.216252 W, 3928 m), 18 km. Highway 51 : asphated, some traffic but not so much. Highway 40 : dirt road, corrugated surface, no traffic. In the wild camp, water in the river.
    – Day 2 : from wild camp 1 to wild camp 2 down the dirt road (24.412192 S, 66.248551 W, 4561 m, 9 km before the path « Abra Del Acay »), 16.5 km. Dirt road, corrugated surface and head wind before the climb, good surface in the climb. In the wild camp, water but we did not use it because it was backwater and there were guanacos around (perfect to wash ourselves and the dishes).
    – Day 3 : from wild camp 2 to wild camp 3 down the dirt road by the river (24.489358 S, 66.183915 W, 3035 m, 16 km beyond the path), 25 km. Dirt road, good surface. Water in the river in the wild camp.
    – Day 4 : from wild camp 3 to La Poma, 32 km. Dirt road, good surface. Shops, accomodation in La Poma. Good public campground with amazing hot showers ! Nice village, we took a rest.
    – Days 5 and 6 : from La Poma to Payogasta, 46 km. Dirt road, good surface. Shops in Payogasta. We slept into the public stadium (water, restrooms, cold showers).
    – And then, we cycled to « la cuesta del Obispo » (really nice), Chicoana (south west of Salta), La Viña, Quebrada de los Conches, Cafayate. Asphalted roads (except 20 km in « La Cuesta del Obispo »), traffic on the hightway 68.

    If you want to read about it and see photos, you can go on (it is French, but you can translate it using the google translate button on the right at the top) :
    – From San Antonio de Los Cobres to La Poma:
    – From La Poma to Payogasta (to Chicoana to Cafayate) :

    If you want to see and download our itinerary, you can go on :
    – From San Antonio de Los Cobres to La Poma :
    – From La Poma to Payogasta (to Chicoana to Cafayate) :

    Cheers. Pascal and Gwenaël


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