Uyuni to San Pedro de Atacama via San Pablo de Lipez

For those who want to cycle through the Sud Lipez, but don’t want to be covered in dust thrown up by speeding jeeps every minute, then this is a good option. The route heads south from Uyuni and passes through Quetena on the way to San Pedro de Atacama, rather than going via Laguna Colorada on the ‘classic’ Lagunas route.

After leaving the main Uyuni – Tupiza road, pass through San Vicente – the unlikely location where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid met their end. This is the first of a number of small, sad villages en route to the paving in Chile. In one of these, Quetena, it’s possible to detour to Uturuncu, to climb one of the highest roads in the world.

The surface on many stretches is corrugated and sandy, and climbs to Abra Laguna Morijon and Abra Laguna Hedionda have some very steep kilometres, making this a more challenging route than the ride via Laguna Colorada, Villamar and Alota. From what we’ve heard, the Classic Route is sandier than this one.

From San Vicente to the Salar de Chalviri you’ll only meet a handful of jeeps a day (which are doing tours of the Sud Lipez out of Tupiza rather than Uyuni), however this soon changes when you reach the thermals at Polques. From here to Laguna Verde and Chile the riding becomes a bit easier, but there is loads of traffic. Expect to be coated in dust at regular intervals.

Basic supplies can be bought in a number of villages, but if the thought of surviving on pasta, biscuits and crackers doesn’t appeal, then bring your food from Uyuni or San Pedro. Water is reasonably scarce and needs to be carried for some sections, but isn’t a particular problem – we’ve noted where it can be found in the route description.

Dist (km) Altitude (m) Description
0 3670 Uyuni. Boring tourist town which is near a nice salar. Leave heading south on road to Tupiza.
33.5 3690 Noel Mariaca. Small, near abandoned village. Water may be available.
56.7 3810 Sullchi. Small village. Water, shop, restaurant.
58.1 3810 R to San Vicente. L continues to Tupiza.
74.7 3920 L. R goes to Cocani. Very flat, some corrugations and sand.
84.1 4020 L. R goes to Agua de Castilla.
85.1 3990 R. L goes to Animas-Porco.
113.1 4670 Abra San Vicente.
119.2 4580 R at barrier, guarded by mine workers.
120 4510 San Vicente. Basic shops, water.
120.1 4510 L – signed ‘Tupiza’.
121 4550 Barrier – leave mine/village.
132.6 4390 L. R goes to Cocani.
133.8 4360 R. L is the main road to Tupiza (junction is on a LH bend).
135.7 4250 R – signed San Pablo. L goes to Candelaria.
146.4 4200 L.
149.3 4230 R.
150.1 4250 Straight. Road joins from L.
154.9 4160 A couple of houses with some dogs. May be water.
167.3 4570 Abra Boroanza.
174 4420 Straight. L goes to Viluyo.
175.3 4330 Low point, huts. Water.
177.6 4460 Straight. L goes to Mina Sta Isabel.
188.4 4610 Straight.
193.1 4750 Abra San Pablo.
195.7 4610 Small stream.
202.3 4390 Cross stream.
208.6 4250 L, over bridge in San Pablo.
208.9 4250 Plaza de Armas, San Pablo. Shops, water, accommodation.
211 4210 Straight, then straight again soon after.
211.6 4210 L, on main ‘road’.
214.7 4180 R.
217.2 4150 Straight.
219.8 4170 Straight. L goes to Exp. Lipez.
228.6 4030 Straight. Road joins from R.
231.8 4010 Cross stream. Drinkable.
232.2 4020 L.
241.8 4140 Straight/L.
246.3 4210 San Antonio. Basic shops, accommodation, water.
247.1 4220 L. Lots of streams, houses around.
253.3 4410 L/straight.
253.7 4430 Cross stream.
257 4570 Cross stream.
259.4 4720 Abra San Antonio.
260 4660 San Antonio Viejo. Ghost town. Water.
262.9 4560 Water.
267.2 4450 Cross river, and low point.
273.2 4800 Abra Puca Loma.
277.3 4590 Cross stream.
278.3 4540 Cross stream.
281.3 4440 Cross stream, then start steep climb.
285.3 4740 Cross stream.
288.2 4901 Abra Laguna Morijon.
294.8 4580 Cross stream, by Laguna Morijon. Low point.
296.9 4600 Straight. Road joins from R.
299.7 4620 Spring, to L of road.
301.1 4750 High point.
307.2 4640 Cross stream.
313.5 4430 Cross stream.
321.2 4250 Straight. L to Laguna Celeste.
324.7 4210 Sol de Mañana, Puesto de Control. Pay Bs150 to enter Eduardo Avaroa Reserve.
328.4 4330 High point.
334.3 4140 Wade river.
339.1 4150 Quetena Chico. Ok shops, accommodation. Turn L for Uturuncu. Continue straight for Quetena Grande.
343.8 4170 Quetena Grande. Shop, water.
358.6 4270 Wade river.
364.3 4730 Abra Laguna Hedionda. Steep top 3 km!
371.2 4580 R to Laguna Kollpa. L goes to tri border point at Zapaleri.
378.1 4540 Mine and houses by Laguna Kollpa. Water in pozo by salar’s shore, just to S of longest building.
384.6 4490 R to Aguas Termales (Polques).
394.9 4390 Abandoned houses. No water.
399.7 4400 Straight.
405.8 4430 Hit main Laguna Route. Jeep, ugh. Go L for Polques, R for Paso Sol de Mañana.
409.1 4400 Polques. Thermals and snacks. Maybe meals. Water.
428.7 4730 Paso del Condor.
441.8 4370 R heads off to Mirador and Lag Verde. Stayed L on main road.
442.5 4360 Stay L on main road.
451.2 4370 Puesto de Control, Laguna Blanca.
457.9 4480 Bolivian immigration and border.
463.2 4660 Hit paving. Go R for San Pedro.
508 2430 San Pedro de Atacama. Tourist central.

Distance (of which paved) 508km (45km)
Time taken 8 days
Amount climbed 7500m
Traffic Plenty from Uyuni to San Vicente. 10-20 vehicles a day from San Vicente to Polques. Loads from Polques to San Pedro de Atacama.
Best time to cycle April – October
When we cycled November 2013
Difficulty 4
How much we had to push on this route <0.1km

[map maptype=satellit gpx=”” style=”width:610px; height:610px; border:1px solid gray;”]

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4 Responses to “Uyuni to San Pedro de Atacama via San Pablo de Lipez”

  1. Samuel Hochheimer 26/12/2014 at 18:22 # Reply

    Ridden early Dec 2014.

    Killer route, recommend highly. Huge thanks to the Pikes for compiling all the info, this is a great continuation of the remote Bolivia riding north of the salars. Plenty of really nice camping spots up between the passes. Traffic not at all bad until hitting the main Lagunas route near Polques.

    In early Dec, there were quite a few days where midday storms rolled through, skies full of thunder and lightning but no precipitation reached the ground. Fierce winds though, same strength as the daily late-afternoon ones from the SW. Kicked up short sandstorms in places where there wasn’t enough vegetation.

    -in San Vicente, there’s a small museum for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid down near the town center. Ask at the co-op next door, and the woman will unlock it. Cost is 20Bs, you might be charged, might not be. Some of the townspeople said the actual graves are located in the town cemetery, but it was locked and no one around so can’t confirm that.

    -The “abandoned” hospedaje from Cass/Mike/Andi by Laguna Morijon is immediately before the spring at km299.7. Not sure what the status of this is- camped before this so didn’t try sleeping there, but there is a house with animal pens right across the road from it. The house and pens looked empty though, no animals anywhere on the plain by the lake, so maybe it is completely abandoned. Not really anywhere on that plain after the pass to provide a windbreak before that hospedaje. Wasn’t too much water at that spring, so maybe that’s why it’s abandoned?

    -At km378.1, “…Water in pozo by salar’s shore…”, there was a dead rat floating in the well. Pretty tough, since it’s the only water supply between the pass and Polques. If you’re expecting this, you could easily get water from the tourist jeeps passing by, but they came in shifts and stopped mid-afternoon, nothing came after that until early the next morning. I boiled the clearest lake water I could find and didn’t have any problems, but the taste isn’t great for drinking.

    Thanks Pikes!

    • Seb 04/01/2016 at 03:37 # Reply

      Hi !

      Were there a lot a lot of water supply along that route?

      • matteo 20/12/2016 at 17:12 # Reply

        I have been this year in Bolivia with my bike with another friend in the Lagune zone (laguna bianca laguna colorada laguna edionda ect ect) until San Pedro the Atacama.
        Wonderfull place to visit and amazing. But not with a bike! To dificult for to ride!( more 60% of the trak you push the bike!) Is better to go walking (you do the same km, without be careful not fall falls bicycle and meanwhile you enyoj the place around you.
        I can say this afther 10 years of biking around the world.

        • Neil 15/01/2017 at 16:11 # Reply

          Hi Matteo,
          It is good to get your opinion – maybe you need a fat bike? I know plenty of people including ourselves who consider the bike the ideal form of transport in this area but it is certainly challenging and not to be underestimated, especially if you are heavily laden and have narrow tyres.
          Happy riding!

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