Paso Agua Negra

Jachal – Las Flores – Paso Agua Negra – Vicuña

This is a nice way of crossing the Andes between Argentina and Chile. After climbing away from the desert near Las Flores, the road enters a scenic valley and stays in this for most of the way to the pass. The descent is equally picturesque as far as the village of Rivadavia in Chile. After this the scenery becomes dull, and there’s lots of traffic on the road to Vicuña.

Paso Agua Negra is the easiest of all the 4000m passes linking Argentina and Chile. The road surface is mostly paved, or good ripio (though road work is being done on both sides of the pass, so currently there are some short bad sections), the gradients are gentle, and the road is above 4000m for less than 35km – a far smaller distance than on all the high passes to the north.

A tunnel is proposed (at an altitude of about 4100m), so in the future the crossing will be much easier, particularly as it will all be paved. At present around 100 vehicles a day cross the pass, making it, along with Paso Jama, the busiest of the high Argentina-Chile routes.

Note that Paso Agua Negra is only open in summer – snows normally close the route between May and October. If you’re planning on crossing early or late in the season, check with the authorities beforehand that the road is still passable. This PDF (in Spanish) has loads of useful info:

Dist (km) Altitude (m) Description
0 1160 Jachal. Town with no internet. Paved.
45.2 1610 Straight. L goes to Rodeo.
63.5 1890 R to Agua Negra. L goes to Las Flores.
64.8 1920 Argentina Immigration. No water for the next 25km+.
99.6 2930 Gendarmeria Argentina.
105 3170 Ripio starts.
113.4 3630 Ojos de Agua, water. Regular sources after this.
128.6 4280 Turn off to tunnel (construction yet to begin).
144 4610 Last water this side of pass, in Quebrada de Sarmiento.
149.7 4770 Paso Agua Negra. Soon take the first of 3 ‘down’ shortcuts, which save many kms. If coming in the opposite direction you’ll want to stick to the ‘up’ tracks which are far less steep.
157.4 4070 First water and campsite on Chile side. Then lots of options.
220.5 2090 Chilean Immigration. Paving starts.
262.1 1210 Huanta. First village. Basic shop.
290 860 Rivadavia. Road becomes busy.
307 630 Vicuña. Town with regular buses to La Serena.

Jachal – Vicuña Details
Distance (of which paved) 307km (191km)
Time taken 3 days
Amount climbed 4200m
Traffic About 100 cars a day cross the pass. Between Rivadavia and Vicuña is very busy.
Best time to cycle December – March. (The pass is normally open November – May.)
When we cycled February 2014
Difficulty 3
How much we had to push on this route Not at all.

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6 Responses to “Paso Agua Negra”

  1. Jaco Reed 29/01/2015 at 21:42 # Reply

    We cycled the pass east-west end Jan 2015 and have some extra information/recommendations.
    We recommend the camping Los Hornos in Jachal , friendly and only $ Arg 30/pers.
    Best do your food shopping in Rodeo, Las Flores has very little, no potable water from taps!
    The Argentina immigration claim to close at 17h00, we had to beg to get stamped out after we made siesta in Las Flores until 18h00. They only open at 07h00.
    We camped at the ruins at the proposed tunnel turn-off, and were glad for there is a small space with a roof that has good protection. We had a hail-and-snow storm and would have been very exposed otherwise.
    The road works left us with some very steep climbs (my GPS claims 20%) and lose gravel and heavy corrugation on both sides of the pass.
    From 10 am to midday usually starts a very strong uphill wind on both sides of the pass.
    On the Chile side we highly recommend staying at Hans & Rosa at the first kiosk with many flags in Huanta/Guanta. They will let cyclist camp in their garden (you pay what you can afford), Hans bakes bread in a wood burning oven and Rosa makes a killer chili salsa.

  2. Antonie 04/01/2016 at 11:14 # Reply

    Cycled end of December East to West. Pavement on both sides of the border has now been extended to +/- km 110 and from km 205 onwards. Paved route has got more switchbacks, so longer and less steep.
    Lots of snow this year, snowbanks of up to 4-5 meter high near the top and ‘penitentes’ from 4000 meter onwards.
    Traffic was 20-30 cars a day. Overall, would highly recommend this pass, especially early in the season, Nov-Dec, when there’s still a lot of snow.

    Some random information:
    – The ACA (gasoline station) in Las Flores has got free WiFi.
    – can recommend the kiosco in Huanta as well. They’ve got a nice covered area in front of their store for a siesta.
    – Vicuna: you can camp in the garden of Hostal La Enquina for 5000 CHP. Hot shower, kitchen, WiFi, book exchange included.
    – from Vicuna you can go south via partly unpaved routes to Cabildo (Hurtado, Ovalle, Combarbala, Illapel)

  3. Touring cyclist 05/01/2016 at 01:03 # Reply

    My wife and I cycled the pass from Argentina to Chile in mid-December 2015. You can read our account here. Briefly, I would not recommend cycling the pass in December: it is still extremely cold, and with the fierce winds, the conditions are potentially deadly. Furthermore, while the description here indicates that the pass can be tackled in 3 days, it took us longer due to the constant headwind, and I get the impression that most cyclists take 5 days.

  4. Flips 04/05/2017 at 02:16 # Reply

    I cycled the pass begin of April.
    There is roadwork in progress from las flores until a few kilometers after the border.
    From next season on there will be a good Asphalt road until just after the last serpentine above ojo de agua.
    The campsite just before the guardia vieja is highly recomended. The most beautyful spot on the Argentinien side.
    But make sure you hang your food up the tree. Otherwise the mouse will be after it.
    Be prepared of a very strong headwind while climbing as well as on the downhill.
    The lake on the Chilenean side invites for a refreshing bath.
    There is as well roadwork in progress from the lake down to the boarder.
    Some lower parts are already asphalted. This work might still go on next season.
    Tunelwork did not start yet.
    Last but not least I would recomend cycling the pass from the Chilenean side.
    That way you will have more time to enjoy the beauty of the mountains.
    The scenery on the Argentinien side is less spectacular.

  5. Leendert van Staalduinen 02/12/2018 at 23:43 # Reply

    Paso de Agua Negra:
    · Cycled from La Serena (Chile) to San José de Jáchal (Argentina).
    · Period January 14–19, 2018. Weather: overall sunny, and windy of course.
    · According to my smartphone GPS the top is at 4.768 m. At the top there is no road sign showing the altitude. According to Wikipedia the top is at 4.780 m.
    · I rode this pass once before in December 1998 (with sunny weather). In 1998 the road from La Serena had asphalt up to Guanta (also known as Huanta). In January 2018 I had asphalt up to the start of the Embalse la Laguna (3.100 m). After the Chilean customs this asphalt was interrupted a few times for some short distances. Further improvements works (La Laguna – Llano Las Liebres) have been planned for 2020.
    · I did not see real labor for the projected tunnel (apart from announcements).
    · In Argentina about 31 km (3.800 m) after the top starts asphalt again.
    The quality of this asphalt is really outstanding (as it is in Chile).
    · In 1998 I met just one single car during the very day when I passed the top. In January 2018 I saw by day at the top about 40–60 cars (or motors) each hour. A reason for this heavy traffic might be that during those days the Argentine Pope Francis visited Chile.
    At night the Chilean and Argentine customs close the borders for all traffic.

  6. James and Jane 24/12/2018 at 18:15 # Reply

    We cycled this from West to East mid-December 2018, mainly with helpful winds. Not that cold any of the time, even when it snowed on “summit” day. Chile tarmac now to West end of Embalse la Laguna. Beautiful grass camp at Colorado a few km from East end of Embalse. Not quite so brilliant but still on grass up from a link in road 17 km from there (dragged bikes up a steepish sidestream about 500m). Ripio on acsent generally very good. The ripio on Argentine side for the hairpins and first 4-500 m height drop very loose and we thought would be very hard to cycle up.
    Tunnel work apparently will start in 2019.
    Overall we thought this pass was excellent and quite a lot more user-friendly than our E-W crossing of San Francisco.

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