Copiapo to Maricunga (for Paso San Francisco)

Copiapo – Salar de Maricunga

Thanks to Steve Fabes for contributing the information and photos on this page. His account of cycling from Copiapo to Fiambala, 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 page provides route information from Copiapo to the Salar de Maricunga, the Chilean immigration post for those heading to Argentina over Paso San Francisco. 40km after the immigration post the road joins the Fiambala to Villa Union route. For those cycling from Copiapo to Fiambala over Paso San Franscisco the full route is covered by these two pages.

Between Copiapo and Fiambala there are no places you can rely on finding supplies, so bring all you need with you. A lot of work is being carried out by teams paving the road from Copiapo to Paso San Francisco, so surface conditions are subject to change. At the time of cycling the surface was a mixture of slightly bumpy tarmac (the majority) and good, graded unpaved until Chilean immigration and unless otherwise stated. Altitudes in the route description table are taken from a barometric altimeter.

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Total dist. Stage dist. Description
0km Copiapo (500m). Large city.
25km 8km along main road towards Tierra Amarilla then turn left. Another 17km to the junction for Paso San Francisco. Lots of mine vehicles.
25km Junction (750m) – turn right towards Paso San Francisco.
35km Slow ascent.
60km Ruins of Puquois (1,350m). No water.
35km 18 km after the ruins you come to the junction for La Puerta and Laguna Santa Rosa on the right. Continue straight on. A few hundred metres after this junction are a few houses. Water available, plus possible to buy bread and perhaps basic supplies. 23km after the ruins you climb more steeply for 5km (from 1,825m to 2,150m). Towards the top of this climb is a small clear stream.
95km Junction to La Cortadera (2,330m). Continue straight on.
37km Steeper climb for 3km. 5km after the junction are a few houses where you can get water. 1km after the houses the road runs by fields which would be suitable for wild camping.
132km Mine and campamento (3,260m). Water.
26.5km In 2km reach the junction to Mantos de Oro. Turn right to Paso San Francisco (signposted). Much less traffic from now on. 15km after the junction the climb gets steeper and there are a series of switchbacks. 22km after the junction the main road swings to the right, another road comes off to the left and then splits into two. All these roads eventually meet up again but the road to the left is a slightly shorter and much steeper option.
158.5km High point (4,310m).
20.5km Descend to the picturesque Salar de Maricunga. Some washboard and loose stones.
179km Chilean immigration at Salar de Maricunga (3,800m). Water. May be possible to spend the night.
~39.5km Smooth tarmac for 21km (work in progress). No significant shift in altitude for 29.5km, then steeper climb for 5km, from 4,075m to 4,325m. Lots of road workers. Surface often bad as road under construction. 33.5km after immigration there is a road that branches off to the right and descends to the river, perhaps a good spot to camp, otherwise continue past this junction. Climb ends (at 4,325m) 34.5km after immigration. From here it is approximately 5km to junction GPS02 where you join the Fiambala to Villa Union route.
~218.5km Junction GPS02 in the Fiambala to Villa Union route description. From this junction it is 71km to Paso San Francisco; and 275km to Fiambala. See Fiambala to Villa Union for route description.
Time taken – 3 days and total climbed – 4,360m 2 ½ days: Copiapo – Chilean Immigration (3,810m climb).
½ day: Chilean Immigration to junction GPS02 (550m climb).
(1 day: Junction GPS02 to Paso San Francisco.
1 ½ days: Paso San Francisco to Fiambala.)
Date cycled Late February 2012.
Difficulty 3
Pushing required None

View Copiapo to Maricunga in a larger map
Nearby routes:        Pasos San Francisco and Pircas Negras

2 Responses to “Copiapo to Maricunga (for Paso San Francisco)”

  1. Brigitte & Ivo 12/01/2016 at 01:10 # Reply

    Thank you for your route description. We did some Puna riding and here is our update:

    To know if the pass is open check the daily updated twitter page on (for other international passes it’s

    The „clear stream“ after the climb from La Puerta mentioned in the road description should not be used. The water tasts bitter and some Canadian engeneers passing by in a car told us that the water is contaminated with heavy metals from the mine.
    But there is a OK watersource at 22.1km after la Puerta, GPS: S26° 57.494′ W69° 34.277′ (a water intake with a tube right beside the road).

    The mine at 132km from the route description was not manned. If you can’t get water there try the Mantos de Oro mine 2km further which seems more busy these days.

  2. Flips 08/07/2017 at 02:36 # Reply

    I cycled Paso San Francisco from Copiapó via Laguna Santa Rosa taking roads C-341 and C-601.
    Good camping and picnic spots are
    – the ruins of Puquois
    – the first few kilometers after passing La Puerta
    – just before the intersection at 3000m
    – Refugio Santa Rosa
    – Chilean migration
    – Rio Lamas
    – Refugio at the high plains
    – Refugio at Laguna Verde

    Drinking water available at streams after La Puerta.
    The best water you might get just before the intersection at 3000m.
    After this no water until Chilean migration.

    The road was smooth until the turn off at La Puerta. From there on it had many parts with loose gravel and maybe 50m of Sand Here pushing was needed.
    From the start of road C-601 until the intersection on 3000m the road was new and smooth. Then a steep climb starts on a road which got worse as higher up it went. Some pushing might be needed on this part.
    The road got worse after Laguna Santa Rosa. The last kilometer before reaching the paved road 31-CH I needed to push again.
    It followed 70kilometers of paved road. There was no more roadwork in progres.
    After the high plains, the ripio starts again and it was very bad until Paso San Francisco. More pushing might be requiered.

    I would recommend you starting with around 8liters of water and check the weatherforecast. The day after I crossed Paso San Francisco there was a big snowstorm and the road closed for the next 5days.

    A gps-file of the route you might get here:

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