Ollague to Uyuni

Ollague – Estacion Avaroa – San Juan – Julaca – Rio Grande – via railway and Vinto – Uyuni

The most direct route from Ollague to Uyuni, following the railway line rather than the road from Rio Grande to Uyuni. This part is excellent fun, cycling on motorbike tracks without a jeep or train in sight. There is virtually no climbing to do on the whole route and as there are some villages on the way it is not necessary to carry a large amount of supplies.

[scrollGallery id=58]

Total dist. Stage dist. Description
0km Ollague (3,710m). Village with 6 guesthouses (many of which are occupied full time by miners), 2 free internet places and a couple of shops.
5km Old paving on the Chilean side, then ripio to Estacion Avaroa.
5km Estacion Avaroa. Immigration, water, but no other facilities. Leave on the smaller road heading north of east, not on the main road which heads south of east and goes via Villa Alota to Uyuni.
29km Once you reach the Salar de Chiguana the surface becomes hard, flat and fast.
34km Chiguana (GPS01). Small military post. Water but no food.
37km Good surface to San Juan.
71km San Juan (GPS02). Large village with a number of hospedajes and shops. Leave San Juan on the main road heading northeast.
11km Surface has some washboard.
82km Junction. Go straight for Julaca, (signpost says L (north) for Colcha K).
14km Good road on salar to Julaca.
96km Julaca (GPS03). Once big railway village, but now mostly abandoned. Possible to find water.
33km Road ok.
129km Rio Grande (GPS04). Large village with plenty of shops, and accommodation. From Rio Grande there are a number of options. We chose the most direct way to Uyuni along the railway lines at the north end of town. The main road goes southeast and loops to Uyuni.
14 km Sticking to the motorbike tracks next to (on the south side initially) of the railway line cycle on a good hard surface to reach the bridge.
143km Bridge over Rio Grande (GPS05). Sleepers are awkwardly spaced so it takes a few minutes to cross – make sure there is no train coming before you start!
18km Continue along railway line.
161km Junction (GPS06) where motorbike track/small car track meets main road into Vinto.
2km Head to Vinto.
163km Vinto (GPS07). Small village, but we managed to find basic accommodation in a room on the plaza – ask around. The toilet is anywhere in the outskirts of town. Water, but no shop.
32km Continue following railway tracks (on jeep tracks now to the north of the line) to Uyuni. Just before reaching the outskirts of Uyuni you come to the train cemetery.
195km Uyuni (3,650m). Tourist town with all facilities, including ATM.
Time taken – 2 ½ days and amount climbed – 550m 4 hours: Ollague to San Juan (tailwind).
6 hours: San Juan to Vinto (tailwind).
3 hours: Vinto to Uyuni (headwind).
Traffic Some vehicles from Ollague to Rio Grande. Nothing from Rio Grande to Vinto. A few vehicles from Vinto to Uyuni.
When we cycled Mid July 2010.
Difficulty 2
How much we had to push on this route Only crossing the railway bridge.

GPS Point Description Lat/Long/Altitude
GPS01 Chiguana 21.0590 S, 67.9695 W.
GPS02 San Juan 20.9000 S, 67.7670 W, 3,700m.
GPS03 Julaca 20.9128 S, 67.5675 W
GPS04 Rio Grande 20.8228 S, 67.2975 W
GPS05 Bridge 20.7686 S, 67.1765 W
GPS06 Junction 20.6914 S, 67.0381 W
GPS07 Vinto 20,6819 S, 67.0266 W, 3,670m.

View Ollagüe – Uyuni in a larger map
Nearby routes:        Sur Lipez Lagunas                 Salar de Uyuni & Salar de Coipasa

3 Responses to “Ollague to Uyuni”

  1. Tihomir 02/06/2013 at 19:49 # Reply

    First off, thanks for the great website.
    I cycled from San Juan to Uyuni along your suggested route in early May 2013. Some updates and comments:
    – in San Juan you can find bread in the afternoon around 4 pm. It gets sold out quickly. The lady who bakes it does not hear very well so knock hard on her door. Ask around for where her house is. Otherwise, one of the salt hotels there, Cabanas de sal, at the western end of the village, is absolutely amazing and affordable. And doña Silvia has a soft spot for cyclists. The dinner and breakfast are very good and reasonably priced. All cheap hospedajes in San Juan were locked when I got there around 5 pm – the owners are often working in the field, so it is best to wait a bit until 5.30-6 (sunset).
    – the road from San Juan to Rio Grande is as you say “ok” ripio, with the usual washboard, rocks, potholes, dust etc. Very little traffic. Julaca is probably even more abandoned now than a couple of years ago when you passed by. I only saw two people destroying a house… No other sign of life there.
    – Rio Grande has wifi at a cooperative building next to the railway tracks. There is a password, I asked nicely and got the password together with a glass of coca cola.
    – I followed the tracks on the south side of the railway after Rio Grande. The surface was still a bit soft (I guess too soon after rainy season) but no major problems there. Just after the river there is a destroyed building that is perfect for camping. Crossing the river on the railway bridge was not easy!
    – Most of the section from the river to Vinto was very soft, with deep mud at places and very very slow. At times I had to bike between the railway tracks on the gravel there (there are some small plants with hard thorns). I could see the tracks of only a couple of jeeps in that section and at some points they were going far from the railway, probably to avoid the muddy part. I decided however to stay close to the railway, which was probably not the best idea. In short, this section is not very good soon after rainy season.
    – Vinto had super friendly people and now has two shops. For the first time since Chile I saw a shop that sells bread and oranges. The locals promised to also have an hospedaje by the time I pass by on my next South American biking trip.
    – A local from Vinto, who seemed to know what he was talking about, advised me to keep to some truck tracks/road on the south side of the railway for 10 km, then cross the railway and continue on the north side of the railway. Indeed this road was in excellent condition and I actually saw quite a bit of traffic.
    – Uyuni is still grey and touristy. There are a couple of basic bicicleterias.
    – There was Entel coverage almost everywhere after San Juan.

  2. George North 05/10/2018 at 02:41 # Reply

    Hi Pikes,

    Thanks for the great route! We’ve just finished riding this (Oct 2019) and there’s a couple of updates which might be useful. The first thing is that the motorbike tracks between Vinto K and Rio Grande are now pretty much non-existent. It’s clear that very few people now pass this way! The silt/ sand alongside the track was unrideable in quite a lot of places, meaning that it was easiest to ride along the tracks for a fair distance! This was fine as long as you’ve got reasonably wide tyres.

    The second thing is that Julaca now has an excellent little shop for the jeep tours which pass through. High quality snacks and cold beer are available!



    • Neil 05/10/2018 at 12:32 # Reply

      Thanks for the updates George

Leave a Reply to Tihomir Click here to cancel reply.