Payogasta to El Carril

Payogasta – Cuesta del Obispo – Pulares – El Carril (on RN68 south of Salta)

Thanks to Steve Fabes for contributing the information and photos on this page. His account of cycling in northern Argentina, a small part of a much larger quest to cycle the length of 6 continents, can be found at his Cycling The 6 blog.

This pretty route is the most direct way between Salta and the Valles Calchaquies and takes in a beautiful climb of the Cuesta del Obispo in Parque Nacional Los Cardones.

Although this page gives route information from Payogasta to El Carril (which lies on Ruta Nacional 68), if heading for the pleasant colonial city of Salta it’s a good idea to try and find an alternative, safer, route into the city than cycling RN68, which has heavy traffic and no hard shoulder.


For detailed information of cycling from Calafate to Salta via Cuesta del Obispo, check out: La Vida de Viaje’s page .



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Total dist. Stage dist. Description
0km Payogasta (2,450m). Small village.
45km Climb on paved road to Piedra del Molino.
45km Piedra del Molino (3,400m), the highest point of the Cuesta del Obispo. No water.
65km Beautiful descent to Ruta 68. 5kms into the descent there is a 15km unpaved section, but the surface is good. Water is available from two streams in the early part of the descent. About 10kms before reaching RN68, pass through the village of Pulares (from where it is possible to take a smaller road to Cerrillos if heading for Salta, thus avoiding a stretch of the busy RN68).
110km El Carril (1,200m) – junction with RN68.
Time taken 1 day
Amount climbed 900m
When cycled March 2012
Difficulty 2
Pushing required None

View Payogasta – El Carril in a larger map

Nearby routes:        Cafayate to San Antonio

2 Responses to “Payogasta to El Carril”

  1. Julia & Laurent 10/09/2015 at 19:16 # Reply

    Hi ! Hola !

    we rode that route at the beginning of september 2015 from Salta to Cachi (155km). 35km from Salta to crossroad (RN68/RP33) on busy and no shoulder RN68 road. 12km from Payogasta to Cachi on undulated and old pavement RN40 road.
    We did it in 2 days but could require one more day.
    Cuesta del Obispo is a very nice climb (2300m altitude gain) with good paved road excepted 5km because of roadwork in a small village some km after Pulares, and 15km in the Cuesta but the ripio is good to ride. Very nice scenery, some condors. Bit of tourism traffic on the morning (Salta>Cachi) and returning on the afternoon (Cachi>Salta).
    Water can be found all climb up long (fincas and little paradors), possibility to camp in El Maray (parador) or wildcamp near the river, or just before the beginning of the Cuesta…

    Buen viento y buen pedal amig@s ciclo-viajer@s !

  2. Micka & Pauline 06/04/2016 at 22:06 # Reply

    We rode this route in middle march 2016.

    -Sum up
    From El Carril (1180m, km0) to Payogasta (2450m, km110) the road is almost totally paved (ripio in good condition from km43 to km64). The pass, Piedra del Molino (3360m), is at km64 and it can be a good spot to camp for acclimation if you wish to cross Abra del Acay few days later. Temperature on the computer was between 5 to 30°C. No wind. It is a very good itinerary with sublime landscapes changing a lot: dense vegetation, quebradas, grassy pass, pampa, cactus fields, red mountains … From km30 to Payogasta the road is particularly scenic with high diversity. Traffic was about 30 cars/h. We would rate this route 2/5 according “Andes by Bike rate”. It is feasible in two days but you might consider it will be difficult to find a good camping spot between km43 and km64 (summit of the pass). Highest gradient to climb are from east to west. At El Carril you can find food, oil, internet (probably cash but we didn’t check). At Payogasta you can find food and cash, internet at the square wasn’t working.

    -Water: from km0 to km41 you will have lots of opportunities (houses mainly because streams are very muddy) to fill your bottle, so don’t climb with tons of water. After it might be more complicated until km64 (top of the pass) and almost impossible until Payogasta (km110).

    -Sleep: from km25 to km43 you will find decent spots to pitch your tent. From km43 to km64 (top of the pass) it might be more difficult but not impossible. At the top of the pass (km64) there is a small church where you can eat protected of the wind or rain (eventually suitable to sleep for one or two persons). You can also pitch your tent around the church even if it is quite visible from the road. Few kilometers after the pass there is a partly abandoned village (only guardaparque living there?) full of camping spot. After it is quite exposed to the wind and with bad ground to put your tent (cactus, stones, dry mud) but you will find until Payogasta several shelters where you can eat or sleep inside or around. Be careful when you camp or sit in the grass, we saw a huge spider crossing the road (looks like a mygale, but probably an other specie) and later a snake. We asked (only once) if these are venomous and they are probably not, but stay prudent or ask to the locals if fauna can be dangerous). At km41 you can camp for 50 pesos per tent or sleep in a bed for 180 pesos (breakfast included). They have a very rustic but hot shower (either if you camp or take a room). They serve meal too and you can of course fill your bottles. No internet.

    (HUGE thanks Andes by Bike for your great work)

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